Tag Archives: parenting

Bodies, Moms, Bodies of Moms, Moms on Bodies

This week for Role/Reboot I wrote about this:

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I keep hearing the same chorus from moms writing about body image and aging, and it goes something like this: Man, I have been micromanaging my body for thirty years and I haven’t been able to stop. I really hope my daughters figure out a different way. 

What kills me about it is that, obviously, we the daughters look to you the mothers as our first source of inspiration on how one should be with one’s body. Even if we eventually outgrow our reliance on that one source, it is the first, the most primal, the most difficult to shake.

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Related Post: The problem with “strong is the new skinny”

Related Post: How Title IX changed my life. 

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The most dramatic thing to happen on Grey’s Anatomy. Ever.

More dramatic than the bomb in the guy’s chest? Than the house made of candles on the hillside? Than the plane crash that killed Lexi and Mark? Than the shooter who roamed the halls of Seattle Grace? More dramatic than the time that Meredith died? I know, right? That show is craaaaay.

Screenshot_10_28_13_11_10_PM-4Yes, what happened on Grey’s Anatomy two weeks ago was true drama (skip to 34:00). For those of you who quit this bad boy when it jumped the shark half a decade ago, Meredith and Christina are still best friends, but much else has changed [SPOILER ALERT. Ha, as if anyone waits with bated breath for Grey's spoilers]. Meredith married Derek and they have two adorable children, Zola and baby Bailey. Christina got married and then divorced when her husband Owen couldn’t abide by her consistent refusal to have children (I mean, come on…. she told him that when they got together, but that’s not the point…) They are both still surgeons at Seattle Grace (renamed Sloane Grey Memorial).

What drama could this mundane divergence of paths produce? There were no bones protruding from skin, no organs spilling on to slick linoleum floors. Nope, no guts and gore here, just good old fashioned human drama. Christina and Meredith had planned an elaborate surgery. Meredith’s day took a turn with kiddie emergencies left and right. Christina boxed her out of the surgery and replaced her with a more prepared doctor, Dr. Bailey. And then this:

Meredith: You stole that surgery from me. 

Christina: I am sorry. I really wish you could have been in there with me. 

Meredith: I worked my ass off to do that surgery with you and you stole it from me. That was low.

Christina: Meredith, you were unprepared, you were unfocused, and you were late. I didn’t steal that surgery from you. I rescued that surgery from you, because you couldn’t do it.

Meredith: I understand that you believe you are god’s gift to medicine, but I am every bit as talented and competent a surgeon as you are.

Christina: No, you’re not. I’m sorry, but you’re not. And that’s, that’s okay. You have different priorities now. You’ve cut back on your clinical hours. You log less time in the OR, I mean, you don’t do research. And I get it, I mean, you have Zola, and baby Bailey, and you want to be a good mom.

Meredith: I don’t believe you! You are saying that I can’t be a good surgeon and a mom.

Christina: Of course not! Dr. Bailey’s a mom, and she was fantastic in there! 

Meredith: Then what are you saying? 

Christina: I’m saying, I’m saying… Bailey never let up. She lives here. Callie? Never let up. Ellis Grey [Meredith's mother] never let up. And I know you don’t want to be your mother. I’m saying, you and I started running down the same road at the same time, and at a certain point, you let up. You slowed down. And don’t say that I don’t support that, because I do. You made your choices, and they are valid choices, but don’t pretend they don’t affect your skills. You are a very good surgeon, but we’re in different places now. And that’s okay.

Ahhhhh, oh Grey’s, I love you so. For all the deserved flack it gets for melodrama and oversimplified dialogue (whenever Shonda wants you to get an emotional point all she knows how to do is repeat it three times with different inflection. I need you. I need you. I need you. Check it, she does it on Scandal too), she does tap into the political side of female friendship with some serious know-how.

I would rather have conversations like this than landslides and biker brawl mayhem in the emergency room any day. These conversations are hard, way harder than corralling sexting interns or sobbing family members, and they feel real. Your friends will make different decisions than you would make for yourself, or than you would make for them. It’s hard, because you love them, and you trust them, but you’re scared for them, and you’re scared for yourself. You don’t know what’s right or what will happen and when someone who has been running the same race as you for a long time suddenly veers left or slows down or speeds up, it’s hard not to wonder if you should be following suit. Trying to read your own motives and values in the shadows cast by people you love and trust… that shit is complicated and lovely and challenging.

