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Empowering Changes on the Mat

With only 10 days remaining in my 28-days of yoga, I had hoped practicing 30 minutes a day would become easy. Unfortunately, this has been one of the most surprising observations I’ve had about my experience: it hasn’t. Over the past 18 days I’ve worked long hours and had little time to myself due to obligations with my job. Though squeezing in time to practice yoga has been a daily challenge, I promised myself I would devote time to a personal goal and my well being, so I’m doing it.

Overall, performing yoga each day has reduced my stress level and increased my physical strength. I think my time on the mat has been both a gift and challenge, however, on nights like tonight — when I fall asleep on the couch after a long day — moving through sun salutations and holding poses are the last things I want to do. Hey, I’m being honest, here.

Despite my grumbling and the sleep in my eyes, I washed my face and went to the mat to practice. I haven’t missed a day, why would I start now? As I flowed through my movements I cared less about getting in all of my favorite poses or working out my arms and I chose to simply keep moving and breathing. The silence of my living room and new mat helped me ease into some light meditation. Slowly, I began to move beyond the tiredness from my day and in a way, I felt revived.

By the end, I was more centered and relaxed. I didn’t have a surplus of energy, or anything like that, but I had also overcome my self doubt and negativity about my 28-day challenge. I thought this was a small success overall, but then I had a realization. Each day I’ve done yoga there was something I needed to work out within myself. Today I was tired from not sleeping well the night before. Yesterday I felt weak. On Sunday I had anxiety about the week ahead. I discovered that going to the mat helps me identify emotions and tensions within myself that I wouldn’t necessarily recognize (no matter what type of yoga I’m doing — Vinyasa, Bikram or a blend of practices). When I practice yoga I am forced to confront these issues to establish the concentration required to breathe, hold poses and remember sequences. If I take nothing away from this experience, I hope I can at least remember the power of letting it go on the mat — even if that means forcing myself to get there and start.

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Book-Banning Controversy

Originally Published By: Women’s eNews on December 13, 2010

A book-banning effort against “Speak,” a young-adult novel about date rape, is creating an uproar. A campus group is making a documentary, a Twitter feed is discussing censorship and a library group expects the controversy to attract teen readers.

(WOMENSENEWS)–A Missouri State University professor’s bid to ban a young-adult novel about date rape, among other “filthy books,” from the school district’s English courses is spurring young-adult authors and teachers to speak out against censorship in a country where more than 10,676 books have been challenged in libraries and schools since 1990.

“Teens don’t live in a vacuum,” Andrea Cremer, author of the young-adult novel “Nightshade,” wrote in an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal. “They inhabit the same brutal world as adults without the knowledge and tools of adulthood. For those teens whose lives have already been affected by drugs, violence, suicide or any number of traumatic experiences–what children as well as adults struggle with–books can provide comfort, healing or simply the realization that one isn’t alone.”

One in six women will be a victim of sexual assault during her life, according to data published by the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, based in Washington, D.C. Young women between 16 and 19 are four times more likely to be victims of rape, attempted rape or sexual assault.

“Speak,” a young-adult novel by Laurie Halse Anderson about a teen who was raped at a party, is on the New York Times bestseller list, was a National Book Award finalist and has received many honors, including the Michael L. Printz and Golden Kite awards.

However, Wesley Scroggins, an associate professor of business management at Missouri State University in Springfield and a fundamentalist Christian, is demanding that “Speak” and two other books be banned from public high school English coursework in Republic, Mo.

Scroggins filed his complaint in June to the Missouri public school board and wrote an opinion piece on Sept. 18, arguing that the two rape scenes in the novel should be classified as “soft pornography.”

Call to Ban Two Other Books

One of the other books Scroggins wants struck from high school reading lists is “Slaughterhouse Five,” the 1969 antiwar novel by Kurt Vonnegut, which Scroggins complains has too much profane language and sex for high school students.

The other is “Twenty Boy Summer,” by Sarah Ockler, published in 2009. Scroggins said the book “glorifies drunken teen parties” and sex on the beach with condoms.

