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Category Archives: from Leah

Understanding Consent: A Resource Guide

Women’s History Month: Sylvia Rivera

“Hell hath no fury like a drag queen scorned.” –Sylvia Rivera

Sylvia Rivera worked tirelessly for civil rights. She was there the night of the Stonewall Riot and was one of the first people to throw a glass bottle at the police.

image from the Sylvia Rivera Law Project (www.srlp.org)

When the mainstream gay rights movement virtually abandoned and further marginalized transgender and gender non-conforming people, she fought to keep them included. She co-founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) which was a group of radicals who sought justice for homeless drag queens and runaways through advocacy and a shelter.

I can’t help but think if Sylvia was still alive she would still be working on the fringes of the mainstream gay movement. The issues that high profile and well-funded gay advocacy groups focus on (i.e. marriage equality) tend to suit the needs of the most privileged members of the LGBTQI community. Back when Rivera was leading potentially dangerous marches and demonstrations she would get pushed aside when the press showed up in order to get the “straight looking” gays in the spotlight. Still today, how often do we see trans women of color displayed as the face of the LGBTQI movements? We have a long way to come.  We are all indebted to the courage and tenacity of Sylvia Rivera.

To learn more here are some links to great articles about Rivera:

A Woman for Her Time by Riki Wilchins

An interview with Leslie Feinberg.

Be sure to check out the Sylvia Rivera Law Project which “works to continue Sylvia’s work by centralizing issues of systemic poverty and racism, and prioritizing the struggles of queer and trans people who face the most severe and multi-faceted discrimination.”

Women’s History Month: Dolores Huerta

Thanks to http://www.justseeds.org for the image!

It’s pretty safe to say that, in general, women who have been instrumental in major movements of the past are often left out of the picture when the history is retold. The same goes for stories of people of color who fought and struggled against injustice; their stories are often left out of our mainstream historical narrative or truncated and revised. As a result women of color get erased almost entirely. Dolores Huerta, in many ways, is not recognized half as much as she should be for her accomplishments. Many people at least recognize the name of Cesar Chavez (though not knowing about him also speaks to systemic problems), but have never heard of Dolores Huerta. If you had asked me a year ago who Dolores Huerta was, I shamefully wouldn’t have been able to tell you a thing.

So here’s to Dolores Huerta, a Chicana feminist labor organizer who co-founded the United Farm Workers with Cesar Chavez. She played a major role in organizing farm workers including directing the National Table Grape Boycott. She has also worked as an activist for Chican@ civil rights, as well as in environmental justice, economic justice, and anti-war movements.

Watch some clips of Huerta speaking about her own experience from Makers.

You can learn more about her and the Dolores Huerta Foundation here.

Women’s History Month: Emma Goldman

by Leah 

“The history of progress is written in the blood of men and women who have dared to espouse an unpopular cause, as, for instance, the black man’s right to his body, or woman’s right to her soul.”

-Emma Goldman

I was first introduced to Emma Goldman rather recently after receiving a book recommendation from a bearded fellow working at a bookshop who offered me Emma Goldman’s autobiography along with a story about how she once brought a horsewhip to a lecture given by her ex-mentor in order to lash him across the face for refusing to speak to her. Needless to say, Emma Goldman made a grand entrance into my sphere of knowledge.

Born in (present day) Lithuania in 1869, Emma Goldman was once named the “Queen of the Anarachists” by the media folks of her day; still today she remains an icon of the anarchist movement. Her political activism was of the fiercest variety as she advocated for free speech, birth control, women’s equality, and union organization. Due to her seemingly fearless activist work, she spent a lot of time in and out of prison and eventually was deported to Russia in 1919.

Considering she was an anarchist, she did not take part in the suffrage movement for the obvious reason of having no faith in the power of a vote; instead she worked her gender politics into the anarchist movement. She was famously quoted stating, “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.” Pretty much paving the way for anyone who may be a feminist, but doesn’t necessarily agree with the politics of the mainstream movement.

It’s rather amazing to think of a woman back then who was really at the forefront of a movement. She is still one of the faces of anarchism. If you’re familiar with Emma Goldman, I recommend checking out the PBS film about her as well as the companion website. The University of California-Berkeley has all of her writings archived here.

On Practicing Vulnerability

I’ve avoided writing this blog post on vulnerability for a month or so now. I’ve had these thoughts simmering in the back of my head, but ironically enough, couldn’t bring myself to write about shame and vulnerability for fear of actually having to be vulnerable. I feared that I would actually have to look it in the face and embrace it myself.  I’m still not sure if I’m willing to do so in the way that I think would be most transformative, but it’s about time to at least begin the long, slow work of becoming vulnerable.

