Project Spotlight: The Star-Touched Queen

For readers of fantasy, novels, and YA lit: we have an interview with the great Roshani Chokshi, author of this year’s highly anticipated novel “The Star-Touched Queen.” Check it out!

Today, we’re very pleased to feature Roshani Chokshi, the amazing young woman who authored this year’s highly anticipated YA fantasy novel, The Star-Touched Queen.

Continue reading “Project Spotlight: The Star-Touched Queen”

Women and Villainy

What makes a woman a villain? And what makes a female villain’s portrayal sexist?

by I.C.

I recently wrote about the qualities that constitute a heroine, whether in literature, TV, or film.  In doing so, I was led to consider the equally compelling question:  What makes for a successfully imagined female villain?  Perhaps more specifically, what makes for a portrayal of a female villain that isn’t sexist?   

We know what makes for a good villain in general—he or she should be someone we love to hate.  Generally, a villain is characterized by an incapacity for empathy.  This is true no matter the villain’s gender.  But too often, representations of female villains seem driven by animosity toward women in general, or at the very least fall back on misogynistic gender stereotypes.  Thus, perhaps the most common female villain is the “ambitious woman,” the power-hungry Lady Macbeth archetype: hard, icy, cunning, and scheming (think House of Cards’ Claire Underwood).  There are also female villains who are merely promiscuous, irrational, and violent, ruining the lives of the unfortunate male protagonists they ensnare.  These two stereotypical female roles have sometimes fused in the femme fatale who uses her sexuality to advance her ambition.  Some combination of the two stereotypes has informed female villains from King Lear’s two ungrateful older daughters to the Marquise de Merteuil in Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

Disney’s retelling of Maleficent

Stereotypes of female evil also often blend ageism with sexism—every fairy tale has its evil hag or warty witch.  I grew up watching Disney’s female villains—the Evil Queen, Maleficent, Cinderella’s step-mother, Ursula, Cruella Deville.  Their villainy was usually connected to their jealousy of youth and beauty and/or to their hunger for power.  The evil queen is vain and envious, Maleficent vengeful, Cinderella’s step-mother spiteful, and Ursula manipulative and just generally ruthless.  Whether or not their individual representations are sexist, as a group they send the message that older women are dangerous to youthful heroines, and could never be heroines themselves. 

How do we tell, beyond a gut feeling, if a particular representation of a female villain is sexist?  Certainly we can’t call sexism on every female villain; to demand only positive representations of women would itself be regressive and sexist.  The question is only complicated by the fact that today, particularly on TV, we seem to have moved in many cases beyond portrayals of clear-cut villainy, favoring anti-heroes and (less-frequently) anti-heroines.  Generally, an anti-hero or anti-heroine is made, not born; they have nuance, and we see the circumstances have led them to be who they are.  Some iconic female villains have been given backstories this way and even received full-on makeovers in recent years, occasionally even transitioning to heroine status: Maleficent and the Wicked Witch of the West are among these.  But other female characters, even when given nuance, remain evil, and it’s in those cases that it’s particularly tricky to pinpoint whether they convey a generalized negative attitude toward women.

One such difficult character is A Song of Ice and Fire/ Game of Thrones’ Cersei Lannister, who is worth discussing in detail.  Is she a villainess or an anti-heroine?  She’s certainly not pure evil like her son Joffrey or Ramsay Bolton.  She has a back-story and some complexity.  But why must the series’ most overtly devious female character be the one with the most feminist awareness?  Is dissatisfaction with female roles aligned with villainy?  Other, more positive female characters in the series transgress gender norms (Arya Stark, Brienne of Tarth).  But Cersei has the most fully developed awareness of the gender constraints imposed on her, and of the differences in the way she and her twin brother have always been treated.  She resents being married off like chattel and having her ambitions limited by her gender.  The trouble is that her indignation about these things is part of a general pattern of resenting and blaming others for her own faults or the consequences of her own actions, so that it feels as if Martin is undermining the validity of her gender critique.  (Book readers may be particularly unlikely to attribute her villainy to years of gender inequity, since as a little girl she was already apparently evil enough to drown a friend in a well.)

Another thing that frustrates me about the representation of Cersei, but may just reveal my own stereotypes of female villainy, is her lack of cunning or even intelligence; this lack is unusual for a powerful, ambitious female villain.  The first time I read A Song of Ice and Fire, I was surprised when I reached the third book, A Feast for Crows, in which Cersei first becomes a point of view character, to discover that she lacked the calculating intellect that typically goes along with ruthless ambition in a female villain.  The second time I read the novels, I was more actively annoyed—Why does G.R.R. Martin have to emphasize that every single decision she makes is stupid and self-defeating?  Her one redeeming quality is her love for her children, but she loves them only for the same narcissistic reason that she loves her twin—because they are reflections or extensions of herself. 

I am not sure that it is necessarily sexist that Cersei’s villainy is bound up with her gender and her gender-awareness.  It seems incorrect to say that a representation of a female villain is sexist unless her villainy is disconnected from her gender, or unless her role could just as easily be played by a man.  I am also thinking here of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and its deliciously sociopathic title character, who has cunning in spades.  Amy Dunne, like Cersei, is keenly aware of the role gender plays in every aspect of life.  She uses the media’s bias toward pretty white women to strengthen her intricate revenge plot against her cheating slob of a husband.  She also gives the novel’s powerful and much-quoted “cool girl” speech, skewering men’s expectations of women.  At the same time, what does it mean that this arguably feminist speech comes from a sociopath?  Amy herself is certainly no feminist—like Cersei, her attitude towards other women is often sexist, contemptuous, and exploitative, never sororal.

Is Amy a villain, an antagonist, an anti-heroine?  Rosamond Pike, who played Amy in David Finch’s 2013 movie version, has said there is something essentially feminine about Amy’s type of crazy—by extension, one might say Amy’s type of evil.  This makes me distinctly uncomfortable, but it seems indisputable: there is no way Nick’s and Amy’s roles could have been successfully reversed.  Indeed, they seemed to play out an extreme version of husband-wife dynamics that some readers and film-goers found uncomfortably familiar.

