Thursday, July 02, 2009

Ban the Burqa -- Listen to a Muslim Feminst

Another brave, insightful post by Mona Eltahawy, journalist, Muslim and feminist.

Ban the Burqa

Published: July 2, 2009
NEW YORK — I am a Muslim, I am a feminist and I detest the full-body veil, known as a niqab or burqa. It erases women from society and has nothing to do with Islam but everything to do with the hatred for women at the heart of the extremist ideology that preaches it.

We must not sacrifice women at the altar of political correctness or in the name of fighting a growingly powerful right wing that Muslims face in countries where they live as a minority.

As disagreeable as I often find French President Nicolas Sarkozy, he was right when he said recently, “The burqa is not a religious sign, it is a sign of the subjugation, of the submission of women. I want to say solemnly that it will not be welcome on our territory.” It should not be welcome anywhere, I would add.
Yet his words have inspired attempts to defend the indefensible — the erasure of women.

Some have argued that Sarkozy’s right-leaning, anti-Muslim bias was behind his opposition to the burqa. But I would remind them of comments in 2006 by the then-British House of Commons leader Jack Straw, who said the burqa prevents communication. He was right, and he was hardly a right-winger — and yet he too was attacked for daring to speak out against the burqa.

The racism and discrimination that Muslim minorities face in many countries — such as France, which has the largest Muslim community in Europe, and Britain, where two members of the xenophobic British National Party were shamefully elected to the European Parliament — are very real.

But the best way to support Muslim women would be to say we oppose both racist Islamophobes and the burqa. We’ve been silent on too many things out of fear we’ll arm the right wing.

The best way to debunk the burqa as an expression of Muslim faith is to listen to Muslims who oppose it. At the time of Mr. Straw’s comments, a controversy erupted when a university dean in Egypt warned students they would not be able to stay at college dorms unless they removed their burqa. The dean cited security grounds, saying that men disguised as women in burqa could slip into the female dorms.

Read the whole article here:

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Currently ...

Slacking on blog posts! They're all ending up on Facebook...

But in short: finished "The Line" at GLUE Editing & Design studio on Monday, the same house where "The Education of Shelby Knox" and "The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo" finished. They are no stranger to social issue documentaries, and I'm grateful for their generosity. We chose this shot for the DVD for now.

Received a delicious Creative Media grant from to further distribute the film, create educational materials and put in motion the online grassroots campaign that will accompany the film and getting it to its proper audience (everyone).

Running full steam ahead with a fantastic pair of interns, Melanie, formerly of the Huffingon Post and Carmen Working with fabulous project co-director Melissa Gira Grant at

Am thrilled to announce that The Line and campaign has hired Thomas Cabus to be our designer. A talented photographer, accomplished Art Director and a Parisian super star in the making! We're in good hands.

And lastly --- renting office space from friends at the Applied Research Center, tireless activists for Racial and Economic Justice and the publishers of "ColorLines" Magazine. With a window and AC and a farmer's market nearby!

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Saudi Student Tackles Ban on Women Drivers

Using a Facebook campaign, Flickr stream and DIY stickers, a 24 year old Saudi Arabian woman is raising public debate about the ban on women drivers in her country. Areej Khan, student at SVA in New York, is getting Saudis to express themselves creatively and tackle the topic of women driving, and thereby sparking conversations about Westernization and modernization... All with a little sticker and a little Facebook! She is getting enough support at home that she felt brave enough to use her full name.

"We the Women is a campaign that aims to raise the issue of women driving in Saudi Arabia and to start a real, public conversation. The We the Women declaration bubbles and bumper stickers were created as a space for self expression. Feel free to fill it out with your opinion on the issue and stick it wherever you feel it needs to be."

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Sexy Christian Miss California

The contradictions of Miss California, Carrie Prejean. Famous for her inarticulate public opposition to gay marraige, which Perez Hilton hysterically exploited, thereby making me weirdly sympathetic to Prejean, she is now caught in a nude/semi-nude picture scandal. At the age of seventeen, hoping to be a Victoria's Secret model, she posted semi-nude for some sleazy photographer for the site

What's actually the problem and truly gross, is that the family of this young woman, while probably extolling the virtues of abstinence-only sex education and no sex before marraige, think it is perfectly ok for their morally correct Christian daughter to pose semi-nude in photographs when she is a teenager. Morally, legally and religiously she cant have sex, but she can look like she wants it, sell things with her hot("barely legal") body, and allow for men in fertility clinics to get off looking at her?

Look sexy, but don't have sex.
Til marraige.
To a man.
Thanks, Dad.

Wonder if she'll wear clothes in her $1.5 million dollar "opposite marraige" campaign?

