Saturday, September 29, 2007

better to be a man here

Its true. If I had a choice to be born male or female in Turkey I would choose male, hands down. Yesterday I was arbitrarily dropped off in the middle of a Turkish freeway not too far from the town of Soke on my way to Ephesus. The reason for the drop-off is much less interesting than what I experienced standing on the side of the road. Drivers of many many cars slowed to what Id certainly call unsafe highway speeds to stare at me. Yes, I was wearing a tank top and shorts. Yes, I was a woman standing alone on a freeway. I felt positively out of my element. But also---there was not a single female driver. I spotted two female passengers over the course of my half hour of passive standing---before finally finding a man to help me.

The thing is, the men are pretty delightful. Theyre talkative and helpful and even playful. There have been the aggressive ones, no doubt, but Ive been pleasantly surprised. Ive experienced more street harrassment in Italy---hell, even on the streets of San Francisco.

And their openness is part of why Id choose to be a man. They have more permission to be engaged. The women are reserved because theyre expected to be. Once I finally caught my minibus it was the women who watched me, looks of utter concern (not disdain) visible in their eyes and furrowed brows---even those who wore a full headscarf so that their eyes were all I could see. The men, meanwhile, tried to help, gallantly displaying their limited vocabulary for all the bus to hear and chime in. I turned to a young college-aged woman sitting two aisles up and gave her the look you give women when men are talking over each other and she said, plainly, "You will need to transfer at the end of this line and get on a bus to Kusadasi." Her English was beautiful, and yet she had held back while the men around her uttered their few words and phrases. I felt grateful and sad and bewildered all at once. And I thought, Better to be a man.

Turkey is modernizing. Its progressive. It fancies itself a European nation. But where women are concerned they have a distressingly far way to go. I sometimes find myself struggling to articulate arguments concerning the Middle East and womens rights because I despise the notion that Americans have something to teach other countries or that somehow everyone else should be on board with our way of life, our standards, our morals. But I can state with conviction that any country where Id feel happy to have been born a woman is a place where I feel more right and peaceful and happy in the world. And as Turkey strives toward increasing modernization I do hope this is something that the young men and women who are shaping the future of this beautiful place---so full of potential---come to recognize.


Thursday, September 27, 2007

the turkish headscarf debate

In Bodrum, Turkey, where I arrived last night, there are very few Turkish women donning the headscarf, the subject of much conversation leading up to, during, and especially in the aftermath, of the recent Turkish elections. The new Foreign Minister, Abdullah Gul, is an "ex-islamist" whose wife wears the headscarf.

This particular issue received more media attention in the States than it probably deserved.

Here's a bit of coverage along with a photograph of what Mrs. Gul looks like in her headscarf:

"Mr Gul, whose wife wears a Muslim headscarf, has pledged to respect Turkey's secular institutions.

The headscarf is currently banned from public institutions in Turkey and Mr Gul has said wearing it is a matter of personal choice."

I have mixed feelings on the matter of the "Muslim headscarf," I have to admit. It's hardly a black and white issue, despite what it appears to be on the surface to most Westerners. And the West's aversion to it as a negative Islamist symbol seems to fan the flames of anti-Islamism on our part and anti-Americanism in the Middle East. Throughout my time here in Greece and Turkey, the criticism I've heard about the U.S. has been against Bush and against the war---and where do you NOT find that when traveling abroad? I felt sad today when the owner of the little place where we stopped to eat lunch was bemoaning the lack of American tourism in Bodrum, a city that's been dubbed the new St. Tropez by The New York Times.

It's majestic here, definitely too European for me to be able to comment too deeply on the Turkish culture at large. After all, I still went topless on the beach just as I've been doing all along in Greece. Somehow I don't think I'd get away with that even another forty miles inland. But it's hard not to love a place where some women go topless and other women mind their restaurant and store fronts in traditional garb and full head coverage. They say Turkey is where East meets West---perhaps a place where we can really witness tolerance in practice.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

the most popular t-shirts in greece

Dispatching from the islands of Santorini, Crete, and Rhode.

I had read about these shirts on Feministing and Pandagon before I got to the Greek Isles, so I wasn't completely shocked by their existence. But honestly, they're EVERYWHERE.

So it's bad enough that the men are actually purchasing these shirts, right? But what about the women who are walking happily hand in hand with the men who are sporting them? I expect the guys who are attracted to these shirts to receive the dirty looks I've been giving because I can't help myself. But no. So many many women apparently do not care about the overt misogyny that their boyfriends or husbands are displaying by choosing to buy and wear these shirts.