Gone Girl seems to break the most fundamental rule of non-sexist villainess depiction: that a book/show/movie not cater to men who could close the book or leave the theatre with the comment: “Women—crazy, am I right?”  (This rule is why I have avoided watching movies like Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct.)  But then again, men are more likely to leave Gone Girl terrified than smug, and I honestly can’t say if that’s better or worse.  In any case, sociopathy certainly characterizes many of the scariest male villains as well.  It doesn’t necessarily make a depiction of female evil sexist.

So it seems any rule one lays down about female characterization is inevitably unstable.  The best conclusion I can come up with in avoiding creating sexist female villains, and it seems a cliché, is that a character should be fully-realized, not a caricature or stereotype, but recognizably a human being.  She should not be vilified merely for wanting things or doing things a man would not be a villain for wanting or doing.  Those ideas seems simple, but we can hold to them and still retain characters like Cersei or Amy, who challenge us to continue the debate about representations of women that loom large in our cultural consciousness.    


Lunch with Audie Cornish: Women of Color in Public Radio

NPR’s All Things Considered Host Audie Cornish addresses her career, the media’s ever-changing role, the importance of diversity and reporting on racial tensions in this country during a luncheon for member station WVXU.

On our way to a luncheon two weeks ago to hear Audie Cornish speak, my parents and I walked past her on our third flight of stairs. We were going up, and she was going down. I only caught a glimpse of her.

“Oh, that’s her,” I whispered to my unsuspecting parents. We were in The Phoenix, a historic events venue, going up to the ballroom. The event promised to feed us and enlighten us with a questions and answers session from Ms. Cornish, who co-hosts the 4 p.m. news program All Things Considered, along with Robert Siegel and Melissa Block. 

“Really? That’s not how I imagined her,” my dad responded, walking up a few more stairs. He listens to All Things Considered almost every day, on his commute back from work. “I don’t know why. I guess she’s younger than I thought she would be.” 

Many others at the event, which was a luncheon for supporters of WVXU — the NPR member station in Cincinnati where I work — had similar remarks. They had no idea what to expect. People were excited to finally see the face that matched the voice they hear every day on the radio.

Audie Cornish twitter
Photo from Twitter @nprAudie

But I instantly recognized Audie because, as a fan, I had come across her photo a few times on NPR’s website or from reading about her online. I low-key check out all of my favorite radio people, because I like associating an image with the voice. While I knew what to expect appearance-wise, I was almost caught off guard by her personality.

It’s not that I didn’t expect her to be funny and candid. I most certainly did. But it’s just as an NPR host and reporter, I could never really get a good feel for her personality. Sure, All Things Considered, like the title suggests, presents a slew of thoughtful, sound-rich commentary beyond just the basic news of the day. But it’s still a professional, scripted program.

More than anything, I could tell her Q&A session that day wasn’t very scripted. Her voice really came through in a way that it doesn’t when she hosts. And the answers felt much more like a conversation, with her even engaging an anonymous question-asker (we submitted questions via note cards) by having him “out” himself so she could better respond.

When addressing how she landed such a ‘cool gig,’ Audie talked about her early days working at the campus radio station at University of Massachusetts Amherst. She joked about how she wanted to work for the paper, but they were all jerks; she found her niche with the radio kids. And then she mentioned something that I’m sure resonates with a lot of young journalists: that she has a mean case of Imposter Syndrome — which is when successful people have a difficult time internalizing that success — and that she’s waiting for someone to tell her, “That’s enough, dear,” at any given moment.

Of course, we know this will never happen, but it’s comforting to think that someone as well-respected as Audie can feel this way. Regardless, Audie has an enormous sense of pride about what she does. She said that one of her first stories at the student station was covering a small protest with a few hundred people. She muscled her way to the front of that protest, got the sound she needed and spent the night putting the piece together. She was proud of the finished product, and it’s a high she’s been chasing since.

“There is something incredibly intoxicating about walking into the center of history each and every time and having the door open, and actually getting to talk to people and having them talk to you,” she says. “What’s it like for this to happen? What’s it like for that to happen? You can ask the dumbest question in the world to the smartest person in the world; to the most famous person in the world; to the most serious person in the world. You get to do that! People pay you to do that.”

She talked about about some more relatively light-hearted topics: her love for almost all of the sources she gets to interview, how intimate radio is as a medium because there are no lights and cameras — just her and her source, how she can’t pick a favorite story, how she has recently enjoyed working on the stories with the Massachusetts Public Health Commissioner, how nowadays training to moderate a presidential debate or work on the campaign trail is almost like training for combat and she doesn’t think it’s her cup of tea even though she’s reported on Congress for NPR and so on.

And then the questions got slightly more real, but Audie kept her composure and gave equally real responses. Someone asked, as the country becomes more absurd and politically divided, how do you maintain your impartiality? This is when Audie called out the audience member.

“Do you feel like you were impartial in writing that question?” she asked.

“It was difficult,” he responded, to some laughs. Audie said the word ‘absurd’ gave it away.

“The way I look at it is, I was hired basically because of my capacity for curiosity and to ask one extra… or five extra… questions where there should be one or two. And so, I don’t see it so much as the monkhood of objectivity… I come to it from a place of inquiry,” she responded.

Like any good journalist, she wants to know how she can conduct a conversation in which actual meaningful information is elicited. That’s the point of journalism, after all: to disseminate information. She spends a lot of her time trying to do that instead of working to insert her own opinions.

“I’m not a commentator. I’m not an analyst. I think there are amazing, smart people who do those jobs but I don’t think I want to do that work. I don’t go to bed at night thinking, ‘I’m really going to stick it to so-and-so.’ I’m just glad I made it home and I actually changed out of my work clothes,” she said. “But I understand why this question is coming up.”

She expressed that, nowadays, people are so distrustful of those conveying information. The idea is they can’t just be asking questions and doing an impartial story. It must come from a deep place of advocacy. And readers get frustrated with you if you do something “unbiased” that they believe should come from a deep place of advocacy. But impartiality is what fuels NPR and makes it a fair, well-rounded news source. She admits it’s a tricky line to walk.

She eventually addressed my question about why it’s important to have women of color and other diverse voices in NPR and any newsroom. Lakshmi Singh. Mandalit del Barco. Korva Korman. Shereen Marisol Meraji. Audie Cornish. These names are not unfamiliar to NPR listeners; they’re names I hear regularly despite the media’s continuing domination by white men. 

