The Feministing Five: Margaret Cho

17 Nov photo by Mary Taylor via
photo by Mary Taylor via

photo by Mary Taylor via

Originally posted on November 16, 2015 on

Margaret Cho, the standup comedian, actor, writer, activist, singer-songwriter, mensch, and wedding officiator, is also an unapologetic feminist. Cho is known for using her comedy as a weapon against racism, sexism, and homophobia. In her latest show, PsyCHO, which she is touring with now, Cho jokes about vibrators but also deals with things like police brutality and homelessness.

Another serious issue Cho uses her voice to address is rape. In November of 2014, Cho tweeted, “I am a rape victim and a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I come forward in solidarity with all women who have suffered. #tellyourstory.” She spoke about her experience in more depth during an interview with Billboard Magazine in September of this year. And on November 13, Cho’s new song and video “(I Want to) Kill My Rapist,” debuted on

And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five with Margaret Cho!

Katie Halper: who is your favorite fictional heroine, and who are your heroines in real life?

Margaret Cho: My favorite fictional character is Mina Harker and all of her permutations in the vampire genre. My heroines in real life are from that era too, George Sand and Mary Shelley.

KH: What recent news story made you want to scream?

MC: Anything about Bill Cosby. He’s done such horrible things to women for over 40 years and he really was a pioneer in comedy and also the kind of pioneer that I would have liked to have been. He brought about so much change when it came to African Americans in comedy and television and so he was such a hero but the fact that he was a rapist for 40 years and got away with it and women didn’t feel like they could come forward or they were not believed, it’s an outrageous misuse of the power and comedy.  It’s a horrifying thing and the fact that the stories have been around for over 40 years and people didn’t believe them is really terrible.

What is amazing about it is that women are finally coming forward and are able to tell their stories and that will create change in the conversation around rape. As a survivor myself, I think it is incredibly healing to hear these women tell their truths. And there’s no statue of limitations on the truth. Even though he can’t be prosecuted in the matter he should be, at least we have some kind of justice. And we can take this as a lesson that you can put your rapist on blast. And that lets you get some of that rage out instead of internalizing it. I think that sexual abuse often recreates itself within the survivor as eating disorders, as depression, as suicide, as self mutilation and that when we can murder the rapist inside of us that thrives on our own suffering, that we can find that healing.

KH: What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge facing feminism today?

MC: The possible defunding of Planned Parenthood! We’re basically going back in time. Why are we trying to turn back time? We’re looking at this huge campaign to defund Planned Parenthood that’s based on lies, based on misogyny, based on the idea that somehow we are public space, that our bodies are part of America, that they can legislate our uterus. The fact is that Planned Parenthood is there for so many other reasons besides abortion. The most troubling thing is that they want to take away reproductive health for low-income women. And that is something that we cannot let happen. There are so many lies around Planned Parenthood. And they’re not particularly good ones because they can be fact checked so easily. All we are asking is that people check the source.

KH: Why do you identify as feminist and how is feminism present in your work? 

MC: I think I’ve always been a feminist. I don’t know when I actually started implementing the word but I’ve always felt it growing up, mostly through standup. I started standup very early, 14 or 15, and I knew that I had that point of view. I started identifying as a feminist in the 70s, I guess! I feel like a baby bra burner! Now feminism has gone through a lot different incarnations, even to the point where some women were not calling themselves feminist and didn’t want to be associated with feminism. But I think feminism has become much more aggressive and much more progressive, especially in comedy, with people like Amy Schumer, and Tig Notaro, and hopefully myself. I really like the way feminism is on display with people like Lena Dunham and Mindy Kaling — there’s so much great stuff happening, so much great comedy.

Feminism isn’t just a white middle class movement. It is a white middle class movement. It’s also a movement for people of color. It’s also a movement for poor people. It’s a movement for people who need to empower themselves, no matter who they are. We need to understand that we still don’t make equal pay, no matter how much you work. Feminism is a lot of things. And the expression of feminism is different for everyone. The patriarchy likes to shame us and belittle us by criticizing feminism. Feminism is a way to heal from patriarchy, from abuse, from inequality. There’s so much more involved in feminism that goes beyond race and class and that goes beyond countries’ borders.

I’m a feminist because I have no other alternative.  I’m a feminist through and through.

