RIOT GRRL 101: Intro to Music Made by Women

Riot Grrl classics, modern babe hits and angry feminist anthems–this is a list of all of my personal favorites and a great summer playlist for all of your summer self-lovin’ needs.  If you like what you see, stay tuned!  I’ll be posting playlists with themes in the future.  Have any requests?  Send us a message.

Hits and Shits

The Hits:

18 Year Old Taylor Townsend Becomes Youngest American to Advance to the Third Round of the French Open since 2003

Taylor Townsend

Taylor Townsend, 18 year old Chicago native, was almost barred from attending the 2012 girls’ U.S. Open, even though she was the top-ranked junior at the time.  Why?  Solely because of her weight.  The United States Tennis Association claimed, “our concern is her long-term health, number one, and her long-term development as a playblaaaaah BLAH BLAH BLAH.”  The USTA refused to finance Townsend’s travel expenses, forcing her mother to pay the costs in order for Townsend to compete.

On Wednesday, 205th-ranked Townsend beat 21st-ranked Alize Cornet at the French Open, making her the youngest American to advance to the third round of the prestigious tournament.  IN YOUR FACE, USTA.

Swimsuitsforall Launch Their First Ever Curvy Swimsuit Calendar, Melt Faces Everywhere

Sexy At Every Curve

DAAAAAAAAAAAMN!  The calendar includes supermodel Robyn Lawley, as well as the incredible Gabi Fresh.

Maya Angelou: 1928-2014

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou was an author, poet, singer, actor, director, and survivor. She was active in the Civil Rights Movement, and worked closely with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Angelou has been presented with over 30 honorary doctoral degrees and gave an inaugural recitation at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993. Thank you, Maya, for everything.

The Shits:

Misogyny Continues to Murder Women All Over the World

Protests in India

 In addition to the highly publicized massacre at UC Santa Barbara, many other men have decided to take the lives of womyn, simply for being womyn.

Just  few hours after the shooting at UCSB, a man opened fire upon three women in Stockton, California.  The women accompanied the shooter and two of his friends back to a house in the early morning hours of Saturday, May 24th.  When the women refused to have sex with the men, the women were asked to leave.  As the women left, the shooter opened fire.  Luckily, no one was hurt.

In Uttar Pradesh, India, two teenage girls were gang-raped and hanged from a mango tree on Tuesday.  Three men have been implicated in the murders and arrested, including one police officer.  Villagers protested around the bodies, preventing authorities from removing them from the tree for almost 15 hours, on the day after the murder.

In Pakistan, a pregnant woman named Farzana Parveen was stoned to death by her own family on Wednesday for refusing to take part in an arranged marriage. Parveen, 25, had chosen to elope with the man she loved instead. After her murder, Pakistani authorities revealed that Parveen’s widower had murdered his first wife six years ago, because he wanted to propose to Parveen. He was arrested but released on bail because “his son forgave him”. Not upsetting enough? There’s more! Parveen’s stepson recently told the media that Parveen’s older sister, Rehana, had been poisoned by the family four years ago. “She was married and wanted to live with her husband”, he told the media. “It was an arranged marriage, but later her family developed issues with the in-laws and started demanding her to leave her husband. When she denied doing so, one day the family invited her at their home and poisoned her.”

Stay safe, everyone.

From the Mouths of Babes: TANGERINE

Comprised of sisters Marika Justad (lead vocalist and songwriting) and Miro Justad (drums), along with Toby Kuhn (guitar), and Ryan Baker (bass), TANGERINE is a Seattle-based band playing the dreamiest of indie pop.  Their new single, “Nothing Better”, is a must-have for beach playlists, and from their first EP, Radical Blossom, “Feel This Way” causes involuntary swaying and head-bobbing.  Marika’s crisp vocals work perfectly with instrumentals that at times remind of 60’s-style surf, other times of Brit-pop, to create a daydream wrapped in rock ‘n roll.  It’s clear that this band is talented, hardworking, and here to stay!

Sisters Marika and Miro were gracious enough to share with us some of their experiences as feminists and women-of-color in the music industry.

Marika:  “Being a woman in the music industry puts you in an interesting position.  I have definitely felt the sting of condescension, especially in music reviews, which often want to label any and all bands that are female-fronted as “girl groups”.  No one calls the Artic Monkeys a “boy band”, so I can’t help but feel frustrated that people become so preoccupied with my sister’s and my gender rather than simply focusing on the music.