Take notes, Shonda, and keep it up.

Related Post: How Grey’s got gay marriage right. 

Related Post: How The Good Wife gets the second wave vs. third wave tension right

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S(Tuesday) Scraps 109


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1. HOOPS: Bill Simmons, who I generally love, gets rightfully reamed by college basketball player Wayne Washington when Simmons refers to his dreads as “stinky.”

2. AUTHORS: Curtis Sittenfeld (Prep, American Wife) gets interviewed by The Rumpus about her new book, Sisterland.

3. NEW MEXICO: The New Yorker‘s Rachel Syme, writes eloquently about the hometown she shares with Walter White.

4. CELEB: I really dig this advice from Olivie Wilde in Glamour, or rather, this advice from her ghostwriter. Regardless, I’m into it.

5. MOMS: My favorite, Roxane Gay, interviews her mother for The Hairpin about how she feels about her mothering decisions, 30 years later. Should we all be so lucky as to have these conversations.

6. SPORTS: What does it say about you as a parent when you push your daughter down the path of soccer, dance, or chess? Apparently a lot?

Related Post: Sunday 108: George Saunders, OITNB, Ill-Doctrine, etc.

Related Post: Sunday 107: Amanda Palmer = awesome, millennials worry, email mapping!

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Pre-emptive Father’s Day

Did you know that Father’s Day was signed into law more than 50 years after Mother’s Day? Just one of the many fun facts I learned while writing my new Role/Reboot essay about the evolving role of dads (and the inevitable gift of a tie).

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Related Post: How to accidentally raise a feminist daughter

Related Post: The stubbornly persistent “idiot dad” trope.

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Sandberg: The Final Chapters

sandbergAlright, folks, chapter 9 through 12, the end of the Sandbergian road! If you missed it, here are rounds one and two of my discussion of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, and here’s my bit from the radio.

Before I recap some of the big ideas of the last third, it’s probably worth summing up my feelings on this book. They go something like this: Skeptical, but read it anyway. Old news, new language. Big ideas, pithy terms. Fix the system, beat the system at the same time. Dudes, this is for you too. Hoorah!

So what did we learn in the last chapters? Stuff like…

Setting limits = longterm success – While burning yourself out in the short term may earn you quick kudos, you’re setting yourself up for a fall in the long run. If you crash and take your exhaustion to your boss, the last thing you want your boss to say is “Well, why didn’t you take your vacation days?” Self care is step one in being a productive member of any team.

“Intensive mothering” is a new phenomenon – The last few decades have seen the perceived importance of spending large amounts of time with your children culturally elevated to the point of imperative. A “good” mother is always around, 100% focused on the needs of her kids 100% of the time. This all-consuming standard is socially created; parenting has not always been this way and it doesn’t necessarily have to be. Keeping guilt-free time for yourself and your work is setting a good example for your kids; you’re teaching them about balance.

Whoever has the power takes the noun – This is a Gloria Steinem adage that Sandberg borrows to talk about being labeled the “female” COO. The reverse would be someone referring to a “male nurse;” “nurse” is assumed female and “COO” is assumed male. Many women don’t want to be the female XYZ because “no one wants their achievements modified.”

“Is this your thing now?” – If you start speaking up about an issue (gender, racism, homophobia, whatever it may be), suddenly that’s your “thing.” While quietly fitting in may still be the safest path (and in past worlds may have been the only safe path), it’s not a strategy that bodes well for the gender as a whole. So yeah… it’s one of my many “things,” got a problem?

The Bias Blind Spot – If you are overconfident in your own powers of objectivity, you can fail to correct for your biases. And we all have biases. Studies show that people who believe themselves to be the most impartial actually exhibited more bias in hiring and promotion.