All my work is feminist. My latest show, PsyCHO, is feminist. I’m saying what I need to say, and everything is on my terms. My song Fat Pussy is feminist. It’s about fat pride, enjoying my body as opposed to feeling bad about it.

KH: You’re going to a desert island, and you’re allowed to take one food, one drink, and one feminist. What do you pick?

MC: I want buttered kettle corn with vodka and Gloria Steinem.

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Making Politics Laughable BY ANGELA BARBUTI

9 Nov

Comedian Katie Halper riffs on Zabar’s and socialist summer camp

Katie Halper refers to herself as a stereotype of the Upper West Side. “My dad’s a psychiatrist. My mom’s an English professor and a novelist,” she explained. She identifies as Jewish, but in the secular sense, and uses that in her comedy. “I’ll do stuff about anything from Zabar’s to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The 34-year-old is making a name for herself in the political comedy world of New York City. Describing herself as “liberal, progressive, left,” she is very much aware of the fact that she’s not alone in her thinking here in the city. “It’s funny, people are always like, ‘You’re preaching to the choir,’ but the choir deserves to be entertained,” she said.

This year, she was given her own weekly radio show on WBAI, “The Katie Halper Show,” where she brings on guests such as historians, journalists, organizers and of course, fellow comedians, and they give their takes on the news, the arts, politics and pop culture.

On November 18th, she will host Laughing Liberally, an offshoot of Living Liberally, the troupe, of which she is a member, that creates social events around progressive politics. Her documentary “Commie Camp” about Jewish activist-founded Camp Kinderland, which she attended as a youngster, will play at Anthology Film Archives on December 14.

How did you get started in comedy?I’ve always been very political. I went to Wesleyan University in Connecticut and when I was in college, I thought that I would go to law school. I remember one day at Wesleyan, people were like, “Katie, you should be in the standup show.” And I said, “I don’t do standup. I’m not funny on command.” Because they thought I was funny. So I did the show. I just basically told stories about my family, and my grandmother, in particular. There was a really nice and funny woman who was the headliner named Susan Prekel and she was really encouraging. But I was reluctant to perform. There was something I always thought was kind of obnoxious about actors and performers. I was also more political, so it took me a while to admit that I liked performing.

What was it like growing up on the Upper West Side?Well, I’m the product of a mixed marriage, my mom is Bronxian and my dad is Queensian. But I’m a walking stereotype of the Upper West Side. It’s very Woody Allen. Actually, there’s a part in the film “Annie Hall” where Allen meets a character named Allison Portchnik, who is played by Carol Kane, and tries to size her up and says, “You’re like New York, Jewish, left-wing, liberal, intellectual, Central Park West, Brandeis University, the socialist summer camps and … father with the Ben Shahn drawings, right, and … strike-oriented kind of, red diaper …” But I grew up on Riverside Drive, not Central Park West, and went to Wesleyan, not Brandeis. I even went to the socialist summer camp, Camp Kinderland, which was founded by secular Jewish workers in the 1920s. My mom, uncle and grandmother worked there and I made a documentary about it called “Commie Camp.” It’s funny because I didn’t use to identify as Jewish because I’m not at all religious. But now I realize that there is a secular Jewish identity and tradition, which I very much have.

New York Magazine called you “Stephen Colbert crossed with Sarah Silverman.” How do you describe your comedic style?Like Colbert. I am ironic or satirical and sometimes pseudo self-congratulating, but I break character all the time. My normal character is just me. Actually someone just gave me a blurb today and she’s like, “You’re quirky and incisive, but never mean.” I like to get people to tell me stories. I really like listening to people and asking them questions. Often I’ll have people talk, not just about the current events, but also about their lives. I like to get them able to relax. And when I do standup, it varies between short, cerebral jokes or storytelling. Sometimes it’s sarcastic. It’s about politics. It’s about dating. More and more it’s about dating, actually. Thank God for small favors, like terrible dates, which make great art. It’s all going in the book that I want to write one day.

