SF’s Lusty Lady model of sex-positive feminism worth saving?

The Lusty Lady, the nation’s only employee-owned, unionized strip club, is in financial trouble and in danger of closing down.

The SF Chronicle reports that the club, which makes an effort to employ “diverse body types and ethnically diverse dancers” has come across hard times due to the recession and internet porn. Now it’s looking for an angel investor who believes the club is a model worth saving:

..the ladies argue they are one of only two privately owned venues left in the city – the rest have gone corporate with strippers that look like Barbie dolls. They don’t serve alcohol (which also allows them to put on a totally nude show). And they made “talk to a live, nude girl” a local catch phrase.

“We’re a San Francisco institution,” said Dolores, a dancer since 2005 who named herself for Mission Dolores Park. “If you can walk into a place, pay a dollar, see a beautiful nude girl and give her a wave, there’s something to be said for that.”

When I graduated from college in the early Nineties, I became aware of a term:  “sex-positive feminism.” The term is obviously problematic because it assumes other feminists are “sex negative,”  a stereotype used to caricature feminists.

The “sex-positive” group includes Susie Bright, Annie Sprinkle, and Carol Queen: feminists who were often sex workers, performers, or pornographers; they were supposed to contrast with anti-pornography activists like Andrea Dworkin, Catherine Makinnon, and Robin Morgan.

At that time in the Nineties, I did think that a lot of porn exploited women. But I also thought that healthy sexuality and sexual expression were key to being a free and healthy human being. Shame is a powerful tool and society uses it to control women just as parents use it to control kids.

When I was a kid, I remember being excited when Vanessa Williams became the first African-American to win the Miss America title. I thought that was great sign for more diversity in perceptions of beauty. But then nude photos of Williams surfaced and she was forced to give up her crown. Even as a kid, I didn’t get the difference between a woman being celebrated for parading around in a bathing suit but then being shunned for posing naked for a photo.

A couple years after the Williams scandal, nude photos of Madonna surfaced. I remember bracing myself for another fall. When Madonna’s response was “Who cares?” I was so surprised and psyched. I started to wonder: what if women refused to let the fear of being shamed hold them back? What could they do? What would they be capable of?

So called “sex-positive” feminism is often portrayed as that exciting, the battle of truth versus hypocrisy; free imagination versus the uptight masses; young versus old.

But is it really?

I remember seeing the movie “The People Versus Larry Flynt,” where Flynt was depicted as a true freedom fighter, a crusader for free speech. But no matter how much I tried to be open-minded, it was clear to me that Flynt was no advocate for women’s free self-expression.

So is stripping empowering for women? It’s certainly become mainstream, showing up in everything from music videos to pole-dancing exercise classes. I suppose most women have experienced moments where it feels intoxicating to control men with their bodies. But it’s a different thing to link up those moments into a profession, to transform them into something that your financial security depends on. That seems like engaging in a losing if not risky battle, both for a dependable income and for establishing a healthy sexuality.

As author Peggy Orenstein explains so well, there is a huge difference between sexualization and sexuality. Sexualization is sexuality as performance and not a healthy, integrated sexuality. Unfortunately, sexualization has become so confused with real sexuality, it’s hard to separate it, to define what real sexuality is. One example of this is how we perceive breasts. Breasts are secondary sex characteristics, existing in part to give women pleasure. But when they are replaced by implants, breasts become homogeneous; visual stimulation for a men and a more numbed experience for women.

Which brings me back the Lusty Lady. This club boasts diverse bodies. Real breasts. So is that empowering?

I suppose it’s a question that only dancers can answers for themselves. When I interviewed Jillian Lauren, author of the book Some Girls about her sex work in Brunei, I asked her about it. Here’s what she said:

I really came into the feminist movement with a very particular viewpoint. And in the early nineties, when I was coming of age, there was this sex-positive explosion in the feminist movement. There was Susie Bright and Carol Queen and a bunch of bright, incredible women who were very vocal about being sex positive. Now I’m friends with a lot of these women. I do absolutely consider myself part of that camp. However, Its not simply about, “Sex work is so empowering, hooray.” Because that’s not how I feel anymore, now that I’m out of it and have lived with the consequences for 20 years. Sex work affected my relationship with my body, with my sexuality.It still has a ripple effect in my life. Taking your clothes off for money is a valid choice. For some women, maybe it’s the only choice. Certainly decriminalizing prostitution and having health care available for sex workers would help. But I don’t think it’s the greatest thing women can do for our souls, for the most part.

Maybe asking if the Lusty Lady is a feminist model or a sex positive one is the wrong question. Sex workers are workers. Like all workers, they should to be fairly paid and free of discrimination for age, gender, size, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. That’s a business model that every worker should be fighting for.