Benevolent Sexism (aka Nice Guy Misogyny) – Men who hold positive but outdated views of women tend to view women in the workplace less favorably, promote fewer women, and think that companies with high percentages of women run less smoothly. Benevolent sexism often manifests in admiring but reductionist comments about women, i.e. “Women are good at nurturing, that’s just what they’re best at.” These comments, while technically positive, will ultimately lead to the discrediting, consciously or subconsciously, of female accomplishments that don’t fit a traditional gender model.

Raise the ceiling, raise the floor – While Sandberg’s advice is mostly targeted at professional women on a particular career path, her point is that women in power (in business, in policy, in everything) will lead to better conditions for women everywhere. Forty % of working mothers don’t have any sick leave at all. Families with no paid leave can go into debt taking care of sick kids or elderly parents. Basically, working conditions suck, and diversifying the pool of leaders who form those decisions can only mean good things for everyone.

So there’s that. Hey readers, did anyone think I missed anything big?

Related Post: You get no points if you don’t do the work: women in tech

Related Post: Sex talk in the modern workplace

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Sheryl, Week 2

Hilarious stock photography of "work life balance"

Hilarious stock photography of “work life balance”

My trip through Lean In continues this week with chapters 5 through 8. While I found the first third of the book to be a helpful account of some of the attitudinal prejudices facing women in the workforce (and some reasonable strategies for coping with them), the middle third is not doing it for me. It may be because large swaths of it are about parenting (and I am not a parent), but I also find the advice to be less follow-able. Finding a good husband is not as straight-forward as collecting “kudos” emails from co-workers to share at your performance review, you know?

Sheryl uses these four chapters to discuss the “work life balance” question (the old WLB? Can we call it that?), and spends, in my opinion, an awful lot of time discussing guilt in its various forms and not quite enough time on institutionally sexist policies that reinforce that guilt. For example, I’d love to see a real discussion about how childcare arrangements can be influenced by gendered policies. If you’ve got 3 months paid maternity leave, and your husband has two weeks of all-purpose family leave, well, who do you think is going to take a step back from work for a while? Rather than allowing each family to find the right balance for themselves, these policies put strong economic incentives behind traditional gender roles.

Anyway, there was definitely still some good stuff in there, and I continue to think that if nothing else, Lean In is asking the right questions and starting the right conversations. From Chapters 5 through 8:

  • Managing a Business vs. Managing a Career – Sandberg observes that a lot of the questions she gets from young women revolve around career decision-making, rather than business-decision making. While these questions are valid, they are not impressive, and the clear-thinking, insightful, carefully plannd business questions she gets from young men are the ones that really show off your smarts. This is particularly relevant, she says, when looking for a mentor. Rather than ask for help managing your career trajectory, ask a mentor to help you solve the toughest questions you face in your current role so you can be the best employee ever.
  • No Such Thing as Objective Truth – There is my point of view, and there is your point of view, but there is rarely an absolute truth to a situation. Beginning from “here’s my take, now tell me yours” is a quicker, more gracious way to figure out where the sticking points are then coming out of the gate swinging about the Way Things Are. So,… approach work convos like marital counseling? Lots of “I” statements.
  • The Problem with “Telephone” – The higher up you get, the more your employees will take your words as gospel, and they more they will get repeated. From co-worker to co-worker, simple ideas can get twisted into messy ones, and nuanced ones get oversimplified. Don’t trust the message to get through eight rounds of telephone intact, so make sure that everyone who needs to get it is in on the first round.
  • The Whole Self – The arrival of smart phones etc has in many ways made the division of “professional time” and “personal time” obsolete. Consequently, the idea of having a professional self and a personal self that are separate personas is increasingly hard to maintain. Sheryl’s POV (which I share) is that we are happier and more productive when we bring our “whole selves” to work. That can be as simple as sharing basic truths about ourselves (i.e. a gay employee confidently hanging framed family photos in the office) to allowing ourselves to be more emotional at work. That we are parents, windsurfers, marathoners, ukelele-players, volunteers, pet-owners, highly trained chefs, fluent in Spanish, or bloggers on the side (ahem), doesn’t need to be a secret.
  • “Career-Loving Parent” – The “working mom” title can be a big cross to bear, fraught as it is with connotations about being neither fully-committed to your parenting, nor fully-committed to your career. Sandberg cites a friend who prefers “Career-Loving Parent,” as a better, more accurate, more positive spin on the old standby. It’s also gender-neutral, which can allow women to confidently own the “career-loving” part, and men to confidently own the “parent” part.
  • “The Designated Parent” – Apparently, the Census Bureau still refers to the mother as the “designated parent” even in two-parent households. I find that pretty insulting, and I know a bunch of dads who probably feel the same way. More broadly, this kind of nomenclature carries with it all sorts of assumptions about caretaking and division of labor. When mothers take care of their kids, it’s “parenting.” When fathers take care of their kids, it’s “babysitting.” That’s clearly some serious b.s. and it’s easy to see how it puts extra expectations on women and demeans men. Not good for anyone.
  • Maternal Gatekeeping – This is a cool one, since I’ve never heard this term before. It refers to moms who constantly instruct their husbands on how to parent or criticize their techniques. It results in the “Oh here, just let me do it,” mentality that eventually contributes to severely lopsided divisions of labor. In the short term, it seems like the quicker solution, but in the longterm, it creates patterns about who does what that may not be what you want.
  • Averaging 50/50 – Even if your goal is to ultimately land at an evenly split division of household labor and child care, you can’t expect it to be perfectly 50/50 at every moment of every day. From week to week, month to month, quarter to quarter, the pendulum can swing between partners on each front, but it has to come out feeling fair or someone’s going to be pretty unhappy.

