Why I Fight

Two years ago I first heard a friend’s abortion story, in May I sat on a couch with my then-boyfriend to talk about our options if the test came back positive, last month I held a friend’s hand while she cried about the stigma she worried she’d face, and yesterday a stranger gifted me a zine detailing her decision to get an abortion. It’s happening all around us, to our friends and our families and our co-workers and our neighbors.

That’s why I fight for Texans, that’s why I fight for Leticia and Wendy, that’s why I fight for providers and funds, that’s why I fight for access, and that’s why I’ll keep fighting tooth and nail for as long as it takes.

Election Day is less than a month away and the fight won’t end there just like the fight didn’t start with HB2, but I hope that you’ll make sure you’re registered to vote by tomorrow and I hope that you’ll get to the polls next month.

— By Hillary-Anne Crosby

Confessions of a Feminist Househead

Listen, children/

Let me tell you about this thaaaang/

Called House Music

Unknown Classic House Track

My love of house music often feels like a line in the sand between me and my fellow feminists.   A line which is drawn along lines of class and racial and sexual identity.  How can I, they ask me, love a genre of music that is notorious for being a “boys club” and for perpetuating narrow standards of beauty?  Because when I’m down with Riot Grrrl and Ani DiFranco and punk rock (to use some over-worn stereotypes of “feminist” music), my feminist bona fides are not questioned, but mention a love of house music and I get either blank stares or suspicious side-eyes. 

House is a brand of music that has been called, variously and non-pejoratively, (at times) “club music,” “dance music,” ”electronic music,” or “electronic dance music” or “EDM.”  Before it was co-opted by the current wave of dubstep-centric, corporate overloads like LiveNation and Goldenvoice, “EDM” was sometimes used in the 90s to distinguish house, trance, techno, etc. from other “electronic music” that could be described as more experimental and less melodic (and therefore certainly less danceable), like “noise music” or “future music” (which have roots that stretch back to the 19th Century).  Any true house music fan will tell you, though, EDM in general has been much-perverted (and not in a good way) into a soulless corporate money-making machine, with Las Vegas and “superstar DJs” at the center of its cold, dead heart.

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The Myth of Silence

*Trigger warning for sexual assault and victim-blaming.

What an absurdity it is, to lose one’s voice.  To lose faith in the belief that you might have anything at all worth saying, worth hearing.  To feel that it would be better to remain silent than to risk being told to shut up.

Yet in honesty, your voice is not something you lost, as though it were something you misplaced absent-mindedly, a set of keys that you realized you’d held in your hand the whole time after all.

It is something another person robbed from you and took by force.  A man who used the weight of his body to tell you that what you say means nothing and can be disregarded as easily as a mother’s advice.  The congregation with their cold shoulders and a message legitimized by a pulpit and priestly stoles, that woman is borne of silence and delivered by servitude.  Acquaintances and strangers whose words mean well but say nothing, and maybe if you’d been a little more careful, you wouldn’t be in this situation, would you?  Bystanders, as silent then as you are now.

You do not have to listen to them anymore.  You can use your voice to tell others that they don’t have to listen and to tell a better story about who we can be as humans.

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Book Review: Meaty by Samantha Irby

When a dear friend introduced me to Samantha Irby’s blog Bitchesgottaeat a year and a half ago, I became obsessed with the author in an “I’d carry a suitcase of drugs into another country for you” sort of way. The blog’s cult following led Irby to get her comeuppance - her first book deal. In her debut novel - cheekily and fittingly titled Meaty - Samantha Irby faces the challenges of adulthood in this collection of essays.

Irby tackles the gross truths of life with dignity spawned from the healthy perspective on life afforded her by her raucous sense of humor. The author doesn’t take life, or herself, too seriously — while still a serious student of her craft. Nothing is off limits from her orphan upbringing to her fecal catastrophes to the overeating meat sweats. While the book can be off-putting, it’s only because it is shockingly relatable, wholly visceral even if it doesn’t hit home. A burning honesty like full-strength comedic Listerine exists in her prose. Meaty doesn’t simply aim for laughs; it tells a story through vignettes, one that is often heart-wrenching with an innately wicked wit that doesn’t come along often.

