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* This post first appeared on Huffington Post – Media*

We don’t always want to be known for the most vulnerable or emotional story of our lives. New York Times best-selling author of How to Be Black, Baratunde Thurston, once asked his live audience not to tweet or record his telling of a personal story at a public venue because he’s “not interested in that story blowing up and getting lots of YouTube hits. I’m not interested in being KNOWN for it…the idea of people streaming and live-tweeting and uploading this personal, intimate tale felt like a violation.”

After she wrote about her abortion experience in the The Texas Observer, Carolyn Jones was shocked to watch it “spread faster than a Texas wildfire” across the internet. She wrote later that sometimes she wakes “up in a cold sweat, shocked at what I’ve done. Not at having the abortion — I’m at peace with the choice we made — but at having written about the most private and painful of traumas.”

In many cases, the internet has helped people who once felt alone find others who understand what they’re going through, whether its an abortion experience, divorce or death. Yet, the intricacies of what’s private and what’s public are getting harder to navigate. Those who seek connection and self-expression online to mitigate their feelings of isolation, or to challenge myths and stereotypes about sensitive experiences, can find a number of difficulties, including the unexpected emotional impact of strangers curating and sharing their stories.

Does viral, vulnerable personal content challenge cultural stigmas or does it exploit it? (more…)

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* This post first appeared in the blog of the Stanford Social Innovation Review *

Aminatou Sow was living a good life as a digital media strategist in Washington DC, consulting for big brands, media companies, and government agencies. But, she says in one interview: “Every once in a while I would get these articles that were like, ‘There’s only five women who know how to do math! There are seven women who know how to use computers.’” This exasperated her. While she understood the desire to discuss the lack of women in technology, she was tired of it, because those conversations “make the women that are already there invisible.” So she and a partner decided to build Tech Lady Mafia (TLM), a network of women who are already there, working away, and building success.

Sabrina Hersi Issa, an entrepreneur, technologist, and international humanitarian who is listed on nearly every “who’s who of the future” list of powerful people, also looks to solve problems of underrepresentation by building community. “When I look around the room and don’t see people who look or sound like me, I seek them out,” Hersi Issa told the Washington Post in a 2013 interview on women in technology. “With women and people of color, there’s always this community-building backchannel that’s happening at conferences, summits, and hackathons.”

Sow and Hersi Issa are just the latest in a long line of social entrepreneurs who have used dilemmas drawn from their own personal experiences to spur invention, creating solutions for their own communities and making a social impact that goes far beyond their own lives. (more…)

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*This first appeared under Inspiring Voices on The Women Take Over*

There are few things I enjoy more than the discomfort and ambiguity that comes with discovering a new dilemma. When I find a one, I know that opportunity, invention and change are right around the corner.

I first learned about the power of dilemma after I had my abortion and was surprised to find that the only places that provided emotional support came from those who advocated against abortion. There was nothing available from the other side. That dilemma showcased a previously unmet need and I saw the opportunity in the obstacle: to build a place of nonjudgmental support. I co-founded Exhale, the nation’s first organization designed by and for women who have had abortions, with a mission to change the social climate from one of judgment and shame to one of support and respect.

Fourteen years later, because of Exhale’s services and the broader social impact of our mission, thousands of women and men have found the comfort and connection they need after abortion, and more advocates and organizations across the entire political spectrum are doing their part to promote emotional well being after abortion. (more…)

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* This was first published on Huffington Post Impact *

Michelle Goldberg’s cover article for The Nation, “Feminism’s Toxic Twitter Wars,” details what many of us have already seen — or personally experienced — online: judging, shaming, marginalizing attacks couched as credible “feminist critique.”

The consequences of such behavior have been so debilitating to the cause of feminist power and influence that even some of the entrepreneurs of “online feminism” have looked for new ways to make a difference. Anna Holmes, founder of Jezebel, notes in the article that the blogosphere “feels like a much more insular, protective, brittle environment than it did before. It’s really depressing,” she adds. “It makes me think I got out at the right time.”

While the pain and hurt that many feminists have experienced as a result of our online interactions with each other is quite real, I hope it is not the end of our story. (more…)

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I am excited to announce that I have signed a contract with Berrett Koelher to write a book on pro-voice, scheduled for publication in 2015.

Exhale’s Press Release:

Aspen Baker, Founder and Executive Director of nonprofit organization Exhale, announced that she has signed a contract with San Francisco based Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., to publish her first book. “Pro-Voice” is scheduled for publication in 2015.

Pro-voice, the term coined by Baker’s organization Exhale in 2005, is an alternative approach to discussing abortion and other conflicted issues. In her book, Ms. Baker shows how the model makes the impossible, possible, but it’s not what you expect. Ms. Baker will take us behind the scenes of what it takes to change highly charged issues, like abortion, and inspire readers with true stories and tested methods.

“Berrett-Koehler,” say Neal Maillett, Editorial Director, “has long been an admirer of Exhale and Aspen Baker. Frankly, we’ve been amazed that she can prove that the values central to so many of our books – deep listening, tolerance, and empathy to name a few – can actually bring insight and understanding to the one of the sharpest conflicts we have as human beings. Aspen won’t shy away from conflict, yet she brings peace and support wherever she works. We feel privileged to be able to share her message with the wider world. ”

Baker has earned a wide variety of awards and accolades. She was recently named a “Fun, Fearless Female” in the May 2013 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine; was awarded 2012 Gerbode Professional Development Fellowship; named a “Local Hero” in 2009 by San Francisco’s KQED during Women’s History Month; and “Young Executive Director of the Year” in 2005 by the Bay Area’s Young Non-Profit Professional Network.

“Aspen Baker has been at the forefront of navigating abortion’s gray areas for over a decade and her unique perspective is inspiring and hopeful for a wide range of conflicted and hard-to-talk about issues, “ believes Exhale’s Board President, Jocelyn Yin. “I have no doubt Aspen’s book will set a new standard for not only how we talk about abortion in this country, but also, how we treat one another.”

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*This post first appeared on the blog Exhale is Pro-Voice*

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*This was originally posted on the blog Exhale is Pro-Voice*

On Friday, June 17th, Exhale Executive Director Aspen Baker participated in a panel presentation at Netroots Nation entitled “FTW: Social Networks, Down & Dirty for Change.” Assembled by 16 & Loved architect Deanna Zandt, the panel also included Cheryl Contee from Fission Strategy, Anita Jackson from Moms Rising, and Rachel LaBruyere from Mobile Commons and explored case studied of social media successes. Aspen Baker presented the 16 & Loved campaign to a standing-room only crowd, exploring campaign goals, media reaction, and lessons learned. You can watch the whole panel discussion below [a new browser window will open]:

Panel attendees also helped generate quite a bit of buzz on social media about the presentation while it was happening, and you can read some of their Tweets below:

Thank you to all who attended and helped us grow the conversation through social media and beyond! If you’re not already following Exhale on Twitter and Facebook, we hope you’ll join us there in the Pro-Voice

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