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“If I don’t say anything, I feel rude,” and other experiences of street harassment in Paris

by Annemarie McDaniel and Anya Josephs

Annemarie and Anya are both SPARK bloggers, in Paris studying abroad for the summer! We’ve both had magical experiences here, but we’ve also noticed significant street harassment. We wanted to write this blog together to talk about the ways we’ve experienced harassment here differently than back home in the US–Annemarie goes to college in New Haven, Connecticut and is from San Diego, California, and Anya studies in New York City and lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Annemarie: I’ve definitely experienced a new range of street harassment and comments than what I’m used to back home, from things that are clearly street harassment to getting asked out when I’m walking down the road. When I was getting followed late at night by a biker who was yelling at me, I could tell pretty clearly that it was street harassment, but when a guy on the street in broad daylight says that I’m so beautiful and he would die for a date with me, I feel more conflicted.

Anya: I feel like I’ve had a similar range of different experiences. In New York I feel like I’m pretty good at identifying what’s street harassment, mostly because almost all of the things strange men say to me on the street are pretty crude and pretty explicitly sexual, and I know how to react to that. I can just be like, oh, I’m being street harassed, and move on. But here, partially because of the language barrier, and partially because I’m moving in a culture that I’m not really part of, I feel like sometimes when strange men talk to me on the street, that’s more of a sincere gesture. I feel like I’ve actually been asked out on the street here, where in NYC I don’t think any of the men who shout on the streets really wanted to take me on a date.

Annemarie: Another big difference I’ve noticed is in big cities, really often, it’s comments that are not only crude, but by much older men, potentially married men, whereas here in Paris, it’s more often guys around my age really asking me for my number or out to dinner.

Anya: I’ve noticed that too, and the other thing is that in New York it’s almost exclusively groups of men, and that makes it much clearer that they’re trying to be intimidating, whereas here it’s pretty often a single guy.

Annemarie: There definitely are times in Paris where guys will be creepy like they are in the United States. When I was walking home late one night, one of those pedicabs pulled up next to me. The driver said I was beautiful and offered me a free ride home. I declined, I lived less than a block away, and I didn’t want to get on this guy’s cab. He followed me the block and a half home, the rest of the way, yelling how I didn’t know what I was missing out on, how he was a great guy, and how all he wanted was my number. He only turned around when he saw me go in the door of my dorm, his peticab parked right next to the curb as I walked in. That’s clearly not ok! Being followed home is terrifying. Women have to worry about being assaulted for denying men’s advances, like we’ve seen recently in the news this past year when a young girl was stabbed for rejecting a prom date, the Isla Vista shooting, and the many more cases that don’t even receive news coverage.

Anya: I’ve had a similar experience. It started out as one of those weird compliments that I didn’t know how to react to, and then when I ignored the guy, mostly because I was in a hurry, he wound up following me the rest of the block, and then trying to physically prevent me from walking away from him- he sort of stood in front of me and tried to block off the sidewalk so I couldn’t get past him. Luckily it was broad daylight, and there were lots of other people around, so it wasn’t super creepy, but it was still obviously a little nerve-wracking. As opposed to just now- while I was writing this, in a café, I was looking at this group of guys wearing sort of medieval costumes and one of them blew me a kiss, but didn’t say or do anything else. And I feel like that’s fine- I mean, I don’t feel like no man should ever look at or speak to a woman in public- but I also feel less sure of how to react than with really explicit harassment, like the getting followed or the stuff I’m more used to in New York, where I just ignore it and walk away.

Annemarie: It’s the same for me. Recently, when I was at the flea market, a group of friends and I got multiple individual comments saying how beautiful we were.

Anya: And in the States I feel like you usually only get talked to if you’re a woman alone.

Annemarie: The men said how “they want to sell us their heart, for life,” and other cheesy, but kind comments. It seems in Paris, asking a stranger for a date is less abnormal than in the States, and especially because I’m single, I feel an obligation to acknowledge their nice compliment and their request. Honestly, when I feel like I’m in a safe environment, it’s nice to be complimented.