Jean Paul Gaultier show at the de Young is creepy and fascinating

Last week, I found myself in Golden Gate Park with an hour of time to kill, and I wandered into the de Young. The current show is about Jean Paul Gaultier, and though the subject didn’t interest me, I so rarely get to museums these days that I bought a ticket.

Going to this exhibition was like entering another world. I lost track of time, space, and reality. The exhibition is a visual, sensory, heady experience that blew my mind.

When you enter the show, the lighting is dimmed. You are surrounded by mannequins lit up and looming over you. My perspective was immediately altered. As I tried to get my bearings, I realized that the mannequins lips and eyes were moving. One looked down and smiled shyly at me. Then he started to sing in French. Was he real? I looked down at his naked torso which was clearly plastic. Turning around, I surveyed the other mannequins. They were everywhere, twitching lips, bursting into toothy grins, and talking. It was like being in a room full of zombies. And there was room after room after room of them.

Finally, I noticed the clothing: layers of sequins, lace, and feathers. As I looked at the fashion, I felt, for the first time in my life, that I was seeing/ experiencing clothing as art. It occurred me that Jean Paul Gaultier is not an evil man who wants to keep women down by creating expensive dresses for anorexics. His intention, though the effects are not so great, isn’t bad. Women’s bodies are his canvases.

That’s not such a great position for women, of course. And the notion goes back to John Berger’s great book about art, Ways of Seeing, where he writes: “Men watch. Women watch themselves being watched.” That analysis applies not only to visual art but literature as well, where women mostly exist mostly through men’s eyes. This has happened to women for so long that it has become how we think about ourselves as well: from a male perspective. I’ve blogged about this a lot: men aren’t bad, they’re just self-centered like all humans are. That’s why we need more women artists to tell their own stories. The problem is that all art is derivative, so at this point, I don’t think its possible to tell a story without it being influenced by the thousands of years of that male perspective.

I escaped the zombie rooms for a few minutes, walking into an area with a giant, pink, quilted cube in the center. On each face of the cube was an open window with garments on faceless mannequins. I realized I was looking at the bustier Madonna wore in her Blonde Ambition tour. She is quoted:

“Gaultier’s corsets are very sexy looking, and I consider wearing them a form of personal expression. The practice is oppressive only if it is forced, and women today can choose to wear them or not; it is up to them. Plus I wore those corsets as garments–-on the outside–not as underwear hidden beneath my other clothes, the complete opposite of the way they were traditionally worn in order to achieve a certain shape. I think that inversion of the concept of the corset is what turns it into a symbol of feminine power and sexual freedom.”

I don’t agree that women have the free choice to wear what they want. Figuring out what we want can be like walking through a labyrinth. I sound like Freud here, but with so many images marketed to us and because when you look a certain way you are more easily rewarded with success and power, how can we really choose freely? Even if we choose not to “fall into that trap” is that really what we want? Rebellion adheres to the same rules as conformity if you are systematically breaking all the rules that you would otherwise be following. That’s not “free choice” either. Which brought me full circle: because we don’t really know and can’t possibly tell what free choice is given our culture and how we all internalize it, I appreciate Madonna playing with the images. Madonna’s performance– and Gaultier’s– makes you think, makes you see fashion, physical bodies, and gender in a different way. That’s pretty cool.

Under another corset, Madonna is pretty much quoted as saying just that. She explains her goal in asking Gaultier to redo the velvet cone bras for her “Vogue” video: “Playing with the idea of gender and what is masculine and feminine, and giving it a theatrical, humorous twist–it was a kind of political statement.”

I highly recommend this show but it has adult themes so don’t bring kids.

Reel Girl rates Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk ***H***

M & Ms: sex symbols for kids?

To anyone who thinks this S & M-M & M is outdated because it’s from a few years back:

Here is Ms. Brown on back cover of the 2012 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue:

To anyone who thinks that I just have a dirty mind and there’s nothing sexualized about M & Ms for God’s sake, here is how Sports Illustrated promotes the ad on its own Facebook page:  Sports Illustrated Swimsuit: “Did you see the sexy Ms. Brown made the cover of the Swimsuit issue again!? Welllll, the back cover; Check her out.”

Keep in mind that Ms. Brown is the new female, that before her debut on TV during this year’s Superbowl, even Time Magazine called the animated M & M characters “male-centric.” Ms. Brown has since been called the feminist M & M (as opposed to the boy-crazy Ms. Green.) Brown wears glasses (that means she’s smart!) and tweets empowering messages about women’s issues.

So why is our token feminist character peeking out the window with kissy-lips waving a towel (implying she’d naked, I guess?) on the back cover of SI, so in full view of any kid whose parents have this magazine at home?

Why does M & Ms have to sexualize its female cartoon characters? Before Ms. Brown, there was only one female out of five; now there are 2 out of 6, and this is what M & Ms does to them? These cartoon characters appear in toys, games, and in full size at CVS and Party City stores.

