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It didn’t always suck to be a woman in Afghanistan


Women in Afghanistan were not always under house arrest and forbidden by law to leave their homes unchaperoned by a male relative. Once upon a time in pre-Taliban days Afghan women had access to professional careers, university-level education, shops selling non-traditional clothing, public transportation, and public spaces, all of which they happily navigated freely and without supervision.

According to a State Department report from the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor from 2001:

Prior to the rise of the Taliban, women in Afghanistan were protected under law and increasingly afforded rights in Afghan society. Women received the right to vote in the 1920s; and as early as the 1960s, the Afghan constitution provided for equality for women. There was a mood of tolerance and openness as the country began moving toward democracy. Women were making important contributions to national development. In 1977, women comprised over 15% of Afghanistan’s highest legislative body. It is estimated that by the early 1990s, 70% of schoolteachers, 50% of government workers and university students, and 40% of doctors in Kabul were women. Afghan women had been active in humanitarian relief organizations until the Taliban imposed severe restrictions on their ability to work. These professional women provide a pool of talent and expertise that will be needed in the reconstruction of post-Taliban Afghanistan.

Even under Hamid Karzai’s government, with the recently approved Code of Conduct for women, all of the women shown in these photographs, taken in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and early ‘70s, could still can be faulted with improper behavior, according to clerics and government officials. 

record store in kabul
A record store in Kabul

A co-ed biology class at Kabul University

Afghan university students, 1967. Photo credit: Dr. Bill Podlich, Retronaut

Public transporation in Kabul

University students, early 1970s

Women working in one of the labs at the Vaccine Research Center

afghan mom kids
Mothers and children playing at a city park—without male chaperones

Queen Soraya reigned in Afghanistan with her husband King Amanullah Khan from 1919 to 1929. She would be slut-shamed or worse for wearing this dress in modern Afghanistan.

Compilation of vintage amateur footage of Afghanistan:

Via Retronaut and Zilla of the Resistance.

Posted by Kimberly J. Bright | Leave a comment
Super-femme ceramics are luxurious and revolting
07:00 am



I love it when feminine shit makes you shudder, and these ceramics are all lady—with some Cronenberg body horror to top it off. Sculptor Jessica Stoller rendered these Rococo bad trips with the finest of detail. Ornate confections and opulent embellishments hang with the weight of flesh and bloom into labial literalism. It’s girly, it’s gross, and it’s so compelling you just can’t seem to look away.
More after the jump…

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Camille Paglia’s narcissistic tirade to (perceived) slight: ‘I am the Susan Sontag of the 90s!’
10:12 am



“Libertarian feminist” Camille Paglia is getting press again, and every time Camille Paglia gets press, feminists are obliged to immediately declare their respective camps. There’s a camp that’s perpetually incensed with Paglia, a (dwindling) camp cheering her on, and then there’s my camp—the camp of feminists who hope that if we ignore her, she will simply go away.

To keep a very long story short, Camille Paglia just doesn’t really like women, preferring to decry her youngers, whilst simultaneously dismissing her foremothers. In fact, the only people she seems to really respect are men. Check out his charming excerpt from her latest essay in TIME, some lameass troll-bait titled, “It’s a Man’s World and it Always Will Be.”

Every day along the Delaware River in Philadelphia, one can watch the passage of vast oil tankers and towering cargo ships arriving from all over the world. These stately colossi are loaded, steered and off-loaded by men. The modern economy, with its vast production and distribution network, is a male epic, in which women have found a productive role — but women were not its author. Surely, modern women are strong enough now to give credit where credit is due!

If I may dust off an old chestnut, “Cool story, bro.”  I’m sure those noble icons of manly labor are all really pleased that some bullshit academic “feminist” wrote them a weird love letter in TIME. And the prose is downright Randian in its reverence.

Yes, as far as Paglia is concerned, no one else’s feminism is quite smart enough for her—a point which she’ll readily make to you with 9,000 words on post-structuralism and a libertarian tirade. Unfortunately, I work on the Internet, which prevents me from totally ignoring her, so maybe reminding everyone how terrible she is would make me feel better? Here’s a 1993 interview with Paglia where she acts like a sputtering, defensive fool when confronted with video evidence that her former idol, Susan Sontag, had never even heard of her (or was at least pretending not to).

