Rebecca Walker
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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Seeds : The Political Mama: Five Questions for HRC

 
Seeds : The Political Mama: Five Questions for HRC

Hey! Here's my root blog for the day--my favorite response so far:

"Your CNNPolitics.com commentary (Best Woman for the Job Could be a Man) was spot on. It was one of the best comments on the Democratic Primary that I have read or heard. It's too bad that many of the folks who wrote in think you are a feminist Obama apologist. I think that a huge part of Clinton's problem is that her politics are a generation too old. It is a politics of division (women versus men). Obama offers a vision of women and men working together. Second, old school feminism continues to ignore its own internal racism. It is very middle class and college educated. One does not hear much from or about lower income, less educated, or women of color.


All of this came out in the comments by baby boom feminists against you and Obama. Your article (like Obama's rhetoric) publicly credits Clinton for her huge accomplishment. You articulate a post-gender feminism of inclusion that the baby boom feminists -who are divisive- attack as apologist. They lost because people who are different are into working together instead of apart. Rather than consider your on time observations, those pro-Clinton, anti-Obama, pro-McCain feminists choose to cling to the 20th Century and attack you. Remember the angry white male? America, don't be confused. The angry white female finally came out of the closet!"


Here's the strangest and most disturbing:


"i have no idea who you are and i wager most americans haven't a clue either, i do know that men and women, gays and straights, transgenders, all colors, all economic backgrounds have voted...18 million of them for a woman. they did not vote for a guy who made it a prime point to tell everyone he was black.


if this interloper had come on with experience and truth that he could actually bring people together maybe we would care for him. he has divided families, races, friends, communities. his followers act as thugs all over the country. they seek to deny delegates for hillary their place at the convention. they are abusive if you say you will not vote for obama. i have spoken to hundreds in dozens of states and have heard the horror story of the obama vols as they threatened any who opposed obama. this man is scary and we definitely do not want him as president. he offers ice in the winter. he can't keep a promise, he has an inordinate capacity for disloyalty. he is a control freak. one has only to research and learn how he denied any opposition to his personal appearances across the country. very nazi like. now, after selling his brand of snake oil to gain his position he is now changing it pell mell.


change? obama puts forth change that will be injurious to the people of this country. he is to be avoided. thus, as a core democrat, i will vote for a republican for the first time in my life."


Wow.


I'd love to hear your thoughts, here or on theroot.com.


xo



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Sunday, February 03, 2008

Modern Beauty

 
So today I got an email from a young high-school student in Australia, Patricia, doing a report on Third Wave and Women's Magazines. Because she heard somewhere that I founded Third Wave (true), she sent some questions and I did my best to answer. How'd I do?

1. What is your personal definition of "modern feminism"?

Any act or thought that leads to a safer, healthier, more equitable and enjoyable experience for women and the people who love them.

2. How do you think mainstream girls/women's magazines have impacted upon "modern" feminism?

Girl's/Women's magazines impact women positively and negatively. They provide a sense of community, a location for fantasies of glamour, a shared generational visual language, a heightened appreciation for fashion, and content that is relevant and helpful for girls and women, i.e. articles on breast cancer prevention, body-image issues, and the plight of women in other countries.

However, the magazines are at odds with their own goals of befriending the reader. By defining beauty in a limited way-white, thin, rich, overly-sexualized, and objectified-the magazines manufacture in girls and women a desire to alter ourselves, or, even worse, to question the worth and fabulousness of our own (i.e. not white, not thin, not rich) lives in comparison to those portrayed in the magazine. And because models don't speak, their fabulousness is all about how they look, not how they feel. The reader begins to see herself that way, to focus more on the external, "Do I look okay?' than on the internal, "Am I okay?"

