your ink

Molly MacDermot is the Director of Special Initiatives at Girls Write Now

I’ve had the honor of editing five annual-anthologies for Girls Write Now. Today’s next generation of women writers are alright, and their stories are making the world better. They’re also making me feel better —filling me with hope. When Tin House editor Masie Cochran proposed publishing an anthology that showcases two decades of true stories from our young female writers, I was ecstatic. Finally, readers can enjoy the evolution of female thought in one book. Pre-order your copy from Books Are Magic, here.

In Girls Write Now: Two Decades of True Stories from Young Female Voices (Tin House/October 17, 2018), you’ll meet Danni Green (her knockout essay “Dear Kanye” opens the collection), who can’t get her dad to sign her financial aid paperwork for college. She desperately wants to believe she’s meant for a different life than what she sees around her, but she’s not sure if believing is enough. You’ll witness Romaissaa Benzizoune wrestle with wearing a hijab to school, and Maggie Wang’s struggle to be what she calls “a model minority girl.” You’ll also delight in the lighter moments, like Tashi Sangmo remembering the morning bird chatter in her birthplace of Tibet, or Michaela Burns peeling red apples with her grandmother.

Together, these stories offer an overdue portrait of what it is to be a girl in New York City, and in America as a whole. They’re stories we desperately need to hear. 100% of these writers are high-need. 94% are girls of color. Many are first- and second-generation immigrants. Astonishingly, 100% of them have gone on to college and the majority have graduated, flying in the face of national averages (nationwide, only 8% of low-income students will matriculate). And trust me, we’ll be seeing many of these names on book covers for years to come.

An excerpt from Danni Green’s “Dear Kanye”. Danni was born in New York and graduated from Lewis and Clark in Portland, Oregon

Dear Kanye, January 14, 2012 7:45 pm

Nine days ago I called financial offices of the colleges I applied to. Told them I had to submit my FAFSA without parental information. Told them Shawn won’t give me his information and my mother and I have tried. Told them how Shawn raises his voice, shows his ignorance, and shouts like he’s Otis Day. How he calls me stupid. Says I shouldn’t be trying to get money from the government. Every time my mom and I try.

Each college said my parents are married and Shawn lives in the house so they couldn’t help me. They told me I was in a tough situation. They told me I was in a tough situation like I didn’t know that. Like I don’t see the lives of the people I live with and how content like a snake has opened its mouth and swallowed their lives whole. My brother Robert is jobless. Almost thirty. Has an Associate’s degree and no idea what to do with his life. My sister Jessica is sleeping with the man she loves and isn’t her husband. She just got laid off. Has four children and no more Food Stamps. And her rent has to be paid. My brother Darius made a house out of my Grandfather’s room to avoid everything that’s on the outside of his door. My younger brother Philip has taken the Geometry Regents three times. Cuts classes. Smokes weed and wonders what he’ll do with his life. My mother. Had she gone to UCLA would be a doctor right now. The closest Aunt Carla has gotten to being an actress is watching the Academy Awards every year. She flips the pages of her celebrity tabloids looking for herself.

Who am I supposed to look up to? Who is supposed to show me how I can make my dreams real?

I’m watching Jon Sands and Adam Falkner live at The Bowery Poetry Club. But I’m sitting in my computer chair looking at them on a screen. Seeing them makes me want to pull the pretty stars out the sky. Rip open my chest and stuff them in. Because I want to be pretty. On the inside. And I’m hoping stolen stars can shine away whatever’s in me trying to kill the person I can be if I were only not Here.

Adam was my English teacher. Last summer I bought Jon Sands’ book. I know this guy. Like had conversations with this guy. Like went to this guy’s workshops. If they are not made of better stuff than me like stars then why are they where I want to be and I am not?

I’m not in a tough situation, Kanye. But if I don’t get out of the house on Wyckoff Street I will be, but it’ll be My Life. It’ll be a husband I don’t love, an affair to make me feel alive, a checking account with a zero balance, a job that’ll brand me Good Enough and children whose faces ask, What’s for dinner?

Currently it’s 7:54. The 14th day of 2012. A Saturday. But it feels like 2011 and 2010 and ’09 and ’08 and ’07 and ’06 and every year when I felt I was absolved of any good thing in me the second I walked through the front door of my house. Barriers between the days are crumbling and morphing 24 hours into one long minute.

There is too much contempt in my soul to have a life like the ones I see daily. My family has redefined happiness to make their life mean something. Since the second semester of tenth grade I worked my ass off to get A’s. I lost sleep to write essays, didn’t hang out with friends to do homework.

