Your Friendly Neighborhood Sex Workers: Lessons in Activism and Organizing from India, the Netherlands, and the United States

Below you will find the abstract of the paper written by Emily Parker during the summer session of the Women’s History program’s accelerated degree option.  For more information about this program and the work its student’s produce, you can visit this page.

By Emily Parker

This paper examines the ways that sex worker organizations and activists have worked to positively influence the lives and working conditions of their constituents in countries with varying legal approaches to sex work. By surveying the work of successful sex worker organizations in the Netherlands, India, and the United States, this research seeks to understand both the methodological diversity and the fundamental similarities exemplified by the sex worker organizing efforts. While local political, geographical, and social conditions influence the kinds of services each group has sought to provide, their level of success often corresponded to their emphasis on egalitarian, sex-worker-led paradigms of organizing.

To read this paper in its entirety, you can find it here.

Still Not Asking For It: A Flash Tattoo Event

By Jackie Collens

Here’s a fun fact for anyone who doesn’t already know this about me- I’m kind of into tattoos.  I may not have a ton of them (yet) but I love looking at the work of different artists, and learning about the history and community of tattooing.  When I moved to the New York area just over a year ago, I was elated by the thought that so many amazing artists were now just a train ride away from me.  Since I’ve been out here, I found the work of Ashley Love, a tattoo artist currently based in Brooklyn.  I was first tattooed by Ashley last December, and have continued to follow her work ever since.  Not long ago, I found out that she and her friend, Jessica Pilar, were organizing a flash tattoo event to raise awareness about sexual violence and assault.  I had heard of flash events for Friday the 13th or Halloween, but the idea of such an event held to raise funds and awareness about a social issue was new to me.  As more information was released about the event, called Still Not Asking For It, I became more and more excited about the idea.  I decided to reach out to the organizers to find out more, and recently had the chance to ask Ashley some questions.

First of all, would you mind explaining, for those who have not attended a flash tattoo event in the past, what they can expect when they arrive?

Sure. Flash tattoo events are usually a celebration of some sort. So there are a lot of positive vibes shared between tattooers and tattoo enthusiasts. There is usually a theme, be it Friday the 13th, Halloween, Valentine’s Day, etc. A page of flash (or a few) is prepared, according to theme, and tattoo enthusiasts await the event stillnotaskingforitday, anxiously to see the new designs! On the day of an event like this, tattoo enthusiasts/supporters will show up, view the flash designs, and sign up on a wait list to get tattooed. There might be an estimated wait time given, but sometimes this is hard to say when it comes to tattoos. For this particular event, we have a number of neighboring businesses who have joined us to make the day great. Black Rabbit Barbershop around the corner is donating all proceeds from walk-ins during the event, and Montana’s Trailhouse is donating a drink ticket to everyone who gets tattooed! ….anyways, once the call is made and the person returns, they will have a short wait to sit down in the hot seat and get their tattoo of choice! While some people may find “flash” to be generic, and without personal identity, I feel like that can actually be a great thing. When getting a flash tattoo at an event like this, you are coming together with your community to make a stand and push forward. A cute/cool/fun tattoo can be such a wonderful token from an effort like this. Unity should be glorified in this instance.

How long has this event been in the works?

I believe I came up with the initial idea, and texted my girlfriends about it in early August. With busy work schedules and previous travel plans, it has been a slow process since. It has also been a learning process, as neither Jessica nor I have ever organized an event quite like this in the past. Still Not Asking For It is shaping up to be notably bigger than any flash event I’ve organized in the past. (Which is such a great thing!)

What types of tattoos can people expect to see on the flash sheets?

flashsheet1There will be a variety! We have come up with a handful of designs which speak directly to the issue, and make a bold statement of one’s right-of-choice … And there is also a strawberry! I’ve tried to make sure to have a good amount of themed choices, as I think a tattoo is a great way to make a declaration of this sort. However, I also wanted to have a plethora of designs for people who want to come and support, but don’t necessarily want such a statement tattooed on them.

What made you choose Take Back the Night as the organization to receive the funds raised?

Take Back the Night was the first organization I thought of, when recalling foundations which provide support. Also, when speaking to others, Take Back the Night is the foundation which is most commonly mentioned.

Besides raising funds for this organization, what do you hope to accomplish by holding the event?

