Progressive Paris

I was lucky enough to take a trip to Paris over the holidays, arriving on Christmas Day and staying through January 3rd. Though it was my 5th time in the city, a Parisian excursion can never get old – Samuel Johnson might have written his “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life” line about Paris instead (and made it gender-neutral, while we’re at it). This time around, I found myself with a new appreciation for the beauty of residential buildings, especially the imposing doorways that open up into quaint courtyards. It’s a jarring difference from New York City, where one rarely expects to find such open space where a few obscenely-priced apartments could stand in its stead.

Intrigued to know more about Parisian urban planning, I picked up Joan DeJean’s How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City. I’m still working my way through, but this passage from the introduction jumped out at me:

“The Sun King was thus the first ruler to respond to the changing nature of warfare and of national defense: from the seventeenth century on, each European country’s line of defense shifted from individual cities to the nation’s perimeters. Louis XIV replaced an architecture of paranoia with an architecture of openness; he thereby made Paris the first open city in modern European history. This was a crucial step in the transition from the walled city to the modern cityscape.”

These words are particularly resonant now. Throughout our visit, the effects of the November attacks lingered: most days we saw at least one military outfit patrolling the streets. I was buoyed to read this and be reminded that while there have always been threats to civilian life, such threats don’t own the legacy of a people or a place. Rather, the choice to shun paranoia and remain an open society remains the best defense against the darker side of history.

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The NFL’s Play For Women


I’m not a huge fan of (American) football, but it’s been hard to ignore how aggressively the NFL and its partners have been courting women and girls. Many of the ads are smart and refreshing – it’s a pleasant change from this sort of sentiment.

This NFL store ad for women’s apparel featuring a John Harbaugh speech is a great example: it portrays a fairly diverse set of women who have full agency and appear to love the sport for their own reasons. And while they all look great, none are overly objectified. Verizon FiOS’ “Football Girl” campaign strikes the right note as well – I genuinely enjoyed watching the story progress and come to its pre-Super Bowl conclusion. Had they cast a girl of color, it would have been next-level awesome.

Though less directly a football ad, this David Beckham for H&M Super Bowl campaign is more problematic. I love Becks just as much as the next lady, but come on, this #covered versus #uncovered concept is creepy. Can you imagine the backlash if the featured celebrity were female? But of course, males are almost never socially conditioned to view sexual interest as threatening. This is a far more cynical ploy for women’s attention, and I can’t say I’m a fan.

Still, the overall trends seem positive, and I’m reasonably confident that more NFL advertising is really taking note of 1) the substantial female NFL fandom and 2) how to speak to audiences in a non-alienating manner.

And for those who still refuse to adapt, there’s always the #notbuyingit campaign!

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About that Bing ad…

As someone who consistently points out the dearth of women in pretty much every form of media, I want to love this ad. But I think it falls flat. Here are a few reasons why:

1) Lack of focus. Women, and people overall, can certainly manifest bravery in a multitude of ways. Still, the theme of bravery alone isn’t enough to cut from Malala to Margaret Thatcher without raising an eyebrow. Each of the stories mentioned here could make an incredibly poignant ad, but when all thrown together, the effect is disjointed and thus diluted.

2) Terrible music choice. Setting the spot to Sara Bareilles’ “Brave” makes it seem almost whimsical, and the lyrics interfere with the words spoken by our cast of brave women. Contrast this with the latest Apple ad, where soaring instrumentals really evoke some gravitas.

3) Non-inclusive. “Celebrating the women of 2013” leaves out half of the population and their relationship to the message. At Miss Representation we like to say “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Simply leading with images of these inspirational women would have been incredibly powerful without hitting the audience over the head: “Hey, LOOK! They’re all FEMALE!”

4) Cynical. This is the kicker. Tina Fey said last night “We’re hosting the Golden Globes for the second time, because this is Hollywood and if something kind of works they’ll just keep doing it until everybody hates it.” This ad seems to want to latch onto feminism as a fad rather than connect back to the simple desire for progress. I’m almost surprised there was no #girlpower tag flashed at the end of it.

I wish the campaign had made one really high-production TV spot focused on one story (I’d vote Malala, but that’s just me), then pointed to the URL housing exclusive webisodes featuring the others. What are your thoughts?

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Catching Up

I recently got a new job and am still adjusting to my new schedule –  apologies for the prolonged silence! I plan to keep up posts here and work with Miss Representation (here’s the Hoboken area Google Plus page). In the meantime, here’s another Quora response:

Why do feminists attack men for being the way that they are but at the same time become outraged if anyone points out that there are actual differences between men and women?

