Tag Archives: feminists

Stop it with the feminist food fights

A few weeks back, major polling organizations revealed a huge divide among women voting for the Democratic presidential candidates. The polling showed a big generational divide, with large majorities of women under age 30 supporting Bernie Sanders and older women supporting Hillary Clinton.

That’s certainly news and a big concern for the Clinton campaign. What drove the news coverage for weeks, however, were comments by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and longtime feminist Gloria Steinem that were interpreted as patronizing and criticizing young women for not supporting Clinton.

Both women apologized for their comments but not before dozens of media outlets ran stories about “aging feminists” rebuking young women and imposing their views on others, as well as about the “bankruptcy” of 21st-century feminism.

The media love a feminist food fight. Feminist accomplishments, not so much.

It reminded me of the 1980s, when the backlash to the Second Wave of feminism took hold. Major books at the time railed about “The Feminist Mistake” and “The Myth of Women’s Liberation in America.”

In 1987, I wrote my masters thesis on the history of a feminist organization in Milwaukee, the Women’s Coalition. I wrote it to dispel the claims that feminism was somehow a failure and that feminists themselves were responsible for the problems of women, a common complaint of conservatives.

What I found in Milwaukee was hard work and incredible self-sacrifice on the part of feminist activists. They pioneered the battered women’s movement, changed rape and marriage laws, established women’s studies programs, created myriad social services, reformed law enforcement practices and much more.

They achieved these things while also arguing over priorities and personal politics. At different times, there were purges of lesbians, socialists, straight women, men and transgender people. There were passionate fights over inclusion and exclusion, political involvement or cultural separatism, militant tactics or patient consultation.

The feminist movement has always encompassed a multiplicity of individuals and organizations from the grassroots to the national level. Goals vary. Tactics differ. Ideologies shift and often conflict. Leaders are effective or flawed. Mistakes are made. The women’s movement is not monolithic. It is diverse and dynamic.

Feminists do not march in step, nor do they all wear their feminism on their sleeves. They come in all ages, races, classes and sexualities. They range from genderqueer youth organizing on social media to women working across cultures to advance women’s rights in countries where women are treated like dogs.

They are the women who revolutionized women’s health care and the women today working to defend Planned Parenthood and women’s reproductive freedom. They are the women leading the fight for the $15 minimum wage and women working to make their churches less sexist.

They are the women who worked hard for years to build partnerships and raise funds for the new Family Peace Center. It’s a multimillion dollar facility that centralizes all domestic violence services in Milwaukee. It’s an amazing advance from the 1970s, when feminist volunteers risked their lives rescuing women and hiding them in a network of safe houses.

I don’t know if these women will vote for Hillary Clinton, but I believe their work transcends any one political moment. It will continue and it will endure.

So ignore the bad press. Feminism lives!



Cannes finale: Audiard’s ‘Dheepan’ wins Palme d’Or in upset

The 68th Cannes Film Festival was brought to a surprising close with Jacques Audiard’s Sri Lankan refugee drama taking the festival’s coveted top honor, the Palme d’Or.

The choice of “Dheepan,” as selected by a jury led by Joel and Ethan Coen, left some critics scratching their heads. While the dapper French filmmaker has drawn widespread acclaim for films such as “A Prophet” and “Rust and Bone,” some critics were disappointed by the thriller climax of Audiard’s film. “Dheepan” is about a trio of Sri Lankans who pretend to be a family in order to flee their war-torn country and are settled in a violent housing project outside Paris.

“This isn’t a jury of film critics,” Joel Coen told reporters after the awards ceremony, alongside fellow jurors like Guillermo del Toro and Jake Gyllenhaal. “This is a jury of artists who are looking at the work.”

The win for “Dheepan” comes at a time when Europe is particularly attuned to the experience of immigrants, following the recent deaths of hundreds crossing the Mediterranean, seeking Italian shores. Jury members, though, said “Dheepan” was chosen for its overall strength as a film, rather than any topicality.

“We all thought it was a very beautiful movie,” said Ethan Coen, calling the decision “swift.” “Everyone had some high level of excitement and enthusiasm for it.”

Audiard, springing to the podium at the Palais des Festivals, accepted the award with warm gratitude, bowing to the jury. He was joined by the makeshift parents of his film: Kalieaswari Srinivasan and Antonythasan Jesuthasan, who himself was Tamil Tiger child soldier before finding political asylum in France.

“To receive a prize from the Coen brothers is exceptional,” said Audiard, who added that only receiving one from the Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, the Belgian filmmaking siblings, could equal it.