Why are we allowing these stereotypes to sell sexism to kids  in any available blank space? If M & Ms promoted racial stereotypes, there would outrage. Parents, this is not OK.

Please go to M & Ms Facebook page and tell the company to stop sexualizing females. As I posted earlier, the M &Ms marketing strategy is just as sick as using a cartoon camel to sell cigarettes to kids.

Read more about gendering food marketed to kids.

Read about the difference between sexualizing (bad) and sexuality (good)

Update: I am getting comments that the M & M pictured above is actually Ms. Green, that green thing she’s waving? It’s her shell which she has stripped off and is waving to show that she’s naked. I have seriously lost my appetite for M & Ms. Gross. Thoughts?

Peggy Orenstein on the difference between sexuality and sexualization

Last week, I went to a reading by Peggy Orenstein from her book Cinderella Ate My Daughter, now out in paperback. I’m such a huge Orenstein fan and I’ve written so much about her on this blog, that I wondered if after I saw her read, I would have anything left to blog about.

Guess what? I do!

Mostly, I’ve written about Orenstein’s research on the princess culture and how it affects little girls. But at the reading, Orenstein spoke a lot about older girls and also the potential, deep, long-term effects of relentlessly teaching girls through play and media to focus on their appearance.

I blog a lot about how girls get trained early (through toys about dressing dolls, roles in movies and TV, incessant compliments for their dresses, shoes, hair etc) that they get attention for and an actual identity from how they look. Orenstein spoke about how this emphasis can set girls in a pattern that puts them at risk. For what? Eating disorders, depression, low self-esteem, and sexual dysfunction.

Cinderella Ate My Daughter traces how the real life Disney stars/ girl princesses (i.e. Lindsay Lohan, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus etc) attempt to make their transitions from girl-princesses into adult ones; or more crassly, from virgin to whore. Orenstein writes it’s impossible to commodify one end of the spectrum and not the other, and there are so few models of healthy female sexuality out there.

Our daughters may not be faced with the decision of whether to strip for Maxim, but they will have to figure out how to become sexual beings without being objectified or stigmatized.

All that early training for girls to focus incessantly on their appearance lasts a lifetime. What happens when these girls try to grow up? Orenstein writes that girls learn: “Look sexy, but don’t feel sexual, to provoke desire in others without experiencing it themselves.” How does this emphasis on dressing up and attention for appearance affect kids as they grow? In CAMD, Orenstein quotes Stephen Hinshaw from his book The Triple Bind:

“Girls pushed to be sexy too soon can’t really understand what they’re doing…they may never learn to connect their performance to erotic feelings or intimacy. They learn how to act desirable, but not to desire, undermining, rather than promoting, healthy sexuality.

In short: sexualization is performance; it’s all about being desirable to others. Sexuality is understanding and connecting to your own desire.

At the reading, Orenstein shared this passage from Cinderella Ate My Daughter:

Let me be clear here: I object– strenuously– to the sexualization of girls but not necessarily to girls having sex. I expect and want my daughter to have a healthy, joyous erotic life before marriage. Long, long, long before marriage. I do, however, want her to understand why she’s doing it: not for someone else’s enjoyment, not to keep a boyfriend from leaving, not because everyone else is. I want her to explore and understand her body’s responses, her own pleasure, her own desire. I want her to be able to express her needs in a relationship, to say no when she needs to, to value reciprocity, and to experience true intimacy. The virgin/ whore cycle of the pop princesses, like so much of the girlie girl culture, pushes in the opposite direction, encouraging girls to view self-objectification as a feminist rite of passage.

This distinction between sexuality and sexualization is not made often enough. If you’re against the sexualization of girls, it’s often concluded that you’re somehow anti-sex, on the same team with Phyllis Schlafly or a fan of “traditional family values.”  The political agenda to promote healthy sexuality is actually the opposite and must include access to contraception for all women, sex education in schools, and full reproductive rights.

The sexualization of girls has nothing to do with real sexuality.

Kids media and slut-shaming

To the various commenters upset about previous “slut-shaming” in my critiques of kids’ media, I think adults should express their sexuality how they please. (I have written more about the what I think about the issue of short skirts and their empowering potential here.)

As far as media or toys geared towards little kids, I am totally against any of it including sexualized females. I think it’s horrible that one of the few female characters in the new animated movie for kids, “The Pirates: band of Misfits,” is a “sexy” pirate. I don’t think that’s just in bad taste. I think it’s dangerous. Sexualized females are so predominant in kids movies, TV, ads, and toys that boundaries blur, contributing to the epidemic of sexual abuse of kids and also widespread child pornography. And it is all widespread.

When a girl sees Salma Hayek’ character dressed as a “sexy” pirate in a movie, is that the costume she’d going to pick if she wants to be a pirate for Halloween? Do we want little girls dressing up as sexy pirates?

