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November 15, 2010

Okay, beer companies, enough is enough . . .

I must begin by saying that this is one of the most horrific ads I've seen in my entire life, and I spend a great deal of time searching for sexist and otherwise degrading ads to show at my women's rights club Real Beauty Revolution. The purpose of this ad, made clear by the (tiny) bottle in the lower right-hand corner, is to sell Coopers Beer. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that beer will always sell, regardless of whether or not it's heavily advertised, so this ad causes one to wonder how the Coopers Beer company can get away with printing something so blatantly disrespectful towards women. Most notably: overweight women.

If you haven't quite grasped the ad's concept (as it took me a minute to understand the first time I laid eyes on it), the miniscule caption in the lower corner reads: "Only 29% alcohol." In the bulk of the ad we see a woman, but not really; she's more of a hybrid, a ridiculous photo-shopped illusion of a woman. Her head is that of a young blonde (no doubt the representation of "beauty" here) and the rest is the body of a larger woman. Get it? 29% alcohol, 29% "hot chick"? This can also be read as: "when the women in your life aren't attractive enough, just take a swig of Coopers Beer and you'll be seeing [insert Hollywood actress here] in no time!

Another ridiculous ad for
Coopers Beer. The message
here?"Some women are so
unattractive, only balloon-ish
breasts would save them."
This ad is clearly aimed at men, as I don't know what woman could stand looking at it for more than five seconds without puking. Whoever created this ad obviously has no regard for the plight many women go through about their bodies, and is exploiting a barbaric stereotype that bigger women are "ugly" to get a cheap laugh. I hope you don't think biases are clouding my judgment when I say whoever created this ad is immature, malicious, and downright cruel.

Ads that aim to sell a product are usually predictable: their main message (argument) is to sell their product, and everything else is subtle, subliminal, or an afterthought. This ad, however, seems to be flip-flopped in that it's prominent, in-your-face message is "fat women are unattractive." Only after the audience gathers that fact do they realize the ad is for beer (the product is shoved into a lowly corner, after all). This is in incredibly bad taste, and just one of countless reminders that women are stigmatized each and every day for the way they look. It's bad enough that women are subjected to constant criticism from diet pill companies and late-night ads for exercise equipment like the Ab Circle Pro ("Not only will your Ab Circle Pro help you Lose Your Love Handles, it will help you workout and slim down your buns, hips, and thighs, too!"), but when this same sense of body-shaming is carried over to unrelated products like beer - it makes me wonder when people will finally step up and say enough is enough.

 If you'd like to unleash your rage on the Coopers Beer company, you can find their contact information here.

November 13, 2010

Interview With Selena Torrado, Leader of a High School Feminist Club

A few weeks ago I met Selena Torrado, a teen living in New York who started her own high school feminist club called Femtastic! I was ecstatic to see that someone shared my passion for reaching out to teens about the "important" stuff; the point of this post is to say to you, Teenage Girls of the World, if your school doesn't already have a club that deals with women's rights, equality, feminism, etc. - IT NEEDS ONE. And if you think starting a club is too hard, Selena and I will attest that it's totally doable, and totally worth it. Check out my interview with Selena about her club Femtastic!, and see if it doesn't inspire you to start a feminist club of your own!

Danielle: What's your club called, and when/why did you decide to start it?

Selena: My club is called Femtastic. I decided to start it after becoming interested in feminism and exploring it on my own for a couple years. When I started high school I started reading books such as Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti, Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy, and Intercourse by Andrea Dworkin. The ideas that these authors presented about gender identity and societal influence made extremely clear sense to me, especially after all of the confusion and mixed messages about gender roles in middle school. Reading these books was really empowering, in that they provided me with a context to view my evolving sexuality and status as a woman. As I found out about feminist blogs and forums such as Feministing and Bitch Magazine, it dawned on me that there is a whole feminist community out there that I really wanted to be involved in. The most accessible way for me to become involved was to create a feminist community in my school, where I spend the most time anyway. I started talking to my friend Zoloo, who is also interested in feminism and gender issues, and the club grew from there.

D: What has your club accomplished so far, and what do you have planned for the future?

S: So far, my club has started our Portrayal of Men and Women in the Media unit. We have discussed messages about gender roles that music videos, tv shows, and advertisements portray. We identified the impact these messages have on our personal lives, and reached the conclusion that the youth needs to be more directly involved in media development, so that the diversity of our thoughts, feelings and experiences are accurately portrayed. We are working on figuring out a concrete way that youth involvement can be implemented by entertainment firms such as MTV, VH1 and Disney Channel.

For the future, we plan to cover many more topics such as, but not limited to, Global Feminism, Teen Sexuality, Reproductive Rights, Prevalence of Pornography in Teen Culture, and the Importance of Comprehensive Sex Education. Our next unit will probably be Global Feminism. Our primary activity during this unit will be to team up with the Girl Up Campaign, a UN organization that works to mobilize American teens to raise money for programs that help combat issues such as Child Prostitution, Early Marraige, and Lack of Education, all of which are issues that girls in developing nations face. We plan to put on a fair which would inform people about the campaign and the issues it tackles. We hope to bring in Cornell professors to speak about some of these issues. All proceeds from this event will go to the Girl Up campaign.

In addition to this, we also plan on developing some kind of middle school outreach. We have all agreed as a club that middle school is the time when many girls question and are bombarded with opinions about how they should act and what they should believe as women. We hope to talk to and support middle school aged girls and boys during this period of huge change and confusion.

D: What's the key to attracting (and maintaining) members?

S: I think that the key to attracting members is to advertise throughout your school. I created a bulletin board in a major hallway, passed out fliers, and made announcements on our school TV. Make sure that the student body is aware of the clubs existence. Also, it is important to be prepared to describe exactly what your club is about, what you hope to achieve, and what some of the activities will be, because there is a lot of confusion regarding the word “feminism” that you will need to clear up.

As for retaining members, that is something I am still learning, as my club is relatively new. I try to really involve the club members in discussions and make them feel like their opinion matters. Beyond that, I will learn as I go along.

D: What advice do you have for other high school students who'd like to start a feminism/women's rights club, but don't know where to start?

S: My advice to students who want to start a feminist club is to reach out to your community. I have gotten so much support from my local university (Cornell), Planned Parenthood, and school. I was actually shocked by how supportive, helpful, and excited most people were about the club. The majority of opportunities have come from groups and individuals in the community. For example, our local Planned Parenthood invited us to their yearly celebration, where we got to hear Michelle Goldberg, journalist and author of The Means Of Reproduction: Sex, Power and the Future of the World, speak. The Cornell Women’s Resource Center has been really helpful and offered us access to their speakers and events, as well as a way to apply for co-sponsorship for our own events. Basically, seek out people and organizations in your community who you think would support you, and don’t be afraid to ask for favors and advice.

D: Why do you think girls are sometimes reluctant to call themselves feminists? Is there anything we, as teens, can do about this?S: I think that girls are reluctant to call themselves feminists because there are so many negative connotations surrounding that word. I think that for most people the word “feminist” evokes an angry, man bashing, bitter female who complains about the “patriarchy” but does not have much to back up her complaints. One way to combat this is through education. This image of a feminist is an ignorant one, and the way to combat ignorance is with information. If you identify as a feminist and have knowledge of specific feminist beliefs, ideals, and progress, don’t be afraid to share it with others. Feminist theory and ideology applies to almost every moral, scientific, economic, global, and interpersonal topic there is, so there are plenty of chances to bring up feminist ideas both in class and in personal discussions.