The runner-up prize, the Grand Prix, went to “Son of Saul,” a grim Holocaust drama by first-time Hungarian director Laszlo Nemes. Some expected Nemes’ horrifying plunge into the life of an Auschwitz worker to take the top award, but it’s been 26 years since a debut film (Steven Soderbergh’s “Sex, Lies, and Videotape”) was given the Palme.

English actress Sienna Miller and Canadian actor Xavier Dolan, both jury members, sounded especially moved by “Son of Saul.” Miller called it “breathtaking” and an extraordinary accomplishment for a first-time filmmaker. 

“Europe is still haunted by the destruction of the European Jews,” said Nemes. “That’s something that lives with us.”

Hou Hsiao-Hsien, the masterful 68-year-old Taiwanese filmmaker, won best director for his first feature in eight years: “The Assassin,” a lushly painterly martial arts drama. 

The best actress prize was split but not the way some expected. It was given to both Rooney Mara, half of the romantic pair of Todd Haynes’ ‘50s lesbian drama “Carol,” and Emmanuelle Bercot, the French star of the roller coaster marriage drama “My King.” (Bercot also directed the festival opener, “Standing Tall,” about a delinquent teenager.) Any split was presumed to go to Mara and her “Carol” co-star, Cate Blanchett.

Best actor was awarded to Vincent Lindon, the veteran French actor of “The Measure of a Man.” He plays a man struggling to make a living after a long period of unemployment. The visibly moved Lindon won over some big-name competition, including Michael Caine, the star of Paolo Sorrentino’s unrewarded “Youth,” a wry, melancholy portrait of old age.

Lindon’s award added to a banner year at Cannes for France, which had five films out of the 19 in competition and went home with three awards.

Yorgos Lanthimos, a Greek filmmaker working in English for the first time, took the jury prize for his “The Lobster,” a deadpan dystopian comedy, starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz, about a near-future where unmarried singles are turned into the animal of their choice.

“Chronic,” an understated drama about a home-care nurse (Tim Roth) for the terminally ill, took best screenplay for Mexican writer-director Michel Franco. Franco and Roth met three years ago when Roth, serving on a Cannes jury, helped award Franco the Un Certain Regard prize. “It’s a Cannes story,” said Franco. 

The Camera d’Or, Cannes award for best first feature film, went to “La Tierra Y la Sombra.” CΘsar Augusto Acevedo’s debut, which played in the Critics Week section, is about an old farmer returning home to tend to his gravely ill son.

The Coens themselves took the Palme in 1991 for “Barton Fink.” The last two Cannes winners have been three-hour art-house epics: the glacial Turkish drama “Winter Sleep,” chosen last year by Jane Campion’s jury, and “Blue is the Warmest Color,” as picked by Steven Spielberg’s jury.

This year’s competition slate left some critics calling it a so-so year for Cannes. Some of the films that drew the biggest raves (“Mad Max: Fury Road,” Pixar’s “Inside Out”) played out of competition, while some in it (like Gus Van Sant’s “The Sea of Trees”) drew loud boos.

The festival was dominated by discussion about gender equality with many — from Blanchett to Jane Fonda — speaking about female opportunity in the movie business. “You hope it’s not just the year,” said Blanchett of the attention to women in film. “It’s not some sort of fashionable moment.” An honorary Palme d’Or was also given to French filmmaker Agnes Varda, the first woman to receive one and only the fourth director after Woody Allen, Clint Eastwood and Bernardo Bertolucci.

But the festival was overrun by an unlikely scandal when several women were turned away from the formal premiere of Todd Haynes’ “Carol” for wearing flat shoes, rather than high heels. The festival insisted it was the mistake of overzealous security guards and not part of Cannes’ notoriously strict dress code.

The festival, as it often is, was dominated by the unexpected, even on its last night. Nothing was more unforeseen — not even the Palme for “Dheepan” — than John C. Reilly, a co-star of “The Lobster” and another competition entry, “Tale of Tales,” took the stage to sing “Just a Gigolo” in a bright white suit. 

Feminists cheer as bare breasts disappear from British tabloid

Feminists are rejoicing at the disappearance of bare breasts from the British tabloid The Sun — though the newspaper is not confirming whether the decision to ditch its infamous “Page 3 girls” is permanent.

The Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid has featured topless models on its third page for almost 45 years, but none has appeared in the paper since Jan. 16.

The Sun has declined to comment on the change, but the Murdoch-owned Times of London reported this week that the feature had been dropped from the paper’s print edition. It said the Sun website would continue to feature topless models.

Labour Party lawmaker Stella Creasy said she was glad to see the end of a feature that told women “that what mattered, frankly, were our breasts, not our brains.”