There’s something sickeningly gratifying about seeing such an egotistical narcissist so miffed. And though I often find Susan Sontag’s work pretentious and politically unsound, the record of this moment alone is enough for me to want to defend her entire career. I have a sneaking suspicion that Sontag was probably in the “Let’s ignore her and maybe she’ll go away” camp. (Here’s Paglia’s meltdown.)

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Janis Ian is NOT politically correct and brilliantly defends her ‘Howard Stern’ appearance, 1994
08:42 am

A girl's best friend is her guitar


Janis Ian
My love of “AM Gold” is well-documented on this blog, and I defend the soft-rock/easy listening genres of the 1970s as an artistic movement of intimacy, reflection, and pathos. John Denver? Absolutely! Let’s open the windows, and smell the fresh air! Thank god, I’m a country girl. Bill Withers? Great! I’ll make some chamomile tea and we can wrap ourselves in kaftans! Carol King? Just give me a flowing maxi dress of natural fibers, I think I’m ready for motherhood. And Janis Ian? Do you even have to ask? Janis Ian makes me want to paint my apartment burnt sienna and avocado green, put on “At Seventeen,” and do some fucking macrame.

There’s a lot that’s great about Janis Ian. Yes, “At Seventeen” is a beautiful feminist anthem of isolation and loneliness, but her first hit, “Society’s Child (Baby I’ve Been Thinking),” is also remarkable. Released when Ian was just fifteen (she wrote it at thirteen), “Society’s Child” told the story of an interracial relationship. Despite its “Leader of the Pack” teen-melodrama sound, it was actually banned on the radio. While the lyrics are pretty earnest (she was thirteen, what do you expect?), her subject indicated a serious-minded commitment to social justice. (And that didn’t come out of nowhere. Ian’s family were serious leftists, and often under surveillance for their politics.)

In 1993, at the age of 42, Janis Ian came out as a lesbian. She then immediately shocked her fans by appearing on Howard Stern’s radio show. Below is Ian’s 1994 defense of the appearance, penned for The Advocate. It seems like they have a legitimate friendship, which doesn’t surprise me—Howard always struck me as “the gentleman’s shock jock.” (I don’t really see her being friends with Mancow, right?) After the interview, you can even see video of Ian performing “Seinfeld’s Girl is Seventeen with Double Ds,” a parody of “At Seventeen” with Howard; the lyrics are reworked to mock Jerry Seinfeld’s then relationship with a 17-year-old high schooler.

And this is what’s so great about Janis Ian. For all her humanity and insight and the vulnerable beauty of her music, Janis Ian does not give a fuck about your approval.

I did Howard Stern last year, and joined the ranks of the Politically Incorrect.

I love doing Howard. I’ve done his morning radio show, his E! television show, and his disgusting New Year’s Eve special. (Don’t ask.)

I like Howard. He treats me with courtesy, and he recognizes my relationship as valid. In fact, he tried very hard to find an appropriate term for introducing my partner. After rejecting “Mr. Ian”, “Mrs. Ian”, and “Her Better Half”, he finally settled on “Mr. Lesbian”, a term we find appallingly funny and poignantly correct.

Stern is currently running for governor of New York, and I’m betting he’ll get over 50,000 votes. Why? Because he touches people - although by his own admission his penis is too small to touch much. (Another reason to like him: who was the last man you heard admit to that?)

Howard operates from the theater of honesty in a way very few performers dare. He says things I’m afraid to say, and admits to feelings I’ve overheard on tour buses and in mens’ locker rooms when no one thinks I’m listening. He’s thoroughly uncomfortable with gay male sexuality, but he also excoriates anyone who would deny their right to consensual sex.

The fallout of doing Howard has been both educational and frightening. People writing to my “fan club” who identify themselves as politically correct are ‘horrified’ and ‘furious’ that I find any common ground with him. The hate mail contingent seems to mistake theater for reality—and their own bigotry for enlightenment—threatening us both with “dire consequences”.

