Guess Who? Heather Corinna and Scarleteen

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8509050750_481642942a_nHeather Corinna, fearless founder of Scarleteen (nee: Scarlet Letters) has an almost endless CV. Trained as an educator, Ms. Corinna taught alternative pre-K classes in the Montessori method from 1992-1996. She then continued her education in literature, erotic spirituality and sociology . . . and shifted careers.

Heather has been a sexuality, contraception, and abortion educator and counselor for the Cedar River Clinics/Feminist Women’s Health Center, and the director of the CONNECT teen outreach and education program in Seattle which serves transient/homeless youth, reproductive health patients, and high school and college students.

Also an accomplished writer, Ms. Corrina has an even longer list of publications in which her sexuality advice has been published and syndicated. Some of her most prestigious contributions include her additions to the 2011 edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves, her work on the editorial board for the American Journal of Sexuality Education, and her 2007 full-length book, S.E.X.: the All-You-Need-to-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College.

5559415958_9c13c70c80And then we have Scarleteen. Scarleteen.com is a website for teens and 20-somethings that provides advice, information, and support on issues of sexuality, sexual health, and relationships.

Founded in 1998 as a direct response to the burgeoning “abstinence-only” movement in public schools, the content on Scarleteen is user-driven but also in alignment with the most up-to-date sexual education theory – including the guidelines released by UNESCO and the new American School Health Association’s National Sexuality Education Standards: Core Content and Skills, K-12.

There are message boards, an SMS service for the site’s United States visitors, a live chat feature, and an advice column that accepts submissions from registered users over age 13. Likewise, there are permanent blog posts to browse on topics ranging from “Lube 101: A Slick Little Primer” to “Driver’s Ed For The Sexual Superhighway: Navigating Consent.”consent4

Did I mention Scarleteen receives no federal or state grants? No corporate sponsorship? Depending solely on individual contributions, and throwing her own money into Scarleteen on the reg, Heather manages the site with the help of 14 volunteers – who receive no wages, but rather only a small stipend at the end of each year.

Which brings us to the May Day strike.

We need a stable, sustained increase in donations by at least 50%. That means we need at least an extra $3,000 a month, every month. We need to see that change no later than May 1st.

With only $3,000 each month to work with, that means shutting down all our direct services — our active, moderated message boards, SMS service and our live chat, as well as the advice columns –and halting the creation and release of any new content. We will need to stop doing or scheduling any in-person outreach which we would normally provide for free or at very low cost. Our social media, save that pertaining to the strike, will also go dark. The amount of funding we have to work presently, should nothing change, only really allows us to maintain our small office and what we’ve already created in the past online, allows only the level of traffic we have now to access it, to troubleshoot and fix any minor tech issues that arise, and to make updates to existing content to keep it current and correct, and only allows for a fair wage for just one employee, part-time.

Even when you love something – even when you’re committed to it with all you have (financially, emotionally, and spiritually) – without someone to respond to your call in the darkness, you eventually hit a breaking point. And, sometimes, without realizing it, we end up taking advantage of people like this . . . like Heather Corinna. The new normal becomes getting something for nothing and we’re grateful, but we don’t remember to show our gratitude.

So donate now, or reblog this post and/or this donation link to show that you’re grateful for Scarleteen and the safe haven it provides for everyone starting to navigate the scary, silly, fun, confusing, and all-around complicated world of sexuality.

Marriage in the Comic Universe: What Do We Really, Really Want?

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Fiction is one of our greatest, most persistent models for real-life behavior.  Our social norms and mores are deeply affected by the decisions we see our favorite fictional characters make within the boundaries of their universes, which often so closely resemble our own.  And when it comes to marriage, the comic universe is giving us some pretty mixed messages.

Both within the universe, but with a vast difference between them, lie comic books and comic strips. The “funnies” that populate newspapers are often meant to be just that – funny – though some strips (Brenda Starr and Tarzan, for example) fit more neatly into the “adventure” category. Regardless, these daily or weekly strips more often than not depict domestic life and are geared more towards children than adults.

Comic books, on the other hand, more frequently utilize superhero or other metaphysical archetypes and, especially with the rise of comic book specialty stores and graphic novels throughout the 1960s and 70s, claim teenagers and adults as their main demographic.