Flashback 2014: Toasts to lesbian, gay artists and divas of 2014

Congrats are due to two bona fide lesbian geniuses: artist Alison Bechdel and legal eagle Mary L. Bonauto. Both received prestigious MacArthur Foundation genius grants in 2014. 

Bonauto is a longtime legal advocate for LGBT rights who is credited with devising the legal strategies that resulted in the expansion of marriage equality. Bechdel captured the lesbian universe with her beloved cartoon series Dykes to Watch Out For. A musical version of her award-winning memoir Fun Home is headed for Broadway in 2015.

Rest in peace, Storme DeLarverie, 93, legendary singer, cross-dresser and bouncer, who may have thrown the first punch at the Stonewall rebellion in Greenwich Village in 1969. Farewell too to Nancy Garden, 76, who penned the lesbian classic about teen romance Annie on My Mind, in 1982. 

Apple’s Tim Cook was touted as “courageous” and “a pioneer” for coming out as a gay man in 2014. Cook, 54, is a millionaire and CEO of one of the biggest companies in the world. Anyone coming out is a good thing, but let’s reserve our kudos for the trans kid in Wausau and the little dyke in Oconto who struggle to come out against much tougher odds.

There are always multiple contenders for “Villain of the Year.” We Energies comes to mind for its proposed imposition of extra fees on customers who use solar energy. How about the Staten Island cop, exonerated by a grand jury, who choked Eric Garner to death for selling cigarettes for a few extra bucks? Or the cities that passed laws prohibiting people from feeding the homeless? How low can you go?

Right-wing politicians continued to rail against government regulations while restricting women’s rights to control their own bodies. This year pols again misidentified women’s body parts and functions. One even compared women’s decisions about abortion to his own decision about buying carpeting!

Here’s an idea: If you don’t know the difference between a uterus and a vagina, don’t pass laws about them. If you are against abortion, don’t have one.

Two of the best writers in the world who just happen to be lesbians published long-awaited books in 2014. Sarah Waters’ The Paying Guests and Emma Donoghue’s Frog Music were ambitious historical melodramas combining crime stories with sexual identity issues. The Paying Guests, a slow-moving, complicated tale steeped in irony, triumphed. Frog Music croaked.

Openly gay crooner Sam Smith appears to be heading toward multiple Grammys for his debut single “Stay with Me” and his CD In the Lonely Hour. Actress Ellen Page came out as a lesbian and spoke up for feminism. Joining her in feminist sisterhood were Emma Watson, Angelina Jolie, Taylor Swift and Beyonce, although the gyrating female derrieres that accompanied Bey’s pronouncement made for a rather mixed message!

We love our divas partly for their ups and downs. Idina Menzel separated from hubby Taye Diggs while “Let It Go!” soared to triple platinum in sales. Menzel choked at the Oscars, then killed at the Tony Awards (Google “Always Starting Over+Tonys”) before losing the Tony to Jessie Mueller. Happily, at year’s end Menzel is still headlining in If/Then on Broadway. 

Finally, hats off to Disney for undoing 80 years of damage to girls’ psyches by redefining “true love” as something other than the kiss of a handsome prince. And for following up Frozen with the feminist revenge epic Maleficent — priceless.

Let’s work for peace and progress in 2015!

‘Yes means Yes’ bill sent to California Gov. Brown

State lawmakers on Aug. 28 passed a bill that would make California the first state to define when “yes means yes” while investigating sexual assaults on college campuses.

The Senate unanimously passed SB967 as states and universities across the U.S. are under pressure to change how they handle reports of rape. The bill now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown, who has not indicated his stance on the bill.

Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, said his bill would begin a paradigm shift in how California campuses prevent and investigate sexual assault. Rather than using the refrain “no means no,” the definition of consent under the bill requires “an affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.” Earlier versions of the bill had similar language.

“With this measure, we will lead the nation in bringing standards and protocols across the board so we can create an environment that’s healthy, that’s conducive for all students, not just for women, but for young men as well too, so young men can develop healthy patterns and boundaries as they age with the opposite sex,” de Leon said before the vote.

Silence or lack of resistance does not constitute consent. The legislation says it’s also not consent if the person is drunk, drugged, unconscious or asleep.

Lawmakers say consent can be nonverbal, and universities with similar policies have outlined examples as maybe a nod of the head or moving in closer to the person.

Advocates for victims of sexual assault supported the change as one that will provide consistency across campuses and challenge the notion that victims must have resisted assault in order to have valid complaints.

Some critics say the legislation is overreaching and sends universities into murky, unfamiliar legal waters.