He is opposed by those who argue rape is a violent act of assault–not porn–and that removing the book would infringe on students’ First Amendment rights.

“Teen readers lose their First Amendment rights as well as access to information that may help them grow intellectually or emotionally if a book is unjustly removed from their local school or public library, or if the library unjustly restricts access to it in some way,” Beth Yoke, executive director of the Chicago-based Young Adult Library Services Association, said in an interview with Women’s eNews.

Since 1990, the association has documented the removal of at least 10 books from the schools and public libraries in Missouri. However, the information provided to the group is voluntary, said Bryan Campbell, an administrative assistant for the Chicago-based Office for Intellectual Freedom, in an email interview.

He also said the group is working on a system for larger data collection that may provide a more reliable picture of book banning statistics in the future.

Each year the American Library Association, based in Chicago, recommends a variety of books to libraries, including “contemporary realistic fiction that reflects the diversity of the teen experience.”

Hundreds of books, including some recommended by the organization, are also challenged or banned from schools and libraries each year.

Between 1990 and 2009 the most common reason listed for challenging a book was “sexually explicit,” at 3,046 complaints. Complaints of “violence” numbered 1,258, according to data provided by the American Library Association.

Thousands Say Thanks

“When ‘Speak’ was published, there was some whispering that this was not an appropriate topic for teens,” Halse Anderson said in an interview with the Springfield, Mo., News-Leader four days after Scroggins attacked the book on the newspaper’s opinion page.

She added that thousands of readers had written to thank her for the book: “They said it made them feel less alone and gave them the strength to speak up about being sexually assaulted and other painful secrets.”

The highly popular young-adult author, Judy Blume, a frequent target of book banning herself, has written to the National Council Against Censorship, based in New York City, on behalf of Halse Anderson.

Ockler, author of “Twenty Boy Summer,” one of the three books condemned by Scroggins, blogged on her Web site in September and October about the dangers of censorship. She also emphasized the importance of healthy discussions among parents and their children: “Truly asking for parental involvement would mean encouraging parents to read the books in question, discuss issues and themes with their kids and come to their own decisions about what’s best for their own families.”

“I’m against book banning in schools,” Daisy Whitney, author of “The Mockingbirds,” a young-adult book published on Nov. 2 that also treats the subject of date rape, said in a phone interview. “‘Speak’ is a novel that has helped so many teenagers understand the emotions surrounding someone who has been through a traumatic experience. The reason some people have suggested banning ‘Speak’ also concerns me because in no way should rape ever be equated with sex.”

Teachers, Librarians, Parents Protest

Paul Hankins, an English teacher from Indiana, started a Twitter feed called SpeakLoudly in response to Scroggins’ complaints. A community of teachers, librarians, parents and publishers also founded SpeakLoudly.org with Hankins soon after, in September.

The controversy has also helped publicize the books under attack for censorship.

“Tell a teen that a book is banned or challenged and they will want to read it to find out why,” said Yoke, of the Young Adult Library Services Association. “So, in one way, book banning actually piques many teens’ interest in the controversial titles.”

Vern Minor, superintendant of the Republic school district where Scroggins’ complaint was received by the school board, told the News-Leader in September that “Slaughterhouse Five” was removed from the English course curriculum.

However, in a Dec. 6 e-mail with Women’s eNews, he said: “We have not made any decisions on the books in question. Our discussions are currently focused on board policy, not the three books per se. We are really trying to look at this matter from a much broader perspective than just three books.”

The school board hopes to set standards for book selection. They do not have a set time frame to implement the revised curriculum policies.

Candice Tucker and Brandon Bond, students at Missouri State, have started filming a documentary about the events, censorship and Scroggins’ “radical views.” Bond has also launched an advocacy group on Facebook called “No More Banned Books,” where he hopes to fight against “the enemies of reason and tolerance.”