Likewise, each genre seems to have a distinct way of dealing with romantic relationships.

asm638_cov1x-largeAs even the casual reader knows, Peter Parker (better known as Spiderman) has been in love with “the girl next door,” Mary Jane Watson, since the comic debuted in 1965 (though Gwen Stacy and the Black Cat certainly did give her some competition early on). The two married in 1987, but almost as soon as they took the plunge, editors were attempting to undermine the relationship.  Clones, faux deaths, xenophobic laws, and demons kept them apart until in 2010’s “One Moment in Time,” their marriage was erased from the timeline completely.

Within the DC Universe, Flashpoint and the creation of the New 52 timeline was the fix all in terms of putting DC’s sexy superheroes back on the singles’ market. Among the marriages wiped (not divorced, not annulled, but made as if they had never happened in the first place) were Superman and Lois Lane (dating off-and-on in an ‘it’s complicated’ manner since Action Comics first premiered its Superman line in 1938 and married since 1996), and Barry “The Flash” Allen and Iris West (dating since 1956 and married since 1966).

254430874e618252717oBetween the folds of newsprint, however, marriages are much longer-lasting.  Blondie Boopadoop and Dagwood Bumstead, of the strip Blondie, have been married since 1933 and have two children (not to mention dog Daisy and her brood of puppies).  Jon Arbuckle, of Garfield fame, has had a crush on Liz, Garfield’s veterinarian, since the comic debuted in 1978 and is now dating her.  The Mitchell Family (Dennis the Menace) and The Family Circus household have remained intact since their debuts (1951 and 1960 respectively).  And the examples go on.blon_on_dag

So, what causes the divergence?  Are graphic novels and comic books supposed to provide us a more “realistic” fictional facsimile of our world?  Does that have to mean a parade of failed relationships?  Is it simply that interpersonal relationships and domestic life are not the plot lynchpin in comic books and graphic novels in the same way they are in most newspaper strips?

The Archie Comics publications are an interesting middle ground.  Depicting the adventures of Riverdale teens, the titles have been published in both book and strip format and are relatively grounded in reality. Likewise, the love triangle between Archie Andrews, Betty Cooper, and Veronica Lodge takes prime place in nearly every issue . . . even spawning a 2009 miniseries entitled Archie Marries Veronica/Archie Marries Betty.

lifewitharchie001As the title suggests, the six-part series explored two alternate futures – one in which Archie marries Veronica, and one in which he marries Betty.  Not only was the choice of mate apparently too impossible for Archie Comics execs to make, but the entire series took place in one long dream sequence – exempted from the canon of Archie itself.  Not to mention that in Archie #633 of this year, Archie gets another possible future in which he marries Valerie Smith (of the Josie and the Pussycats imprint).

Despite its domestic focus, Archie seems just as determined as its superhero book counterparts to keep its red-headed protagonist living the single life.  Do readers simply find successful fictional relationships boring?  Satisfied as we may be in our real romantic lives, do we consciously or unconsciously crave the conflict, the indecision, the relentless butterflies-in-the-stomach?  And if this is what we want from our fiction, what does that mean for what we want from our real-world lives?

Wendy Davis’s Sneakers: Feminist Specialization

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Embarrassing admission: I don’t know the names of our presidents or of our state capitals. Or where most of the states are located geographically. My brain bank has chosen not to store these basic pieces of knowledge even though, as a child, I had both topics laminated in placemat form and placed under my cereal bowls on a rotating basis.

For the record, they are Mizuno Women's Wave Rider 16s.

For the record, they are Mizuno Women’s Wave Rider 16s.

I know who Wendy Davis is and what kind of sneakers she wore to filibuster in all her fabulousness, but I’m not entirely clear what the Benghazi scandal was all about. I have most of Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman” speech committed to memory, and I could talk your ear off about eco-feminist imagery in Willa Cather novels, but the Keystone Pipeline controversy baffles me.

Pursuant to my inner guilt over failing to become the all-knowing Renaissance woman I’ve always dreamed I could be, during my commute to work I commit myself to listening to at least 20 minutes of NPR . . . unless I succumb to the siren song of 99.5, “Today’s Country,” and seat dance to Big & Rich for the rest of the ride instead (a frequent occurrence).