So yeah. The whole idea of men leaning in to their families while women lean in at work so everyone is happy seems really great. I just don’t have a husband at the moment, so the advice, while probably good, doesn’t feel especially relevant. Let’s talk in 2025, cool?

Related Post: The “Idiot Dad” trope

Related Post: On Anne-Marie Slaughter and “having it all”

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Update on the Re-education Project

The view from the Sixth Floor Museum, in Dallas. See those green signs? That's about where Kennedy's car was when he was shot.

The view from the Sixth Floor Museum, in Dallas. See those green signs? That’s about where Kennedy’s car was when he was shot.

Apologies for the radio silence, mi amors. I’ve been in Texas complaining about the weather (I was cheated out of my 75 and sunny!), eating, and weeping at the Sixth Floor Museum (in the building from which Kennedy was shot).

You guys are seriously the best. Last week, I put out the call for movie/TV suggestions to help launch my “re-education project”  in which I try to round out my knowledge of historical on-screen portrayals of the ladies. The suggestions were fantastic and I’m just about ready to quit my job and sit in front of netflix all day. Later this week, I’ll list out all of the suggestions in case you want to undertake your own watch-a-thon.

Let’s talk about Waitress. This wasn’t even supposed to be an official part of the project; I had it filed away in my head as cutesy romance about a pregnant pie maker and her OB. Wow was I wrong. I mean, I’m not entirely wrong, that is what it’s about, but it’s about so much more! This is a feminist movie. About pie. And pregnancy. And romance. This proves, once again, that feminism is not about shitting on pies or babies, but is instead about thinking critically about what choices we afford people, what assumptions we make, and how gendered expectations can limit opportunity.

Waitress, if you don’t know, was a film written and directed by Adrienne Shelly (who was murdered in 2006), about a small-town diner waitress, Jenna, stuck in an abusive marriage. It could have been a heavy-handed film about domestic violence, capital D, capital V. Instead, it’s a sweet, silly, beautiful movie that also happens to capture some truths about domestic abuse that we are all very good at ignoring.

I happened to spend my Texas weekend with a friend who is a domestic violence counselor and she agreed that Waitress, through it’s humor and likability, is able to get at some of the insidious, less acknowledged components of abusive relationships. So many people say to her, why don’t these women just leave? Money is often the culprit, as it is with Jenna, who addresses “how lonely it is to be so poor and so afraid.”

waitressHer husband, Earl, is also not the caricature of an abuser we often see. He is not outright mean and aggressive, but controls Jenna through manipulation and subtle threats. He keeps her money so she won’t have other options. He undermines her confidence with casual insults. He tells her exactly what to say, and how to say it, forcing her to repeat to him the words he wants to hear. He also cries against her pregnant belly. He is weak and insecure, and he hides his insecurity behind faux swagger. He says things like:

“After everything I’ve done for you…”

“I provide for you. I put the clothes on your back, the roof over your head.”