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Book Review: The Dark Road

Ma Jian (马建) is quite the dissident. The Dark Roadopens with a riot. Family planning officials are arresting women and dragging them to be sterilised. Pregnant mothers who do not have a state-issued birth permit are criminals and hunted down for a double punishment – a violent coercion into abortion and sterilisation. In a bid to enforce the One Child policy, even women who are beyond their second trimester are forced to terminate their pregnancies, illegal by international standards. 

Neighbours are rewarded for tip-offs, properties are confiscated, rape is prevalent and often goes unreported, and families who cannot pay up fines have their houses demolished. An atmosphere of fear and death has hung over the village.

The central character in the novel is Meili and her husband, Kongzi. The couple already have a daughter but Kong wants a son to carry on the family line. With Meili’s baby bump almost visible now, they leave their village and become family planning fugitives, etching out a floating existence -literally- down the Yangtze River. After Meili loses her 8-month old unborn child in a crackdown, Kongzi is desperate to get her pregnant again (and again and again with each unsuccessful birth) so he can fulfil his filial duty of producing a male heir for the family.

But children born outside the One Child policy also face another set of problems. The child joins the ranks of ‘black children‘ and has no access to medical benefits, free education, a residence permit or subsidised housing. In short, he is stripped of his right to live, condemned to a life as an outcast.

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Taking a Long, Hard Look at my Love Life

I am a twenty-two-year-old American female with a lackluster love life.  No man has ever left me feeling as satisfied as I have after a plate of tacos.  My first sexual experience occurred when my veins were full of alcohol and my brain lacked any inhibition. I woke up the next morning to go to work and haphazardly pulled my clothes off the floor. He walked me out of his house and then he walked out of my life.

I’m not bitter about this or my other sexual encounters. There’s a little bit of spit-swapping, he gets frisky, and I signal when I’m done. Here’s another thing I’m done with: being unsatisfied. I’ve given in to guys and on occasion I’ve had them take a half hour commute to give in to me.

Sex really doesn’t mean anything to me. I haven’t met a man who could match my sarcasm, video game knowledge, or love for soccer. I’ve made a promise to myself to wait to have sex again. I want it to be something special and mainly I just want to see what the fuss is about. There has to be a reason why people have been doing this for years and there has to be inspiration behind all those dirty songs (“Ignition” by R. Kelly anyone?). I’m waiting for someone to make this girl a believer.

I’ve recently taken a new job and everyday on lunch the same coworker complains about her love life. She mentions all the characters she has currently been talking to and her exes are frequently brought up as well. I find myself gritting my teeth in between the chewing of my turkey wrap. I feel like I’m suffering in silence as she harshly accounts what happened on her last date. But then I realize that I would be no happier if I were in her position. Multitudes of meaningless dates could never be as significant as a few seconds with someone that you truly connect with.  

I’m not solely pointing the finger at all the men I’ve been with. I know I am to blame for my heaps of disappointment. I still slept with the man that left me to walk home by myself. I shrugged off the instance when another called me the dreaded c-word. I couldn’t get another to commit to a relationship so I told myself I was fine with a couple romps in the sheets. These men have not been good enough for me. What is more important is that I have made myself believe that I did not deserve better. 

As I said I’m going to wait and I’m happy doing this even if it means I find myself in a committed relationship with my Xbox. I’ll keep strapping on my sweatpants and firing up my Netflix account when most people are on date night. I think more women need to tell themselves that they would rather be lonely than miserable in a relationship. 

— By April Ann

Harassment Fatigue: Too Tired for Disgust

I lived in Egypt for a year, and I was harassed on a daily basis – sometimes physically, usually verbally. It was horrible. For many reasons, I’ve been hesitant to write about the issue. I’m afraid, for example, that my audience might make unfair generalizations against Middle Eastern culture.  

When in Egypt, sometimes, I hated all men. Sometimes, I blamed all Egyptians. Logically though, I tried to always remind myself that these feelings were not fair towards men nor towards Egyptians.

Having close Egyptian friends was also a helpful reminder that Egyptian culture is welcoming, beautiful, and respectful while harassment is a beast born of a dark side of human nature that knows no borders nor is it monopolized by any culture, gender, religion, or group of people.

