Why Jodie Foster’s Golden Globe Speech Matters

Jodie Foster’s Golden Globe speech matters not just because she “came out” as a lesbian – which she actually did in 2007 – but because people need role models on how to live as a complex human beings in mid-life.

In particular, for instance, adults who are now divorced or separated are in desperate need for role models on how to separate and divorce with dignity and mutual respect. I mean, think about it: how many divorced couples – gay or straight – do you know who call each other their “BFF” (“best friend forever” for those unfamiliar with texting shorthand)? How many divorced couples do you know who stand up at ANY public function and publicly acknowledge the importance of the support of their ex-partners in their own current success? For that matter, how many divorced couples do you know who (and this is the most important part) even manage to co-parent well?

Divorced parents too – both straight and LGBT – need role models on how to go forward in life as co-parents. Those of us who have been through a failed marriage – whether a same-sex marriage or a heterosexual one – understand the mourning involved. We understand that there are times when you find yourself on the floor in fetal position, sobbing and making wounded animal noises. If you are also divorced parent, you know that, even in those times, you have to pick yourself up off the floor and get your act together to provide emotional security for your children. It is easy and seductive to want to blame, to want to make the other person the bad one. However, when we are honest with ourselves, we admit that it takes two for a marriage to fail – and that sometimes indeed it is for the best and the greater good for all involved.

As the now ex-wife of a rather prominent figure within the LGBT community, I greatly appreciated Ms. Foster taking the time to honor her ex-partner and co-parent for the emotional support she has provided her through the years. Rather than critique her for “rambling”, I celebrate Ms. Foster for providing a role model of how to acknowledge that our most intimate relationships are substantial and life-altering, even after they transition. I know that my ex-partner and I aspire to do this – but it’s not easy. It takes work. It takes integrity. It takes commitment to the goal of doing so. It isn’t something that comes naturally for most people.

Ms. Foster also spoke to and about her mother, who suffers from dementia. As a caregiver for my father with dementia, I felt deeply her pain and her love when she spoke to and about her mother. I also felt less alone. She made visible an invisible role that many of us in middle age find ourselves in out of necessity rather than choice. And there are millions of us. If she spoke longer or more specifically about anything, I would have had her speak to the need for support for caregivers for those with dementia and the complete lack of access to such support unless one is extremely wealthy (a local care home near where I live costs $80K a year – and that’s not even for the highest level of care).

Some people within the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community are critiquing Ms. Foster’s speech by saying she didn’t come out explicitly enough. My point of view is a bit different. Not because I underestimate the need for role models for LGBT youth, I understand the need well and have worked for over 20 years in various capacities to serve as one myself and to promote the visibility of others.

But it’s not only children and teens who need role models. We all do. Adults too.

In short, Ms. Foster’s speech was a speech given by a whole and complex human being – a woman, a mother, a co-parent, an ex-wife, a daughter, a caregiver, a middle-aged adult and a true grown up – not a one-dimensional poster-child for any particular community. If people expected that from her, then that’s their problem, not her’s.

Brava, Jodie, brava.

Graffiti in Jeddah #Saudi Arabia of #SarahAttar Running in the Olympics

Image

Images matter.

As I projected would happen in my piece in which I interviewed women in Saudi about the participation of two Saudi women in the 2012 Olympics, the image of Sarah Attar running in the Olympics is now being used in both overt and subversive ways to empower women within the Kingdom.

Ignorance About Women’s Bodies as Part of Rape Culture

Another example of how rape culture manifests in our society:

This is an argument used in all sincerity by a man arguing against women’s reproductive freedom and control over their bodies at all times, in all ways.

It illustrates the perspective there is a distinction between different “types” of rapes or different situations – use of “legitimate” implies there are “illegitimate” rapes. As such, it casts automatic doubt upon a woman who reports a rape.

The remark also illustrates something that no news media are exploring: the absolutely stunning level of ignorance about women’s bodies and how our bodies function. Why does such ignorance exists? Why does a woman as powerful as Oprah feel compelled to refer to a vulvas using an immature euphemism? Why, even when people attempt to use accurate terminology, do they use “vagina” instead of vulva? Again, it’s part of a culture that makes women’s bodies relevant only in relation to how they are connected (literally in this case) to men’s.

