Hispanic Heritage and Making America Great

By Madison Filzer

Madison is a second year Master’s Candidate in the Women’s and Gender History program at Sarah Lawrence College. Her research interests include Civil Rights activism in Cleveland, Ohio and Black women’s activism in the United States.

Let me take you back to 1942, only a few years after the Great Depression, in the midst of World War II. In many ways, the United States was struggling on the homefront. With no one to work the jobs that were too low paying to sustain the American dream, there was no way to meet the demands of consumers. In a quick fix to the lack of able-bodied laborers here in the states, millions of migrant workers from Mexico were welcomed with open arms to ensure that our agriculture industry continued despite feeling the effects of war. At that moment, the Bracero Program was born. Bracero in this context, which literally translates to “laborer” in Spanish, meant one who works with their hands.

On August 4, 1942, the United States entered into the Mexican Farm Labor Agreement in order to sustain the large farm industry in the United States. Over the course of twenty-two years, it’s estimated that over two million Mexican immigrants signed contracts to work on American farms and railroads on a temporary basis for wages lower than Americans not fighting in the war were willing to work for. This program was later enacted into law as an amendment to the Migrant Labor Agreement of 1951. The extension of this agreement repeatedly brought Mexican workers back to the states to work in return for housing, low wages, and “humane treatment.” 

As one could imagine, the housing was poor, the job came with risks, and the workers were not treated humanely. But that isn’t why I wrote this piece … I want to talk about the immigration rhetoric we currently hear from the most recent occupant of the White House. The fact of the matter is that at one point, we were welcoming Latinx immigrants to the United States because we were in need of help. Now, only four decades later, there are people advocating for a wall separating the U.S. from Mexico. By ignoring this history, we allow a false narrative of the “bad hombre” to be perpetuated. 

Yes, this was a bilateral deal that was beneficial to both parties in some way, but the logic that follows this history is the notion that there are jobs in America that Americans simply won’t do. We outsourced laborers to fill our needs and we still do. Imagine if every immigrant worker left right now … do we have enough people left to sustain the economy? I don’t know but I don’t think we want to find out. 

In case you didn’t know, September 15th through October 15th is National Hispanic Heritage Month, and I feel compelled to write this in honor of LatinX immigrant history. When I first heard of the Bracero Program a quick Google search returned few results. I feel like if more people knew about the program,  they would have the same questions about immigration that I have. How can we turn our backs on people in search of opportunity when that’s what brought European immigrants here? How would we sustain life as we know it in the United States without people willing to do the hard labor that others shy away from? I might not have the answers to any of the above questions, but as an aspiring historian who has ample access to historical resources, I felt obligated to share information that I believe has the power to change the way people look at immigration. 

Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby

By Hannah McCandless

Hannah is a second year graduate student in the Women’s History Program at Sarah Lawrence College. Hannah is writing her thesis on Matilda Hamilton Fee and women in higher education administration in the south during the 19th century. 

When first introduced to Women’s Studies in college, I initially gravitated toward studying the educational discrepancies I noticed in my high school regarding sex education. Growing up in a relatively small town in the Bible Belt south, I can assure you, there were several. I look back at the startled young woman, realizing for the first time, that her Physical Education and Health classes were nothing more than half facts and shame tactics, and I’m thankful that my college professors were encouraging that I explore that missing part of my education more. In this post, I’ll be looking at state sex education laws, the heteronormativity of the curriculum, and some long term effects of skewed facts and questions left unanswered. 

In my freshmen year college dorm room, I found myself talking with my peers about our experiences with sex education. Students from northern states quickly realized that their experiences were vastly different from those of southern states. Those of us from Kentucky thought we might have similar experiences if we went to public schools, but we found that was not the case. According to federal law, states are allowed to determine their sex education curriculum. Broadly, states’ choices range from one of three mandate options: “sex education,” “HIV education,” and “sex education and HIV education.” Within that’s collection of options, states are allowed to push abstinence only education.  Looking at the map below, you can see which states ascribe to which educational theory. Notice a pattern? 

https://infographic.statista.com/normal/chartoftheday_18825_state_laws_sex_ed_in_the_us_n.jpg

Yep, that’s right, a lot of southern states coming in strong on that abstinence only curriculum. Digging even deeper, we find that several states, Kentucky included, allow for each county or school district to decide the sex education curriculum. In some states, the Superintendent of a school district can decide what the curriculum will include. In others, site based councils (which often include parent membership) decide what is taught. That kind of power in the hands of few, with varying agendas, leads to inconsistencies in educational outcomes. 

As you may have noticed earlier, when I listed the main types of routes for sex education curriculum, they are all based to some degree in the assumption that sex happens between a cisgender male and cisgender female. The phrasing of abstinence only and other aspects of sex education are extremely heteronormative. That is to say that, in most teacher’s curriculum, straight and monogamous relationships are set as the norm. With that comes strong and harmful gender norms that pigeonhole young people. One study even found that the curriculum taught in several schools, because it plugs heteronormative relationships so strongly, promoted homophobia. 

