BY REBECCA KATHERINE HIRSCH
Confused? Excited? Don’t worry. Dr. Vajayjay can fix that.
The New View Campaign has put together a parody training video as part of its Vulvanomics activist event.
In this video, we see an enterprising, unscrupulous, nominal doctor capitalizing on externally-created insecurities, sexualizing genital mutilation and effectively pathologizing female sexuality. His bumbling assistant Steve sees the truth but is powerless to stop the charlatan, money-hungry Dr. Vajayjay. Meanwhile, nameless female prop character is kept in the dark, the pawn in the doctor’s get-rich-quick scheme.
“Dr. Vajayjay does not solve problems; he makes the most of them.”
What most interests me about labiaplasty and “cosmetogynecology” is how easy our contemporary culture makes it for such corporatized quack medicine to succeed: Our puritanical lack of honest, pleasure-based sex education coupled with the preponderance of sexualized advertisements (which rigidly define attractiveness and sexuality in terms of white, nubile teenage girls) makes it easy to manufacture discontent and stigmatize the ignorant masses into believing they’re deficient.
What is normal anyway? Genital diversity, like all manner of physical, racial and gender diversity is sorely lacking in mainstream media. In a rigid, capitalistic-at-all-costs culture, it’s easy to create unnecessary insecurity about what is deemed “normal,” especially when sexuality, women and female genitalia are so regularly and unremarkably criticized and scapegoated. With the help of female genital surgery, “naughty, nasty” vulvas, Dr. Vajayjay purports, can be turned into generic, prepubescent-looking “normal” vulvas, hence instantly achieving for their owners utter sexual, interpersonal, creative and self-actualized happiness. Right?
But doesn’t genital surgery remove sensitive tissue? Aren’t doctors co-opting scientific and feminist language to assume the mantle of legitimacy, then sexing it all up as “what women want”?
Sure they are. Welcome to America!
New View Campaign is a grassroots network that challenges the medicalization of sexuality through song, dance, and— well, mostly the written word and various activist/art projects. Founder Leonore Tiefer was featured widely in the muckraking documentary Orgasm, Inc.
My parents have a house in Spain where we go almost every vacation on holiday. So 2 or 3 years ago, we were in Spain in the summer. Our house is in a little village, but you can cycle very easily to the nearby city Cambrils. We never go alone (my sister and I), because we were too young according to my parents, but that vacation, my parents allowed us to go alone. My sister is 2 years younger than I am, so I had to take care about her. The first part of the road is a dirt road with no houses, maybe 2 or 3. The second part of the road is a bicycle path along the coastline. There is always a lot of people.
So we started very happy and exciting on our trip to the city. When we were driving on the dirt road, a white van stopped and asked us something in English. I didn’t understand him so I stopped to and he repeated his question. I was standing right next to the van, so I had to look up to him. My sister had already cycled farther so when she saw I stopped, she also stopped and waited for me. The man asked me where the ‘Camping Sol’ was. I said him that I didn’t know, I only knew that, in our little village, there was a camping named ‘Oasis’. Suddenly there came another car from the other direction and the road was very small, so the van had to move a little and the other car passed by. Now the van stood 2 or 3 meters from me and I could look into his window. Before, I only saw his face, because he was so close, but know I also saw the rest and I wish I hadn’t seen it. My sister was again next to me, and she saw it too. The man was masturbating. We were totally in shock and very scared because we were all alone. The nose of the car was pointed in the way of our village, so we couldn’t go back because he would catch up very easily, and that was very stupid, because we were at 2 minutes from our home, but at 30 minutes from Cambrils. But I started biking again, because just staying there wouldn’t help. My sister didn’t start, she was very scared so I said ‘Murielle, let’s go, just bike!’. Then she started biking and we kicked like fools on our pedals. From the other direction there came another white van and we were so scared that we drove into a random side street. Then we came back to the main road. We wanted to call our mother or father, but there was no service. Finally we reached the coastline. There we stopped. My sister had cried the whole time, and while I was calling my mother, I realized what happened and I also started crying. My mother came with the car to calm us down. My other sister, who is 8 years younger than I am, also sat in the car, her hair was still wet. She was taking a bath when we called and my mother just took her out of the bath and put her in the car.
She said we had to go back, but that she couldn’t join us with the car. We were so scared and really didn’t want to drive the whole way back, so my mother putted our bikes in the trunk of the car.
When we were back home, my father asked us if we had memorized the plate, but we didn’t. because we were in panic, we just forgot.
