About revisionistslc

Seeing the past & present through the lens of multiple feminisms

Revolutionary Women of Music: Nina Simone, Poly Styrene, and Valerie Agnew

By Marian Phillips
Marian is a first year student in the Women’s History Program.

This morning on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2019, I woke up to Lizzo’s “Juice” stuck in my head. Off to a good start, I continued my morning routine while Carly Rae Jepsen, Cherry Glazerr, Rico Nasty, and Dream Wife – amongst others – shuffled and played on my Spotify playlist. As Tacocat’s “Hey Girl” came on, it hit me, why aren’t we talking more about the women that have pioneered not just music as a whole, but have used their platform as artists and musicians to promote social, political, and cultural change? Of course, there are the greats we all know, but what about Nina Simone, Poly Styrene, and Valerie Agnew? For this week’s post, I will share a portion of the activist efforts of these women.

Nina Simone, born Eunice Kathleen Waymon on February 21, 1933, was a notable African American jazz, R&B, and gospel singer and songwriter, as well as a civil rights activist. While Simone initially aspired to become a concert pianist, her desire for social and political justice led her down a different path. Gaining mainstream success from her debut album Little Girl Blue, her song “Mississippi Goddam,” inspired by the racism that plagued (and continues to plague) the United States, propelled her to the forefront of the civil rights movement. For the rest of her career, Nina Simone spoke and performed at civil rights meetings and protests. Her political activism never disappeared from her music, and her desire for justice continued up until her death in 2003. For more on Simone’s life please see autobiography I Put a Spell on You (1991).

Poly Styrene, born Marianne Joan Elliot-Said on July 3, 1957, was a British woman of color and the frontwoman of the punk band X-Ray Spex. Styrene started the band after running a local news ad that stated she was looking for “Young punx who want to stick it together.”[i] As a result, X-Ray Spex was born and so was the beginning of their critique on capitalism which would last for their entire career. Styrene questioned bondage in every aspect of the word. Whether it was sexual, social, political, capitalist, or other, she would deconstruct the entire system with her singing. As Maria Raha states in Cinderella’s Big Score (2005) “amid all the jubilant chaos, they were able to provide a solid, relevant social commentary.”[ii] Styrene continued to promote listeners to fight back until her untimely death from metastasized breast cancer on April 25, 2011. Please see Cinderella’s Big Score for more information about Poly.

Valerie Agnew, born January 13, 1969, was the drummer of the Seattle based Riot Grrrl feminist-punk band 7 Year Bitch. Agnew was a longtime friend of The Gits singer Mia Zapata. While 7 Year Bitch’s lyrics are so incredibly politically charged, it wasn’t until the rape and murder of Zapata that Agnew’s platform as a musician and as an activist came to a head. Agnew, alongside fellow feminist punks, formed the Home Alive collective in the mid-90s. The collective – still around to this day – strives to provide affordable self-defense courses for women and members of the LGBTQ community. Punk-feminists were sick of seeing the people that they cared for become victims to such violent crimes, and Agnew stood up and said that enough was enough. Since the formation of the collective, people have continued to utilize the educational tools that they have learned and that their website now provides. While Agnew is only one of the founders, she and 7 Year Bitch stick out for their unapologetically anti-patriarchy songs such as “Dead Men Don’t Rape” and “M.I.A.”

Simone, Styrene, and Agnew are only three of the hundreds of women that have used their platform to question injustices, capitalism, and the patriarchy. For the sake of time and length, I have chosen these three because of their impact on me personally. While they all reside in different genres of music, the three of these women have their determination towards social, cultural, and political activism in common. On this International Women’s Day (as well as the entirety of Women’s History Month), I encourage you all to look at women who have started a revolution through music, and how big of an impact music can have when women such as Simone, Styrene, and Agnew are at the frontlines.


[i] Maria Raha, Cinderella’s Big Score: Women of the Punk and Indie Underground, (California; Seal Press: 2005), 86.
[ii] Raha, 89.

AM I WORTHY: A CHOREOPOEM

BY VAR

Am I worthy? That is the question that I have been asking myself all my life.

Little white girls are told they are from birth and at as if,

They are put on the self worth pedestal and carry it with them.

Black women question whatever good they get

Until a catastrophic or any life changing event

Occurs and they get that Oprah “Aha” moment,

We are told “Don’t be too proud”, “Stay humble”,

“Don’t put on airs”; “Don’t show your Black Girl Magic”.

But not feeling worthy enough has been a many a detriment to many a black girl,

We stay in relationships that aren’t worthy,

Hoping he would change, praying that someday the man you see in him would show up instead,

We stay in a job that isn’t worthy,

Making less than our worth, treated unworthy,

Breaking our backs working long hours,

Hoping someone would recognize our worth,

We hang around girlfriends that aren’t worthy of our time,

Friends that see our worth but are too jealous to tell us,

Or they don’t value their own self worth,

So we sit around and talking about how unworthy we all are, how unworthy we are to leave that man, that job or them girlfriends,

In Webster’s Dictionary unworthy has a black woman’s picture next to it.   