“You’re the only thing I’ve ever loved.”

“You belong to me.”

“Ask me how was my day. Ask me like you mean it.”

Not all abuse looks like a black eye. Waitress also acknowledges the extremely precarious position Jenna’s pregnancy forces her into. Take Jenna’s observation about her unborn baby:

It’s an alien and a parasite. It makes me tired and weak. It complicates my whole life. I resent it. I don’t know how to take care of it.

It’s frank, it’s candid. She later says to her friend, “Not everybody wants to be a mama, Dawn, that doesn’t make me a bad person.” These are poor women. They are uneducated women. They are diner waitresses who expect to be diner waitresses forever, because there are no other choices. The ending of the movie (Spoiler Alert) also reinforces how trapped they are. Jenna is given a whopping financial gift from a dying customer and is able to rescue herself and her baby from her situation. It’s a fairytale, but through the transparent rosy glow of Jenna’s happy ending, it’s all the more evident how few happy endings real women in her position would have.

So yeah, it’s a movie about pie. There are lots of pastel colors, and Cheryl Hines cracking jokes, and Nathan Fillion looking dashing. But really, it’s a movie about what happens when you’re trapped and how hard we’ve made it to rescue yourself.

Related Post: Another great feminist movie, For a Good Time Call…

Related Post: Beasts of the Southern Wild

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Dear Rob Portman, Why Is Using Your Imagination So Hard?

portmanSo, as I’m sure you know, Senator Rob Portman (Republican of Ohio) has reversed his position on marriage equality thanks to the coming out of his son:

“It allowed me to think of this issue from a new perspective, and that’s of a dad who loves his son a lot and wants him to have the same opportunities that his brother and sister would have — to have a relationship like Jane and I have had for over 26 years.”

On one hand, I welcome you, Senator Portman, to the fold. The fastest way for us to get to marriage equality is for people to change their minds (the alternative is for people to die, which will happen anyway, but it will take longer) and if this is why you switched sides, fine, we’ll take it.

On the other hand, your statement displays a profound and disturbing lack of empathy. You weren’t able to imagine the inequality until your own son was the subject of discrimination? Do you realize how narrow-minded and hypocritical that makes you seem? Even the phrasing of the statement has this weird moral passing-of-the-buck. The subject is “It,” referencing your son’s coming out, and “it” allowed you to see it from a new perspective. Nothing should “allow” or compel you to see from multiple perspectives; that’s basically your job! You serve as a government representative for a state of eleven million people! The whole idea of representative government is that we pick people to, oh, I don’t know, represent us and speak on our behalf. In order to do that job, your #1 skill has to be empathy and the willingness to try on different perspectives!

Mr. Portman, why did you never speak to the parents of the other gay children? Or gay individuals themselves? And if you did, why is the plight of your son the one that tips the scales? Columbus, OH, full of your constituents, is one of the 20 gayest cities in the country, full of thousands upon thousands of gay people. Their friends and family have the same hopes and dreams for them as you do for your son! How can you be so callous of other people’s rights? How can you ignore inequality until it impacts your family? Don’t you see the hypocrisy?

But alas, you’re not alone. Last week Mother Jones took a look at the voting records of members of Congress to see if having a daughter impacted their votes on women’s issues. They used the NOW (National Organization for Women) score as a proxy for “voting well on women’s issues,” and found that, as you might suspect, members of Congress from both parties who have at least one daughter have higher NOW scores. Why does it taking having a female child to get you to think critically about the rights of women? Why is it so hard to get outside your own privileged little skull and walk in someone else’s shoes? 

This is not just an exclusively Republican failure, either. We have a habit in this country of electing people very much unlike ourselves. Congress members are three times more likely to send their kids to private school. About 40% of them are millionaires. They’re overwhelmingly white and male. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, since one does not have to be of a certain group to work on behalf of that group, but this system only works of those that we elect are diligent about understanding the needs of their constituents, not just the needs of their peers. And they’re not.