While walking to get dinner we were honked at three times and cars slowed down to look at us. It was freezing cold out and we were covered up completely…not that that would have been a reason for their behavior. While at dinner a man was staring and made us feel uncomfortable.
Why do you HOLLA? I HOLLA because I’m sick of half the population being objectified and harassed in every sphere of their lives. Because street harassment is totally accepted and hardly ever confronted. Because this needs to change!!
What’s your signature Hollaback? Leave me alone. Go away. Ocasionally fuck off – but I wouldn’t recommend this!
What’s your craft? I’m currently working for a small development NGO/charity in Chintsa, South Africa for the next few months – but still running Hollaback Birmingham and will be back! I plan to spend my life working within the women’s rights arena.
HOLLAfact about your city: Birmingham has more canals then Venice! Also despite being the second largest city in the UK, it has no rape crisis center.
What was your first experience with street harassment? Probably when I was about 13 years old walking to the local shop with my friend. A large group of boys, between about 10-20 years old, starting cat calling and shouting: ‘hey gorgeous, oi sexy, suck my cock, come on give me a bit of head, stuck up bitch.’ I just ignored them and walked away quickly. They proceeded to get louder and more abusive, and finally started throwing glass bottles, they all smashed pretty close to us but luckily none of them hit us!
Define your style: I basically dress like I’m constantly at a music festival. Think summery dresses and shorts no matter the weather (just add tights!). I struggle to dress smart and I never wear trousers!
What do you collect? Passport stamps and bunting!
My superheroine power is… surviving on very little money!
Say you’re Queen for the day. What would you do to end street harassment? I think that the key is education and awareness. I would definitely make feminist issues, including street harassment, part of the curriculum in schools. Boys need to learn from an early age that this is not acceptable and not a route they need to go down to live up ideals about masculinity. Girls need to understand that their value does not lie in their perceived attractiveness and that harassment is not acceptable and never their fault.
In turn, the general public needs to be made aware of what a big problem street harassment is and how it makes women feel. I would start an advert campaign on the T.V, radio, billboards, and every other medium possible to highlight the issue and to open up a dialogue about street harassment.
If you could leave the world one piece of advice, what would it be? The world’s resources aren’t infinite and are going to run out. Climate change is real. We need to wake up and realize that we are destroying the planet before it’s too late, and it very nearly is.
In the year 2020, street harassment … will be recognized as a totally unacceptable form of gender based violence.
What inspires you? People who risk their lives and reputation for what they believe in, who fight for an ethical right despite threats, bribes and social/political pressure. Who believe the cause they fight for is more important than their own individual experience. The fact that nothing has ever changed without people taking a personal responsibility to push for it and that we are all capable of making a difference. In the words of Margaret Mead ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’
BY VICTORIA TRAVERS
Today we take a moment to commemorate, salute and remember legendary figure of liberty and nonviolent change, Martin Luther King, Jr. All over the world King is hailed as one of civilization’s most significant figures of freedom, justice and equality. Until his death on April 4 1968, King was committed to the fundamental change of America via non-violent activism. Among many of his achievements, in 1964 Martin Luther King, Jr. was the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize. During his acceptance speech in Oslo he made one of the most powerful and repeated remarks in History:
“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.”
King’s focus on inspiring nonviolent activism to attain positive social change has inspired millions all over the globe. And we at Hollaback! are particularly inspired by Dr. King’s awesome legacy. King realized that racism, among other contentious issues, in America could not be altered “without radical changes in the structure of our society.” And we at Hollaback! know Street Harassment can only be eradicated with the alteration of deep-rooted social values and norms.
So we look to Dr. King’s Philosophy to strive for social change on the topic of Street Harassment. Dr. King developed this sequential process of peaceful conflict-resolution:
1. Information Gathering – The way you determine the facts, the option for change, and the timing of pressure for raising the issue is a collective process.
2. Education – The process for developing articulate leaders, who are knowledgeable about the issues. It is directed toward the community through all forms of media about the real issues and human consequences of an unjust situation.
3. Personal Commitment – Means looking at your internal and external involvement in the nonviolent campaign and preparing yourself for long-term as well as short-term action.
4. Negotiation – Is the art of bringing together your views and those of your opponent to arrive at a just conclusion or clarify the unresolved issues, at which point, the conflict is formalized.
5. Direct Action – Occurs when negotiations have broken down or failed to produce a just response to the contested issues and conditions.
6. Reconciliation – Is the mandatory closing step of a campaign, when the opponents and proponents celebrate the victory and provide joint leadership to implement change.