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Creative Commons - how to be a thoughtful pirate.

I'm taking an online survey at to find out what kind of file user/maker/sharer or crook I am. This is helpful information as it gives kind of an ethics of sharing content, mash-ups, etc. For me personally, it can help me untangle what kind of lawyer I may need to cover my use of other people's videos in my film, translations, fair use, and posting the content of my film online.

Pirated image of Somali pirate used.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Hot Cellphone Sex!

Or at least sex ed on the mobile phone... love how the New York Times has covered the work of ISIS among other organizations to use mobile technology to inform teens about sex. Amazing that The Birds and The Bees Text Help line functions on a paltry $5,000 grant - and that the youth of North Carolina have nowhere else to turn! The bottom line is if you want to help people, you must meet them where they are. No judgements, no sarcasm, using whatever access and technology is available to you and to them. Harm Reduction and Education. But must be hard not to laugh at some of the questions...!

THE special cellphone, set on vibrate, begins to whir. Throughout North Carolina, anonymous teenagers are texting questions to it about sex.

Karen Tam for The New York Times
TEXTERS Sally Swanson and James Martin are two of the experts who answer questions at the Birds and Bees Text Line.
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“If you take a shower before you have sex, are you less likely to get pregnant?” asks one.

Another: “Does a normal penis have wrinkles?”

A young girl types: “If my BF doesn’t like me to be loud during sex but I can’t help it, what am I supposed to do?”

Within 24 hours, each will receive a cautious, nonjudgmental reply, texted directly to their cellphones, from a nameless, faceless adult at the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Campaign of North Carolina, based in Durham.

There goes the phone again.

“Why do guys think it’s cool to sleep with a girl and tell their friends?”

James Martin, the staff member who has text-line duty this week, is 31, married and the father of a toddling son. He hesitates. How to offer comfort, clarity and hope in just a few sentences? He texts back. “Mostly it’s because they believe that having sex makes them cool,” he types, adding, “Most guys outgrow that phase.”

The Birds and Bees Text Line, which the center started Feb. 1, directing its MySpace ads and fliers at North Carolinians ages 14 to 19, is among the latest efforts by health educators to reach teenagers through technology — sex ed on their turf.

Sex education in the classroom, say many epidemiologists and public health experts, is often ineffective or just insufficient. In many areas of the country, rates of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases remain constant or are even rising. North Carolina — where schools must teach an abstinence-only curriculum — has the country’s ninth-highest teenage pregnancy rate. Since 2003, when the state’s pregnancy rate declined to a low of 61 per 1,000 girls ages 15 to 19, the rates have slowly been climbing. In 2007, that rate rose to 63 per 1,000 girls — 19,615 pregnancies.

In the last 15 years, school officials and politicians in many states rancorously debated whether sex-ed curriculums should mention contraception. Meanwhile, public health officials became alarmed about the fallout of risky adolescent sexual behavior and grappled with how to educate teenagers beyond the classroom.

A few universities and hospitals set up blunt Web sites for young people, like Columbia’s Go Ask Alice! and Atlantic Health’s, allowing them to post questions online. More recently, researchers have explored how to reach teenagers through social networking sites like MySpace and YouTube.

Now, health experts say, intimate, private and crucial information can be delivered to teenagers on the device that holds millions captive: their cellphones.

Programs in Washington, D.C.; Chicago, Toronto and San Francisco allow young people to text a number, select from a menu of frequently asked questions (“What 2 do if the condom broke”) and receive automated replies, with addresses of free clinics. Last month, California started HookUp 365247, a statewide text-messaging service. The texter can type a ZIP code and get a local clinic referral, as well as weekly health tips.

“Technology reduces the shame and embarrassment,” said Deb Levine, executive director of ISIS, a nonprofit organization that began many technology-based reproductive health programs. “It’s the perceived privacy that people have when they’re typing into a computer or a cellphone. And it’s culturally appropriate for young people: they don’t learn about this from adults lecturing them.”

The North Carolina program, with a $5,000 grant for the cellphone line and advertising from the State Department of Health and Human services, takes these exchanges a step further. The Birds and Bees Text Line offers one-on-one exchanges that are private, personal and anonymous. And they can be conducted free of parental scrutiny.

That lack of oversight is what galls Bill Brooks, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council. “If I couldn’t control access to this information, I’d turn off the texting service,” he said. “When it comes to the Internet, parents are advised to put blockers on their computer and keep it in a central place in the home. But kids can have access to this on their cellphones when they’re away from parental influence — and it can’t be controlled.”

While some would argue that such programs augment what students learn in health class, Mr. Brooks believes that they circumvent an abstinence-until-marriage curriculum. “It doesn’t make sense to fund a program that is different than the state standards,” he said. (The State Legislature is now considering a bill permitting comprehensive sex education.)

