Everyday Liberating Forces

By Hannah McCandless

Hannah is a second year student in the Women’s History Graduate Program at Sarah Lawrence College and works as an editor for the Re/Visionist. 

For whatever reason, I was having a difficult time figuring out what to write about this week. For a month focused on “Creating a Liberated Future,” there are thousands of things I could be writing about. As much as I brainstormed, I found myself stuck. The political climate in this country sucks, the social systems in this country suck, and there are so many things that don’t feel like they can be fixed, so I felt stuck. Feeling defeated, I called my mom. (Duh.) Though kind and helpful, her ideas weren’t striking a chord with me, until she said, “Women are being revolutionary and liberating themselves everyday. Sometimes they are Uber Drivers, women wouldn’t be drivers years ago and now they can; it’s the little things.” 

Of course, my mom would help me remember my love for cultural and social history, and telling stories that make you feel positive about the future. So I took some time to think about the moments in my life where I see women making one another feel stronger simply by doing or being something they could not have been several years ago. This list is not exhaustive, but hopefully it is helpful. 

  1. When I have a woman as a Lyft Driver: I know my mom said Uber, but I do my best not to use them. When I do find myself in a Lyft with a woman as my driver, I feel really safe. When I am in cars with men I immediately am on high alert. But in a car with a woman, I feel like I can relax. I feel like if I felt unsafe or needed help, I could tell her. Several years ago, women couldn’t do that. Even today, it is still dangerous to be a woman driver. So when I see one, I feel hopeful and safe. And for me that is liberating. 
  2. When my friends tell me about how they’re feeling: No matter how hard we try, the stigmatization of mental health is overwhelming and everywhere. But sometimes I’ll be in conversation with women I know well or some that I don’t know well at all, and we end up talking about our mental health. To hear someone else speak to their troubles and then listen to you speak about yours? It makes a huge difference. Feeling like you can be fully yourself even when you’re sad or overwhelmed – it’s radical. Though conditioned to believe that my emotions can be too much for others based on my assumed gender, I feel safe when my close friends share fears and anxieties because then I know I can, too. This is the type of radical love that means a lot to me, and to have those friendships is a liberating force. 
  3. Random women’s history talks with strangers: I feel like I think about history all of the time and so when it doesn’t come up in casual, non-academic settings, I wonder if anyone else really cares. But when I was recently at physical therapy, politics came up. And at some point, one of the younger physical therapists said she had never heard of Anita Hill. The women who were patients and medical professionals from all of the surrounding tables jumped in to talk about who she was and how powerful her testimony was. Everyone in that moment was passionate and angry with how that piece of history had played out, and everyone told stories about either learning about it later in life or about living in that moment and feeling disappointed. Hearing non-academics passionately discuss women’s history is absolutely liberating. 
  4. When women are religious leaders: I know this is a pretty specific example and if you know me personally, you would know that my mom is a Pastor. But here’s the thing: women who are religious leaders are seriously amazing. My mom grew up in a church which believed that women can not be pastors. As an adult, she left that church and pursued ministry in another denomination. Today she is a pastor in a tiny church in Ohio. And her sermons? They are liberating. In an effort to not talk about my mother too much, I’ll give another example. When visiting a friend out of state, she asked me to help her rip the bandaid of moving to a new community by attending a new church with her. Walking in, we were skeptical. Though initially reserved, our guards fell when we saw a woman walk up to the pulpit and start talking. After church, my friend said she would return because though the sermon was good, more importantly, she felt better about being in a place where a woman would be helping her figure out her religious journey. 

    I’m sure these examples won’t resonate with everyone. But I hope that thinking about and reflecting on the moments in life where we see women liberating themselves or others will give us strength as we move forward fighting for equity. I think sometimes it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all that needs to be done, and so remembering the things that make us feel strong, no matter how small, are worth thinking about.

Jennifer’s Body (2009): Sexuality and Social Relevance in Diablo Cody and Karyn Kusama’s Cult Classic Horror Film

By Marian Phillips

Marian is a second year graduate student studying Women’s History at Sarah Lawrence College. Her interests include LGBT+ History, Media and Film Studies, and the use of music and movements.


Spoiler alert: This post contains spoilers for Jennifer’s Body (2009).