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Christa Fletcher is an online writer and editor dedicated to promoting awareness about women’s issues. Her work has been featured by Channel One News, InterviewHer.com, Marie Claire and she keeps a blog at ChristaWrites.com.

For more information:

Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network:
http://www.rainn.org/

National Council Against Censorship:
http://www.ncac.org/

SpeakLoudly:
http://speakloudly.org/

Speak
http://www.powells.com/partner/34289/biblio/9780142407325?p_ti

Getting Nailed

I like nail polish. It’s colorful, trendy and a fun way to express your personality while adding some style to your look. And mani-pedis are relaxing and let you feel pampered, but I would never consider the paint, or the practice, “orgasmic.”

However, a couple days ago I received a distasteful email about a new line of nail polish by Mattesse Elite sold at Ricky’s NYC called the “Orgasmic Collection.” The name of the collection didn’t bother me until I scrolled down and saw a very naked woman splayed out in my email inbox. I was shocked at the vulgarity of the ad and completely offended that anyone would think this is effective marketing. (And, hello, NSFW!)

It got even worse as I read the email:

“As if saucy new shades weren’t enough to get you worked up… Mattese Elite’s new Orgasmic Collection embodies the phases and progression of an orgasm! Yeah… You heard it right… we’re turnin’ it up and turnin’ you on with new nail colors intense enough to get your primal instincts goin’ straight to your nearest Ricky’s!”

I’m sorry, but in my opinion, this is not only stupid — it’s gross.  Since when does nail polish, or the mere thought of buying beauty products get people off? And why would marketing to women include a nude porn star (pretending to have an orgasm) with silver stars pasted on her body? The only thing this ad nailed is objectifying and demeaning woman. You can barely even see her fingernails!

To top it off, the line includes names for shades like “Soft & Wet” and “Cream Dream.” So, as you can imagine, I’m definitely worked up, but it’s not to buy their nail polish. If anything, I will now AVOID purchasing it because it’s degrading. If you’re as offended as I am, I recommend not subscribing to this beauty retailer’s newsletter and limiting your purchases of this nail polish brand.

I’ve unsubscribed from Ricky’s newsletter and will not post the image in this blog, but if you want check it out and comment with your thoughts below, I’d be interested to read what you think about this ad.

You can view the complete newsletter and explicit image here: http://www.rickysnyc.com/newsletter/newsflash-101410.html.

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Google Thinks I’m Gay

My Gmail account thinks I’m a lesbian.

You see, I’d be totally cool with a human mistaking my sexuality because it’s not a big deal, but the fact that Google gave me ads targeted to a presumed sexuality is disturbing. Since when is my sex life remotely relevant to the internet?

I mean, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised since Facebook has given me fertility and baby advertisements since I changed my status to “married.” And, since Gmail doesn’t know I’m married, but I have Google alerts for “sexism,” “feminism” and “women’s issues,” the email provider made a generalization that I have sex with women.

So being a feminist makes me a lesbian? Does that mean all lesbians are feminists? Wow.

You know, it’s too bad you can’t be a person concerned with issues that affect women without being forced into gender roles, sex and other labels. Why should anyone define themselves by their email usage or Facebook status? Targeted ads are another form of stereotyping.

Let’s be honest, these personalized ads are totally sexist. Why are my sexual habits even coming into play? When men change their status to married, do they get fertility and baby ads? I mean come on, as if my age, family and heterosexuality aren’t pressure enough to have kids, I have to deal with Facebook giving me tips on becoming pregnant, or Gmail encouraging me to come out of the closet?

So what if I have a Google alert for “sexism.” Yeah, people laugh when they hear that, but it’s informative and I need to know exactly what people are seeing, saying and hearing about the topic.

The truth is, both men and women should care about equality whether they read the news, set Google alerts, or pay attention to these subtle cultural niches, because in the end, it will affect them in the work place, at home, in public and in their families — if they are so inclined.

I understand ads are generated by calculated algorithms and these links pay for the free services I use, but there’s a big difference between sponsored ads based on my searches and ads that make assumptions about my personal life.