At the moment, society has a very schizophrenic attitude towards feminism and equality:  half the time, being a feminist makes you a drag and a man hater, and you’re accused of being out of touch.  Why else would celebrities like Katy Perry and Taylor Swift vehemently deny being feminists while still touting gender equality?  The other half of the time, you see people supporting feminism, but still as a means to tear other women down, i.e. Rashida Jones’ comments of late, or the slut-shaming directed at Miley Cyrus (I won’t even get into Miley’s troubling attitude towards race and power, though, because then I’ll be on a whole other rant…).

All that being said, I feel incredibly grateful that I’m both a woman and a person of color, working in the entertainment industry.  I feel like it presents an opportunity to change peoples’ misconceptions, and to help “normalize” diversity in a genre (guitar-driven pop rock) that is primarily dominated by white males.  At the end of the day though, you have to clear your head and focus on the most important thing:  the music.  I won’t lie and say the rest is noise, because misogyny is so real you can almost taste it, but I think the only way to stay sane is to keep honing your craft as a musician and a songwriter, and hope that the quality of the music can speak for itself.

Sometimes I just binge-watch “10 Things I Hate About You” to remind myself that the mainstream occasionally embraces the quirky, complicated, feminist characters.  Also, Heath Ledger was a mega babe in that movie.”  (We agree, Marika!)

Miro:  “Being a female drummer feels great because it sends a message to other females that it is okay to smash on the drums instead of being a front vocalist or other traditional female roles.  I have learned quickly how to hold my own ground as a woman and to realize that it is OK to say no to all of the males who believe that you need help carrying your kick drum (it’s so light!!).  Also, please do not tell us female drummers that our performance was “cute”…there is nothing cute about shredding.

At the beginning I had to learn about being direct with my stage set up and dealing with the logistics of playing a show because I was constantly surrounded by older males who assumed I knew less than they did and tried to take over.  It is empowering now to feel confident in my place as a rock ‘n roll drummer and to politely yet firmly deny all offers to “help”.  I encourage women and young girls to not shy away from the drums but to take it on full force and to make it their own.”

Thank you to TANGERINE! Their new single, “Nothing is Better”, along with photos, videos and tour dates are available if you visit their main website and their Bandcamp.  You can also stream “Nothing is Better” along with their EP, Radical Blossom, on Spotify!

http://www.tangerineband.com
http://tangerinetheband.bandcamp.com

Look Away: Rockstars and Their Underage Prey

In 2000, Cameron Crowe introduced millions of people to Penny Lane, the beautiful young “Band-Aid” in his semi-autobiographical tale, Almost Famous.  Penny Lane is painted as mature, sexy and demanding of attention; a muse for the male musicians she tours with; a free spirit in love with a talented man.

Pull back the tattered curtain, though, and what we actually see is a 16 year old girl being taken advantage of by a grown man.  Penny Lane tells us very early in the film that she’s 16, and not long after that we learn that she toured with Stillwater the summer before–meaning she was 15 when she had gotten involved with Russell Hammond.  Crowe has claimed that Penny Lane, played by Kate Hudson, was largely based on real-life groupie extraordinaire, Bebe Buell.  However, to me, her story sounds much more similar to the real story of LA child groupie, Lori Maddox.


Lori Maddox and Jimmy Page, 1973

In 1972, at a nightclub in LA, rockstar Jimmy Page laid eyes on Lori Maddox, a 14 year old girl.  Maddox’s personal accounts in the unauthorized biography of Led Zeppelin, Hammer of the Gods, claim that Page told his tour manager, Richard Cole, to ‘kidnap’ her and take her to the West Hollywood hotel the band was staying in.  Maddox admits to being kept under lock-and-key, presumably to keep 29-year-old Page from being imprisoned for child sexual abuse.  In Hammer of the Gods, Maddox describes having fallen in love with Page almost instantly.  Page and Maddox “dated” for months afterwards, until Page left Maddox for Bebe Buell, who was of legal age at the time.

Lori Maddox’s best friend, Sable Starr, has been linked to many of 1970’s biggest rockstars.  In Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, Ron Asheton of the Stooges remembers Starr fondly:

“We had a gig at the Whiskey A-Go-Go when we first moved out there and that’s when we met Sable Starr, who was a really nice girl.  First she was Iggy’s groupie, then with me, then would go back to Iggy, then back to me, then would go to my brother and back to me.  We would do two sets at the Whiskey and in between sets, Sable would say, ‘Can I suck your dick?’ She was real open about that stuff, that’s what I always liked about her.  So in between sets Sable would suck my dick in the upstairs men’s bathroom.”