Gordon Finley, an adviser to the National Coalition for Men, wrote an editorial asking Brown not to sign the bill. He argued that “this campus rape crusade bill” presumes the guilt of the accused.

“This is nice for the accusers – both false accusers as well as true accusers – but what about the due process rights of the accused,” Finley wrote.

The bill passed the state Assembly on Aug. 25 by a 52-16 vote. Some Republicans in that house questioned if statewide legislation is an appropriate venue to define consent.

There was no opposition from Senate Republicans.

“This bill is very simple; it just requires colleges to adopt policies concerning sexual assault, domestic violence, gang violence and stalking,” said Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres. “They should have already been doing that.”

The bill would apply to all California post-secondary schools, public and private, that receive state money for student financial aid. The California State University and University of California systems are backing the legislation after adopting similar consent standards this year.

The bill also requires colleges and universities to adopt “victim-centered” sexual-assault response policies and implement comprehensive programs to prevent assault.

In January, President Barack Obama vowed to make the issue a priority. He announced a task force that created a website providing tips for filing complaints,http://www.notalone.gov , and issued a report in May naming 55 colleges and universities across the country facing investigation for their responses to sexual abuse and violence. The University of California, Berkeley was included on the list.

UN document promotes equality for women. Took heated debate to get there

After two weeks of heated debate, liberal and conservative countries over the weekend approved a U.N. document to promote equality for women that reaffirms the sexual and reproductive rights of all women and endorses sex education for adolescents.

The 24-page final declaration approved by consensus on March 22 by the 45-member Commission on the Status of Women expresses deep concern that overall progress toward the U.N. goal of gender equality and empowerment of women remains “slow and uneven”

The commission said “the feminization of poverty persists” and reaffirmed that equality for women is essential for sustained economic development.

It called for equality, empowerment and human rights for women to be a major plank in new U.N. development goals expected to be adopted next year.

For more progressive countries, there was relief that there was no back-pedaling on international recognition of women’s reproductive and sexual rights and access to health services in the final document.

It calls for “universally accessible and available quality comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care services, information and education.”

This should include “safe and effective methods of modern contraception, emergency contraception, prevention programs for adolescent pregnancy … (and) safe abortion where such services are permitted by national law,” the document says.

Egyptian minister and women’s rights activist Mervat Tallawy, who led the country’s delegation, said the final document reaffirmed all the gains women made at the 1994 U.N. population conference in Cairo and the 1995 U.N. women’s conference in Beijing.

“We will never give in to the prevailing web of conservatism against women in all regions of the world,” Tallawy said to thunderous applause. “We shall not allow fundamentalists and extreme groups to disarm women from their rights.”

“I am speaking for all the women of the world. We will continue to struggle for our rights,” Tallawy concluded to sustained applause that was finally cut off by the chair.

Delegates said the final vote was delayed because Russia at the last minute tried to insert a reference to sovereignty. It did not succeed.

Conservative countries did succeed in blocking any reference to different forms of the family, or to problems that women face because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The document recognizes the family as a contributor to the development of girls and women.

U.S. representative Terri Robl welcomed the final conclusions and the commission’s “commitment to fighting discrimination and prejudice, which for too long has denied many women and girls the ability to contribute to economic growth and development.”

But she expressed regret that the commission “did not explicitly acknowledge the vulnerabilities confronting women and adolescents as a result of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

On the sensitive issue of sex education, the document calls for the development and implementation of educational programs for human sexuality, “based on full and accurate information, for all adolescents and youth … with the appropriate direction and guidance from parents and legal guardians.”

Among those expressing reservations about sex education after the document was approved were Qatar, Malta, the Holy See and Pakistan.

The commission also called for an end to early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation. Qatar asked for a definition of “early.”

Shannon Kowalski, director of advocacy and policy at the International Women’s Health Coalition, said: “The commission recognized that sustainable and meaningful development must address the root causes of gender inequality, which deny women and girls an education, the right to make decisions about their bodies and childbearing, to decent employment and equal pay, and to live free of violence.”

“We have achieved what we came to do against great odds and the determined attempts by the Holy See and a few conservative countries to once again turn back the clock on women’s rights,” Kowalski said.

Violence against women persists throughout the globe

When feminists first wrote about violence against women in the 1970s, they were dismissed as radicals and man-haters. Every one of them, including Susan Brownmiller (“Against Our Will”), Andrea Dworkin (“Woman Hating”), Mary Daly (“Gyn/Ecology”) and Kathleen Barry (“Female Sexual Slavery”), was marginalized.

Now, a new study by the World Health Organization reveals that violence against women is as widespread and intractable as feminists always claimed. A crisis of “epidemic proportions,” it affects over 1 billion women worldwide and causes serious health complications for survivors and their children. Some of WHO’s findings:

• Globally, 35.6 percent of women have experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner or non-partner sexual violence, or both.