Anya: I mean, the other day, in the same spot where I got followed- right in front of the market by my host family’s apartment- a guy who was sort of hanging around by the market, just like that creepy follower guy was, saw me approaching, did this cute little bow thing, and said (in French) that I was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen in his life. I tried to just ignore him, because I’ve been told that’s the best way to discourage that kind of attention, but honestly I couldn’t help but smile a little. I certainly wasn’t interested in this guy, but it was nonetheless sort of nice to get such an elaborate compliment. I’ve also been clearly genuinely asked out a couple of times- one afternoon I was reading in the Tuiliries Jardin, by the Louvre, and I had one guy ask me to take a picture of him, and after I did he invited me to take a walk around the garden with him, and the same afternoon I gave another man directions to Montmartre, and he invited me to come along and have dinner with him there. The nice guy who works in the market, and was very friendly when I was trying to figure out how European money works, has asked me out for coffee every week for the last three weeks. Unlike in New York, where men are talking at me just to talk, often with the intention of making me feel uncomfortable, here in Paris, I feel like if I said yes to one of these guys, they would actually take me out on a date. Obviously, for me, unlike you, that’s not really a consideration, since I’m in a relationship, but it does alter things. I feel like I’m a little rude for just ignoring these guys, but I also feel like if I acknowledge them, I’m taking a risk that they could decide to follow me or assault me.

Annemarie: The way that I remind myself that it’s acceptable to ignore these guys is remembering a few things. First, that I’m a tourist, and as kind as these guys may seem, if I was stranded somewhere in Paris, I wouldn’t have the language skills or knowledge of the city to feel I could get back safely on my own. Furthermore, my French cell is unreliable on calling and texting, so if I needed to call for help, I don’t know if a friend would pick up the phone, or what number to call the police at. And lastly, I sometimes feel in a safe enough environment where I can appreciate a genuinely nice compliment, but sometimes I can’t. Sometimes it’s late at night, or I’ve been crudely harassed earlier in the day, or I am far away from a neighbor I know, and it’s ok to not feel comfortable with a stranger approaching me. I wish I lived in a world where I felt safe receiving a compliment anywhere at anytime, but that’s just not the case.

Anya: Very true. And I’ve been followed, after just saying “merci” or whatever. But then if I don’t say anything I feel rude. It’s seriously a lose-lose situation. I think no matter what country you’re in, there’s basically no ‘right’ way to respond, because you’re being put in a position you never should have been in in the first place.

Who is the World Cup for?

by Brenda Guesnet

The FIFA World Cup is the largest sporting event in the world. The 32 best national male soccer teams compete, attracting an audience of more than 26 million people worldwide and costing billions of dollars every time it is staged. This time, the host country of the cup was Brazil, and advertisers and media outlets were happy to produce a variety of world-cup themed images in order to cash in on the soccer craze. Whether it’s beer, cars, lingerie, fast food or soft drinks, companies were eagerly drawing upon nationalist sentiments as well as staging their products within a Brazilian wonderland to attract millions of soccer fans to their brand.

These two strands – nationalist symbolism and the romanticization of Brazil as an exotic and beautiful playground – tie into another popular trope used in the World Cup imagery: that of the beautiful, scantly-clothed woman present merely as something to be looked at in order to complete the straight male soccer fans’ wet dream. While most companies focus on the male players themselves, producing hyper-masculine, ultra-serious advertisements, those that include women will often do so in a highly sexualized manner.

Take for instance the Heineken banner that many bars in Amsterdam placed in their windows to not only signal that they are a Heineken selling-point, but also their enthusiasm for the World Cup and the national team. Two men taking a selfie in their Holland jerseys form the centerpiece. They lead an all-orange (the Dutch national color) crowd where women in the background are destined to wear bikinis and tight dresses rather than soccer jerseys. A darker-skinned woman is inexplicably perched high up in full Brazilian carnival attire, strikingly framed by a traditional Amsterdam balcony and strictly confined to this space where her body becomes a spectacle.

Then there were the T- shirts the sports brand Adidas released on occasion of the World Cup. One showed a thin woman in a bikini posing in front of a Rio de Janeiro landscape, bearing the words “Lookin’ to Score”. Another showed the phrase “I <3 Brazil”, with the heart shaped like a woman’s behind in a thong. The shirts were retracted when the Brazilian tourism board complained that they promoted sexual tourism, and the case illustrates Brazilian women’s ongoing struggle of being seen as hypersexual and readily available to men.