I think that there is a huge issue in the way that sexual assault and rape is viewed and addressed. Too often, these issues are treated as a “misflashsheet2understanding” or they are dismissed in some other way. Not only have I experienced this personally, but I have also witnessed it around me. This event is an opportunity for me to stand up and say that this treatment is not okay, and is not accepted. It is an opportunity for everyone to come together and take a stand. In addition to making a statement, I believe this event is a great opportunity for survivors to move forward in recovery. Tattoos are a fantastic way of stating claim of one’s own body. This can be very beneficial to the healing process which follows such terrible events.

Can we expect more events like this in the future?

I would love to be able to organize more events in the future. I will be moving to Salt Lake City at the end of this year, so maybe I can pass the torch in NYC, and spread the event out west next year!

What is the best way for someone to help out even if they can’t come get tattooed?

Take Back the Night is always accepting donations online at  & I have also set up a pre-sale of a print I have made for the event. The listing for that is here: all proceeds of the print sales will be donated to Take Back the Night, along with the money we raise on October 25th!

***Still Not Asking For It will take place this Sunday, October 25 between 12 and 10 p.m. at Allied Tattoo in Brooklyn.  If you’d like to find out more about the event, you can visit the event page and group page on Facebook.

Who Wants to Go to The Dinner Party? The Power of Feminist Art

By Rachel Williams

As a part of the Women’s History Accelerated Program, the inaugural class marked the end of the summer seminar, The Usable Past: Introduction to Practical Applications of Historical Knowledge of Women and Gender, with an independent study project. My classmates and I selected very diverse subject areas and had the benefit of sharing our topics with each other. Little did I know when I started my research on feminist art, that my subject would lead me to a surprising small world connection.

In my paper entitled, “Who wants to go to The Dinner Party? An Examination of Receptions to Feminist Art,”*** I examined how the reception of Judy Chicago’s 1970s feminist art installation The Dinner Party has varied over the years and how it speaks to wider issues of the women’s movement. In 1979, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art premiered The Dinner Party, which evoked passionate responses, both positive and negative. In the three decades since The Dinner Party was opened to the public, it has played a central and controversial role in debates surrounding art and feminism. Conservative art critics and politicians have called it pornographic, kitsch, and weird sexual art. Conversely, women visitors to the exhibition, writers, and feminists have heralded the piece inspiring, life changing, and exemplifying the female experience.

The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago

So what is it about The Dinner Party that makes it capable of garnering such visceral and diverse reactions? It is a visually and physically grand installation, featuring three forty-eight foot tables arranged in an equilateral triangle. Each table has 13 place settings, representing 39 women of historical significance. The women featured comprise mythical, Biblical, and contemporary mid-twentieth century figures and are organized in chronological order. Starting with Primordial Goddess and ending with Georgia O’Keefe, each setting has 30-inch-wide and 51-inch-long runner embroidered with the guest’s name and embellished in a fashion that represents the period in which they lived.

On each individual runner sits a large china plate that has been sculpted and hand painted to represent vulval/butterfly forms. The plates and runners differ in their intricacy and style, but they establish a cohesive story as one walks around the table in chronological order. Chicago intended for the colorful and three-dimensional ceramic plates to, “physically rise up as a symbol of women’s struggle for freedom from such containment.”[1] The plates along each table become increasingly elaborate as they progress through the timeline. This piece was intended to be the ultimate form of consciousness-raising, as a visual representation of women’s lost history.

The fact that The Dinner Party was created through the use of crafts became one of the primary negative critiques of the art piece. Techniques used, such as china painting, ceramics, needlework, and embroidery are not only considered to be low-art, but they are also traditionally viewed as women’s work or hobbies. For Chicago, the use of the decorative arts was very intentional because she saw the craft of china painting as a, “perfect metaphor for women’s domesticated and trivialized circumstances.”[2] By utilizing craftwork that has been traditionally limited to the domestic sphere, Chicago and her team of collaborators validated women’s artistry and contributions to history. The Dinner Party provides a, “visual narrative of Western civilization as seen through women’s accomplishments.”[3] History has been told from the perspective of men, their conquests, and achievements. Chicago aimed to tell a different story, one that may not have been previously acknowledged or represented.