Can you tell the difference between a picture of Ariel smiling coyly in her bikini top and an ad for a strip show? I can’t.

Peggy Orenstein wrote in Cinderella Ate My Daughter that when girls learn about sexuality this way, they learn sexuality as performance, instead of being agents seeking their own desire/ pleasure. Sexualizing girls does not lead to healthy, self-expressive sexuality. It leads to numbness; it helps to separate minds from bodies.

One of the best books I have ever read about grown up sexuality: Can Love Last: The Fate of Romance Over Time, Stephen Mitchell writes this:

One of the things good parents provide for their children is a partially illusory, elaborately constructed atmosphere of  safety, to allow for the establishment of “secure attachment.” Good-enough parents, to use D. W. Winnicott’s term, do not talk with young children about their own terrors, worries, and doubts. They construct a sense of buffered permanence, in which the child can discover and explore without any impinging vigilance, her own mind, her creativity, her joy in living. The terrible destructiveness of child abuse lies not just in trauma of what happens but also the tragic loss of what is not provided– protected space for psychological growth.

It is crucial that the child does not become aware of how labor intensive that protracted space is, of the enormous amount of parental activity going on behind the scenes. But as adults, we gradually learn how managed was that cocoon-like space our caregivers were able to provide. Thus the kind of certainty and control inherent in the secure attachment that children feel for there parents is partially an illusion, and it is crucial that that spell not be suddenly broken.

Protect your kids imagination. Fight for that.

New statements from McQueary and Sandusky continue to reveal baffling disconnect

I’m not into college football. I’ve never snapped towels in the shower. But I continue to be blown away by the distorted reality of this subculture.

The email McQueary sent to a friend — obtained by the Associated Press, reads as follows:

“You are the first person I have told this … and I don’t know you extremely well … and I have been told bye (sic) officials to not say anything ….”

“I did stop it, not physically … but made sure it was stopped when I left that locker room … I did have discussions with the official at the university in charge of police … no one can imagine my thoughts or wants to be in my shoes for those 30-45 seconds…trust me.”

“Do with this what you want … but I am getting hammered for handling this the right way … or what I thought at the time was right … I had to make tough impacting quick decisions.”

What is “tough” in the decision to stop the rape of a child and report the crime to police? Am I missing something?

Sandusky went on national TV with Bob Costas. The Washington Post reports:

On Monday night, Sandusky said in an NBC television interview that he showered with and “horsed around” with boys but was innocent of criminal charges, a statement that has stunned legal observers. Sandusky’s comments, they said, could be used by prosecutors trying to convict him of child sex-abuse charges.

“Mr. Sandusky goes on worldwide television and admits he did everything the prosecution claims he did, except for the ultimate act of rape or sodomy? If I were a prosecutor, I’d be stunned,” said Lynne Abraham, the former district attorney of Philadelphia. “I was stunned, and then I was revolted.”

“I could say that I have done some of those things. I have horsed around with kids. I have showered after workouts. I have hugged them, and I have touched their legs without intent of sexual contact,” Sandusky told Bob Costas. “I am innocent of those charges.”

When Costas asked him whether he was sexually attracted to underage boys, Sandusky replied: “Sexually attracted, no. I enjoy young people, I love to be around them, but, no, I’m not sexually attracted to young boys.”…

“What was especially astonishing about Sandusky’s interview is — and this will be the big moment in court — is when he stumbled over the question about whether he was sexually attracted to children,” said crisis management expert Eric Dezenhall, who runs a Washington consulting firm. “That may not be legal proof that he’s guilty, but it is certainly not helpful, to struggle with the question.”

As with Paterno’s offensive and shocking retirement statement, none of these men seem to have much of a clue about right and wrong.

Strategies on how parents can help to prevent child abuse here. The basic message is talk to your kids.

Citadel’s disclosure of sex abuse shows Penn State ripple effect

What if every time sex abuse was discovered it got reported to police? What if people stopped reacting to it as a “private” matter? What if that reaction included other sex crimes, rape and domestic abuse? How much progress could be made towards actually making a dent in stopping these secret crimes?

On Saturday, the acclaimed military school the Citadel disclosed that it failed to report to police allegations of sex abuse against a summer camp counselor in 2007. Last month, the accused man was arrested on separate charges of abusing five other boys.

CBS News reports that Citadel President John Rosa now says that the school is bringing in an outside company to review the procedures in handling such situations with an eye toward making improvements.

“We regret we did not pursue this matter further,” Rosa said.

So the Citadel publicly discloses sex abuse charges and then takes action to make change. This is good and why the silence at Penn State was so egregious. Keeping quiet gives others permission to keep quiet; going public gives others permission to go public.