In the context of this years’ World Cup, these are only two examples of many instances where Brazilian women are ‘exported’ as visual commodities, displayed in an ultra-sexualized, exoticized manner for the pleasure of male soccer fans around the world. This polished image becomes even more disconcerting considering the state violence that has surrounded the tournament in Brazil. Just as Brazil tries everything to cover up the mass evictions and police violence surrounding the tournament to present the country as an exotic, happy, and equal state (in the spirit of “a copa de todos”, the cup for everyone), the portrayal of women is often geared towards confirming stereotypes about Brazil and using sexualized and picture-perfect images of women to make Brazil more attractive as a host country and as a destination. The message is clear: affluent, mostly foreign men are the protagonists of the event, while women are  secondary supporters present primarily for their heightened pleasure.

Although the Brazilian tourism board’s reaction to the Adidas shirts was commendable, the mass-marketed images of Brazilian carnival, where women’s bodies literally become a national attraction, have strongly fed the cliché of the beautiful and exotic Brazilian woman – which has been welcomed by international advertisers on the occasion of the World Cup. Representation matters, and hypersexualization of Brazilian women marketed towards tourists has a very real and violent impact on the country’s women’s wellbeing. Child trafficking is a massive problem in Brazil, and the hundreds of thousands of visitors to the 2014 World Cup have reportedly made the issue worse. Their disposable income and willingness to exploit vulnerable girls leads to an increase in demand for cheap, illegal sex transactions with children – and advertisers share responsibility in this when they portray Brazil as a sexual wonderland.

I happen to enjoy watching soccer, along with millions of other girls and women. So when will advertisers acknowledge us as equal supporters of the team, and not as accessories to the “real”, male, soccer fans? When will they show us playing soccer not in our underwear or high heels but with sneakers and jerseys? And way more importantly,  will FIFA  ever startliving up to its proclaimed “duty to society . . . to improve the lives of young people and their surrounding communities”, instead of unlawfully destroying the homes of impoverished communities and endorsing deadly violence against protestors? So much has gone wrong with this year’s World Cup – if FIFA and other brands take a step forward and reject sexist, classist, and racist policies and stereotypes, perhaps the World Cup has a chance to become a more inclusive and less violent event.


Research blog: To see or not to see? That’s the question

by Marisa Ragonese

I had a baby three summers ago, and she’s been hanging around me a lot ever since.  One of the best parts about this whole kid thing, at least for me, is the radical shift from how men used to look at and treat me, and the way they do now. Most notably, the dudes I encounter in the day-to-day have generally stopped ogling my body, complimenting my body, insulting my body or otherwise harassing me. NOW they either look me in the eye when they talk to me or, if they’re walking past me on the street, they smile politely or ignore me completely.  It’s amazing.  Since I found the constant experience of being reduced to and evaluated according to the size of my breasts and body parts really degrading and psychologically disorientating, it’s been one of the coolest and unexpected perks of motherhood, this invisibility cloak, this pass, this limited access to being a human in the eyes of men. Sometimes I even feel like a whole person.

Despite my newfound freedom from the harassment I used to experience on the regular, I still worry about losing my immunity, I still worry about all of the girls and women who don’t feel free to move through public spaces.  I still wonder: why do men do it?  Why do men who have lots of women in their lives, who may even believe that they see these women as full human beings, objectify women? Why do so many women act like it’s normal or even desirable? I mean, what’s really going on? I think that one of the coolest things about feminist research is its ability to pull sexism apart and take a really close look at why it’s happening without all of those “boys will be boys” and “you know how women and men REALLY are” stereotypes muddying the waters and blocking the airwaves. I mean, call me uptight, but I like the truth. And that’s why I’m obsessed with research.

Here at the SPARK research blog, we dedicate a fair amount of time to writing about research on objectification. So, stereotypes aside, why do people objectify women’s bodies? Researchers Gervais, Holland and Dodd[1] decided it was high time to answer this question, and it’s awesome that they thought to do it, because there’s barely any research on why so many men (and women) look at women’s body parts in gross and sexualizing ways that often don’t involve paying attention to our faces.