• Regional estimates show that prevalence rates of intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence combined range from 27.2 to 45.6 percent.

• Intimate partners are responsible for up to 38 percent of all murders of women.

The study looked at physical and sexual violence by intimate partners and non-partners. It did not analyze other behaviors that target women, including female genital mutilation, honor killings or forced prostitution. Presumably, if those additional categories were included, the shocking number of victims would rise even higher.

The health outcomes of this anti-woman abuse include physical injuries; psychological trauma; unintended pregnancies; higher incidences of HIV and sexually transmitted infections; induced abortions; premature and low-weight births; gynecological disorders; genital bruising, scarring, pain; disability; harmful alcohol and drug use; depression; suicide. 

What feminists dared to name, and what the WHO report clearly documents, is the frightening reality of too many women’s lives. Violence against women is pervasive, crossing ages, classes, cultures, races. Violence against women is overwhelmingly inflicted by men. It is committed by individual men and by organized gangs of men. Rape, battering and intimidation of women exist in tribal, traditional societies and in modern, industrialized societies. Violence against women thrives in secular as well as religious cultures.

WHO offers these recommendations for responding to survivors: confidential, non-judgmental, woman-centered care; universal screening for and education about intimate partner violence; structured programs for advocacy and empowerment; provision of emergency contraception; post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV and other STDs; better training of health care providers; mandatory reporting of domestic violence.

Whether mandatory reporting will be of any use in places where the police and military are perpetrators of violence against women – from the Congo to the U.S. military – is not addressed. Nor is the critical question of “Why?” Why do so many men abuse women, especially the women they have relationships with? What fuels this rage against women?

In the United States, feminist activists played heroic roles in changing laws and setting up services for rape and domestic violence survivors. Because of this long experience, we think we understand the dynamics of abuse – the controlling behaviors of perpetrators, the economic dependence of victims, etc. We think we know how to alleviate it. 

Social services, better law enforcement and raising strong girls can all help, but the scourge of woman hatred will not go away until social scientists and other professionals start probing the most basic question that no one but feminists ever dare to ask. It is the most obvious and painful question. What is the root of men’s pathological hatred of women? Or, as Jeanette Winterson bravely asked in The New York Times: “Why do men revel in the degradation of women?”

Feminist protest at opening of Barbie’s ‘Dreamhouse Experience’

Feminist protesters disrupted the opening of the Barbie “Dreamhouse Experience” in Belin, saying that it objectifies women.

The giant pink dollhouse promoting the doll made by Mattel Inc. allows paying visitors to try on Barbie’s clothes, cook in her kitchen and play her pink piano.

Protesting in front of the house, a topless woman with the protest group Femen set fire to a Barbie doll tied to a crucifix.  Across her chest, the slogan “Life in plastic is not fantastic,” was scrawled across her chest in Sharpie.

“There’s too much emphasis on becoming more beautiful and on being pretty and that puts an awful lot of pressure on girls as well as wasting capacities which they could use to simply be happy or for school,” said Stevie Meriel Schmiedel, a founding member of the “Pink Stinks” protest group.

“We’re protesting because Barbie would not be able to survive with her figure and yet she is an idol for many girls and that’s not healthy,” she said.

A male protester in a wig, pink shirt and shimmering skirt held a poster reading: “Do you like me now?”

Feminists flash bye-bye to Pope Benedict in Paris protest

Women activists shed their shirts and pounded a huge church bell in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris to celebrate the pope’s resignation.

The nine women from Ukrainian feminist group Femen had their chests and backs emblazoned with the words “Pope No More.” They said they were provocateurs celebrating Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to step down later this month.

The activists shouted “Bye-bye Benedict” and “No more homophobe.”

At one point some of the women rang an enormous bell on display in the hall of the landmark cathedral, part of a set of new bronze bells cast for Notre Dame’s 850th anniversary this year. Cathedral staff turned off the church lights and pulled the women away.

The women say they were also protesting in support of gay marriage. France’s lower house of parliament approved a bill this week to legalize such unions. One of the activists’ chants was “In gay we trust.”

On its Facebook page, Femen stated, “FEMEN is congratulating the whole progressive world with the resignation of fascist Benedict XVI from the place of the head of the Catholic mafia. It’s symbolic that today is the day of voting on law of same-sex marriage in France. The ex-Pope was a fierce opponent of gay marriages. FEMEN applaud the complete capitulation of the middle age homophobia! Pope go to the devil! Viva common sense! Viva freedom!”

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