For transparency’s sake, most of the inspiration for this post comes from Brene Brown’s TED talk about vulnerability and subsequent talk about listening to shame. They are worth the watch, if you haven’t already seen them.*

So, does vulnerability matter to us, as feminists? In short, yes, because the system we are resisting thrives on people rejecting vulnerability. White capitalist heteropatriarchy wants us to be ashamed of being too queer, too feminine, not feminine enough, too poor, too fat, too weak, too androgynous, too ambiguous, too black, too brown, too complicated, too honest, too open, too angry, too hurt, too emotional, too messy, too much.

The heteropatriarchy wants us to be ashamed of who we are and it wants us to hide. Vulnerability is the opposite of that. Vulnerability means allowing others to see parts of you that were previously hidden. Vulnerability is to risk being wrong, making a mistake, and possibly losing whatever you were trying to protect.

Vulnerability is often used as a synonym for weak in the primary story of the heteropatriarchy. The message that is constantly being sent to those with the power is to maintain it by never showing weakness. Being a man means hiding, or suppressing, your emotions – so you’ll maintain control. Being a white person means being successful, being the exemplary citizen, mother, student, whatever – so you’ll always be on top. Being able-bodied means you’ll be independent and not have to ask for help from other people – so you’ll be seen as strong.

In response to the story of the heteropatriarchy, we need to create, and constantly are creating, counter stories. We must be able to tell our own stories about vulnerability being the key to strength. That vulnerability could be the key, or at least a key, to community building, to movement building, to organizing.

Can we tell stories about calling people out for their mistakes when they hurt us with their ignorance or their privilege; not because we owe it to them, but instead because we deserve to be safe and heard, we deserve a spot at the table? Can we tell stories about forgiving ourselves for making mistakes because of our own privilege? Can we tell stories about not being what the dominant culture mandates from us, but resisting through being our truest selves? When we embrace vulnerability, when we tell stories about being flawed and broken we’ll be telling a story about honesty. When we stop running away and lean into what we’re afraid of maybe we’ll be able to connect. Then we can tell stories about dismantling together, strategizing together, being real together.

If we’re going to talk about transforming society, this culture we live in we have to talk about transforming ourselves. There is no cultural shift, no real beloved community, and no full connection to one another without a whole-hearted collective shift towards being vulnerable. Meaning we allow ourselves to make mistakes. Meaning we allow ourselves to commit to something and mess it up and come back again and again to work at it.

I’ve personally spent a long time running away from vulnerability. So much that I used to never edit papers that I wrote because I couldn’t stand reviewing something of my own that was potentially mediocre.  All of this avoidance is, at the end of the day, about shame. Shame keeps me away from becoming my best self, my truest self. Giving in to shame means I won’t write poetry every day (like I love to do) because I’m afraid I’ll write something bad and that will define me as a writer. That’s why I’m not the most authentic version of myself all of the time – because I’m afraid others won’t like what they see and I’ll lose the acceptance I crave.

I’m even afraid writing this right now that someone will find it trite or uninspired or derivative. That fear comes from wanting to protect myself. I want to protect myself from criticism. I don’t want to show all of my cards because that might mean that I might lose something in the moment of realness and honesty. Well, this blog is a practice shot at a counter story for myself. This is a move away from shame, into the arena, and towards the light that vulnerability casts upon my strengths and weaknesses alike.

Vulnerability is about embracing yourself. It’s loving yourself. It’s being radically compassionate towards those parts of yourself that you hate and have convinced yourself make you less worthy of love and acceptance. I think if we all did more of that work, the work that involves confronting our deepest shame we would find our movements expanding and deepening in ways that we’d never expect. Our work would be engaging with each other as whole persons instead of just the neat and clean aspects that make good resumes and brochures.

It’s tempting to hide behind theory and fancy words in activism and put up a façade of having all your shit together (or maybe that’s just me?) but that too can be a way of shielding ourselves from being honest about how we struggle. And I can’t help but think that the struggling is the common bond between us. So, why do we hide the parts that make us most relatable? Instead of reaching out and admitting that we don’t know, we pretend and “fake it ‘til we make it”? We avoid asking questions lest we betray our ignorance and our communities are less for it.

Don’t get me wrong, though, some of us hide ourselves for very, very real reasons. We hide parts of ourselves because there are still raw, open wounds. We hide ourselves because sometimes it is actually dangerous to be exposed. I’m not asking anyone to take risks that they would compromise emotional (or physical, for that matter) safety. You know you best so lean into what is healthy and safe.