Johnny Thunders and Sable Starr

Sable Starr was 14 at the time, and Ron Asheton was 25.  At 16, Starr left home and moved to New York City with Johnny Thunders of the New York Dolls.  Iggy Pop immortalized his own involvement with the child groupie, as well as Thunders’ relationship with Starr, in the song “Look Away“:

I slept with Sable when she was 13,
Her parents were too rich to do anything,
She rocked her way around LA
‘Til a New York Doll carried her away…

Starr quickly became pregnant, and Thunders pressured her to have the child and marry him, but Starr refused and had an abortion.  Thunders, a drug addict, was reported to be physically abusive to Starr, and Starr soon moved back to Los Angeles.  In Please Kill Me, Starr described her relationship with Johnny Thunders: “He [Thunders] tried to destroy my personality.  After I was with him, I just wasn’t Sable Starr anymore.  He really destroyed the Sable Starr thing.”  Starr also had a sexual relationship with Richard Hell before she even turned 18.

The most famous example of a hugely famous musician entering into a “relationship” with a child began in 1959.  Priscilla Beaulieu, who would later be known as Priscilla Presley, was 14 years old when 24 year old Elvis Presley became obsessed with her.  For the next 7 years, Priscilla waited for Elvis to marry her, while he had affairs with Nancy Sinatra and Ann Margaret, and that was only the beginning.  Priscilla has since spoken about the relationship, saying “I was someone he created. I was just a kid and I was consumed by him. All I desired was not to disappoint him.”


14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu in Germany, 1959

Lori Maddox, Sable Starr and Priscilla Beaulieu are only three of the many, many examples of famous, powerful men preying upon children–and getting away with it. According to a fantastic article on XoJane.com, the list of pervy old rockstars includes Chuck Berry, Ted Nugent, Don Henley, Marvin Gaye, Charles Dickens, Bill Wyman, Sonny Bono, and Roman Polanski. All of these men either “dated” teenage girls or were involved in publicized sexual scandals with teenage victims, some of them as young as 13.

So, why is it that these real stories of child abuse are ignored and then romanticized in movies like Almost Famous? Personally, I blame Cameron Crowe for his sugar-sweet transformation of a horrible story of child abuse, but Lori Maddox was failed decades before Crowe’s film hit the box office.

Let’s consider Vladimir Nabokov’s masterpiece, Lolita. While many (far too many) people believe Lolita to be a story of passion and romance, Nabokov purposefully wrote the story entirely from Humbert Humbert’s perspective, never giving Dolores a literary voice. The story is of a narcissistic, self-absorbed man obsessed with the idea of Dolores.  Nabokov’s novel perfectly frames the twisted perspective these male predators have of their virginal prey.  Humbert Humbert knew that Lolita would not stay a virginal youth forever.  He knew that he would eventually become disinterested in her–much like the way Elvis became disinterested in women (girls), including Priscilla, after they were no longer virgins.

“I knew I had fallen in love with Lolita forever; but I also knew she would not be forever Lolita.”

Kids: Not For Me, Thanks!

During high school, thanks to the scare tactics of “sex education”, I became irrationally afraid of pregnancy.

The fear never abated, and suddenly I found myself in my late 20’s, scrambling to get to Walgreen’s because it’s been 67 hours, and I NEED PLAN B RIGHT NOW, DAMN IT! I WANT TO LIVE! I HAVE SO MUCH LIFE AHEAD OF ME, OH GOD, CAN THIS LINE MOVE ANY SLOWER?!?!?!?!

As I’ve gotten older, it’s become more and more clear: I don’t want kids. Ever. I have felt guilty because of this realization for a long time. My poor mother, who only had one child, will be crushed when she realizes that she may never have grandchildren. The thought of working so hard for so long to finally attain a level of personal sustainability, both financially and psychologically, only to flush it all down the toilet in order to produce a tiny creature that looks a lot like me, so that it can love me unconditionally until the day it screams, “I HATE YOU!” and slams a door in my face… isn’t appealing to me.