I’m at a loss as to why they find the friendship so dangerous. Howard’s “Lesbo Dial-A-Date” is one of the hottest shows on radio; during it he treats us exactly like he treats his heterosexual female guests—snidely, with double entendres flailing.

Yet my mail assumes that because many of the guests on Dial-A-Date are women with big hair and harsh rural accents (yes, I consider a heavy Brooklyn accent rural), who strip/spank/tease with gleeful abandon, he’s “victimizing the lower economic strata, who can least defend themselves”.

Excuse me? Do they mean that if you have a sixth grade education, you’re less capable of deciding what to do with your body than if you have a Ph.D? Is someone who makes less money also less capable of choosing their own path? I find that attitude incredibly patronizing, and demeaning to all women.

Political correctness is a form of censorship. I learned about censorship in 1966, when as a 15-year-old singer/songwriter I saw my record “Society’s Child” banned across the United States. Disk jockeys were fired for playing it; a radio station in Georgia was burned to the ground for the same reason. Now that it’s being called a “standard” in the books, everyone forgets that when it was released it was attacked by the politically left-wing as well as the rabid right.

I learned about the dark side of political correctness at the same time. The right-wing hated me for encouraging miscegenation, and my left-wing friends jumped on me because the white girl in the song gave in to peer pressure and stops dating her black boyfriend.

When “At Seventeen”, which I recorded in 1976, received five Grammy nominations—incidentally the most any solo female had received to that date, but who’s counting?—I was accused of selling out to the commercial interests. People said I was “mainstreaming my message” by using strings on the record, “disguising my message with pretty words and music”.

Still later I was attacked for going to South Africa during the apartheid years, though I took an integrated band and played to integrated audiences and (unlike Linda Ronstadt and various black Americans who will go unmentioned here, but couldn’t order dinner there) avoided Sun City. The same English committee that prevented Johnny Clegg, probably the best known white South African artist in the world, from performing at a tribute to Nelson Mandela because he’d performed in his residence country of South Africa, also banned me from playing in England.

And when I came out loudly last year in the media, someone wrote “I find your lesbianism suspect now—where were you in the 80’s when we were fighting for our rights?”

As a matter of fact, I spent a good part of the 80’s trying to get a record deal, because no record company would take a chance on a gay 40-year-old female who’d already had two careers. My partner and I mortgaged our home so I could make the album Breaking Silence. Howard Stern and singer/songwriter John Mellencamp, both dismissed in a recent article I read as “misogynistic breeders”, were the only performers to back me with air-time and money before my record broke and got its Grammy nomination.

Janis Ian’s letter continues after the jump…
“Society’s Child” on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1967.


Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Carol Channing delivers a beautiful feminist tirade against housework (you know, for the kids)
07:52 am



Miss Piggy and Carol Channing
Channing with a glitzy showbiz colleague (and possibly her only worthy rival)

Free to Be… You and Me was second-wave feminist consciousness-raising at its simplest, and at its finest. The brainchild of Marlo Thomas (yes, the Marlo Thomas of That Girl fame) the 1972 album and accompanying book was produced in conjunction with the Ms. Foundation for Women with the express purpose of giving children some gender-neutral, identity-affirming entertainment. A lot of FTBYAM’s success could be attributed to the many high-profile celebrities who participated in the project. The kids might not have known who they were, but it probably made their parents more comfortable with it.

For example, former NFL defensive tackle Rosey Grier sang a song called “It’s All Right to Cry.” Marlo Thomas and Alan Alda (who directed much of the album) sang “William’s Doll,” the surprisingly emotional tale of a little boy who wants to play with dolls. Thomas actually had to fight to keep “William’s Doll” in the 1974 FTBYAM television special because ABC expressed concern that playing with dolls could make little boys gay (if only!). She also had to fight to keep her duet with Calypso legend and black activist Harry Belafonte, as ABC was worried Southern viewers would see an interracial couple and all hell would break loose. (We’d like to think things have changed, but…)

But my favorite segment of FTBYAM is the contribution of the immortal Carol Channing. Below you can hear Dolly herself talking the sweetest line of smack on advertisements, bullshit depictions of Hollywood femininity, and the very idea of housework as “women’s work.” It’s not patronizing or preachy, but it’s perfectly sweet and subtly clever.