Research already teaches us that people tend to look at someone’s face when meeting and interacting with them because faces tell us a lot about who someone is: the tribes they run with, why they’re talking to or approaching us, and their general physical, mental and emotional state. Because someone’s face tells us so much about a person, we also tend to linger on it. However, according to objectification research (and many women’s personal experiences) (including mine) there’s a lot of lecherous non-face-looking going on all the time, especially during tank-top season. (Or any day you’re walking around all female and stuff….).

Psychologists argue that people can focus on appearances (which means paying more attention to someone’s body) or focus on their personality (by focusing on their face)- it’s a choice, and if people (men AND women) are instructed to size a woman up based on her body, they’ll objectify her more. If they’re encouraged to see how she measures up based on her personality, they’ll objectify less. So, the researchers wanted to know whether people would still objectify a woman’s body as much if they were instructed to focus on and evaluate her personality.

They did an experiment to see if they were right. They showed college students 10 pictures of women, and asked some of them what they thought about their personalities, and others what they thought about their appearances.  They tracked the college students’ eye movements so they could measure where people looked and for how long.  And you know what?  Their hunch was right.

They found that the study participants (men AND women) looked at women’s faces more and their chests and waists less when they were asked to focus on the personality of a woman in the photo.  In other words, their study confirmed other research that found that when people are interested in actually getting to know someone, they focus less on her body and more on her face. To me, this is such an important finding because it illustrates that those stereotypes about men “needing” to evaluate women in sexually objectifying ways – that they just can’t help it (it’s nature, biological, etc.) – are total propaganda crap.  It’s more like: when men (AND women) are taught to evaluate the attractiveness of women all the time, like we are through our culture, it creates the conditions that lead to sexually objectifying women. So it’s not that men can’t help it. It’s more like a culture of sexualization is HELPING all of us to objectify women by training men (AND women) to always evaluate a woman’s attractiveness rather than her personality.  We’re a bunch of social face-watchers, people. The leering isn’t natural- it’s learned.

So the next time you’re dealing with someone who insists on watching your chest, or someone who insists that men can’t help themselves, how’s about re-directing their gaze right over here, to the scientific evidence that shows that we look and see women in sexual ways because we’re being taught to?   Because you shouldn’t have to have a baby or an invisibility cloak or be a part of any tribe or race or class, and you shouldn’t have to fight a culture of lies based in stereotypes and myths.

You shouldn’t have to do anything at all, in order to be treated like a human being.

And hey- don’t forget to give them bell hooks’ phone number.

[1] Gervais, S. J., Holland, A. M., & Dodd, M. D. (2013). My eyes are up here: The nature of the objectifying gaze toward women. Sex roles, 69(11-12), 557-570.


SCOTUS’s Hobby Lobby Decision is Dangerous for Girls

by Lande Watson

Every morning when I wake up, I put on my feminist suit of armor, ready to face a day of sexism and misogyny. As a girl activist fighting for gender equality I always knew there would be plenty of issues to tackle in my lifetime. How will sexism impact a successful female presidential candidate in 2016? (Knock on wood). How can we get more women represented in growing job sectors especially in STEM Fields? Why are young girls less likely to pursue a career in politics?

But there are some battles I never thought I would have to fight in the year 2014.

Birth control became publicly available in the 1960s in the US. In the 1965 case Griswold v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court ruled that prohibiting the use of contraceptives violated the constitutional “right to marital privacy” and a 1972 case, Eisenstadt v. Baird, expanded the right to possess and use contraceptives to unmarried couples. I would not be born for another 27 years.

A few months ago, I truly believed the only thing that would stop me from getting birth control if I decided to take it, would be embarrassment from telling my slightly too smiley pediatrician. I assumed that the ability to access a wide range of reproductive health care services was a given for both me and my friends, born almost 3 decades after the first birth control pill became available in 1960.

The US Supreme Court


And then five men messed it up. In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court—or rather, five of its men, Justices Thomas, Scalia, Roberts, Alito and Kennedy—ruled in favor of a business’s right to impose its religious beliefs on its employees. Hobby Lobby no longer has to provide its employees with the full range of birth control options guaranteed by the Affordable Care Act, because their religion says so.

And now, the questions about birth control increase. It’s no longer just “which birth control option is the best for me and my body?” It’s “where can I work where I won’t be denied birth control?” or “how am I going to pay for this medication if my job won’t cover it?” Aren’t these the questions and concerns the Affordable Care Act was supposed to address with the Birth Control Mandate?