Ten years ago, in the fall of 2009, I was thirteen years old. I was hanging out at the mall, waiting for the moment that I could enter the movie theatre and see the film I’d been obsessing over for the entirety of the summer – Jennifer’s Body. Surrounded by fellow mallrats, I was wearing the “I Eat Boys” shirt I purchased from Hot Topic, and a messenger bag filled with dollar store candy. I was ready. As we all know, the film didn’t quite garner the success it deserved upon release. Now, ten years later, Diablo Cody and Karyn Kusama are finally receiving praise for creating a brutally honest depiction of bisexuality and what it means to be a woman growing up in a patriarchal society. 

The film follows best friends Jennifer Check (Megan Fox) and Anita “Needy” Lesnicki (Amanda Seyfried) as they face the hell that being a teenage girl is, figuratively and literally. Friends since the days of sandboxes and playing house, the two exhibit a bond that cannot be broken by high school popularity and even demonic possession. Jennifer plays the beautiful cheerleader, and Needy, the unpopular and awkward teen. In the first moments of the film, the audience finds Jennifer begging Needy to attend a concert for indie band Low Shoulder. The scene quickly escalates, and ends with the two escaping a music hall engulfed in flames. Once they’ve made it out, the band offers to take the two to safety. Needy begs Jennifer not to go with them. Ignoring her best friend’s pleas, she enters the sinister van.

The next time we see Jennifer is in the van. Now that they have her alone, the lead singer asks if she is a virgin, to which she responds “yes” with the hopes that having little to no sexual experience will save her from the unknown. What she doesn’t expect, but becomes swiftly informed of, is that they need a virginal body to sacrifice to the devil in exchange for fame. As she begs and pleads with them not to kill her, the men begin to sing Tommy Tutone’s “867-5309/Jenny” in a taunting manner as they slash and stab her. What they don’t know is that Jennifer Check is no virgin. The sacrifice that they enacted results in the demonic possession of her body. 

This scene is disturbing to say the least, but it is also familiar. Not in the sense that being a literal blood sacrifice is common, but her total loss of control and bodily autonomy at the hands of men that wish to grow into a place of power feels all too familiar. The sacrifice of Jennifer speaks to personal and publicized stories of assault by the hands of privileged white men that hold high positions of power politically and socially – for example, the case of Christine Blasey Ford against Brett Kavanaugh. Cody presented her audience with a story that begins with trauma, is fueled by heartbreak, and ends with revenge wrapped up in demonic possession and teen drama. 

In recent years, many have come to realize that the film was well ahead of its time on social commentary, and its rise in popularity has sustained a steady increase since 2017. Fans of the film have marked it as a symbol of bisexuality, featuring lesbian overtones between Jennifer and Needy. The film itself is a larger statement on women’s sexuality, but the relationship between the two friends is a love story and it permeates throughout the entire film. When we first enter the film, we see them looking at each other with complete adoration as the lyrics for I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You by the band Black Kids plays in the background – “You are the girl, that I’ve been dreaming of / Ever since I was a little girl.”  The love between Jennifer and Needy isn’t simply sandbox love, and Cody never intended it to be read as just that either. 

Cody’s film starts, climaxes, and ends with the two women as the primary focus. Kusama and Cody created a unique and honest depiction of a lesbian relationship; one filled with longing, resentment, joy, and love. It’s one that we don’t see in mainstream films that identify as marketed towards an LGBT+ audience. Despite this, Jennifer’s Body was unable to escape the male gaze and poorly executed marketing team that manipulated the trailers to appease an audience of teenage boys. Back when I was thirteen and walked into the theatre, most audience members were indeed men. I remember hearing my classmates talk about how incredibly hot the “girls kissing on the bed” scene was and how Megan Fox was the epitome of sex. To this day, I get a little aggravated by these remarks when I look back on it. It’s so obvious that the director and screenwriter did not want this to be the takeaway.

Jennifer’s Body is a movie about a teenage girl that was brutally taken advantage of by men for their benefit. It follows the relationship of two friends that are actually deeply in love with one another. The ending showcases the revenge that Jennifer wanted and the love that Needy felt for her, even when she killed Chip. I refuse to spoil the ending for any of you, so what I will do is suggest that once you finish reading this post, go online and rent the film, watch for the details, and appreciate what Cody and Kusama gave to their audience in 2009; how deeply it reflects what we see today in politics, society, and culture and how important it is for teenagers to see accurate depictions of bisexuality to combat against its erasure.