Last week, of the Penn state scandal, I blogged:

The events at Penn State– the hubris, the network “brotherhood” of powerful men who covered up, the vulnerable kids in the ‘charitable’ organization Sandusky founded– should be examined to deeply understand how conditions that allow sexual abuse are created, supported, and institutionalized. The Penn State bubble was finally punctured at least for the Trustees last night, but look what it took: an arrest, a public scandal, and the threat of losing millions. And still Paterno and the Penn State students who are rallying and rioting for him fail to prioritize the victims.

Statistics show that 1 in 6 men is sexually abused before age 18. Where do these “bubbles” exist right now that we’re not all talking about? If we don’t start working harder to stop the sexual abuse of kids, if we don’t make that a higher priority, it will continue at these high rates.

Obviously, another bubble is the Citadel which shares conditions listed above. Rosa is disclosing the sexual abuse now for the same reasons he chose to keep kept it secret before: to protect his job and the reputation of the institution. This reflects an important shift. Now Rosa knows that to go public is better for him in the long run and for the institution he runs. Hopefully, he also understands that he needs to take action in order to protect victims and potential victims.

The horrible events at Penn State provide a national platform to acknowledge and change the way we react to sex abuse. Sexual predators won’t stop on their own and kids need someone to protect them. Sex abuse is widespread. Typically, a kid has to tell multiple adults he was abused before one helps him. Those are the kids who actually tell. Until more adults stand up and protect these kids, take the risk– sadly and remarkably it is a risk– to say that sex abuse is happening and is wrong,  we give it permission to go on.

Here are some ways you can help to prevent child sex abuse. These recommendations are from Family Services. Similar lists are all over the internet, the basic message being the first step is don’t ignore that sex abuse happens; talk to your kids.

Talk openly with your children about sexual development, behavior and abuse. Include molestation or secret touching in a discussion of safety issues in general such as answering the phone, fires, injuries, getting lost.
Praise and give your child affection and develop the kind of relationship that would allow your child to come to you for help or support for any kind of problem they might need help with, for themselves or a friend.
Tell your children that touching other people’s private parts is not ok for children to do or for adults to do with children. Tell them that you do not want them to do secret touching with other people but that you will not be mad at them if they tell you it has happened.
Instruct your children to tell you or another supportive adult if anyone touches or tries to see their private parts, tries to get them to touch or look at another person’s private parts, shows them pictures of or tries to take pictures of their private parts, talks to them about sex, walks in on them in the bathroom, or does anything provocative that makes them feel uncomfortable.
Help your children understand that it is possible that they may know or meet someone with a touching problem who will try to make secret touching look accidental. Encourage your children to tell you even if it might have been an accident.
Tell your children that touching problems are wrong, like stealing or lying, and that the people who have those kinds of problems need special help.
Let your children know that molesters try to get children to keep the abuse a secret by giving them candy, money or special privileges or by making threats or making the children feel bad.
Help identify and encourage your children to have support people they can talk to at home, at school, in their extended family, neighborhood or church. Have them pick out three people and tell you who they are. Put the phone numbers next to your phone and let them know that, if for any reason, they cannot talk to you that they should call or go see one of these people.
Don’t let young male children go into a men’s public restroom by themselves.
Be cautious about who you allow to baby-sit or spend time alone with your children. Try to bathe and dress your children before you leave. Routinely quiz your children about what happens while you are gone. Ask questions like,”What did you do that was fun?” Was there anything that happened while I was gone that worried you or that I should know about? Don’t always tell your children to mind the babysitter.
Get to know the people and homes where your children play.
Periodically check on your children, especially when they are playing with other kids in your home. If you know that one of your children’s friends has been sexually abused, be more attentive to their playtime.
Know your neighbors.
Supervise all Internet activities closely. Consider subscribing to an ISP that screens for obscenity and pornography. Instruct your children to never give out their phone number, address or school name to anyone they meet over the Internet. Periodically, ask your children to see the kinds of chat room conversations that take place.
Demonstrate loving, respectful intimate relationships in your home. Children should not observe direct sexual contact or any type of pornography.
Be aware that forms of sexual play or experimentation are normal and developmentally appropriate in young children; but if your child engages in any type of sexually inappropriate behavior, especially with a younger, smaller or less mature child, get professional help right away. Try to overcome denial and defensiveness. If your child does have a problem that goes untreated, it may become worse and create many more problems for your child, family, school and community. This includes date rape or sexual assault between preteens and teenagers. Boys who sexually assault girls frequently grow up to molest their own children or engage in domestic violence.
If another child engages your child in sexually inappropriate behavior or talk, tell their parents what happened so that they can get help. If you do not think that the family is seeking professional help, contact your local child abuse hotline.