When we look at the sex education system in the US, there are several long term effects. Mentioned above, one ends up being a complete intolerance for people in relationships that are non heteronormative. Another is a higher rate of teen pregnancy and STIs in states that lack more comprehensive and medically accurate sex education. Another is a friend from college not knowing that the urethra and vagina are two different holes. The system is flawed and it leads to unhealthy relationships with others and our own bodies. If you get nothing else from this piece, look at this website to see what your state says about sex education. If you can reach out to your local school board and ask what the curriculum is and find out if it is medically accurate. Work with parents and site boards to create more inclusive and comprehensive sex education. 

Sources: 

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1363460713497216?journalCode=sexa

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.statista.com/chart/amp/18825/state-laws-sex-ed-in-the-us/

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.statista.com/chart/amp/18825/state-laws-sex-ed-in-the-us/

https://siecus.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/SIECUS-SP-FY17-State-Law-and-Policy-Chart.pdf

Being Gay for Halloween

Written by Sidney Wegener

Sidney is a first year MA candidate studying Women’s and Gender History at Sarah Lawrence College. Their academic interests include lesbianism and lesbian history in American from the 1920’s to the 1930’s. They are currently pursuing many different avenues for research in U.S. history pertaining to women’s and queer studies and looking forward to working on a thesis related to the linguistic and social evolution of female sexuality.

Halloween, 2014, I was a senior in high school. At this point in time, I was already out of the closet; not necessarily by choice, but rather because some kid named Alex stole my phone in AP Environmental Science at the end of my sophomore year and read my text messages with my girlfriend at the time. He spread the news to just about everyone and by the end of the day the entireschool knew: I was a lesbian. My first high school did not find this amusing; my teachers found it intolerable, my coaches found it unathletic, and my “friends” found it shameful. Thankfully, I was able to transfer to a different high school a few towns over, and at this one, it seemed okay to be gay. I brought my girlfriend to homecoming, prom, and one of my basketball teammates, Sarah, was also a lesbian. I was no longer trapped in a nightmare of an institution, populated by a tiny town known for generation after generation settling back down in the same community. Everybody’s grandparents knew everybody’s grandparents, and everybody’s business was everybody’s entertainment. So by the time I was a senior at my second high school, I remember thinking to myself, “wow, this is what it’s like to be free, to be myself”. Looking back now, I laugh at how I felt so freely lesbian that I made myself into a costume. 

In 2014, Halloween was the Friday of Homecoming week. So, naturally, the students, teachers, and administration all wore their costumes for the last spirit day. Sarah and I coordinated our costumes. We both wore lab coats with large name tags reading: “Scientist for Straight Girls Wanting to Experiment”. Walking around campus, I remember thinking to myself how many of my female identified classmates were sporting costumes which seemed, to me at least, pretty sexy for walking from class to class. My second high school was a lot more lenient on the rules, and it showed during spirit week. However, that did not stop an administrative member from intervening in my stroll to chemistry. Despite my lab coat attire being quite fitting for a science class in which we wore protective eye gear, my name tag was inappropriate. When I met up with Sarah before basketball practice, she had also changed her costume and by the end of the day we were both just regular scientists. 

Now, I contemplate what it means to wear a “costume” and where the boundaries lie in terms of what is “appropriate.” I mean, how is it that Kaylee got to walk around in a see through Tinkerbell costume, and my pun on my own sexuality was “distracting”? If it was not a school spirit day designated for wearing a costume I wouldn’t have even been breaking the dress code. In a holiday themed effort to express myself, part of me realized that being gay was not something I could wear, unless it went without being said. Apparently, I was “promoting” homosexuality. Kaylee’s costume didn’t have a label on it reading “sexy, hyper-feminized Disney character”, whereas my costume’s meaning rested solely on a nametag, categorizing what kind of “scientist” I intended to be perceived as. Furthermore, Kaylee was not a Tinkerbell-identified human, while I was (and still am) a raging lesbian. So what is the difference for a high school, that allows everyone to wear costumes, between my “Scientist for Straight Girls Wanting to Experiment” lab coat and Kaylee’s “sexy seventeen year old girl take on Tinkerbell” costume? From where I stand today, it seems that dressing in a sexy costume as a seventeen year old girl in high school is okay, so long as it silently complies to a straight, male gaze. A lab coat, jeans, and a t-shirt are also fine-  until you label the outfit as a costume. Well, a lesbian costume.

Architects of Horror: Alice Guy-Blaché, Ida Lupino and Paula Maxa

Written by Marian Phillips

Marian Phillips is a second year Master’s candidate at Sarah Lawrence College studying Women’s and Gender History.