She responded that, over time, people recognized that there was a certain type of person who was dominant in the news room, who came from a certain kind of schooling, who had a certain financial background — who was essentially privileged enough to do the job. She mentioned how internships were unpaid and that she wouldn’t have been able to work essentially for free in a city like NYC or DC. She was a scholarship kid the entire way, and that carried her through.

“When you have a number of voices who sit around the table, they bring ideas from different parts of the world. So it’s not a bad thing to raise your hand as a veteran and say, “I was reading The Army Times and there was a great story about X” because no one else is going to pitch that story,” she said. “And similarly, there are people who come from Latino backgrounds, or are black or are Asian, and say, “I saw this really interesting protest in this corner of the world…” We had a man who worked with us for a very long time who was of Pakistani origin. Without fail, he kept us on top of news in India and Pakistan.”

She said a newsroom really thrives on the diversity of the cast at hand; different voices and stories and knowledge. She contrasted it with a movie, where everyone is working to tell the same story. A newsroom requires an endless flow of different stories from different perspectives, especially with All Things Considered, which runs two hours of diverse content a day.

“I think that’s one thing that’s always been admirable about NPR,” Audie said. “They are trying to sound like America.”

She was then asked about the role she thinks the media plays in fueling racial tension. Audie responded that the media is like a funhouse mirror for what is going on in America. Right now, it may be “in vogue” to say we are at a point in racial tension that is at the worst it’s ever been. But she comes at it from a different point of view.

“I think that the American people are having a conversion in an explicit way that they did not have with this kind of explicitness before. There is some value to that,” she said. “To give an example, there’s a term that millennials use, which is ‘microaggression.’ The idea behind a microaggression is that this is not your sitting-at-a-lunch-counter bigotry racism. This is not being chased out of a place or being fired for who you are. This is what you have in every day interaction.”

She mentioned that, before, it was about marching and really basic, basic rights. And that’s still something that has to happen. But for this new generation, we are on a whole other level of conversation — one that does not allow people to back away. One that can feel pushy and call out small annoyances.

“Because in the macro level, we can say, “Uh, sexism and racism seem like a problem? Not in my house. I’m awesome.” We can absolve ourselves of things that go on in our culture. I think the media is putting a spotlight on situations when these happen [on a macro or micro scale]. All these stories you hear now are things you wouldn’t hear ten years ago.”

She mentioned that stories about the refugee crisis affect her, but maybe fifty years ago, news of a refugee boat going down in the Mediterranean, for example, wouldn’t have reached us.

“American broadcasters may not have thought it mattered to Americans, and you might not have known it. But now you do. And it’s the same thing with racial incidents,” she said.

There wasn’t time for too many more questions, though a few more frivolous ones were tossed in. It was obvious that Audie had a lot to say and would’ve had a lot more insight to offer had there been more time. I was definitely impressed with the way she presented herself overall. I like her, I thought to myself. She’s as great as I thought she would be. 

But I should have known I’d like her because before she took the stage, I got to briefly speak with her, and she was nothing but friendly. A fellow employee introduced me as the assistant producer for WVXU’s “Cincinnati Edition,” a live, local program. I asked her if it was okay for me to record her so I can write a piece about the luncheon; she said that of course it was okay, as long as it was okay with my station.

I tried to stay away from this, knowing she probably hears it far too much, but I slipped in a, “It’s so exciting to see you in person when I hear you on the radio… I know you must get that a lot.” She laughed, and said, “You must be starting to get some of that too.” And it’s funny, because I do, even though you only hear my name announced at the end of the program.

I asked if she remembered my friend Casey Morell from Missouri’s Global Journalist, who interviewed her a few years back, and she said she did. Later, when I let him know, he said it made his day. Before Audie had to hurry off and get ready, I asked if I could get a picture with her, and she willingly agreed. So now I have a piece of memorabilia that inspires me to keep at it no matter how much Imposter Syndrome I have.

Audie Cornish Belinda.jpg
The author B.C. and Audie Cornish at the event

Read more about Audie here:

“Zootopia” Encourages Us to Examine Our Prejudice

**This post contains some spoilers**

Zootopia continues Disney’s time-honored tradition of using animated creatures to talk about something else, whether it’s covering….Hamlet with lions or depression with walking, talking emojis (I’m talking Lion King and Inside Out here, in case you couldn’t tell). But Zootopia manages to do a little more, by drawing a charmingly insightful view of the world that still manages to talk about the prejudice and stereotypes that plague us.

Are you in it for the animal puns and inventive world-building? Sure. There are little sparks of pleasure throughout the entire movie, as the animators recreate familiar technology in an “evolved” world where animals, predators and prey, live together in a modern metropolis. How would subways accommodate both giraffes and hamsters? Do rabbits facetime? Are leopards pop-star fanboys who know how to use apps? All of your questions will be answered. (Bonus: this makes the film’s address of bigotry, racism, and prejudice even more compelling, as there’s a clear parallel drawn between Zootopia’s world and ours).

Photo from Zootopia \\ Twitter @DisneyZootopia

Its main character, Judy Hopps, is an amibitious young bunny bent on becoming the first police officer of her species. To do so, she works twice as hard as anyone else, insisting that she’s not just a “token.” She is a creative problem-solver who works collaboratively, respects her friendships, and knows when to acknowledge her own mistakes and shortcomings. She’s a great cop who got there mostly by the dint of her own hard work, but also through the love and support of her community. She is defined more by her ambitions than anything else (and thank god there was no love story in this movie, because how would that even work…?). My cynical heart swells thinking of the young girls watching this movie who will absorb this film’s subtle, but strong message about the potential and abilities of the underestimated.

But Zootopia is more than a girl-can-do film, and its address of bigotry is what makes it one of the best and most important movies Disney has put out yet. In the beginning, Judy’s naive worldview presents Zootopia as the harmonious, “race-blind” melding of two distinct classes of animal: predator and prey. Part of her journey is through the disillusionment of that idea, and toward a concrete plan of action to remedy it. There are forces at work in the city who feed off of the distrust and prejudice that still surround “predators” and their unavoidable “biological instinct”—an early lesson for young viewers in the insidious power of coded language to shape public opinion, as Judy also learns. Through Judy’s friendship with the street-hustler fox Nick Wilde, she learns what it means to confront the lingering animosity between “predator” and “prey,” and how to forge a strong friendship from this unlikely, but very effective, partnership.

