March 29, 2010

Speaking Our Voices - Thank You, Kotex!

If you have not already seen the U by Kotex commercials and website, we are thanking Kotex for taking the conversation about women and our vaginal and reproductive health to a whole new level.  Not only is their ad campaign catchy with electric colors, frank language, and the hysterical use of a stuffed beaver, but it provides a space for women to be real! Thank you, Kotex, for making this dialogue public, though sadly, this was all too much for T.V. networks to handle.  As a New York Times article reports, "after being informed that it could not use the word vagina in advertising by three broadcast networks, it shot the ad...with the actress instead saying “down there,” which was rejected by two of the three networks...It’s very funny because the whole spot is about censorship... The whole category has been very euphemistic, or paternalistic even, and we’re saying, enough with the euphemisms, and get over it. Tampon is not a dirty word, and neither is vagina.” 

In order to break this cycle, I believe that we adults need to give our children and especially young girls the correct language with which to speak about their bodies. This is critical! Learning to use appropriate language empowers girls and women to have more confidence and reduce shame around their bodies and in particular their sexual selves.

Even worse than not using appropriate language is the lack of recognition of "girl parts" to begin with. Think about the ways in which little children often learn about their genitalia.  A little girl says to her mommy, pointing to her brother's penis, "Mommy, what is that?" She responds, "A penis."  Then the little girl says, "So he has a penis and I don't?"  Mommy responds, "Correct."  This is all too often a true and detrimental scenario for a number of reasons.  Perhaps most detrimental is that the young girl just learned the concept of "lack."  Her brother (boys and men) have something (seemingly special and powerful) and she does not.  Her brother then learns that he has something that his sister does not and that makes him "better than."  This concept is something that these children will then carry with them throughout their lives.  Additionally, adults do not recognize children as having a sexual self, though from birth they are, in fact, sexual creatures.  A lack of communication about what children are already experiencing is providing a disservice shrouded in mystery and shame.  There's No Place Like Home and Birds + Bees + Kids are two of the many great resources for parents about their children's sexual education. 

Help us break the cycle of discrimination and violence against girls and women by raising a new generation of children who, through language and meaning, learn to respect one another! Have thoughts? Post a comment or email us.

March 22, 2010

New and Improved Female Condom 2

According to, statistics show that the leading cause of death among African-Americans ages 25-34 nationwide is HIV/AIDS.  In particular, our nation's capital is said to have one of the highest HIV/AIDS rates in the country.  With the new and improved female condom, Washington D.C.'s HIV/AIDS, STD, TB and Hepatitis administration, and a half-million dollar grant from MAC cosmetics, people are taking to the streets, beauty salons, and nail salons to reach the most at-risk communities of women. 

As was written in the February 14, 2010 post, Women on Top: Loving Our to Love Others, I think that in addition to consistant and correct use of condoms, what is most important in the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS among women is not only the education of condom negotiation and use, but the outreach and conciousness raising of women to take control of her sexual boundaries and knowledge about herself.  Women need to be thinking and speaking aloud to one another about our sexual selves withour shame or embarresment but with pride, power and self-assurance! The WCC will continue to post about this topic, so stay tuned!

March 16, 2010

Rethinking the Therapeutic Milieu on World Social Work Day

Rethinking the Therapeutic Milieu: The Women’s Collaborative Circle

     Reading about the debate in Congress over health care reform, I was profoundly struck by the discussions regarding women’s health. That a United States senator would argue against the need for insurance companies to cover basic reproductive care, for example, left me in dismay.
     My astonishment did not come from a place of naiveté--I am more than aware of the controversies surrounding many aspects of the proposed bill—but as a reaction of absolute anger and sadness that after so many decades of battles fought by women and men alike in support of equality for women, there exist those who continue to try to take away what accomplishments we have already won and those who do not recognize or believe that there is still a fight to be fought. Some would argue that we live in a post-feminist era and need not be concerned with or pay attention to “women’s rights,” but women continue to be shaped by the decisions and laws that are made for us predominantly by men and influenced by a male-oriented culture, perpetuating women’s often silent feelings of inadequacy, shame, fear, ambivalence, and failure. Decisions made on Capitol Hill may not seem so significant to any one individual woman, but the message that these decisions send trickle down to a woman’s very core and whispers to her that she is still an other, affecting all aspects of her personal and public life.

