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Welcome to the Feminism and Mental Health Issue!

Dear Readers,

Feminism is an essential aspect to many realms of women’s mental health–validating the taxing experiences of all women (and all others who are oppressed by patriarchy), pushing back against the the assumptions that women are ruled by their emotions, encouraging the pursuit of fulfilling lives, and in countless other ways.

Our January issue features discussions of diverse intersections of mental health and feminism, including interviews with health-care providers in various fields, portraits of what mental health looked like in other historical eras, and art inspired by a feminist search for inner peace.

Our first submission is a discussion of mental health care with a feminist-identified social worker in California, who uses her feminism to assist families through challenging times in their lives.

We then move on to discuss mental-health maintenance when common resources aren’t available. Maria Vallejo-Nguyen provides a portrait of historic patriot Manuela Saenz and how she maintained her sanity during years of exile and being considered outside of what it meant to be a woman. Vallejo’s portrait shows the strategies her subject used to survive such a trying time.

Editor Tiffany Williams submitted a personal journal entry. She also evokes raw emotion in a poem that reflects on her past in a effort to move towards self-acceptance and growth.

Carly Fox addresses what spirituality can bring to both feminism and mental health through her discussion of Pema Chodron’s work on working through self-hatred and jealousy both personally and inter-personally.

Taylor Russell  discusses the treatment of eating disorders.

Guest contributor Jessica Williams writes a piece about why medicine is important and how it has the power to heal.

Finally, Carly Fox provides a list of national mental-health resources as well as a list of book recommendations.

Please enjoy the stories, art, and resources included in this issue. We hope they inspire you to find the ways in which feminism contributes to your own emotional well-being and that of everyone in your lives.

As always, we welcome your thoughts, comments, and submissions.


Tiffany, Emilie, and Carly

The Evolving Identity of Manuela Saenz

by Maria L. Vallejo-Nguyen


Doña Manuela Sáenz (December 27, 1797 (or possibly 1795) – November 23, 1856) was born in Quito, Viceroyalty of New Granada (Present-dayEcuador), and died in Paita, Peru. She was a revolutionary hero of South America, who also became the mistress of the South American revolutionary leader, Simón Bolívar.

Manuela Saenz (1797-1856) wrote in her journal that “history was supposed to be made, not told.” She wrote this to express the general frustration she experienced while in exile, as well as her inability to exert political influence. It also expressed how she wanted to live her life – in the public sphere. It was her participation in the male political sphere that brought her fame during the Andean wars of independence and later led to her exile after independence was won.

Manuela Saenz is remembered today as La Libertadora del Libertador (the Liberator of the Liberator) because she saved Simon Bolivar’s life twice.[1] It was Bolivar[2] that first called her La Libertadora when her quick thinking and intervention saved him after the first attempt on his life in 1828.[3]  It was not the first time nor would it be the last that Saenz’s quick thinking and intervention helped Bolivar, his army, the Andean countries fighting for independence from Spanish rule and later Ecuadorian President Juan Jose Flores.

Although she was illegitimately born, she was raised in a white criollo world by her Spaniard father who was the head of La Audencia – the Spanish ruling body in Quito, Ecuador. Therefore she had wealth and status. Because of her father’s position, she was able to build a network of contacts that enabled her to exert significant political influence throughout the Ecuador-Peru-Colombia region during the Andean wars of independence. Her network of contacts also made her invaluable to Bolivar such that he makes her a general in his army.

Studying Saenz’s life sheds light on the changes imposed on women during the transition from colonial state to independent state

Studying Saenz’s life sheds light on the changes imposed on women during the transition from colonial state to independent state. Saenz’s life provides insight on who was or was not considered part of the newly independent nations. Furthermore, her life explains how women’s role in the new nations evolved before and after independence.bolivarmanuela_b5ab

Saenz joined the criollo’s fight to rid their countries of Spanish rule and to establish criollos as the ruling party. Saenz conformed to her class and race ideals: she didn’t seek to change the socio-economic status of indios, mestizos and blacks, she just wanted criollos to rule. It is ironic that Saenz worked hard to remove Spanish rule because her father was a Spaniard (peninsular) and both her wealth and her political power stemmed from her father’s position in the Audencia. It is also ironic that Saenz was a general in Bolivar’s army fighting for the criollos to take control of the new republics since it was later the criollo elite that kept her out of Ecuador.