Three weeks and twenty pages later I had a completed paper and was ready for a break from Judy Chicago and her vulvar dinner plates. Days after submitting my paper, my mom, a Sarah Lawrence College alumna, forwarded me an e-mail invitation for a Sarah Lawrence alumnae/i event at the Brooklyn Museum. The event was a brunch and discussion with Sarah Lawrence alumnae Susan Meiselas ’70 and Cate Muther ’69, about a special exhibition on a collaborative art installation that was inspired by Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party. The special exhibit entitled Shared Dining is a creative work by a group of incarcerated women at York Correctional Institution in Connecticut.

imageReferring to themselves as “The Women of York,” the group of ten women created their own table with place settings dedicated to a woman of personal significance to each artist. The ten guests included historic and cultural leaders like Eve, the Virgin Mary, Princess Diana, Danica Patrick, and Malala Yousafzai, as well as personal mentors and family members. The artists, a moniker that the women did not initially identify with, created their place settings using the limited materials available to them in their everyday lives within the prison. This included plastic plates and forks, Styrofoam cups, newspapers, yarn, and origami paper.

image (1)

Shared Dining, by the Women of York

The Shared Dining installation was created as a part of a workshop that was made possible by Elizabeth A. Sackler, who is the founder and namesake of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art where The Dinner Party is permanently housed. The Sarah Lawrence small world connection is found in the involvement of the event hosts, Susan Meiselas ’70 and Cate Muther ’69. Cate, a former guest faculty member at SLC, is also the founder of The Guineas Fund, which helped to sponsor this workshop. Susan and Cate also worked together to produce audio recordings of the women’s stories and the meaning behind their art. The audio recordings accompany the installation and provide further insight into the artists’ inspiration. These individual stories highlight issues about the relationships between art, gender, and subjugated voices. Shared Dining reflects the iconic work of Judy Chicago in that they both address the subject of women’s stories missing form historic narrative by celebrating women’s achievements. This piece exemplifies the continuing impact of feminism and art.

In a written statement, the artists explain: “We were moved to honor the women who have touched our lives. Our plates represent their strength, struggles, courage and achievements. These women are models of who we aspire to be. We have not been limited by the lack of resources; our imagination and creativity allowed us to turn commonplace objects into art.”[4]

***To read Rachel’s paper in its entirety, you can find it here on the page dedicated to the work of students in the accelerated program.

[1] Judy Chicago, Beyond the Flower (New York: Penguin Books, 1996), 47.

[2] Judith E. Stein, “Collaboration,” in The Power of Feminist Art: The American Movement of the 1970s, and History and Impact, ed. Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard; contributors, Judith K. Brodsky…et al (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Publishers, 1994), 228.

[3] Judy Chicago, Beyond the Flower (New York: Penguin Books, 1996), 46.


Learning Historical Activism

By Emily Parker and Rachel Williams

Sarah Lawrence College’s history of innovative feminist scholarship and activism requires no expansive introduction. Being the first university to offer a Master of Arts degree in Women’s History has given given SLC the unshakeable reputation of being a hub for young scholars of women, gender, and history to learn the nuances of their fields in the uniquely creative yet challenging environment that characterizes a Sarah Lawrence education. And like the first women to earn their Women’s History MA on the Sarah Lawrence campus, this year’s small cohort of graduate students participating in the Accelerated Program for Women’s History are the first to experience SLC’s most recent innovation on its prestigious Master’s program.

Designed to emphasize the practical application of historical knowledge, the Accelerated Program aims to equip students with the ability not only to undertake crucial questions pertaining to the history of women and gender, but to incorporate those questions into policy-oriented discussions. Forgoing the traditional Master’s thesis in favor of a Capstone Project (a “white paper” on a contemporary issue of women and gender), the program will prepare us to re-frame our studies of women, gender, and history as potential solutions to the world’s problems – all in less than two years.  

The 15 months of continuous study began in June with a two-week summer intensive led by Women’s History Director Priscilla Murolo entitled “The Usable Past: Introduction to Practical Applications of Historical Knowledge of Women and Gender.” True to its intention, summer curriculum focused on the ways in which Women’s History could be incorporated into careers spanning politics, the nonprofit sector, writing, and the law, emphasizing as well the vital relationship between historical study and activism.  In addition to the reading and coursework, we had the opportunity to engage with scholars and activist guest speakers, including several alumnae of the program who spoke with us about their careers, experiences, and lives after Sarah Lawrence. The face-to-face, interpersonal environment offered an intimate educational experience for our small class of seven, bringing to light both the prestige of our circumstance and the abundant opportunities for the application of historical knowledge in our own futures.