Well of COURSE you don’t want to have kids right now!, you’d say. You aren’t married, you can barely afford to keep your cat alive, and you’re incredibly selfish! You’d be right, but I can’t imagine myself ever having children. I think that’s okay. I have other goals for myself.  The only reason I can think of for having children is to make my mother happy. Is that a good reason to create a new life and force it to be my child? I don’t think so. (And for your information, my cat lives a VERY happy life.)

Sometimes, children kill their parents. There have actually been a terrifying amount of child-on-parent murders in our history. I don’t think I want to take that chance. That’s realistic, right?

I’m not criticizing people who DO want to have children or people who have children already. That’s great! You’re keeping the human race from disappearing! If the world was full of people like me, we’d be screwed. It would be like Children of Men, except all of the people with wombs would be too busy playing with cats and painting their nails (i.e., my busy life).

Men will look up and shout, “Save us!” …and I’ll whisper, “no.”

There is a certain expectation, though, especially of ciswomen, to want to be mothers. We’re all so NURTURING! We have BIOLOGICAL CLOCKS! THEY’RE TICKING! TICK TICK TICK! A woman doesn’t become a REAL woman until she has a baby!!!! AMIRITE?!

You don’t need to be a parent. If your goals don’t include parenthood, that’s okay. If you decide to be a parent, do it because you really want to. If you don’t, enjoy all of the money you don’t have to spend on mush food and poop bags.

Hell, I may change my mind. For now, I enjoy the thought of doing whatever the heck I want for the next 60 years.

Hits and Shits

The Hits

Julie Chen Reveals That She Had Plastic Surgery to Make Her Eyes Look Less “Asian”

Chen recalled being told that she would never be on the anchor desk because of her Chinese heritage and that she looked “disinterested and bored” on camera.  This may not seem like a ‘hit’, but I think that discussing the problem of racism in American mainstream media is important and it took a lot of courage for a woman as prominent as Julie Chen to make such an admission.

Friday the 13th

The Shits

Robin Thicke Photographed Grabbing a Butt That is Not His Wife’s and Everyone Is Totally Surprised

Sidenote:  No one is surprised.  Also, this photo makes me want to take a shower.

Miss New York Allegedly Body-Policed Miss America, Calling Her “Fat As F*ck”

That’s the fatty in question, Miss America Mallory Hagan.  I’m undecided on how I feel about beauty pageants in general, but that’s besides the point.  No one likes a body-policer.

FEMEN: Flower-Crowned Islamophobia


What do you get when you mix white women, flower crowns, racism and colonial imperialism?

FEMEN!

Unfortunately, FEMEN and their actions are no laughing matter. Self-described as a “radically feminist” organization, FEMEN’s roots are in protesting against sex trafficking of Ukrainian women and demonstrating for pro-choice legislation in Ukraine. The group was founded in Kiev, Ukraine, in 2008, and now boasts having members and branches all over Europe, with a large branch located in Paris. In October of 2012, FEMEN claimed to be composed of 40 topless protesters, with another 100 who had joined their protests outside of Kiev. Most recently, FEMEN has become increasingly offensive and racist and has sparked an international debate.

The women of FEMEN, who have recently acquired mainstream media fame for what they declared to be a Topless Jihad Day, have become known for staging topless protests in front of religious institutions. The group claims that staging protests while topless is the “only way to be heard” in their native country of Ukraine. FEMEN’s ‘Topless Jihad Day’ is said to be in response to death threats that were made to Amina Tyler – a Tunisian woman who posted nude photos of herself on Facebook with the words “I own my body; it’s not the source of anyone’s honor” written on her bare chest. Overall, Topless Jihad Day appeared to be a protest against Islam and Islamist “oppression of women”. At least, that’s how FEMEN sees it. White women wore flower crowns, black skinny jeans and scrawled ‘FUCK YOUR MORALS’ and ‘FREE AMINA’ on their bare chests. In Paris, topless protesters burned a Salafist flag in front of a mosque. All of this, in the name of ‘liberating’ Muslim women.

And then there’s this photo:

It is counter-productive to attempt to ‘save’ women by upholding racist, Islamophobic stereotypes. Can the rights of one structurally oppressed group, i.e. Muslim women, be saved while the rights of another structurally oppressed group, i.e. Arabs, Muslims and people of Middle Eastern decent, be mocked and oppressed? The level of racism in the photo above is overwhelming–the ‘towel head’, the beard, the unibrow, the mocking of Islamic prayer. How can this hope to further FEMEN’s agenda?  How can FEMEN hope to be taken seriously on the international stage?