Certain social factors – including oppressive governments, poverty, no police or legal protection – cause it to be more prevalent in certain areas, but these factors shift and change with history and time.

When it comes down to it, all types of people are subject to harassment or sexual violence and different types of people harass.

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Young and Beautiful

“Will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful?” This question is the downfall of every woman. Lana del Rey’s new song “Young and Beautiful” is featured in The Great Gatsby and can be distinctly heard in several scenes throughout the film. Lana’s haunting voice and powerful lyrics combined for a mesmerizing effect and I found myself being forced to listen to the song over and over again, even multiple times a day. In the movie, the words seem to apply to the lead female character of Daisy as she struggles with her torn emotions over her failing marriage to a man she once loved and her newly rekindled love for Gatsby.

As I watched the film and heard those words repeated, it took me to a more personal place. Young love is the most intense, most exhilarating, and also the most painful. Even once years have past it is still easy to get wrapped up in the nostalgic waves that come from an old high school flame. Maybe it’s because the daunting fears that plague us in the relationships as we get older aren’t there.

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Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You

when your best friend dies, you will find out on the phone. it will be during finals week in your senior year of college. it will be the longest day of your life. your head will ache from the shock and agony and the physical strain of grief. all the water will have been drained from your body. all your lips will taste of is salt. when your friends want to hold you, let them. they will know better than to say a single word. true friends know that words, however desperate to help, cannot breathe life back into the dead. instead they will hold you and let you know it’s okay to fall apart. so you do.

when you fall in love with a boy still in love with a girl who broke his heart, you will write him poems. when he asks you what you’ve been up to, you will read them to him and he will never know. he will sit front row when you finally muster the courage to read your poems in front of strangers. he will hoot and clap hard and hold you afterwards when you are still shaking from your nerves. you will never tell him that it is in his arms that your bones have finally found their home.

you will wait for him. he will not love you back. your poems will never win you his love. words have never bought the love of the people we thought we deserved. even your bravery will earn nothing but his admiration. later, with the pain still fresh in your mind, you will write poems about how you lost him to the lingering ghost of a past love. you will be wrong. 

you didn’t lose him. you never had him in the first place.

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Thank You, Grace Garcia

Grace Garcia was an incredible leader, an incredible advocate, and an incredible inspiration. Her work for Texas women in politics was unparalleled; she fought to make sure we had a seat at the table and under her leadership Annie’s List thrived. She helped provide women the confidence and support to run for public office in the rough landscape of Texas politics, and with her help that landscape is changing to better reflect the needs of all Texans.

Thanks for everything you did for Texas, Grace.

— By Hillary-Anne Crosby, Vagina Editor-in-Chief

The Language of Botanicals Folklorica

Nestled into a small studio space in East Austin, you’ll find Tamara Becerra Valdez wrapping thread around bundles of wildflowers and sage.

“That’s what my language is right now — flowers,” she explains. “I like making things that contain that fragility and preciousness.”

Valdez started Botanicals Folklorica in the Summer of 2012, combining her experiences with an anthropology background, work at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, and botanical medicine classes. Today Folklorica is how she chooses to reshape those facets of herself and retell traditions of healing in her own language, the flowers.

And honey, let’s not forget about the honey.

“Honey is my number one first aid remedy,” says Valdez. “I want to be more connected to it as a medicine.” 

Folklorica’s mushroom-infused honey is full of antioxidants and Vitamin C intended to add something soothing a stressful lifestyle. 

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The Bitch Is Back

“Sometimes you have to be a bitch to get things done.” ~ Madonna

About twelve years ago, I went to an Omega Institute Conference in New York City. While there, I attended a lecture that the late author and teacher, Debbie Ford, gave on Shadow work. I clearly remember that day. Debbie was lithe and beautiful in a black pantsuit. She bounded to the stage and took the mic after her introduction. Her lecture was candid, funny, and ironic. But what surprised me most (when addressing her own shadow side) was her admission, “I am a bitch.” She said the word – that word – like it tasted yummy.

The air in that packed ballroom immediately grew still.  You could almost hear every woman in the room thinking, “She did not just say that.”  We shifted uncomfortably in our seats. After all, who wants to be a bitch?  It calls forth all sorts of terrible images of harpy shrews and she-devils. 

