Posts Tagged With: feminism


I developed young.

Let’s be clear: I mean breasts.  I developed breasts at a young age.  Before I graduated from middle school, I was already a C-cup and it only got worse from there.

I say “worse” because I felt bad about it.  I remember performing with a church musical group around then and being devastated when I needed the large shirt we were all wearing while the other girls wore smalls.  One girl specifically made me feel awful – not because of anything she did, but because I had been trying to live up to her beauty and talent for months.  To console me, someone said, “She may be tiny, but she’ll probably never be endowed like you.”  It just made me feel worse.  It had been ingrained in me that breasts were bad because they were automatically inappropriate and I should never do anything to draw attention to them.

Still performing a year later, I wore an outfit that made me feel good.  It was a graphic tee that said “You know you love me” and a black silk vest that buttoned directly under the words.  I thought it made my waist look tiny, but one of the leaders pulled me aside before the service.  She took me into the bathroom and had me look in a mirror.  “You shouldn’t wear this,” she said.  “See how the words draw attention to your chest?  And then the vest frames it?  It’s not modest.”

I started wearing over-sized t-shirts after that.  Any fitted shirt would call attention to my chest.

This is the environment I grew up in and “Nipplegate” didn’t help.

A lot of people in my social group don’t seem to remember this but I do.  Not seeing it – I don’t really watch football – but hearing about it.  The next day, no one was talking about the game or the commercials.  It was all about the halftime show, about Justin Timberlake ripping Janet Jackson’s top off on live, national television.

I didn’t listen to popular music at the time (not in a hipster way, I was just strictly a country girl), so I didn’t know who she was and only recognized him from my school girl crush back when he was in N’Sync, but I knew it was bad.  Maybe some people blamed him but that wasn’t the impression I got at the time.  I couldn’t articulate it then, but I figured it out as I got older.  It was her own fault for having breasts.

I’ve come a long way since then.  Every other aspect of my body has the ability to give me a massive case of insecurity and self-hatred at a moment’s notice, but I have accepted my breasts as neutral, as a way to feed my future children (if I have them), and a place to hold my phone when I have no pockets.  No outfit makes them look big, they just are big.  And it’s okay.  It doesn’t automatically make me slutty or immodest.  It just is.

Fourteen years later, Justin Timberlake is performing at halftime again and I have no idea what’s become of Janet Jackson.  Some research suggests she’s been blacklisted from the Super Bowl and otherwise lost her career.  It also suggests that the incident inspired the founding of YouTube, proving that society wants to shame her while still profiting from her exposure.  As a woman who has fought for years to accept a natural part of my body while dealing with men I don’t know sexualizing me because of it, it angers and frustrates me that Jackson suffered so much from her exposure while Timberlake has been allowed to move on entirely and was even welcomed back to the Super Bowl.

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I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghost

I’m nostalgic about a lot of things, but typically not movies.  When I first heard they were rebooting Ghostbusters, I had no interest.  When I found out it would star Leslie Jones, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Kristen Wiig, that was a different story.

There is one glaring problem I want to address first: I’m still bothered that Patty Tolan (Jones) is the only black woman in the film.  She is a great character-strong, smart, and funny-but as women gain better media representation, we’ve GOT to do better about including women of color.

That aside, I’d definitely see this movie again.

There were two ways I worried it would go sideways.  First, as a reboot, they could have relied on nostalgia and old jokes to get by.  But Katie Dippold and Paul Feig have written a new story that can stand on its own merit.  There’s a creepy Big-Bad, a meddling government, and an actual plotline.  The references to the original are obvious enough that even someone like me (who only saw it once and has an awful memory) can recognize them, but they’re not overused.  Each one is well-placed, clever, AND fun.  It’s the perfect balance between old and new.

I was also worried it would be a “fake feminist” movie, calling itself progressive because it had cast women without actually bothering to develop them as characters.  But each of the women is unique, lovable, and still flawed.  They’re strong characters without being the same type of Strong Female Character™, which would have been easy to do in a movie about women kicking ass.  They each bring something to the story, and their friendship is important to them and the narrative which gives it an emotional depth I was not expecting.

But overall, it’s just a lot of fun.

My main concern was that they wouldn’t put any effort into it, but they did and it shows.  There were a lot of women working to create this story; it shows in how well-developed the characters are and how non-degrading and accessible the humor is (which shouldn’t be that big an accomplishment, but here we are).  It was also made with a lot of love for the original while still being open to telling new stories.  Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd both got to join in the fun without overpowering the stars.