Lately, my biggest concern with women's magazines is the rabid obsession with consumerism they espouse. It's not just about looking like the model, sharing the same silhouette or hair style, it's about being able to buy the two thousand dollar pair of shoes, the sublimely supple three thousand dollar handbag. The paper is slick, the photography flawless, the styling outrageously seductive. The end result: Where is my credit card? How can I make more money? What do I have to do to get that? All of which can undermine financial stability, career options, and self-esteem.

That said, as a sporadic reader of women's magazines, I believe readers can, with a healthy dose of restraint and mindfulness, have an interactive relationship with a fashion glossy. That is, the reader does not have to be a passive absorber of the messages of the magazine, but can pick and choose, based on their level of insight into these matters, which ideas and images to integrate into their consciousness. Readers can also read/look with a sense of irony and critique, changing the offensive material into a piece of cultural matter to be engaged and partially rejected, and not mindlessly shaped by. This line of thought is consistent with the Third Wave idea that women are not only victims, but agents in our own lives; our work as Third Wavers is not just to diminish victimization but to amplify agency.

3. What do you think of the direction that these mainstream magazines are headed in? Negative or positive and why?

Mainstream magazines depend on advertising dollars to survive, which is why the magazines reflect so directly the interests of those advertisers. Make-up, pharmaceutical cosmetics, fashion, etc., will continue to claim more pages, and meaningful, unsubsidized content will continue to fall away unless there is significant intervention.

As media empires are driven toward healthier trends by consumers-like green products and conflict-free diamonds-I believe we will see some positive change. Supporting the Dove campaigns for Real Beauty is one way to apply the needed pressure for change. Dove is having an incredible impact on women, girls and the industry at large by expanding the standard of beauty in their models, and initiating dynamic public discussion about the right for women to feel good about themselves as they are.

4. Is there a counter balance to whatever effects these particular mainstream magazines have? Any examples?

Women have to take responsibility for loving and accepting ourselves, period. There is an old Langston Hughes poem about a woman looking for her reflection in a sink full of dirty dishwater. We will never see ourselves if we keep looking to the wrong places for glimpses of our beauty. We live in an amazing moment. Never before have there been so many incredible women at our fingertips. From Frida Kahlo to Anais Nin, Yoko Ono to Angela Davis. With a simple Google search we can see some of the most brilliant and fashionable women in the world. These women of history should become our magazines, our friends, our mentors across time.

Other measures for counterbalance include education: readers should know who profits from the magazines and how the mags function as pieces of pop culture. Feedback about beauty and everything else should come from reliable sources that know and love us. Women and girls need to be involved in cultivating dynamic lives. I am learning French, swim as much as I can, study Tibetan Buddhism, travel as much as possible, read, cuddle with my partner and son. There is so much with which to build a life filled with happiness. The magazines can be an alternate world, almost like a drug, that delude one into thinking that happiness is in there, in that make believe world, rather than out here, in the life you have. Not true!

Exposure to international standards of beauty is also helpful. In Mali a woman is not considered beautiful unless she has a large forehead. To realize that different cultures have different ways of defining beauty helps us to understand that ours is also just cultural, just local, and not universal. This can be quite liberating.

I could go on and on, but we should also remember that women and girls choose to read women's magazines. Why not research what they like about them, and then create a magazine that includes those aspects while transforming the others. SASSY magazine was very successful at this, partly because young women made it themselves. What about non-profits or patrons coming forward to support pro-woman, content-positive pages in women's magazines without losing some of the other elements that make the mags pop?

What about enlightened beauty product companies, again, like Dove, nudging editorial in a more healthy direction? Or maybe Dove can found a magazine in the same way Oprah did, based on their already successful campaign concept? I'd read that.

5. Do you believe that magazines aimed at teenage girls/young women encourage them to foster unrealistic expectations? If so, what?

I am troubled that glossy mainstream women's magazines suggest that by dressing, looking, and spending a certain way, the girl/woman will be assured respect, love, success, adoration, and attention; in short, a fabulous life. In real life fabulousness is more about balance, choice, access, safety, opportunity, intelligence. It's way more complicated than the way it looks in a magazine spread, and it takes a lifetime of hard work-internal and external.