It is not hard to believe that Muslim women around the world are angry with FEMEN. A group called Muslim Women Against FEMEN, or MWAF, have formed to make it clear that FEMEN does not speak for all Muslim women. MWAF states:

“This group is primarily for Muslim women who want to expose FEMEN for the Islamophobes/Imperialists that they are. We have had enough of western feminists imposing their values on us. We are taking a stand to make our voices heard and reclaim our agency. Muslim women have had enough of this paternalistic and parasitic relationship with SOME western feminists.”

Even Amina Tyler, the activist who inspired the Topless Jihad, has expressed disapproval.  “They have insulted all Muslims,” Amina explained during a brief interview on a French television station, “and that is unacceptable.”

MWAF began to spread their message with posts that included Muslim women with or without hijab (religious head gear), holding signs with messages like ‘I am a proud Muslimah and I don’t need to be liberated!”, and “Do I look oppressed to you?”  Inna Shevchen, a white Ukrainian member of FEMEN, wasted no time responded to MWAF and their posts (like this one):

In a Huffington Post UK blog post, Shevchen wrote:

“Being born in post USSR country (Ukraine) I know exactly that it’s a common trait of dictatorial countries to promote the official position of the government pretending that it’s backed by the people. I don’t deny the fact that there Muslim women who will say they are free and the hijab is their choice and right. … So, sisters, (I prefer to talk to women anyway, even knowing that behind them are bearded men with knives) you say to us that you are against Femen, but we are here for you and for all of us, as women are the modern slaves and it’s never a question of colour of skin. …  They write on their posters that they don’t need liberation but in their eyes it’s written ‘help me.'”

Chin smacks floor.  True feminism should respect a woman’s freedom in everything she chooses – that includes the freedom to choose her religion and religious headgear. Inna Shevchen and FEMEN are upholding racist and Islamophobic stereotypes and generalizations, and frankly, many of their methods look to be more attention-seeking than possessing good intentions. Instead of fighting oppression and joining together in upholding women’s rights, FEMEN alienates themselves as white, paternalistic radicals who may be adding to modern negative stereotypes of Westernized feminism instead of furthering the progress that feminism is supposed to strive for.

Can white feminists help women of color who may be oppressed?  Of course.  Are all white feminists bad?  Of course not.  What FEMEN is missing in their approach is an intersectional sensitivity.  FEMEN claims to fight for the rights of Amina Tyler, who had been threatened and persecuted for simply showing her breasts on the Internet.  FEMEN’s efforts to bring attention to Tyler’s plight are well-intentioned but their methods are ignorant.  When writing about how FEMEN could continue to help Amina Tyler without resorting to racism, imperialism and oppression, Roqayah Chamseddine reasoned: “[Y]ou raise awareness by highlighting native voices, not co-opting them. It is your duty to amplify, not commandeer.”

As of now, it seems that FEMEN are unwilling to change their misinformed attitudes.  One thing is certain:  FEMEN will serve as a humbling reminder that even the most committed feminists can be wrong if they do not continue to check their privilege.

Author:  Eva Trampka

Battleground India

(photo by Eva Trampka)

“They said, ‘if you go to school, boys will be troubling you, so stay home and there will be no sexual violence’,” Usha Vishwakarma recalled, while interviewed by The Guardian, “but we said no, and we decided to form a group to fight for ourselves. We decided we would not just complain; we would take a lead and fight for ourselves.”

In India, it is no wonder that women are having trouble feeling safe.  Last year, the Reuters TrustLaw Group named India the worst country for women based on the prevalence of “child marriage, feticide, infanticide, sexual trafficking, domestic slave labor, domestic violence and high maternal mortality.”  A 2012 report by UNICEF found that 57% of Indian boys and 53% of Indian girls under the age of 19 believe that a man is justified in beating his wife. In a 1996 survey of judges in India, 68% reported believing that provocative clothing can be blamed for rape. The continued prevalence of dowry payment by families make daughters a burden, and in impoverished families, boys are often fed better than girls.  A husband in India legally has the right to all of his wife’s wages and because of this on top of a lack of sufficient Social Security, the elderly can only depend on male family members for support, resulting in female children as undesirable.  In 2010, the International Center for Research on Women reported that 44.5% of girls are married before the age of 18. India’s court system is sluggish, and when rapes are reported, no more than 26% are convicted.

