What’s Your Guilty Pleasure?

25 09 2009

So we all know about the stupid commercials trying to convince women that our guilty pleasure is shampooing, eating yoghurt, jogging… but today I’ve been thinking about my own guilty pleasures, things that I enjoy and feel a bit guilty about because I’m a feminist, because I’m queer, because I’m supposedly not girly, because I’m intelligent, whatever.  These are my guilty pleasures – what are yours?

  • Britney Spears, especially “Womanizer” and “If You Seek Amy”
  • That fucking Katy Perry song that I hate on principle but can’t get out of my head
  • Justin Timberlake
  • The Holiday
  • The Bachelorette
  • Silly YA novels
  • Diana Gabaldon

Announcing the F-Wave Blog!

24 09 2009

Now that we have a few posts under our belt, I want to officially announce the bit of “blogging news” I hinted at while liveblogging from the Women + Power conference.  Myself and six other amazing young women who met and clicked at the conference decided to create a blog called the F-Wave.  The F-Wave is a place for a diverse bunch of young women from the US & Canada to discuss things that are relevant to our lives, both individually and in a group “roundtable” each week.  I hope you’ll follow that blog as well as this one, and comment if you have something to say!

Same-Sex Couples in the Ballroom

24 09 2009

Apparently there was some kerfuffle about same-sex ballroom dancing on So You Think You Can Dance? (this may be old news, but I only watch Dancing with the Stars so I just heard).  Personally, I think same-sex dancing is sexy and fun and it’s nice for queer people to be able to do these sexy, romantic dances with the gender for whom they feel those kinds of things.  It’s especially fun when you do have a partner to be able to dance with them regardless of gender.  I’ve taught a lot of girls, gay and straight, to dance, because I can lead and follow, and I love doing it.  Sometimes it’s fun to dance with a guy, too, especially if the particular guy is aware that dancing ≠ attraction, but in a lot of casual dancing venues, men tend to abuse the “one dance is just polite” rule and think that dancing means something more.  I’ve danced in venues that are completely friendly to same-sex female couples, but I think that the dancing world should also open its doors to male couples.  Artistic expression knows no gender boundaries.

Technology: Good, Bad, or Ugly?

21 09 2009

Now for some more evaluative comments on how Internet has pervaded our lives so thoroughly.  In my last post I described my day-to-day activities online, but I didn’t really address the question that’s floating around – namely how does technology affect the way we communicate and relate, and is its effect good, bad, or value-neutral?  In the spirit of my seven-year-old self, I’ve decided to do this pros and cons style.  In addition to my own thoughts, two more posts on the subject caught my eye this week – Courtney at Feministing blogged from an airplane about staying healthy and balanced in the rush of all this information now available online, and Salon’s Vincent Rossmeier interviewed author Dennis Baron about the pros and cons of technology in our lives in an article entitled “Is the Internet Melting Our Brains?”


1) The Internet erases a lot of barriers. Of course, there are plenty of exceptions to this rule.  To many, the Internet is not affordable, inaccessible, or censored.  But for those with hearing or speaking difficulties, those for whom leaving the house is a major task due to physical disabilities, or those who are simply difficult to understand due to a strong regional accent, the Internet makes it easier to communicate, and communicate frequently.

2) The Internet makes it easy to find people you like, and avoid people you don’t. Don’t get me wrong, now; I am not a huge advocate of “blocking” people unless they really are harassing you, but I do think the Internet is a lifesaver when it comes to finding people with whom you really connect and those with common interests/personality traits/desires/backgrounds.  Growing up in North Carolina, the Internet was a major tool for me in finding out about queer lifestyles and finding other queer teenagers in my area.  Even locally, it was hard to meet each other for safety and reputational concerns, but online we could find one another in online “safe spaces,” often using a screenname at first, then building trust through conversations and exchanging real details or meeting up in person.  These preliminary conversations also make it easy to take time figuring out with whom you connect and with whom you don’t, as opposed to in-person meetings where you may get “stuck” with a friend who is completely unlike you or conversationally incompatible.  Rather than the “closed” environment of school or work, the Internet is an “open environment” where you can consciously search for people that are easy to bond with.  This logic also extends to information – not only do you choose with whom you communicate, you can choose your sources of information.  The Internet makes it possible to get all your news from a feminist or liberal lens, to keep up to date on completely obscure topics with Google Alerts, and to research incredibly quickly.  Whatever we think about the decline of print journalism, I do think that the existence of the Internet helps to keep traditional journalists honest.

