Happy 90th Anniversary!

On August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment passed, granting women the right to vote.  The fight was a long one.  The Seneca Falls Conference, which was the first conference on women’s rights in the U.S., took place in 1848.  This is where The Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions, which spelled out all of the injustices towards women, following the form and style of the Declaration of Independence.   Only one woman who the declaration signed the was alive on election day in 1920.  Her name was Charlotte Woodward Pierce, and when she was asked if she would vote, the 90-year-old responded, “I’m too old and too ill.  I’m afraid I’ll never vote.”

There are too many women to thank.  There’s Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Alice Paul, of course, as well as the Grimke Sisters, Lucretia Mott, Martha Wright, Lucy Stone, Ernestine Rose, Ida B. Wells, Sojourner Truth, Victoria Woodhull, Virginia Minor, Julia Ward Howe to name a few.  Frederick Douglas deserves a special mention, as he was one of the only men to return his energies to women’s suffrage after the abolition of slavery.

Celebrate the work and sacrifices of the suffragists today by reading up on the upcoming elections in your area, and raising a little hell.  Also, Iron Jawed Angels is a fun movie about the passage of the 19th Amendment, and great to watch while drinking with friends.

Special thanks to Beverly Hudson-Wirtz, her awesome U.S. Women’s history class, and easy-to-follow lectures.


An Open Letter To The 8th Grade Girl From The Bus Last Spring

Dear 8th Grade Girl From The Bus,

I’m not sure if you remember me, but I remember you.  I was riding home from class, reading a biography of Margaret Fuller, discussing it was a young man sitting across from me when you  plopped down in the seat next to me and said, “Did you know that Courtney Love hired a hit man to kill Kurt Cobain?”

Now, you didn’t know this at the time, but I really like Courtney Love.  I think she’d kind of a badass.  But I merely dismissed your statement and tried to ignore you and your classmates the rest of the ride.  While there are many things I wanted to say to you that day, like “stop reaching across me,” or “calm the fuck down,” there is one thing I really wished I had said, one thing I’d tell you if I ever ran into you again: Someday, you will like Courtney Love.

See, I know the phase you’re going through.  I’ve been there.  You are a Smart Girl, maybe even a Smart Cool Girl.  That’s what you want to be, and how you want others to see you, at least.  You’re friend group is equal parts girls and boys and most of the girls are other Smart Cool Girls.  And you notice that not all girls are treated the same.  There are the Other Girls, those who aren’t necessarily know for being Smart or Cool, and you want to separate yourself from them.  The best way you see how to do this is how you treat boys.  They are your Friends, people you prove your Coolness or Smarts against, but that’s it.  And, as you slowly learn about Cool People of the Past (because, trust me, learning about past subcultures is a great way to learn to be Cool, especially if you’re kind of a nerd, like me), you’ll learn about the Crazy Girlfriends.  Courtney Love,  Yoko Ono, women that kept Men from Greatness.  You and your friends will demonize these women and you will decide that you will never become one of Those Women.

Oh, and your friends’ girlfriends will often be Those Women, at least in your eyes, and especially if your friends are in a band.

But something will happen Little One.  You’ll get hungry.  You will become starved for women; women voices, women narratives, even just women’s presence.  You will start noticing how sexist Those Who Used To Be Cool often were, and it will grow annoying.  Maybe it will be Jack Kerouac who tips the scales for you.  For me it was Hemingway.  And then the day will come where you find media for Smart Girls, girls like you.  Then, one day, down the road, you’ll wonder why exactly you were so opposed to Courtney Love all those years ago.  She acts like a rock star and people freak out because it’s a woman doing it instead of a man?  Plus, she’s a legitimate musician, and has a great style.  And really, it’s silly to think that Yoko Ono was the one factor that broke up The Beatles.  Did John Lennon have no agency?  Would the band have continued on forever if the two never got together?  Plus, Yoko Ono’s art is pretty interesting.  And she did break a lot of ground for women and artists…and next thing you know a teenager is trying to tell you how Courtney killed Kurt.  (I kid.)

Because here’s something you might not have fully realized about Those Women, the ones who kept Men From Greatness: we all have the potential to become one of Those Women, simply because we are women.  Society has always used women as scapegoats.  Eve got Man kicked out of paradise, after all.  Pandora ruined a peaceful existence for mankind when she got curious and opened that box.  Woman keeping Man from Greatness (all thanks to her pesky curiosity) was used to explain why humans suffer by both the Greeks and western religion (Judaism/Christianity/Islam).  Those Women, and despising them, is written into our culture.  And there is no reason for you to play along.