It’s very difficult to speak for the entire movement and everyone in it, but as someone who does consider herself a feminist, I disagree with the premise of this question. I know many feminists who have influenced me would do the same.

To me, feminism is not about female superiority, nor is it about claiming the genders are “exactly the same.” Rather, it is about breaking down gender essentialism, i.e., the belief that people are to act in a predetermined way based on their sex, and the oppressions that result. There are unequal values assigned to gendered behaviors and preferences, meaning that what is “feminine” is generally seen as “less than.” For example, “You’re a real man” is favorable, “You’re such a woman” is not.

Consequently, feminism leads me to question the phrase “men for being the way that they are.” What does that even mean? Most feminists I know challenge gender-based oppression, not men for simply being men. Given the phrasing of the question, it’s also important to note that feminists and other gender justice activists often challenge the gender binary, that is, “the classification of sex and gender into two distinct and disconnected forms of masculine and feminine. It is one general type of a gender system. It can describe a social boundary that discourages people from crossing or mixing gender roles, or from creating other third (or more) forms of gender expression altogether.”(…)

Regarding the stigma that all feminists are out to attack men, here’s a favorite quote from activist Melissa McEwan:

Implicit in feminism is not only the belief, but the expectation, that men are not animals—nor infantile, stupid, useless, inept, emotionally stunted, or any other negative stereotype feminists have been accused of promoting—but instead our equals just as much as we are theirs, capable not only of understanding feminism (and feminists), but of actively and rigorously engaging challenges to their socialization, too. Feminists, of course, have the terrible reputation, but it isn’t we who consider all men babies, dopes, dogs, and rapists. The holders of those views, inevitably, are aggressive purveyors and defenders of the patriarchy—which itself, after all, takes a rather unpleasantly dim view of most people.


All that said, I’m sure there are women out there who call themselves feminists, and simply take that to mean that men are the enemy. That doesn’t really get us anywhere useful – we coexist on the same planet, after all. Personally, I’d like to get to a place where we can agree that distinct genders are complementary, rather than competing in a zero-sum game.

Full link.

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Sorry, Katie

I’ve been doing some local work with the Miss Representation campaign, and in  conversations with like-minded activists, we always come away with some interesting commonalities. Girls and women internalize no shortage of sexism, and it manifests itself in subtle ways. While talking to a couple other local representatives, we recalled how we’d all gone through tomboy phases, where we actively distanced ourselves from everything girly (including other females), subconsciously seeking approval for being unlike “most girls.” It wasn’t until I discovered feminist literature that I realized I was falling into the profile of “I’m The  Only Smart Girl In The Room Non-Feminist.

That particular phase came flooding back to me while watching interviews with Katie Couric in Miss Representation. I was 18 when Couric came to the CBS Evening News Program as anchor and managing editor, and I didn’t know much about her aside from her work at Today. Without ever watching her broadcast, I felt quite confident in my assessment of her as a “Barbie”, pointing to her attire and highlights as proof positive that she must be a bimbo. I shudder to think of it. Never mind her considerable tenure (fifteen years) as a national political correspondent, I was content to let my own internalized sexism – helped along, surely, by terrible media coverage of Couric – shape my opinion of her.

I’m sure there’s a lucky bunch of women and girls for whom this sort of thing was never an issue, because they learned to recognize blatant and coded misogyny from an early age. I wish I could’ve been part of that club. Most women I know, though, have to repair a lot of the damage retroactively. So, here’s my public apology to Katie Couric. It takes constant self-evaluation to remind ourselves to treat each other with more compassion and understanding than kyriarchal media narratives believe us capable of.


Posted in the feminist lens | 3 Comments

Simon Doonan’s Red Herring

This is a monumentally silly article from Simon Doonan over at Slate. The fact that he repeatedly uses the phrase “audacious women with impressive racks” (oh, and then likens them to cupcakes) says it all.

Ta-Nehisi Coates had a pretty accurate reaction to the piece on Twitter, and as such, this whiny column doesn’t deserve a line-by-line takedown. Suffice it to say that Mr. Doonan has focused on exceptions to the rule and turned them into a wistful account of the way things never were.

Like I’ve said before, Kim Kardashian isn’t being worshiped. Yes, she’s getting paid handsomely, but she’s part of an insidious media narrative that paints an ugly picture of women – one that Doonan himself advances by focusing solely on the “superficial vamps and tramps and bimbos.” I can’t say I’m thrilled with the Kardashians’ complicity in this narrative, but I’m sure as hell not going to pile on with the name-calling. I’ll simply make different choices in my media consumption. If enough of us do so, maybe industry gatekeepers will take the hint and start offering better fare.