3) The Internet provides access to people in completely different parts of the world. On the same train of thought, a great thing about online communication is that you can find the people with whom you best connect, wherever they may be.  You can form a close friendship or even a romantic relationship with someone thousands of miles away, and maybe meet up in person, providing an opportunity to go somewhere you never would’ve gone before.  I have very close friends in Birmingham, England, in West Texas, in California, in France, and in Pittsburgh that I initially met on the Internet.  Once I flew as far as Reno, Nevada to meet an “online friend.”  These are amazing opportunities that I wouldn’t give up for anything.  The Internet also helps build specific communities that can be safe havens for those in small towns, rural areas, or countries where a particular community is small or non-existent.  People who are queer, feminist, speak a “foreign” language, etc. can find people online on the same camp, if not in person.  Dan Savage loves to talk on his podcast about how folks with the most bizarre fetishes can now type that phrase into Google and find fifty other people out there like them.  It may be a joke, but hey, in reality, isn’t that a pretty powerful thing?

4) The Internet is good for multitasking. You can do a lot of things online, and you can do many of them quickly.  The Internet gives you a certain amount of control, despite the fact that it can suck you in sometimes.  You can have an instant message conversation running (or three), be typing a blog post, and have a program watching for any new e-mail coming in (yes, that’s me right now).  It’s not rude online to disappear for brief periods of time, and it’s less obvious than if you’re chatting on the phone and fall silent because you’re checking your e-mail.  You can find out things you need to know very quickly, whether that’s the definition of a word, someone’s phone number, the weather, a quote, the name of a song, or who’s living where right now.  None of those things take very much time or interrupt anything else you’re doing.  It makes your day-to-day life faster, as well as keeping your “online life” flowing.  It’s also nice to be able to control information flow, whether that’s pausing a streaming Rachel Maddow video or reading your news on and off throughout the day.


1) Lack of a physical connection.  This is probably the biggest downside of using the Internet as your primary tool for communication.  There’s something to be said for seeing a face, hearing a voice, feeling a touch.  We do communicate differently online (see the next point), and there can be a loss to not seeing one another in person.  I do think those in an older generation can exaggerate that loss, but it’s there.  Typing something like *hugs* is not the same thing real physical comfort.  There are also the same kinds of conversational flaws present online as in real life.  For example, I don’t like being at a party full of people and feeling like no one is paying attention to me as an individual person.  I like to think that the Internet, by making it okay to multitask and pause regularly in conversation, creates more of a “one-on-one” connection – the person I’m instant messaging with may be running around, doing other things, talking to others, but we’re still alone in that window, having a conversation.  However, it’s easy to feel ignored in an online conversation, too, when there are long pauses, or you’re always the one initiating the conversation and they’re always the first to leave.  It creates some intimacy, but it doesn’t make up for people simply wanting to be somewhere else, if that’s the case.

2) People communicate differently online. This is the flip side of #2 on the pros.  The “wall” that the Internet puts up can make people more open online, for example, and make it easier to talk, but the same person could be a terrible conversationalist in public.  Some might say that the person is cheating, faking, lying… I don’t agree, but I do find this problematic if I really click with someone online and then we decide to be “real life” friends and it’s terribly awkward.

3) The online world may be pretty, but it’s not always real. In addition to the problem that those who can access the Internet are necessarily able to afford it, or live somewhere that has a free public library, there is also the problem that a high degree of control is a form of censoring.  In my online bubble, there are few conservatives, no religious zealots, no homophobes, no racists, etc.  But in the real world, these elements do exist.  It’s easy to ignore a problem or walk away from a conversation that you don’t experience in real life.  I don’t buy into the whole “bloggers don’t solve problems, they only talk about them” thing, but I do think that the Internet can be very insulated and educated.  I have quite a few real-life friends that I would not necessarily “pick” at first glance – friends who are very conservative, very evangelical, strongly pro-life.  I have family members who are homophobic, racist, and suspicious of anyone with a college degree.  And I do think that my life is richer for knowing these people, even if some of their viewpoints drive me up a wall.  To some extent, maybe the Internet sanitizes that.

The moral of the story?

I have no idea.  I do think that in the end, it comes down to balance.  It’s good to meet people online, but it’s good to have connections in your own city or town as well.  Physically, it’s probably a health benefit to get those eyes away from the screen.  Emotionally, it’s important to have actual touch, physical contact, from time to time.  I miss social interactions like dinner parties, and I wouldn’t mind bringing those back.  But at the same time, I’m eternally grateful for my best friends, and if I have to fly halfway around the world to see some of them, or if I am never able to see some of them, then that’s all right by me.

Feminist Book Recommendations

16 09 2009

I’ve just written a post over on my book blog with three feminist book recommendations.  Check it out if you’re interested!

How the Internets Shape My Day-to-Day Life (as a Feminist)

16 09 2009

One thing that was really interesting for me about the Women + Power Conference was all the discussion about blogging and other Internet technology and how it shapes our activism, our news-reading habits, etc.  From the stage, there were some really interesting stories about, for example, how a woman in rural Africa was able to connect to other women in a way she never would have been able to pre-Internet through the site Pulse Wire.  In our intergenerational lunch conversation, we talked more about how the Internet affects us generally, in terms of relating and developing friendships, both positive and negative.