Read the rest at:

Ta-Nehisi Coates on reparations, racism, and sexism

8 Nov

Originally posted on Feministing, November 6, 2015

Image via Willamette News

I was thrilled to speak with journalist and writer Ta-Nehisi Coates on my WBAI radio show last week. Coates’ latest book Between The World and Me was called “required reading” by Toni Morrison, was nominated for a National Book Award, and earned him a MacCarthur Genius Grant. In the summer of 2014,  Coates rekindled a national debate with his piece Atlantic cover article “The Case for Reparations.” Coates didn’t always believe that reparations were owed. When I asked him what changed his mind he responded:

I think I was a much more standard issue liberal in the sense that I thought that many of the problems in the African-American community could be fixed by class-based solutions. And then increasingly as I saw more research about segregation, as I saw more research about community poverty, it became clear that Black people themselves are a class in and of themselves, that one can’t sub in and out the Black middle class and the white middle class, that these are different groups of people, that racism itself is an injury, not just a different kind of classism, that it is an injury in and of itself, that Black people have been injured, that Black middle class people have been injured, that Black quote un quote rich people have been injured.

Coates compared the way class privilege doesn’t cancel out racism to the way class privilege doesn’t cancel out sexism: “In the way that sexism injures women… it doesn’t matter that some of these women are rich. Just being rich does not mean that you’re not injured, or that you can’t be injured by sexism. When I could recognize that as an interest in and of itself, well that changed things.”

You can listen to the whole episode on soundcloud or iTunes, where you can subscribe to, rate and review The Katie Halper Show.

Comedian Judah Friedlander talks about Bernie Sanders, guns, gentrification and other stuff white people like

23 Oct
image via wikipedia

image via wikipedia

Originally posted on RawStory
image of If the Raindrops United via

image of If the Raindrops United via

Most people know Judah Friedlander for being a standup comedian and actor. You may have seen him on 30 Rock, or in films like The Wrestler, American Splendor or Wet Hot American Summer. But Friedlander is a bit of a renaissance man who not only makes his own hats but has authored two books including How to Beat Up Anybody: An Instructional and Inspirational Karate Book by the World Champion (2010) and If The Raindrops United, a book of illustrations and cartoons which hit the shelves October 20th. While If The Raindrops United, is undoubtedly hilarious, it’s also, in many ways, a work of political protest, in which Friedlander uses humor and graphic art to deal with serious issues such as gentrification, alienation, and the excesses of capitalism.

Friedlander came on The Katie Halper Show, my weekly radio show on WBAI, to talk to me and my co-host Gabe Pacheco about his new book and politics. Here are his thoughts on some important topics:

The Democratic Debates

“I thought it got off to a bad start with Cheryl crow singing the National Anthem. First of all it was a horrible rendition. But I thought it was such a weird, desperate attempt to make us look like we’re not anti-american. What was that all about?… It seemed like a very staged thing.”

Bernie Sanders

“I just liked how Bernie Sanders pronounced the word blunder like ‘blunda.’  That’s actually kind of a double blunder since you mispronounced blunder.”


“[Sanders] was talking about how in rural areas gun laws should be different from urban areas. And he’s right. I talk about gun issues in my standup and I perform all over the place. First of all the gun stuff in this country is actually horrendous. But, yes the dynamic of guns in a rural area is completely different from the dynamic in an urban area. But you know, how you deal with it is a whole other issue.”

The Presidential Election and the two party system

I’m very progressive so…I haven’t decided who I’m going to vote for or what party. The last election I think I voted green party. I mean the person didn’t have a chance. But I think the country really has to get out of this two party system.


image of gentrification man via judah

image of gentrification man via judah

image of gentrification man via judah

“I moved to New York in 1987. My dad’s actually from Brooklyn… we would come up when I was a kid and the city was just so impressive and diverse. And for years I hadn’t lived in Manhattan.  I lived way out in queens. A mile past the last stop on the subway in a non-gentrified neighborhood where families had been living for generations. Middle Village, Queens. But when I moved back to Manhattan… the classism in Manhattan and I would say half of Brooklyn at this point was just staggering.

When people say New York they’re usually talking about Manhattan. And when you’re in Manhattan it’s such a weird city because almost everyone is wealthy or ultra wealthy. And that means it’s mostly white… New York has always had wealthy and ultra wealthy but it was never the majority. And when you have a city where the teachers, policemen, firemen, subway workers, mail delivery people, when all the service workers and the blue collar people, when all of them are working in the city but none of them can actually afford to live in the city, that’s not a healthy dynamic at all.  New York is a much less diverse place than it used to be. There’s even a mini-10 page comic book called “gentrification man” in the book and gentrification man is the first super hero for the corporations.”

His Favorite Band

Jeb and the Holograms.