So I ask: can we open ourselves up, even just a little bit, to the possibilities that being vulnerable creates? Can we stop running from pain and discomfort and lean into them instead? Can we wholeheartedly commit ourselves to what we love in spite of the fear of being annihilated, in spite of the fear of loss and separation?

*During the talk on vulnerability she does mention “obesity” as being a result of the avoidance of pain and vulnerability which is fatphobic and I do not endorse by any means.

What We’ve Been Reading…

What’s Wrong with “The Art of Manliness?”

by Leah and Kathrynuntitled

The Art of Manliness (AOM) is a website all about what it means to be a man. It is where men who don’t ascribe to the definitions of masculinity that include the mandatory boob-ogling of Maxim or the macho brute-ness and violence of Spike TV go. It is a place for gentlemen to escape to in order to form a community of men who dream of the days when real men fashioned their own corncob pipes, donned stylish overcoats, and focused most of their energy on growing the perfect handlebar mustache.  AOM offers an alternative to the more mainstream, dominant expressions of masculinity that stereotypically objectify women and reward men for their most extreme expressions of brutality and prizes bumbling stupidity.

The Art of Manliness definitely should get credit recognizing that there are parts of the dominant culture of masculinity that are restrictive, harmful, limiting and for creating an alternative definition. However, though their intentions may be good, their response drastically misses the mark. Instead of breaking down the man box and creating a completely open definition of masculinity it ends up dressing up traditional, hegemonic masculinity in a snazzy beard and suspenders. It’s the patriarchy’s way of attracting hipsters and those prone to nostalgia for a time that they never actually lived through (and was only perfect and golden for that select group of dick-toting, woman-loving, class privileged, able-bodied, white, Christian folks). And really this website is for men living in the present with those same identities.
According to AOM, the way to be a gentlemen is to be a straight, white dude who has enough of a disposable income to devote to his collection of bow ties and vintage straight razors. The authors (Brett and Kate McKay) believe that modern men have lost the art of manliness. That these days no one is taking the time to invest in teaching young boys and men how to be manly; that it is tragic that no one is teaching men why it’s important to carry a handkerchief or the appropriate way for a man to wear jewelry.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are some pretty cool and helpful tips that they offer on the website, like how to drive a stick or how to fix your car; the problem is just that all of the articles are reinforcing that these skills, at the end of the day, are meant for men. Their articles simply reinforce the same tired stories about manliness and masculinity that have been perpetuated for centuries: that men need to be physically strong and powerful, that they need to know how to do shit. Limiting all of these skills and resources to the realm of men keeps the age-old sexist trope that men need to be in charge and powerful.

Their whole premise is that there is this long lost art of manliness, that no one teaches men how to be gentlemen anymore while at the same time they claim that they want men and women to be equal.  There is no equality or liberation when all of these useful or even necessary skills are mandatory for self-respecting men and only men. It’s peculiar (not really surprising, though) that they don’t believe it’s a tragedy that this knowledge has been historically hidden from women and kept from them on purpose in order to keep them dependent on men. By labeling these skills as “manly” keeps them in the hands of men and continues to separate women from self-sufficiency.

All in all, this website does a great job of tiptoeing really close to the line of what could be stereotypically categorized as gay (referring to gay men, of course) without crossing it. Without ever mentioning it, they make it very clear that real men must in no way be feminine, that men should be able to do things that come very close to being feminine or don’t fit into man box, but they should never, ever lose their manliness, at all costs.

And while we’re at it, in world of AOM, gay men exist as the “other”, but only in their community posts since there isn’t a single edited post from the authors themselves that even mention the existence of gay men.  Since the conversation is about the art of manliness, gay men are placed on the outside because they don’t fit into the images or values of the straight, white, retrosexual family values.

And now the moment you’ve all been waiting for: how does The Art of Manliness feel about feminism? Well, here’s a start:

Men’s irrelevancy is due in a large part to the feminist movement. I think society owes a great deal to feminism. I don’t think any of us would want to live in a world where the only aspiration a woman has is becoming a wife and a mother. Thanks to feminism, women have more choices and men and women are seen as equals. I like feminism so much, I married a feminist and I unequivocally believe in the equality of the sexes.

From what we’ve seen this is a pretty standard statement that they’ve repeated in other posts and interviews. It’s a classic move, really. They are very careful about saying “we think it’s great that women have made progress! And that they have more options like careers and equal pay (um, er) – that’s not our problem. We don’t want them to lose their progress; we don’t want anything to change for us. We want women to be our equals, we just don’t want to feel threatened by it or actually deal with any of the changes that come with the reality of women’s liberation or be accountable for our privilege. Now, can’t we just saddle up our horses, pack our brandy, and have a nice picnic together in the 1890s?