Liberation in Women’s Healthcare

By Alison Feese

Alison is a student working to become a Certified Nurse Midwife. She is a birth doula and advocate for women’s health. She is from Columbia, Kentucky and provides services across Central Kentucky.

Liberation is the act of setting something free from imprisonment or oppression. Whether it is our mind, body, or soul, we are often not aware of the imprisonment we are trapped in. Modern women are in a system that teaches us to fear our body, to not trust it, and that it is broken. These messages are sent from a variety of places. In 2019, we expect movies, advertisements, and social media to make us feel less than perfect; but what about our healthcare providers and hospitals? What happens when the very people we trust with our health doubt the ability and strength of our body? That is why I have chosen to go into midwifery. It is an art that trusts the mind, body, and soul of a woman as it is.

Midwifery is arguably the oldest profession. It has been around since people started procreating. Nobody knows when midwives appeared in history, mainly because they were always there. Where there was a birthing woman, you can bet that there was a midwife next to her. The term midwife literally means with-woman. They are primary care providers in women’s health specializing in the childbearing process. They care for women of all ages and even assist in newborn care. Midwifery is an art that blends science, tradition, and the trust of a woman’s body. 

As cheesy as it sounds, midwifery chose me. I couldn’t escape this career path. Midwifery in the United States was born just a few miles away from me in Eastern, KY where nurse midwives would ride horseback into the rough mountains to deliver care to the nation’s poorest and sickest. Appalachia was left medically isolated. These pioneers rode through snow and storm expecting to provide child birthing care, but ended up caring for the whole family. This care alone cut the infant and maternal mortality rate, and increased the quality of life for thousands without the expectation of payment. What an honor it is to place my hand in a profession that was built upon helping the poorest in my own backyard. Today, the United States is the only developed nation that has a RISING maternal mortality rate. We are also the only industrialized nation that does not use midwifery care as the standard practice. Don’t get me wrong, I am not disrespecting the wonderful OB/GYNs I will work next to. I am so thankful we have technology and physicians to provide life-saving surgery. Modern medicine is a fantastic thing when it is used appropriately. But something has to change in the United States. If trusting the art of midwifery will reduce these mortality rates, why aren’t we doing it?!

Midwifery core-competencies include things like assisting with breech deliveries, out of hospital births, and holistic treatments. However, these things are not commonly practiced in the United States. Midwives are taught to trust the female body, and allow it to work as designed. They use a hands-off approach. If something isn’t broken, don’t fix it. Problems happen when we use unnecessary interventions in healthcare and tell women that their bodies are not capable. This includes things like unnecessary cesarean sections, inductions, and augmentations of labor. These practices not only increase undesirable outcomes, but they make women question the ability of their bodies.  Midwifery is the ultimate liberation from the body-shaming world we are surrounded by. 

Midwives today play different roles in different states. Some provide childbirth care for women in and out of the hospital. Some work to provide abortion care. Some midwives assist with fertility within the LGBTQ communities. Many serve our amish communities in rural areas. They work with victims of sexual violence. Midwives fill different roles dependant upon their community’s needs, but they all have the same goal. To provide patient-centered care to the populations they serve. They trust the female body, and reject the idea that women are not capable. They stress the importance of informed consent and make women the most important member in the healthcare team. Midwifery care is counter-culture to the world around us. For instance, midwives do not deliver babies. They catch babies, and mothers deliver them. This profession is selfless and places the honor on the patient. Women are more than capable of making choices for themselves and their family. We run into problems when we tell them they can’t. Whatever a family chooses, midwives are there to support and educate them along the way.

Featured Photo: Frontier Nursing Service midwife makes postpartum visit, slide, c. 1930s. Nurse-Midwifery Program Records.

Rojava and the Turkish-Kurdish Conflict: Cultural Genocide in Afrin and International Silence

By Noelle Iati

Noelle is an undergraduate student at Sarah Lawrence College.

In my last post, I explained the reasons for the Turkish-Kurdish conflict and the Turkish interest in destroying the Autonomous Administration of Northern and Eastern Syria, commonly known as Rojava. In this post, I explore the gross human rights violations committed by Turkish forces and their jihadist allies pursuing a cultural genocide in Afrin, the northwesternmost region of Rojava which borders Turkey, and the international response to these violations.