If you loved Ghostbusters growing up, go see the new one because it’s for you.  If you never saw Ghostbusters but want more women’s stories in your life, go see the new one because it’s for you.

At the very least, see it to make the fuckboys angry.  I know that always makes my day.

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Diversity for Diversity’s Sake

A friend showed me this video and it inspired me to make this week’s Book Club Thursday to be about the books that intimidate me.  But we do not create in a vacuum and there are more important things to talk about even in the world of books.

At some point in high school, I realized that 80% of the books we were assigned were about guys.  Sure, we read some Jane Austen and To Kill a Mockingbird…but isn’t Atticus Finch kind of the main character of that one?  Once I saw it, I couldn’t not see it.  It felt like the message was: your stories, as a woman, are not as important as the men’s.  Ergo, you are not as important.

It took me longer to consider what skin color most of those protagonists were.  Because I’m white and I have the privilege of being the “default” in that matter.  In books, if race isn’t specified, we as readers assume white.  It’s why there was such an uproar about black Hermione.  As consumers, we should question those assumptions.  But as creators, we should be explicit.  This goes for color, sexuality, gender identity, etc.  As long as society has a default in mind, the creators must go out of their way to define those minority representations if they include them.  And they should be including them.

Yes, I believe in diversity of the sake of diversity.

First of all, thinking diversity in stories is just “political correctness” or “sjw-talk” goes back to the idea that white is default.  “Diversity should add something to the story.”  Well, what does the character being white add to the story?  “Why does that character have to be black?”  As opposed to what, exactly?

The arguments that diversity “isn’t realistic” or books are “fantasy/sci-fi/escape” implies you either think you live in a world of only white people, or you wish you did.  The first is statistically inaccurate.  The second is just scary.

Diversity in stories is especially important because we, as individuals and a society, internalize our stories.  Just like reading only books about boys tells girls they matter less, telling only stories about white people tell people of color the same thing.  And, bonus, it tells white people that too.  Thinking of ourselves as default leads us to think of others as, well, “other,” creating the groundwork for us to think of them as lesser.  It’s especially easy to do since we come from a long history of doing so.

Thinking about that, it occurs to me that, of the African-American stories we do read in school, they’re almost all slave narratives.  It is absolutely something we need to study, but why do we stop there?

I’m white.  I’m speaking from a place of privilege that I’m still learning to acknowledge.  And no, I don’t think changing our stories is the magical, overnight solution.  But I do believe stories are powerful and I do believe they can have a major impact on the people who read them – or listen to them or watch them.  And since nothing is going to change until we do, I think it’s one step we can and should take as a society.

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An Open Letter to Malala Yousafzai

Dear Malala:

First, I want to apologize.  Before I read your book, I only knew you by what happened to you.  You should never be reduced to the violence perpetrated against you, so I’m sorry.  Most of your books is from before, and those parts moved and inspired me at least as much as the climax.

Your descriptions of Swat and your day-to-day life there are reminiscent of a love letter to your homeland.  You described the scenery in such beautiful detail that I was instantly drawn in.  When you explained certain aspects of your culture, including its atmosphere of community, I felt your comfort and was at peace.  You more than explained it: you showed it through every interaction you described, with your fellow students, who came across more as sisters than friends, and the inclusion of your extended family, who were so prevalent that the “extended” seemed superfluous.  You did not hide the violence that infiltrated your home, but you managed to shine a light into those dark spots until we could see the beauty all around them.  Every time you mentioned that you still haven’t been able to return, I felt your heartbreak.  Your simple and pure language let the beauty of Swat shine through.

But what really shined through all of it was your heart, Malala.

I was under the misconception that you were attacked simply for trying to go to school and you became an activist in response.  That would have been extraordinary enough, but that was not the case.  When you were shot at 15, you had already been advocating for education for years.  Your passion for it colored your life: you spoke of it to every politician you encountered, risked heavily to use your voice in an anonymous blog, and worked hard in your personal studies to learn as much as you could.  You went to school even when you feared for your life.  Your passion and dedication are admirable.

Those traits impressed me, but I was equally inspired by your compassion and your faith.

When you saw children sifting through rubbish, your heart bled and you compelled your father to take them into his school.  You refused to fight only for yourself and instead fought for girls everywhere.  You never responded with cruelty or vengeance, despite what people have said and done to you.  Even the dedication speaks to your heart for your fellow women.