‘Not a single onesie in all of humankind had a little girl and an airplane on it’

After JCPenney’s  “I’m too pretty to do my homework so my brother had to do it for me,” shirt for girls incited a protest that went viral, Pigtail Pals, a site that creates clothing empowering to girls, put out a best-selling shirt that reads “Pretty’s got nothing to do with it.”

Now Reel Girl talks to Pigtail Pals’ awesome founder, Melissa Wardy:

Why did you create Pigtail Pals?

I created Pigtail Pals in honor of my daughter, Amelia, named after Amelia Earhart, when I was looking for a cute outfit for her as an infant and could find only pink and princess. Not a single onesie in all of humankind had a little girl and an airplane on it. I thought girls deserved more empowering and diverse messages than just sparkles and tiaras.

What are your best-sellers?

This fall the best sellers have been my “Pretty’s Got Nothing To Do With It” and “Full of Awesome” designs that I just released in September. Traditional favorites are the astronaut, pilot, carpenter, doctor, military, and scientist designs. And the entire Whimsy Bee line is a hit with its colorful and imaginative designs.

It’s smart of Pigtail Pals to be a for profit instead of a nonprofit! The more successful your company is, the more you can help girls. You call yourself a “mompreneur.” What is that? Who were you inspired by?

Exactly, I want to show other businesses that this is the message parents and girls want, and that a business can be successful doing this. I want to change the way the marketplace looks for young girls. And since Dora has gone the way of the ballerina princess, there is room for the smart and adventurous Pigtail Pals designs to take over. Pigtail Pals has, since the very beginning, made donations to organizations that support girls, and we will continue to do so as our success grows.

A mompreneur is a mother who sees a hole in the marketplace for children, and creates her own product to fill that void. At the time I created Pigtail Pals, there were no other apparel lines on the market that showed girls doing smart, daring, and adventurous things. There were a couple of lines that had empowering phrases, but my preschooler can’t read, so that didn’t mean anything to her. I wanted something in pictures that would really speak to little girls. Girl empowerment is something our daughters need to be raised with, not just something they are introduced to once they are finally old enough to be a Girl Scout or participate in some of the other national programs that only focus on older girls. My girl can’t wait, she needs these messages now.

What do you teach in your workshops? What kind of excercises do you do? Can you see the change before and after or is it more gradual? Do you find parents, teachers, or kids more willing or more resistant?

I teach media literacy in my workshops – a tangible way for parents to digest and parent through all the crap that is out there. I teach how to specifically deal with the highly inappropriate birthday gift, or mother-in-law that bestows makeup and tiny high heels with every visit, or the song that just played on the radio talking about casual or violent sex. Our culture is saturated with this stuff. I find most folks are eager to learn about this, and I see those light bulb moments flash across everyone’s face about 15mintues into every workshop.

The exercises I use are just common sense stuff. For example – I take a box of crayons, and dump it out, but it is full of only pink and purple crayons. I ask the parents, if they had purchased this as a school supply, would they find something wrong with it? Would they return it to the store? I ask them what is missing, and then I ask them to close their eyes and picture their daughter’s closet and toy box. I see little sheepish smiles creep across their face. And they get it – they get how incredibly limiting choices are for girls, and that they bought into it. There is nothing wrong with pink, or purple, but when a girl’s world is full of that and only that, we need to think about what messages that sends. Childhood should be a time full of vibrant, amazing color and learning experiences.

What are your future plans for the company?

In the near future, I’m going to release a line of tee designs that show boys and girls playing together, having great adventures. Also, I’m going to build out the new line of Full of Awesome products. That blog post was such a runaway hit, it is really inspiring to me.

Eventually I want to move into toys and room décor, and I would love to open really special retail spaces.

How do you protect your daughter’s imagination?

We tell stories all the time in the car while driving around town. We create some story to act out while we play outside. My home looks like a preschool with all of the art supplies and learning toys in this place. We take lots of family adventures to educational places like children’s museums and fairs and performances. We read and read and read.

Are there books, TV shows, clothing lines or products you recommend for girls?

There is a lot of good stuff out there, you just have to know where to find it. My daughter is 5 years old, so right now we are really into the Ramona and Judy Moody books. This winter we’re going to start reading the Little House on the Prairie series. Amelia has checked out every single whale and dolphin book our public library offers.  For TV, she loves Animal Planet, SciGirls (PBS), National Geographic, Diego, Wild Kratts (they have two female sci/tech assistants that rock the show), Word World, Peppa Pig, and Scooby Doo.

For other clothing lines, I really like Be A Girl Today (http://www.beagirlblog.com/) for awesome girls sports tees. And the Girl Scouts offer great tees, too.
For other products, a few other mompreneur small businesses I love to promote are Cutie Patutus for dress up clothes, Sophie & Lili for wonderful cloth dolls, and Go! Go! Sports Girls for sports-themed dolls. Every girl should have a doctor kit, a tool box, a wooden train, giant floor puzzles, and Legos by the bucket.