As Mr. Brooks suggested, parents who believe these conversations belong in the home could cancel their teenager’s texting service (at possible grave risk to domestic tranquillity).

But they can’t exactly cancel adolescent curiosity about sex. At the very least, said Professor Sheana Bull, an expert on sexually transmitted disease infection and technology at the University of Colorado School of Public Health, “The technology can be used to connect young people to trusted, competent adults who have competent information.”

The Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Campaign of North Carolina, which runs the text line, has been helping to set up teenage parenting workshops and after-school programs around the state for 24 years, financed mostly by the state and by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The nine staff members who take shifts with the text line have graduate degrees in public health or social work, or years of experience working with teenagers.

Modeling their service on a similar city program in Alexandria, Va., the North Carolina staff members worked up guidelines: No medical advice — urge questioners to speak with a doctor. Do not advocate abortion. When necessary, refer questioners to local clinics, Web sites or emergency hot lines. Give reasoned, kind advice. Read answers twice before sending. No sarcasm.

The North Carolina center permitted a New York Times reporter to read through some phone logs, after cellphone numbers and towns were redacted. The questions span the spectrum of adolescence itself, from the goofy to the ghastly. Many ask how to talk with parents about sexuality. Combining a teenager’s capacity to cut to the chase with the terseness of texting, they are often brutally direct:

Do I love her or do I love the sex?”

“What happens if you swallow a piece of condom?”

Some questions could have been written to teen magazines 50 years ago:

“Why don’t girls like short guys?”

“how do u move yr tongue when u tongue kiss?” (“Kissing is not a science,” the reply notes. “Go at your own pace and you will figure it out.”)

But many questions vault past the basic training manual: “I like boys but I also like girls. What should I do?” (“Some people just like who they like. ... Only you can know for sure and only you know what is right for you.”)

Some reveal dangerous chasms of ignorance. Girls and boys alike ask about anal intercourse: Will it prevent pregnancy? Let a girl remain a virgin?

“If ur partner has aids,” one teenager asks, “and u have sex without a condom do u get aids the first time or not?”

Parents haven’t complained yet, perhaps because they haven’t seen the exchanges.

Sally Swanson, a staffer and mother of two teenagers, said if parents did read them, “It would highlight how much disconnected information kids are already getting at younger ages than we did.” The questions can be salacious. The staffers try to answer them all, said Mr. Martin, but discreetly and always urging protection. In offering this service to teenagers, he said, “you can’t say ‘I’ll be honest except or until.’ ” That’s often what happens with parents, he added, “when the child brings up something shocking, the parents tend to shut down.”

Last week, Ms. Swanson answered a flurry of questions from someone who finally identified herself as a 12-year-old girl. She texted, “Do u think its awkward txtin things about sex to kids?”

Ms. Swanson’s reply, in part: “I think communicating with teens in whatever way they need to ask a question is important.” Ms. Swanson gets questions about practices and body parts using slang that is unfamiliar to her. Her reference source:

What pulses powerfully through the phone logs is the teenagers’ longing to unburden themselves. One night, as Mr. Martin was getting ready for bed, the cellphone vibrated. He read it and sat down abruptly. His wife asked what was wrong.

The texted question: “If I was raped when I was little and just had sex was it technically my first time when I was raped or when I recently had sex?”

He wrote three drafts. An hour later, he texted back: “Your first time is whatever you make it. There is no ‘right’ answer: I believe your first time can be many things (good, bad, fun, embarrassing, wonderful) but it should never be nonconsensual. Your first time is the first time you choose to have sex, not when some horrible person forces you.”

Professor Bull, the Colorado expert on technology and reproductive health information, says that such services have benefits but also limitations.

They are great for referrals and short answers to quick questions, she said. But unlike the California model, which can reach thousands automatically, these one-to-one text lines rise and fall on human interaction.

But it’s not an alternative form of therapy. Although some texters ask Ms. Swanson to reveal her age and gender, she refuses. “I don’t want them to feel connected to me,” she said, “because I’m never going to be real to them. I’m a texter. I want them to find someone real to talk to.”

Even so, the voices of an anonymous few, their thoughts floating across that text screen like a 21st-century Magic 8 Ball, haunt her.

A certain 15-year-old.

Last week, the girl texted that she had taken four pregnancy tests. Two negative, two positive. Which were wrong?

“I just recently moved in with just my dad,” the girl continued. “I can’t tell him.” She is an only child. The family has been through turmoil.

Ms. Swanson asked whether the girl could turn to other adults.