But even when I sacrifice my Lady Antebellum, after BBC Newshour I’m left feeling like catching up with the never-ending newscycle, let alone putting it in its proper historical context, is an almost impossible task . . . kind of like how I feel when I walk into a comics store with my boyfriend and/or my father and either of them tries to explain the New 52 (just leave me alone with my Golden Age anthologies, okay?!).

And especially since I’ve started working full-time, I feel even more behind!  In my mind, it is an appropriate use of my limited time to have long, involved Twitter discussions (as long and involved as a Twitter discussion could be) on female anti-heroes in television, but exhausting and ADD-inducing to read a Nation story on the Federal Reserve, which is probably really important and something grown-ups would read while drinking decaf coffee.

But as guilty as I feel letting these pieces of knowledge slip by me, part of me feels empowered to become even more specialized – to delve even deeper into the “her”-story (hate that word!) that was left off of the placemats.

My mom subscribes to a magazine called The Week, a news periodical with coverage of all the latest current events — culled from major news outlets such as the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.  But despite her worldliness, the other morning I spent the space between sips of coffee explaining what a fistula was to her (yes, we have delightful breakfast conversation).

Most accurate representation of me.

Most accurate representation of me.

I’ve noticed, and it’s so strange to me, that whenever I display my knowledge on an ‘obscure’ topic such as all feminist issues seem to be (insert: *sigh*) to family or friends, I get looks of awe thrown back at me — as if I’m an oracle, dispensing knowledge from on high.  But the reality is that all I am is a woman who believes that women, and their history, is not only endlessly interesting, but a crucial, often overlooked, part of any and all conversations.

Now, I don’t deny that sometimes, that makes me the annoying Debbie Downer Feminist here to ruin everyone’s Super Bowl with a discussion of masculine presentation and domestic violence rates in the NFL.  But I like to think that I do a good job of walking the tightrope between soapboxing my ideals and genuinely enriching a conversation with a rare point of view . . . one that gets rarer, believe me, the longer you remain outside academia and away from poetry slams and 24-hour organic diners.

The Mommy Card: Feminism and Motherhood

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At my beautiful (or as his dad’s strict gender role mentality would correct me, “handsome”) nephew’s second birthday party about a month ago, I noticed a stack of brightly colored business cards depicting a stick figure family frolicking in the park. Not for the mom’s photography business, these were so-called “Mommy business cards,” designed to be exchanged among moms for the purposes of setting up play-dates with their respective children. As Mama described them as I expressed my incredulity over the existence of such a product, “They’re business cards for women who wish they had real jobs.”

Blue-Owl-Family-Mommy-Business-Card_1A quick Google search nets a whole list of paper product sites that cater specifically, or at least have a dedicated market for, Mommy Business Cards. Popsugar’s parenting off-shoot, “lilsugar,” breaks down a few of the options:

• “Vistaprint: Vistaprint is a longtime online purveyor of regular, affordable business cards, and seeing the opportunity, it jumped on the mommy card bandwagon. It now offers tons of cute design templates for mom cards that are easy to customize and order online.

• The Mommy Card: Run by an actual mommy, The Mommy Card features well-designed templates for moms and dads. Parents have the option of including one or several photographs on the card or none at all.

• Paperlicious Momager Cards: Paperlicious calls its version “momager calling cards,” and its designs are pretty simple and clean
looking. They get points for using 100 percent recycled fiber paper.

• Moritz Mommy Cards: Artistic types will appreciate the Moritz designs, which are beautifully detailed and sophisticated.

• A Touch of Whimsy: These mommy cards are hip and modern, featuring bold argyle patterns and the super trendy owl motif.

Comments on this particular article range from, “this is one of the most pretentious things I’ve ever seen” to “I can see how a stay-at-home would want something like this . . . it’s not for me though” to “If you don’t want to give people your professional card, a personal card is a great way to go.”

mommy-calling-cards-2sides-brown-orange-horizontal-w-envA co-worker mama from Deerfield, IL, a wealthy, white-as-rice suburb, immediately knew what I was talking about when I asked if she had heard of these cards, but she smiled as if to say, “I know that they’re strange,” and remarked that their actual use was rare in her community.