On my blog Reel Girl, which is all about  imagining gender equality in the fantasy world, people sometimes complain that issues I care about don’t matter because the characters I write about are imaginary. Or that I am limiting imagination by imposing PC dogma on artists. How do you respond to comments like that?

“You can’t be what you can’t see.” –Marie Wilson, the White House Project. Sexualization is an enormous problem, most specifically in the media. The stats on the representation of girls in the media in a non-sexualized manner are so miniscule, I would argue this isn’t ‘PC dogma’, it is a matter of civil rights. Girls get a seat at the table.

In the past year or so, various sites and movements have cropped up to help defend girls from sexist media or at the very least, educate parents about the negative influences out there, so ubiquitous they are ironically invisible. There was Peggy Orenstein’s best seller  Cinderella Ate My Daughter, The Geena Davis Institute has been doing studies and releasing statistics about the lack of girl characters in animation, author Lyn Mikel Brown and other founded SPARK and advocated for more girl balloons in the Macy Day Parade. And its great news that parents and advocates got so upset about the JCPenney T shirt and got it off the shelves. At the same time, Disney announced its not doing anymore princess movies which translates to even fewer movies starring girls since girls are mostly only allowed to star if they are princesses. Disney also announced this year that is shifting its tween programming to boy based animated cartoons. Do you see the media and more awareness about the media going in a positive or negative direction? Are there other sites or movements that you know of that support girls and girl media?

I think parents and girls need to be very aware that the media is a long ways off from them content that is fair to girls. Like I said, there is good stuff out there, but in reality it is few and far between. Disney is the very last place I would look for positive girl media. As parents become more aware and more savvy, they will start to demand products and media that reflect that. So Pixar is making “Brave”, and that is tremendous, and that will only fill our appetite for so long. They will need to give us more if they want us to keep consuming.

You mentioned SPARK Summit and the Geena Davis Institute for Gender in the Media. I love the work they do. I also really admire my colleagues Amy Jussel of Shaping Youth, Dr. Jennifer Shewmaker of Operation Transformation, and New Moon Girls is doing awesome work right now with their Girl Caught program. Other favorites are Princess Free Zone and Hardy Girls Healthy Women. In the UK I love Pink Stinks, and over in Australia Collective Shout and the Butterfly Effect do amazing work.

One under-reported issue is that when girls go missing in kids films, and the toys, clothing, and other products based on and derived from those films, both genders learn that girls are less important than boys. This is a problem with sites and orgs that focus on girls, in some ways, that continue this polarized segregation. Parents are a huge force here– they should be reading their kids stories about girls, taking them to movies with strong girl parts (if they can find any) and encouraging cross gender friendships. What do you think about this issue? Are there sites, movements, blogs that you know of or like that help educate boys also?

I have a three year old son, so this is an equally important issue for me. My colleague Crystal Smith of Achilles Effect (and author of a great book with same name) is awesome. The work of Jackson Katz is like no other when it comes to boys and media. The blog The Mamafesto writes about her son and his adventures through boyhood.

My work focuses on girls, because the crush for them with sexism and sexualization is immense, and it comes at them as soon as they are born. I don’t necessarily think it is easier for boys, but it is different. I think we need to get back to some common sense childhood. Let’s allow our kids the space to play and explore without limitations based on gender. Pigtail Pals also offers a line for young boys called Curious Crickets, meant to honor the creativity and wonder in boyhood.

Both of my children enjoy and thrive in cross gender friendships. These are crucial for the socialization with the opposite sex in their tween/teen years and beyond. We try to find positive media that equally respects boys and girls. My kids will see my husband wash dishes and fold laundry, and they will see me wrestle with the dogs and use tools and run my business. It is all about balance.

Who gets to be sexy?

Last week, New York Times reporter and Motherlode blogger Lisa Belkin posted about Duke University’s sexist frat party invites which asked women to show up dressed slutty. Just as troubling as the actual invite, Belkin writes, was that women did, in fact, show up dressed slutty. Belkin writes that a generation ago, women were leading Take Back the Night Marches at college campuses. She wants to know: What’s changed?

Amanda Marcotte, blogger for Slate’s XX Factor, responds to Belkin that dressing slutty can be fun. Marcotte is annoyed that Belkin, like so many before her, conflates clothing choices with real social inequalities. Marcotte says a woman can be smart and dress in a skimpy skirt.

Belkin responds that she doesn’t see the men dressing skimpy.

Marcotte replies that her goal here is to dismantle gender norms; if men didn’t fear being emasculated by others, they probably, too, would enjoy wearing skimpy outfits and being lusted after by their peers.

But who gets to be sexy? And why?