It's not like I don't appreciate a good t-shirt when I see one. If I could've changed out these shirts for another one here's the one I'd choose:

Too patriotic for all the international tourists, perhaps, but I still like it.


Friday, September 21, 2007

bOObs banned

Really, you ask? Where are boobs not allowed? Dark, stuffy men's clubs maybe? No. Guess again.

A bookstore in the state of Washington, which I will not name, has decided to cancel a long-planned bookstore event for our book, bOObs: A Guide to Your Girls because of the title. Apparently, boobs is a bad word. This is not a sex book, not erotica, which we love by the way, and not smut in the least.

This is a health book for women about caring for your breasts. Really people! Boobs are everywhere. Every woman has them, and we've learned right here in house that before we read bOObs, we were all wearing the wrong size bras. We've learned so much about our own boobs, and we want to share that knowledge. Go to your bookstores. Ask for bOObs. Demand your right to care for yours. If the book had been called Breasts, would that have been different? How about bazooms, knockers, cha-chas, tits, ta-tas, joy toys, muffins, bosoms, gazongas, melons, beauts, bombshells, boobies . . . ? There are many mixed messages among these and so many other boob idioms and monikers.

Boobs is not a scary word, nor is it offensive in 2007. It's in Merriam Webster's Collegiate Eleventh for crying out loud.

Check out our author's website and our awesome Library Journal review on Elisabeth's bOOb Blog:

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

I see gay people

Check out this startling statistic from the Human Rights Campaign:

In 31 states, it's still legal to fire someone because they're gay; in 39 states it is legal to fire someone for being transgender.

How tragic is that?

I can only surmise that this is about fear. There's always that possibility that you might turn gay if you were to sit next to a gay person day in and day out. Or, yeah, your colleague might want to recruit you, and you wouldn't want to have to deal with that temptation lest it be too powerful to overcome. You clearly need to be watchful, too, because gay people are apparently less discerning. You know, if you're hetero you have preferences about the type of man or woman you would like to date or hook up with, but if you're gay, nope. You female? Watch out. The lesbians are gonna want a piece of you.

And so here we are. Sigh. If you're reading this post, hello, you are on a feminist blog and you're probably lucky enough to live in one of the 19 states where you're not going to get fired for being gay. Or you don't, and you should be devising your exit strategy. Regardless of where you are, take thirty seconds to click here and sign this petition to end workplace discrimination.

It's a small step, but it's a start.


Saturday, September 8, 2007

hillary's stainless steel thighs

This is actually hilarious. Wrong on so many levels, and yet, I really want one.

Don't miss the catchy little jingle to accompany your nutcracker:

Thursday, September 6, 2007

A Moment of Silence for Girls, Please

And then, let's get busy. Holy crap! Girls need our help. It's true, yesterday, I was mocking the screeching of middle school girls, but today, I'd take it all back if I could because I just read this wire story:

The suicide rate among preteen and young teen girls spiked 76 percent, a disturbing sign that federal health officials say they can't fully explain.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, "For all young people between ages 10 to 24, the suicide rate rose 8 percent from 2003 to 2004--the biggest single-year bump in 15 years--in what one official called 'a dramatic and huge increase'."

Girls are striving to be perfect in a more zealous way than ever before because that's what they feel they MUST do to survive. It's what everyone expects from them. From perfect skin, hair, clothes, grades, bodies, participation in extracurricular activities, and behavior, girls feel more and more as if there is no room to be themselves. For many, they don't know what that means.

This report is scary. True, this is 2004 data, but given everything we're reading and studying here at Seal, I'd bet that this is not a blip in data as one child psychiatrist claims is possible. I'd bet this is a trend. We need to get out the message to girls that nothing is gained from making pleasing others a priority. Perfection is not possible. We're desperate to spread this word, and clearly, this report is proof that girls are more than desperate to hear it.

See today's wire story here:

And so I ask you, what are you doing? What can we do? We're looking for more great books targeted to teen girls and their parents. There are a few great books out there now. Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters by Courtney E. Martin deals with the frightening normalcy of girls hating their bodies. Reclaiming Our Daughters by Karen Stabiner and Real Girl, Real World by Samantha Phillips and Heather Gray take big positive steps forward. We need more. Girls need us.

Here's what Girls Inc. is doing. Check out what these girls have to say:

The Pressure to be Perfect, Accomplished, Thin, and Accommodating

Building on the Girls Inc. Taking the Lead study published in 2000, The Supergirl Dilemma is a nationwide survey, commissioned by Girls Inc. and conducted by Harris Interactive, that provides important insights into girls' lives today. Girls spoke out about the mounting expectations they face from family, peers, and educators as they struggle to decode confusing messages from the media and reject traditional gender stereotypes.