But it’s slowly sinking in. There isn’t an escape from what dirties the dishes and puts the dust between the floorboards of my house. Not living your dreams is a sickness. My parents are carriers. It is in my plasma waiting to infect my cells. And sometimes I cry like I’m terminally ill. The tears tumbling down to my shirt is evidence that I’m dying. Because everything has just gotten so hard. Like breathing. Like having faith in myself. Like believing I won’t stay Here. College was supposed to get me out of Here.

Now I’m too full of fear that I’m going to be My Family. I’ve seen the way their muscles fold, how their joints crack. I feel that what’s in Them is seeping into me. At times I ask myself Who am I kidding thinking that I’ll be different? That I’ll do something with my life? Adam is playing the piano. Jon Sands just read a poem. I like it. The crowd clapped. I want someone to clap for me. To be proud of me. Tell me Good Job. So I could stop thinking I’m such a failure. Because I strived for college but can’t pay and will likely defer a year and I’ll see my friends leave and I will stay. Jon Sands is up in front of people. A mic before him. Performing poems. All I want to do is write poems. Touch someone with my poems. I want someone to like them. What am I doing with my life that I’m not on stage. That I’m not There? If I were There I wouldn’t know another hungry night, I wouldn’t be scared to pray. I wouldn’t wake up feeling so weak. I’d be doing something with my life. I’d…I’d… Did you ever ask yourself, Kanye, what am I doing with my life that I’m not There? If you did. What was your answer?

Roxane Gay’s advice to young women writers:

“Everyone has a voice. It’s just a question of just finding the courage to use it, and the first step in finding the courage is knowing that no matter who you are or how quiet you think your voice is, your voice matters. You’re never going to please everyone with what you say, but you don’t have to worry about that. You have to only satisfy yourself to start with, and I think, with that kind of acceptance, you can begin to use your voice. Regardless of any insecurities you feel have to have an innate confidence in yourself and your voice because if you don’t believe in your voice, then no one else is going to listen.”
Roxane Gay



Girl w/ Pen is excited to present this guest post from Laurel Wider, a psychotherapist with a speciality in gender, relationships and identity.  She’s also a mom and Founder of Wonder Crew, a new line of toys that brings connection and kindness into boys’ play.   

Play is how children learn, which means toys have the power to create change. As I began to pay more attention to toys marketed to boys, it occurred to me that so many of them emphasized muscles and aggression and NONE offered a play experience that encouraged connection or even friendship.  Thrilled by the surge of toys that encourage  STEM and positive body images for girls, I want to help expand the way boys see themselves and the world around them.

I’m a mom, psychotherapist and now founder of Wonder Crew, a line of dolls that bring connection and feelings into boys’ play.  In my therapy practice, I’ve worked with several boys and men who have painfully grappled with impossible stereotypes of masculinity. Boys are raised to prioritize toughness and self-reliance – in my work with clients I’ve seen this lead to isolation, depression and sometimes aggression.

And then about a year ago, my son came home from preschool with the idea that “boys aren’t supposed to cry.”  I was floored that my own son had gotten a hold of this message. These stereotypes impact and harm everyone.  This is how I ended up a toy inventor.

questionphotoChange is generally something that happens gradually. With this in mind, I thought long and hard about how to create a “hybrid” toy, one that still resembled familiar play scenarios for boys, but also offered the opportunity to connect and nurture.  So I came up with action figure meets favorite stuffed animal.  This morphed into Wonder Crew:  a line of Crewmates (aka dolls) that come with a matching piece of adventure gear (dress-up) plus mini open-ended comic book.  The formula:  Child + Crewmate = Wonder Crew.

Right now we have one Crewmate, his name is Will and he comes in three adventures with a fourth in the 4_crewmates (1)pipeline:  Superhero, Rockstar, Builder and Chef.  These adventures were based on interviews with over 150 parents, educators and kids that spoke to me about play that they’ve observed/ kids’ favorite play scenarios.

At first I thought that these adventures were too stereotypical, but I’ve come to realize that it’s important to show that nurturing fits in with all kinds of play, even the kind that’s stereotypically masculine.  And really the big picture idea is that anyone can be a connected, empathetic, nurturing person.

group2bestfavorites_webready-43Wonder Crew is all about friendship and adventure and clearly this is not just a boy thing!  I plan to incorporate a girl Crewmate, while keeping with the same adventures. This would have been my preferred doll growing up.

While inspired by boys, Wonder Crew will be an interest-based brand, not gender based.  And the plan is for Crewmates to represent all kids (race, gender, ability).

