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Where Are the Global Girl Activists?


Where are the young women in the fight for global women’s rights?

Don’t ask me this stupid question today. Most days I could calmly and politely explain to you where and how young women are doing this work. How it looks differently than it did before, that the keywords are different and much of the work is being done online as well as offline. Calm and polite is not something I can muster today.

Because today the answer is this: the young women in the fight for global women’s rights are being shot in the head in Pakistan for fighting for girls’ right to education.

Malala Yousufzai is fourteen years old. When she was eleven, the private girls school owned by her father was forced to close, along with all other schools for girls in Swat, Pakistan at the order of the Taliban.

Malala and her family knew the danger of defying the ban – as troops rolled in to enforce it, other families fled the violence in hope of finding peace and educational opportunities for their whole families. But Malala’s family was determined to stay and fight for their school and their community.

Malala was also determined to speak out against the ban. At just 11, she began writing an anonymous blog for the BBC about the conditions in Swat and the girl’s determination to resume their education. In that diary, she wrote of continuing her education in her bedroom and of nightmares she had about Taliban fighters coming to kill her and her family. At the time she wrote of her activism, “I started asking why girls were denied their basic right to education. Why were (the) Taliban hurting innocent people and how my friends and I wished to attend school to grow in life?”

By the time she was 13, Malala had been featured in two New York Times documentaries about the battle for girls education in Pakistan. She was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize and was honored with the Pakistan National Peace Prize. A school was named after her. No longer anonymous, she publicly called on girls and their families to return to school. And she broadened her activism to include advocating for freedom from the Taliban and peace in her nation.

This morning the Taliban claimed responsibility for shooting Malala in the head and neck on a school bus as she returned home from school. When the gunman boarded the bus and asked which girl was her, the other students tried to protect her. He shot two other girls for their defiance. The Taliban official said Malala’s assassination had been in the works for over a year.

This morning, Malala is fighting for her life in a hospital in Pakistan because she spoke out when she saw an injustice. This morning, of all mornings, on the week of the International Day of the Girl. And this morning, people will still be asking where girls are in the fight for global women’s rights.



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The Terrorism That Killed Dr. Tiller Remains A Threat

This you probably know: three years ago today, abortion provider Dr. George Tiller was murdered in his church by anti-abortion terrorist Scott Roeder.

You may not know that this is also the 9th year anniversary of the arrest of Eric Rudolph, the anti-abortion terrorist who was eventually convicted of bombing a clinic in Birmingham, Alabama. That bomb, which was made of dynamite surrounded by nails, killed part-time security guard Robert Sanderson and critically injured nurse Emily Lyons.

Today is a day to stop and remember a man who often wore a button that said, simply, “trust women.” Dr. George Tiller provided women’s reproductive care for over thirty years, including later abortions that many providers couldn’t or wouldn’t do. Women travelled to his Kansas clinic from all over the United States to get the basic health care they couldn’t access anywhere else. Their reasons for going were as varied as the women themselves but Dr. Tiller knew that every choice was a thoughtful, justified one. He simply trusted women to know what was best for them and their families. For this radical act, he was shot in the head.

But today is also a day to remember that anti-abortion terrorism – and that’s what it is and so we must name it – is a very real threat. Following Dr. Tiller’s murder, there were 49 reported acts of trespassing and 114 acts of vandalism against abortion providers. Before Dr. Tiller’s death, violence directed at abortion providers killed seven people, including three doctors, two clinic employees, a security guard and a clinic escort.

As we remember Dr. Tiller today, clinics across the country are on high alert following three fires at women’s clinics in the south. One fire in Georgia targeted a gynecological office that didn’t provide abortions. Another broke out at an abortion clinic, also in Georgia, while there were patients and staff inside. And the offices of an organization in New Orleans that provides women’s health services and organizes on behalf of marginalized communities, Women With A Vision, was broken into and then burned to the ground. (Women With A Vision is accepting donations to rebuild and continue on with their work – if you can help, please do so here.)

Thankfully, no one was injured in any of these incidents. Yet it’s as clear as it was three years ago that trusting women is still, for some, a good enough reason to commit acts of terrorist violence.

I didn’t write this post to take away from the many wonderful remembrances of Dr. Tiller’s life that are being penned today. I didn’t write this post to get into an argument about whether or not all people who are opposed to abortion are in favor of violence to end it – they aren’t and there are many other days and many other spaces to discuss how the anti-abortion movement does and does not deal with terrorists in its ranks.

