Category Archives: Things I read

Bent, broken, powerless, childlike: Models in the real world

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Messy Nessy did a great piece on What Model Posses Would Look Like in Real Life.  The above video is from that piece and shows reactions of public as average size women standing in public places in these awkward positions.   Check out the piece for the pictures and commentary by the artist who pulled these together.

As I look at magazines on plane trips or in doctors offices, I am routinely surprised by how everything is sexualized, women are made to look powerless or childlike, and bodies that are anorexic are contorted even further.  This is not something I want to aspire to be.  This is something, which now I can say, I am accepting not being.  This is something that when I was younger, I did secretly want.  This is something that I can now analyze and understand as wrong.  Why do we, as a society, accept this as beauty? Even make it the standard?

Who stands like this? It is awkward and uncomfortable.

Who stands like this? It is awkward and uncomfortable.

School girl fantasies. Why do we promote them? What does this teach our girls?  Honestly, what does it teach our boys?

School girl fantasies. Why do we promote them? What does this teach our girls? Honestly, what does it teach our boys?

The Great Return: Lesbian Family dot com

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In 2006, Liza was pregnant and in search of other mothers to answer her questions.  She yearned for a one stop shop for lesbian moms to gather.  Not finding quite what she wanted, she created it. Thus, lesbianfamily.com was born.

In 2007, I started writing for Lesbian Family.  At the time I was living in Chile and trying to find other LGBT friendly-folk.  The blogging helped me find a whole tiny world of lesbian bloggeras (that would be the Spanish for blogging women).  I helped add a Spanish speaking section to the original page and am so proud to say that Julieta has agreed to be part of the reincarnation of LesbianFamily.com.

As a bisexual woman, married to a man, mother to a daughter (little elephant), and sole bread winner— I haven’t yet rejoined the ranks of Lesbian Family.  I am, nonetheless, so excited for the new content and new voices.  Check it out.  Lesbian family is not just for lesbians.  It is a great place for allies and gay dads and trans parents and anyone else who is interested.  It is a wonderful space for parents who want to discuss raising allies, feminist parenting, and getting toddlers to eat broccoli.

Happy internet-ing.

 

Also, in case you haven’t voted yet— go do it!

Seeing Stars

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I suppose people who live near Hollywood must see stars every so often, doing everyday things, living their lives. I am not talking about the paparazzi who stalk them. Or the stalkers who photograph them. But rather, everyday people, people on the jobs, people not looking running into really cool people.

In some ways, Chile makes me feel like I am one of those everyday people. Santiago is big. But it is also small enough to see the stars from the teleserias out at a restaurant or parking their cars.

On this trip, the news media has also made me feel this way. Revista Ya this week has Denisse Van Lamoen, who is the 2011 World Champion in Archery, on the cover. She is Chilean. She also happens to be an old classmate from when I was an exchange student in Rancagua. In fact, she was very close friends with my host sister. In college, when I returned to Chile, I spent a year hanging out with her younger brother. He even came to the very first Thanksgiving that I cooked without my Mom’s help. It was amazing to see her on the cover– she looks beautiful in the photo shoots. But, the best part, for me, is that she still looks like the girl I knew. Only, famous.

Denisse isn’t the only person I know who has been in the newspapers while I have been here.  A bunch of my Chile blogger buddies (all gringas) were featured in La Tercera. Kyle (in the photo), Emily, Eileen, AndreaAbby and Margaret were all quoted.  Of them, I know in person Kyle, Emily and Abby (I think I have met Abby, but now that it is in writing perhaps she is just a virtual friend).  And I definitely also read Eileen and Margaret.   Now that I have been notified of Andrea’s blog, I will have to check it out (Thank you La Tercera).

An absolute must read on Race and Privilege

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Yesterday I mentioned thinking about my own privilege.  Once of the most often referenced, and in my opinion, accessible articles on what privilege is was written in 1988 by a woman named Peggy McIntosh.  I am linking to a place online where you can read the article and really hope that everyone will take the time to do so.  It is short. It is entertaining. And, if you let it be, it is thought provoking.  It is also, HERE.

Peggy writes:

I think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege. So I have begun in an untutored way to ask what it like to have white privilege.  I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visa, clothes, tools and blank checks.

She goes on to enumerate her invisible privileges, including the following:

5. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.

12. I can swear, or dress in secondhand closes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to bad morals, the poverty, or the illiteracy of my race.

26. I can choose blemish cover or bandaged in “flesh” color and have them more or less match my skin.

Now, please stop reading my blog and do read her piece.  Again, you can find it HERE.