Image from Twitter @DisneyZootopia

The film is also seeded with references for the adults or particularly savvy kids—like how the “nighthowlers” drug can be seen as a parallel to the crack epidemic, or how Judy tells another animal that bunnies can call other bunnies “cute,” but if another species does it….(you can almost hear the n-word echoing in the background). Zootopia depicts how quickly people (or animals) can fall into the traps of fear-motivated thinking, how bigotry and racism feed off of misinformation and fear. It also shows how much is lost when one’s world is circumscribed by these prejudices. And it does so in terms that both children and adults can understand and use to discuss racism, bigotry, and prejudice in the real world. That is a refreshing antidote to the hate-mongering and racism being peddled by election frontrunners—and the positive reaction to Zootopia bespeaks more than just our love for cuddly animals. Is it perfect? Probably not. But it brings the problems of bigotry right to the front and center. That’s a hell of a lot more than Disney movies used to do. We need more children’s movies like this, which are driven by interesting storylines and use world-building to open up discussions about the pressing problems of our own world.


Plus, this movie is just really freaking cute.



Feminists Watch: Documentaries (Great Ones from 2015)

By I.C.

January is always a time for looking backward as well as forward, and as 2016 gets underway I’ve been reflecting back on the cultural events that defined 2015 for me.  One of the things that strikes me is what a great year it was for documentaries.  I am an avid fan of documentaries, and, as 2016 opened with Netflix’s documentary miniseries Making a Murderer as the year’s first pop cultural obsession, I’m clearly not alone. In recent years the genre has become particularly effective at combining entertainment with vital insights and even the capacity for inspiring activism and real social change. (See: The Paradise Lost films about the West Memphis Three, spanning 1996 to 2011, or 2013’s Blackfish.)  Following this trend, some of 2015’s most acclaimed and compelling filmmaking came from this genre.  So here are four of the best from 2015, in case you missed them, with a synopsis and also a suggestion of what these documentaries offer particularly to a feminist viewer. Whether you’re looking for eye-opening insight or a chance to funnel righteous indignation into action for a cause, these films have something for you. Continue reading “Feminists Watch: Documentaries (Great Ones from 2015)”

Acro Collective Bookshelf: January

Maybe your *New Year’s Resolution* is to read more, or maybe you just like books. Either way, you’re our kind of person.

Acro Collective Bookshelf: January


What are you guys reading lately?

Project Spotlight: Driven Media

Today, we present our spotlight on a great journalism project: Driven Media. “Driven Media is a journalism startup that aims to help young women understand their lives and potential. We do this through multimedia stories about the lives, relationships and stories of real women. As young women, we really felt that gap and lack of representation of women in the media. When you are looking for inspiration and hope and just a good story that you can relate to, it just isn’t there. We wanted to change that, and felt like we had the skill set to, so we did.”


Acro: First, please introduce yourselves.

I’m Samantha Harrington. I’m 22, originally from Wisconsin and I graduated with degrees in Journalism and Arabic from UNC in May 2015. I like sunflowers and Joan Didion and tea and good music and friends and talking and painting (in no particular order haha).


I’m Hannah Doksansky, a 21-year-old from Atlanta, Georgia, who will graduate in the spring from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I drink coffee by the gallon, spend many hours catching up on the phone with friends, and take the occasional photo to document everything.


Acro: Give us an intro to your project. What is it called, what do you do, and what was the inspiration for getting started?


Driven Media is a journalism startup that aims to help young women understand their lives and potential. We do this through multimedia stories about the lives, relationships and stories of real women. As young women, we really felt that gap and lack of representation of women in the media. When you are looking for inspiration and hope and just a good story that you can relate to, it just isn’t there. We wanted to change that, and felt like we had the skill set to, so we did. –sam


Our team consists of Sam and I, who rove down the east coast in a tiny green prius, and two women named Josie and Hrisanthi who create multimedia interactives for each story while also working full time at newspapers. We all met at an entrepreneurial journalism lab at UNC and knew from group projects that our skill sets could be combined to create better storytelling. (HD)


Acro: What are you hoping to achieve through Driven Media? Is there something about storytelling (and, in particular, mobile storytelling!) as a medium that’s particularly useful for achieving your goals?


I think we’re trying to achieve a world in which women can share stories and learn from one another. We’re just trying to be the platform that facilitates that learning. You can connect to anyone online that has access to internet. It lets us transcend physical and geographic space and limitations in an awesome way. And obviously mobile is super important. Our target audience is young women. Young people get a lot of their information on their phones (I know I do). So every story we do we want to make sure looks good on mobile. Surprisingly our analytics show that still like 70% of people are getting to our content on desktops, but I expect mobile will become a bigger and bigger thing for us. –sam


Acro: What is your method? How do you go about finding subjects and collecting stories?


We basically show up in a place and call everyone and anyone we can. We’re focusing on a series of stories this fall about immigration while traveling down the east coast. So that means we’re in a new place every two weeks and really have to start the discovery process all over again. Generally we start with organizations—cultural associations, resettlement agencies, restaurants, etc—but sometimes we turn to social media to find people. In West Virginia I searched Twitter for people who had tweeted, “West Virginia and Filipino,” and just tweeted back at them. It looked pretty desperate responding to like 3-year-old tweets, but almost everyone responded.  Once we’ve found people to talk to we do some like exploratory interviews to figure out what the story is. Then once we’re at that point we try to figure out the best way to tell it. Should this be an audio piece? Or is video or text better? Things like that. –sam


Acro: What are the particular challenges of your project, if any?


Oh, do we encounter challenges. Our biggest challenge is always money. We crowdfunded $50,000 to launch the company in August, which enabled us to make necessary investments like equipment and a car. But we know that Driven cannot continue to exist without a viable business model. We brainstorm often new ways to make money to sustain future tours. (HD)

Another challenge worth noting is that we are always on tour. Sam and I work very hard to make sure we maintain a balanced lifestyle because we can easily slip into a pattern where we work constantly. We try to see every place that we visit and explore a little bit. We found that our stories are better when we take a moment to breathe every once and awhile! (HD)


Acro: Where is the project going from here? Do you have plans to broaden it, and/or are you in the process of collecting more stories? What’s your vision for the project in the future?