The numbers are bad, but the stories are worse.  In December of 2012, a 23 year old Indian woman was attacked and brutally raped by five men on a bus in New Delhi. The victim of the attack, who’s name has not been released, died in a Singapore hospital as a result of her injuries. A witness reported that the bus driver made a lewd comment to the woman after she entered the bus and later took part in the beating, wielding an iron bar. In an eerily similar event that took place a month later, a married 29 year old woman was kidnapped by the driver of a bus and taken to an undisclosed location in Gurdaspur, Punjab, where seven men gang raped her continuously for a night. The next morning, the woman was taken back to her village. These two events have sent shock waves throughout India and the world, spurring protest for justice and safety. They have also brought more international attention to the violence toward women in India.  These stories, however, are among countless attacks against women perpetrated every year.

(photo by Eva Trampka, taken at the University of Delhi in January 2010)

Women are beginning to fight back. Usha Vishwakarma is the leader of a group called The Red Brigade, comprised of girls and women who demonstrate, train in self-defense and take part in their own form of vigilante justice against local rapists and abusers. Located in Lucknow, India, The Red Brigade began as a core group of 15 girls and women, ranging in ages from 11 to 25, and now boast a number of more than 100 members. Known for their bright red clothing, the Red Brigade have taught men who are seen or reported to be violent or sexually abusive to expect a warning, a report to the police, and potentially, a beating from the group. A member of the Red Brigade, while speaking to The Guardian, recalled the reaction of a boy who came face to face with them after his taunting became too much: “We all stopped and turned round and we surrounded him and grabbed his arms and legs and he thought it was a joke, but we were not kidding and four of us lifted him in the air and the others started to hit him with their shoes and fists,” she said.

The Red Brigade isn’t alone.  Years before the Red Brigade came into being, another group of women began to call themselves the Gulabi Gang.  Formed in 2006 in Bundelkhand, Uttar Pratesh, the women of the Gulabi Gang wear pink saris–the word gulabi meaning ‘pink’ in Hindi–and are known for attacking abusive husbands with bamboo sticks called lathis – beating them until they stop abusing their wives.  The Gulabi Gang has also claimed to have stopped child marriages and protest against dowry practices as well as female illiteracy in India.

This kind of vigilantism may seem extreme for us in the United States, but it may be the only dependable justice for women in India. According to the Washington Post, although New Delhi is host to one of the largest police forces in the world, only one third of the force is actually engaged in public policing and protection on the streets. The other two thirds provide protection to VIPs–bureaucrats, politicians, and diplomats. There is only one officer for every 200 citizens in New Delhi–a city with a metropolitan population of almost 17 million–whereas there are 20 officers for every VIP. Of those police officers providing ‘policing’, many are involved in protection rackets, and many others simply choose to ignore crimes as they are taking place. During a Loyola University Chicago panel discussing the New Delhi gang rape, Dr. Tracy Pintchman reasoned that police officers in India are underpaid, which may cause them to lack a commitment to public protection.  These low wages for police officers may also make them more likely to accept bribes in exchange for turning a blind eye to a crime.  Additionally, only 7% of the New Delhi police force is female, and studies have shown that women are more likely to report a sex crime if a female police officer is available.  As Dr. Pintchman mentioned, there have been cases of Indian women complaining that after having gone to the police department to report a rape, they were then raped by the police officer himself. As a result of the backlash from New Delhi’s recent gang rapes, the police department has begun a special program aimed at recruiting more female officers. Although some progress is being made, victim-blaming and stigmatization continues to be common in India. In one case, a 17 year old gang rape victim committed suicide after being pressured by police to marry one of her rapists. It seems that women in India may have no other choice than to take the fight into their own hands.

Even as women rally together to fight back against their abusers and as the international community looks on, gruesome attacks continue to befall the women of India.  On April 3rd, 2013, four women were attacked with acid by two men on a motorbike while walking home from school.  The four women, all sisters, work as teachers at the same school in Kandhla, Uttar Pratesh. There are no reports of why these women were targeted and no arrests have been made as of the completion of this article.

As I end this piece, I would urge you not to look at the situation in India through the lens of an “enlightened Westerner” looking at a backwards culture. India should not be seen as having one engrossing cultural identity, and there are many Indian men who respect the rights of women and believe that rape is wrong.  “In fact, many of the most repressive sexual morays that prevail in modern India were actually brought in by the British during the Victorian era”, Dr. Pintchman argued, “so they are not actually indigenous to Indians”.  The “My Culture Made Me Do It” argument can be harmful and counter-intuitive.