     The Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1960’s recognized this paradigm and led Carol Hanisch to pen the popular adage “the personal is political” in her 1969 essay of the same name. Hanisch speaks about the act of consciousness-raising, not as “therapy,” but as a means to inform women that their personal problems are political and that there are no personal solutions at this time. I would argue that while this sentiment helps us understand how the larger community that we live in impacts our daily actions and inner-selves, without addressing the personal, there exists no good way to work through the effects of the political once the personal feelings are brought to the surface.
     As a social worker and a woman, it seemed glaringly obvious in my work and within my relationships that what is needed among the many opportunities and challenges posed in our society is an organization that allows for the exploration of a gendered self in relation to one’s world. That organization, the Women’s Collaborative Circle, was founded in the spirit of the feminist consciousness-raising movement along with psychodynamic theories and social work core values. From many conversations with friends and colleagues, it appeared apparent that women were in need of a space and a new model of self-care and preservation to allow for a full exploration of how a woman experiences herself in her gendered world, and allow for multiple opportunities and modalities for development and growth. It is my hope that through participation and collaboration with women from all walks of life, we address the need and find the space to speak our minds and have our voices heard.

Article written by Carly Goldberg MSW, LCSW and originally appeared in an edited verson in The Clinician: The University of Pennsylvania DSW Student Publication. Winter/Spring 2010, Vol 2(1). 

Photo of the most awesome tattoo, courtesy of Courtney Knight. 

Happy World Social Work Day!

As a social worker, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge March 16th as World Social Work Day.  We as social workers in collaboration with the citizens of the planet have a lot of work to do to make this world a healthier, more peaceful envoronment in which to live. 

And in honor of World Social Work Day, I would like to honor (although there are many more), a pioneering social worker, feminist, educator, second female recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, founder of the U.S. Settlement House movement and prominant figure of the early 20th century Peace movement - Jane Addams. Her work and influence continues its legacy in the field of social work and among women today.   

March 09, 2010

How Do You Flow?

From the new book Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation by Elissa Stein and Susan Kim...
I bet you knew that Feminine Hygiene [is] a catch-all phrase for period products. But, not that long ago it meant deep cleansing of internal and external sexual body parts, often with harsh chemicals used to disinfect bathroom floors. Yes, you read that right. Just as you would scrub a toilet or shower stall to get of those dangerous germs and stagnant dirt, women were encouraged to think about their bodies the same way. Advertising hit new scare tactic lows by convincing women that their marriages, their future happiness, even their husbands’ sexual well-being was at risk if they didn’t douche regularly.

In the 1930s, the US government hopped on that band wagon too, producing booklets detailing the importance of internal feminine cleanliness. Fortunately, checking for that cleanliness wasn’t part of any govermental job description.

For more unbelievable information found in the book Flow, check out their website!

March 08, 2010

And the (White-Male Dominated) Oscar Goes To...

In 2002 the Guerilla Girls posted on their website the following:


A billboard at Highland and Melrose in Hollywood, March 1-31, 2002 - Presented by the Guerrilla Girls and Alice Locas, a group of film makers.

We decided it was time for a little realism in Hollywood, so we erected a billboard at Melrose and Highland in Los Angeles where for the month of March, 2002 we presented THE ANATOMICALLY CORRECT OSCAR. We redesigned the old boy so he more closely resembled the white males who take him home each year! We got a lot of attention, from as far away as Europe and Australia, most of it very sympathetic. And guess what: at the Academy Awards Ceremony on March 25, Halle Berry became the first ever African-American woman to win Best Actress and Denzel Washington the second ever African-American man to win Best Actor. We're very happy about that, but the film industry still has a long way to go.