Great Resources for this year’s Banned Book Week

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We are at the beginning of banned book week (Sept 26-October 3). For those of my blog readers (and those who read on facebook and don’t even know this is connected to a blog) who don’t know what banned book week is, I encourage you to check out the 2009 BBW website. There you will learn:

Banned Books Week is the only national celebration of the freedom to read. It was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. More than a thousand books have been challenged since 1982. The challenges have occurred in every state and in hundreds of communities. Click here to see a map of book bans and challenges in the US from 2007 to 2009. People challenge books that they say are too sexual or too violent. They object to profanity and slang, and protest against offensive portrayals of racial or religious groups–or positive portrayals of homosexuals. Their targets range from books that explore the latest problems to classic and beloved works of American literature.

Here is what Katie Couric had to say on the topic:

And an advertisement with muppets that hopes to education children and adults alike about why books should never be banned:


***Thanks to Mombian for bringing this commercial to my attention.

According to the American Library Association, out of 513 challenges reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2008. 

The 10 most challenged titles were:

And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
Reasons: anti-ethnic, anti-family, homosexuality, religious viewpoint,
and unsuited to age group

His Dark Materials trilogy, by Philip Pullman
Reasons: political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, and violence


TTYL; TTFN; L8R, G8R
(series), by Lauren Myracle
Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age
group

Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
Reasons: occult/satanism, religious viewpoint, and violence

Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
Reasons: occult/satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint,
sexually explicit, and violence

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: drugs, homosexuality, nudity, offensive language, sexually
explicit, suicide, and unsuited to age group


Gossip Girl
(series), by Cecily von Ziegesar
Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age
group


Uncle Bobby’s Wedding
, by Sarah S. Brannen
Reasons: homosexuality and unsuited to age group

The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group


Flashcards of My Life, by Charise Mericle Harper
Reasons: sexually explicit and unsuited to age group

Why look abroad when we still have slavery in the US?

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I have worked on human trafficking issued both in the US and abroad.  Clearly, my first run-in with the world of slavery and trafficking was as a Peace Corps volunteer in Moldova; however, domestic trafficking within the US and trafficking too the US are clearly on my radar.

When I studied trafficking in Chile, many people asked me why I focus on it in Chile when it is such a huge problem in the US.  Many others continued to give me a laundry list of other problems the US has.  I agree. They do. We do.  I have worked with victims in Missouri.  I have studied cases and case law from around the country.

And, today, I am sharing a piece by Nicolas Kristof on the plight of trafficked, prostituted, “thrown-away” girls in the US in the New York Times.

Op-Ed Columnist

Girls on Our Streets

By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

Published: May 6, 2009
ATLANTA

Jasmine Caldwell was 14 and selling sex on the streets when an opportunity arose to escape her pimp: an undercover policeman picked her up.

The cop could have rescued her from the pimp, who ran a string of 13 girls and took every cent they earned. If the cop had taken Jasmine to a shelter, she could have resumed her education and tried to put her life back in order.

Instead, the policeman showed her his handcuffs and threatened to send her to prison. Terrified, she cried and pleaded not to be jailed. Then, she said, he offered to release her in exchange for sex.

Afterward, the policeman returned her to the street. Then her pimp beat her up for failing to collect any money.

“That happens a lot,” said Jasmine, who is now 21. “The cops sometimes just want to blackmail you into having sex.”

I’ve often reported on sex trafficking in other countries, and that has made me curious about the situation here in the United States. Prostitution in America isn’t as brutal as it is in, say, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Cambodia and Malaysia (where young girls are routinely kidnapped, imprisoned and tortured by brothel owners, occasionally even killed). But the scene on American streets is still appalling — and it continues largely because neither the authorities nor society as a whole show much interest in 14-year-old girls pimped on the streets.

Americans tend to think of forced prostitution as the plight of Mexican or Asian women trafficked into the United States and locked up in brothels. Such trafficking is indeed a problem, but the far greater scandal and the worst violence involves American teenage girls.

If a middle-class white girl goes missing, radio stations broadcast amber alerts, and cable TV fills the air with “missing beauty” updates. But 13-year-old black or Latina girls from poor neighborhoods vanish all the time, and the pimps are among the few people who show any interest.

These domestic girls are often runaways or those called “throwaways” by social workers: teenagers who fight with their parents and are then kicked out of the home. These girls tend to be much younger than the women trafficked from abroad and, as best I can tell, are more likely to be controlled by force.

Pimps are not the business partners they purport to be. They typically take every penny the girls earn. They work the girls seven nights a week. They sometimes tattoo their girls the way ranchers brand their cattle, and they back up their business model with fists and threats.