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#BlogforIWD: A Collection of Infographics

In case anyone is wondering why we have International Women’s Day, here are a few infographics that help drive the point home.

The Economist: Where to be female

The Economist: Hitting women

USAID: Why Invest In Women?

GOOD: Women of War

ActionAid: Sexual Violence Against Women

Armchair Advocates: State of Women in the World

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The Boys’ Club that is the Internet

I love the Internet. Always have. I spent hours on AOL as a twelve year old, posting on message boards, playing around with website templates, and researching the latest movements of a certain boy band that shall remain nameless.

We’ve come a long way since those Web 1.0 days, which is why I’m dismayed at the continued othering of women online. I’m an avid user of, where users habitually assume they are talking to other males. Whenever this turns out not to be the case, reactions range from surprise at best, and downright predatory at worst. Of course, this isn’t a problem limited to Turntable – it just happens to be my freshest memory. Last night, I was in one of my favorite rooms when one user repeatedly harassed another long after she made it clear she was uncomfortable (she also happens to be underage). Some other (male) moderators in the room made comments along the lines of “Awkward!” But none made it explicitly clear that the harasser’s behavior was unacceptable. I came into the room too late to see the entire exchange, but having had enough experience with seamy online behavior, I privately messaged the girl and asked if she wanted me to boot the offender. After issuing one final warning that was spectacularly scorned, I did so. The entire room expressed relief, but I still felt like the two women in the room lacked true allies.

This is why I find it particularly galling when a site like Pinterest is written off for being “girly”. The underlying sentiment of that “criticism” is that women don’t have a place online. Given the rampant misogyny that passes as normal on many popular sites (I’m looking at you, Reddit), a female-friendly online space is a pretty big deal. This article by Amanda Marcotte is a great read on the significance of Pinterest and its community:

The irony here is that the invisible “No Boys (At Least Misogynist Boys) Allowed” sign on Pinterest means that it’s not just a safe space for women to indulge stereotypically girly interests… It’s often when women are pursuing stereotypically masculine interests like this that they end up dealing with the most outrageous bigotry online, often coming from guys who find the mere presence of women in their male-centric cultures threatening. The pink and girly exterior of Pinterest works as a jerk force field, keeping the most piggish men away, leaving pinners to indulge their interests in peace.

I hope that one day soon, the norms of the Pinterest community will be the rule, not the exception.


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Jaw-Dropping Piece from Eleanor Cooney

An excerpt from the piece in Mother Jones:

From the moment I started looking for an abortion, not once did I even consider going through with the pregnancy. Not for one second. It simply was not going to happen. Nothing, and I mean nothing, was going to stop me, and it could have cost me my life. And this is what I had in common with millions and millions of women throughout time and history. When a woman does not want to be pregnant, the drive to become unpregnant can turn into a force equal to the nature that wants her to stay pregnant. And then she will look for an abortion, whether it’s legal or illegal, clean or filthy, safe or riddled with danger. This is simply a fact, whatever our opinion of it. And whether we like it or not, humans, married and unmarried, will continue to have sex—wisely, foolishly, violently, nicely, hostilely, pleasantly, dangerously, responsibly, carelessly, sordidly, exaltedly—and there will be pregnancies: wanted, unwanted, partly wanted, partly unwanted.

A society that does not accept the facts is a childish society, and a society that makes abortion illegal—and I believe that the PBAB is a calculated step in exactly that direction—is a cruel and backward society that makes being female a crime. It works in partnership with the illegal abortionist. It puts him in business, sends him his customers, and employs him to dispense crude, dirty, barbaric, savage punishment to those who break the law. And the ones who are punished by the illegal abortionist are always women: mothers, sisters, daughters, wives.

It’s no way to treat a lady.

Read the whole thing here.

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Y Combinator Goes After Hollywood

The startup-funding firm Y Combinator came out with this scathing statement as part of their newest Request For Startup:

Hollywood appears to have peaked. If it were an ordinary industry (film cameras, say, or typewriters), it could look forward to a couple decades of peaceful decline. But this is not an ordinary industry. The people who run it are so mean and so politically connected that they could do a lot of damage to civil liberties and the world economy on the way down. It would therefore be a good thing if competitors hastened their demise. (Y Combinator RFS 9 )

This sentiment is energizing, despite (or maybe because of?) its harshness. I’m all for moving away from one-way media controlled by execs who often have a dim, patronizing view of what people want to consume. Seth Godin’s book We Are All Weird describes the shift away from mass in favor of tribes, and the sooner this trend catches up to Hollywood, the better the entertainment for all of us.

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