Although she conformed with her class and race political views, it was her gender non-conformity that eventually left her nationless.

Although she conformed with her class and race political views, it was her gender non-conformity that eventually left her nationless. The woman who had embodied patriotism (she won a medal for her contributions to the Peruvian war) was now at odds with the criollo ruling party of the new nations.

Women had been invited to participate in the wars for independence. They provided financial resources, served as spies, recruited soldiers, worked as nurses and sewed uniforms. After the wars however women were expected to return to their homes. White criollo women especially were expected to return to the private sphere (home) and re-build the nation – literally (child-bearing) and figuratively (embodying the virtuous family ideal).

Saenz was not “virtuous” by conventional standards; she had left her husband to become Bolivar’s mistress and chose not to return to her husband.[18] She did not have children and therefore no family or household to care for. Most importantly, she had grown accustomed to exercising political power and living as a financially independent woman.

To ensure women’s return to the home, laws were implemented that stripped women of any economic power by requiring them to turn over any assets to their husbands or sons, they were no longer able to inherit wealth and dowries were eliminated. [14] Additionally laws were implemented that allowed fathers to stop or disown daughters who married outside of their class and race. Wealth and political influence were interdependent and the lack of both relegated women to second-class citizens or in Saenz’s case as non-citizens.

The legal changes left Saenz poor and hence without the resources to remain as part Ecuador’s criollo ruling class. Even after Ecuador lifts the exile, Saenz chooses to remain exiled in Paita, Peru becauses there she is able to work, continue to exert some political influence, however small, and maintain her independence.

Saenz did not change. She identified and remained, until her death, a white criollo woman that refused to conform to the new nation’s gender norms.

Saenz did not change. She identified and remained, until her death, a white criollo woman that refused to conform to the new nation’s gender norms. She became a political threat because of her desire to remain involved in politics, in effect, diminishing the masculinity of those in power..The patriarchal government of the new nations prevail and Saenz’s contributions to the wars of independence were forgotten. She died from diptheria in 1856, her home with all her belongings was burned and she was buried in a mass grave.Mural-La-Bandera-_131


[1] Pamela S. Murray, For Glory and Bolivar: The Remarkable Life of Manuela Saenz (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008), 27-50. See also Victor Von Hagen, The Four Seasons of Manuela: A Biography (The Love Story of Manuela Saenz and Simon Bolivar) (Boston: Little, Brown, 1952). Simon Bolivar (1783-1830) is considered the Great Liberator of Latin America. He was Venezuelan born and both a military and political leader. He is credited with liberating Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia from Spanish rule. He was responsible for laying the groundwork for democratic governments in these young republics.

[2] Ann Marie Arana, Bolivar: American Liberator (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013), 13

[3] Murray, 25. See also Von Hagen, 65.

[4] The event was covered by various newswires. It took place on July 2nd, 2010. Chavez buried symbolic remains of Manuela Saenz along with Simon Bolivar. President Hugo Chavez wrote the article for the Latin American Herald Tribune about the event. Hugo Chavez, “Manuela Saenz Returns,” Latin American Herald, July 10, 2010.

[5] Von Hagen, 281; see also Alfonso Rumazo Gonzalez, Manuela Saenz Aispuru: La Libertadora del Libertador (Buenos Aires: Almendros y Nieto, 1945), 189. Santander had become an enemy of Bolivar and many believed, including Saenz that he had been behind the assassination attempts against Bolivar. After Bolivar’s death, the Colombian people recalled Santander from the exile Bolivar imposed on him. Shortly after his return, Santander passed an edict exiling Saenz from Colombia; effectively declaring her an enemy of the Colombian state.

[6] See Arana’s Bolivar: American Liberator and Martin Minchom, The People of Quito, 1690-1810: Change and Unrest in the Underclass (Boulder: Westview Press) 1994.

[7] Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 2006), 6.

[8] Anderson, 6.

[9] Peninsulares were Spaniards that immigrated to the colonies and by the power of the King of Spain held the top government positions. They would collect taxes, set laws; enforce laws and held most of the wealth. Criollos were Spaniard descendants born in the Americas. Because they were born in the Americas, rather than Spain, criollos were relegated to second-class citizenship and as long as the Spanish were in power criollos would not hold the top political positions or own the majority of the wealth. Arana, 15.

[10] Murray, 9 and Von Hagen, 5.