 

About our guest writer: Hailing from the Boogie Down Bronx, Velvet A. Ross is a graduate student in Women’s History and Writer, Filmmaker, Actress and Singer. She is dedicated to writing historically and producing creative pieces about black women who have been marginalized and hidden in the arts. 

The People Have A Lot of Fight Left in Them

by Emma Hochfelder — Emma is a first-year undergraduate student interested in public policy or pre-law.

When the results flooded in on the evening of November 8th I was surrounded by like-minded people who felt assured by the idea that that night, the first woman President of the United States of America would be elected into office. As polls began closing state-by-state and region-by-region, a shadow cast itself upon the nation. In a room filled with a diverse array of people from different backgrounds, ethnicities, nationalities, immigrant statuses, religious beliefs, and gender and sexual identities, I watched each person hit their breaking point. It wasn’t that our candidate lost but, instead, who prevailed. Donald J. Trump became President-Elect of the United States of America. In that moment, I was certain all of the good in humanity had died.

It has been a long, strenuous three months. At college I am surrounded virtually only by people who recognize and combat the hate-mongering tactics of Trump; however, in those three months I also returned home. I’m from a rural community in the heart of the Midwest, suffice it to say, filled with people who turned out in big numbers to vote for Trump. Finding out people that I knew and cared for so deeply could cast their ballot for someone like Trump, I felt betrayed. It isn’t that they all agreed with the then-candidate’s remarks about Muslims, immigrants, or women, but with their vote they condoned it. In those three months I felt a range of emotions and none more surreal than when I stepped foot into Washington, D.C., on January 21st.

On Saturday morning, I woke to headlines of women’s marches already taking place world-wide. I don’t know if anyone at that time could have predicted the magnitude of that day. I rode the school-sponsored bus from New York to Washington, and on our way there I started to pay attention to increasing levels of charter buses I saw whizzing by us. In a ten-minute span I saw at least twelve charter buses, filled to capacity, pass on the highway. I started to recognize it then: whatever was happening today was bigger than a normal rally or protest. The bus traveled the 4.5 hour drive. When we arrived the bus parked at the metro station. We had to take the train to actually get to the location of the march and then travel by foot. Once we arrived at the metro station the line of people to get aboard the train equaled an hour’s worth of waiting. It felt so comforting to know that I was surrounded by like-minded people in a country that felt so hopeless. The time went by quickly. Each train car was filled to the brim, zooming into the heart of the march. After an hour-and-a-half train ride, the doors opened to the metro station caddy corner from the Capitol Building.

My group rushed to street. We began walking over a hill. At that point I couldn’t quite see above the crowd, but I began hearing sounds of disbelief and amazement from those around me. When I got into the intersection, I looked to my left and saw the nation’s Capitol Building, and straight in front of me were hundreds of thousands of people. It was the first time in nearly three months that I could feel myself regain that hope in humanity that I lost in November. There was still something worth fighting for because everyone there and across the nation had a lot of fight left in them.

I didn’t arrive in time to partake in the rally, in fact, I arrived just as the march was officially canceled. That didn’t stop me or the nearly half a million other people who came. Participants seemed to come with different goals despite the fact that many marchers embraced and emphasized the rights a woman has over her own body. We were all unified in the fact that the tactics being used by the new administration were unacceptable and inexcusable. To march in the nation’s capital surrounded by people who seemed to care so deeply about the rights of themselves and other human beings was an experience I will always remember. The entire city was flooded with bodies who refused to accept the racist, xenophobic, homophobic, Islamophobic, misogynistic, and bigoted dialogue of President Trump. The time for civil unrest concerning the election and the culture that surrounded it surmounted in that march. In a march filled with a diverse array of people from different backgrounds, ethnicities, nationalities, immigrant statuses, religious affiliations, gender and sexual identities I saw each person gain back their strength. In those moments I again found my faith in humanity, because despite it all, I vehemently believe love will trump hate.

(Emma’s response is the second of those we are posting about the Women’s March on Washington and Sister Marches. Each response should only be interpreted as the response of the writer and not necessarily that of the SLC Women’s History Program, all feminists, all women, all people, etc. Re/Visionist aims to be a forum for multiple feminisms and multiple perspectives on women’s history.)