There is a growing Internet community of Indian feminists writing about the issues of their country.  Go read and support Ultra Violet, a wonderful zine for Indian feminists.

You can access the Loyola University Chicago panel referenced in this article here.

Author: Eva Trampka

The author has traveled to India and visited both New Delhi and Lucknow (pictured above in glasses).  Eva traveled and studied under Dr. Shweta Singh, one of the professors who took part in the Loyola University panel discussing the New Delhi gang rape.

WOMAN: the Amazing Walking Womb!

In December of 2010, a Chinese immigrant named Bei Bei Shuai had her heart broken.  A pregnant divorcée, Shuai was in love with the father of her unborn child, who had also claimed to be divorced.  He was not divorced, however, and had no intention of leaving his wife and two kids.  Instead, he broke off his affair with Shuai.  According to Shuai, her ex-lover left her in a parking lot, sobbing on her knees.  In the next moment, she claims to have looked up and spotted a hardware store.  She went in, purchased rat poison, rushed home and ate it.  When the poison did not kill her, she reached out to friends, who helped her get medical assistance.  Bei Bei survived her suicide attempt.  Unfortunately, she went into labor, and her child died two days later.

Now, Bei Bei Shuai has been charged with the murder and feticide of her child.

Shuai is being charged under the Indiana feticide statute, a law that was created to cover acts of violence perpetrated by third parties.  For example, if an attacker beat a pregnant woman and the attack resulted in the death of the fetus, the attacker would be charged with feticide.  A drunk driver who collided with a pregnant driver, causing her to miscarry, would also be charged with feticide.  According to an article on NBC.com, This is the first case in Indiana history in which the feticide statute was used to charge the pregnant woman herself.  It is not the first case of this nature in the country, though–there have been many other cases in which women were charged with murder after having a miscarriage as the result of drug abuse, with the trials occuring mostly in Alabama and Mississippi.  The fact that Shuai had attempted suicide, though, makes this case unique.

The results of this case could impact the rights of pregnant women all over the country.  As Butler University assistant professor Brooke Beloso has warned, “this case aims to set a precedent that reduces pregnant women to walking wombs under total state control and surveillance.”  Women could be arrested for smoking or drinking while pregnant.  While these activities are known to be unhealthy for a fetus, it must be a woman’s right to choose whether or not to engage in healthy behaviors, especially when those behaviors are otherwise legal for an adult to engage in.  Where would one draw the line?  Even riding a horse or a bicycle can endanger a pregnancy.  If a woman’s workplace contains harmful substances, will she be prosecuted if she doesn’t quit?  If a woman becomes ill and must take medication or have chemotherapy, will treatment be refused?  If a woman slips and falls, will she be asked to prove it was an accident?  A miscarriage, already a traumatic event to experience, could bring with it a criminal investigation.

The other issue is that Shuai was suffering from depression at the time of the attempted suicide.  This adds another problematic impact that could be had on society.  If Shuai was suffering from depression, it means she was not in the right state of mind to make responsible decisions regarding her own well-being, let alone her unborn fetus.  Will the justice system expect pregnant women to be able to suddenly and completely overcome mental illness, when people who are not pregnant fail to do so everyday?  This is an especially unrealistic expectation considering the existence of prenatal depression, a condition which is just as common as postpartum depression but is much less discussed.  According to an article on HuffingtonPost.com, one study reported at least 13% of pregnant women suffered from symptoms of clinical depression at 32 weeks.  That’s just about exactly where Bei Bei Shuai was in her pregnancy.  Substance abuse is also a mental health issue.  Is a pregnant woman expected to suddenly develop a superhuman ability to quit a serious addiction, simply because she was knocked up?

This case reminds me of Savita Halappanavar, an Indian woman who died in an Irish hospital in November of 2012.  Halappanavar, who was 17 weeks pregnant, was admitted to the University of Galway Hospital in Ireland for severe back pain.  Savita was miscarrying and begged for her pregnancy to be terminated–the only option available to treat her condition.  The hospital staff refused to treat her until her unborn child’s heartbeat stopped because of the strict abortion laws in place in Ireland, a largely Catholic country, and Halappanavar remained in agony for several days.  By the time the fetal heartbeat stopped and Halappanavar’s pregnancy was terminated, it was too late.  Savita Halappanavar, a 31 year old dentist, died of septicemia (blood poisoning) and major organ failure caused by the miscarriage.

