My Celebrity Sighting at #Berks2014

I have a new post up at Nursing Clio about the Berkshire 2014 conference.  Since the post was getting rather long, I had to condense my celebrity sighting story.  Here’s the full version for others who might find it interesting:


The high point for me came on the last day of the conference on Sunday morning.  I feel sympathy for those assigned the Sunday morning time slots: they are usually sparsely attended because people are in the process of leaving, have already left, or are sleeping in after the big Saturday night dance.

[Yes, there is a dance at the Berkshire Conference.  As @Leah Wiener tweeted, “ is where you dance with the people you cited for your comprehensive exams.”]

My roommate was chairing a Sunday session on “Exploring the History of Abortion Through Film,” so skipping the session would have been a major faux pas.  Before the session started I made a trip to the washroom.  This being a conference where female attendees far outnumbered male ones, there was a long line outside the women’s room (and yes some of us did invade the nearly empty men’s room).  I engaged in small talk with the young woman ahead of me in line. I knew I recognized her from somewhere but couldn’t quite place her.  Perhaps she was a former student or someone I met at another conference?  Once I saw her name tag it all came together.  Here’s a picture of her (via the conference website):

66ème Festival de Venise (Mostra)

Yes, that’s right, I was in line with   I’ve been a fan of hers for quite some time — I especially loved her luminous performance in “My Life Without Me.” Rather than being a total geek, I kept my cool and said, “oh you’re the filmmaker, that’s why you look so familiar.” She said modestly, “yes, that’s right, I’m trying to make a session on the history of abortion” — the very same session my friend was chairing! [BTW, this was not the first time I spotted a celebrity in the women’s room — back when I was in graduate school, I saw Natalie Merchant prior to a performance by 10,ooo Maniacs.  That time I said nothing since she was about to go onstage and clearly did not want to be sidetracked by a fan!.]

Polley was at the conference for a screening and Q & A for her film “Stories We Tell.” Unfortunately I missed the screening in order to attend a friend’s session.  According to the Berkshire Conference backchannel on Twitter (#Berks2014), the screening was a huge success.  Here are some tweets from @BerksConference:

“Polley: because the film is about storytelling, I thought it was important to include my process as a storyteller.”

“Polley introduces the film, thanks us for applauding at news she’s adapting [Margaret] Atwood’s “’Alias Grace.’”

I can’t wait to see what Polley does with this book.  Atwood is one of my favorite authors and Alias Grace is one of her best works. Based on what I’ve seen of her previous work, I’m certain Polley will do a better job of adapting that novel than Volker Schlöndorff did with “The Handmaid’s Tale.”  Let’s hope Polley’s film version of Alias Grace is ready for the next Big Berks Conference.

Now, Polley could have been a prima donna: she easily could have made an appearance for her film screening and then left. Instead, she decided to be a real conference participant.  She stayed for the whole thing and attended other sessions, including one on Sunday morning featuring another feminist filmmaker. Because that’s what feminists do.  They support each others’ work. I think this is a sign that the Berkshire Conference has succeeded in its efforts to reach beyond the academy and appeal to a wider audience interested in women’s history.

Sorry Ms Magazine, “We Are Water” is not a Feminist Read

via Ms Magazine Blog, where columnist  included We Are Water by Wally Lamb in a list of 25 feminist reads for the holidays.  Here is Little’s explanation:

“Male feminist Lamb’s novel is rooted in the upheaval of an already divided family after the matriarch, Annie Oh, decides to marry another woman, Viveca. Set in the first years of the Obama presidency, the book explores race and cultural inclusion as well as themes of family and childhood abuse.”

When I read this, I was in the middle of reading We Are Water for my book club.  In the comments of Little’s post, I wrote, “Wally Lamb might be a male feminist but so far I’m not seeing anything feminist about “We Are Water.” It’s also painfully bad to read. I’m half way through reading it for my book club and am going to have to force myself to read the rest of it.”

Since this was a book club selection, and I pride myself on finishing a book before our meetings I slogged through the rest of Lamb’s novel.   Now that I’m done, I can’t figure out why Little considers it a feminist read.  Maybe it’s because the main character Annie Oh leaves her husband for a woman.  However, this lesbian relationship isn’t feminist to me — Viveca is just as domineering and patronizing, if not more so, than Annie’s ex-husband. Their relationship seems based mostly on money (Viveca’s) and celebrity (Annie’s), not love or affection.