[11] Murray, 10. The Ecuadorian Audencia passed the laws of the country and also determined their enforcement.

[12] Murray, 25 and Von Hagen, 30.

[13] Dore, 8.

[14] Dore, 20.

[15] Murray, 36.

[16] Elzabeth Dore, “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back” in Hidden Histories of Gender and State in Latin America edited by Elizabeth Dore and Maxine Molyneux. Durham: Duke University Press, 2000.

[17] Dore, 20.

[18] Murray, 140.

[19] Simon Bolivar to Manuela Saenz, August 1830.

[20] Suad Joseph, “The Public/Private: The Imagined Boundary in the Imagined Nation/State/Community: The Lebanese Case,” in Feminist Review, No. 57 (Autumn 1997): 75.

[21] Murray, 135.

[22] Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, A Midwifie’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard based on her diary, 1785-1812 (New York; Vintage Books) 1991.

[23] Camilla Townsend, Malintzin’s Choice: An Indian Woman in the Conquest of Mexico (Dialogos) (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press) 2006.

[24] Manuela Saenz’s letters were in poor condition when the archive of Ecuador received them. There are concerns that historians may have dated some of the letters incorrectly or in the wrong order as they attempted to recreate the timeline. Furthermore, there are questions on the authenticity of the journal belonging to Saenz that Carlos Alvarez Saa published in 1995. A recent edition suggests that he has submitted the journal to evaluation and the introduction is presented by the historian that vouches for its authenticity.

Interview with feminist-identified Social Worker Robyn Ekenstedt

Interview by Emilie Egger

What brought you to a career in social work? How do your training and personal experiences shape your work?

A variety of personal experiences led me to my career in social work. Initially, a trip to volunteer in India after graduation from high school sparked my interest in the field. After being exposed to immense poverty and violence, I felt a desire to help underprivileged and marginalized communities in my own home country. After returning to the United States, I volunteered with the International Rescue Committee as a mentor and tutor to teenage refugees from Myanmar, Somalia, and other countries.This experience reinforced my love for helping those in my own community facing numerous struggles. I learned so much from the youth that I worked with, and my own worldview and perspectives changed in many ways.

Finally, another significant personal experience that influenced my decision to enter a career in social work was my personal experience with mental illness. After experiencing a temporary psychotic break at 19 years old, followed by a period of severe depression, I felt a strong desire to use my experience facing and overcoming mental illness to help others who are in the midst of their own battle.

My personal experiences heavily influence my professional work, I believe, in a positive way. Experiencing my own struggles, and helping others overcome theirs, has provided me with insight and understanding on how to help others facing many social, environmental, and psychological problems through therapy and case management. Sometimes when I lose motivation or become overwhelmed by the challenges that arise during my work, I reflect on the strength, determination, and hope of the refugees and many families that I have encountered facing great obstacles, and this helps me to overcome the burnout that often accompanies social work.

How do you identify as a feminist? How does your feminist identity add to your work?71doehKgjsL._SL500_SY300_

There are many definitions of feminist, but to me it has always meant to be a believer and advocate of equal rights and treatment of women. Even though I consider myself a feminist, I am still in the process of learning about the many inequalities we as women face. My role as a feminist is very important in my role as a social worker and therapist. In my current position, one role that I hold is to work with depressed mothers, and the other is to work with children with behavioral issues with their parents in family therapy. In both roles, I regularly encounter social and structural inequalities, prejudices, and gender roles that negatively impact the family system and the women in the family.

Part of my work is to assist families and parents in recognizing dynamics that may be unhealthy, including traditional gender roles that make many of the depressed mothers feel “trapped.” Many of the depressed women I see are in unhealthy relationships with their spouses/partners, which often includes forms of emotional and physical abuse.  Additionally, I often find myself supporting mothers and women in trusting in their strength as a woman and empowering them to challenge the social systems in their life that may be contributing to their oppression. When working with families, I find myself assisting parents in challenging their perspectives of the roles of women and men within the family in order to create a more healthy family system. This might include helping parents challenge their beliefs in order to allow the mother to contribute equally in decision making or disciplining the children, while supporting the father in stepping back and supporting the needs of the wife by providing equal support in household chores and childcare.

How is your work with women the same as or different than your work with men?