I don’t want anyone to be defined by their gender, where’s that preference in our Google account settings?

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Maybe She’s Born With It, Maybe It’s Mom

Each week I write (and I’ll admit, sometimes rant) about feminist issues. On some days, the amount of sexism in the media, on the street and how we see ourselves can be overwhelming and I can’t take the discrimination, idiocy and pressures women face. And I think, how did we get here?

Then, I’ll be standing in Target and I feel the strong urge to buy the shiny lip gloss my mother used to apply in the rear view mirror of her car. Rubbing her lips together, singing and smiling at me with her beautiful, bright, imperfect teeth.

Other times, it’s her mascara — that classic pink tube of Great Lash with a green top. The very sight of that four dollar mascara lets me feel closer to her — the woman she was — and who she wanted me to become.

So, every now and again, I buy it. I wear it. And I feel beautiful. Not because I need to be pretty for a guy, or a job, or it’s how I’m supposed to look as a woman. I feel good because for moment I can wear a memory, a single moment in time when she sang “Sweet Thing,” by Mary J. Blige in the same lip gloss I see in the mirror, remembering her blue eyes looking back at me as urged me to sing along.

Maybe some of you will call me a hypocrite for loving these beauty products, but there are days I can’t help but like the way I feel when I wear them, connecting to my mom, embracing a fraction of her beauty in a simple smack of gloss or the curl of my lashes in black.

It’s funny how so much of what we know about gender is tied to what our parents taught and conditioned us to believe about the world and ourselves. Though my mom enjoyed looking her best and was devastated when she did not, the glamour she brought to her days, even when no one else could see it, is empowering to me (despite my own issues with beauty standards for women).

She worked multiple jobs, most of the time under the table so we could still collect food stamps, never caring what other people thought of her. She was a feminist, in her own way, as she boldly curled her hair and applied makeup before she left our home to clean other people’s houses. She used her confidence, moxie and determination to support our family, even though she was overwhelmed and faced different types of discrimination, idiocy and pressures.

At night, when she washed her face, the smell of Noxema filled the bathroom and her beauty products went down the drain, but her confidence did not.

Maybe there’s a little more to makeup than meets the eye. Or, maybe that was just my mom.

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Being Pretty Isn’t a Career Tactic

To my horror, I received an email this morning with the subject line, “Are You Pretty Enough to Get A Job?” Normally, Excelle sends me advice with empowering information on how to forward my career ambitions with confidence, strategy and feminist savvy. Well, not today.

I was thoroughly disappointed to receive such an insulting and sexist email written for women with the words “Ugly Ducklings Need Not Apply” as soon as I opened it.

“Studies show pretty people make more money, and now a new beauty-based job board looks to take plain Jane’s out of the running altogether. Will a ‘plainness penalty’ keep the average unemployed?”

Underneath that quote was also a link to a quiz titled: “Do You Need a Makeover?”

I considered not clicking the link, but wondered if it was a joke or meant to be ironic. Or, better yet, I would discover that plain or not, we could all channel our inner Peggy Olson and the secrets to modern day upward mobility.

Again, not today.

The author, Career Diva, began with statements about disregarding the assumption that attractive people get better jobs, however, the article contradicted these claims by linking to other Excelle features on how to dress better and why appearance matters.

Next, Career Diva brings up a website that connects companies who want attractive prospective employees (and gives them ratings on their looks) because “[u]nderstanding our dark side is the first step in overcoming it, I always say.”

Even though she attempts to explore sexism in the job market and investigate the website, she mainly quotes stats from studies in Florida and the U.K. affirming that good-looking people do receive better pay and job titles, even when intelligence is in the mix.

Instead of feeling proud to be a woman, she cheapened the “career-minded” site with this article that lacked the intelligence and feminism I look for in these newsletters.

The article ended with this quote: “According to the Florida university study: ‘people who were rated good-looking made more money, were better educated and were more confident.’ Maybe there should be a site called ConfidentJobSeekers.com.”