Make sure you listen to the entire interview with Friedlander. Listen for some hilarious parts including:

  • Judah’s realization that it’s his turn to talk.
  • Judah’s fearlessness towards the FBI
  • Judah’s Columbus Day standup.
  • Judah’s concern for the well-being of the people who hate posters.
  • 10-year-old Judah’s political drawings.
  • Judah’s effortless and mellifluous  listing of the entire cast of Red Dawn. 
  • Judah’s sleeping in the corner of the studio on every episode without our even knowing.

You can catch The Katie Halper Show on WBAI at 99.5FM or online at WBAI every Wednesday from 6pm to 7pm. Or you can subscribe to the Katie Halper Show podcast on Itunes (and please rate and review us) or Soundcloud. And make sure to listen on October 28th when we talk to Ta-Nehisi Coates!

RIP children’s writer and illustrator Vera B. Williams

22 Oct
Originally posted October 19, 2015 on Feministing

Vera B. Williams, an award-winning illustrator and writer of 17 children’s books, who spent a month in a federal penitentiary for participating in a women’s peaceful blockade of the Pentagon, died last Friday. 

Born on January 28, 1927, in Hollywood, California, Williams moved to the Bronx as a child, studied fine arts at the High School of Music and Arts in Manhattan, and received her BFA from Black Mountain college in North Carolina. It was at this experimental arts college that Vera met her future husband Paul Williams, with whom she would have three children, and fellow artists with whom she would c0-found the Gate Hill Cooperative and the Collaberg School, in Stony Point, New York. Williams worked as a teacher and artist but it wasn’t until she was 46  and moved into a houseboat in Ontario, Canada that she started drawing and illustrating children’s books.

In 2004, Williams was the US nominee for the biennial, international Hans Christian Andersen Award, the highest recognition for creators of children’s books. She won the NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature in 2009 and a Caldecott Medal award in 1983 and 1991. She was also featured in the Library of Congress exhibit “Family, Friends, and Community: The Art of Vera B. Williams,” in 1995.

Vera was an activist in life and on the page. She was a member of the executive committee of the War Resisters League from 1984 to 1987, and served a month at a federal penitentiary in Alderson, West Virginia for participating in a women’s peaceful blockade of the Pentagon.

Her books are known for their cultural, racial, and socio-economic diversity. One of my personal favorite books as a child was A Chair for My Mother, a book about a young girl named Rosa, who lives with her mother and grandmother with whom she saves coins to buy a comfortable chair after their house is burnt in a fire. It’s also one of Missy Elliott’s favorite books.

She is survived by her three children Sarah, Merce (Laurie) and Jennifer, grandchildren Hudson, August, William, Rebecca, and Claire, and a sister, Naomi Rosenblum

RIP Vera B. Williams.

The New Black: a film on race, same-sex marriage, and intersectionality

16 Oct
Originally posted in September 2015 on Feministing.

Yoruba Richen‘s documentary about the African American community’s struggle for marriage equality is coming soon to a TV screen or laptop near you.

The New Black, a film by Yoruba Richen, explores Black organizing for (and against) the successful 2012 Maryland referendum on same-sex marriage.

The film premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival, won awards at AFI Docs and Philly Q Fest and the Frameline LGBT Film Festival. The film had its theatrical premier at The Film Forum in New York City and its television premiere on PBS’s Independent Lens. And this month, the film is finally available on NetFlix.

I spoke to Yoruba about her film on my WBAI radio show [it starts at 32:56]

Katie: What inspired you to make the film?

Yoruba: I started conceiving of this film with the election of 2008… the first election that Barack Obama won and where Proposition Eight, which outlawed marriage equality [in California], won. And I happened to be in California at the time… And what was so crazy, what started happening was, not only was there this huge progressive victory but there was also this loss that was so devastating to the LGBT community. And pretty much immediately Black people started to be blamed for the passage of Proposition Eight. And I wanted to look at why this was happening, how it was that these two groups were being pitted against each other, essentially… But I wanted to look at how the African American community, specifically, was grappling with this in light of the election of President Obama, and the fight that we were seeing over the legacy of civil rights.

Katie: How did you feel, as an African-American lesbian, when you heard people pitting these two groups together as if they were mutually exclusive?