Equally amazingly, you kept your faith throughout and took control of it.  When you were told girls should not get an education because it went against Islam, you said, “No.  That is not what the Quran says.”  Instead of blaming Allah for the acts of men, you chose to thank Him for what happened next.

You, Malala Yousafzai, are an incredible young woman, and I am grateful I had the opportunity to read your story.

Respectfully yours,
Kari M. Johnson

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Women of the Silk

Remember when I mentioned that I’d been reading about lesbians in China in the 1920s?

A week ago I discussed my various reading moods and the fluffy books I read in February.  Once I finished Midnight Pearls, I started craving something with meat again.  I picked Women of the Silk by Gail Tsukiyama because I knew the person who gave it to me for Christmas has an excellent taste in meaty literature.  (Of course, half way through the book, I remembered that the person who gave it to me was actually not who I THOUGHT gave it to me and had in fact never read the book, but I loved this book and I’m so glad I made that mistake.)

The story starts in 1919 and shows the main character, Pei, as a child.  Within a few pages, Tsukiyama has painted the little farm she grows up on as well as its relationship to the broader society of rural China.  It immediately gives us a glimpse of what women’s lives are like, which will be very important as the story develops.

She portrays the struggles and expectations so well that the reader is hardly shocked, let alone mortified, when Pei’s father takes her to a girls’ house in the city and leaves her there without looking back.  There, Pei sets about fulfilling the words of the fortune-teller, who said she would love many but there would be “complications” so she would never marry.

(Spoiler alert: the complication is that she’s totally a lesbian.)

Pei and her sisters at the girls’ house face many challenges, including the “Japanese devils” who are beginning to invade their country, unfair working conditions in the silk factory, and just the general struggles that comes with growing up and, as she begins to notice the way people look and judge her, growing up different.  She learns to be independent from a young age and some of her sisters go through the “hair-braiding ceremony,” which is just as final as a wedding and signifies that they are going to move into the Sisters’ House and stay unmarried throughout their lives.

Through all of this, Pei’s relationship with Lin develops, touching and being touched by every aspect of their lives.  As their relationship grows, Lin takes Pei to her brother’s wedding and Pei lets Lin convince her to visit her parents one last time.

What I love most about their relationship is how naturally intimate it is.  There is one scene where a physical consummation is more implied than anything else, but from the beginning, there is no room for doubt about what they mean to one another.  When Lin’s family comes to discuss the possibility of her marriage and she decides to go through the hair-braiding ceremony instead, Pei immediately wants to do so as well.  They spend all their free time together, they discuss everything, and they encourage and reassure one another through all the changes in their lives.

The novel is filled with strong female characters, ones who make mistakes and do the best they can and always always always have their sisters’ backs.  Booklist described it as “a soft ring of feminism,” and it is definitely soothing like one.  While staying true to its historical nature, it also proves that strong women are not limited to a single time or place, and true love does not have to be declared but acted upon to exist.

I suggest you read it.  I suggest everyone read it.  The writing is beautiful, the story is moving, and the characters are vivid.  Basically, it’s going to be joining The Truth About Forever, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and The Things They Carried in whatever bag I pack whenever I leave my house for longer than a weekend.  It’s one of those books I hugged to my chest because I just wanted to absorb it into my heart.  It has found a place there and I will remember it for a long time to come.

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If you aren’t interested in seeing Zootopia, I don’t blame you.  I am a Disney addict and, based on the sloth scene alone, I intended to wait for the DVD.  However, after hearing more about it, I began to get curious and even a little excited.  Fast forward, I’ve seen it twice and will definitely be buying it once it’s on Blu-Ray.  Plus, I wouldn’t mind going a third time if anyone wants a buddy to see it with.

If you’re wondering why a 23-year-old is so enamoured with a Disney cartoon…you’re clearly new here and don’t know me at all, but I understand your skepticism.

On the most superficial level, this is the most adorable buddy-cop movie I’ve ever seen, partly because the characters are so well-formed.  Start with an unlikely pair, watch as they play off each other’s strengths and compensate for their weaknesses, and eventually learn to be friends, once they shed their prejudices.  Even the supporting characters learn and grow while maintaining their unique personalities.

With such vivid characters, you need an equally compelling world to put them in.  Zootopia was designed so creatively that each location is eye-catching and precise.  Watching the movie, you can tell that the artists really considered the problems that would affect day-to-day life for a city with so much biodiversity and addressed the issues, using open spaces, doors sized for every mammal, and boroughs with generated microclimates for animals that need certain conditions to live.