Wonder Crew’s Kickstarter launched last week. We’re already over 40% funded, but we’ve got a ways to go. IMG_5037Please check it out and help spread the word!  It’s our goal to not only fund first production, but also to show public interest.  A large toy company told me that dolls for boys will never work; help Wonder Crew enlighten them!

Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society invites submissions for a special issue titled “Pleasure and Danger:  Sexual Freedom and Feminism in the Twenty-First Century,” slated for publication in the Autumn 2016 issue. The deadline for submissions is April 1, 2015.

At the heart of the feminist project is a persistent concern with thinking through the “powers of desire” (Snitow, Stansell, and Thompson 1983) and expanding the potential for sexual and gender freedom and self-determination at the same time that we combat sadly persistent forms of sexual danger and violence.  Exemplified in the US context by Carole Vance’’s landmark collection, Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, feminist debates over sex, gender, and society have been incendiary.  First published in 1984, as proceedings of the infamous “Scholar and the Feminist” conference at Barnard, which initiated the equally infamous “sex wars,” this volume reproduced intense dialogue while also contributing to a much broader investigation of the politics (and pleasures, and dangers) of sexuality within feminist theory and culture. Articles that threw down gauntlets were subsequently canonized and celebrated.  Much has changed since that explosive conference and book. Even the subtitle, – “exploring female sexuality,” – would now be more deeply interrogated (biologically female? presumptively heterosexual?) and certainly pluralized.  But however reframed, the paradoxical joining that is “pleasure and danger” remains poignantly relevant.

For this special issue, we invite transdisciplinary and transnational submissions that address questions and debates provoked by the “pleasure and danger” couplet.  Submissions may engage with the historical (how different is our moment from that formative “sex wars” era? have the sex wars moved to new terrain such as trafficking and slut-shaming?); the representational (how does the digital era transform our sexual lives? what does “livestreaming” sexual assault do to/for feminist organizing? what possibilities are there for feminist and queer imagery in an era of prolific porn, commodified otherness, and everyday inclusion?); the structural (how do race, ethnicity, religion, and national cultures enable and constrain sexual freedoms? how do carceral and governance feminisms frame and perhaps contain earlier liberatory impulses?); and/or the intersectional (how do we analyze the mutually constituting relations of sexuality, gender, race, ethnicity, class, nationality, ability, age, and so on?). There are local and global questions to be asked and strategic arguments to be resolved.  And the very terms are themselves constantly debated (whose pleasure are we speaking of and for?  who is the “we” doing that speaking? who is imagined to be “in danger?” how does “gender” signify differently in that couplet from “sexuality?”).

We particularly encourage analyses from all regions of the globe that address pressing concerns and that do so in a way that is accessible and, well, passionate!  We encourage bold and big thinking that seeks to reckon with the conundrum still signaled by the pleasure/danger frame.  We especially seek submissions that attend to the couplet itself, to the centrality of pleasure/danger within the project of making feminism matter and resonate in ways both intimate and structural, deeply sensual and liberatory, simultaneously championing multiplicities of pleasures and a lasting freedom from violence and abuse.

Manuscripts may be submitted electronically through Signs Editorial Manager system at  Please choose the article type “Pleasure and Danger – Special Issue Article.” Guidelines for submission are available here. This Call for Papers is also available as a PDF. Please email the journal office with any questions.


Snitow, Ann Barr, Christine Stansell, and Sharon Thompson. 1983. Powers of Desire: The Politics of Sexuality. New York: Monthly Review.

Vance, Carole. S, ed. 1984.  Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

This week we are happy to feature a guest post from Jocelyn Hollander. Jocelyn Hollander is a professor of sociology at the University of Oregon whose work focuses on gender and women’s resistance to violence.

The new Miss USA, Nia Sanchez, has been roundly criticized this week for daring to advocate that women learn to defend themselves against violence. As this argument goes, any anti-violence strategy that focuses on what women can do to keep themselves safe is women-blaming. Instead, we should focus all our resources on preventing perpetrators from assaulting women. As one Twitter user wrote, “Hey Miss Nevada- how about instead of woman learning to protect themselves, men learn to not rape women?” (@CaitCremeens, June 09, 2014)

In an ideal world, this would be the right strategy. We would teach perpetrators not to commit violence, they would see the error of their ways, and poof! Violence against women disappears. And if a few perpetrators remain unconvinced, well, we’ll teach bystanders to intervene, and they’ll step in to stop these assaults.

