Endangered Species Summit: Recap

On Friday night and Saturday, I attended the Endangered Species Women Summit in New York City. The summit was an incredible experience. It was an opportunity to hear from and pose questions to many industry leaders and experts who or deal with body image issues in their work.

Friday

The summit opened with an introduction by Courtney E. Martin, who announced that we were not only attending a summit, but the birth of a movement to reclaim our bodies.

The first panel was called “Real Talk: Body Image Advocacy Across Sector,” moderated by Jessica Weiner. The panelists were Emme, Susie Orbach, Katrin Eismann, Charreah Jackson, and Wendy Naugle, Executive Editor of Glamour Magazine.

Saturday

Saturday’s agenda began with an invocation by REVEAL’s Meggan Watterson, who has extensively studied the missing female in theology and is committed to helping women find a new spirituality that is respectful of their bodies.

The first panel was called “Real Talk: Across Generations,” moderated by Rachel Simmons. Panelists were Jean Kilbourne, Erica Watson, and Julie Zeilinger.  Afterward, there was activity where we paired with someone from another generation to discuss what we were surprised, heartened, and saddened by from the panel and the conference in general.

The next panel was “Real Talk With Men In The Movement,” moderated by Chloe Angyal. The panelists were Michael Kimmel and Jimmie Briggs.

We then moved into a panel on “Real Talk on Medicalization and Globalization,” moderated by Deb Burgard, creator of The Body Positive. The panelists were Penelope Jagessar Caffer, Sayantani DasGupta, Katherine Flegal, and Leonore Tiefer.

Loved Bodies, Big Ideas

Throughout the Summit, there were three Loved Bodies, Big Ideas presentations. Loved Bodies, Big Ideas was a contest held prior to the summit that asked people to submit one big idea that could help change the toxic atmosphere that exists around body image. The three winners were Deb Lemire, Rachel Rodgers, and Amy Benson.

Deb Lemire’s big idea is to re-educate the medical profession on how to treat patients with respect whatever their weight and size. She wants the Heath At Every SizeSM approach to health and wellness taught as a curriculum to medical school students.

Rachel Rodgers, PhD’s idea is that she wants to create a stamp that says 100% real, and have magazines use it whenever they display an image that has not been retouched to alter the person’s appearance.

Lastly, Amy Benson’s idea is called Body Outlaw, and is based somewhat on the Vagina Monologues concept. First, a writing workshop is held in which people write about how they feel about their bodies and being a body outlaw, and then those stories are performed as a show.

Wrap Up

After all of the panels, presentations, and some incredible performances, we broke up into breakout groups to discuss how to turn these conversations into action items. My group spent the first half discussing Deb Lemire’s medical education idea and the second half discussing the conference at large. Our ideas included an outside movement to create a curriculum that could be presented to medical students and other health professionals about patient sensitivity and wellness at every size; a “don’t get weighed” campaign to address the fact that so many women avoid doctors because they fear getting weighed; and bringing a supportive friend with you to the doctor. More broadly, we discussed each telling five friends about what we learned and discussed, about creating our own communities of supporters to help ourselves reject the toxic messaging we receive in our homes and daily lives, and the power of social media to get these messages out.

The Reality Stamp group discussed applying the stamp to images of regular people on Facebook and creating a body to regulate what images qualify for use of the stamp. Deb Lemire promised that her production company would participate in the Body Outlaw project, and many others expressed interest in it as well.

The conference concluded with a song by Chandra Blake, who also sang at the end of Friday’s events. The song she sang on Saturday was an original song about loving oneself which she is offering to anyone in the movement who would like to use it.

Lessons

I learned so much from attending this summit. I learned that a “plus size model” is defined as anyone over a size 6, even though plus sizing in retail stores is 12+ or 14+. I learned that the Executive Editor of Glamour magazine really gets it and tries to display a range of women and body types in her magazine, even if they don’t always get it right. I learned that she has no control over the ads in the magazine, and that complaints should be sent to the ad companies directly, in addition to the magazine. I learned that Jessica Weiner and others try to produce body-image-friendly television shows, but the networks think there is no market for them.

I learned that the body image problem has developed overtime; in the late 1800s, women did not look to their bodies as a source of their problems, in the 1970s women identified that there were problems with their bodies, and today women have internalized this idea and assume that there is something wrong with their bodies. I learned that teenage girls are aware that the media culture is toxic, yet they still feel burdened to try to meet these ridiculous standards, thus causing body hatred, eating disorders, and more.