We live in a sexist society and, I’m sorry to say, no matter how much of a Cool Smart Girl you are, there is still the possibility someone will label you a Dumb Bitch.  Don’t feed into it.  Fighting with and despising other girls is just a way to keep you from working together, from being able to be seen as the Awesome Unique You and more than just Some Girl.  Remember that the Crazy Girlfriend is more than just a girlfriend, she is a full, developed person.  Don’t buy into the bullshit and don’t be afraid to call it out.

Well, it’s been a while since that day on the bus.  You’ll be starting high school soon.  Hopefully, this is the time when you’ll find your Smart Girl Media, maybe Jezebel or Feministing.  I started with Bust, which I’d suggest, along with BitchVenus also used to be cool.  But I know it’ll happen one day, Little One.  The day will come when you like Courtney Love.

Just embrace it.

Sincerely, Ann

“She doesn’t have to do it”: Female self-objectification and our complicity in the beauty myth

We all know what Hugh Hefner thinks of women, and his outdated misogyny has already been analyzed to death. For me, the interesting part happens when his interviews get filtered through the wider world. Earlier this month he was asked whether he objectifies women. He answered,

“The notion that Playboy turns women into sex objects is ridiculous. Women are sex objects. If women weren’t sex objects, there wouldn’t be another generation. It’s the attraction between the sexes that makes the world go ’round. That’s why women wear lipstick and short skirts.”

The news program I was watching played the clip, then panned to two female newscasters for commentary. The women laughed nervously. “Well,” said one, “I think a lot of people will excuse his comments because of his age… And women, we like to be looked at that way, sometimes.” Both women seemed extremely uncomfortable, and they cut away quickly to a local news story.

The image of the two heavily made-up, painstakingly styled women employed in an image-based profession struggling to negotiate Hefner’s statement illuminates an essential issue we have living as women today: How do we maintain a strong feminist identity in an image-based society? In our world, women are sex objects. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, we are constantly trying to be sexy but not too sexy, balancing carefully between the Madonna and the whore, striving to maintain control over an external self which is unrelentingly judged by the outside world.

When I saw this clip, I was at the gym. There I was, pumping away at the elliptical, which is pretty much as far away from fun as you can get, clocking my requisite 45 minutes and participating in the beauty myth with every cal/minute. As I scowled furiously at the overhead tv, I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty. I wasn’t on the elliptical for my own enjoyment, and I was there only partly for my health. I was there to maintain a body standard. I was, at that very moment, objectifying myself.

Regardless of profession, women are required to maintain a certain model of beauty standards. In job interviews, I’m expected to always wear make-up and high heels. I understand the professional wardrobe: the nice skirt or pants, the button-down shirt–but high heels? High heels hobble, hurt and inhibit my ability to move quickly. And yet I wear them, because I need a job, and I’ve been told they help my chances, and I can’t fight a global battle at the expense of my ability to make a living.

“When a brilliant critic and a beautiful woman… puts on black suede spike heels and a ruby mouth before asking an influential professor to be her thesis advisor, is she a slut? Or is she doing her duty to herself, in a clear-eyed appraisal of a hostile or indifferent milieu, by taking care to nourish her real gift under the protection of her incidental one?”

Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth

Can we participate in the beauty myth and still garner respect? How can these newscasters protest Hefner’s statement without feeling hypocritical? Can we in good conscience profit off of our object-hood, and do we have a choice not to even try? Society isn’t fair. No amount of hard work will be fairly compensated, no degree will stop people from looking at our chest.

Worst of all, the myth says that we do this to ourselves. It is guilt, and not anger at an unfair world, that puts the uncomfortable expressions on the newscasters’ faces. They can’t rebuff Hefner because they are led to believe that it’s their fault. They are agents of their own objectification. They willingly transform themselves into sex objects every morning they get dressed in professional but body-conscious suits, and paint their lips red. They profit off of it, like women getting free drinks at a bar.

But is it really even free will? Do they, or we, really even have a choice? To a certain extent, yes, we are complicit– but do we really lose all feminist credentials when we participate in self-objectification? Sure, we could get a free drink–but a free drink really doesn’t compensate for the fear, the guilt, the danger and the constant struggle of living in a female body, not to mention generations of oppression, lesser pay and endless damage and on top of it all, an “it’s her own fault” mentality which pushes all the liability back to us.

The newscasters wouldn’t have even gotten the job without lipstick, and they’re still paid less than men–but they feel guilty, we feel guilty, for participating in our own objectification. Guilty enough not to protest when Hugh Hefner reduce us to empty sex objects, guilty enough to relinquish our ability to protest at all, because sometimes we wear a short skirt.