When I woke up to a world where my access to reproductive health care was just a little less secure and a little more subject to the whim of my future employers, I was disappointed and upset.

The ruling offended me as an activist and as a woman.

Because there are so many important battles to be fought. Before the SCOTUS ruling, I thought I had my basic rights to reproductive health care covered. Sure, if I decide to go to graduate school in Louisiana or work on a political campaign in Texas (and lots of other places, 21 states have anti-choice governments) someday, my ability to access a safe and legal abortion will be in jeopardy. And with the Buffer Zone ruling made earlier in the week, it is clear that my ability to safely and comfortably access an abortion is not 100% secure. But this. This monumental mistake made by 5 men on the Supreme Court is on another level of upsetting.

The idea that five male justices, none of whom have ever had an I-forgot-to-take-my-pill-yesterday freak out, made a decision that could potentially impact my ability to access health care options is ridiculous and offensive. They say it was about protecting religious beliefs, but was it really?

Hobby Lobby’s 401(k) plan “has millions of dollars invested in funds that own the companies that make birth control methods including Plan B, the so-called ‘morning after’ drug.” The authors of the majority opinion suggested that the ruling narrowly applied to Hobby Lobby (just a few days after the ruling it was proved that it was not so narrow after all), but as Ruth Bader Ginsburg aptly asked in her dissent, “”Would the exemption…extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations[?]…Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today’s decision.”

from Obama's facebook page

So, if this ruling isn’t really about the importance of deeply held religious belief, then what is it about? It’s about controlling women’s bodies. Being a teenage girl is hard. You’re still subject to your parents’ decisions, your friends are all changing and boys are just plain weird. But the newly layered icing on the cake, the real kicker, is the government and businesses trying to control your body. That’s right. Now, not only does your mom get to control what you wear (“sweety, that skirt really is way too short”), but the men of the Supreme Court and future employers get to control your access to a full range of reproductive health care services.

An important piece of healthy sexuality, and growing up for that matter, involves making decisions that are right for your body. And taking the step to access birth control, if it’s what’s right for you, is part of that. Threatening women’s access to basic reproductive health care challenges healthy sexuality, and general health as well (birth control is used to treat a wide variety of illnesses).

The argument made in the Hobby Lobby Case was about religious beliefs and the inaccurate idea that birth control is somehow an abortifacient. But denying women access to birth control is also about vilifying and discouraging women who might want to have sex and not get pregnant. Women take birth control for a wide range of health reasons, but they also take it because [shocker!] women like sex. Discouraging female sexuality while okay-ing male sexuality (Viagra will still be covered by Hobby Lobby’s health care plan) is sexist and promotes false notions that girls don’t or shouldn’t like sex. When birth control is seen as a “lesser health care item” (or not considered a health care item at all), it sends a dangerous message that my right to decide if and when I want to have a family (or if I don’t) is not a right at all, but is constantly at the whim of my employer. And that as a girl, my body and my health are of less importance than my boss’s religious beliefs.

activists at George Washington University

These messages are out there, but they are untrue and unacceptable. The Hobby Lobby case started a battle I never thought I would have to fight in 2014, but I’m here, and I’m ready to fight.

How to Lose Your Virginity: an interview with Therese Shecter

by Alice Wilder

We’re all pretty big fans of filmmaker Therese Shechter, who you might know from her film I Was a Teenage Feminist. Her 2013 documentary How To Lose Your Virginity, which is available for streaming in July, explores the ways we think about sexuality and how it changes the way we feel about ourselves and others. The SPARK girls had a screening of the film a few months ago and all of us adored the film. You’ll see people of all ages and genders discussing virginity as well as some super great interviews with high school students.  I talked to Shechter about how girls can own their sexuality in a culture that asks them to be sexy—but not have sex.

How To Lose Your Virginity – Trailer from Trixie Films on Vimeo.

In my area there was recently a pretty big scandal about Belle Knox, a Duke University student who does porn to pay for college. The way she was vilified reminds me so much of your film.