Turkey attacked the Rojava district of Afrin on January 20, 2018. After two months of fighting, Turkish forces captured Afrin city on March 23, 2018, officially concluding the “combat phase” of the operation. From the beginning of the attack, Turkish forces and their jihadist auxiliaries were accused of violating international humanitarian law protecting civilians in armed conflict. In the report from its February 25 to March 22, 2018 session, the United Nations Human Rights Council Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic highlighted potential war crimes committed by Turkish forces and their allies in Afrin, including the arbitrary killings of civilians by car bombs, landmines, and IEDs, kidnappings for ransom, pillaging of property, sexual harassment, and torture. The report also states concerns over Afrin residents’ reports of a lack of rule of law. Turkey, as an occupying power, was obligated under the Fourth Geneva Convention to do everything in its power to prevent civilians from being caught in the crossfire during the conflict, and certainly was obligated to prevent the blatant abuse of civilians in the war zone. It has also been alleged that Turkey intentionally destroyed hospitals, religious buildings, and cultural heritage sites.

Unfortunately, the abuse did not end after Turkey captured Afrin. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the U.S. Department of State Human Rights Reports on Turkey and Syria, and news outlets such as Kurdistan 24 and Politurco have all alleged the continued random killings of civilians, the displacement of tens of thousands of individuals (mostly Kurdish), the seizing, looting, and destruction of property belonging to Kurdish residents, and the arbitrary arrest, detention, forcible disappearance, and torture of Kurdish civilians. Following Afrin’s capture, roadblocks and checkpoints were instituted preventing humanitarian aid from reaching affected areas, while the only humanitarian services allowed in the area at all were those registered in Turkey. Meanwhile, the same roadblocks and checkpoints prevented many from leaving the war zone to access necessary medical care. Kurdish refugees were also blocked from receiving aid at the Serdem refugee camp.

While all of these abuses have targeted the Kurdish population of Afrin, perhaps the most telling indicators of Turkish intentions in the region have involved intentional demographic change and “Arabization” or “Turkification” of the area. Kurdish refugees returning home after the fighting in many cases found their homes occupied by Arab refugees from Eastern Ghouta or by soldiers and their families, while Turkish-backed jihadist rebel groups controlling Afrin have pushed for the forced displacement of the remaining Kurdish population. In the city of Afrin, road and place names have been changed from Kurdish to Arabic, including one square renamed after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey has already appointed its own teachers and civil servants and installed Turkish-language schools and mosques. In some cases, children have been exposed to the ultra-nationalist, neo-fascist Turkish “Grey Wolves” propaganda in their schools. In April of this year, Turkey started to build a concrete wall separating Afrin from the rest of Rojava.

Incredibly, despite extensive documentation of all of these abuses by international human rights and humanitarian organizations including the United Nations, the international community has remained mostly silent to these attacks on the peaceful and democratic Kurdish enclave. Despite Rojava’s focus on gender equality, human rights, and the democratic principles the West claims to stand on, it has utterly refused to defend Rojava from Turkey’s illegal attack, and most nations have not publicly condemned Turkey’s actions. Western media, especially the American press, has, for the most part, stayed silent on the issue has well. As President Donald Trump plans to pull American troops out of Syria entirely, Turkish-backed rebels have prepared to advance eastward toward the city of Manbij and to use the hefty advantage American withdrawal would give them to advance further east into Rojava. While President Trump has promised economic repercussions should Turkey attack Manbij and National Security Advisor John Bolton has claimed (independently of the President) that Americans would not pull out of Syria without assurances from Turkey that it would leave northern Syria to its Kurdish allies, Syrian Kurds worry about their ability to defend their home. As one of the most democratic regions in the war-torn Middle East, Kurds in Rojava wonder why the West, which claims to have gone to war in the Middle East to protect democracy for all, has refused to recognize Rojava or commit to protecting it from Turkey.

Western military presence in the Middle East is a complex issue mired in difficult questions about capitalist imperialism. But if the West claims to support self-determination, democracy, and human rights, then it cannot continue to stay silent on the issue of Kurdish independence or the efforts of the Turkish government to destroy the Kurdish political project.

Rojava and the Turkish-Kurdish Conflict: What is behind Operation Olive Branch?

By Noelle Iati

Noelle is an undergraduate student at Sarah Lawrence College.