Once you’ve got characters and a setting, you need a story.  The mystery in this one is simple (it was intended for younger audiences after all), but still has enough twists to keep it interesting.  And for Zootopia, the mystery is only half the point.  The detective story serves as a window into the bigger problems the society faces, such as prejudices against predators and small mammals.  Or, as we know them in our own world, racism and sexism.

Judy Hopps is looked down on, no matter how hard she works, primarily because of her small stature.  Her size means she has to work twice as hard to get through the police academy, yet when she gets out, she still isn’t considered a “real cop” but more of a “token bunny.”  Alternately, Nick Wilde is a con artist, having learned years ago that no one will see him, a fox, as anything other than shifty and sly and untrustworthy.  Part of what brings them together is their status as “outsiders” in their world, but when the world seems to turn upside down, fear and prejudices threaten to separate even them.

In Zootopia, there becomes an “us” and a “them,” pitting the population against one another, and reaching across those lines is the only way both to solve the case and to move forward with their lives.  Even our protagonist has to learn to see beyond their fear and understand that DNA does not determine our character.  She also learns that making mistakes is okay, as long as you get up again.

(That being said, Shakira’s “Try Everything” from the movie is AMAZING and has been making me feel so much better this week.)

(For more random thoughts, follow me on Snapchat @wordsmith92 or Twitter @wordsmith_kari.)

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Hill Yes

When things in your life aren’t going quite the way you want, it may be a good time to think about something bigger than yourself. Lucky for me, this particular heartbreak happened as election season was ramping up.

Usually, I’d wait until November to get involved. Blame it on The West Wing or the complete joke that is the current Republican selection, but lately I’ve been paying attention and I don’t like what I see. The Republican frontrunner is a racist, sexist bully whose primary selling point is “good at business,” which is even more stupid when you realize he’s actually had several businesses go bankrupt.

With that in mind, I’ve been watching the Democrat candidates. So last night when my sister invited me to a Clinton rally, I agreed.

My first thought was how absolutely thrilled Rory Gilmore would be right now, and if they don’t use this in the Gilmore Girls revival I will be very disappointed…almost as disappointed as I will be if she winds up with Dean.

Second, and still thinking of Rory, she was right. Clinton is a talented public speaker. She starts by knowing her audience. From the moment we walked in, we heard empowering music by young female artists, like Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” and Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song.” Everyone who stood on that stage, from the person whose job was to excite the crowd first to the educator introducing Clinton, was a woman.

When she started speaking, it was evident she knew what her audience wanted to hear. She spoke about issues of equality and fairness, speaking against restricting the right to vote and the gender wage gap. She talked about gun violence as an issue of child safety and the regulations she believed in as common sense measures, quoting statistics to suggest most Americans (and even most gun owners) agreed on these specific oversights. She placed most of her issues in the context of how they affect children, from the obvious education inequity to affordable health care. She also shared about her own granddaughter, showing how she could relate to her audience’s concerns.

The only time she referenced immigration was in regards to educating migrant children, which appeared not to be enough for the protestors in attendance. Their signs read “Education not Deportation” and “Stop Deporting Our Students.” I would have been interested to hear her response to that, but she never faltered from her script. She said that we need a dialog in this country, and choosing to address their concerns would have been encouraging precedent.

Still, one can’t engage in every conversation or issue. In campaigning (as in life) picking your battles is an important skill. Besides knowing her audience and her issues, Clinton also knew who her enemy was. She made one comment about why Bernie’s plan to make college free wouldn’t work. Otherwise, despite the fact that he’s the one she faces in the North Carolina primary today, she focused on the merits of Democratic leadership over Republican. While she is ambitious, stating she wants half a billion solar panels by the end of her first term and listing a larger goal for the end of her second, she recognizes she might not be the nominee and that there is something larger at stake. She recognizes that any of the Democrats running would be better for the country than one of the Republican candidates and puts the best for the country above personal victory.

In all the chaos, I keep noticing this little girl across the room.  She’s waving a “Vote for Hillary” sign, holding it as high as she can reach.  She can’t be much older than my cousin Cora.  Watching her, I start to tear up a little as the magnitude of this event hits me all over again.

There is no reason that a woman can’t be president, except of course that no woman ever has been.  Tell a little boy that he can grow up to be president and he can immediately conjure role models to follow: Washington, Lincoln, right on up to Bush and Obama.  Tell a little girl she could be president one day, and she thinks…well, ok.  If you say so.  I guess anything’s possible.