When I got home, I started thinking about just how I do use the Internet both for information gathering and for community building.  Of course, I’m very conscious of things that the Internet helps me with in terms of getting information about the weather, restaurant menus, contact info, all that stuff that I find myself without when I’m away from the computer.  But what I don’t pay as much attention to is the social element.  I also wonder how my Internet use differs from others my generation and a little bit older, or a little bit younger.  So I’ll describe a typical day of Internet usage for me, and I’d be interested to hear how this differs from your experience in the comments.  Also, coincidentally I came across a blog post today that discusses relationships and Facebook.  Though Facebook isn’t a big social medium for me, I thought you might be interested to check out what this blogger has to say.

A Day in the Online Life of Me

Keep in mind, of course, that I’m not working right now, so I can spend a lot more time online.

Right after waking up:  Read through Twitter Feed and Tweet once.  Check e-mail.  Read my Google Reader (a few traditional newspapers, feminist websites and blogs, queer blogs, sexuality blogs, law and other academic blogs, foodblogs, Daily Beast, friends’ blogs, NPR, the New Yorker).

During the day: Watch a few TV shows online (Rachel Maddow Show, Daily Show, Colbert Report).  Post to one or two of my blogs.  Spend a good 4-6 hours intermittently chatting with friends online.  I met many of my closest friends online initially, and some I have never met in person, which was a particular surprise to the older women at the intergenerational lunch.

Night: Settle into a chat room with a group of my friends.  Chat till around 11 pm – 1 am until my eyes absolutely won’t stay open.  Rinse and repeat.

Some observations: One thing I don’t use a lot is Facebook, though it’s a great tool for invitations and organizing contact information.  I don’t read Twitter more than once a day, which means that I miss a lot.  I was surprised to hear presenters this weekend talk about meeting people on Twitter.  Meet?  But it’s 140 characters!  I met most of my friends through blog and online journal comments, communities specific to a particular interest, or OKCupid, an online dating site that I use to meet other queer friends and sometimes make dates.  After making a connection, our primary contact is through IM.  I also don’t use Skype or videochat, so my contacts are almost all textual.  Sometimes when I do meet someone in person I’m surprised by how their personality is different, how they look, how they interact.  I don’t know if it’s good or bad – just different.

An interesting model for womanhood

15 09 2009

I’ve been thinking a lot about “masculine” and “feminine” since the Women + Power conference, and about “aggressive” versus “emotional.” I’m just reading Vanessa Veselka’s essay, “The Collapsible Woman,” and she offers an interesting alternative to the strong/weak dichotomy in discussing what society expects of rape survivors. “We need to articulate a new vision that equates feminine strength not with repression and bravado, but with compassion and grit.”

Compassion and grit.

I love that. I think it’s a good workaround for my own insecurities about just how “emotional” I want to be, and what it might represent. I want a way to be a generous and loving friend, someone who cares about people, sometimes has a lover or two, can act as a mentor, sometimes needs to cry, likes doing “girly” stuff from time to time, but at the same time is proudly queer, child-free, and entirely career-oriented. I’m someone who thrives on relationships with friends and lovers, but doesn’t want a life revolving around “family,” with the implicit meaning of husband or wife + brood of children. I am happy to lead a life directed by ambition, but sometimes suffer from depression when I use that purpose to isolate myself or make being alone my cry of pride. Oh, the little white lies we tell ourselves. But I’m not prepared to say that what I truly need is the opposite of what I’ve been preaching, to “confess,” because it isn’t. I do need to be alone. I need to pursue projects, and I need to forge my path through life independently. At the same time, I need the support and love of others, holding my hands but not holding me up.

Compassion and grit. Amen, sister.

Omega Women + Power Conference Wrap-Up

14 09 2009

First, just a couple of administrative notes.  For some reason, comment notification e-mails were not coming to me, and I missed a number of older comments in the moderation queue.  If you’re one of those people, I apologize for not approving your comment sooner!  Those of you who asked specific questions in comments on the About page, I did see your questions and I’ll be responding soon.  Thanks for your patience 🙂  Also, I want to thank everyone who’s kept me on your blog reading list despite a few months of mostly dead time.  This is a transition point for me in blogging, and the workshop at Omega on blogging reinforced something I knew already–that I need to post consistently and keep to a set schedule if I want readership to come and stick around.  So from this point forward, I’m setting a minimum goal of three posts per week.  I hope you enjoy the content and pass the word on about this blog.