Channing may seem like a left-field candidate for a project like FTBYAM, but I assure you, she’s an inspired choice. Think about it.

Who better than the glamorous Carol Channing to remind kids that housework isn’t glamorous? And who better than Carol Channing (a lady so feminine that only the most talented of women, Muppets, and drag queens can even attempt to emulate her), to tell little girls that femininity isn’t contingent on a perpetually sunny disposition and a dutiful commitment to drudge-work? Gender is something that you can navigate and mold to your liking—to put it in terms a child could understand—gender should be fun. And no one has more fun being a girl than the great Carol Channing!

Bonus clip: Michael Jackson and Roberta Flack sing “When We Grow Up” in the 1974 FTBYAM television special:

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Chavela Vargas: Mexico’s great sapphic chanteuse
08:07 am

A girl's best friend is her guitar


Chavela Varges
An early photo of Vargas, focusing on her beautiful face, and cropping out whatever masculine clothes she might have been wearing at the time.
A word of comfort to non-Spanish speakers: Mexican toddlers have a stronger command of the language than I do, but the first time I heard Chavela Vargas’ “Paloma Negra,” I knew exactly what she was saying. There are some artists that convey such an intense pathos without the benefit of a common language, even attempting to write about them leaves one feeling a little hackneyed, but I’ll do my best.

Chavela Vargas was born Isabel Vargas Lizano in Costa Rica in 1919. In the midst of an unstable childhood, she moved to Mexico at the tender ago of 14 to pursue a singing career in the burgeoning Mexican arts scene. For years she busked, wearing men’s clothing and smoking cigars. She carried a gun and embodied the machismo of her artistic idiom. Though she covered quite a bit of ground stylistically, Vargas was mainly known for her rancheras- traditional Mexican music performed with a single voice and Spanish guitar. Rancheras are often mournful torch songs sung by drunken men; alcohol provided a socially acceptable loophole for Mexican machismo to be shrugged aside for emotional and vulnerable performances. On the more rare occasion that rancheras were performed by women, gender pronouns were obviously switched to keep everything tidily heterosexual. Vargas simply sang to the girls.
Chavela Vargas
Vargas in full poncho
It wasn’t until her 30s that her career began to flourish, kick-started by a brief but successful visit to pre-Castro Cuba. By the time she became popular in Mexico, she was as much known for her bombastic persona and unapologetic sexuality as she was for her powerful voice and intense performances. She would come to shows on motorcycles, smoke cigars onstage, imbibe heavily, and openly flirt with men’s wives during performances (many swear she took a few home with her). All of this was during a time when even wearing pants was scandalous behavior for a woman in Mexico. While she had a rich sense of humor, one of her stylistic trademarks was slowing down cheeky tunes, transforming what were originally dirty little ditties into something intensely erotic. The scandals cost her a lot of work, but Vargas had no interest in catering to anyone’s notion of respectability.

Much of her life is shrouded in rumor and half-truths. It’s said that Vargas walked with a limp due to an injury incurred while attempting to climb in the second story window of an ex-lover. (Given Vargas’ difficulties with alcoholism, this isn’t particularly difficult to believe.) It’s known that she was incredibly close to Frida Kahlo, even living with her and her husband, Diego Rivera, for a time. I’ve never found absolute confirmation that they were lovers, but it’s largely accepted as fact by fans of both artists. Vargas even made an appearance in the 2002 Frida Kahlo biopic, singing a ghostly version of one of her signature songs, “”La Llorona,” (“The Weeping Woman”). I urge you to listen to both versions back to back; Vargas’ age and alcoholism seasoned her voice with a quality I can only describe as post-beautiful.