But here we have a woman who is getting closer and closer to the White House.  People are throwing around the words “Madame President” and wondering what we’ll call Bill (the First Husband?  the First Gentleman?).  This is a country where women (white women, to be specific) are still making 75 cents to every dollar a white man makes, where women are supposed to be happy that they have rights like voting and driving (because that’s more than the women in some countries have) and we ignore the fact that one in five women are sexually assaulted in their lifetime, that women are subject to catcalling on the street and are supposed to ignore it or take it as a compliment (and sometimes ignoring it just makes the problem worse).  We ignore how often women are killed or raped in media, how often they are used as prizes for the male characters or their trauma is viewed in the ways it affects the men they’re with (I am SO looking at you, Age of Ultron).  Have women come a long way in this country?  Absolutely.  But there is still a long way to go, and putting a woman in the highest office in the country – what many call “the leader of the free world” – would show girls that they really can do anything they put their minds to.

I’m not saying I agree with all of her politics, I’m not even saying I voted for her in the primary today, but you know…as scared as the Republican nominees may make me, the fact that I have her as an option makes me feel better about the way our country is headed overall.

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I am FINALLY going to talk about Supergirl, after promising to for weeks. Keep in mind, I am a single episode behind, so this is before “Human for a Day.”

I was very excited by the show’s premise and had been looking forward to it. The waitress in the first episode said it all: this is someone for our daughters to look up to. We have so many different male superheroes. Having a woman is amazing.

I also love that there are different types of strong women featured in this show. We have Kara, who is inhumanly powerful, Alex, who learned how to be physically powerful, and Cat Grant, who is a successful business woman and has learned how to work the system. She’s the one who tells it like it is about how things are different for women in the world of business.

As the show grows, I anticipate many others. Lucy, for instance, is shaping up to be a bold, intelligent woman. Though she is presumably physically strong, since she’s in the army, that isn’t her defining characteristic.

I was hesitant about her appearance at first. It’s the most boring kind of “drama,” this love triangle. And it pits women against each other in what should be a show about female empowerment. That’s part of why ice been enjoying it less lately. Between that love triangle and the fact that one of the women used the term “friendzone”…

This show needs more female writers. A third of the writers when the show is about women is not enough.

The characters alone are enough to keep me coming back for now, even if the storyline could use some updating. As the characters develop and the show finds its legs, I have complete faith that this show could do a lot to close the gap of men and women superheroes.

And isn’t it about damn time?

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Voting Day and Equal Pay

Today’s the day!  You all know what I’m talking about. That day. That SUPER important day that affects absolutely everyone everywhere.

Happy Star Wars…wait.

Okay, I was just informed Star Wars Day is on May Fourth.  Easy mistake.  Could happen to anyone.  So what’s so special about today?

Oh, it’s voting day in the United States?  Nevermind.

Anyway, it is voting day, I will be voting directly after work, and as such I have spent some time this morning researching the candidates.  Totally last minute, I know.  But while I was looking things up, I came across this:

“Equal Pay is a family issue.”  (

Okay, sure.

“Women…are a growing number of breadwinners in their families.”

And now I’m going to stop you for a second.  Because that’s completely true.  I come from a family where that has always been the case, especially since my father passed away.  But no one ever says that the reason men make more money is because they have more to support.  A man does not get a pay raise when he gets married or when his wife has a baby.  He is paid solely based on how much work he puts in.

If it was based on how much money you had to spend to support yourself and your dependents, single women should make more than single men.  Look at their expenses: pads and tampons, which are completely necessary.  Birth control, which you might argue isn’t but that women are considered majorly responsible for.  Even how expensive cosmetic products are, which are marketed towards women and highly encouraged by the culture we live in.

But we live in a capitalistic society, where money is exchanged for work.  When women are paid less, you are literally telling them that their time is worth less.

I also feel the need to mention that race is a HUGE factor and the 77 cents on a dollar statistic that is often quoted is for the WHITE population.  It’s even less when you get into people of color, which is also not okay.

So, yes, equal pay is a family issue, but like racism is a family issue in that it has been deeply ingrained in our culture and it will take the family to help stamp it out.  In that it affects us all and not just those that are being discriminated against.  In that one day I will have children and one day I will adopt children and I do not currently know what their genders and races will be and I am terrified to think they will not be treated fairly and as they deserve.

Which is why I do believe in affirmative action.  Because centuries of institutionalized racism and sexism has left us with a low bar for “equal rights” and in order to bridge that gap, sometimes you have to force people and businesses to treat those oppressed people better.

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