Yoruba: I got really frustrated and angry because Black LGBT voices were shut out of the debate. And as African-Americans we often are considered a monolith and the… complexity of what’s going on in our community is not featured or brought out by the media.  I felt like the media was really getting the story wrong — and not just the media but activists on both sides of the issue also were coming out with latent racism and latent homophobia. It just felt to me that this was a story whose time had come and because it was a story that was going to be unfolding over the next few years. It was a story that I could follow and see where it would end up, and again, I had no idea that we would end up where we have.

Katie: For someone like Pastor Derek McCoy [the President of the Maryland Family Alliance and Maryland Family Council] who opposes marriage equality, one of the reasons that marriage equality is so dangerous is because of the way the [assumed heterosexual] Black family was able to resist… slavery, which divided up families, separated people… And Bishop Yvette Flunder uses that same history to kind of say… ‘We [African Americans] have always had a sort of untraditional family structure. And because of that it almost lends itself to same-sex marriage.’

Yoruba:  A lot of the push back that you get in the Black community is that we already have such a fragile family system: teenage pregnancy, high rates of divorce, women not marrying, and this is another threat to the family. And what Bishop Flunder is saying is that, “because of the history and legacy of slavery and racism and segregation, we’ve always had to reconfigure out families in a different way. Depend on grandma and grandpa, aunts and uncles, neighbors. Not that we don’t have sort of traditional families. There’s another part in her interview that  I didn’t use in the film where she says that ‘I feel like the Black community could learn a lot from the LGBT community in terms of family and structuring family.’

You can listen to the entire interview with Yoruba below. It starts at 32:56

Why Kerry Washington thinks you should know about financial abuse

16 Oct
Originally posted September 30, 2015 on Feministing

Kerry Washington is using her celebrity, her love for fashion, and her designing skills for a good cause: to empower women to escape from financial abuse, which is present in 98 percent of cases of domestic abuse. When I asked Kerry why the issue was so important, I saw she was just as sharp, articulate and passionate as the Olivia Pope character she portrays on Scandal. 

In 2014, the Allstate Foundation asked Washington to design a purple purse to call attention to financial abuse and raise money — $2.5 million — for foundations which fight against it. And this year, they did it again, unveiling Washington’s new purse at a purple carpet event at the Plaza in New York last week.

When I asked Washington why she chose to behind this campaign, she said,

I had never really heard of financial abuse before but then I learned it’s the number one reason why women stay in abusive relationships and why they go back even after they’ve left. They don’t feel like they can take care of themselves financially. And I thought this is a way I can do work on an issue I’ve been involved with for a long time, violence against women, and be part of a really tangible solution, giving them the tools to do it and doing it through fashion. It was so many things that I love coming together.

I’ve always seen domestic abuse as complex and as a social issue, a psychological issue, an emotional issue. But it’s so much a financial issue. And identifying the financial issue makes me feel really hopeful. Because I feel like all those other issues are very important but allowing a woman to have the tools to have the financial independence to leave an abusive partner let’s her really tackle all the other issues.

One out of four women report experiencing domestic violence in their lifetimes. The Purple Purse Program explains that financial abuse “prevents victims from acquiring, using or maintaining financial resources. Financial abuse is just as effective in controlling a victim as a lock and key. Victims of financial abuse live a controlled life where they have been purposely put into a position of dependence, making it hard for the victim to break free.” Financial abusers do things like control how money is spent; withhold money from their partner or grant it in the form of an “allowance;” forbid their partner from working; or steal their partner’s money, identity, property or credit. According to a survey commissioned by the Allstate Foundation in 2014, 98 percent of women in abusive relationships reported that financial abuse was one of the things that kept them with their partners.

Though financial abuse is almost always an integral part of domestic abuse, and affects all socioeconomic classes, most people are unfamiliar with this epidemic. Seventy-eight percent of survey participants, for instance, hadn’t heard much about financial abuse as an aspect of domestic violence. Sixty-five percent of survey respondents said  their family or friends wouldn’t know if they were in a financially abusive relationship and seventy percent can’t say they would know how to help them.

Check out the resources available at the Purple Purse Program, including a curriculm to help people identify if they’re in a financially abusive relationship. If you want to support the cause and can afford it, buy a purse or a charm. And read our Feministing Five interview with Washington from awhile back.