I learned that body image issues and eating disorders are a growing problem for men. I learned that men are actually eager to discuss these issues, but it is generally not safe for them to do so. If safe spaces were created, productive conversations could be had with men about this topic, because they are starting to see what women have been talking about. Another idea that came out of the men’s panel is that the goal of equality is not to de-gender people, but to de-gender traits, careers, etc. So people are not all the same, but our gender, sexuality, race, class are separate from traits like aggression, compassion, decisiveness, competition, nurturing, and genders are not judged by traits.

I learned that obesity does not cause that many deaths, according to a CDC study by Katherine Flagel that many organizations have tried to discredit because it objects to their financial interests. The standards that define “obesity” have also been lowered in recent years. Many people said that the beauty, health, and weight conversations are being conflated when they should not be. People can be beautiful and healthy at any size; telling people to eat healthily and exercise is not the same as saying that everyone has to lose weight to be healthy. I learned that the diet industry relies on a 97% failure rate for their profits. Another oft-repeated idea was that everyone has the right to feel safe and amazing in their bodies.

There were zero LGBT-specific panelists in any of the sessions, but participants brought up the need to include the LGBT community in discussions around body image, and the panelists agreed that it was important. The body image conversation is really an everybody issue.

Lastly, I learned that I am truly lucky. I have grown up in a household where I never saw my mother diet or make negative comments about her body or mine. She has always espoused an “everything in moderation” approach to life, including eating. We eat what we want, but we don’t overindulge. There are always cookies, candy, junk food in the house, but we don’t abuse them because they are always there. Foods are not bad, we are not bad for eating certain foods. I’m also lucky that I was taught not to judge my body based on the bodies of my dolls or the many fashion magazines we subscribe to or anyone else, and that my school taught us to be somewhat media literate and aware of eating disorders and how to watch out for them. These factors have helped me have a healthy body image, and that enables me to be clearheaded as I consume media, but also to be in a position to help others combat this issue.

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Endangered Species Women Summit

Tomorrow evening and Saturday I will be attending the Endangered Species Women Summit at The New School in New York City. Here is the description from the conference website:

Endangered Species: Preserving the Female Body is an international summit to challenge the toxic culture that teaches women and girls to hate their bodies. Scheduled to be held in New York City on March 18th and 19th of 2011 by The Women’s Therapy Centre Institute, we will launch a comprehensive, worldwide campaign in collaboration with the leading organizations and individuals already on the front lines of this public mental health epidemic. This campaign will engage government officials, educational institutions, multi-national corporations, the fashion industry, and the mainstream media to join us in creating a new visual culture one where the diverse, real beauty of women and girls is valued and magnified. The time is now. Take back your body. Re-imagine the world.

Body image is a topic that I have been thinking about a lot lately, and how the fashion and beauty industries often reinforce traditional gender norms, rather than encourage people to find their own unique ways to express themselves. I am extremely excited to participate in this summit and dig in on these important issues. I will be live-tweeting throughout the summit, so follow along at @jboschan if you wish. I will also post a recap on Sunday, as I have for previous conferences.

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White House Anti-Bullying Conference

Today the White House hosted an anti-bullying conference, for which they brought together many bullying experts from across the country, as well as young people who either have been bullied or who have witnessed bullying and taken action. Parts of the conference were streamed live at whitehouse.gov/live. The videos from the conference are here, here, here, and here.

Overall, I thought this conference did a good job at addressing most of the issues. In terms of kid-on-kid bullying, the coverage was fairly thorough. Issues were discussed including school anti-bullying policies, the importance of having a supportive adult to go to, getting parents involved in knowing that their children are being bullied or that their children are bullies, how to deal with cyber-bullying. Lots of questions were taken over Facebook and Twitter over these issues as well.

What wasn’t really addressed, and what I think is equally a part of the problem — especially for LGBTQ youth — is adult- or parent-on-child bullying. For many LGBTQ youth, not only does the bullying follow them home in the form of cyber-bullying on their phones and computer screens, but it also follows them home in the sense that their parents and/or their church convey a lot of the same negative messages that their peers do. For the most part, the solutions discussed today to address in-school bullying would probably not sufficiently alleviate the problems that some of these kids face. Maybe the situation would improve somewhat if there was an adult at school they could talk to, or if school became the safe space their homes should be, but ultimately it only addresses part of the overall bullying problem.

Today’s summit at the White House was a good start for trying to define and propose solutions to bullying. I think the next step, beyond implementing the recommended in-school changes, is to address bullying in our culture at large. Only by addressing bullying both inside and outside of school can we really create safe spaces for everyone.

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International Women’s Day

Today, March 8th, is the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day and Feminist Coming Out Day. I’m sure all of the history and statistics of women’s history have been discussed today in other venues, as well as , so I thought I’d re-share my coming-to-terms-with-feminism story, which I have alluded to in earlier posts.

I grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. My parents are Jewish, and both are Democrats. My mother is a feminist and a lawyer who has spent most of her career in public interest law, working on behalf of children’s rights and women’s rights. I attended fourteen years of Quaker education. I think the combination of Jewish, liberal parents and Quaker school were very influential in how I came to be a feminist.

The four Quaker Testimonials are Simplicity, Peace, Equality, and Integrity. Three of these — peace/non-violence, equality, and integrity — as well as Quaker commitments to tolerance, social justice, and service, have become central to my beliefs that every person, regardless of any personal characteristic, has the right to personal autonomy and determination, and that society should respect those rights. I think that I began to identify as a feminist in high school. It seemed to me that if I believed women deserved equal rights, that was enough to call myself a feminist.

In fact, that may be all that is required, but at the time that I began identifying with feminism, I didn’t really know what “sexism” meant. During my senior year of college at Carnegie Mellon, there was a book club event for which we read Jessica Valenti’s He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut. Even though I had considered myself a feminist for at least 5 or 6 years at that point, Valenti’s book provided me with an accessible way to understand what is sexist and how occurrences in everyday life infringe on the rights of women to live as they please, and as they have a right to live. Since reading this book, I have felt both so much more in touch with my feminism, and so much less confused when discussing sexism in our society.

I know that we all come to our causes, be they feminism or something else, in our own ways and I hope that my story presents an interesting perspective. Happy International Women’s Day.

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Conflicted About Unions

Ever since I returned from the Pennsylvania Progressive Summit, I have been contemplating the role of unions in our society. I am not in a union, and almost nobody I know personally is in one either, so my comments on this issue may turn out to be uninformed. I have also grown up in an era of union hate. It seems like politicians, especially on the Republican side, but sometimes on the Democratic side too, are always accusing the unions of something.

Like many people, I have been following the news coming out of Wisconsin over the last month, as Governor Walker has attempted to essentially kill the unions, and in Ohio, where there is a similar union-busting bill currently working it’s way through the state legislature. The story in Wisconsin is really quite amazing. The evidence, including the fake Koch-brothers call and the refusal to compromise on the collective bargaining clause of his budget bill even though the unions offered to concede everything else he cited, shows that what Gov. Walker is doing is very much a power grab, union-busting maneuver.

Watching the protests in Wisconsin grow by the day has been equally impressive and very inspiring. This issue has so much weight that it has actually woken up the Democratic party and reminded them that a huge part of their base is comprised of people who work for a living. It has motivated people to get off their couches and take a stand for what they believe is right.

I absolutely support the protesters in Wisconsin. I believe that everyone has the right to work, the right to a reasonable wage, the right to bargain — collectively or otherwise — with their employer on issues of wages and benefits, and has the right to belong to any organization they want. I also understand that supporting the unions is important from an electoral perspective; in the wake of Citizens United, the unions are simply the only outside groups on the Democratic side who have the spending power that corporations have on the Republican side. If the Republicans can kill the unions, they can essentially ensure that Democrats don’t win elections.

On the other hand, I do have some concerns about unions. Again, I am not in a union, nor do I know anybody who is, so if I am wrong on any of these assertions, please do call me on it! One concern I’ve frequently heard is that unions protect people who are bad at their jobs and hinder people who are good at their jobs. Examples of this tend to be the rubber rooms in New York City, where under-performing tenured teachers are sent to spend their days doing nothing, because it is too difficult for the city to fire them, or stories of someone who was told to slow down, because they were making other employees look bad. Another issue is if unions make it more difficult to address an issue like reducing incarcerations because prison jobs are unionized.

I don’t think that these issues are a reason not to support unions, but I do think that supporting unions doesn’t mean we can’t also question them when they may be wrong about something. I also think that the democratic party would be wise to look into growing their outside-group-funding options, or else how to increase their funding sources within the party. Also, while I’m supportive of unions and glad that they are our allies on so many issues, I think it is bad for liberals that if republicans can break the unions they would have so much power in elections.

I also question what would happen to labor laws if unions went away.  If the unions went away, would all of that disappear? Are there other groups that can keep up the fight on workers rights, besides unions? Would all of those hard-won protections be eliminated as soon as the unions disappeared? Hopefully it will not come to that point, but I hope that this post inspires some heated discussion.

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Inter-Movement Communication

This past Saturday, February 26th, there were union solidarity rallies that Move On organized in cities across the country. The protests in Wisconsin and the power grab attempt by Governor Walker have inspired liberals, workers, union members, and others across the country to get out of their houses and show their support for collective bargaining, and for worker’s rights.