The interesting thing is that these guys felt like it was fine to masturbate to an abstract porn performer, and they felt completely fine to vilify and demonize the real person–it’s that whole virgin whore dichotomy where a woman’s purpose is to give you access to sex, but in real life they need to present themselves as untouched. There’s a lot of parallel of how women’s sexuality exists for men’s pleasure but they also have to act pure for individual guys.

Yeah! She wasn’t ashamed of it, they wanted her to be embarrassed.

She’s not supposed to be doing it for her own purposes–she’s doing it to earn a living and to them that’s unacceptable. There’s a lot of parallels with Lena [Chen], who blogged about sex at Harvard [and was in the film]. She was open about her active sex life and people thought she was completely fair game to slut shame and harass. She said that people presume that the only people willing to talk about sex openly must be sexual deviants. She’s so great and has come through the fire, it’s like a different version of (Belle’s) story. Lena has lived this and studied it…she’s been thinking about it academically.

What advice would you give to young women on pushing back on that whole “virgin/whore” dichotomy?

Just feel like you get to call the shots of your own sex life, getting educated so you understand what’s going on with your body, with your relationships. Scarleteen is an amazing place to go for resources and once you have all the information you can start making decisions for yourself. Think about who you are, what you want, what makes you happy. And a lot of times what happens when you do that as a girl, you get a lot of pushback from people and you just have to hold strong and look for others who support the way you think. If you feel like you don’t want to have sex or want to take a break from sex, that’s a really valid choice, the point is to really understand what you want, what makes you happy and try to work with that- and be prepared for pushback. People want you to be who they need you to be. I had very specific ideas of what was important to me when I was a teenager and that resulted in me never having a boyfriend. I wasn’t happy about it, but I also couldn’t become the kind of person who had boyfriends. The person I would have had to become to have a boyfriend just wasn’t me. The boy I liked was just looking for a girlfriend to have sex and that made me feel bad, that he would be my boyfriend only if he had sex. I hate having to tell people this, but maybe you won’t have a boyfriend or girlfriend for a while until you meet the right person for you. It’s about what you want to do, not being pressured into doing something what you want to do.

Wow, that takes a lot of self confidence! How did you learn that self advocacy so early on?

Honestly I did not have any language to express things in the way I just expressed it to you. It took me years to realize “ah, that’s what was happening.” It was all about my feelings, and that was the most information I could access when I was sixteen. I just knew that he made me feel bad. I do know that in later years when I did start to have sex there were guys who just wanted to have sex and so did I, so our goals meshed at that point. There are a lot of mistakes you make and that’s how you learn. Sometimes people make a mistake and feel like they’ll pay for it the rest of their lives, but it’s all a process.

Do you think that the media messages about sex have improved at all since you were a teen?

I’m of two minds about this. Because there’s internet there are so many resources for finding your own community, you have resources online, but you also have a lot of other shit coming towards you really fast. The thing that’s really different from when I was a teenager was that idea that girls have to look sexy. That wasn’t really true when I was a teenager. When I was younger the message was always “Be a good girl! Don’t have sex!” which I think is still the message, but then now you also have the “be sexy but don’t have sex” thing.

Have you seen The To-Do List? It’s such a cool, interesting portrayal of teen sexuality.

The premise seemed really really interesting that the main character knew what she wanted and went about taking care of it. It doesn’t change your life in this massive way as we’re led to believe. If we go to pop culture there aren’t a lot of options [as far as portrayals of healthy sexuality], so when a movie like The To-Do List comes along it’s so important. As a teenager it always hit me like a ton of bricks when I saw something that actually reflected my life. That’s always really meaningful when you have that moment of “Oh, I’m not crazy, other people feel this way”

If a girl wants to be a filmmaker what challenges should she expect? How would you suggest she confront those challenges?

It can be challenging to get your ideas out there in a way that you can share them with other people. Don’t be afraid to make stuff, see what you think about it, see how you can improve it, make more stuff. A lot of us can be paralyzed by the empty page, every writer I know is paralyzed by the empty page. Even if it’s terrible, do a first draft. Just do it. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. It’s really cliche, but write the truth or film the truth. Create something that feels authentic to you and do things that feel meaningful to you, whether it’s drama or comedy. If it resonates with you it will resonate with other people. Don’t create necessarily for your audience–create for yourself and the audience will find you. The one thing we have to recognize is that creating is hard work, so love yourself and love what you want to say and understand that it’s going to take work and that just means that you’re doing what every other creative person does.