Jenny Lawson, the author of Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir, blogs about Mommy Cards thusly on her blog at the Stir:

As a parent, you are expected to associate with other parents who have children the same age as yours. I’m not sure exactly why but I suspect it’s because bears are less likely to attack large groups of people.

I’ve been told that it’s because motherhood can be isolating and that mommy-and-me playdates are a great way for moms to relax and enjoy each other’s company. I don’t know who started that rumor but it’s extremely misleading, as most mothers leave those groups feeling exhausted, judged, and even more lonely than before. This is why you should choose friends based on whether you like them or not, rather than solely because they had unprotected sex in the same month that your IUD failed.

One of the medium-tier factors in my decision not to have children (which is, I’ll definitely admit, not set in stone at my mid-20s age that I think is definitely too early to know which path your life could take) is that, no matter how amazing of a miniature Gloria Steinem I could raise my child to be, the two of us would have to socialize with *shudder* the “mommy and me” crowd. I don’t want my daily conversations to consist of apples-to-apples formula comparisons and ‘breaking news’ on new-release stroller models. I firmly believe my brain would stroke out in revolt.

But, and it’s a big but (pun always intended for that turn-of-phrase), not all moms are empty shells of mom-info. I would even take the
relative non-risk of putting this out there: most moms are real people! Stay-at-home (my mom was stay-at-home) and working alike, bet you women with used uteruses can converse about books, television shows, politics . . . any number of non-reproductive topics.

Now here’s the other big but. It’s not a matter of can, but of will.  There will always be easy conversations, regardless of parental status.  These are the kinds of discussions that you begin knowing your companion will not only not challenge your points but will even reinforce them with his or her own anecdotal evidence.

For example:

“The rain today is making me feel even more tired than usual!”

“Me too.  And I was running too late to grab a latte this morning.”

“I’m thinking about going out to get some coffee at lunch.  McDonald’s has the new Pumpkin Spice Latte that I want to try.”

“Is it better than the Dunkin Donuts’ Pumpkin Spice?”

As evidenced in the example, often these easy back-and-forths take the form of therapeutic bonding.  We complain, compare complaints, and offer solutions – wash, rinse, and repeat.  When two or more people have a stressor in common (and for all the joys of parenting, it’s still a stressor), their interactions can very easily fall into this same pattern each time they meet.  Each participant must actively choose to relate to one another on a different level if they wish to break the cycle.

So Mommies don’t have to talk about Mommy Stuff all the time.  Just like working women don’t have to give an hour-long play-by-play of their latest office political drama.  A woman’s full identity and capacity shouldn’t ever be able to be summed up in one line, one word . . . or one business card.

Book Review: With Holly Grigg-Spall’s “Sweetening the Pill,” Madwomen Shoved Back in the Attic

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“When motherhood becomes the fruit of a deep yearning, not the result of ignorance or accident, its children will become the foundation of a new race.” ~ Margaret Sanger

imageIf you follow HalfWayMidLife on Twitter, you’ve seen how heated the past few days have been getting . . . all over a new book by Holly Grigg-Spall entitled, “Sweetening the Pill: or How We Got Hooked on Hormonal Birth Control.”

Ms. Lindsay Beyerstein’s article over at Slate Double X does an absolutely unmatchable job of dissecting the book for what it is — an ideologue’s treatise full of anecdotal evidence and void of legitimate facts. Therefore, I will leave that level of my criticism wholly to the link through. Read it and come back to me.

Phew, I missed you! What took you so long? Stop for a refill on the coffee? I understand completely. Now back to business.

So, let’s take for granted that Ms. Grigg-Spall is a soapbox shouter with nothing of substance to her arguments and move on to the second layer of analysis.

Because here’s the thing: almost everything we put in our body has possible side effects. Spoiler alert for TMI: every time I take Amoxicillin, I get mad diarrhea on the first day. In my opinion, a couple of hours running back and forth to the porcelain throne is a small price to pay for a quick and easy recovery from a head cold. If these ‘Family Planning Feminists’ are truly pro-choice and just all about educating the public, I find it deeply suspicious that they choose to focus on reproductive health drugs as their example of ‘medical patriarchal capitalism.’