The Invisible and the Women’s March

by Vanessa Osuna — Graduate Student of Women’s History

A few weeks ago, thousands of people journeyed to Washington, D.C., to march for unity and solidarity for women’s rights and the rights of the marginalized. Since the Women’s March, the media has highlighted the possibility that D.C.’s march and the other U.S. “Sister Marches” collectively were the most well-attended protest in this country’s history. Marches all around the world resulted in more than 5 million people demonstrating on January 21, 2017. On the morning of the march, as the Sarah Lawrence bus drove away from campus, I wondered how big the crowd would be and the kinds of signs people would take. I thought of the positive messages and the clever tag lines I would read on marchers’ signs, but I didn’t think about what people would do with them after the march. Would people just throw them away? The Women’s March website provided many logistical details, including information regarding bathroom stations and medical tents, but the website did not provide information on trash disposal. It quite honestly never crossed my mind, that is, until I got to the march and I needed to throw something away.

In the aftermath of the march, popular media sites, like conservative site The Daily Wire*, were quick to show the discarded hills of trash at the Women’s March. They were referring to signs that marchers left near the Trump Hotel, the White House, and Columbia Square, to name a few covered in the media below. Popular Twitter profile @TheGOPReport tweeted a picture of a street where signs covered the sidewalk with the caption, “The mess many women left after the #WomensMarch I guess the environment or personal responsibility isn’t something they’re concerned about.” Meanwhile other sites, like Popsugar for example, called it “a temporary museum exhibit.” New York Magazine called marchers’ signs “important works of protest art.” In fact, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History tweeted the day after the march that its “political history curatorial team was out on the National Mall on both Friday and Saturday,” gathering signs. The New York Historical Society, along with other libraries and museums across the U.S., also gathered items from the Women’s March. Media coverage focused on protester signs as trash, but what about other trash? What about the garbage and waste that consists of food wrappers, dirty diapers, and empty bottles?

The National Park Service (NPS) began clean up shortly after the march. A local news report captured what NPS spokesman Mike Litterest had to say, “Our crews reported that while the trash was overflowing, the trash was at the cans,” claiming that, “participants and visitors to the Mall had been very respectful of trying to keep it clean.” Additionally, according to another station, NPS spokeswoman Emily Linroth said, “Fortunately, a lot of people, even though, the trash cans were full, have stacked the trash neatly as close to the trash cans as they could get them, so that is making our job easier.” For the clean-up crew, it wasn’t a question of the type of trash that resulted from the Women’s March, rather a question of the quantity and location of the trash. How does this play into the question of “personal responsibility,” as @TheGOPReport called it?

This gnawed at my thoughts as I remembered seeing those mountains of garbage overflowing from their bins. According to NPS, the garbage wasn’t so bad because even though bins were overflowing, the garbage was still next to or near the bin. I certainly witnessed some marchers discarding their garbage randomly on the march route, but for the most part, I saw marchers throw their trash away onto the overflowing mountain of garbage at a bin. Putting aside the question of protecting the environment, what is the personal responsibility to which @TheGOPReport is referring? NPS indicates that the majority of marchers threw their garbage away, which they called “respectful.” Does that count as personal responsibility?

Anthropologist Robin Nagle wrote a book called Picking Up: On the Streets and Behind the Trucks with the Sanitation Workers of New York City. Nagle dove into the world of society’s invisible workers in uniforms, whom she calls “garbage faeries.” Sanitation workers are the people who take your garbage away after you set it curbside the night before pick-up day. They are the people who make garbage disappear. Nagle didn’t just write about sanitation workers, she became one; hers is a particularly interesting perspective. In 2013, Nagle gave a TED Talk about her experience, and she encouraged us all to keep in mind that “in the flow of your days, in the flow of your lives, next time you see someone whose job is to clean up after you, take a moment to acknowledge them,” she says, “take a moment to say ‘thank you.’”

 

The Women’s March highlighted the issues about which people care and for which they are willing to advocate. Since then, the passion to fight for our rights has been ever heightened. The question of personal responsibility cannot be easily answered, but perhaps next time, the march/protest leaders can suggest we bring our own trash bags? Critics will call out the hypocrisy of fighting to make the invisible visible without thinking of those that clean up after us. This is why I urge us to see them right now. I invite you to think about what personal responsibility means to you in the context of waste and in the context of advocacy. I invite you to critique the critic and challenge their claims respectfully. Most importantly, I invite you to do your research to think beyond what we see so that we may engage the invisible.

 

*The Daily Wire is listed among other sources with “bias” in Professor Melissa Zimdars’ index on questionable news sources. We came across this index via the Los Angeles Times.

Quotes found within outside sources (here, local news stations WUSA and WTOP) are written in double quotes for readability.

(Vanessa’s response is the first of those we are posting about the Women’s March on Washington and Sister Marches. Each response should only be interpreted as the response of the writer and not necessarily that of the SLC Women’s History Program, all feminists, all women, all people, etc. Re/Visionist aims to be a forum for multiple feminisms and multiple perspectives on women’s history.)