The messed up gender disparity here is that men, for the most part, get to be sexy for what they do. While women, for the most part, only for how they appear. One major thing that sucks about this difference is that the “training ground” to support it starts so early- back when we’re little kids. My blog, Reel Girl, is all about the gender difference imposed so young on boys and girls through kids’ TV, movies, books, and toys. In kidworld, the boys get to do stuff. The girls expose their belly buttons and bat their eyelashes and wear different outfits.

In high school, the established pecking order is further enforced- the athletes or the funny guys are the hot ones. A funny girl or athletic girl might be considered hot, but she’s not sexy because of her skills or talents, but in spite of them. And then, of course, next on the social agenda are college frat parties, and then comes the “real world.”

Women, by the way, are not considered sexy based on how they appear because men are visual. Or any other idiotic social Darwinist theory/ explanation about how gender inequity is just “natural.” The reason for the gender difference about who gets to be sexy is this: Men are the guys in charge. For women to have sexual power and political, social, or economic power is threatening to men as a group.

I believe the major reason women are held back is because dangling the carrot- if you achieve, you will be sexy- is a huge motivator, because being sexy is fun. Men have a direct route while women are met with various with dead ends.

The solution to this enforced gender duality is not, alas, to be smart and wear a short skirt all at the same time. It’s to change these stats on American women, who make up 52% of our citizens and 46.5% of our labor force.

Women hold only 15.2% of seats on the boards of Fortune 500 companies.

Women are just 19% of partners in law firms.

Women represent 17% of the United States Congress.

Throughout our history only four women have held the office of Supreme Court Justice.

There are currently only six female governors.

Women make up 14% of all guest appearances on the influential Sunday television talk shows; among repeat guests, only 7% are women.

Only 15% of the authors on the The New York Times best seller list for nonfiction are women.

Only about 20% of op-eds in America’s newspapers are by women.

Women make up 8% of all writers of major motion pictures.

Women are 17% of all executive producers.

Women are 2% of all cinematographers.

See my first post on Belkin’s NYT story where I wrote that not so much has changed in the past twenty or thirty years for women on college campuses or elsewhere.

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Critics have sweet tooth for Sugar In My Bowl

Critics love the new book Sugar In My Bowl. The anthology came out this summer, is edited by Erica Jong, and includes my short story “Light Me Up.” If you haven’t gotten your copy yet, you can order it here.

Here are some blurbs:

“[A] fierce, fearless collection.”
— More Magazine

“The women of this collection make the case that good sex is never exclusively about the act, but also about how you approach it.”

“Abundant with affairs, marriages, motherhood and our sexual sense of mortality it is a thoughtful read, a perfect aperitif on a summer evening. The stories penetrate a secret space in our brains we so often neglect: our sense of sexuality.”
— Forbes

“Jong has crafted candid accounts of love and passion from renowned female writers into a sensual and sensitive read.”
— Interview“[Sugar in My Bowl] runs the gamut from pornographic and hilarious to ironic and poignant. The result is a fun, quick, beach read, requiring as much or as little intellectual energy as the reader chooses to invest.”
— Chicago Sun-Times“You can take these women seriously, laugh, squirm, and put hand over mouth at their weird, exciting, uncomfortable, joyous tales of ardor, while still admiring the agility of their prose.”
— The Daily“Jong partners with 28 collaborators to create this fierce and refreshingly frank collection of personal essays, short fiction and cartoons celebrating female desire…A smart, scrumptiously sexy romp of a read.”
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“In this no-holds-barred collection of essays by ‘real women’ about ‘real sex,’ Jong has assembled an eclectic group of authors. [Sugar in My Bowl] is at its most profound when truth illuminates sex as a force in which these women found empowerment.”
— Publishers Weekly

“Jong cast a broad net to bring together women writing about sex. The resulting anthology attests the wide range of female sexual experience.”
— Booklist

“Sugar in My Bowl is proof positive that women can write seriously about sex and live to tell. It represents a remarkable smorgasbord of experience and perspective, and there’s a dish here for everyone.”
— Shelf Awareness

“These pieces honestly and thoughtfully explore sex and its role in our society from a woman’s perspective, from its place in youth to the golden years….with Sugar in My Bowl Jong has curated a consistently eye-opening and thoroughly readable volume.”
— LargeHearted Boy Blog

“The enticing, thoughtful Sugar in My Bowl proves to be a powerful exploration of women’s relationship to sex.”
— Entertainment Realm

“This book is a Thanksgiving dinner in which each story is a dish more scrumptious, more touchingly homemade than the last. All are so very different, but together they comprise a joyous feast: [an] examination-cum-celebration of female sex and sexuality. A must-read.”
— Gender Across Borders

“The passion, tragedy, and hope—offered by courageous women who express raw feelings that society tends to silence—will resonate.”
— Library Journal

“A refreshing and new contribution to literature about women’s sex lives.”
— HerCircleEzine.com

More reviews here.