I wrote this post as a reminder that Dr. Tiller was not the first and sadly will probably not be the last victim of anti-abortion terrorism. I wrote this post to remind all of us who fight for reproductive freedom that the people who provide know that every day they walk into work they could be killed for doing their job AND THEY STILL DO IT because they, like Dr. Tiller, trust women. Dr. Tiller himself knew all too well that he could die for this conviction. If that’s not heroism that should be remembered and honored every day, well, I don’t know what is.


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Google Doodles Still Erasing Women’s History

Two years ago, I wrote a post over at Feministe calling out Google Doodles – described by Google as “changes that are made to the Google logo to celebrate holidays, anniversaries and the lives of famous artists, pioneers and scientists” – for pretending women haven’t existed for most of history. At the time, I counted only 8 women out of the 109 birthdays that had been celebrated in the program’s history.

This has irked me every time I’ve seen a Doodle honoring a dude since I wrote that post but I stopped blogging, got a full time job, and never went back to count again. Until this morning, when I saw that today’s Doodle is honoring Howard Carter, the British archaeologist credited with discovering Egyptian King Tutankhamen’s tomb and accused, by some, of stealing artifacts from his famous find. I wondered, ‘how is Google doing on representing women’s history in 2012?’

The answer is sad and disappointing, if not surprising.

Of 48 global Google Doodles honoring birthdays in 2012, 5 have honored women. That’s 10 percent. [citation]

Really, Google? Women are more than 50% of the world but you insist, in the way that you mark historical achievement, that only 10% of notable historical humans are female?

With all the serious challenges women face, why is this important? What I wrote back in 2010 still stands:

Because we’ve lived with the myth that men created the world and everything good in it for long enough. As long as men get to designate who and what in history is important, young women will continue to learn that all their sex has contributed throughout all of history is their wombs. If we can’t see ourselves as the inventors, artists, revolutionaries and creators that came before, how the hell are we supposed to fashion ourselves into the modern versions? Schools certainly aren’t doing a very good job in this department and since it processes over a billion searches a day, Google plays an increasingly important role in how and what young people learn.

The company recently posted a job opening for a Doodler in Mountain View. Google, like many of its tech counterparts, would do well to realize that more female voices in the room are proven to be better for business. In this case, a woman who was willing to teach them about half a world of history could do a whole world of good.


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On Her 77th Birthday, 7 Things I’ve Learned From Gloria Steinem

When I first thought about writing a post to honor my friend Gloria Steinem’s 77th birthday I figured a quick Google search would yield some cool, applicable numerology about the “lucky number 7” to plug-in as an inspiring intro.

The first Google search result for the meaning of the number 77 sent me to Wikipedia. Turns out, “in certain numerological systems based on the English alphabet, the number 77 is associated with Jesus Christ.” Alternatively, “in the Islamic tradition, “77” figures prominently.”

But of course I’d learn while researching something pertaining to Gloria that my knee-jerk cultural association with the number 7 as lucky is deeply rooted in patriarchal religions from the East and West!  I’ve learned similar lessons so many times it no longer shocks me when Gloria tells audience members who ask about her faith, “Religion is politics in the sky. When God looks like the ruling class, we’re in deep shit.”

Indeed. And so it goes, learning things that should be common sense but are not because marginalized people have been denied our history and our original cultures and conditioned to distrust any innate survival instincts that manifest because that’s how kyriarchy is maintained.

I hadn’t made many of those connections when I showed up on Gloria Steinem’s doorstep four years ago to take care of her animals while she was away for the summer. I was moving to New York City to give up my life of speaking at colleges and feminist conferences to earn my keep in the movement the old-fashioned way: poorly paid grunt work. To make a long story short, Gloria eventually returned and informed me that what I’d been doing was called itinerant feminist organizing and I was part of a long line of women – Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Tubman, Fannie Lou Hamer, and many more – who made their mark traveling from city to city to speak and lend a hand to local organizers. She encouraged me to continue in this noble line of work and even offered to let me stay with her for a while as I got my financial and social footing in the big city.