I have a really amazing editor who I worked with on HTLYV, and he said “I don’t believe you. I know who you are, and I don’t believe you would walk into David’s Bridal to look for a wedding dress.” I said “No, that really did happen! I went into David’s Bridal to look for a wedding dress for my wedding.” And he said, “Well you need to explain why you did that, because I don’t see you in a David’s wedding gown.” So we rewrote the narration so it felt true. Find someone who you trust to look at your stuff and get feedback. You have to be very careful who you ask for feedback. Find someone who will give you constructive criticism.

Y’all had such civil conversations with people who you really disagree with, like the abstinence activists. How did you manage to do that in a balanced way?

The girl from Harvard, Rosemary, was interviewed by one of the producers. I think sometimes you can just very politely ask questions and hear the answer and the answer may conflict with your own beliefs. I believe in giving [people I disagree with] their voice and their place to say what’s on their mind, and I know people who watch the film are like “oh my god that’s horrible!” but that’s how she feels about it. And it’s good to know that they’re out there.

I want to respect the people in my film and give them their own voice to tell their stories, but as far as institutions go I feel at liberty to say what I think. Individual people should have a chance to have their own voice. For people who are waiting until marriage, like Judy, she’s only talking about herself and I think that’s fine. I don’t agree with Rosemary, who says that all gays should not have sex even when they’re married, and I think most viewers will agree. I think that the idea that because you’re gay you can’t have these things that everybody else can have seems like a pretty outrageous statement. I don’t feel like I have to call her names to make that point.

Was it scary at all to put so much of your personal life out there in the film?

When people are like “you’re so brave!” I’m like, “oh shit! what did I put out there?” It’s how I work best, using my experiences as a lens. I’m asking other people all their personal sex stuff, I thought it was only fair that I share my stuff as well. Was there anything in particular you were surprised about?

Well I think anyone saying anything about their sexuality is radical.

I think some people are more open to sharing than other people, and other people share too much. Because I do these first person films I create this character of Therese, choosing what I’m going to show and talk about, there are really big chunks of my life that I don’t talk about. On screen Therese is not exactly who director Therese is. There’s nothing in it that’s not true, but there are things you choose not to talk about. There’s a filmmaker who I really admire and I asked him for advice, how do you know when you put too much of yourself in the film, he said “show it to a bunch of people you trust” and that’s always good advice.

What are your main projects now that the film is finished?

The V Card diaries, the interactive companion to the film! We have over 300 [submissions] now, we have a pretty cool interactive site, and you can submit your own stories, so that’s pretty close to my heart. I’m also developing some workshops based on the film, one that’s for charting your sexual history, one on virginity myths and one on first person storytelling. I’ve been thinking about a few other things in the development stage that i’m doing research on. I don’t want to get too specific, but I’m always really interested in women and our identity in society–who we are versus who people want us to be.

Learn more about the film, and get your own “V-Card” on the film’s site. The full film is available for streaming  for $4.99 through the end of July. Don’t miss it!

I’m a Girls State alum, and the sexism at Texas Boys State 2014 is not OK

by Annemarie McDaniel

What do astronaut Neil Armstrong, President Bill Clinton, basketball star Michael Jordan, and singer Bon Jovi all have in common? When they were juniors in high school, they all attended a prestigious but little-known program called Boys State. That’s just the beginning of the incredibly long list of famous Boys State alumni, and alumnae from its sister program, Girls State, are just as impressive.

In just a few days at the summer Boys State and Girls State program, high school students run for office, write legislation, draft court opinions, publish newspapers, and more. Usually this is a very fulfilling experience, but this year, at Texas’ Boys State, one delegate’s entire campaign speech was just the words “Cold beer and titties.” Campaign photos featured swimsuit models with the political party’s name, “Feds,” on the model’s breast.  Another party’s platform cruelly shamed teen mothers. Boys State creates and fosters incredible future world leaders, and it’s terrifying to see such sexism being allowed by councilors and encouraged other attendees.

I am, in fact, a Girls State alumna, and my time at the California Girls State conference in 2011 shaped who I am today.