Melissa Gira Grant on Amnesty International’s vote to decriminalize sex work

16 Oct
image via Amnesty International

image via Amnesty International

Originally posted August 2015 on Feministing

The Human Rights NGO Amnesty International cast a historic vote to decriminalize sex work on Tuesday. I spoke to Melissa Gira Grant, author of the book Playing the Whore,  about what this really means and the connection between Black Lives Matter and sex work.

Tuesday, Amnesty International delegates gathered in Dublin, Ireland voted to endorse a policy of decriminalizing sex work.  But weeks earlier a leak of the policy sparked a backlash, including a petition critical of Amnesty, which was signed by female celebrities, as Vero wrote about previously.

Melissa Gira Grant is a journalist and writer who  covers politics, tech and sex work for outlets like  The Nation, The New York Times, Wired, The Atlantic, Glamour, The Guardian, In These Times, The Washington Post, Dissent, Slate, and Salon. She is also the author of Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work.  I interviewed her for my WBAI radio show on Wednesday. Here is part of our conversation.

Why is the vote so significant? What does it mean?

What they’re doing by deciding as an organization that they are going to bring this issue of sex workers’ rights under this larger umbrella of Human Rights work that they take on [is] not only sending sort of a signal to their members to take this issue on but I think they’re also sending this message to other Human Rights organizations and activists. [A message that] sex workers’ rights– including the decriminalization of sex work to protect sex workers from the harms they might experience because what they do is considered a crime or they themselves are considered outlaws or criminals–  are a mainstream human rights issue right now. And I think that is the most significant part of what they’ve done.

What was the leaked document? 

If you actually looked at what was leaked, and most news outlets didn’t, what you would find in that document was a brief on research that Amnesty did in four different countries where selling sex might not be illegal but a lot of the activities around it are criminal. They found that that creates dangerous situations for sex workers and environments where sex workers’ rights, when they are violated, they have very little recourse in the legal system.

There is one quote-unquote Feminist framing that sex workers are victims as opposed to criminals. Then there is this other Feminist framing which is that sex work is inherently empowering. There is this false dichotomy where sex work is the most degrading thing in the world or the most empowering thing in the world. And what’s so interesting and frustrating and puzzling to me is  does it matter? The point is, it seems to me, for anyone who cares about the quality of life, protecting the safety and health, recognizing the humanity of sex workers, [that] it doesn’t matter if you see it as a Feminist thing as a sexist thing. It’s not going anywhere. Do people actually think that they’re going be able to prohibit it out of existence?

I don’t think so. I would say that the issue of empowerment comes in at: are you empowered to take advantage of your rights? Are you empowered to get justice when you experience violence? Are you empowered to negotiate the conditions of your own work? And criminalization makes all these things really, really hard. So what you have happening for some folks on the opposition, what they’re primarily opposed to is sex work itself existing ever… And so I think that’s why we end up in this kind of circular thing of are you empowered and did you choose it or whatever. And you know, to be honest, when police arrest you they don’t ask you are you empowered or are you a victim. They’re just going to take you away.

It seems like people want to know what your position is on sex work as opposed to [evidence of the impact of criminalization on] sex workers.

Exactly and it becomes this performance, it becomes this… conversation about our feelings on sex work rather than having a real grounded conversation about what’s going on in people’s lives. What do they need. Let’s have pro and con conversations about policy. Let’s do that. But let’s not do that in this abstract way that has nothing to do with the lives of sex workers.

The thing that’s so frustrating about the empowerment conversation is it’s a double standard. We don’t apply this to anybody else in any other job. We don’t say to the fight for 15 folks, “do you really love McDonalds? I dunno! I’m not so sure.” Why is this somehow the exception where labor organizing is somehow impossible? Where people think it condones an industry? Would we say [that about] workers in other industries that are dangerous or that we don’t accept? Are we trying to protect people from the very dire situations that all workers face when their rights are not respected? Or are we trying to express some kind of opinion?

A lot of the Feminist project has been about defining a particular kind of valuable woman. She has a career, she loves her job, she has this perfect equitable relationship with her partner, she’s professional, she’s educated. And I think anybody who sort of falls outside that frame is seen as somebody to help, not a partner.

What is the evidence about how decriminalization improves the lives of sex workers?

HIV isn’t just about individual behaviors, its about the environment that you live in…. When sex work is criminalized or when police target sex workers, whether or not what they’re doing is considered criminal, one of the ways they look for a pretext to harass them is to turn out their purse and see if they have condoms. So this is a really classic case of creating an environment where because of how police workers are interacting with sex workers, because of how sex workers are profiled in public spaces, we are actually damaging their ability to care for themselves and their health. And we were doing this in New York until very recently. How much money does our Department of Health spend making condoms available to all New Yorkers? And yet we’re also paying the police to take them out of their hands.