While the Accelerated Program may not appeal to all women’s history scholars, some of its most unique characteristics give it a particular allure for students who may have unconventional ambitions or professional goals outside of the academy. One of the most advantageous effects of our participation in the two-week summer intensive has, so far, been the ease of our transition into graduate school life.  The long days reading, learning to skim, fighting a high tolerance for caffeine and participating in provocative in-class discussions feel, if not comfortable, entirely familiar. While our coursework parallels that of our two-year counterparts during the fall and spring semesters, entering our second semester while the rest of our cohort enters their first has effectively absorbed some of the shock which comes from entering a new and overwhelming environment (and its attendant lifestyle changes).  Most obviously, the program’s shortened tenure (and abbreviated final project) offer a range of benefits to its participants – particularly ones who may have an interest in pursuing a legal degree or get a jump-start on their work at a nonprofit. But aside from the obvious practical advantages, its most seductive promise is that of a prestigious and hands-on training in the benevolent art of social change. Every graduate student hopes to make the world a better place in some way, and the Accelerated Program’s claim to prepare us to apply our studies in a meaningful way through political, legal, or other forms of activism truly gets at the heart of our desires to transform the world that women live in and the way that they live in it.

Em Parker began the Accelerated Master’s Program in Women’s History in June and will graduate in August of 2016.  Her academic interests currently focus on sex workers’ unions and grassroots activist organizations internationally. After graduating from California State University, Chico in 2013, she spent two years working as a policy debate coach for the Arizona State University collegiate Policy Debate team. She’s excited to be at Sarah Lawrence and working for The Revisionist!

Rachel Williams is a native New Yorker who earned her bachelor’s degree in Women’s Studies at Goucher College in Baltimore. While at Goucher, Rachel led the annual Take Back the Night event and served as Student Government Association President. Since graduating, Rachel has worked in Washington D.C. for non-profit organizations that aim to advance women in the realms of politics and business. 

Letter from the Editor

Welcome back! This post marks the beginning of another year of the Revisionist blog. As the blog’s new lead editor, I wanted to take some time to re-introduce myself and share with our readers a bit about the new Revisionist staff and the plans we have for the coming months.Revisionist photo

My name is Jackie Collens, and I am a second year student in the Women’s History program at Sarah Lawrence College. I worked on the blog last year as a writer and assistant editor and this year I have taken on the role of lead editor, and teamed up with a group of fellow students I am very excited for to be working with.

Anita Botello Santoyo, a fellow second year in the program, has joined the team as our content editor, in charge of communicating with prospective contributors and spreading the word about the blog. Two new assistant editors, Emily Parker and Rachel Williams, also join us this year. Emily and Rachel are both members of the first class of students in our program’s new accelerated degree option. Be on the lookout for their first blog post coming soon!

One of our main goals is to bring our readers as much quality content as possible over the course of the school year. We plan to feature essays, articles, interviews, creative writing, poetry, visual art, and much more from contributors from the Sarah Lawrence community and beyond. We will also be sure to keep you updated about any events going on in relation to the Women’s History program.

On that note, we are currently accepting submissions, and we want to hear from you! If you would like your work to be featured on Revisionist, please send your idea or full piece for consideration to Submissions received by the third Saturday of each month will be considered for posting as part of the following month’s issue, except for in cases of content related to current events that require more immediate attention. Please feel free to contact us as well with any questions or general feedback. We’d love to know how you feel about what we’re doing, or if there is anything you’d like to see from us in the future.

On behalf of the entire Revisionist staff, I’d like to say thank you for taking the time to stop by the blog and see what we’re up to. We hope that you’ll stick around and see what we have in store for you soon!

Jackie Collens is a graduate student in the Women’s History master’s program at Sarah Lawrence College. Before moving to the east coast, she completed her undergraduate work in History and Women and Gender Studies at Arizona State University. She is currently working on her master’s thesis, but in her spare time she likes drawing, watching movies, wandering around Homegoods for hours at a time, hanging out with her cats, and sometimes hanging out with other people, too.