But we do not live in that world. Feminists have been trying to convince perpetrators not to assault women for more than 30 years now, and these problems are still with us. Perpetrators frequently isolate their targets before assaulting them, making bystander intervention dicey, at best. Research on frequently-used prevention strategies finds that most of them either haven’t been systematically evaluated or simply don’t work. While the focus on perpetrators is long overdue, we can’t rely on it as our only strategy for preventing violence.

Moreover, even if perpetrator-focused prevention strategies did work, they would take time to be effective. Many of these strategies rely on major changes in social and interactional norms, and this kind of change is a slow (and usually incomplete) process. If those are our only strategies, what are we asking women to do in the meantime? Suffer through sexual assault while we wait for the knights in shining armor to save them? On my college campus of 25,000, even if we were to implement a prevention program that would be completely effective at the end of one year, 625 women would be sexually assaulted in the meantime. Is that really acceptable?

Women have been told for years that they are weak, that they are vulnerable, and that they need to look to someone else (fathers, boyfriends, husbands, the police, the state) to protect them from violence. When we say that perpetrator-focused strategies are the only legitimate approach, we inadvertently reinforce these stereotypes. What if instead we acknowledge that women are strong and smart enough to protect themselves, rather than waiting for someone else to rescue them?

In the 1970s, women who were tired of waiting for the social system to change took matters into their own hands, developed feminist programs of self-defense, and taught them to thousands of other women. These same programs have recently been shown to be highly effective in preventing sexual assault. Self-defense training is effective, it is immediate, and it is empowering to women.

These programs have been widely misunderstood. Empowering self-defense classes do not simply repeat the tired old advice (don’t walk alone, don’t drink too much, carry your keys in your hand) that reinforces women’s fear and vulnerability and constrains women’s lives. Rather, they help women develop the awareness and verbal skills to stop assaults before they begin – and if that fails, to powerfully resist. They give women more choices, not fewer. Yes, ending sexual assault is not women’s responsibility. But advocating self-defense training is not victim-blaming; it is a realistic strategy for a world in which sexual violence is very much still with us, and will be for the foreseeable future.

I have a young daughter who will soon be growing into adolescence. I am not willing to wait for the day that perpetrators to stop attacking, or that bystanders intervene. I will work tirelessly toward those goals, but in the meantime, I will teach her the skills she needs to protect herself, so that she can act on her own behalf, rather than waiting for some savior-prince who may or may not arrive – and if he does, may or may not be willing or able to save her. I will hope for that ideal world, but in the meantime, I will teach her to save herself, and her sisters. That, to me, is real feminism.

Today’s guest post from Christine Gallagher Kearney was originally published here. Christine Gallagher Kearney is a Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project, member of the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago Board of Ambassador Council, co-founder of ChiFems Action Network and past president of DePaul University’s Women’s Network. She has published in places like ForbesWomanWomen’s eNews and Girl w/Pen! (now a part of The Society Pages).

Sheryl Sandberg and her Lean In organization are still trending, and while I’m not excited about everything she and her organization are doing for women — see bell hooks’ critique — the new Lean In Collection with Getty Images, “a library of images devoted to the powerful depiction of women, girls and the people who support them,” is heartening, especially in the face of recent female disembodiment in the news media.

TIME didn’t start the disembodiment, but they did name it. In a rundown of recent visual advertisements depicting “headless women,” writer Laura Stampler describes and calls the occurrence of headless women a “trend,” reducing women’s bodies to objects for consumption.

To be sure, “headless women” in advertising is not new. Take for example a 1990s ad for BodySlimmers that depicts a woman standing provocatively in what looks like a black swimming suit. Her head is not visible in the image. Or think back to an advertisement by Axe for shower gel that depicts a woman’s body covered in mud, with “wash me” written with a finger across her stomach, her head is not visible in the image.

However, announcing a “headless woman” trend in 2014 is as absurd as it is dangerous. Picture all the female contestants on “The Bachelor” without heads. Imagine female models on catwalks without heads. Now picture your female coworker without a head, or prominent female leaders — Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton or Janet Yellen — without heads.

By cutting out the head you are immediately saying her personality and brains aren’t important in the slightest. We are just interested in her body. It doesn’t matter who she is,” said Lauren Rosewarne a professor at The University of Melbourne who writes, researches and comments on sexuality, gender, feminism, the media, pop culture, public policy and politics.

In effect, choosing to describe this disconcerting development as a “trend” belies the seriousness of the injustices being perpetrated and further demeans the individuals or groups who are being treated with contempt. Women are reduced to objects for consumption, to be used and thrown away. more...

