I speak widely on sexuality, gender, rights, and justice to audiences worldwide, at institutions such as Duke University, Yale University, the New School, Third Wave Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, Eyebeam Art + Technology Center, and the UC Berkeley Labor Center, and at events including South by Southwest Interactive (USA), re:publica (Germany), NEXT (Denmark), the Oakland Book Festival (USA), the Brooklyn Book Festival (USA), Bristol Festival of Ideas (UK), and the International AIDS Conference (Mexico).
Where the frontlines are
One of the unexpected pleasures of the Occupy movement's takeover of lower Manhattan this past Fall was the chance to get out from behind the laptop and run about with writers I don't see enough of. Being forced spine-first by a line of riot-helmeted cops into the cold granite of Wall Street's various fortresses first thing in the morning, bracing yourself with the hands of people you realize you most often find that early in the day on gchat -- it changes you, and maybe what you expect of your colleagues.
In a new interview with British journalist Laurie Penny, a veteran of the UK's anti-austerity protests who came to the states to cover Occupy, Emily Manuel asks her what it's like to be a woman reporting from the frontlines, whether that's getting trapped in a stampede of police horses in London or scrambling out of a kettle to avoid being pepper-sprayed (and all, you know, while updating Twitter). Laurie says she had to fight with editors to prove a woman could do this kind of reporting, but that also:
"[there are] so many other brave, intrepid women reporters. Frontline journalism has always been a woman's job as much as a man's. I suspect that the stereotype of the hard-drinking, macho foreign correspondent will take some time to shift, though."
It's fair, and it's right, but it's also a phenomenon owing as much to sexism in the media as it does to the ways in which we've gendered public and private space. Yes, we should take the streets, and not cede them to the men -- reporters and activists alike -- who keep turning up on the news with their bravado standing in for expertise.
Are the streets the only frontline? Do they deserve such importance?
In the winter months after the eviction of Occupy Wall Street, I (and the rest of the internet, apparently) fell into Downton Abbey, the British costume soap, which is set, quite conveniently for a show that loves to collapse and personalize grand historic shifts, just at the time that corsets were about to be shed and women were about to get the vote:
(it's one of those fan videos, but you know, watch it with an eye for the not at all subtextual class & gender revolt)
It's a little "DID YOU KNOW THE PERSONAL IS ALSO POLITICAL," but even here, we're to understand Lady Sybil gets her feminism on when she turns out for a rally (and is knocked on the head by a mob), as much as when she's posing in her harem pants in the confines of her family's country estate.
A few nights ago, talking with a good old friend who is now a reproductive rights lawyer, we were nearly sputtering re: the fight before us now is defending birth control. How on earth did we get here (aside from the dreamland politics of an election year, giving the mic over to misogynist ideologues who, more to the point, will always be able to afford a quick, illegal abortion for their mistresses, should it come to that) -- this pre-Roe sort of fight?
The Right have been occupying us for decades now: every Saturday, at women's health clinics across the country. They've hit on this long before Occupy itself took up persistent, networked physical confrontation as their key play.
Our frontlines are as much that clinic as they are the kettle. They are the bedroom door. They are getting into a shelter. They are the jail cell. They are across our partners and our families, across us.