Write for Re/Visionist!

It’s the spring semester, and it’s time to get out your calendar again to set your second semester agenda! Re/Visionist is calling for students to get involved in the production of the Women’s History Program’s blog.

Both graduate and undergraduate students of all disciplines are encouraged to participate. As our mission statement says, the blog “aims to promote a critical analysis of history and contemporary issues through the lens of multiple feminisms.” We need your voices to bring a variety of perspectives to the publication!

Please join us to share your ideas and declare your interest in Re/Visionist by attending our upcoming meeting:

Thursday, January 26, 2017

5:30PM – 6:30PM

Slonim House – Stone Room

If you have questions, please email revisionist [at] gm [dot] slc [dot] edu. Thanks!

A Mid-Semester Check-In

By Vanessa Osuna

How do you conduct research? More to the point, how do you feel while doing research? Is the mere idea of conducting research as daunting as cleaning out your fridge, or do you find it as exciting as finding $10 in your pocket? Perhaps you’re somewhere in between. As students, we rely heavily on the research process. As women’s history graduate students, we are (re)discovering and reconfiguring the research process to fit how we work and the research subject.

What’s the research motto? Caffeine will get you through it! Just kidding. Kind of.

One thing rings true when it comes to research: it takes many different forms and requires different levels of energy. To simplify the research process (I know what you’re thinking, how can this be done?), I’m going to split research into two categories, search and analysis. Both categories consist of a long list of must-haves and must-dos, but I won’t list them here. Simplification is as important as complexity. Personally, I love searching. I love typing keywords or phrases into Google or the library database to see what comes up, what I find. The difficult part for me is not necessarily finding material but knowing what to do with it. What about you?

I realize as I write this that it’s not a very informative piece on research, but that’s okay. Let’s consider this a mid-semester check-in. Let me provide a reminder that the research process can be outlined and listed, but at its core, it’s an individual process for all of us. It’s okay to feel any way you do, so long as you don’t let it stop you from completing your work. Also, it’s a necessary process so you might as well embrace it or only just acknowledge that it is necessary. That’s okay too. Remember that there are loads of resources to help with the searching part. Now that we’re transitioning to actually doing something with what we’ve found, the analysis part, know that you’re not alone in that either. The writing process is a whole other conversation, but I will say that a well-researched subject basically writes itself.

We’ve heard it many times before, research is a solitary process, even a lonely one. Though, I’m not so sure. I’m here anyway, and so are my cohort-mates. After all, it may be nice to grab a cup of coffee (or tea) with those $10 you found in your pocket, and it may be that much better with some company.

First: A Visual Story

John Walker is a Sarah Lawrence graduate who really likes the internet a lot.

When I heard that this month’s theme was “Firsts,” my mind immediately jumped to this image.
Ah yes, the first staged moon landing. JK, that’s Neil Armstrong, the first person on the moon.
Speaking of men on the moon, here’s Britney Spears winning her first “moonman” at the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards.
Is this also the first televised breast self-exam?  Britney Spears, always the trailblazer.
(As an aside, did someone tell BritBrit about Re/Visionist’s “Firsts” theme? She’s schilling for us pretty hard: “I first wanna thank God, first and firrmost firr…
Speaking of award show firsts, my mind also kept returning to Halle Berry’s historic 2002 Oscar win.  As the first black woman to win the Academy Award for best actress, Berry’s acceptance speech is SO moving; you can really see her trying to process being the first black woman to win the award.
Almost enough to make you forget about Catwoman.
JK, Halle, you know I love you.  Catwoman never happened.
Moving away from these significant, cultural firsts (and also Britney Spears), there are also those more personal firsts that we all experience at some time or another.
There is of course your first time.
Or perhaps more powerful, or at least more scarring, there is also your first sexual humiliation.
“That’s the ticket!” says Jason Biggs.
I think we can all, unfortunately, agree.
Some firsts, like the above, you might forget on purpose. (Support your local therapists – Repress! Repress! Repress!)  Other firsts may be forgotten simply because they occur before you develop consciousness, like your first word.
Apparently Maggie Simpson had already developed a sense of style, however.  BOW LOOKS GOOD, BB!
Soon, you grow up, stop being such a little freeloader, and get your first job.  Hopefully, this first is a little more Almost Famous
…and a little less A Little Princess.
(Side note: Doesn’t Sara Crewe look positively witchy in the above shot?  I’d drink of that sister! The Craft reference, FTW!)
And of course, you can’t forget about your first kiss.
Ah, if only mine could’ve been this precious.  And not in a basement.  Also, I wish someone had taught me how to properly French kiss.  TMI?  Whatever, I feel like we’ve grown close over the course of this visual essay.
Kiss Kiss.