When I ran for the position of California governor, the other candidates and I took our race seriously, writing and rewriting our speeches to make sure we hit all of the key issues we wanted to address if elected. That doesn’t mean we weren’t also silly occasionally. One girl whose nickname was Par or Par-Par made golf jokes throughout her campaign; I personally told a hilarious anecdote or two (or five) while running; and there were definitely dance breaks both during our free time in the dorms and even during session occasionally. The conference is exhausting, and being funny is a great way to lighten the mood and have a good time.

Some people say Texas Boys’ State was just young guys having a good time together, but a speech where a candidate stands up, goes to the podium, says “Cold beer and titties,” and sits down, is not lighthearted fun that I’m talking about. If something similar happened my year at Girls State, a counselor or delegate would call out on stage how that is unacceptable. Because it is. “Titties” don’t just exist in their own little vacuum, they’re on women’s bodies, like my own. When a man reduces a value of women to just being her breasts, that mentality leads to the objectification and violence against women we see and hear so often in our media.

It’s the same problem with the campaign logo for the Boys State Federalist Party, or “Feds” for short this year. The Federalist Party chose an image of a swimsuit model from a magazine, wrote “Feds” on her breast, and decided this would be an excellent campaign photo to show other delegates. Sadly, if the Federalist Party was looking to capture boys’ attention, sexualized images do a good job of that. That’s what these boys are seeing at home when they turn on their TV or go online: companies trying to sell a product by using women’s bodies as a canvas. But Boys State is meant to be a place for the state’s best leaders to come together and create the best government and best selves that they can. Sexualizing women for the sake of campaign materials is just the opposite.

The sexism came from both political parties. The Nationalist Party included the following in their party platform: “In the case of teen pregnancies, three years of optional welfare can be provided as long as the person raises the child themselves and notifies their community that they are receiving welfare.” My jaw dropped when I read that bullet point. Teen mothers face incredible societal stigma already, and the leaders of this political party want to publicly shame them by perhaps making them walk door-to-door or put a sign in front of their house, telling the neighborhood that, yes, they are a teen mother, and yes, they are on welfare. This is even more sexist if one remembers that there also would be a man who helped create the child, but the guys at Texas Boys’ State didn’t think those men were truly responsible for the pregnancy and didn’t need to go around telling their neighbors they were a young fathers on welfare, unlike the young mother. If the Nationalist Party hoped to reduce the number of young mothers, their platform could have offered comprehensive sex education and contraception available in schools or more local Planned Parenthood funding. They could have supported young mothers by offering more flexible graduation options or on-campus childcare. But instead of strengthening the community by providing support for young pregnancies, the Nationalist Party chose sexism and targeted teen mothers. Not to mention their platform also outlaws all abortions except in the case of rape, so even if a teenager wanted to terminate a pregnancy, they would be forced to keep the child.

It’s easy to see all of this as being an isolated incident. It’s “just one camp” and “a few young boys” who didn’t realize they were crossing a line. Except this kind of sexism at this year’s Boys State in Texas reflects the sexism we have seen so often in grown-up politics recently. Just last week, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that buffer zones around Planned Parenthood clinics violate the constitution and that it is legal for Hobby Lobby to deny their employees birth control and other contraception, despite being medical benefits they are entitled to receive. How are these boys going to work around women politicians, or women in any career field, if they run for office in a few decades? Even in our day-to-day lives, this is the same sexism that fuels the sexualizing and policing of women’s bodies we experience when we walk down the street and see billboards of nearly-naked models selling a product, but are simultaneously slut-shamed for wearing “too short of shorts” in public.

In fifty years, a boy at Texas’ Boys State this year could be serving on the court, in Congress writing our nation’s legislation, interviewing political candidates on television, or even just serving on your local school board. No matter where the boys from this year of Texas’ Boys State go, they will have witnessed how there aren’t always repercussions for sexism in politics. This isn’t to blame the Boys State, American Legion, or Texas; this could’ve happened at any kind of conference in any state. But we need to be teaching our boys better. We need our young men who are councilors at these kinds of conferences to step in when that happens, our friends and other attendees to not be afraid to call out sexism publicly, and our future leaders to not say such statements in the first place.

The stakes are too high. When we justify this action by saying “boys will be boys,” we need to remember these boys become men, and accepting their sexism now means we may be forced to accept it for life.