We are releasing stories weekly but our fall tour will come to a close in December. In the spring, we are going to take a break so that I can graduate college and we can focus on the viability of the company. We are exploring many revenue models so that we can hit the road again in the summer. This fall we have told the stories of immigrant women in five cities, but we will most likely switch to a new, yet to be determined theme for future tours. Reach out if you have ideas for new topics! (HD)


Acro: What do you think it would take for women, and especially women of color, to have more meaningful representation in journalism and news media?


So I think the biggest way is just by getting more women (of all backgrounds) involved in producing media. It’s really hard because I feel like so much of media success is just being in the right place at the right time. But at the same time I also believe that just working hard and talking to everyone opens so many doors. If you have an idea, the worst thing you can do is keep it to yourself. Shout it out to mentors and friends and strangers alike. Ask them to introduce you to anyone who they think might be interested in what you want to do. You never know who you’ll meet and where they’ll lead you. And once you’re in a place where you’re producing content and you have an audience you have to continue to be firm and loud about what you want. Challenge traditional concepts of what kind of stories are important and how they should be told. –sam







“As I Lay Crying:” A Podcast Introduction

This week, we are happy to introduce one of our writers’ upcoming projects. “As I Lay Crying” tells stories and explores issues related to a very universal, yet specific, phenomenon.

We do it in our cars, bedrooms, maybe at work, alone or with loved ones, and perhaps in front of strangers: crying, that is. It’s innate in all of us. It may seem like a remarkably basic concept, but it has plenty of hidden depth. We frequently cried as babies and children, as a biological way to convey our needs, i.e. hunger. But it gets more complicated as adults.

Why do we cry? And when is it “appropriate?” When does it show weakness? Strength? Those questions sparked the idea for my podcast, “As I Lay Crying,” which will explore the various biological and sociocultural facets of crying. More importantly, it will tell stories of hardships and joys, and what it means to be human — all through the universal peg of crying.


I recently held a podcast discussion during which fifteen people opened up about reasons they’ve cried. In this “safe space,” almost everyone shared relatable and poignant experiences that resonated with the entire group. Topics like familial issues, relationship woes, and struggles with identity and body image were mentioned. There was visceral empathy and sympathy throughout. Most of it came from the women in the group.

Continue reading ““As I Lay Crying:” A Podcast Introduction”

OITNB Season 3: Recap and Watch-Along [Episode 1]

I watched this so you don’t have to. Spoilers ahead, obviously….

Maybe you, like me, loved the first season of Orange Is the New Black. A lot. The novelty of such a woman-centric cast, full to the brim with interesting and compelling characters of color, was heady. Sure, there were problems with the show—but only because we expected so much of it, no? It was so close to getting EVERYTHING right. Besides the fact that its frame was basically: Piper (IMO always the least interesting character on the show) was a fish out of water because she didn’t deserve to be in prison. By the extension of this logic, some people did deserve to be in prison. Those who didn’t look like Piper, perhaps? She was skinny and white and pretty and shopped at Whole Foods! This was just some fluke. Right?

Season 3 is now out, and we’re going to dive right in! Come watch and discuss along with me.

Thank god we no longer have to deal with Larry.

(A quick disclaimer: I didn’t really refresh myself on the show before beginning season 3. There may be a couple of factual/character/plot inconsistencies in my recaps. Any mistakes are unintentional. But I’m also kind of lazy, so they might remain.)

Maybe you, like me, loved the first season of Orange Is the New Black. A lot. The novelty of such a woman-centric cast, full to the brim with interesting and compelling characters of color, was heady. Sure, there were problems with the show—but only because we expected so much of it, no? It was so close to getting EVERYTHING right. Besides the fact that its frame was basically: Piper (IMO always the least interesting character on the show) was a fish out of water because she didn’t deserve to be in prison. By the extension of this logic, some people did deserve to be in prison. Those who didn’t look like Piper, perhaps? She was skinny and white and pretty and shopped at Whole Foods! This was just some fluke. Right?

Season 3 is now out, and we’re going to dive right in! Come watch and discuss along with me.

Thank god we no longer have to deal with Larry.

(A quick disclaimer: I didn’t really refresh myself on the show before beginning season 3. There may be a couple of factual/character/plot inconsistencies in my recaps. Any mistakes are unintentional. But I’m also kind of lazy, so they might remain.)

S3E1: “Mother’s Day”

Damn, this theme song is still so good. No matter how much my initial enthusiasm for this show has waned, this theme still stirs something in me.

The episode starts with Pennsatucky driving a van somewhere with two prison guards, a white woman (Wanda something?) and a black woman. The first joke of the season is out the gate, ladies and gentlemen: Pennsatucky says “Crack is for coloreds,” prompting a stare from the black prison guard. Realizing she’s made a mistake, Penn amends it to: “African Americans. Crack is for African Americans.” I file this away for a roundtable discussion of the future. Is this joke analogous to the way the show talks about race???, my pseudo-academic brain insists. Quiet, brain.

The three quickly recap for viewers the way bald Miss Rosa drove the old van into a quarry. EXPOSITION. Penn tells a dumb punny joke about being bald, having bawled, and getting balled. “My momma taught me that, isn’t that wild? My momma taught me so many things.”

Dear viewers, it’s been announced. We’re 3 minutes in. This episode is about Motherhood.

Now: flashback to Mama Pennsatucky forcing Baby Pennsatucky to chug a giant glass bottle of Mountain Dew before a welfare meeting. Mama uses this Baby Penn’s hyperactivity to ask for supplemental welfare.

Cut back to Pennsatucky and the guards. They’re shopping in what looks like a dollar store. Penn states confidently that one of her aborted/lost babies might have been another Tim Tebow. I have nothing to say about this reference. Is it about Christian hypocrisy? Is it a nod to football fans? I’ll never know or care enough to find out.

Wanda the guard loads up the cart with a mishmash of party supplies from the sale aisle—mostly leftovers from Cinco de Mayo. It’s summer at the ladies’ prison funtime camp. We’re about to have a mother’s day party of some kind, I’m going to guess.

Back at Litchfield, Red saunters into the room with all the older ladies: respirator Anita and Sister Ingalls. It’s also Rosa’s old room, so her bed has been turned into a mini shrine. The fat dude guard who’s not Luschek (Scott? Brad? something like that…) assigns Red to Rosa’s bunk. Red dismantles the shrine, saying that the women shouldn’t commemorate Rosa in a place she hated. Red offers the women painkillers she’s been hiding in her mouth, which Anita rejects.