On the same day, there were pro-choice rallies and walks in cities across the country in response to the current tidal wave of Republican anti-women bills that have been introduced in Congress and in state legislatures. The Philadelphia event consisted of walking in a loop through the city, chanting and carrying pro-choice signs. From online reactions, I gather that there were speakers at the events in other cities.

I cannot speak for other cities, but in Philadelphia the union solidarity rally and the Walk For Choice both started at noon on Saturday. This meant I could only go to one, so I went to the Walk for Choice event. Though the walk ended where the union rally was, we missed whatever the program may have been.

It is really amazing to me that there were large scale, coordinated, multi-city protests on two major liberal/democratic issues on the same day, and nobody bothered to coordinate them so that people could support both. I received multiple emails from Move On about their rallies, but there was not a word about the pro-choice rallies. Similarly, I heard about the pro-choice events on Twitter from multiple sources including Feministing.com, Shelby Knox, Women’s Media Center and others, but these sources, by and large, did not mention the union solidarity rallies.

I believe that as successful as all of these rallies were, if there had been cross-prom0tion of these events and coordinated scheduling they would have been even more successful. To me this is such a striking example of how we get so caught up in our own issue that we miss opportunities to connect with other groups. Sure, not all labor activists are Feminists and vice versa, but since women’s reproductive health impacts our options in the workplace, and labor and union issues affect women, there certainly was common ground for working together this past weekend.

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Walk For Choice

On Saturday, I attended the Walk For Choice in Philadelphia. We met at the Market East train station and walked in a loop around the city, ending at Love Park. As we walked, we chanted pro-choice slogans and there were some very cool signs. The Philadelphia Police department actually blocked streets for us so we could keep walking.

It felt really awesome to participate in such an important event, and to know that similar walks and rallies were taking place in some 20-30 cities across the country. It was also nice to participate in off-line activism, which seems to happen infrequently. I hope that our rallies succeeded in raising the temperature around the many anti-women bills working their way through the federal and state legislatures.

Here are some photos I took of the walk and subsequent pro-union rally on Sunday.

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I Am Boycotting Boycotts

I am a Feminist, an LGBT ally/advocate, and a Progressive. I believe that everyone has the right to live as they please, regardless of their gender, sex, sexual orientation, gender presentation, race, class, religion, height, weight, disability, etc, regardless of what others think of those choices. However, I don’t believe that avoiding or “boycotting” every single person or entity that does something bad is a productive or necessary way to achieve my social change goals.

It is often said that if you dislike a situation, you have three choices: accept it, change it, or leave it. It seems to me that folks, especially in the activism community, are far too quick to leave situations before trying to change them.

This happens in small ways, i.e. “my place of worship doesn’t accept me, so I will find a new one” and in large ways, i.e. “established Feminist organizations don’t recognize my contributions as a young Feminist, so I will create new organizations” all the time. Part of the problem with leaving broken institutions is that these entities continue not to change because they are not challenged to do so. Additionally, it means there are that many more entities trying to accomplish similar goals, often in isolation from each other. This fragmentation makes it difficult to create lasting change because most are working independently.

This tendency of activists to walk away from situations they dislike also extends into the personal realm. Some examples include:

  • Not eating at Domino’s pizza because the founder contributes to anti-choice organizations;
  • Not eating at Chick-Fil-A because they contribute to Anti-Gay organizations;
  • Hatred/avoidance of Eminem for his history of violence against women;
  • Hatred/avoidance of Chris Brown because of how he treated Rihanna;
  • Hatred/avoidance of Dan Savage his response to Lindy West’s criticisms.
  • Criticism of Katy Perry because her lyrics perpetuate bad stereotypes

To be clear, I do not condone the horrible acts these companies/people have committed. I do think in some cases these facts are not the full story. For example, according to Snopes, the founder of Domino’s is no longer affiliated with the company in any way and money from restaurants does not go to bad organizations.  While Eminem undoubtedly has had issues with women, I give him credit for overcoming his issues with gay people. Regarding Katy Perry, there are far too many pop or rap artists with somewhat offensive songs to expend energy fighting them all.

I have no problem with individuals choosing to boycott institutions or individuals as they see fit. I object to the idea that boycotting is a required response to these situations. First, I don’t boycotting think it’s very effective at the individual level. Successful social change requires being organized enough and loud enough that the person or company can’t ignore the request. When individual activists decide not to patronize Eminem or Domino’s, I’m sure it has some effect on their bottom line, but I suspect not very much.