How much harder is it to have recourse to protection when it is criminalized?

A few years ago I wrote about a man who had targeted several transgender women in Philadelphia, some of them sex workers, some of them trans women that he thought were sex workers. And he killed a trans woman — after other women had already known that he was targeting the community. After they had already gone to the police and asked for help and been denied help by the police.

When we’re talking about violence that sex workers face, we’re not just talking about violence that they face from customers but we’re talking about state violence and police violence. And whether you’re talking about sex workers in Jamaica Queens or whether you’re talking about sex workers in Bangalore, India, the rates of violence that they’re facing from police targeting them are much higher than the rates they’re facing from customers.

So that is something that isn’t even just about criminalization. That is about this very complex set of issues that have to do with how police officers use prostitution laws to profile Black women and trans women, which I think is moving only further to the top of the agenda especially when we look at how Black Lives Matter this summer has taken a turn towards talking about Black women and how Black women are criminalized. That’s where I hope this conversation goes in the United States. To bring it under this larger and very upsetting umbrella of police harassment and police profiling and police violence.

I actually have a lot more hope about addressing these issues under police violence and under Black Lives Matter movements than under feminist movements that historically have been really slow to jump on board.

Listen to the entire interview here. 

8 Most Wildly Creative Responses to Donald Trump Insanity

15 Oct

This includes a Trump butt plug.

Originally posted September 23, 2015 on Alternet

It seems like every politician and countless celebrities have felt compelled to respond to Donald Trump’s absurd and offensive statements about women, immigrants and Mexicans. But Trump may have also unwittingly caused an anti-Trump creative renaissance by inspiring artists to express their outrage through their media of choice. And there is certainly a market for it.

This month, Funny or Die and George Lopez released a video called Mexican Donald Trump, which has already gotten over 850,000 hits on YouTube and FOD alone. And over the past week, Trump piñatas have been created and bashed all over the country.

Here are some the best creative and artistic responses to Trump to date.

1. The parody rap music video. The New York-based Latino comedy troupe Room 28 joined forces with the nonprofit organization Voto Latino Action Network to create a rap video which turns Big Sean’s hit “I Don’t F— With You,” into an anti-Trump anthem called “I Won’t Vote for You.”  In the video, Trump (Jacob Berger) calls his chauffeur, (Jerry Diaz) by the wrong name and orders him to keep his “beady Mexican eyes on the road.” The chauffeur spends the rest of the video explaining, “I won’t vote for you. You keep saying stupid things, I ain’t voting for you. Your running isn’t funny anymore, I ain’t voting for you. There’s millions of Latino voices, Trump you’re through.”

2. The Trump piñata. At a piñata store in the border city of Reynosa, Dalton Avalos Ramirez created a papier-mache piñata of Trump. Ramirez, who displayed his first model in June, explained that the idea was inspired by “the hatred Trump expressed for the Mexican people.” And the feeling seems to be mutual, given that “people want to burn the piñatas, they want to break them.” Various other artists have taken up the craft of the Trump piñata. A quick look at eBay reveals at least 10 different Trump piñatas, ranging in price from from $13.99 to $205. St. Louis celebrated Mexican Independence Day by beating “El Trumpo” over the weekend and Trump piñatas were selling like hotcakes in LA ahead of Wednesday’s GOP debate. And sure enough, a protester showed up outside the Reagan Library with a piñata.

3. The Donald Trump punching bag. For Trump haters with attachment issues, there is a great alternative to the use-once, wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am piñata: the Donald Trump punching bag. As Mexican-born 3D artist Fernando Sosa writes of his creation, “unlike pinatas, this guy collapses for portability and is re-usable unless you puncture him with something sharp.” The punching bags are selling at $59.99.

4. The way-ahead-of-its-time Sesame Street video. Sesame Street has always been at the vanguard of pedagogy and education, so it comes as no surprise that the program was mocking Trump way before it was cool to do so. Back in 2005, the show skewered the real estate tycoon with the character Donald Grump, in an episode called “Grouch Apprentice.” Oscar the Grouch’s “Grump! Grump! Grump!” cheer even foreshadows the cheering crowds that meet the Donald today at his political events. Donald Grump appears from out of a garbage can with bright orange hair and introduces himself as, “’Donald Grump, and I have more trash than any of yous so, na na na na na.” Within less than a minute he cans (pun intended) two characters with his signature, “you’re fired!” line.