That said, I just want to post a wrap-up about the conference in Rhinebeck.  As you may have gathered, I was liveblogging and Tweeting from a mobile device, specifically an iPod Touch, and so the one-fingered typing has some limitations!  Some of my favorite quotes from the weekend are on Twitter (peachy_penumbra), but I wanted to say overall how much I enjoyed the conference and how inspiring, funny, and yes, powerful, many of the women who shared the stage were.  I also made some great friendships over a very short period of time, and got to meet a lot of cool young women who may not have been able to speak on the stage, but had a lot to say off of it.

For me, the conference was a mixture of feeling empowered and refreshed, and on the flip side, feeling a little bit angry and frustrated.  On the one hand, there were these great organic conversations going on, the empowerment of being in what really felt like a safe space (so safe that yoga and naked sauna-ing were involved!), and fabulous speakers that made me feel like I could achieve a lot more than what I’m doing right now.  Women like Gloria Steinem, Isabel Allende, Helen Thomas, Lateefah Simon, Jensine Larsen (etc., etc., etc.) are a great inspiration, even if some of the younger activists make me feel downright lazy!  On the other hand, there were some negative aspects to the conference.

There was a lot of emphasis on nurturing, caring, embracing the “feminine” instead of only focusing on power and aggression.  I have an instinctive clench-up reaction to that.  Part of it is a psychological struggle that I’m going through personally and won’t get into at the moment, but another part is that this masculine/feminine dichotomy is so frustrating.  I felt that a lot of women, especially older women, were saying things like embrace your feminine side, we’re learning these values to pass on to our children, let’s think about our husbands and men in our lives, etc.  In other words, there was a fairly heteronormative, dichotomous gender-based structure to this whole thing.  Lesbians and transgendered people were mentioned from time to time, but I think that there was a deeper structural issue at play.  I noticed it in the insistence on labeling everyone’s “two sides” masculine and feminine in our intergenerational discussion, even when a woman was trying to say that these things don’t really have to do with gender.  Why do we always have to think in twos?

Hopefully our generation is moving in the right direction on this, though, and I think we are.  Overall, it was a great experience–inspiring, thought-provoking, and challenging.  I hope I’ll have the opportunity to attend more events like this in the future.

Liveblogging from women and power conference

12 09 2009

Liveblogging from the omega institute women and power conference!

Friday, September 11

10:27 pm: met some fabulous women today! Omega has great food. Gloria Steinem made some really good points about intergenerational feminist connecting.

Saturday, September 12

9:20 am: Sakena Yacobi is speaking on her experiences as a women’s rights and women’s health activist in Afghanistan. She does amazing work under daily risk to her life. I don’t think I understood the trauma of living through conflict until I heard her describe how families are hurt by the lack of trust and communication that comes from trying to protect oneself. Her solution–education–really speaks to me.

9:45 am: Yacobi is doing something really innovative with her women’s learning centers–supplementing core academics with topics like health education, ethics, etc. They also give women contraceptives, sexuality education, and Koran-based education on how to say no to violence and rape. We could learn from her.

10:16 am: Panel of young women both inspiring and humbling. Jensine Larsen started World Pulse magazine as a shy 28 year old with no publishing experience. Her magazine and website are creating amazing connections between women struggling and suceesing all over the world. I think we forget how much of a lifeline Internet forums can be for women who have few other ways to connect.

11:17 am: Kick ass talk from Lateefah Simon earlier. Fascinating panel now addressing issues such as confronting fear in activism, body confidence, and organizations to watch. Check out my tweets at peachy_penumbra and all the news from the conference at #womenpower.

11:47 am: Loung Ung doing a great intro for Isabel Allende. I’ve been thinking from all these women’s stories how great it’d be to have a mentor. Rather than feeling big and empowered, I feel very small. Lots of confusing emotions this weekend–should I feel angry, closed off? This morning at yoga I prayed to be full of love, and I find that I need that, but also the strength to ask for support, as so many brave young women have here.

2:27 pm: Isabel Allende was unsurprisingly inspiring. Our table got into some critical discussion of how we organize the world along gender lines at the cross generational lunch. I felt like we didn’t make a lot of progress, but it was interesting. Also talked a lot about technology and how we relate. Now listening to sports panel, Feministing blogging workshop next.

12:53 am: Sitting on a bench outside the cafe after a long night. Feministing editors had some good tips on blog promotion, safety, and content generation. Sarah Jones and Natalie Merchant both fabulous. Finally, look for an exciting blog related update in a week or so!

Sunday, September 13

10:45 am: Young feminist presentation this morning. I think Courtney & Charreah did a pretty good job of summarizing young feminism, but I would have liked for them to list more topics of interest for our generation. Now Helen Thomas is coming onstage.

Note: There was one last update from the bus at 7 pm but my iPod went screwy so suffice it to say the moderator sucked, but Helen Thomas was pretty badass, as were the other women journalists on the panel.