6. Any extra comments/ remarks?

It's important to remember that the adornment and objectification of female beauty is an ancient ritual; women's magazines are only contemporary versions on a theme dating back to before Nefertiti donned her exquisite crown and applied her dramatic eyeliner. Critiques of the magazines are absolutely justified, but should be carefully considered. Female beauty will always be powerful, we just want every woman to feel and own that power.

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Strike One for Team Hillary

 
Running on my Huffington Post Blog Today:

The Fence


As a bi-racial, Ivy-League educated, thirty-something feminist who campaigned for Bill Clinton, the election has me squarely on the fence. I love Barack's vision and know intimately the mosaic of ideas and experiences that helped shape it. I also feel a profound loyalty to Hillary who, after much sacrifice, has the chance to shatter the glass ceiling once and for all.

Gloria Steinem's op-ed in the NYTimes didn't help Team Hillary [full disclosure, GS is my godmother]. It crystallized for me that Hillary, no matter how symbolically potent, runs the risk of being seen as a Second Wave candidate. She's one of the first women to gain power and access, and may be one of the first with power and access to ignore the criticisms of women of color, progressive men, and many young women, all of whom have been sending clear messages to Second Wave feminist leadership for well over a decade.

Messages like:

Women are not only victims, but active participants in the shaping of their lives. It's not Hillary's gender that may keep her from winning this election, it's her lack of preparation. If she had an inter-generational, multi-racial, digitally savvy, globally inclined machine behind her, crafting electrifying rhetoric like The Audacity of Hope and The Power of Now, she'd be swept into the White House by a landslide. Hillary wasn't forced into the number two position in Iowa, she made decisions that put her there. New Hampshire is a case in point; she made different decisions and got different results.

Racism and classism are as definitive as sexism. Did Steinem insinuate that Barack's gender, and not his talent, put him in the top spot? I thought black men were capable of performing at his level without an irrationally granted advantage. And the idea that black men always reach the Promised Land before white women? Forty per cent of black men don't finish high school in America, and one in four are incarcerated. Hillary, and her feminist supporters, are not going to win this election by glossing over the realities of African-American men.

Men are not the enemy. Steinem claims that sexism is responsible for Hillary's loss in Iowa, implicitly accusing men-at-large of devaluing women, while many of them may simply be more inspired by a candidate who happens to be a man. This type of divisive discourse that judges and alienates the many men who support the women in their families, communities, and the civic sphere every day is not only bad for women, it's bad for Hillary's campaign. Obama is running as a uniter. Hillary needs to avoid re-inscribing historical divisions in order to gain ground.

And, finally:

Young women are not stupid. The idea that young women are too naive to realize the pervasiveness of sexism is an old Second Wave trope used to dismiss and discredit an entire generation, many of whom now support Obama because he doesn't insult them. As a result, there are a few women lining up behind the "feminist" placard, but many more running in the other direction.

Far from being ungrateful or unintelligent, these women know that confrontational political labels and a religious fixation on gender aren't productive. They, rightly, choose to enjoy the rights they should have had all along, and find other, more complex approaches to righting the rampant injustice in the world. Hillary's gender is not enough to win their vote, and she needs to show them that she knows it.

So while there's still plenty of time for Hillary to win me over, Obama is looking pretty good at the moment. He's listened to what many of my generational peers and I have been saying for the last decade, and his momentum proves it.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

IMOW - Trailblazing: The Women of Nepal's Trekking Industry (24 min)

 
Hey everybody!

Here is one of my favorite Third Wave or "young feminist" sites: the Imagining Ourselves Project. They are having an on-line film festival, one film for each day of the month.

There are so many great, inspiring films. Check this one out about a women's trekking company in Nepal.

IMOW - Trailblazing: The Women of Nepal's Trekking Industry (24 min)

Happy Tuesday!

Rebecca

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