Be inspired. Join the revolution.
BY VICTORIA TRAVERS
Turkish film, “Zenne Dancer” or male “belly dancer” in English, has not only received 5 Golden Orange Awards at the International Antalya Film Festival, opened the first gay film festival in the Turkey, but it is the first feature film to depict gay honor killing in Turkey.
The film, which is out on general release in Turkey today, reveals a deep-rooted hysteria in relation to gay, lesbian and transgender persons throughout the country. The creators said that they hoped the film would raise awareness of the issue and force a discussion across Turkey about hate crimes that target gender, religion, sexual identity and ethnicity. Binay told CNN:
“Death and murder is still on the agenda of our country. We can’t get rid of this mentality… People need to tolerate each other. They need to understand that different identities can live next to each other without disturbing each other.”
The film comes at a time when the Turkish Constitution is being rewritten. Currently article 17 of the health regulations of the Turkish Armed Forces states that being gay is a “psychosexual deviance.” LGBT activists are lobbying the Turkish authorities to alter the specifics of the constitution to protect the rights of LGBTQ people.
Check out the trailer here:
Greetings Hollaback supporters and revolutionaries!
This is the second of a new blog series we are doing to keep you posted on our efforts to end street harassment in the HOLLAworld! This is of course just a snap-shot from the mothership. If we were going to try to tell you everything happening internationally we’d have no time to get the real work done! So without futher ado, I present to you a week in our shoes.
We kicked off the week with online ideas community and concept platform, IdeaMensch, naming me as one of 33 Entrepreneurs That Make This World a Better Place. It seems that the world is noticing us and the plight of street harassment! We were selected fromover 600 awe-inspiring people including social entrepreneurs, nonprofit leaders, investors, a soldier, animal rights advocates, and authors. As personally flattering as this is, it wouldn’t possible without our pro-bono lead developer, Jill Dimond (did you know all our tech is done pro-bono? amazing, right?), our 150 site leaders internationally who bring the movement to end street harassment to life, and of course, you and your support.
On Monday afternoon we welcomed three interns from Soapbox’s Feminist Bootcamp, an initiative that provides week-long programs for students and activists. The Soapbox gals took a look at our concept paper for a Hollaback! initiative on college campuses and gave us some helpful feedback. The initiative will pilot this spring and fully launch next fall. Reach out to me if your school is interested!
On Wednesday I attended a meeting for the Brooklyn Girls Collaborative, an initiative started in 2005 by non-profit organization Girls Incorporated. We were joined by our friends at YWCA, Girls for Gender Equity, Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls, Center for Anti-Violence Education, among others, and we’re excited to see where the collaboration leads!
Then on Wednesday evening I was honored to speak at The New York City Bar’s Sex and Law Committee Meeting. They invited me to tell them more about Hollaback! and our efforts eradicate street harassment. We’re grateful for their support and looking forward to collaborating with them!
And just for fun, check out this awesome video that sassily addresses the issue of street harassment by reversing the role of the harassed and the harasser. The video depicts a young man making his way to the bus-stop, his journey punctuated by several encounters with women making unimaginably inappropriate and abusive comments. Thanks to Maria from our site in Mexico for sending it along!
With a week’s worth of revolution behind me, I’m heading to North Carolina this weekend for my family’s annual oyster roast! I plan to quadruple my own bodyweight in oysters with my closest friends, boyfriend, and the pack of amazing women that raised me.
Thanks Hollaback! supporters for another fantastic week of fighting street harassment and keeping the revolution alive.
HOLLA and out!
I’ve been followed home from stores on numerous occasions, verbally attacked in parking lots and it wasn’t until my husband witnessed me being screamed at in a gas station that I felt confirmation I wasn’t in the wrong; but still helpless. What bothers me the most are humiliating cat calls.
I’m a jogger. I jog outside most of the time and out of a lot of those jogs I was and am still cat called. I think ‘some’ guys think it’s a compliment and women should be appreciative; but the build up over my life has driven me to lessen the frequency of my jogs. I can’t handle the humiliation so now I hesitate to leave the house and sometimes don’t bother to jog at all. Although this isn’t as frightening as some of the other situations I have been in but it bothers me the most.
Something I love, being outdoors and getting exercise feels closed off. I need to build courage to go out jog. In a progressive Country, heck progressive city…I’m afraid to jog alone for fear of humiliation and harassment.
