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Category Archives: from Leah

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…

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.

Pop Culture Wednesday: Blogs to Watch Out For

by Leah T

Pop Culture Wednesday is doing a blogaround!

This Pop Culture Wednesday you’re getting a taste of what we’ve been reading around the UpRoot office this week. These are some of the best articles and posts that we’ve read recently that pertain to the popular culture.

Ready. Set. Go.

Serena Williams Is Not a Costume from Speaker’s Corner in the ATX 

Zwarte Piet: A Racist Caricature? from Anthro meaning People, Dope meaning Awesome

Daddy Issues: Modern Family’s Old-Fashioned Values from Bitch Media

Undocumented Youth Tell Their Own Stories in New Book from Colorlines.com

Baltimore Feminists Prank Victoria’s Secret — And Spark an Internet Revolution from Baltimore Fishbowl

today in post-racial racism: white women experimenting with afros from New Black Woman

A Photo-essay: Decolonizing My Body, My Being from The Feminist Wire

 

On Cory Booker and Poverty’s Psychic Costs. from PostBourgie

 

This one wasn’t really about pop culture, but we liked it so much I just had to add it:

Feminism 101: Helpful Hints for Dudes, Part 8 from Shakesville

 

What have you been reading? Add your links in the comments!

Ask an Educator: Should I Call Out My Professor?

by Leah T

Welcome to the first edition of Ask an Educator.

JFD asks:

I am a male currently in an institution of high learning. Recently, in one of my classes, a substitute professor – who is female – made a comment regarding female standards of beauty. Specifically, when we were reading over a description of a more petite woman’s height and weight, she announced something to the effect of that being “the ideal” height and weight that all women are striving for. Several of the women in my class were uncomfortable with the statement; however, they didn’t feel that it was worth confronting our professor about in-person nor via other modes of communication (i.e. email, professor evaluations, etc.). I felt motivated to bring up the point myself, but I was worried about my status as a male and the power-imbalance in the situation of a male correcting a female – especially regarding an issue that most directly affects women. I chose not to talk to my professor about the comment during class; however, I still have the opportunity to contact her through email.

From a feminist perspective, what would be the most appropriate course of action here? Simply put, I’m torn between avoiding paternalistic actions and desiring to point out an offensive comment.

LT: What a wonderful question, JFD. First off, thanks for being the first person to ask an educator a question! I appreciate your caution considering your position of privilege as a man. I will say that I could write a book in response to your question. You could present a book to that professor about why that statement was problematic and plays into white, Western, patriarchal standards of beauty that plagues this society. It seems that a book would take a long time to write and I’d have to do a lot of research, revisit how to cite sources properly, and devote most of my time to writing for a long haul. And I don’t really have the time/energy for that right now so hopefully a blog post will suffice.

I think it’s important for you to say something once you’ve sat and reflected on why what this professor said is bothersome to you. I say sit and reflect first because I think people with privilege often jump the gun, spew out reactionary things without considering the power that they have, and make a mess of stuff (being a person with tons of privilege myself I think it has a lot to do with being socialized to think that “what I know is best” and “my experience is important” therefore “I know what is right/wrong”). Maybe ask questions about whether or not you would have felt the need to call out male professors; is it easier for you to confront her because she’s a woman?

It seems as if you have been on the reflection path already, considering you submitted a question to us, so on to the next step. If you feel like your intentions are to keep someone from policing the bodies of other people, then go for it. If it’s because you are trying to be a white knight for women or because you feel like mansplaining, do not pass go, do not collect $200.

From what you said, it seems that what the substitute professor said made you uncomfortable. I’ll assume it made you uncomfortable because her comment assumed a lot about women. She assumed that women are a monolith and all must want the same things, in this case the same body type. She failed to realize that women are pressured to look a certain way. She failed to realize that many women are hurt in so many different ways by the notion of an “ideal body”. That girls are taught from a very young age that so much of their worth has to do with how they look. Most unfortunately, her comments were fatphobic and potentially isolated and further marginalized any person in the class whose body doesn’t fit into that narrow conception of conventional beauty.

So, how do you, a person with male privilege confront a woman with authority about her fatphobic comments?

  1. Make “I” statements that centralize your own experience and emotions.  You can’t speak for women, but you can speak for yourself. The comment bothered you for a reason.
  2. Acknowledge your privilege.
  3. Explain why you were uncomfortable (it was fatphobic, perpetuated the myth that there is a single “ideal” body type, that women should be valued based on their appearance, the comment sent the message that women’s bodies need to be policed, etc.)
  4. Give resources. There are plenty of resources out there about this stuff. Seriously SO many resources. She could stand to read a few.
  5. Don’t mansplain. Don’t tell her why you thought she made the comment, don’t assume that you know anything about her experience, and don’t try to tell her about herself. You may have guesses, but people are complex and there are a lot of unknowns involved.

Good luck, JFD. Thank you for your thoughtful question. I hope this helps. Be sure to ask us more in the future. When in doubt, Ask an Educator.

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