Isn’t the very process of applying an act of confidence? Why not offer something more to women who seek techniques for improving their current position or cultivating new skills?

Everything about the article made me feel like my success is dependent upon something superficial and totally subjective — not something real like education, experience and excellence.

To add insult to injury, when I googled “Woman CEO” to link an image to this very blog post, I got a photo of Heidi Klum spread eagle and bikini clad (and my search filters are set!). Really Google? I know she’s a Victoria’s Secret model, but she’s also the Executive Producer of a hit TV show! There aren’t any pictures of her dressed? And, aren’t there other powerful women in business? (Hello, Sheryl Sandberg!)

Curious, I clicked the image which took me to a feature about the “25 Hottest Women in Business.” Again, to my disgust, “sexy” photos of women leaders posing for FHM, or simply looking like sex objects, with vacant stares and fishnets tights, filled the page.

Instead of showing the talent, importance and successful methods hard-working women use to attain their dreams, like the 50 Most Powerful Women in 2009 by Fortune, that list and Excelle reduce women to “hot” bodies and “pretty” faces. I refuse to believe that women’s worth will always be dictated by the way we look — it’s unfair, unkind and completely short-sighted by men and women alike.

We are leaders, we can earn high pay and we are powerful.

Will I continue to subscribe to the Excelle newsletter — whose name is also stupid — why gender a word, anyway? We’ve been trying to avoid gendered terms for decades — that’s not empowering — not today.

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Down with American Apparel Ads?

Many love the eclectic mix and match clothes at American Apparel (myself included), but I think a lot of us are officially OVER those demeaning advertisements where women are reduced to sexual objects by showcasing their body parts, often without their faces.

Take this ad, an example of American Apparel’s provocative and objectifying ads — a woman bent over in front of a computer with her butt exposed. Some are targeted by region. This promo ran in Silicon Valley. Do they really think techies will start wearing 80’s g-string work out gear to work?

In Manhattan, there’s a prominent billboard on Houston near Broadway close to trendy bars and shops, where the clothing company often features a woman who looks post-coital, or just finished with dance rehearsal…half naked. Obviously, the promos get a lot of attention, but it’s not always the kind the company wants.

In 2007, someone tagged “Gee, I wonder why women get raped?” on a billboard (shown right) which featured an image of a woman bending over in American Apparel tights without a shirt. The defaced ad was immediately replaced, according to a report by Jezebel, where they also asked New Yorkers if the ads were “Sexy or Sexist?” You can view the video here.

This year, About Face, an organization dedicated to combating negative images of women, will protest American Apparel’s advertising campaign this Saturday, May 1, 2010 at the Haight Street location in San Francisco tomorrow.

Join fellow protesters for an activist afternoon, where About Face will address the founder of American Apparel, Dov Charney, directly. Since Mr. Charney has come under hot water for many reasons, including the sexual harassment charges by his employees, indecent exposure to reporters and strange, demeaning photo shoots for the company — I hope the event will be nothing short of a roast.

They’re calling it:

An Afternoon with Dov Charney (An About-Face Action)

“American Apparel is famous for its t-shirts and its vertically integrated labor. What it’s more famous for, though, is its advertising: pseudo-candid images of young women, legs splayed open, breasts exposed, butts zoomed in on, all in the name of selling tights and tube socks. We’re sick of seeing these images.

We’re sick of seeing women reduced to their body parts. We’re sick of seeing female sexuality being exploited to sell clothing. And we’re especially sick of how American Apparel attempts to dress up their particular brand of exploitation in a shroud of hipness, edge, or irony — after all, we’d like to think of ourselves as hip and edgy and we certainly aren’t down with these images. American Apparel’s ads contribute to a culture where women are valued for their bodies over their minds, and we’re working to eliminate that kind of thinking.”

To learn more about the event in San Francisco and the mobile protest, check out AboutFace.org for more info. If you don’t believe that American Apparel objectifies women, look at this blog, then tell me what you think.

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