What that image evokes is this sense that a woman who takes no crap is an abomination. She is the anti-woman. She’s (obviously) forgotten that she should be demure and pliable and open and giving and nurturing and, well, sweet.   

“Yep. I can be a real bitch.”

Debbie went on to explain that being a bitch had its upside.  (Something that, at that point, had never occurred to me.)

“Sometimes, you need to be a bitch,” she said.  ”Especially if you want to get things done.  Especially if you want to be treated with respect. Especially if you don’t want to be a doormat.”

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Fight For It

I want to know that we always threw ourselves headfirst into every fight. That we didn’t slow down for fear of tripping and scraping our knees. That we dog-eared pages and underlined sentences that troubled us. That we dared boys to break our hearts. That we welcomed every challenge and learned from them. That’s what I want. We’ve won every fight, even if it at first looks like we lost. 

— By Hillary-Anne Crosby

When My Kid’s Not Home: A Playlist

Get Lucky - Daft Punk…When my daughter leaves for vacation with my parents, I wave goodbye, shout warnings about her evil PMS, close the front door, and let out a sinister chuckle.  I am totally alone and I can do anything I want to.  So I put on my circa ‘78 denim jumper and play this song, which reminds me of my disco roots.  And that blond babysitter I had a crush on, the one that wore the gold lame bikini.  She would have loved Daft Punk.  Their hustle/mambo rhythm reminds me of a party I attended in second grade, complete with multicolored lights under the floor and a birthday boy in a white John Travolta suit who taught us how to do the Robot.  So I dance around in the living room for a few minutes until I realize that I am too old to look like I’m in Boogie Nights, and I don’t own roller skates anymore.

Filthy Gorgeous - Scissor Sisters…Every time I hear this, I lust for eyeliner, fake lashes, a bustier, and platform heels.  My mother has always said that I was a drag queen trapped in a woman’s body.  So here come the fishnets and 5” Jessica Simpsons.  This song makes me feel self-nasty, dancing in the living room, by myself…

Stay A Little Longer - Willie Nelson… How better to top off my alone time than dancing in my underwear and cowboy boots?  This song says, “Take off your coat, throw it in the corner,” but why not take it all off?  Luckily, this song is only two minutes long.  If I still have energy after this, then I like “If You’ve Got the Money, Honey” off the Essential Willie Nelson.  But sprawling on the couch and listening to the rest of his CD in my undies and cowboy boots is pretty awesome, because nothing says Celebrate Naked Freedom like Willie Nelson.

— By Carrie Driscoll

Masturbating: A Memoir

I love sex. I love sex so much that I don’t even need a partner for me to have a joyous time. In fact, I would prefer not to have one. I found that when I recalled all of my sexual encounters, no man has made me orgasm, not even close. I always let them have their masculine moment of thinking that they can because apparently they’ve made every woman squirt with happiness, but in the end, their necks are always tense from trying.  There has only been one thing that has never let me down, one thing that has let me explode with happiness every time, and that has been my hand.  If there were an Olympic event for masturbation, I’d get the gold medal every time. Like a thirteen-year-old boy, I look to my hand for my good time.

I realized my problem during my smoke break at work. My cigarette kept coming in and out of my mouth, but for some reason this wasn’t enough. I wanted something else in me right then and there or else I would probably fuck the next customer that would ask me a question. I snuck off like a criminal to my car and started to touch myself silly! I felt devious like I was stealing a candy bar from a child but I couldn’t stop. I keep thrusting faster and faster until I felt the muscles in my hand cramp up in hatred towards me. I felt myself burst like a cork from a wine bottle, laughing hysterically like I was going insane. Then again, to jack off during my smoke break, sanity probably never existed in me in the first place.

I showed my former boyfriend my vibrator collection once. He was fascinated but I could also see his disappointment because he wasn’t my only pleasure in life. He wanted to be the one who rocked my volcano and made it erupt. Oh well. You can’t please everyone. Since there should be a moral in this story, let me make this clear: masturbating is healthy. Only 30 percent of women can orgasm from penetration so why should we be frowned upon? All I’m saying, ladies, is screw the haters (or your vibrators) and masturbate away.

— By Yasmin Kleinbart