Perhaps you yourself are even unaware of accurate terms for a woman’s sexual and reproductive organs. If so, let’s fix that now:

Vulva = The external genital organs of a woman’s body, including her labia minora and labia majora (inner lips and outer lips, respectively), her clitoris, her urethra and the external opening of her vagina.

Vagina = Secret powerful dark cave with teeth inside, capable of biting off men’s penises and preventing sperm from legitimate rape from reaching the egg.

Just kidding.

Vagina = The muscular tube leading to the cervix of a woman’s uterus and connected to muscles that make up her pelvic floor. A vagina is a potential space. It is not an open tube that remains open at all times, but rather a sheath that largely closes upon itself except during sexual activity, childbirth or, on occasion, certain physical activities. An example of when is yoga involving positions stretching a woman’s legs and torso. This sometimes resulting in the vagina opening a bit, air entering, then air being expelled when the woman changes position. This process is notoriously referred to as “vaginal fart” or “queef” (although what is expelled is air only, not gaseous waste as is the case in anal farts).

Clitoris = Nerve and erectile tissue located at the junction of the labia minora and inclusive of both the glans (or head) of the clitoris and the nerves that extend down inside the woman’s labia. The glans of the clitoris contains more nerve endings than any other part of the human body and is covered by a triangular-shaped sheath or hood of protective skin. Women’s clitorises vary in size, but the glans of of a woman’s clitoris is generally the size of a small, medium or large pea.

Urethra = The small opening located between the clitoris and the vagina. The urethra is the outer opening of the ureter, the tube which extends to the woman’s bladder and through which urine is passed.

Now you know – do your part to change our culture and pass the information forward.

.@DolceGabbana Endorsing Gang Rape?

This is an example of the influence of the media, fashion and advertising industries in the creation and maintenance of a culture of rape. When we see these images – men, women, boys, girls – we become numbed to the violence inherent in the content. This numbness makes people take actual rape less seriously and diminishes women and girls’ ability to pay attention to their internal system of fear signals when they are in unsafe situations.

What are your thoughts and reactions?

Let Dolce & Gabbana know what you think via Facebook athttps://www.facebook.com/DolceGabbana or via Twitter @dolcegabbana or in the US via Dolce&Gabbana USA Inc., 9/F, 148 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10013, Tel. + 1 212 7500055 or in Italy via Communication & PR, Via Broggi, 23, 20129 Milan, Tel. +39 02 2772771

“The Question” – Male Privilege & Rape Culture Illustrated

Confused about what terms like “male privilege” and “rape culture” mean? This piece is an excellent anecdote that when read by a woman and when read by a man will likely be experienced very differently. Experiential learning is the kind most likely to stick with us in the long run. I highly recommend “The Question”.

Read it. Share it. If you are a woman, discuss it with your male friends and partners and talk with them about how rape culture impacts your life (where you park your car, where you walk, when you go places alone, where you don’t go alone…).

If you have been a victim of sexual violence, please note that this piece might be triggering for you. It is not explicit in any way, but be gentle with yourself if you choose to read it.

Saudi Women Speak Out

During the Olympics, some good articles were written about the meaning and impact of the presence of women from Saudi Arabia in the 2012 London Olympics. However, if you read the headlines only (as many people do) you’d be likely to come away believing that the participation of 16 year old Wojdan Shaherkani and 19 year old Sarah Attar meant little to the women within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Just check out these examples:

“Saudis Greet Olympic First With a Shrug”

“Saudi Arabia media ignores historic Olympic Games of female athletes”

“Saudi Women’s Olympics Debut ‘Means Very Little’ for Gender Equality, Experts Say”

“Saudi Women in the Olympics: Breakthrough or Tokenism?”