Here’s another thought from one of the authors:

“Could we perhaps say that equality shouldn’t mean embracing and outdoing men in things that were traditionally considered masculine? That making out with other chicks for attention and lifting your shirt for beads and getting smashed and burping the alphabet and dressing in sweat suits really has very little to do with being “liberated?”

Seriously, where did this guy get his information about feminism? ‘Cause it totally seems like maybe he googled it once and the rest of his information was gathered over time via stereotypes and anti-feminist cartoon strips. I guess it’s pretty easy to hide behind the fact that his wife identifies as a feminist (even though, she must ascribe to a very particular definition to be able to write for this blog without exploding). Obviously, if he listened to any of his feminist critics (and it seems pretty obvious that they have critics) he would actually have learned something about feminism instead of assuming that he knows everything there is to know about an extremely complex, multi-dimensional political movement(s).

Oh, and you should really watch this TEDxTulsa talk given by Brett McKay. You’re really going to love it.

In a way, McKay has a lot of good points: that the virtues of courage, self-reliance, nurturing friendships are all positive attributes that men would benefit greatly from having more of. Absolutely. The problem is that he places so much emphasis on the difference between men and women, claims all of these attributes for masculinity juxtaposing them against attributes which he scorns such as passivity, weakness, and softness – characteristics that have always been associated with femininity. In this way, sure he has some points, but at the end of the day he is still reinforcing a definition of masculinity that says that doing anything that is associated with women diminishes your worth as a man. And that is the idea that has oppressed women and will continue to oppress women as long as it exists. Dressing it up by attaching it to virtue and honor will not change that fact.

On a similar, but different note, this shift backwards, this “Menaissance” hinders men, as well. Celebrating the fact that Teddy Roosevelt gave a speech for 90 minutes right after he was shot in the chest as an example of how a man committed to the “strenuous life” is supposed to act. Asking men to ignore their wounds (whether emotional or physical) in the name of toughness and grit is not something that will positively impact the health and well-being of men or society. Must men continue to ignore the fact that they are just as fragile and in need of help, at times, as women? The longer men refuse to express their needs and admit that they are not bulletproof, the longer we will all suffer due to their need to prove themselves as powerful and dominant.

So, if the Art of Manliness wants to use its vast knowledge of the history of masculinity for good and they want to return to the times when men were honorable and virtuous in order to help men become more accountable for their actions, more accountable for the messed up shit that patriarchy has given the world, then we would invite them to do so. If they really want a better society for men and they are in support of equality, then we ask: why don’t you put your money where your pipe is?


Blogs to Watch Out For

by Leah T

Here are the best articles I’ve read this week along with some bonus content!

VAWA – a black feminist dissent from computer blue

House GOP blocks Violence Against Women Act from The Maddow Blog

The Personal Is Political: That’s the Challenge: Roe v. Wade and a Black Nationalist Womanist Writer by Akiba Solomon from Dissent Magazine

A Theory of Violence: In Honor of Kasandra, CeCe, Victoria, Savita and Anonymous from Crunk Feminist Collective [content note: domestic violence, sexual violence]

The body I have. by Dani from crooked neighbor, crooked heart  

The newly launched Radical Women’s History Project

Other Stuff to Watch Out For

Women’s Ordination Conference has a new video: Ordain A Lady

The Native Youth Sexual Health Network

Idle No More

Add your own links in the comments! Shameless self-promotion is encouraged!

Dismantling the Patriarchy: Pay Attention

by Leah T

The patriarchy doesn’t want us to pay attention. It doesn’t want us to be slow, intentional, or simple. The patriarchy wants us to be machines. It wants you to prove yourself as a man by working 12 hour days in order to be the one who protects and provides for their family. Or it wants you be the proper woman who supports the man by keeping the house in order so he can devote his time to the work that creates the capital that improves the economy.

Capitalism wants us to feel like we’re not doing enough. It feeds us ideas about what it means to be successful (read: wealthy) and what it means to be good (read: productive). It tells us to manipulate ourselves to fit the mold, to work to create more and more and more. That if we can’t get the most done, if we can’t produce the most work, then we are out of order. We aren’t worth as much. Instead of doing something different or taking care of yourself, the narrative is that you should instead numb yourself. Drink more coffee, take more prescriptions, and move forward. It counts on us being so distracted by busyness or caught up in making the machine work that we miss the lies being told; that we’ll miss the holes in the stories of white capitalist patriarchy. That we’ll be caught up in propelling ourselves forward that we won’t ask questions. We won’t wonder about privilege or power or oppression. We won’t ask questions about where our food comes from or how it was grown or what the whole cost is to the environment or to the people who made it in the first place. Or maybe we’ll ask questions, but the answers will already be pre-prescribed by white capitalist patriarchy that reinforces its structure.