The teenager texted: “I talked to my sex ed teacher but she wasn’t much help. She made me feel ashamed.”

Ms. Swanson replied: “I am sorry to hear that. Please don’t feel ashamed. That won’t help anything and this situation certainly does not determine your worth as a human being. Life is full of twists and turns and difficult times — it’s how we handle them that matters — at least that is what I believe.”

Ms. Swanson promised to send her phone numbers for public health clinics in her area.

“Be easy with yourself,” she texted. “You’ll be O.K.”

The next morning Ms. Swanson texted her the contacts. “I hope these numbers can connect you with somebody who can take more time thinking this through with you.”

The cellphone vibrated in reply.


Ms. Swanson has not heard from her since.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Rosario Dawson Calls Obama Vagina Friendly

It's true, she did... and he most certainly is. We heart the president who has created an office overseeing the health of women and girls and marks April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Last week I attended the first ever: Women & Men as Allies: National Conferenc eon the Primary Prevention of Men’s Violence Against Women in Washington D.C. The conference took place on Capital Hill across the street from a hotel named “Liaison”. Well, well, well.

Basically the idea is this: men’s violence against women (and children and men) is overwhelmingly perpetrated by men --- so this is not a “women’s issue” this is a men’s issue. MCSR has been working for a decade to challenge stereotypes of masculinity and gender (although a lot of the material for messaging sake is in a gender-binary format, which makes sense to me in this context). It was exciting to see so many military personnel at the conference, as MCSR has just signed a contract with the Department of Defense.

Other long standing allies in the movement are Jackson Katz, creator of the MVP: Mentors in Violence Prevention program at Northeastern University, and two of the men in my film: Brett Sokolow and Don McPherson. Of course Byron Hurt, the director of “Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes” is a highly visible member of this community and a great speaker, keynoted.

Opening keynote discussion with Byron Hurt and Ritu Sharma was powerful. Ritu Sharma is the Executive Director of Women Thrive Worldwide, and she is a woman who truly speaks truth to power. She was born in India and at the age of 4 raped by her grandfather. She feels fortunate that her family got out of their village and moved to America, but she highlighted the global realities of so many women in children in the world. She “got out” but others live continually with their perpetrators, family members, husbands, and have no laws or cultural norms to protect them.

Byron Hurt made the great point about being a man in the movement, you have to be careful to check yourself, stay “real” because you get so much love just for showing up as a man doing this work, that you must keep your ego in check. How many rounds of applause can a group of 30 guys get and not let it go to their heads?

First panel: Research on Forced Sex in Intimate relationships: Continuum of Coercion and Relationships.
This was interesting because it talked about “forced sex” and how changing the language can invite more people who may run from “the r word” and be more willing and able to look at the consequences and context of their sexual encounters. This does not fall under “domestic violence” or “dating violence” this can be more casual… which is right where my work falls… the hook up gone wrong.

I asked a question really trying to highlight, detail and identify “the line of consent” (which of course is always moving around, depends on context, is not set in stone) and that sparked a nice debate in the audience and connected me with likeminded folks.

Otherwise, we skirted the topic and discussed a ton of public health statistics.
A recent uproar is the notion that Hamid Karzai legalized rape in marriage in Afjghanistan. The world is an uproar, right? Well… the irony of legalizing rape in marriage, is that IT IS LEGAL in the overwhelming majority of the world! It is legal in over 70% of the world. One great solution we can do in the US/Canada is put the legality issues into ESL classes, New Immigrant centers – to make sure newer members of our communities/nations know that in the US it is absolutely not legal to rape or beat your wife.

Congresswoman Donna F. Edwards was our keynote at lunch. She has been a longstanding ally at the Office of Violence Against Women and was late due to a hot date with Obama and his economic plan speech. Highlights were sitting next to some really engaged young men.

Post lunch session: “The Complexity of Consent” it was a TOTAL BOMB
Semantic eruptions between Second Wave and Third Wave feminists/allies about how to talk about rape… “rape is not (only) about power and control, it is also about sexuality”, “rape IS about power and control, only” No one listening to each other, and no one really talked about the complexity of consent using interesting or nuanced hypothetical information. Yes, if you’ve passed out on heroin, you are not consenting. That’s pretty clear… but otherwise, why don’t we waste an hour shouting at each other?

Mid-day Celebrity spotting: Rosario Dawson keynote – great speech where she was asked to channel Eve Ensler who was in France. Rosario noted that Obama is Vagina Friendly, and showed up in the Washington Post the next day.

NEWSFLASH: Want to get men interested in combating violence against women? Have Rosario Dawson show up, look hot, and commend them for their great work! You should have seen the boys sitting in the front row. Adoration.

Day #2 to come...