“If you don’t earn enough money, you get beat,” said Jasmine, an African-American who has turned her life around with the help of Covenant House, an organization that works with children on the street. “If you say something you’re not supposed to, you get beat. If you stay too long with a customer, you get beat. And if you try to leave the pimp, you get beat.”

The business model of pimping is remarkably similar whether in Atlanta or Calcutta: take vulnerable, disposable girls whom nobody cares about, use a mix of “friendship,” humiliation, beatings, narcotics and threats to break the girls and induce 100 percent compliance, and then rent out their body parts.

It’s not solely violence that keeps the girls working for their pimps. Jasmine fled an abusive home at age 13, and she said she — like most girls — stayed with the pimp mostly because of his emotional manipulation. “I thought he loved me, so I wanted to be around him,” she said.

That’s common. Girls who are starved of self-esteem finally meet a man who showers them with gifts, drugs and dollops of affection. That, and a lack of alternatives, keeps them working for him — and if that isn’t enough, he shoves a gun in the girl’s mouth and threatens to kill her.

Solutions are complicated and involve broader efforts to overcome urban poverty, including improving schools and attempting to shore up the family structure. But a first step is to stop treating these teenagers as criminals and focusing instead on arresting the pimps and the customers — and the corrupt cops.

“The problem isn’t the girls in the streets; it’s the men in the pews,” notes Stephanie Davis, who has worked with Mayor Shirley Franklin to help coordinate a campaign to get teenage prostitutes off the streets.

Two amiable teenage prostitutes, working without a pimp for the “fast money,” told me that there will always be women and girls selling sex voluntarily. They’re probably right. But we can significantly reduce the number of 14-year-old girls who are terrorized by pimps and raped by many men seven nights a week. That’s doable, if it’s a national priority, if we’re willing to create the equivalent of a nationwide amber alert.

Is human trafficking a business??

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As usual, Kristof´s article Striking the Brothels´ Bottom Line, has been controversial and noticed.  I have received several emails and many facebook comments making sure that I had seen the article and asking what I thought.  I do suggest that you read the article yourself… but since my stats indicate that most readers won´t click away, here are some of the important pieces:

In trying to figure out how we can defeat sex trafficking, a starting point is to think like a brothel owner.

I just returned again to Ms. Khorn’s brothel to interview her, and found something remarkable. It had gone broke and closed, like many of the brothels in Poipet. One lesson is that the business model is more vulnerable than it looks. There are ways we can make enslaving girls more risky and less profitable, so that traffickers give up in disgust.

About half the brothels in Poipet seem to have gone out of business in the last couple of years. After Ms. Khorn’s brothel closed, her daughter-in-law took four of the prostitutes to staff a new brothel, but it’s doing poorly and she is thinking of starting a rice shop instead. “A store would be more profitable,” grumbled the daughter-in-law, Sav Channa.

“The police come almost every day, asking for $5,” she said. “Any time a policeman gets drunk, he comes and asks for money. … Sometimes I just close up and pretend that this isn’t a brothel. I say that we’re all sisters.”

Ms. Channa, who does not seem to be imprisoning anyone against her will, readily acknowledged that some other brothels in Poipet torture girls, enslave them and occasionally beat them to death. She complained that their cruelty gives them a competitive advantage.

I think this article brings up such an important piece that is often left out of both discussion of human trafficking and analysis of human trafficking: this is a business. People are making money, buying and selling other people they way stockbrokers buy and sell stocks over the internet.

This point is something I have discussed at length with K, who wrote a great guest post for me way back when on trafficking in Canada.

One of my continuing critiques of Kristof’s work is that he doesn’t highlight labor trafficking.  He focuses solely on sex trafficking.  Yes, I understand that sex sells. Yes, I understand that this story is more “glamorous”.  Yes, I understand that one reporter can’t do it all. Still, so often labor trafficking gets overlooked.  However, my point is the same, labor trafficking is a business. It continues because it is profitable. 

All too often, for example in Chile, all interventions focus on preventing trafficking by raising awareness or economic development of potential victims or treating victims after the fact.  Too few organizations, interventions, laws, or initiatives directly attack the labor practices, the business model. 

The DOL is creating a list of companies that use child labor and trafficked child labor; however, I still do not know how to get my hands on this document.  When I do, I will post it!  This, I think, if widely available could be a possible way to directly affect the business model as it might make people think before buying a product thus reducing profitability.

What other ways could we directly effect profitability of business models that promote/ use trafficked persons?