At least, I think that’s the reaction we’re supposed to have, judging by the music. She has an artfully black and blue bruise on her eye. Her roll toward the other women was suitably dramatic. To be honest, I can’t remember shit about Alex’s plotline. I guess it’s supposed to be a surprise that she’s back in Litchfield.

Cut to: Caputo walking with a new CO outside by the field. He explains the Mother’s Day Visitation Fair to her. I think we’re supposed to feel sympathetic to Caputo, who “got caught in a shitstorm but put up a sturdy umbrella,” (the new CO’s words, not mine…) in season 2. The thing is, I can’t look at him or that little wisp of hair on the crown of his head without thinking about Fig being blackmailed into giving him head. And the term “beer can.” And then I have to take a break to throw up.

He complains about shortstaffed by “Madame Shit-Storm”’s departure. “What’d you hear about me?” new CO asks him, with a little lift of her chin.

“That you’re smart, and you’re qualified, and…you said yes.”

God, this is boring. Is this how Caputo flirts?

“These are complicated ladies in a complicated place,” Caputo says. How sensitive, insightful, and brilliant he is. New CO nods but she’s probably really thinking about how good her cheekbones look in this natural light.

Taystee helpfully announces herself and her expository function in this scene by yelling out, “Yo! Mr. Caputo! That your girlfriend? I had a feeling you had a thing for the darker berries.” This prompts Caputo to introduce Counselor Rogers (new CO gets a name! yay). Taystee asks about Mr. Healy (old sad sack counselor who wanted to bone Piper her first day in prison, remember?). Caputo tells her Healy’s still around. OH THANK GOD WHAT WOULD WE DO WITHOUT HIM.

Taystee: “This is gonna get interestin’.” Oh, Taystee. You are so much better than this poor excuse for viewer stand-in. But thank you for assuring us that this will be interesting. It was good to see you. Taystee gets in a parting-shot “massa” joke and is gone.

Oh look it’s Serious Bennett! Serious Bennett walks with his hands behind his back and puffs out his chest. He furrows his brow to make it clear that he’s sensitive and thoughtful. He wants to tell Caputo some boring story about lights being out in one of the dorms. Caputo, probably for Counselor Rogers’ benefit, reprimands Bennett for calling the inmates “girls” and corrects him with “inmates” and “women.”

“Or electricians,” CO Rogers chimes in. Bennett pouts at her seriously.


“Officer Bennett…is there anything else you’d like to tell us?” Caputo asks. Like how you abused your CO position, however “romantically”, and got an inmate pregnant because you didn’t like the feel of condoms? No? No? OK, bye, Serious Bennett.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Gloria is doing “Catholic-plus” magic on an inmate by rolling an egg over her body. The egg cracks, prompting the inmate to leave in a panic so that…Poussey can walk in! Oh, Poussey. How we have missed you. This show will always have value to me, no matter what it does or says, because it introduced the world to Samira Wiley.

Gloria and Poussey talk about Poussey’s alcohol brewing side business, and the fact that Poussey wants to set up a games booth for the visiting kids. “It’s y’all’s day,” P tells Gloria. “It must be hard as fuck bein’ in here when you got kids on the outside.”

“Don’t forget to call your mother tomorrow,” Gloria tells P. This can only mean one thing…

“My mom’s passed,” P reveals, looking a bit like a sad, lonely puppy. Y u do dis to me, OITNB.

And then, because we can’t linger on that sad/sweet moment, apparently, Blanca (the crazy Hispanic woman) is called into the shot to tell a strange and meandering story about her old goldfish “Tequila.” Ok, OITNB.

Cut to: Luschek and Piper in the grass outside, wiring what looks like a cardboard windmill for mini-golf. They’re talking about ways they would commit suicide, and Piper says, “pills.”

“Figures,” Luschek says. “Pills are expensive. But you don’t even think about that.”

Piper fires back that she makes eleven cents an hour in prison, and that when she gets out, she won’t have a job or prospects. This is kind of a hard sell to me because…well, she’s still white and pretty, no? Her parents are still lawyers, or whatever. She still has that college degree. Not saying it’ll be easy, but why is this conversation happening around Piper? Maybe I’m cranky because she bores me. It’s also weird to me that Luschek is the one lecturing her about waking up to the “real world.” He seems to do all right by himself. COs make a decent living, don’t they?

Luschek is chock full of economical ways to kill oneself. (“At a shooting range, you don’t have to pay until you leave.”) Piper insists that they change the subject, so Luschek informs her that “the hot one” is back. Of course, this means Alex. “The Bettie Page of Litchfield,” Luschek offers. Another gem: “And to be honest, she looked a little rough. It sucks when hot chicks start to cool down.” Damn, this show is really good at making me dislike the characters.

Meanwhile, Sophia is in the salon while a long line of women, winding down the hallway, waits outside. “If you don’t have children comin’ today, please come back another time.”

Maria, waiting in another chair, asks for her hair to be the same length as the last time her baby saw her. “It’s called object permanence,” she tells us. I have a real affection for Maria and her baby daddy, at this point. He dresses that baby in the cutest outfits for their visits with Maria. That’s love.

Morello sits in Sophia’s hairdressing chair and asks for a “no. 7,” excitedly chattering about her four kids who are coming to visit. Maria looks over like…this bitch…

“Show me your stomach,” Sophia says. “Mother of four, twins no less.”


Morello, no surprise, evades the question, and Sophia tells her to get out of the salon. Morello, in desperation, pleads that “dollin’ up’s the only way I got to feel better.” Sophia looks over thoughtfully. I guess a transgender woman doing her transitioning while in prison would know a little something about that, honey.

Sophia and Morello talk about the strangeness of Mother’s Day when Sophia’s son isn’t sure how to treat Sophia—like a father? Like a mother? Cut to a flashback of Sophia in her previous life as a man, rubbing her wife’s feet and singing as they wait for their son to be born.