Girls Inc. believes that girls can do anything, but our new study indicates that girls feel pressure to do everything and please everyone.

I leave you with this thought. If screeching is part of community building for some girls, if it's an energizing call to sisterhood, screech away. We can all take it.

Until next time.


Wednesday, September 5, 2007

When did girls start screeching?

And why do they do that? Why? Tell me, why? There must be a reason. I want to believe there is an explanation for this behavior. It's functional, not affectation. It's a call of sorts, right? But it hurts the ears. I don't understand it. I didn't screech or squeal. Did you?

Here, context might help. You see, last Wednesday was a big day. I was dropping my sons off at middle school for the first day of school. Peter is in 6th grade, and Andrew is in 8th grade. We were in the courtyard of the school, looking up Andrew's homeroom teacher and room number on a big long list. Well, I was. Andrew has a brace on his knee and uses crutches, and he couldn't get close enough, what with the hundreds of kids and their protective parents packed into that very small space. I was pressed up against some kid's dad and looking at the top of one girl's head, and noticing, whoa, that boy grew facial hair over the summer, and all of the sudden, as if the smells of armpits, perfume, and overzealously used hair products weren't enough, I heard it. The SCREECH. I couldn't cover my ears fast enough. There was no warning.

"EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEK. Oh my God. AAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGH. You look so cute. Who do you have?"

And then on my left:

"Ooooooooooooooooh! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! I can't believe summer is over. AAAAAAA!"

And then across the courtyard:

"Krrrriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiistine! Oh my God! Oooooooooooooo!"

Screeches were erupting all around me. It was like at 8:40 a.m. on Wednesday, August 29, all middle school girls in Berkeley were exploding. At once. Spontaneously. And I didn't understand. I looked back at my son on crutches, and he was covering his ears too.

I said, "Your homeroom is the gym."

He said the word he uses more than any other word in our English language. "What?"



"Why are the girls yelling and screeching?" I asked him, admittedly in a very loud voice.

He looked like I'd embarassed him. "They do that," he said.

And then I observed Andrew greeting his own friend whom he hadn't seen in several weeks. There was a barely noticeable nod of the head. I kid you not--it was a very small movement. And that was followed by a "Hey." That's it. No screeching.

I'm a woman. I was a girl. (Really.) Girls have it tough. And I'm here for them. I do what I do in part because of them. But they have got to stop with the screeching. It's painful. Do you screech? Were you a screecher? If so, I'd like to hear from you. Maybe you can explain it to me? But can you explain it quietly, my ears are still bleeding a little.

Until the next time.


Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Women Runners Kicking More Ass as They Age

I love running, and I love to read about running. So when The New York Times ran a story last week about older women runners outrunning their youger counterparts I thought I was going to learn something new. I've been running since I was thirteen, and witnessing older women---women in their forties, fifties, and sixties---kick my ass for as long as I can remember.

But Gina Kolata didn't, in fact, enlighten me about female runners, or inspire me with some tip I might carry with me as I think about running and my future. Instead she writes about it being "odd" that women get better as they age. Kolata's article is meant to be affirming, I think. But she's way off the mark, because it's not odd. It's pretty much known that women have superior endurance. (Thanks to Salon's Broadsheet for bringing that to light in their commentary on this piece.) As a longtime runner, I've always known this. You don't have to be into the science of it. All you have to do is show up at any of the hundreds of road races happening across America on any given weekend.

Kolata concerns herself with how young women shortchange themselves---that young women "are too inhibited to put their full passion out there." What? Really? That older women never had the opportunity to do track and cross country as young women, and so now they're having this epiphany around running. I'm imagining a Nike campaign a la the Dove aging ads---Just Do It! You couldn't do it when you were young but you sure can now! I find it hard to believe that this rings true for the majority of older female runners. I've never met a single older runner who told me she was inspired to run because of the lack of opportunity she had as a young woman. Not too many months ago I was passed by a sixty-plus-year-old woman in the fifth mile of a 10K race. And I felt admiration. It had nothing to do with my inhibition, believe me. She was faster, and she beat me. I'm actually pretty competitive, and when I see those older women out there I feel encouraged. I love it. I wish that Kolata would have talked to some of us who do road races. Instead, she poses yet another "odd" observation: "Oddly enough," she writes, "[older women] are trying harder than younger women and discovering for the first time what they are capable of."

My assessment: They're just better runners. Some older women are faster and stronger and have more endurance than younger women. Odd? No. Awesome? Yes.

Please check out our two recent running titles if you're into running:

The Nonrunner's Marathon Guide for Women, by Dawn Dais

Women Who Run, by Shanti Sosienski