In my position I often encounter more women than men since much of my work is exclusively with mothers. Additionally, when I work with families, many of the males are at work during the day and do not participate in the therapy sessions. However, I try to incorporate the fathers of the children in therapy as much as possible and express my belief in the importance of their participation. When I work with both parents, I often teach parenting skills to both at the same time and practice with them in session. This work is more educational and looks very similar with women/men. However, as previously mentioned, when working with families I tend to encounter many ingrained systems of belief that do not value equal rights/treatment of women, and often part of my work is to advocate for women within this context and support their needs within the family. Additionally, when working with depressed mothers, I encounter a variety of issues that are related more uniquely to women, including symptoms of depression/anxiety due to negative beliefs re: self-image, multi-generational family systems based on a dominant male figure/submissive female figure, the feeling of being unable to express themselves in the way that they want because they need to conform to traditional gender roles, and much more.

How does your feminism influence how you work with families?

Feminism is very influential in my work with families. Mainly, many family systems are based on gender roles that can be unhealthy or non-supportive of both a woman’s needs/wants/desires. Many of these roles are so ingrained in our culture and in the belief system of my clients that they are unaware of its possible negative influence. When working with families, it is very common that I encounter women and men with the belief system that the father is the “head of the household,” the main disciplinarian, and has the final say in family decisions.

The voice of women and children is often overlooked and ignored. Many mothers that I see believe that they will be disrespectful to their husbands if they disagree with them, and I often work with them to create a different definition of “respect” that incorporates their rights and value while respecting their culture and religion.

Also, domestic violence is very common in the families that I work with, and often is connected to a belief system that a man is dominant and a wife should be submissive.  When working with families, I try to help all members find their voice to express their wants/needs and assist both parents in providing equal  amount of both discipline and affection for their children. Often, my work inevitably consists of helping many women make plans to try to escape from a violent and/or controlling relationship. In these cases, I also incorporate feminism by trying to help empower these women to understand their significant value and strength as a woman and person.

Mary Oliver reads from new release–Dog Songs

by Emilie Egger

“We meet wonderful people, but lose them

in our busyness.

We’re, as the saying goes, all over the place.
Steadfastness, it seems,
is more about dogs than about us.
One of the reasons we love them so much.”

Award-winning American poet Mary Oliver recently gave a benefit reading for the

Dog SongsProvincetown Art Association which featured selections from her latest collection of poems,  Dog Songs.

The reading took place at the Church of St. Luke in the Fields in Greenwich Village on Wednesday, Oct. 9. About 100 people filled the sanctuary to hear the author read from her newest book and attend a brief reception afterward. Oliver read for about 45 minutes from Dog Songs and a few of her older books, adding supplemental stories to each poem she picked.

Although I wondered if the subject matter of dogs would make for a less-complex collection than her previous work, this latest release from Oliver is just as wise and profound as her previous collections. Oliver’s poetry regularly focuses on themes of nature and spirituality and this new book of poetry is no different. Themes found in her other work, such as forgiveness, loss, love, solitude, companionship also weave their way into this collection of poems.

The focus on dogs becomes a new way through which Oliver invites her readers to relate and understand her greater messages. Additionally, the trope of long walks that appears so often in her poems works exceptionally well in a book of poems devoted to canine companions.

Indeed, the focus of the book is celebrating dogs for their companionship, loyalty, and joy.

“Because of the dog’s joyfulness, our own is increased. It is no small gift. It is not the least reason why we should honor as well as love the dog of our own life, and the dog down the street, and all the dogs not yet born. What would the world be like without music or rivers or the green and tender grass? What would this world be like without dogs?”

 But it is also about so much more than pets:

This collection is not an assortment of simple, straightforward stories about dogs. Dog Songs tells the rich tales of life found in Oliver’s other work that happen to be told through her experiences with her many dogs. Oliver’s poetry is known for its accessibility; the focus on pets in this volume provides yet another way for her audience to access the perennial themes of her work–countless readers will be able to relate to the experiences of having a dog and thereby enter her deep realms of understanding.

mary oliver percy

Oliver’s presence at the reading was striking. She is a Pulitzer Prize (for American Primitive) and National Book Award winner (New and Selected Poems), as well as many other words. She read calmly but firmly to an adoring and grateful audience.

Like the rest of Oliver’s work, this collection is not overtly political, didactic, or religious. But she portrays her love for her pets and the love she receives from them in return as a transformative experience leading to peace, joy, and the desire to live life fully

As Oliver writes in her poem “Percy Wakes Me,” one of her compositions about a dear long-time pet:

“This is a poem about Percy.