In all likelihood, the person reading this could not point to Rojava on a map, and has probably never even heard that name. You would be shocked to learn that the people of Rojava, this place of which you have never heard, were among America’s most important allies in the struggle against the Islamic State. You might also be shocked to learn that the people of Rojava have been under an unprovoked attack by the Turkish military and Turkish-backed jihadist auxiliaries for nearly two years. What, you might wonder, is so offensive about the people of Rojava? The answer: they’re Kurdish.

Formally known as the Autonomous Administration of Northern and Eastern Syria, Rojava has existed independently of Bashar al-Assad’s tyrannical rule since its three cantons declared independence in 2014, growing to encompass all of the Al-Hasakah governorate and the better parts of the Aleppo, Ar-Raqqah, and Deir ez-Zor governorates of Syria, including the cities of Manbij, Raqqa, Qamishli, Al-Hasakah, Kobane, and Afrin. The region has historically made up the western part of Kurdistan, and today represents the hope of self-determination for the Kurdish people. Despite its emphasis on democracy, human rights, and gender equality—Rojava has already outlawed torture and the death penalty (leagues ahead of neighboring states), and it would be an understatement to say that women play an important role in Rojava’s government and judicial system—Rojava is not formally recognized as a state by any democratic world power for fear of the political repercussions of the move, and therefore has no power on the world stage and little access to foreign aid. While the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) that act as the military arms of the region have been able to protect it from the Islamic State and the administration has also for the most part been able to stave off al-Assad’s government, its invasion by Turkey–that one you’ve never heard of–could defeat the fledgling democratic utopia.

The Republic of Turkey also contains the northern portion of Kurdistan, and has done its best to suppress Turkish Kurds (Kurdish language in Turkey is heavily restricted, Kurdish schools and cultural institutions have been shut down, and Turkey has removed scores of Kurdish intellectuals, reporters, authors, and other professionals). Like so many of the ethnic conflicts plaguing the Middle East, the “Kurdish problem” in Turkey can be traced back to the Treaty of Sèvres and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire in 1920. Before World War I, the Kurdish people were allowed to move around their ancestral homeland with relative freedom as one of many cultural groups living under Ottoman rule. After the war, the Allies divided the Ottoman Empire into several sections, attempting to diminish Ottoman power (and further European imperialist interests). While a unified Kurdistan was envisioned in treaty negotiations, the Allies were entirely unequipped to be making such complicated identity-based decisions for former subjects of the Ottoman Empire, and though they kept most of Kurdistan together, they placed it inside the new state of Turkey and excluded the parts of Kurdistan in what became Syria, Iran, and Iraq

Since then, the independence movement among Kurdish people has been strong, while they have remained a mistreated minority group in each state of which they are a part. Recent independence movements in Iraq and Syria have been successful, with the Kurdistan region of Iraq operating almost entirely autonomously within the Iraqi state and Rojava developing as an autonomous Kurdish region. This puts Turkey in a difficult position as the pro-Kurdish militia group connected to the Kurdish Worker’s Party (the PKK, considered a terrorist organization in Turkey and much but not all of the West) fights a guerrilla war against Turkish forces and Turkey’s pro-Kurdish political party, the HDP, gains seats in Turkey’s parliament. The existence of Rojava right across Turkey’s southern border threatens Turkish hegemony while emboldening the PKK and Kurdish nationalist movements. 

Enter: Operation Olive Branch. Following the American proposal to patrol the Turkish-Syrian border with soldiers Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which includes the YPG and YPJ, the Turkish military launched an unprovoked attack on the district of Afrin, Rojava’s northwesternmost enclave. Turkey, contrary to its NATO allies, considers the YPG to be a terrorist organization with connections to the PKK in Turkey as a Kurdish nationalist militia. Therefore, the mere idea of such an organization patrolling its border as a protective measure against the Islamic State is, to Turkey, completely unacceptable. Ultimately, though, Turkey’s explanations for its assault on Afrin amount to misrepresentations of the truth at best, and at worst outright lies that many believe are intended to mask Turkey’s true motivation of destroying the autonomous Kurdish region of Syria.

This post is part one of two on the situation in the Autonomous Administration of Northern and Eastern Syria. In the next post, Turkey’s deplorable human rights violations in Afrin and beyond will be exposed and the world response to these violations analyzed.