That’s why I find Portman’s change of heart so… disheartening. It shouldn’t take a gay kid to lead you to the conclusion that our government should treat people the same. It shouldn’t take having a daughter to know that autonomy over your body is the foundation of economic and social equality. Waiting until these realities slap you in the face in the form of your own offspring, that’s just some lazy, lazy representing. Glad you’re with us now, but you should be ashamed it took you so long.

Related Post: A letter to guys who harass women outside of bars

Related Post: That time I started a petition against Facebook

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Happy Anniversary, Roe

roeToday is the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Tomorrow, I’ll have something more concrete about what Roe means to me, but today there’s lots of great content roaming around the internet that I wanted to give you in the meantime.

First, I want to call out a friend’s blog, Dr. Coffee’s Brain Banter. Dr. Coffee is a med student in Florida, and as part of his program he participated in abortion training through a reproductive health externship. He writes extremely eloquently about about the medicine, but also about his patients and the process. Part one is mostly science, part two is mostly ethics. Just a sample:

Where these women are is often in a very bad place, and though I was only one cog in the machine, I began to take ownership of their plight.  If they didn’t want to feel this way, and knew that ending this pregnancy was their path back to feeling healthy and free, I even felt some aggression toward that growing mass of cells.  Let’s get that shit out, now, and without apology.

I mention this because despite the normal dark-cloud tone that hangs above most dirty Ab-word discussions, probably a third of the patients I’ve seen will actually smile… and smile a good amount!  (Indeed another friend recently mentioned that her experience wasn’t much to write home about.  Quick and easy.)  They smiled as the team introduced itself, smiled as they laid back and vocalized their nervousness with a laugh, and were relaxed and calm in the recovery room.

When he first shared this writing, it reminded me an non-fiction essay called “What Comes Out” by Dawnelle Wilkie, which is also worth a read.

Have you read Caitlin Moran’s How to Be A Woman? She also has an excellent chapter on abortion that focuses on one of the most forgotten/ignored statistics: In 2008 60% of women who have abortions are already mothers. That number has actually risen to 72% in the last four years. You mean people have a harder time taking care of their families during a recession? Crazy talk! The reason I want to drive home this point about mothers is because it undermines that weird caricature that Republicans* like to point to, the “sex-crazed”, can’t-keep-her-legs-shut, slutty, irresponsible, 23-year-old. Sure, those 23-year-olds exist and I completely support their right to choose, but that’s not actually the average user of abortion services.

Abortion isn’t really about sex, it’s about economics, and childcare, and education, and healthcare. That’s not as salacious as some conservatives would like to make the story, but it is the truth.

*A commenter left an excellent point on this phrasing. There are plenty of pro-choice Republicans (and there are pro-life Democrats). This should have read, “that weird caricature that pro-lifers like to….” Thanks commenter, good call. 

Related Post: Huffington Post and the changing iconography of the abortion debate

Related Post: Things that are not the opposite of misogyny.

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Sunday Scraps 86

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1. WRITING: Man, If only our shared first name meant I shared talent with Emily Rapp (Ditto Emily Nussbaum, Emily McCombs). In this essay for The Rumpus, Rapp writes about finding intimacy while her son continues to die. If that sounds sad, it is, but it’s also beautiful.

2. PARENTING: Emily McCombs, editor of XOJane, writes about her creative path towards motherhood and it’s pretty inspiring.

3. INSTAGRAM: Complete with lyrics (for your singalong desires), College Humor nails our obsession with Instagram with this parody of Nickelback’s “Photograph.”

4. SUFFRAGE: Weird and strange and weird again. Here’s a children’s book from 1910 against women’s suffrage.

5. TED: Anita Sarkeesian, from Feminist Frequency, speaks at TEDx Women on online harassment.

6. ROLES: Really interesting video imagining what club life (ha) would be like if the stereotypical roles of men and women were reversed. Who objectifies and gets objectified?

Related Post: Sunday 85: Painless? The path to the NFL, Ann Patchett’s new book store.

Related Post: Sunday 84: Astronaut letters, bedrooms around the world, women who model as men

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