Screen shot 2013-12-06 at 10.11.16 AMThe following is a guest post by Anne Ladky, Executive Director of Women Employed

Food stamps, slashed. Hundreds of protests over low wages, including one in St. Paul that ended with the arrest of 26 protesters—and plans in 100 cities for fast food strikes this very Thursday. A Wal-Mart food drive gathering Thanksgiving donations for its own underpaid employees. Even conservatives calling for a raise in the minimum wage.

Something is in the air. Whether it’s the generosity of holiday spirits or just people finally reaching a breaking point with the status quo, Americans are restless; we want change. And now, when people are paying attention to the plight of the struggling worker, is a rare opportunity to actually make things happen.

When I first joined Women Employed, there was a different kind of restlessness in the air. This was in the 70s, and women were getting fed up with those who outright opposed us getting into managerial and professional jobs. They said we weren’t capable, that we were only working for “pin money” anyway, and that we belonged at home.

WE was founded by women who wanted to change that world—and we succeeded. This year marked our 40th anniversary, and we have plenty to celebrate. In the past four decades, women have reshaped the American workplace. Our progress can be seen in laws against pregnancy discrimination and sexual harassment, family leave policies, and the breadth of opportunities available to women today, especially those with college degrees.

But celebrating women’s progress all too often obscures the reality that many women are still struggling just to get by. Although the advances of the past 40 years have given women many more opportunities, not all of us have been able to take advantage of them; millions have been left behind.

One way to think of it is to imagine that women today live on two different planets. On the first planet, women work in professional, managerial, or union jobs and earn salaries high enough to support a family. We have paid sick time, vacation time, health insurance. And we think of that as standard. Things aren’t perfect—women still struggle with glass ceilings, bad attitudes, and pay issues. But there’s some flexibility to deal with the demands of work and family, and women with education and advantages are doing better than they ever have before.

On the other planet are the millions of women who work hard in jobs we all depend on—jobs in restaurants, retail, call centers, day care centers, and the homes of our elderly parents.  Their wages are far too low. 17 million women today—almost a third of the female workforce—are earning less than $12 an hour. They have no paid sick time or vacation time and limited, if any, access to benefits. They get little or no respect for the work they do, and their hard work doesn’t lift them out of poverty. Their struggles are often invisible or ignored, even though their poverty hurts our society’s children, our communities, and our economy.

This can’t continue. We have to say no to having one world of work for women with education and advantages and a vastly inferior world of work for others. We need to shine the spotlight on those low-income working women who work their days serving meals to others but can barely feed their own children, the women who take care of our bedridden family members but don’t get paid sick days themselves.

We’ve cracked the glass ceiling—in some cases, we’ve even shattered it. But we can’t just look up; we have to look down. We need to raise the floor. Fortunately, there are some specific ways to do this, and the recent movement to increase the minimum wage is one of them. If we just raised the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour over a period of years—a proposal that President Obama has just backed—we would generate an estimated $32 billion in new economic activity and an estimated 140,000 new full-time jobs. We need to expand the right to earned sick time—and make sure that current movements to block states from ever being able to mandate paid sick days are stopped in their tracks. We need to ensure that more workplaces have policies that guarantee equal opportunity, fairness, and respect for family responsibilities—not just for higher-ups, but at every level of employment. We need to create stronger career pathways by enabling low-income women to get the education and training they need to advance.

This won’t be easy. The fact that we’re still fighting some of the same fights as when WE was founded (read: the wage gap barely changed in the last decade) shows just how long-term this struggle is. But the last 40 years offers plenty of inspiration to face future obstacles. In the 70s, we were dealing with problems no one had even given names to—sexual harassment, gender wage gap, wage theft. Today, we don’t only have words for these things, we’ve put laws in place to protect women against them. Time and again, we’ve made history. But there’s plenty left to be made.

Photo source

This guest post by Sarah Milstein was originally posted on The Huffington Post and is reposted with the author’s permission.

Last month, the hashtag #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen erupted on Twitter. Started by Mikki Kendall, it immediately became a channel for women of color to call out how implicit racial bias, double standards for women of different races and overt racism are all baked into mainstream white feminism. If you’ve been following feminism for the past 150 years, you probably weren’t surprised by the range of grievances. But if you’re a white feminist and you were surprised or you felt defensive or you think you’re not part of the problem, then now is the time to woman up, rethink your own role and help reshape feminism.

While there are many reasons white feminists have to do this work, Kendall’s hashtag highlighted an important one: we cannot credibly or successfully seek societal change when we ourselves create the same injustices we rail against. In other words, the problems we face as women are often the problems we create as white people.