In the laundry room, Angie (Pennsatucky’s dark-haired friend, right?) tells Leanne that Nicky is always in the laundry room because she’s obsessed with “getting” Angie after the “lesbian-off” with Big Boo from the previous season. Let’s just forget that happened, why don’t we? There’s something really messed up about treating the high rate of sexual abuse and coercion in prison as a kind of game between voracious lesbians. Anyway, there’s gotta be a reason why Nicky’s actually in the laundry room…

aaaand it’s that she’s looking at some drugs drying in the air vent.

Cut to baby Nicky baking muffins for her WASP mom on mother’s day, while her nanny helps and encourages her. WASP momma can’t be bothered, blathering about going to an alcohol-fueled brunch to pretend that they like Nicky’s grandma. Hell is brunch at the Four Seasons, I guess. Baby Nicky is really adorable. “She didn’t read my card,” baby Nicky whispers. I’d read your card, cutie!

Back in the present, Morello and Nicky go through the lunch line and Nicky flirts with Morello, noticing her new look. Piper grumbles but discovers Alex walking through the door of the cafeteria. They hug, and Piper asks why she’s back. I…also need a refresher. These ladies leave, letting the camera pan to the black women: Cindy, Poussey, Taystee, Suzanne/Crazy Eyes, and Janae. They discuss Gloria’s magic and whether or not she really put a hex on Vee, killing her. Crazy Eyes insists that Vee is fine, leading Cindy to warn her that if she throws anything on her tray, they will dog-pile Crazy Eyes until she’s flat. Which is kind of a hilarious and loving punishment to imagine.

Janae asks Poussey why she’s dabbling in “voodoo magic.” Taystee intervenes with a warning we can all get behind: “Mess with the evil forces, you’ll be out like Cedric Diggory.” Poussey and Taystee simultaneously intone, “Harry Potter…” when Janae asks who Cedric is. I love P and T’s friendship. I hope that this season we get another taste of their game where they imitate white women at yoga or a cupcake shop or wherever white women in TV shows hang out.


Flashback to Poussey’s mom reading Calvin and Hobbes aloud with a pre-teen Poussey. I’M NOT READY FOR THESE FEELS, DAMN IT. Is Poussey trying to use black magic to bring her mom back from the dead? I don’t really blame you, Poussey. But remember the Deathly Hallows and its cautionary tale. I know you know.


In the dorms, Aleida and Daya talk about Daya’s “first mother’s day” and feeling like a mother because your baby gives you pain and trouble. “At least get me a card or something. Draw me one of your weird pictures,” Aleida says. You leave Daya’s amateur anime alone, Aleida. She drew herself in a bomber jacket with a bionic arm, for god’s sake. She’s doing fine.

While looking through Daya’s mail, Aleida discovers a letter from Pornstache’s mom, who believes that she’s Daya’s baby’s grandmother. Aleida pressures Daya to see Mama Pornstache because there might be money in it.

Nicky and Big Boo are making a clown costume and whispering about how to sell the drugs Nicky’s been cooking in the laundry room. I’m a little confused about Nicky’s casual relationship to drugs in this season, given how seriously Red held her to a clean standard, and how strong we were told Nicky’s addiction was. Isn’t the basis of Red’s “family” tie to Nicky the pain and suffering they struggled through as Nicky went off drugs, at Red’s insistence? Where did all that suffering go? Now Nicky can just casually sell drugs in her spare time?

Cut to: Gina and other ladies sitting under the full moon, passing around an invisible ball of blue energy in their monthly witches’ coven meeting. Freida and Red are in the greenhouse, discussing how the “witch ladies” get to have their night walks because Caputo’s reign is so much gentler, and that people are getting out early! This doesn’t bode well.

Red pours concrete into the old smuggling tunnel in the greenhouse, cutting off Nicky and Big Boo’s sell route. Red carves “RIP V” into the concrete. “Life is complicated,” she says. Yes, Red. Yes it is.

Meanwhile, Healy is in Caputo’s office whining about CO Rogers being hired. He insists he’s “got it covered” but that if Rogers has to stay, “she can have all the blacks and the crazies.” EW GO AWAY HEALY. He then falls back on that old racist standard, “she’s got a weird smell.” When is this gross old man going to be dispatched in some entertaining and satisfying way? I’m waiting, show writers.


Flashback to baby Healy trying to give his insane mom breakfast as she draws on the wall with lipstick and smashes vases on the wall. I guess I’m supposed to feel some sympathy but mainly I’m thinking about how satisfying it would be to smash a vase against a wall.

Piper and Alex share a romantic moment in the chapel, talking about their mothers and their disappointment in their imprisoned daughters. Memorable line from Alex about her mother: “She’s probably looking down right now….vomiting…angel dust…” Alex is understandably frustrated and upset about being back in prison, while Piper cracks a lame joke about living in Queens and how that makes prison seem much more attractive. Whatever, Chapman.

Piper then proceeds to literally shut Alex up by kissing her. “It wasn’t your fault,” Piper soothes. Maybe she’s talking to herself, here. Alex fires back, “Of course it was my fault! No one put that gun in my hand.” I’m not sure what gun Alex is talking about here, but…if I have to choose between these two white ladies, Alex seems infinitely more sympathetic at this moment.

Ever so earnestly, Piper leans in to whisper, “It wasn’t you! …It was the system.”


I can’t take this seriously at all. That Piper, whose storyline so far has revolved around being the one who is in prison “against all odds,” should be the one to spout a platitude about “the system” is just…ridiculous. How about Taystee being back in prison, in season one, because of the system? Where was the show’s revelation about the system then? Like yes, let’s talk about the system and incarceration of women and other very important themes that this show addresses. OITNB does create an opportunity for dialogue and thought by highlighting women of color and the prison state. But these words, “it was the system,” just…should not be so easily available to Piper. What authorizes her to critique the system in such an empty and ultimately thoughtless way? You can almost see the wheels in her head turning as she gropes in the dark for something comforting to tell Alex. Even Alex refuses to buy it totally, though this would be one way toward self-absolvement.

“At least we’re in it together,” Piper says, satisfied. Her selfishness in this moment, as her partner is clearly cracking under the strain of being back, is kind of hard to stomach. I guess that’s the point. Show writers, are we turning the Piper ship around? Are we making her totally unlikeable? Like completely?