BY REBECCA KATHERINE HIRSCH
Libra, a New Zealand feminine hygiene company, recently pulled a tampon commercial off the airwaves (and Internet waves) when it received a spate of negative attention for its cis-sexist advertisement depicting “real women” and… the apparent alternative: trans women.
It’s clear that the commercial is trafficking in stereotypes (“real” girl is dewy white woman, “fake” one is smug, attitudinal drag queen; both attempt to show “realness” through that superficial, timeworn indicator of femaleness: physical attractiveness), this advertisement promotes the so-called “real” girl at the expense and on the back of the “fake” one.
This poses the question of what constitutes realness and what legitimizes gender? Gender is not a binary or one-way street. It is not biologically determined and it is not an essential, unchanging variable. Gender is fluid. A woman is not a woman because she menstruates. A woman is not a woman based on her genitalia, hobbies, friends, favorite foods, colors, personal history, etc., ad infintum. If a woman identifies as a woman she is a woman
Transwomen in particular are singled out for abuse for many of the same reasons other women are, multiplied many times over. Women, being women, are bad enough (we are told). But that someone biologically born male would ‘choose’ to become female? What a pussy! Women are repulsive! Or so we are told. We live in a misogynistic society that fears weakness and so quite cowardly casts off this fear onto another group: women. We have all learned to associate weakness with women, hence justifying a hatred of women and all things considered “feminine.” And so we have the stereotypes of strong men and weak women, smart men and stupid women, stupid men and omniscient, earthy Wonderwomen. However you slice it, these are contentious stereotypes. We have all been taught to belittle the mythical “feminine” whether it’s signified by the color pink, the qualities of nurture, vulnerability orbeing a dancer instead of a football player, right down to the most unpleasantly minuscule. We have “gendered” all activities and qualities, devaluing some and idolizing others.
And so we have this ad, an ad that quite childishly derives its power from the enforced powerlessness of others. A good measure I fall back on in terms of locating prejudice is generally: Does this conception of X marginalize Y? Does the “authenticity” of one thing rely on the enforced “fakeness” of something else? Is this making someone feel bad? If all these are so, it’s generally a safe idea to consider whatever is being promoted as prejudiced. Nothing real needs to depend upon the denigration of something or someone else.
Feel free to contact Libra here about the cis-sexism of their product’s advertising.
The Daily Mail cites an apology issued by Libra officials before they pulled the clip stating that “it was never intended to upset or offend anyone,” the statement continues:
“Independent research was undertaken and the advertisement was viewed positively during that testing. Libra takes all feedback very seriously, and in response to this, we will immediately review our future position with this campaign based on the feedback received.”
Narrowed eyes? Check.
Furrowed brow? Check.
Tightly closed mouth? Purposeful, measured steps? Check, check.
Head up, shoulders square, and back straight? Check check check.
I am now ready to walk down the street, ride my bike, or catch the bus… and
This is no accident. After years of living in my female body, I have mastered the art of looking mean. But why would I, a friendly, outgoing, smiley 25 year old young woman, want to appear mean? It’s easy, really. I’m trying to ward off street harassment.
Through my very unscientific, personal experiments, I’ve found that I am less likely to be the target of street harassment if I look like I will bite your head off if you say a word to me. While this is not a foolproof tactic (there have been times when I’ve gotten the old “smile, honey” from a stranger even when my face appears to be literally incapable of turning that frown upside down), it is becoming my default demeanor when I am out and about in the public sphere. I make sure to take up space, walk in a straight line, say hello to no one, and set my face in stone.
And that’s not all…
My aversion to street harassment has also caused me to snap at folks who I mistakenly think to be catcalling me. (More of me being a meanie mcmeanerson) On more than one occasion, a man has made an inaudible or incomprehensible comment to me, and I’ve immediately taken it to be street harassment and responded accordingly. Loudly, angrily, and accordingly. Until I realize that the man was just asking for directions, or talking to someone else, or whistling to a song. Oops. I’d like to think that when this happens, the man at least understands what I’m up against. With street harassment being so prevalent, it only makes sense that I’d be quick to assume the worst.
Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m not a complete jerk. I hold doors for strangers, say hello to friendly looking folks, and I can’t hide my smile all the time. I guess it’s about staying safe but also staying true to yourself as well.
I don’t want to look like a mean person. I don’t want to assume the worst when someone mumbles something to me. But, I also don’t want to be harassed in public. So I do what I have to do, and I work to change the culture we live in at the same time. While I may have a hardened look on my face from time to time, I won’t let street harassment turn me into a meanie. There is too much good in the world, too many nice people, and too many reasons not to smile.