Or maybe it’s because Annie is an “angry woman” who uses art as her outlet.  But the descriptions in the book just sound like bad art, not feminist art.  For example, Annie had a meltdown while trying to decide between the dresses Viveca chose for her to wear to the wedding. Rather than deciding, Annie threw red wine all over the dresses and Viveca’s designer dress as well, then made up for this by calling it art.  Barf!

Perhaps it’s because Annie is a survivor of incest.  Yet her survival tactics include beating the crap out of her son.  That’s not feminist — it’s horrible.

So, in short, this not a feminist read in my opinion.  It’s not even a good read.  The characters are one-dimensional and only one (not Annie) is remotely likeable.  One of my fellow book clubbers likened it to a bad first draft by a mediocre writing student or aspiring author.  Lamb really phoned it in this time.

Our next book club selection — The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd — also made Little’s list.  Now, this is a feminist read!  (It’s hard for a book about the abolitionist Grimke sisters not to be).

Signal Boost: Speakout against age restrictions on over-the-counter #emergencycontraception #fem2

MAP flyer final-2via National Women’s Liberation.  The New York chapter of NWL will hold a speakout on January 22, 2013, in front of the Health and Human Services office at 26 Federal Plaza, New York, NY, to demand unrestricted access to the Morning-After Pill.  According to their press release, “we are holding our speakout on the anniversary of Roe v Wade because we believe that all women and girls should have access to all tools that enable us to control our reproductive lives.”

Members of this group have been fighting against age restrictions on over-the-counter emergency contraception since January 2004, when they “led the Morning-After Pill Conspiracy Coalition to show the injustice of the restriction on the MAP and to show that woman are the real experts when it comes to birth control.  On February 15, 2004, we began a civil disobedience campaign where 4,500 women signed a pledge promising to give a friend the MAP in defiance of the FDA’s prescription only requirement.  In January 2005, nine if us were arrest’s at the FDA’s headquarters as part of a larger protest of the FDA’s inaction.”

It’s nice to see the return of this group of activists. As I describe in my book.  the Morning-After Pill Conspiracy was inspired by the grassroots activism of the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s: In an interview, one of the group’s founders, Annie Tummino said,  “We speak out and engage in civil disobedience. Our goal is to send the message that women are the experts on our bodies and lives.” MAPC used a variety of direct-action techniques to protest the FDA and the Bush Administration’s stance on emergency contraception. They held consciousness-raising sessions; speak outs in major cities; and committed various acts of civil disobedience including passing along emergency contraceptive kits to women without a prescription.

march4-04fMost emblematic of their ties to Second Wave feminist organizing were their actions at the March for Women’s Lives Washington, DC on April 25, 2004. The group held a mini-rally where a dozen women “testified about rushing around trying to get the Morning-After Pill after a condom broke during sex, about the prohibitive costs associated with a doctor’s visit, and about the tragicomic idea that anyone can get a doctor’s appointment in twenty-four hours, especially starting on a Friday or Saturday night.” In defiance of “unjust” prescription laws, the group flung boxes of Plan B® into the crowd. They also invited spectators “to join them in signing the Morning After Pill Conspiracy pledge to defy the prescription requirement (and break the law) by giving a friend the Morning-After Pill whenever she needs it.”

A group of physicians from the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals’ Reproductive Health Access Project contributed to this display of feminist direct action by bringing their prescription pads and freely writing prescriptions for emergency contraception for any woman who wanted one. According to MAPC member Jenny Brown, these doctors “were illustrating a point which was repeated over and over in the FDA’s advisory hearings–no physical evaluation or instruction from medical professionals is needed to safely and effectively use this medication.” Members of MAPC declared they “were proud to follow in the footsteps of feminists like Margaret Sanger, who passed out information on birth control when it was illegal to do so, and suffragists who were arrested for voting, to showcase how unjust the laws were.” Like the feminist activists who protested against the abuse of women subjects during the 1970s, MAPC members held a sit-in at FDA headquarters in January of 2005, where nine of their members were arrested for blocking access to the FDA, “just like they were blocking women’s access to birth control.”