Yup, a very cool experience to live with Gloria Steinem for a bit and one that reporters and acquaintances alike love to romanticize and wonder about. In truth, it is an interesting story and not one I’m ready to tell in full  because I can’t possibly analyze and translate the lessons I’ve learned from this “feminist icon” just yet. But it does bother me that on days like today there will be blogs posts and articles that memorialize Gloria as if she’s already gone or as if she’s a one-dimensional gray photograph in a history book with a list of accomplishments in the side bar. Few of these will represent the very human, ever evolving woman who is constantly teaching, by words and deeds, how to live a life dedicated to making the world better for all people. So, on her 77th birthday, a few of the things I’ve picked up that daily influence my organizing, my worldview, my life:

1. Patriarchy is a relatively new mistake. If we think the world has always been run by and for men – mostly White and all of the colonizing sort – we assume that oppressing women and people of color is the natural order. I’d been so indoctrinated by this false history that it shook my whole world when Gloria spoke of egalitarian original cultures that honored and lived by the rule that both men and women have equal, necessary roles to play in society. For instance, the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) clan mothers, to this day, have the sole power to nominate the chiefs that go on to represent the tribe in the Grand Council. In other Iroquois Nations, the women alone controlled the food supply, meaning male warriors had to seek their permission for rations to take to the battlefield. Once you know to look for them, examples like these abound, allowing us to imagine our struggle for equality as one to turn the world back right side up!

2. “If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, but you think it’s a pig… it’s a pig.” Self explanatory enough – trust yourself, always. For many of us marginalized people, we’ve been taught to do just the opposite. This is what oppressive forces want and something we must resist with all of our being.

3. Ask the turtle. Via Donna Brazile, a story Gloria tells often: “While on a field trip in college with her geology class, [Gloria] discovered a giant snapping turtle that had climbed out of the river, up a dirt path, right to the edge of a road. Worried it would soon be run over, she wrestled the enormous reptile off the embankment and back down to the water. At that moment, her professor walked up and asked what in the world she was doing. With some pride, she told him. He said that the turtle had probably spent a month crawling up that long dirt path to safely lay its eggs in the mud on the side of the road and that she had destroyed all that effort with her “rescue.” This story informs every organizing effort I take to this day: always ask the communities you’re trying to “help” what really needs to be done and how or you’ll invariably do more harm than good.

4. Good ideas are not a finite resource. From board rooms to organizing meetings, it’s more common than not for people to fiercely protect their ideas for fear of not receiving credit. But in reality, no one has the capacity to effectively enact every single idea they have. I’ve been privileged to watch Gloria share ideas freely with other organizers, lending her name to them if it helps but perfectly willing to hand them over without a mention if it doesn’t. More importantly, she is constantly introducing people to one another who can combine resources to make ideas come to fruition. I’ve learned that the best thing an organizer can do is help others brainstorm, act as a support where and when they can, and step away when they can’t.

5. Real intergenerational relationships are possible but only if both parties are equal. With more than fifty years between us and more than a thousand miles between me and my biological family, it was easy for me to slip into imagining Gloria as my adopted grandmother. Or, if I wasn’t thinking that, she was obviously my mentor, teaching me how to be an effective feminist organizer. She made a habit of gently correcting me: we’re friends, colleagues, and co-conspirators. She taught me that pasting familial terms and the mentor label onto any relationship between people of different generation creates a power imbalance that insists the older person has everything to teach and the younger person everything to learn. How limiting that is, when you think about it, and this is probably the root of a lot of the intergenerational conflict within the feminist movement. Therefore, a fave Gloria quote: “We need to remember across generations that there is as much to learn as there is to teach.”

6. We all need “chosen family.” Some of us are blessed with a supportive, understanding biological family unit and others are not. But we all benefit from finding and connecting with others who simply get, to the very core, who we are. I’ve tried to follow Gloria’s example of building a small group of like-minded friends with whom I meet regularly to laugh, cry, organize, drink, and play. With bad news coming from every corner and patriarchs freaking out at our growing power, we really and truly do need our sisterhood.

7. Perhaps the only true sentences in the English language are those that begin with “I.” All humans, but especially female humans, connect best via personal stories. It’s our personal truths and experiences that inform our activism and as soon as we abandon the personal for academic or movement language, we lose the essence of what made us committed to social equality in the first place. Gloria taught me to stop talking if I find myself speaking in theories and return to what in my personal story made me connect with whatever I’m talking about.

There’s much more I’ve learned, I’m sure, but this blog post is long enough as it is! So for today, happy, happy, birthday Gloria – here’s to many more years, mutual learning, and stories!


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Let Women’s History Month Begin!

A collage of powerful sheroes of today and yesterday, I made this collage to celebrate WHM 2010. Look for this year's version soon!


If you’ve ever read this blog or been subjected to me inserting “this day in women” facts into dinner conversation, you can imagine I’m very excited for today, the first day of women’s history month. Whether they truly want to or not, the rest of the parts of the internets I visit are going to be as obsessed with the women of the past as I am for a whole 31 days!