Since #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen trended, I have seen excellent pieces by women of color, many suggesting steps white women can take to be better allies. Their insights are leading us toward a more conscious feminism. White women, however, need to take responsibility for educating ourselves, too. So, here are five steps white feminists — myself included — can take to check ourselves, connect more genuinely with women of color and improve feminist outcomes for people of all races. As a test of the need for these actions, consider whether you’d want the men in your life to try each step in confronting their own sexism.

1. Recognize that even when your good intentions are truly good, that’s totally meaningless. This idea is hard to accept, because our culture suggests that we should feel like heroes just for wanting not to be racist. (Plus, it’s maddening to be misunderstood.) I have gotten hung up on those two horns frequently. But what matters is your impact, not your intentions, and you don’t get credit for thinking good thoughts.

Try this on for size: when you accidentally step on somebody else’s foot, you do not make your good intentions the focus of the episode. Instead, you check to make sure the other person is OK, you apologize, and you watch where you’re going. You don’t get annoyed with the person you stepped on because you caused her pain or declare that she is too sensitive or defend yourself by explaining that you meant to step to the left of her foot. When you crush another person’s toes, as Franchesca Ramsey has pointed out, everyone recognizes that your impact, not your intention, is what’s important.

Why isn’t that the standard for saying something when you didn’t intend to cause harm? For white women interacting with women of color, we may reflexively, unwittingly assume our experience — and therefore our intentions — are (or should be) primary. I’d argue that’s rooted in our internalizing cultural messages. But whatever the root, we have to get wise if we expect women of color to take us seriously.

So, when somebody points out that you’ve said or done something racist, perhaps something that hurt them personally, the game-changing response is first to understand that your intentions are not the centerpiece of the interaction. In other words: it’s not about you, which can be a genuinely hard to see. Once you let your intentions fall away, you can focus on what the other person is saying (recommended: assume she has a very valid point and try to understand where you went wrong). It changes no games to insist that you meant to be perfectly graceful.

2. If you feel defensive when talking about race with a woman of color or reading about race in a piece written by a woman of color, assume the other person is saying something especially true. That is: use your defensiveness as a Bat Signal, alerting you to your own biases. Sure, yes, of course, the other person may have said something insensitive or unreasonable. But if you want to change the dynamics of the world (reminder: you’re a feminist, so you do), assume your discomfort is telling you something about you, not about the other person. Then use those moments to listen more carefully.

Here’s a personal example. Writing on The Toast in JulyJessie-Lane Metz, a Black woman, called out supposed white allies for a number of harmful behaviors, including writing about episodes in which a white author describes racism they have perpetrated or witnessed:

My first critique is that this [writing] re-centres whiteness. When a person of colour speaks to their own experiences of racism, they are speaking to a collective pain, and speaking truth to power. When a person with white skin privilege gives an anecdote about racism, whether their own or someone else’s, they are exposing more racialized people to this discrimination, and reasserting their own privilege. The narrative is no longer about Black victims of racist crimes and a deeply flawed justice system, it is about white feelings about Black bodies and their experiences. This is not helpful to intersectional practice, as it implies that only by making an oppression about the oppressor can power-holders work towards becoming allies. Secondly, it disregards the feelings of Black people by exposing them to further racism in an effort to work on white privilege. I do not consent to being confronted with racism in the hopes that white folks can maybe start to exorcise their own internalized issues. Allies need to do this work on their own.

The first time I read Metz’s piece, I shifted in my chair a few times, recognizing things I’d done (writing about my own racism — which I won’t link to here, out of respect for Metz’s point) and trying to justify those actions (I think I’ve helped other white people become more aware of their privilege, which is good, right?). I felt distinctly defensive. Which made me want to dismiss what she was saying. Which made me realize I should leave the tab open and re-read the post when I could do so with a focus on her experience of white allies, not mine. (Obviously, I’m made my story of reading Metz central here; I realize there’s some irony and risk in that.)

I will admit that like many would-be allies, I’d like to be recognized for my open-mindedness — however minimal it may be (in this case, I left a tab open, hello) — when I feel put off. But getting rewarded is seriously, seriously not the goal, and you have to play through that desire for a cookie. Identifying a moment when you’re shutting down, and you instead shift to listening harder, with deeper empathy, and likely with quiet self-reflection — that’s the goal.

3. Look for ways that you are racist, rather than ways to prove you’re not. There are two key ideas here. First, you can’t change behaviors you’re not aware of, and if you’re constantly trying to assure yourself you’re not racist, you’re going to miss the ways you are. Second, once you’ve accepted that you are, in fact, racist some of the time, it’s a lot easier to drop the barrier of good intentions, let go of the defensiveness and take responsibility for your actions.