5. The Donald Trump circus peanut. Showing his signature empathy, humility and firm grasp on reality, Donald Trump stated, “It’s very hard for them [his female critics] to attack me on looks, because I’m so good-looking.” So, it’s fair to say that Donald would describe himself as looking “good enough to eat.” And he’s not the only one to think that. Brooklyn-based Lauren Garfinkel included Trump in her edible government collection, which she describes as, “a culinary exploration of people and events that shape American politics, and a nod to the old adage, you are what you eat.” Continue reading

 Comedians Debate: Is Amy Schumer’s ‘Trainwreck’ Sexist, or the New Feminism?

15 Oct

The feminist comedian and filmmaker is everywhere—and her fans’ expectations are mounting.


Amy Schumer attends the world premiere of “Trainwreck” on Tuesday, July 14, 2015. (AP/Invision/Evan Agostini)

Originally posted August 6, 2015 on The Nation

It’s hard to watch TV, go online, or even leave the house without encountering the deceptively cherubic face of comedian and filmmaker Amy Schumer. Sketches from her Comedy Central show, Inside Amy Schumer, are viral sensations; her HBO standup special, directed by Chris Rock, will air in October. She wrote and stars in the critically-acclaimed film Trainwreck, directed by Judd Apatow, which is raking it in at the box office. On Monday night, she appeared as one of Jon Stewart’s final Daily Show guests; earlier that day, Schumer held a press conference to announce her support for a plan championed by her distant cousin, Senator Chuck Schumer, to make it harder for criminals and the mentally ill to obtain guns. This comes on the heels of the July shooting at a Louisiana movie theater during a screening of Trainwreck, in which two women were killed and nine people were injured.

Amy Schumer’s stand-up and sketches tackle issues like birth control, abortion, rape, sexism, and warped female beauty standards with humor and fearlessness, positioning her as a feminist icon. And indeed, some critics and fans have hailed Trainwreck as a clever subversion of the typical romantic comedy plot. But others complain that it reinforces the rom-com narrative more than it challenges it. Schumer has also come in for criticism over her handling of race issues, both in Trainwreck and in her sketches and stand-up.

I talked about Amy Schumer’s comedy and its presentation of gender and race with writers and performers who themselves engage with these themes in a funny and thoughtful way. Laura Swisher is a stand-up comedian who worked as a producer for Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell and now works for The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore. Gabe Pacheco is a stand-up comedian who co-hosts and co-produces Funhouse Comedy, a weekly stand-up comedy show in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and is a co-host on The Katie Halper Show on WBAI. Rae Sanni is a comedian and writer who co-hosts the It’s About Us podcast. Samhita Mukhopadhyay is the author of Outdated: Why Dating Is Ruining Your Love Life. Kate Levin is a writer of fiction and creative non-fiction, and faculty member of the University of Southern California, whose most recent piece, for The Boston Globe, reflects on being a teenage prank call addict.

Katie Halper: Let’s start with the argument that some of Amy Schumer’s jokes are racist. What do you think of that criticism—and Schumer’s response?

Laura Swisher: There are comics whose material I loathe and find offensive, and often times it’s because their material is racist and/or sexist and utterly lacking in craft. But if a comic can make me laugh, or surprise me, I give them a lot more leeway, even if individual jokes might be offensive. I’d put Schumer in the “give her more leeway” category.

Kate Levin: The most salient thing for me when I think about Schumer and race is the response she gave after a Guardian writer called her out for having a blind spot around this subject. In response to criticism of the joke, “I used to date Hispanic guys, but now I prefer consensual,” she replied, “It is a joke and it is funny. I know that because people laugh at it…. Trust me. I am not racist.” I like Schumer—some of the stuff on her show I like a lot—but her response doesn’t hold up to the tiniest bit of scrutiny. She knows what she said wasn’t racist because… it was funny and people laughed at it? People laugh at racist jokes all the time! She knows that. (People also laugh at stuff that isn’t funny all the time, which she knows, too.) So what could land a smart person in such a swamp of illogic? Continue reading


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