Savita’s case sounds shocking, but consider that that the ‘Let Women Die’ Act, or H.R. 538, of 2011 passed the House and was almost made into law.  The bill aimed to make what happened to Savita legal in hospitals in the USA, allowing institutions to deny life-saving abortions to miscarrying women.

In both cases, the women were/are held to be less important than the fetuses they were carrying.  Their well-being, their choices, their very lives are an afterthought.  Instead, they were treated as “walking wombs”.  This issue is parallel with the issue of a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion.  If a woman can be charged with murder for eating rat poison, wouldn’t that mean abortion is also murder?  Would Shuai still be charged with feticide if she had only been in her first or second trimester, when abortion is legal and easier to access, as opposed to a third trimester abortion, which is restricted in many states?  On the other hand, many states allow third trimester abortions.  Would Bei Bei Shuai be free today if she had lived in Colorado and went to the Boulder Abortion Clinic, where third trimester abortions are legally performed without restrictions?

What it really comes down to is that not only are pregnant women seen as baby vehicles, but they are also expected to be superhuman.  The fact is, pregnant women are still women, and that means they’re human. We are not just ‘Walking Wombs’!

Bei Bei Shuai’s trial will start in April 2013.  A Change.com petition started by Brooke Beloso has over 11,000 signatures.  You can sign it here.

And here are ‘10 Tips To Stay Out of Jail When You’re Pregnant‘, a horrifying (and funny) condensed list of all the ways a women could be prosecuted while pregnant.

BITCH!

I’ll be honest with you. When I thought of the name “Bitchtopia”, I just thought it sounded cool. I started Googling song lyrics from bands I liked, looking through the song titles, pairing words that might sound provocative and interesting. One of the pairings was Bitchtopia—as in, maybe, a “Utopia For Bitches”?—and we had our winner.

As we move closer to publishing our first issue, though, I think more and more about the name and why it’s so provocative. Specifically, what is it about the word ‘bitch’?!

The modern word ‘bitch’ is rooted in the Old English word bicce, derived from the Old Norse word bikkja, meaning ‘female dog’. The word began to be used as an insult around the 15th Century and was primarily applied to a promiscuous woman—the ‘metaphorical extension of the behavior of a female dog in heat’. According to an article written by Clare Bayley, the use of the word ‘bitch’ rose to serious popularity at exactly the same time that another movement began to grow—suffrage. For the first time on a systematic level, women began to gain an independent identity with the 1st Wave of Feminism, and their critics followed closely behind. Literature saw a rise in the use of “bitch” in reference to a difficult, annoying, interfering, or vulgar woman, as opposed to the primarily veterinary use of the word prior to the 1920’s.

The insult saw a dip in popularity during the WWII era, correlating with a high respect for women who were essential to the war effort and patriotic chivalry, and during the 50’s, correlating with the rise of ‘perfect housewives’ and suburban sprawl. Then suddenly, in the mid-60’s, the use of “bitch” rose to new heights—along with the 2nd Wave of Feminism. Interesting, right?

Today, the insult has grown into something much larger. It is even often applied to men, implying that the man is weak or not ‘masculine’ enough—that is, too “female”, because being female must be bad. Female politicians are often called ‘bitches’ for showing the same aggressiveness that a male politician would be praised for. I’ve been called a ‘bitch’ in a negative way countless times, by ex-lovers, by kids, even by strangers on the street. It still feels offensive and mean, even though I can walk into any grocery store and buy Sassy Bitch wine, make recipes from a diet cookbook called Skinny Bitch, buy my pregnant friend a pink onesie with ‘BITCH’ printed across the front of it, or register for a Stitch ‘n Bitch knitting class. The word has simultaneously lost meaning and continued to be insulting, violent and offensive when used in different contexts. This dichotomy creates a provocativeness that is hard to ignore.

In our 4th Wave of Feminism, I think we can safely say that the feminist movement has reclaimed “bitch” as a powerful, positive word, as women did in the 60’s and in the 90’s. This time, we are reclaiming it for powerful people. People, being cis-women, cis-men, trans people, queer, gay, straight, white, people-of-color, etc. We are continuing the work of feminists while adding our own spin on a growing movement, and with the creation of Bitchtopia.com, we hope to make a little utopia for all of us powerful bitches.

Enjoy!