Cut to: the COs struggling to contain an excited crowd of children about to enter the prison to see their mothers. Serious Bennett is unpleasantly surprised to see Cesar, Aleida’s boyfriend, who talks openly about the fact that Bennett is Daya’s baby daddy. Cesar, who is either oblivious or takes a malicious pleasure in Bennett’s discomfort, invites him over to their house later. Bennett just manages to look constipated. Now that Larry is gone, is Bennett obligated to take over the role of mildly attractive, insistently well-intentioned douchenozzle?

Montage shots of the inmates with their kids, sitting in the grass, playing mini golf, petting puppies, and generally frolicking. Suzanne plays with a kite in the hallway, getting ready to go outside. Healy comes up and stops her, because he hates fun and wants everyone to be as sad sack and gross as he is. We’re forced to watch Suzanne stare longingly at the field of children having fun because GODDAMN IT OITNB. I am reminded again how good Udo Azuba is as an actress. She looks so vulnerable and subdued—even the slightest lift of her eyelids into those signature crazy eyes is full of pathos. She has the power to turn me into a cheesy film-review writer.


Soso supervises the breaking of the chili-pepper pinata, but the kids can’t have sticks in the prison yard. Fat good-natured security guard says they can work out their anger on the pinata. “Hey, kid, your mother is in prison,” he tells a young black boy. Thanks, FG-NSG. Maybe you’re not that G-N after all.

Flaca’s face-painting for the kids. One little girl looks terrified at the eye makeup Flaca’s put on her, leading to one of my favorite lines from this ep: “NooOoo, you look really good! You could like, leave here and go straight to a My Chemical Romance concert and be the balls.” Yes, Flaca. Yes.

Cindy taunts kids as they play a glorified version of beer pong, and she and Taystee agree that they’re done with mother figures (no surprise, given how messed up theirs were.) Poussey looks like a kicked puppy again. Stahp, show. Pls.

Yoga Jones makes an appearance, playing Simon Says with the kids. Some random redhead inmate I don’t recognize takes some cocaine out of her baby’s diaper and does it. Gina and Norma play duck duck goose. This happens:


Gloria speaks with her younger son, teasing him about growing a moustache. It’s very sweet.

Poussey stops Norma on her way to the port-a-potty to ask about the “juju” she does with Gloria, and how it works. I have a bad feeling about this.

Daya, Aleida, and Aleida’s kids are hanging out on a picnic blanket in the sun when Bennett shows up. He’s so awkward that it hurts. “How come computers are so smart? It’s because they listen to their motherboards,” he says. Oh my god, Bennett. Please stop. Aleida looks away. We see Caputo in the background, watching with disgust, and then grabs Bennett as he leaves for a man-to-man chat about how Bennett should keep secrets swept under the rug where they belong. Caputo helpfully points out how he could have had any inmate he wanted, as a CO. Caputo makes his point in a particularly gross way (involving the phrase, “personal pussy smorgasbord”). But at least he points out the very unromantic aspect of Bennett’s relationship with Daya: its unavoidable power dynamic. Drawing a parallel between the two men is at least helpful in pointing out that the only real difference is Bennett’s cute face.

Sophia sits doing crafts with her son, talking about his mom’s new boyfriend, the pastor. As they talk about shaving and how to do it properly, her son’s curt “ew” is a reminder that he isn’t comfortable with her identity yet, and may never be. But they have a redeeming moment in which they bond over how stupid the pastor’s “wait until marriage” advice is re: girls. Sophia gives her son some advice about exploiting girls’ insecurities as flirting practice. “You really want to be a lady in a world where men do that?” Her son asks.

“God help me, I do,” Sophia answers. A very self-aware, but ultimately kind of effective moment.

Meanwhile, the kids are still ineffectually pummeling the pinata. CO Wanda, fed up, flicks out her nightstick and smashes it open. The kids rush forward, only to discover that the pinata is empty. “Oh my god,” Soso intones, “This is such a metaphor for their lives.”

Aleida, sitting in the field with Daya as the kids play, goes over how awful it is to be a mother. “It’s not all bad…it just ruins your life, is all.”

Flashback to Aleida in the hospital with baby Daya. In the present, one of Aleida’s kids is discovered missing.

Red, surrounded by her husband and grown sons in the visitation room, talks about shutting down the smuggling business and getting back to her life, to the future. “Who’s minding the store?” she asks, suddenly suspicious. Her husband is such a bad liar.

In a corner of the field, Pennsatucky’s made little popsicle-stick crosses with her baby’s names on them. She prays that their unbaptized souls be considered for entry into heaven, because she was “wicked” and had them aborted. Big Boo, in what must be the world’s most terrifying clown costume, comes up to give Penn some weird comfort based on…Freakonomics, of all things. In this strange economy of life, Big Boo argues that the passing of Roe v. Wade prevented the birth, and therefore incarceration, of a whole generation of criminals.

Boo as a happy clown/ angel of death
Boo as a happy clown/ angel of death

Penn’s babies would have been doomed to a life of criminality had they been born—and thus she actually did them a favor by aborting them. I don’t know if I agree with this argument’s viability as an argument—its calculus seems a little cold. But it’s Big Boo’s way of helping, I guess. “Maybe you should stop punishing yourself,” she suggests. I can get behind that.

In the dorms, Aleida sneaks around whispering for Lucy, her missing child—and, of course, takes a moment to stuff Daya’s card from Mama Pornstache into her pants waistband. The buzzer goes off and Aleida has to drop to the floor, discovering….Lucy, hiding nonchalantly under the bed.

In the field, the inmates drop to the floor, leaving a bunch of bewildered children standing. In the episode’s most gut-wrenching scene, some of the children get on the ground with their mothers, asking, “What’s happening?” Your mother’s agency as a human is being denied, kid. Your mother’s being reminded of how tenuous her authority as a mother can be in a place that treats her like an asset to be contained.

We see Maria handing her baby off to Yads, her baby-daddy. “I don’t want her seein’ her mother in prison, thinkin’ this is normal,” Yads says. Baby Maria won’t be back to see her mother this season, I’m guessing. Maria breaks down in tears, cursing.

We get a sweet acoustic accompaniment to images of the inmates cleaning up the debris of the Mother’s Day visitation. And finally, we end with Poussey picking up a discarded newspaper that has the EXACT Calvin and Hobbes comic she read aloud with her mom in the flashback. It feels pat, but I’m a sucker, so now I’m crying ugly tears and I guess I’ll see you next time.


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