Gerda Lerner, one of the first American women’s historians, said in 1986, “When I started working on women’s history about thirty years ago, the field did not exist. People didn’t think that women had a history worth knowing.” Women’s History Month as it’s celebrated now wasn’t established until 1987, expanded to the whole month six years after Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Barbara Mikulski co-sponsored a a joint Congressional resolution proclaiming a national Women’s History Week.  Each year the President issues a proclamation officially declaring the month. In his statement yesterday, President Obama said, “We must carry forward the work of the women who came before us and ensure our daughters have no limits on their dreams, no obstacles to their achievements, and no remaining ceilings to shatter.”

Well, yes! My excitement about this month is not as unbridled as it might seem., however. A month of Women’s History implies that the other 11 months belong to men’s history or, as it’s known, history. No one is a bigger advocate of celebrating women’s history than me and I’m too young to be completely cynical but it’s hard not to look at the state of the nation for women and feel like these designations are just a pat on the head from the group of cigar smoking patriarchs who say with that pat, “Now dearie, we gave you a whole month to talk about you and your friends, what more could you want now?” We’ll take the month, thanks, and we’ll use it to educate and inspire but if you think it will hold off our revolt you’ve got another thing coming – we’ll use this month to plan that, too.

Women’s History Month is also yet another occasion in which women of color are asked to bifurcate their identities. WHM directly follows Black History Month and precedes Asian American History Month in May.  Are Black women supposed to shed their gender during February and their race in March? Those of us who make our income speaking know that demand soars during  “our month” – I can only imagine how many qualified women of color speakers lose gigs because bookers can only see them as filling one part of a quota. As we celebrate WHM, it’s important to point out as often as possible that each and every part of a person’s identity – gender, race, sexuality, cis or trans status, ability, class, nationality, religion – make them who they are and no one should be asked to do the impossible of shaving off one part of themselves to fit into a month-shaped or any shaped box.

Problematic as it is, I’m excited about Women’s History Month because we’ve got the opportunity to make it rich and diverse and meaningful. I’ll take any platform I’m given to change how young girls and boys see the notable people of the past so they can better imagine and fashion themselves into that of the future. (See, still naïve and idealistic!) I’m going to try to be active on the blog this month, with features on both women of history and women making history, round-ups of great WHM events happening on the web and in cities across the country, and fun quizzes, quotes, and pictures. I’ll also be using my Facebook and Twitter feeds as women’s history tributes and continuing to chronicle each day in women’s history via the Radical Women’s History Project. If you’ve got an event, quote, any fun women’s history thing I should know about, please let me know!


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Happy Anna Howard Shaw Day!

First, let me get one thing straight: I don’t hate Valentine’s Day. It’s not in the ‘FEMINIST BYLAWS,’ if they were to exist and we could actually all agree on them which we couldn’t, that those of the pro-equality persuasion must hate this holiday of love. It’s just that the heteronormative nature of the thing, chock full of gender stereotypes – all women want and need to be happy is a big strapping man with a penchant for commitment and all men need to be happy is sex, sex, sex and they should just buy up all the flowers and chocolate in town to get it – makes my heart drop rather than swoon. (And I really, really could live my whole life without another jewelry commercial telling me that blood diamonds are a symbol of love.) (And I certainly could have done without Katy Perry dangling from a swing at the Grammy’s last night with photos from her wedding playing on a big wedding dress silhouette. But that’s probably because Katy Perry grates on my last feminist nerve anyway.)

Of course, many people can and do celebrate their love – heterosexual, homosexual, polyamorous, or otherwise – without buying into the stereotypes or buying anything at all. Others choose to be more politically subversive with the holiday – Sarah at Champagne Candy is telling Nancy Pelosi she’s breaking feminist hearts by supporting the DCCC, which wants a $100,000 ‘Emergency Fund’ for women’s health but spent over $3 million to re-elect the 10 anti-choice Democratic sponsors of the “redefine rape and pretty much ban insurance coverage of abortion in the process” bill and the “kill pregnant people” bill. There’s also The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health’s For the Love of Birth Control Campaign, which asks that you sign a petition to tell HHS that birth control is prevention and should be completely covered by insurers – with no out of pocket cost – under the new health care law. Today is also the last day of Freedom to Marry Week, marked with a petition to Congress to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.  And of course, there’s V-Day, the global movement to stop violence against women and girls that’s often marked with performances of The Vagina Monologues at colleges and community theaters. And finally, today is the first day of National Condom Week!