There is also an element of burning bridges that boycotting creates. Some of the reaction to the Dan Savage story has been that he is bigoted against fat people. I disagree with that characterization, but even if he does have such a bias, he is still one of the loudest voices on a range of progressive issues. I support calling people out as necessary, but it would be a mistake to boycott Savage’s work or refuse to accept his help on other issues because there is disagreement about one issue. If every time we disagree we retreat into our own hard line groups, it will be much harder to sustain powerful movements.

Additionally, it bothers me on a personal level. I don’t think my choice not to boycott Eminem or Domino’s makes me a less committed activist. I simply prefer to channel my objections into an organized protest action rather than fret over whether my music or my pizza meets Feminist or progressive standards. If there are large-scale actions planned against Domino’s, Chick Fil A, the music industry, etc., I will gladly participate, but otherwise I will not feel guilty for my pizza, my music, etc.

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8th Annual Women and Influence Conference

Today I attended Women’s Way’s 8th annual Women and Influence conference. The conference was hosted at the Moore College of Art in Philadelphia, and attracted a large audience of women, and a few men, to discuss issues related to advocacy and empowering women to address the issues they are passionate about.

The keynote speaker was the Honorable Marjorie Margolies, former U.S. Congresswoman and President of Women’s Campaign International. In the keynote address, Marjorie gave some background on her work, particularly her time spent in Africa helping African First Ladies create change in their communities. She then moved on to questions from the audience about both her work in Africa and issues that women advocate for in the U.S.

For the first breakout session, I chose “Learn from Successful Grassroots Advocacy Campaigns.” The panelists were Carol Tracy of Women’s Law Project, Dee Johnson of Philadelphia NOW, Antoinette Kraus of Pennsylvania Health Access Network, and Marjorie Dugan, a Women’s Way volunteer and the moderator of the session. Each of the panelists told a story of a successful campaign she led.

Carol Tracy discussed her work in trying to get the Philadelphia police department to treat rapes as sex crimes and improve the quality of investigation that rape victims receive.

Dee Johnson spoke about her work in a campaign that successfully banned the practice of shackling incarcerated pregnant women while they were in labor. Former Governor Ed Rendell signed this act into law last summer.

Lastly, Antoinette Kraus spoke about lobbying for the federal health care bill and her upcoming battles at the state level to see that it is enforced.

Following session 1 was a panel of state and city lawmakers who discussed from their point of view what the most effective lobbying tactics are. I think the closest to a takeaway from this session is that the more personal the message, the better. Some of the lawmakers are happy to receive messages in any form — phone, e-mail, snail mail, Facebook, Twitter, in person visits — and others prefer one or two of these methods, but all would prefer a personalized message or visit over a form letter. That said, form letters generate volume and that is helpful for them to see how much interest there is in an issue. Another suggestion was to contact the legislator’s main staff person directly. An attendee requested more outreach to non-computer-literate folk, and the legislators said they were aware of the issue and try to outreach to those groups as much as possible.

Following the lawmaker discussion, I attended the “Advocacy 101: How to Make the Case for the Cause You Care About.” This session was presented by Audrey Ann Ross of Planned Parenthood Southeastern PA. Audrey gave a presentation that addressed the definition of advocacy, who advocates, how to create a message, and tactics for getting that message out. I found this session not particularly helpful. It seemed like information that anyone motivated enough to attend the conference would have known, but I suppose it’s possible that I just wasn’t the target of the session and that others found it helpful.

The day concluded with an interactive activity from Spiral Q Puppet Theater. Spiral Q is a company that uses art projects to help activist groups identify common goals so that they can message more effectively on those issues. We basically had a community sharing exercise, followed by a group art project to express our discoveries on paper. I liked this exercise. It was more useful than I expected it to be.

Reflecting on the whole day, the conference was great. I got to hear from and interact with many really smart women and tackle some important ideas. I heard phrases like “empower” and “powerful women” more often than I expected given that women tend to shy away from power. The panelists were all very accessible for people who wanted to ask questions.

The one element that seemed to be lacking today was tie-ins with social media networks. I think the organization could do a better job embracing social media as a whole, as well as for the conference. There were two sessions on Social Media in advocacy today, and yet the organization does not really embrace these technologies. Women’s Way has a Facebook page, which is not linked anywhere on their website. The conference doesn’t seem to be mentioned on the Facebook page. there is no Twitter account for the organization or the conference. Since outreach to young women is of importance to the organization, I think a more thoughtful approach to social media would make both the organization and the conference even better.

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Women & Influence Conference 2011

I will be attending Women’s Way’s Annual Women & Influence Conference 2011 this Saturday in Philadelphia. See here for more information. I will be live-tweeting as well. I will post my reactions afterward. If you’re there, say hi!

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