This is a poem about more than Percy. 

Think about it.”

— “Percy Wakes Me,” Dog Songs

mary oliver

Mary Magdalene: a link between sensuality and spirituality

by Kaitlyn Kohr

Whether you know her as a saint, a prostitute, the apostle to the apostles, or even as a Christ’s possible lover, it is impossible to deny that Mary Magdalene is one of the most powerful women in the Christian tradition and perhaps most well-known after the Madonna. Her reputation as both a saint and a sinner have made her a symbol of the everyday woman. She is real and accessible to women in a way that other biblical women are not. Her accessibility is enhanced by her image, which reflects societal attitudes about women more than her own actually identity.

This approachability is especially prominent in art of the Magdalene, in which her beauty, sexuality, and personality are a reflection of beauty norms and women’s roles at the time the art was created. In the middle of the Italian Renaissance, there began to be a large number of paintings produced that depicted a sensuous, scantily clad or nude Mary Magdalene who is in the middle of penitence or prayer. These images are a drastic shift from prior Magdalene artwork, which usually depicted her clothed and surrounded by her saintly attributes.

The painting The Penitent Magdalene painted by the Italian Domenico Tintoretto inPenitent Magdalene 1598 showcases the new image of the Magdalene. She is a beautiful young woman with flowing hair, her body nude yet covered by a cloth, praying to the heavens surrounded by religious objects. The image is spiritual and sexual at the same time. In the 1876 Mary Magdalene in the Cave by the French painter Jules Joseph Lefebvre, Mary Magdalene is completely nude with fire-red hair spread around her as she covers her face with her arm, lying in the cave where she lived out the rest of her life in penance after Christ’s death. This image  is much more blatantly sexual than Tintoretto’s with the Magdalene appearing to be rolling in some kind of religious ecstasy.

Mary Magdalene in the caveSo what can feminists take from these images, created almost entirely by males that encompass both the erotic and religious devotion? These images depict female sexuality in a time when women’s sexuality was misunderstood and repressed. Yet, in art the Magdalene is in all her nude glory, beautiful and repentant before God. For women in the past as well as today she is a model of the balance between religion and sex. In a religion that has so often been interpreted to forbid desire, Mary Magdalene is a figure that Christian women can look to for sexual empowerment. In a society that condemns women who practice and enjoy sex, the Magdalene is a savior of sorts. For women who may worry about sex or their enjoyment of sex and its consequences for their spirituality, Mary Magdalene appears as an important figure who shows that the two are not mutually exclusive. She stands as a model of a woman who is not oppressed, basking in her sensuality and incorporating religion into her passion.

Class condemnation through film: Traffic in Souls and White Prostitution Films in the early 1900s

by Emilie Egger

White slave films like Traffic in Souls (Universal 1913) were all the rage in the early traffic_in_soulsProgressive Era in the United States. White slavery (forced prostitution of immigrants) was a topic of great concern during this time and in the years before World War I, became the focus of both government and non-government moral panic. While legislators pushed laws condemning the forced prostitution of immigrant women, reform-minded groups used whatever means they could to reinforce traditional family structure, and what they considered to be “middle-class values.” Directors and theater owners also joined the hype by creating and featuring films (purportedly) designed to combat this societal ill from the cinematic front.

Nickelodeons and motion picture palaces had always attracted lower-class and immigrant audiences. The price of a Nickelodeon movie was cheap enough for an immigrant’s income and the length of the feature not so long that s/he would have to miss work. Although theaters’ incomes were largely supported by this working-class demographic, around the beginning of the twentieth century theaters began attempting to attract what they thought was a more “respectable” class, namely women who were part of wealthier families than the newly designated “blue-collar” workers.

Only upper and middle class women were considered a part of this suddenly-valuable “respectable” demographic; the lower-class women, even though they continued to frequent theaters, became the fodder for the productions rather than valued customers. In many ways, the new “respectable women” were the foils to the lower-class immigrant women portrayed in the white-slave films, who were forced into compromising positions due to their poverty and need to work.

traffic in souls 2In Traffic in Souls, working women were portrayed as being in harm’s way simply for leaving their homes. The continuation of this logic is that they should stay home instead of attending films. Lower-class women viewing Traffic in Souls and other white-slavery films saw people like them portrayed as passive victims in a cruel society. Their only hope for safety was to become more “respectable” like their wealthier counterparts.