Members of the MAPC members then filed a lawsuit, Tummino, et al. v. Hamburg with the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, and National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.  From the lawsuit and feminist organizing, the FDA agreed to approve Plan B for women 18 and older without a prescription, in August 2006.  In March 2009- the FDA was ordered to make Plan B available to 17 year olds and to review its decision to deny a “Citizen’s Petition” filed by 60+ women’s health and rights organizations.  In February 2012, the MAPC took the FDA back to court based on its continued failure to act on removing scientifically unsupported restrictions on the MAP.

To support these efforts of NWL, you can attend the rally, sign their petition demanding the FDA and HHS to stop carding for emergency contraception, “like” them on Facebook, and forward their press release to other activists.

Day of Action on Emergency Contraception #ECOTC

Last year, I wrote of my disappointment that HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius overruled the FDA’s decision to make emergency contraception available over-the-counter with no age restrictions.

The Reproductive Health Technologies Project has started a campaign to convince Secretary Sibelius to reconsider her decision.  Their goal is to deliver a petition with at least 50,000 signatures to Secretary Sibelius on December 7th.  The petition reads:

“Women’s health, including the ability to determine the timing and spacing of pregnancies, should not be subject to politics. After more than a decade of medical research, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determined emergency contraception (EC) is effective and safe enough for access without restriction. Doctors recognize EC as an important component of reproductive health care, allowing women a second chance to prevent pregnancy when a primary contraceptive method fails. In December 2011, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled the FDA and restricted access to EC. We urge Secretary Sebelius to revisit the evidence and remove the restrictions, placing women’s reproductive health above politics.”

If you agree, sign the petition.

What’s a campus feminist to do about Pinky Promise?

On my way into the office today I saw the poster at left on the wall in my building.  One of my students notified me that she has seen a similar poster in her dormitory.

Since I didn’t know much about the organization, I consulted their  website:

Pinky Promise is…

A promise to honor God with your body and your life. To refuse to give your body to anyone that hasn’t paid the price for you called marriage. It’s a promise to stay pure before God in EVERY single way. It’s a promise that says, I won’t test the boundaries in my relationship to see how far I can push it sexually–but instead–I want God to have my heart.
It’s a promise to God that you will honor your marriage convenant [sic]. It’s saying that I promise not to step outside of my marriage, cheat on my spouse and that I’ll work through every issue.
Thanks for joining Pinky Promise. Find a group or start a group in your area, and lets encourage each other and build a bond between sisters in Christ.
Here’s my dilemma:  I understand the desire to reach out to all women, regardless of faith traditions.  However, I also share a lot of the concerns raised in this post by

“On the surface it seems to be teaching good values: value yourself, don’t cheat, love God. Yet, I don’t know where to begin.  The program seems to be teaching abstinence only sex education focused around the purity myth. According to this, you can love and value yourself, but only on the basis of your virginity.  This extends not only to how you view your own self worth, but how your family views you (as you are making a promise to your father-or other male relative) and worst of all how God sees you. Tying this organization into religion is what stuns me. I do not believe religion is an evil and even if I did this would not be the place to insert my own religious views. I bring religion into this dialogue because  in this instance religion is being used as a means of control to oppress women.

The religious aspect of virginity is all part of a power game by the male dominated religious leaders who read and interpret religious texts through an oppressive lens and then let their interpretations trickle down to those of their faith as the word of God.

At its core though, the Pinky Promise movement is just another way to deny women the right to own their sexuality. For a woman, sex is for making babies not for pleasure. For men it is just the opposite. Which brings me to the point that Pinky Promise is not against sex: if they were they would have both men and women pledge to be chaste. Instead this is just for women. Women having sex is apparently a scary thing. It is, according to such abstinence only pledges, the woman’s role to keep both her own desires under control (because she obviously has a lower sex drive than a man-not in fact true) and control the man’s desires as well. From this flawed logic, it is her fault if she has sex, or is raped because it is her worth on the line and her responsibility to keep herself  pure until marriage. Why this purity matters and why virginity is being used as a test of morality is never explained.