For most of us, identifying our own racism dredges up shame, which is a seriously unpleasant feeling and something we want to avoid. Plus which, assuming you’re not cavorting around your neighborhood in a white hood and sheet, it may not be that obvious to you that you are racist. But the thing is: you can’t avoid it. Everyone is born with the potential for racial bias and most children acquire it very early in life, so even if you do not identify as a racist, racism is baked into you. And then it’s reinforced by our culture. No point in feeling guilty because you’re a human and the product of a racist society. But, by all means, feel bad about yourself if you choose not to identify and work against your racial bias.

As I said earlier, you’re going to have a hard time challenging your own bias if you’re not even aware of it. So, seek out ideas and people that help you see yourself more clearly. If you need a place to start, diversify your media — consume articles, books, podcasts, radio, video and TV shows made by people of color — and when white folks are portrayed critically, find ways to identify with them rather than assume that you’re different than they are. The point here isn’t to take kick off a miasma of self-flagellation, but rather to gain perspective on yourself.

For example, I was recently reading, Our Black Year: One Family’s Quest to Buy Black in America’s Racially Divided Economy. In it, Maggie Anderson, a Black corporate strategy consultant, talks about the experience she and her husband, a Black financial adviser, often have at dinner parties and office gatherings, as white people approach them:

People flock to us, asking about our backgrounds, where we live, even why my hair is “different” from most African-American women’s hair. (White folks never say “not kinky” or “more Black.” They say, “Wow, your hair is so thin!”)At some point, they tell us every detail about the lovely Black couple who attends their church or lives in their neighborhood. They want to introduce us. The logic goes something like this: They’re nice Black people. The Andersons are nice Black people. Nice people will like each other. And if both husbands play basketball, as I’m sure they must, we’re working up the Black friendship of a lifetime.

As I read, my first impulse was to think, “I’ve never mentioned (or touched) a Black person’s hair! Thank god I’m not one of those white people!” But when I let myself dwell for a minute in the scene Anderson describes, it’s clear I’ve done several of the things she rightly calls “clueless.” Centering my own behavior again: I’ve been awkwardly too friendly when introduced to Black folks at parties (see above on good intentions). When I meet people, I almost always ask where they live, without considering that my questions might come off as an investigation rather than as a way to connect (Ibid). I have definitely considered introducing Black folks in the tech sector just because they’re both Black (this, despite the fact that I really hate being introduced to women in business when the only things we obviously have in common are that we’re both women, and we both work).

These actions aren’t horribly destructive and virulently racist. But don’t be fooled by subtlety: small acts of bias make it harder to build genuine relationships. And maintaining personal distance helps white feminists stay disconnected from the concerns of people of color. So, accept that you’ll likely feel uncomfortable and embarrassed, but consider that you are like the other white folks that people of color describe.

4. Listen to people of color, even if you don’t know many. A common suggestion for white people who want to get a clue is to simply listen. Which is a critical step, and it’s especially important in your direct interactions with people of color. But what if none of your best friends are Black and you don’t work with many people of color either? As I mentioned earlier, you can make sure you’re taking in media created by people of color. You can also do a ton of thoughtful listening on Twitter — a medium that gives you legitimate access to the thoughts and conversations of people you may not know.

I’ve written before about how you can — and should — follow people of color in a respectful way on Twitter. You can also seek out some of the stellar women mentioned in the recent campaign kicked off by Feminista Jones that identified #SmartBlackWomenOfTwitter, #SmartLatinaWomenofTwitter, #SmartAAPIWomenOfTwitter, etc. If you’re already overloaded on Twitter, try a swap: for every new woman of color you follow, unfollow a white guy. You might be surprised by the effect such a simple step can have on your perspective.

5. Use your feminist powers to identify instances when people of color are under-represented or misrepresented, and speak out about it. You’re already in the habit of noticing when lists and groups include few or no women. Tweak your internal algorithm to notice when people of color are missing, too. Then say something.

Women of color don’t need us to speak for them, and there are times when standing quietly in solidarity is important. But very often, speaking up is important — not only because it may influence others, but also because it will likely influence you. As a recent Guardian piece noted: “when you’re confronted by prejudice and you don’t object to it, your own attitudes shift in a more prejudiced direction, to maintain consistency between your behaviour and your beliefs.”