As they endeavored to ‘clean up’ the theaters, filmmakers (and the theaters who featured their work) were focused on ‘educating’ and ‘enlightening’ those of the lower and immigrant class who came to see their work. Traffic in Souls was defended as a kind of ‘reform document,’ intended to warn immigrant women about the dangers inherent in working outside of the home, especially in an urban area. Later scholarship has been ambivalent about George Loane Tucker’s true intentions in making the film, many historians stating that his goals were more related to the huge box office numbers than actually producing an educational, moral document.

Whatever Tucker’s reason, Traffic in Souls was a sensational hit. 30,000 people saw it during its opening week in New York and white-slave films were soon being shown all over the city. As Shelley Stamp writes in Movie-Struck Girls, 15 New York theaters had “gone into slavery” by 1914, because they knew these types of films would be instant hits. They remained the hype for about a year. Even famed director Alice Guy Blache made a film as part of the white-slave hype.

Many white-slave films, including Traffic in Souls, came under intense scrutiny because oftraffic in souls 3 their subject matter. Even though Traffic in Souls was promoted as a reform document, it was considered indecent from its beginnings. On the day that it opened in New York, police raided the theater and stole the film. The police followed the film to new theaters, where they did much the same thing. While theaters that carried the film argued that, since they took a firm stand against white slavery, they were doing the ‘decent’ thing, censors said they were playing into social hysteria and promoting indecent content. Today, many scholars have decided that they exploited the sensationalism surrounding white slavery in order to make a profit.

Declaring Radical Self-Love and Authenticity: Andrea Gibson, Nicole Reynolds, and Mary Lambert in NYC

By Carly Fox

A ubiquitous name in the spoken-word movement and the first winner of the Women’s World Poetry Slam, Andrea Gibson performed at the Best Buy Theater in NYC on October 15, 2013. 2340772100_9eff0b0fa9_bSinger/Songwriters Nicole Reynolds and Mary Lambert opened for Gibson to a crowded room of more than 200 visibly queer and adoring fans. Through fearless prose, heart-wrenching honesty, and unapologetic presence, the three powerful voices interwove themes of queer politics, sexuality, gender, body image, sexual violence, and love and loss into her performance. Echoing the heart of feminism, that the personal is always political, Gibson, Reynolds, and Lambert also highlighted the fundamental importance of practicing radical self-love and authenticity as a means to reject sexism, racism, and homophobia.

Musician and poet Mary Lambert opened the show with a striking sense of honesty and emotional intensity. Lambert, who has been described in The New York Times as a “rarity”, is the powerful female voice accompanying hip-hop duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis in the gay rights and marriage equality anthem “Same Love,” which has sold over two million copies in the US alone.

Mary Lambert performs " Same Love" with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis at the 2013 VMA.

Mary Lambert performs ” Same Love” with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis at the 2013 VMA.

Lambert’s poems and songs covered a wide range of political and deeply personal territory, using her sophisticated voice to address issues of rape, self-harm, and homophobia.

Perhaps most poignant and moving was Lambert’s reading of her poem “Body Love,” in which she describes with unparalleled images and metaphors the epidemic of body shame and self-hatred among young girls and women.

Lambert’s poem begins with the line:

“I know girls who wonder if they’re disaster and sexy enough to fit in.

I know girls who are fleeing bombs from the mosques of their skin, playing Russian roulette with death. It’s never easy to accept that our bodies are fallible and flawed. But when do we draw the line? When the knife hits the skin isn’t it the same thing as purging because we’re so obsessed with death?”

Most striking about this performance was the profound honesty Lambert brought to the arena. Indeed, the crackling and bittersweet pain in her voice suggested that this was not just an abstract story for Lambert, but a deeply personal testament of overcoming self-rejection and embracing self-love.

“Love your body the way your mother loved your baby feet.” - Mary Lambert

“Love your body the way your mother loved your baby feet.” – Mary Lambert

By the end of the poem Lambert exclaims “The time has come for us to reclaim our bodies.” “Try this”, she urges the listener, “Take your hands over your bumpy love body naked. And remember the first time you touched someone with the sole purpose of learning all of them.”