In addition, the entire organization only accounts for straight Christian girls. What about bisexuals? lesbians? If the logic is that women must be pure until marriage, what about those who can’t legally get married and where sex is considered to be something different than male-female intercourse? What about asexuals? By these ideas are we just eternally moral or is there a point where we become to old to stay the chaste virgin? What about Jews? Muslims? Buddhists? Hindus? Are we not all women and therefore all under this umbrella of purity?

There are too many unanswered questions. In addition Pinky Promise has a limited scope and is not fostering communication with God as they claim. They are instead communicating with the patriarchy to keep women uninformed about their sexuality and using the principles of Christianity to enforce this control.

I have written to Pinky Promise but they have not gotten back to me. I will write again. I’ll talk to the organization’s leaders on campus and open up a dialogue. I only ask that you speak out as well. Be informed and be proud of your sexuality. Women are not less sexual than men, no matter what lies we are told to keep us quiet and chaste.”

Opening up a dialogue sounds like a good idea.  The meeting was scheduled to be held at our campus Women’s Center but was cancelled because of Hurricane Sandy.   My student wrote to our Women’s Center director about this but hasn’t heard back yet.  Meanwhile, what do others think of this organization?

Update from Women’s Center Director:

Please know  the Center does not discriminate against women, the various views of women, we welcome all men and women to the Center. We encourage dialogue of opposing views and would be happy to engage you in dialogue with the facilitate for Pinky Promise.  We support and defend the Mission of the Center. We support and defend ” Our Doors are Open’ statement.


The Ruthe Boyea Women’s Center exists to provide resources, to advocate, to inform, and to support personal development. The Center offers a variety of services for and about women. We sponsor educational and cultural programs designed to promote gender equity, knowledge of women’s rights issues, leadership, and independence. We encourage understanding and cooperation among women of varied socio-economic groups, cultures, ethnic backgrounds, races and sexual orientations.  We welcome all women and men who enter our doors.

Our Doors Are Open
The Center is open to all of CCSU’s community, men and women. The Women’s Center values and celebrates the multiplicity of women’s lives; recognizes the intersections of gender, race, sexual orientation, economic status, and other significant aspects of individual and cultural identity; accepts responsibility for opposing injustice; and commits itself to service to the University and larger communities.

Women of all backgrounds can drop in and help one another grow towards personal effectiveness and independence.  We encourage understanding and coming together of women of varied cultures, races and ethnicities, as well as different sexual orientations, socio-economic groups and ages.  Our Center is for and about women so that both women and men are welcome to drop in and use our resources, attend activities or just hang out.”

I just love it when a guy mansplains feminism for me

via Chronicle of Higher Education, in which Marc Bousquet mansplains what’s wrong with academic feminism.  The article starts out well by outlining the “normalization and feminization” of  contigent faculty in higher education.  Whose to blame for this?  Why the feminists of course!

“What’s mainstream academic feminism’s response to this situation? A cry for “comparable worth” evaluation of paychecks across disciplines, so that faculty positions with similar responsibilities, qualifications, and skill sets are similarly paid? No, most academic feminism subscribes to a version of the pipeline thesis.

Well, is academic feminism at least burning with outraged solidarity at all of the women shunted disproportionately into contingent positions? Again, no: Most female contingent-faculty leaders I know are bitter at the hilariously narrow version of women’s solidarity practiced by tenured feminists. “Why should I make common cause with beaker cleaners?” one lecturer quoted a tenured female scientist as saying when asked to support fair evaluation for contract renewal of Ph.D.-holding female lecturers on her campus. Female lecturers teaching lower-division required courses are commonly the targets of sexist evaluation by students and experience discriminatory employment outcomes as a result. According to many female lecturers, all too often the tenured feminists have nothing to say. At nearly every college I’ve ever visited, the women’s faculty group was a more comfortable home for female administrators than for female faculty serving contingently.

In some ways, of course, the influx of women into higher education is a feminist achievement to be celebrated. It is obviously better to have lots of women in college rather than, say, prison. But in the steadily more gendered exploitation of graduate assistants, undergraduate workers, outsourcing, debt peonage, and so on, higher education is deserving of critical scrutiny.