“An Olympic first for Muslim women? Not really”

Those headlines contrast greatly with the comments from a randomly selected number of women in Saudi Arabia (solicited via a query on Twitter) whom I interviewed via email and instant messaging for this piece. All of the women gave permission to use their real names, which, given the politically volatile nature of women’s rights in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, is in itself a statement about how much this subject means to them.

When I asked an engineering professional named Ghada Al-Khars about what seeing Sarah and Wojdan in the Opening Ceremonies meant to her, she said, “I was proud. They were living the dream I wanted to live…I wished I could participate. I was a short distance runner in high school, and my dream was to run in the Olympics.”

Another woman who volunteered to be interviewed, Najla Hariri, responded, “I was so proud of those ladies! But it is a bit pathetic [in terms of how it reflects on Saudi Arabia] that they are going to participate in [sports activities] they cannot practice in their own country!” She also commented, “Saudi society is divided in two parts: one is very excited and encouraging and the other is objecting and cursing. Both parts are waiting for what will happen next.”

A 26 year old woman named Ghadah Hamidi told me, “I was really excited; it felt a bit surreal. I was a bit disappointed they were tailing the group…Nevertheless, it was a proud moment for all Saudi women. When it finally came time for them to compete, we all knew that athletically they weren’t exactly ready. They weren’t particularly aiming for the gold, but the fact that they had the courage to compete regardless of [their relative lack of preparation] is admirable. I was thrilled when I saw the Saudi flag listed with all the other countries during the games!”

When I followed up asking her about her response to seeing the standing ovation that Sarah Attar received after finishing her race, she exclaimed, “The global support for them was thrilling and joyful to watch! They are champions in our eyes, but the global reaction was astonishing! They represented a model of Saudi women that needed to be seen: a strong courageous and determined woman. I was proud to witness that. They broke a major barrier, and they made history, and for that they deserve all the international enthusiasm and support.”

Asking the women about what the participation of the women might mean for the future of the Kingdom revealed that this small, random sample of Saudi women were not naive about the political challenges ahead. Saudi blogger and activist Eman Al Nafjan said “short term the only effect [the participation of women] will have is to get the dialogue going within Saudi.” However, she also cautioned about potential backlash, saying, “I think that this step will make the ultra conservatives extremely sensitive to any initiatives to start physical education in girls’ public schools.”

Najla Hariri also brought up the issue of allowing girls to play school sports but had a more hopeful view, “[The] Saudi government approved girls’ sports in schools but they didn’t say when they are going to start. The decision itself gives women and girls a hope for the future. I think the presence of those ladies in London and all the discussion will lead the society to accept girls’ sports sooner or later, no matter what the religious trends are.” Ghada Hamidi reflected, “Having women in the Olympics team has certainly given me hope for more progressive changes with regards to Saudi women in the near future. I hope this will change the current situation particularly for women in sports since they lack proper facilities, official domestic competitions in addition to prohibiting sports in public schools.”

When queried about what larger impact the participation of the two young Saudi women in these Olympics might have, Ghada Al-Khars responded, “I hope, if anything, this would make women more aware of their rights and prompt them to push for reform.” Ghada Hamidi voiced similar hopes, “The future generations of women should feel empowered enough now to know that their gender should no longer be a factor if they want to pursue sports professionally, whether locally or by representing the country in international competitions. That said, I hope that empowering women in sports would transcend to other more pressing issues related to the status of women in the Kingdom.”

Importantly, some of the women interviewed made comments they wished not be attributed to them individually about how, when it came to Olympic participation, the men of Saudi Arabia were for once dependent on the women and how this international pressure resulted in a positive step forward for the Kingdom.

Finally, if you have any doubt about whether the women and girls of Saudi Arabia were paying attention to what happened in London, check out the final photo in this wonderful photo essay by Saudi Arabian blogger and journalist Ahmed Al Omran.

The images of two strong, courageous young Saudi women athletes will forever exist as part of Saudi history. If you listen to the voices of the women interviewed herein, you can hear that a bell of hope and expectation has been rung – a bell that cannot be unrung within the hearts and minds of the women and girls of Saudi Arabia. Time will tell if the leaders of the Kingdom heard it as well.