Of course, there is a chance that raising an issue as a white person may help other white people see it more clearly or see it in the first place. (Indeed, if you’ve read this far, ask yourself: “Would I have stayed with the piece if it had been written by a woman of color — or might I have dismissed it early on as ‘too angry’?”) And you may wonder if inserting yourself is really progress. Instead, wonder this: If white feminists don’t strive to see what women of color see and don’t consider those perspectives as central as our own, are we truly interested in challenging injustice at all?

This here post comes straight from dear friend of GWP and mine, and fellow writer, Daphne Uviller — who I’ve been writing about of late, here and here! –Deborah

I visited Debbie the other day to try to help her nest a bit, and she gave me two books, one of which was Ayelet Waldman’s Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace, which she said was a little too much for her (meaning Debbie) at this point.  I agree — it’s not a book that should be read while pregnant, but later, while struggling with what it means to be a good mother or even, as I often do, how to get back to even wanting to be a good mother.

I read the whole book in one sitting and while I disliked a few parts, I admire Waldman for her honesty — I consider myself a very honest writer, but she goes where I hadn’t dared — and her talent and her insight.

Here’s what I took away from it:

1) Men MUST be equal partners, not just pay lip service. Okay, that’s old news, but never bad to be reminded.
2) Men do not worry about being good or bad fathers, they just are what they are. We should follow their example. This is wrapped up in the whole idea of observing, of living in the moment rather than judging and worrying. More old news, but still, good to hear.
3) I’m glad I don’t live in Berkeley.
4) I kind of wished I lived in Berkeley.
5) Part-time work that you love is the answer to the work/life balance conundrum. (She doesn’t state this explicitly, but confirms what I already figured out.  We writers, money permitting, have it made.)
6) I think I’d like to try going on Celexa.

And the chapter on her abortion between her second and third child (she has four) made me weep. It is powerful, powerful stuff.

-Daphne Uviller

Adina Nack, Ph.D is the author of Damaged Goods? Women Living with Sexually Incurable STDs (Temple University Press) and her articles have been reprinted in more than a dozen edited volumes. She is an Associate Professor of Sociology at California Lutheran University where she enjoys teaching courses on sexuality, medical sociology, deviance, and pop culture. We’re pleased to have her here again at GWP! – Deborah

I read Naomi’s Wolf’s book The Beauty Myth when it was first published in 1991. As an undergrad growing into my own version of a third-wave feminist identity in beauty-centric southern California, her words rang so true. If knowledge is power, then I and other feminists were certain that soon the tide would turn — girls and women would stop buying into this myth, stop buying magazines that promoted body-loathing, and we would rebel against unrealistic and unhealthy social norms.

Sadly, it’s 18 years later, and her message still resonates with undergrad women (and men) today. As a professor, I had the privilege of meeting Naomi when she came to speak at my campus, California Lutheran University, to talk about the “Beauty Myth” As you watch this clip of her new DVD, I encourage you to ask yourself (1) How many girls and women do I know who believe in this myth? (2) Which corporations are profiting from their misery, and (3) What am I doing to reject the myth and help others reject it?

Personally, I think make-up/hair products/push-up bras are okay as long as you don’t feel like you cannot leave the house without them — costumes can be fun as long as you love and accept yourself when you are ‘un-costumed.’ Eating healthy and moderate exercise are good goals, as long as your self-image and self-worth are not defined by your weight/size. For this post, I won’t weigh in on cosmetic surgery…that’s a whole post unto itself. But, as the mom of a 5-year-old daughter, I make sure to never criticize my appearance in front of her (though, I’m still working on not being critical in my own head), and I aim to de-emphasize physical beauty as a value in my interactions with her. Here’s wishing that Wolf’s The Beauty Myth will strike future generations of college students as truly mythical – outdated, outlandish, and out of touch with their generation…

Another incredibly resource-rich guest post by domestic violence expert and friend of GWP Madeline Wheeler.  You can read Madeline’s previous posts here and here.  -Deborah

As we all know, by the end of National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Week, Rihanna and Chris Brown made national attention with their violent altercation that had media moguls drooling, dropping the ethical bar, and sensationalizing a human health crisis. Is she pregnant?  Are they married? Whoopi tried to quell the hype on The View stating she doesn’t even know if it’s real—a girl may have hit Rihanna.  Oprah warned on Friday that “He will hit you again!” No intro could keep up with this media carousel.

My go round? Chris Brown is still a teenager! You may recall Deborah’s call for research on Teen Dating Violence (TDV) in Quick Stats: Teen Dating Abuse at the year’s start.   People may be getting the message that 1 out of 3 women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused, but what is not as widely known is that 1 in 5 teens in a relationship report being hit, slapped, or pushed by a partner.