In an increasingly authoritarian national, corporate, and educational culture—producing ever more feminized workplace cultures and ever more masculinized leadership cultures—what sort of leadership should we ask from academic feminists?

On the one hand, there’s nothing wrong with the fact that many academic feminists hope to place more women in campus administration. It is common for organizational-sociology studies to find that more women in senior administration tends to have a modest impact on gender equity, particularly in terms of hiring more female assistant professors.

On the other hand, it may be even more urgent to remedy the low involvement of academic feminists in AAUP, the labor movement, academic unionism, and solidarity movements with female faculty (not to mention female staff). ”

Christ on a cracker — what planet does this guy live on?  There are plenty of feminists involved in AAUP and other campus organizations dedicated to gender equity and other social justice issues. Doesn’t he at least read the Chronicle’s own Tenured Radical?  Grr, this makes steam come out of my ears!

Signal Boost: Our Bodies, Our Votes Campaign

From Judy Norsigian:

Our Bodies Ourselves has just launched : OUR BODIES, OUR VOTES.

The goal of this campaign is to retain and restore women’s access to reproductive health care and rights, now under attack in almost every state across the country.

Please read our press release, which quotes both Dr. Marcia Angell, former editor-in-chief of The New England Journal of Medicine, and Dr. Timothy RB Johnson. Both are medical leaders who are deeply troubled by recent trends to undermine the provision of evidence-based reproductive health care and the doctor/patient relationship.

The Our Bodies, Our Votes campaign includes: 

* Our Bodies, Our Votes bumper stickers. Order stickers here with a donation to OBOS:  — only $10 for 3 stickers!

*, with information on contraception and abortion, plus news and activist resources and free virtual stickers you can add to your blog or social media.

*, where everyone can post and view photos of Our Bodies, Our Votes stickers appearing across the country.

I hope you will join us in spreading the word by forwarding this email to friends and colleagues who care about women’s access to reproductive health care, and by sharing the links with your networks. If you’re on Twitter, here’s the campaign hashtag: #obov2012

Finally, please make a donation to support our ongoing work to preserve access to reproductive health care.

Thanks, as always, for your support and for your own efforts to improve reproductive health care for all.


Best wishes,

P.S. To stay up to date with OBOS news, sign up here (with options about how often you will be contacted):

P.P.S.  As some of you may know already, the Library of Congress included “Our Bodies, Ourselves” in its new exhibition of Books That Shaped America, and Time magazine named the book one of the 100 best and most influential nonfiction English books written since 1923.  The 2011 edition has received critical acclaim and was selected by Library Journal as one of the eight best consumer health books of the year.

If you want to earmark a generous donation towards a new initiative to get this book into the hands of 10,000 young college-age students, please contact me directly. Thanks so much for your interest and support!

Judy Norsigian, Executive Director

Our Bodies Ourselves

5 Upland Rd, Suite 3

Cambridge, MA 02140

tel: 617-245-0200 x11  fax: 617-245-0201




Happy Belated 40th Birthday to #TitleIX

Last Saturday was the 40th anniversary of Title IX. To celebrate the National Women’s Law Center had a blog carnival of stories about how Title IX has helped shape women’s and girls’ experiences in the classroom and in athletics.  So, here’s my story, a little late.

I came of age just as Title IX was coming into effect. My first recollection of something having to do with this from 7th or 8th grade, when there was an announcement that girls could try out for Little League.  Of course I had no idea at that time what Title IX was and since my baseball skills were poor to non-existent, I had no interest in trying out for the team. I was active in other sports and was best at ones that didn’t involve balls or sticks — i.e. swimming (in summer) and cross-country and track during the school year.  I wasn’t the best athlete but did show enough determination to be receive “most improved track athlete” my senior year.  Athletics definitely helped make me more confident as a high school student and also helped me deal with the stress of adolescence.  I also developed a life-long interest in fitness and a healthy lifestyle.  Now I mostly bike, run, or swim for fun, although I do attempt the occasional triathlon.  I’m also a women’s history professor, so I get to teach students about the importance of Title IX not just for athletics but for educational equality as a whole.  We still have  a ways to go but look how far we’ve come. Thanks Title IX for helping improve the minds and bodies of girls and women in the U.S.