Grigg-Spall and her ilk fancy themselves victims of some grand conspiracy in which any objection to their lifestyle, even a simple, “No thanks, the Pill is working for me,” is The Man’s doing. You see, controlling our periods is misogyny itself! Again, I find it suspect that the women making these arguments are the ones with reasonably well-functioning, cis bodies — just as those who advocate vegan hair products ‘conveniently’ live within five minutes of a Fresh Market and perpetually have $60 in their wallets.

Do you have PCOS? A disability inhibiting your ability to keep up with menstrual hygiene? Endometriosis? Severe PMS symptoms? As a “good” feminist, you should be managing these issues with some of this nebulous pseudo-science. That Grigg-Spall doesn’t recognize her own deep-seeded misogyny, which reveals itself in the suggestion that women’s minds are controlled by their hormones and how their menstrual cycles are managed, is mind-boggling.

Need further evidence that this ‘camp’ has no grasp on legitimate science? Check out this exchange (HalfWay is the sec again, take the time to read the link through, totally worth it):

Calling all women for an experiment… #periods balancedwellness.co.uk/2013/08/28/wom…

6:46am – 2 Sep 13

@BalanceWellness Are you kidding me with the “masculine is linear?” Men have hormonal “cycles” — they’re just longer than 28 days.

@HalfWayMidLife the masculine principle is linear, men have both masculine/feminine within them. Would love to hear about men’s cycles

2:54am – 9 Sep 13

The very women counseling their readers/followers to drastically change theirlifestyles don’t even seem capable of taking off their mood rings long enough to perform a cursory Google search!

According to a mid-2000s study by the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, 71 percent of women surveyed do not enjoy getting their period each month. Their reasons vary and are not, however much “Sweetening the Pill” would have you believe, a mindless, group-think product of the corporate ‘machine.’

Margaret Sanger at the first birth-control clinic in the United States, 1916.

Margaret Sanger at the first birth-control clinic in the United States, 1916.

But still the deepest question remains: are Family Planning advocates like Grigg-Spall actively anti-feminist or simply blithely ignorant of most women’s (and, very key for this instance, trans-people’s) life experiences? Perhaps it is a little of both. Certainly Grigg-Spall herself shows no interest in the factual integrity of her work in this interchange with Dr. Chelsea Polis, the epidemiologist at USAID:

Will read #sweeteningthepill w/epidemiological lens. More dialogue on HC effects wld be helpful; inaccurate use of data wld not be helpful.

4:36pm – 9 Sep 13

@cbpolis It’s not a text book Chelsea, I’m afraid, nor do I have any obligation to write a text book.

@hollygriggspall My, U R defensive! Who asked 4 a text book? I simply expect solid use of evidence on a subject of global health importance.

7:23pm – 9 Sep 13

@hollygriggspall …particularly when you are making blanket health claims about #contraceptive methods and attacking funders such as BMGF.

7:24pm – 9 Sep 13

But regardless, the desire to cosign women, and only women, once again to a day-to-day slavery to their every bodily function . . . to call this the true feminism . . . is to spit in the face of those whose femaleness is tied to their actions, not their excretions.

Boy Bands, Fan Fic, and Mapping Pre-Teen Sexuality

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I’m not a regular subscriber to Bitch magazine (though I shall probably succumb after finishing this issue), but I picked up their “Micro/Macro” Summer 2013 issue on a Barnes and Noble trip in an attempt to satisfy my buying lust at a price that wasn’t “all the books!  Give me all the books!”

And since my mama taught me to read magazines from back to front (we just do it, I don’t know why), the first full article I came upon was Victoria Bekiempis’ “Hopeless Romantics: The Safe Sexuality of Boy Band Mania.”

Bekiempis admirably laid out a combination of boy band history (I now know that the blindingly-white New Kids on the Block was a rip-off for an all-black R&B group called New Edition) and her general conceit that, at least to society as a whole, a pre-teen girl’s lust for these types of androgynous crooners is non-threatening because, (a), the boys themselves are unattainable, and, (b), the representation of the girls’ sexuality in the media is one of uncontrolled immaturity rather than adult desire.

Friedan would definitely agree that this boy-band obsession is simply an outlet for women’s (in this case, growing women’s) unused/frustrated sexual and creative energy.  But I personally find it hard to dismiss young women’s sexual yearning for the unattainable in this way.