While Vargas’ career was fraught with ups and downs, she virtually disappeared for about 15 years starting in the late 70s. Intense depression and alcoholism finally sent her into a long seclusion, but in 1991 she returned to the stage, happy, healthy and transformed. With her famed trademark innuendo, the 74-year-old butch lesbian declared her never-ending commitment to music at a concert in Madrid, saying, “When you like something, you should do it all night long.” She officially came out in 2000, at age 81, and played Carnegie Hall three years later. She continued singing and recording up until her death in 2012, at age 93.
Chavela Vargas and Frida Kahlo
Vargas and Frida Kahlo
Below is some rare early footage of Vargas performing her famous rendition of “Macorina,” a poem that she set to music of her own composition. During the refrain, “Put your hand here, Macorina,” Vargas’ own hand would wander between her thighs. It was her first hit, and it was originally banned in Mexico, a country that now reveres here as one of its great daughters. The lyrics:

Put your hand here, Macorina
Put your hand here.
Put your hand here, Macorina
Put your hand here.

Your feet left the mat
And your skirt escaped
Seeking the boundary
On seeing your slender waist
The sugar canes threw
Themselves down along the way
For you to grind
As if you were a mill.
Put your hand ...

Your breasts, soursop fruit
Your mouth a blessing
Of ripe guanabana
And your slender waist
Was the same as that dance
Put your hand ...

Then the dawn
That takes you from my arms
And I not knowing what to do
With that woman scent
Like mango and new cane
With which you filled me at
The hot sound of that dance.
Put your hand ...


Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Now might be a good time to talk about Gloria Steinem’s time as a CIA asset…
07:28 am



By the way, the other woman in this photo is Dorothy Pitman Hughes, an amazing activist who has received neither the press nor the institutional acceptance of Steinem
Last week, 79-year-old feminist icon Gloria Steinem was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. During her acceptance speech, she graciously declared,“I’d be crazy if I didn’t understand that this was a medal for the entire women’s movement.”  Should you be under the impression that this award is indicative of a tacit endorsement of feminism by either the the Obama administration or even the U.S. Government, allow me to brush you up on a little feminist history.

In 1959, Gloria Steinem attended the communist-sponsored World Youth Festival in Vienna as the head of the Independent Service for Information, a CIA front. The ISI had been set up at Harvard to send young anti-communist Americans to attend the World Youth Festival, where they could defend the US against communist critics and report back on their Marxist counterparts. Steinem was in charge of recruiting those young anti-communists.

Currently, Steinem is an honorary chair of Democratic Socialists of America (my comrades and former employers). The primary initiator of DSA, Michael Harrington (then of the Young People’s Socialist League), was also offered a free trip, but declined. Though he was a socialist, and critical of communism, Harrington refused to go unless he was also given license to criticize capitalism. Apparently Ms. Steinem felt no such moral conflict.

Before I’m dismissed as the Alex Jones of feminism, Steinem’s time with the CIA is public record. In the video below (yes, I know it’s from a conspiracy theory nut), she discusses her time as an employee. Now, I’m not accusing Gloria Steinem of being some sort of secret government fake feminist spy, but I do think it’s important to remember that we boner-killing, man-hating witches are not a united front, and we certainly aren’t all working towards the same goals. Some of us worked for the CIA for four years, others of us want to smash capitalism, and guess which ones get medals from the President?

Steinem may think she’s accepting an award “for the entire women’s movement,” but she sure as hell isn’t accepting it on my behalf.

Bonus: Gloria Steinem poses with Terry Richardson...

Special thanks to Phoenix on this one!

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Sexbot, Victim, One of the Girls: Charlotte Church’s talk on music industry misogyny
10:20 am

Pop Culture


I don’t know what kind of profile Charlotte Church has in the US any more, if she has any. Five million Americans have bought Church’s albums in the past, but, if I had to guess, I’d imagine those sales were mostly during her “little girl with a big voice” stage back in the late 1990s, a period that saw the Welsh singer perform for Bill Clinton at the White House while still a teenager.

In the UK, Church has never really gone away though, morphing from choir girl to pop vixen to alt-rock chick, and trying her hand at acting and television presenting. Not to mention being a tabloid staple for everything from her love life to her consumption of alcohol and even *wrings hands* cigarettes. She may only be a sprightly 27, but she has been an internationally successful recording artist since the age of 11, so it’s safe to say she has seen and done her fair share.