Indeed Lambert’s trenchant prose are a powerful reminder to reject the lies of sexism and patriarchy.

“Love your body the way your mother loved your baby feet. And brother arm wrapping shoulders and remember this is important to our worth more than who you fuck. You are worth more than a waist line.”

In her online bio Lambert admits she is good at “two things: crying and singing.”

True to this statement, Lambert ended her set with a soft giggle and unassuming bow, telling the audience “Thanks for letting me cry at you.”

Philadelphia based singer and songwriter Nicole Reynolds, who works on organic farms raising sheep and growing her own food through the WWOOF program (Willing Workers On Organic Farms), followed Lambert with songs about her childhood, farming, the art of storytelling, and the chaotic feeling of falling in love for the first time. In an interview with the Pittsburg CityPaper, Reynolds says “I’m just honest on stage. I think for people to start opening their minds — and they’re starting to — it just takes a whole lot of people being honest.” Indeed the honesty of Reynold’s performance was striking.  Whether humorous, sad or melancholy, Reynold’s songs were filled with an uncanny sense of authenticity.

Introducing her song “Like the Ocean,” Reynold’s explained that it was about her childhood, adolescence, sexuality, being raised Catholic, and how she came through it.

The song’s opening phrases highlight much of the fear and homophobia that young queer adolescents often face.

“When I was a girl they told me in this world some things fit and some things don’t. A man and a woman, a man and a woman that’s what he wrote. This we know. A priest looked at me with his big blue eyes. He told me my love was the devil in disguise. My mother couldn’t look at me. Her eyes turned blank.”

By the end of the song, however, Reynold’s deeply moving lyrics underscore her reclaimed sense of self love and openness.

"I love who I love who I love like the ocean.” Nicole Reynolds

“I love who I love who I love like the ocean.” Nicole Reynolds

“I think what I think and I say what I see. I cut my own hair and I am who I be. I love who I love who I love like the ocean.”

 Andrea Gibson, followed Reynolds and Lambert with more provocative reflections on authenticity, love, and the need to look honestly at personal shame. Gibson’s poems addressed issues of white privilege, racism, homophobia, and recent public tragedies like the death of Tyler Clementi and the Trayvon Martin shooting.

Before reading her poem about Trayvon Martin, Gibson described the personal and collective grief his death caused, and the anger and helplessness she felt on July 13, 2013, the day George Zimmerman was found not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin.

In her poem “July 13, 2013” Gibson laments “I don’t know what makes us human more than our crimes. That just breaks my heart.”

“I am small as a kid being pushed inside a locker. Good god I want to be big. Big enough to stop editing the ugly out of my bio. To empty every bullet from the chamber of my heart to fill it with the hoodie of a boy. What poem will walk him home? What radio tower of light, what redemption will dull the blade, melt it down to mirror. Give us back to god. Unhaunt the house of the mother choosing the color of the casket.”

Other poems addressed issues deeply personal to Gibson. In “An Insider’s Guide on How to be Sick”, a poem about having Lyme disease, Gibson explores her own sense of shame and fear. “Nothing has brought up shame as much as living with Lyme disease” she explained candidly to the audience. Admitting that it had taken her over a year and a half to find the courage to perform the poem in public, Gibson credited the transgender and human rights activist Leslie Feinberg as a powerful inspiration. Feinberg, who Gibson called one of her biggest “activist heroes”, writes openly about her personal experience of having Lyme disease on her blog TransgenderWarrior.

Highlighting the vivid reality of living with a disease, in “An Insider’s Guide on How to be Sick,” Gibson explains:

“Every fever is a love note to remind you there are better things to be than cool. Fuck cool. Fuck every pair of skinny jeans. From the month your muscles started atrophying to a size two.”

Gibson ends her poem with a powerful reminder that one could choose to embrace challenges as teachers. “Everything is a lesson” she says.“Lesson number one through infinity: You will never have a greater opportunity to learn to love your enemy than when your enemy is your own red blood. Truce is a word made of velvet. Wear it everywhere you go.”

In a culture which constantly bombards young girls and women with messages of shame, self-rejection, and not-enoughness, Andrea Gibson, Nicole Reynolds, and Mary Lambert remind us to speak our own stories, and embrace ourselves and others with compassion, love, and honesty. Indeed their words stand as powerful testaments that radical self-love and unabashed honesty is perhaps one of the most profoundly political acts in which we can engage.