So perhaps a way to reverse this training is to slow this whole system down. I don’t mean be lazy. I don’t necessarily mean work less. Instead, I mean slow down and pay attention. Pay attention to want you want. Pay attention to what you need. Pay attention to your body. Pay attention to the things that bring you joy, embrace them, and let them grow.  Pay attention to the questions more than the answers.  Breathe for the sake of breathing; that in and of itself is step away from the patriarchy. Being radically intentional about what you do can change everything. We don’t have to take on everything, in fact, if we focus on the small, on the simple and learn to be patient with them we will be moving against the tide of the patriarchy.

Today my question is: can we enjoy this moment, watch it, and pay attention to the space we’re in as well as the people in it?

A Woman to Know: The Challenge Edition

by Leah T

Recently on our Facebook, we this challenge to our followers:

We are issuing a challenge. Can you commit to reading only the writing of women until the end of the year? Books, magazines, newspapers, blogs, anything where the author is known. Can you do it? Feel like that’s too easy? OK, how about you also commit to only listening music by women (singer and songwriter)? And if that still feels too easy, try to only watch TV shows and see movies that pass the Bechdel test (at least two women in it who talk to each other about something other than a man). Are you willing to do it? More importantly, is it even possible?

Well, since that was posted I’ve felt a little hypocritical being a part of the group that issued such a challenge. The past few nights I’ve found myself digging into the likes of William Faulkner and Guy Debord while listening to Pandora stations based on Wilco and Mumford & Sons. You see the issue. I find that if I don’t intentionally search for art created by women that it is way too easy to default to men. Same goes for art created by women of color, queer folks, trans* folks, people with disabilities, those who are undocumented, and anyone with multiple intersecting marginalized identities. It’s not necessarily hard to find their work; it just takes a little more effort than looking at the 100 Best Novels or the 500 Best Albums of All Time (so dominated by men it is ridiculous).

In light of this, I’ve compiled this list, with the input of the UpRoot team, of work created by women to help you (and me) out with this challenge. There’s only two weeks left in the year so consider taking the challenge on as a resolution for the new year.  You could also use these as gift ideas for your woman-loving friends and family members. As much as you think about buying local and being anti-consumerist, think about supporting women when you do purchase stuff!

By absolutely no means is this list exhaustive. Just something to get you started. Think of it as the section in the bookstore where it says “Staff Picks”.

Musicians/Musical Artists

See our list of Women Who Rock

Erykah Badu

Neko Case

Esperanza Spalding

Loretta Lynn

Nina Simone

Gillian Welch

Emmylou Harris

India Arie

Cat Power

Lauryn Hill

Authors

Non-Fiction

See the UpRoot Essential Reading List That Will Most Likely Change Your Life or Something Like It

This Bridge Called My Back by Radical Women of Color: Here are some links to the digital copy since it hasn’t been in print since 2008.

Gloria Anzaldua

Beth E. Richie

Angela Davis

Annie Dillard

Fiction

Louise Erdrich: She just won the 2012 National Book Award for her book “The Round House”.

Toni Morrison

Zora Neale Hurston

Flannery O’Connor

Octavia Butler: No author has come as highly recommended to me from so many different people as Octavia has. If you like science fiction, check her out!

Alice Walker

Special Mystery Section brought to you by Cristy C.

Linda Fairstein

Lisa Lutz

Patricia Cornwell

Nevada Bar

Laura Lippman

Blogs

Check out our blog roll (on the sidebar), but here are a few more.

Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha: Co-editor of The Revolution Starts At Home #awesomebook

Kimera:  A blog that discusses the “representations of women in the media, gender discrimination, workers’ rights in the restaurant industry, reproductive freedom, women-of-color consciousnesses, and gendered racism.” Oh and she’s a guest contributor for UpRoot. Why aren’t you reading her blog right now? Go!

Adrienne Maree Brown

Grace Lee Boggs via The Boggs Center

TV Shows

Parks and Recreation: um, of course.

30 Rock: it’s not so great this season, but it definitely passes the Bechdel Test and I still love Tina Fey.

Movies

Here’s the Bechdel Test website. If you want to know if a movie passes the test, you can most likely find it there!

Go forth and consume the media/art/work of women!! Check back with us to let us know how you’re doing with the challenge.

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