I completely understand that not all 13-year-olds are still at the stage where they are mooning over a perfectly-coiffed singer.  Many pre-teens and teens are already navigating real-life, up close and personal sexual activity, and perhaps the boy-band branding does try to push that reality under the carpet.  But I do believe that, whatever age it comes at, this stage of the navigation of boundaries within the realm of fantasy is indeed a very real part of growing up girl.  Indeed, a complete picture of pre-teen women also shows that many young girls (my past self included) don’t have or don’t want an opportunity to ‘get in the game.’

And for these girls the unattainable is wonderful — not some societal imposition on their sexual expression.  Reading (or writing) sexy fan fiction about wizards or angsty vampires and buying trapper keepers with air-brushed men wearing neon colors feels good and a little bit illicit and rebellious all at the same time!

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Brian Gaskill as “Rafe” . . . ahh, the ’90s.

I distinctly remember indulging in a bit of PG-13 Hermione/Ron fic and then hastily clearing my browser history as if I had been perusing hard-core kink.  I swooned over Rafe Kovich, the vampire slayer-cum-angel, from Port Charles in the pages of Soap Opera Digest and cut out pictures of Roswell‘s irresistible aliens to paste on construction paper and surround with swirly doodles (overall, I definitely had a preference for the supernatural mens over the boy bands).

As readers of “Half-Way” already know, I wasn’t ‘in the game’ until my early 20s.  And my desire before that stage was immature and underdeveloped, as I think any fantasy is before it becomes reality.  It definitely wasn’t nuanced or experimental or feminist, as my actual sex life became.  But neither was it, as Bekiempis says, a product of “dangerous, heterocentric gender norms.”  Nor did it make my “sexual autonomy fraught” when I did begin having sex.  It was simply, as Cher famously said in Clueless, “a jumping off point to start negotiations.”  An abstract road map to later fill in with more detailed information.

I find it unbelievable that any adult, male or female, could ever concede to Bekiempis’ assumption that society as a whole dismisses “the real lives and sexualities of young women and young people in general” by labeling this boy-band mania an asexual “cute, annoying phase.”  Maybe she forgets that we are members of this society!

As adults, we are able to acknowledge the connection between our pre-sex fantasy lives and our post-sex reality.  When we are shopping at Walmart and see One Direction pencil cases, we remember our own transition period between the two times of life — a clearly different internal reaction than the one we have to the sight of objects for children in the non-sexual phase of life (Barbies, toy trucks, etc.).  These objects are “cute.”  These children have the “yet-to-be-developed sexuality.”  But the One Direction merchandise purchasers are fellow travelers.  We are simply much further along the path then they are.96234

Guess Who?: Gina Mulligan and Girls Love Mail

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Girls-In 2009, Gina L. Mulligan was forty and in the middle of a five year project that would become her book, From Across the Room, an epistolary (read: composed of letters) novel set in the late 1800s, when she was diagnosed with Stage I breast cancer.  A few weeks after her diagnosis, she began receiving hand-written mail from friends and family sending their well wishes for her recovery.  Moved by the emotional power of over 200 missives, when she recovered (Ms. Mulligan is now cancer-free), Gina started a charity called “Girls Love Mail.”

8dc49110b9d35ccb406c8323209bc2d0The business model is simple.  Girls Love Mail collects all letters and cards (hand-written, of course) at its main office in Folsom, California.  From there, the letters are distributed through cancer centers and doctors’ offices to women recently diagnosed with breast cancer.

Anyone, even non-survivors, can write a letter — including groups — who can download GLM’s “Party Kits,” which contain conversation starters, inspirational quotes, and sample letters to get the writing off to a great start.  GLM even has Party Kits specifically tailored to women’s groups, Girl Scout Troops, classroom projects, and college gatherings.

Due to medical confidentiality laws, GLM is prohibited from gathering patient information, so you aren’t guaranteed a direct reply to your letter, but if you connect with the Girls Love Mail e-mail newsletter, you can read (and sometimes watch short films of) responses from letter recipients.

Currently, Girls Love Mail is running its Mile of Mail 2013 campaign with a goal to get 5,280 letters distributed this year.  So, go treat yourself to some fierce stationary (or download the free GLM custom set) and get writing!  The Girls Love Mail motto is, “Do your breast self exam once a month, and when you don’t find a lump, write a letter to someone who did!”

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