But February 14th is also the birthday of one Reverend Doctor Anna Howard Shaw, a leader of the US suffrage movement, one of the first female physicians in the United States, and the first woman to be ordained in the Methodist Church. She also served on the National Council of Defense and was the first woman to win a Distinguished Service Medal! Anna Howard Shaw Day is celebrated officially within the United Methodist Church on the Sunday before Valentine’s Day – so, yesterday. But, feminists and women’s history nerds like me often celebrate it on the actual day to signify that true love is really about justice and equality, whether it be on the global movement scale or in the bedroom. (And yes, 30 Rock did an episode on Anna Howard Shaw Day last year, hence the photo above. Here’s the required link – I never saw it, don’t watch 30 Rock, or Mad Men, and you can judge me and my feminist credentials on both however you like!)

How are you celebrating today? Let everyone know about your subversive traditions, events, or actions in the comments. As for me, I’m going to go actually get dressed and record a video for National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which is next week. Lots of love to you all!


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MTV’s Abortion Show Was…Actually Good

Like many of my colleagues in the pro-choice feminist blogosphere, I’m pleasantly shocked at how well MTV handled the topic of abortion during their special that aired last night, called No Easy Decision. (Click here to watch the full show and here to read the live blog I did with feminist superstars Jessica Valenti, Steph Herold, Lynn Harris, and Jamia Wilson during it. Also, Lynn’s post on the show and Jessica’s piece on the show.)

Yup, there were a lot of really great things that happened during the show, including:

– Dr. Drew provided medically accurate information about both abortion and birth control with minimal shaming!

– The powers that be refrained from editing the two main characters of the special, Markai and James, into race and gender stereotypes and instead offered a (sadly and unfairly) rare portrayal of a strong, supportive African American family!

– Markai shared with the audience her call to the clinic counselor to get more information about abortion, thereby sharing with MTV’s audience the different types of abortion and the non-judgmental compassion characteristic of most real providers (read: as opposed to fake clinics, called crisis pregnancy centers)

– Markai and two other women who joined her on a panel to discuss their abortion experiences, Katie and Natalia, honestly discussed the range of emotions they experienced after their procedures, from sadness to relief to pride. Katie described poignantly described her choice to end her pregnancy, “a parenting decision.”

– MTV allowed the young women to illuminate different barriers to abortion for young women. Natalia pursued and was granted a judicial bypass to a parental notification law, a process she described as “begging for permission to make your own decision.” She also explains the economic barriers, relating how she sold her prom ticket to help raise the $750 she needed for the abortion. In an extended online version, she also discussed the pain of being forced – by yet another law – to view an ultrasound before the procedure.

As I write this list, I realize that I’m sad and more than a bit angry that the portrayal of these very basic things – accurate information about reproductive health matters, nuanced portrayal of young people, frank discussion of the basics and the barriers to accessing one of the safest and most common medical procedures, as well as the wide range of experiences of the one in four women who do access it – gets us SO EXCITED. This should be the norm in real life and on television, not a hush hush exception that came on late at night, with no advertisement beforehand, and no plans to be re-aired or followed up or extended into a longer, multi-episode conversation.

But it’s not in either sphere and while we keep working to make it so, we’ve got to start somewhere. No Easy Decision was a first step toward reducing the stigma around abortion and normalizing via television respecting and trusting young women’s choices. Huge props go to whomever at MTV greenlighted the project – here’s hoping this success encourages the network to move in a similar vein, perhaps by for the first time allowing characters on their show 16 and Pregnant to at least talk about abortion as an option and, hey, even show some of them following through with it.

Also exceptional was the online space created by Exhale, a multi-lingual after abortion counseling talkline, called 16 and Loved. The site’s sole purpose is to support Markai, Katie, and Natalia and other young women who’ve chosen abortion. Exhale got ahead of the inevitable anti-choice shenanigans and focused most of the conversation online, especially on Twitter during the special, toward loving and accepting the young women rather than arguing the politics of abortion rights.

Of course, the real sheroes of No Easy Decision are Markai, Katie and Natalia. Because of their courage, young women who saw or see the show who’ve had abortions know that they’re not alone and they don’t have to be ashamed. As feminists know, that realization – that you’re not alone, you’re not crazy or bad for doing what you’ve done or feeling what you’re feeling  and you’re even a bit pissed that you were ever made to feel you were – is quite revolutionary. Thank you, sisters, for speaking your truth so others may know and embrace theirs.


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