Did you know that no woman has ever won the Oscar for Best Director, and that only two have ever been nominated? That 94% of the writing awards have gone to men? Or that only 3% of all the acting awards--lead and supporting--have ever gone to people of color.

Congratulations to Kathryn Bigelow on her historic win last night as Best Director.  But as Huffington Post contributor Scott Mendelson writes in his post Does the narrative behind Kathryn Bigelow's big Oscar win mars the event's power as a feminist triumph? As he states,"[w]hile it's terrific that the previously-undervalued Bigelow became the first female to win Best Director, it's more than a little depressing that such a big deal must be made of it. As I've always said, progress comes when you don't have to talk about it."
Additionally, last night's Oscar event was a big night for Geoffrey Fletcher.  Fletcher is the first African-American to win a writing award for the adapted screenplay for the movie Precious based on the novel Push by Sapphire.

As Reed Johnson wrote for the Los Angeles Times, that "[o]nly three other women had ever been nominated for director: Lina Wertmüller for "Seven Beauties" (1975); Jane Campion for "The Piano" (1993); and Sofia Coppola for "Lost in Translation" (2003)" and as "Mo'Nique won the award for supporting actress for her portrayal of an abusive mother in 'Precious,' she thanked Hattie McDaniel, the first African American to win an Academy Award, for the 1939 film 'Gone With the Wind.' Backstage, Mo'Nique acknowledged that she'd worn a royal blue dress and a flower in her hair because that's what McDaniel wore when she won. Only five black women have won an acting Oscar."

Share with us your thoughts! Post a comment!

March 03, 2010

Progressive Women's Voices - Have Yours Heard Today!

The Women’s Media Center seeks women who have something to say and are eager to dive into the media conversations on the important issues of the day. Are you the next Rachel Maddow? Do you want to become a political contributor who is called upon to serve as a strong progressive voice in the media? Apply for the WMC’s Progressive Women’s Voices program today!

March 01, 2010

Speaking Her Voice - C.E.O. Ursula M. Burns

One of the missions of the Women’s Collaborative Circle is to help women shed their fear of speaking their minds and having their voices heard. Yes, it’s true that in the last 40 years women in the United States have made some very real gains toward equality, including equality in the workplace.  However, it seems that many of us who were reared in more “traditional” environments still find ourselves unwittingly afraid to say what we want to say in the way we want to say it. That is why we here at the WCC got excited when we saw an article in The New York Times about Ursula M. Burns.

In case you haven't heard--and you very well may not have since, until recently, she's been keeping a low profile--Ms. Burns became chief executive officer of Xerox in July. As Adam Bryant of the Times writes, her ascension marks "the first time an African-American woman was named C.E.O. of a major American corporation, and the first time a woman succeeded another woman in the top job at a company of this size."  And if that part of the story alone wasn't inspiring enough, it was the way she rose up through the ranks of Xerox that really caught our attention!

Her precipitous rise began when she spoke rather frankly to her bosses--something quite out of the ordinary in Xerox's corporate culture, which Ms. Burns says is partly defined by "terminal niceness."  In 1989, she challenged her then boss Wayland Hicks, a senior executive, about giving credence to an insensitive question asked during a discussion about diversity initiatives. Hicks took notice and after getting to know her better, promoted her. In 1991 she spoke her mind again, but this time directly to Paul A. Allaire, Xerox’s president, during a meeting with top managers. Her reward? Another promotion.

But best of all, we love what she had to say about her style of communication, which over the years she has been advised to modify: "I can't try to say it in somebody else's voice. I have to say it in my voice." 

We couldn't agree more.

(Photo from ABC news story "Should Women Rule the World.")

Post written by Melissa Zeltser.