All of which makes her very recent talk for BBC Radio 6’s The John Peel Lecture so very interesting, and even inspiring. I’m not much of a fan of her music, but this presentation is excellent. In it, Church takes aim fairly and squarely at the very limited roles available for women within the music industry, and particularly the hyper-sexualised pop market. As someone who literally grew up in front of a lens, and who was subject to an overload of “ooh, she’s of age now, look at her tits”-type of attention from the tabloid press, she surely knows what she is talking about.

Here are some extracts from her talk, via Digital Music News:

I’d like you to imagine a world in which male musicians are routinely expected to act as submissive sex objects.  Picture Beyonce’s husband Jay-Z stripped down to a T-back bikini thong, sex kittin’ his way through a boulevard of suited-and-booted women for their pleasure. Or Britney Spears’ ex, Justin Timberlake, in buttocks-clenching hot pants writhing on top of a pink Chevy, explaining to an audience how he’d like to be their ‘Teenage Dream.’

Before we all get a little too hot beneath the gusset, of course these scenarios are not likely to become reality, unless for comedy’s sake.  The reason for this is that these are roles the music industry has carved out specifically for women. It is a male-dominated industry, with a juvenile perspective on gender and sexuality.

From what I can see, there are three main roles that women are allowed to fill in modern pop music. Each of them restrictive for both artists and audience. They are mainly portrayed through the medium of the music video, you’ll find them very familiar.  I call them One of the Girls’ Girls, the Victim/Torch Singer, and the Unattainable Sexbot.

The One of the Girls’ Girls role is a painfully thin reduction of feminism that generally seems to point to a world where, ‘so long as you can hang out with your girls it’s possible to sort of wave away the evils that men do.’  This denigrates women and men equally, and yet is commonly lauded for being empowering.

The Victim/Torch Singer can be divided into the sexy victim (ie, Natalie Imbruglia in the ‘Torn’ video) and the not-so-sexy victim.  One female artist who does not use her sexuality to sell records is Adele.  However, lyrically, her songs are almost without exception written from the perspective of the wronged woman, an archetype as old as time.  Someone who has been let down by the men around her, and is subsequently in a perpetual state of despair.

But to me, the Unattainable Sexbot is most commonly employed and most damaging, a role that is also claimed to be an empowering one.  The irony behind this is that the women filling these roles are often very young, often previous child stars or Disney tweens, who are simply trying to get along in an industry glamorized to be the most desirable career for young women.  They are encouraged to present themselves as hyper-sexualized, unrealistic, cartoonish, as objects, reducing female sexuality to a prize you can win.

You can hear the talk, in its entirety, below, and it is highly recommended.

H/T to Paul Rokk.

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
This could suck: Kathleen Hanna on public speaking
01:31 pm



Feminist performer, punk icon, writer and frontwoman for Bikini Kill, Le Tigre and The Julie Ruin, Kathleen Hanna’s talents also include being an engaging public speaker. Thanks to her experience talking in front of journalists, unruly crowds at concerts, tamer audiences in university classrooms, libraries and lecture halls, she knows what she’s doing. Here she explains how to get up in front of a group of people, who may or may not be throwing things and yelling sexist insults at you from the mosh pit, and get your point across without undue worry about whether you suck at public oratory.

Posted by Kimberly J. Bright | Leave a comment
Break Club: The club where you go to break stuff!
03:30 pm



Break Club
A club in Buenos Aries is offering a means for angry patrons to blow off steam, and safety gear is provided. Break Club is exactly what it sounds like. The clientele is provided with glass bottles, electronics, a concrete room, and a club (I’m sure the pun is unintentional), for smashing to their hearts’ content. The club’s founder says 85% of his clients are young women, which doesn’t surprise me. I can definitely attest to the limited outlets for female rage.

What’s a little more surprising is that they also appear to be mostly young professionals and office workers. I’d think stay-at-home-moms and fast food workers would catch on to this real quick. Maybe the careers of the modern world leave our animal instincts unsatisfied? Or perhaps it’s just because young educated women are more open to a trendy destruction experience, and possess the disposable income for the cover charge. I’m sure it’s a little of both, but either way, I think most communities could benefit from an affordable local Break Club nearby.


Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
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