When I was thinking about what I was going to write about during the month of October, I considered everything I knew about women and feminism mixed with the horrific, absurd, and surreal. I thought about women I have written about previously (Diablo Cody, Karyn Kusama, and Millicent Patrick), flipped through my horror anthologies, and then I asked myself, “What about the women architects that helped build the genre?” I was drawn to three of my personal favorites that worked with and made space for women in the genre: Paula Maxa, Ida Lupino, and Alice Guy-Blaché. Sadly, they are not alive today, but their impact on the 19th and 20th century has deeply influenced contemporary horror films and literature, making it what it is today. 

In 1896, a 23-year-old Alice Guy-Blaché was recognized as the first woman director in history. While her films are not always considered outright horrific for an early 19th century audience, 21st century audiences consider them disturbing. Over the course of her career, Guy-Blaché directed approximately 1,000 films. One of these works includes the first woman directed film adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum in 1913. Guy-Blaché is no stranger to firsts. As such a prolific figure in film and horror, she has influenced some of the greats, including Alfred Hitchcock ad Sergei Eisenstein. She has received countless awards posthumously and was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame in 2013. 

Alice Guy-Blaché

London, England born director, Ida Lupino was one of the only women directors in Hollywood, California during the 1950s. In 1953, she became known as one of the queens of B-movies with her film The Hitchhiker. The psychological horror film was the first done by a woman director. She showed her audiences that jump-scares weren’t necessary to incite fear; it could be achieved through the slow process of building psychological tension and emotion. Her most noteworthy achievement – besides this remarkable first – was her episode of The Twilight Zone titled “The Masks.” Lupino is the only woman that directed episodes for the iconic horror and sci-fi series. Undoubtedly, she paved the way for many more women to take on directorial positions in the genre. 

4/23/1943- Ida Lupino in surrealist portrait.

Unlike Guy-Blaché and Lupino, the most assassinated woman in history, Paula Maxa performed in horror productions. Having been murdered on stage over 10,000 times, historians note her as the original “scream queen.” She performed at the gore specialized French theatre, Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol, from 1917 to the 1930s. Every night she was on stage, Maxa was either steamrolled, stabbed, disemboweled, slashed, or some other form of murderous activity. These performances had no deep meaning or critique on society, culture, or politics, but Maxa and her ability to die a unique death every night constructed the most utilized character in horror, the scream queen.

These women may have never been in direct contact with one another, or even enjoyed the media that each of them produced, but they built the pathways for each other and for future women in the horror genre. Guy-Blaché crafted film after film to incite fear and wonder from her audiences that ultimately influenced some of the greatest minds in the genre. Lupino showed the world that women could direct horror just as good as men, if not better. Maxa died 10,000 times so Janet Leigh (today’s most famous scream queen) could scream when Norman Bates peeled back the shower curtain. Their influence is long lasting and their presence in the field paved the way for more great women of horror, such as Shirley Jackson, Karyn Kusama, Leigh Janiak, Millicent Patrick, Jamie Lee Curtis (daughter of Janet Leigh), and countless others. 

Republican Motherhood and Women’s Emerging Roles in the Classroom

By Hannah McCandless
Hannah is a second year graduate student in the Women’s and Gender History Program at Sarah Lawrence College. She is writing her thesis on Matilda Hamilton Fee, a 19th century woman administrator at Berea College. Hannah is also an editor for the Re/Visionist. 

The first time I had a male teacher was for my 7th grade math class. To be completely honest, it was startling and I was not a fan of his teaching style. Less about the work and more about the rules, Mr. Whatshisface (I cannot remember his name for the life of me) made the class unbearable and unenjoyable. I’m sure some of it had to do with his unusual military approach to teaching. Despite the fact that every other non-male teacher in the building seemed to have the attention and respect of their students with little to no major disciplinary action, Mr. Whatshisface was unable to attain either. For me, it solidified in my 7th grade mind that women were naturally better teachers than men. Imagine my surprise when high school rolled around and nearly one third of the teachers were men. 

I didn’t notice at the time (though it seems apparent now) that when children were young, they were predominantly taught by female teachers. Alternatively, when children aged, they were taught more and more by male teachers. Why? I’m sure you noticed it, too. It becomes even more prominent in college when male professors begin to be about equal or greater than the number of female professors. 

There are a lot of reasons why people theorize that women and men teach different age groups. Most of these theories are based in sexism, such as ‘women are a moral center for the family, and therefore make a good teacher for young children.’ (Total BS – “moral” is relative and non-women have every ability to be that ‘moral’ compass.) Another focuses on women being ‘nurturers’ and thus being better suited to teach young children. (Since when can men not be nurturing?) And then when you’re ready for your kid to be thrown into the real world, have them be taught by a man who will be ‘harsh and realistic.’ 

Whatever merit these ideas do or don’t hold, none of them look at where traditional forms of education (i.s. Reading, writing, math) got started. When colonists first began invading the Americas and settling, education was not a major priority unless you were a Puritan (they sure loved reading the Bible). Most people were just working to survive. Once communities had existed for more time, families that had more wealth began teaching their children at home. Who was the primary teacher for those children, you may ask? The head of the house: good ole dad. Culturally, since the man was the head of the household, it was believed that they should be responsible for the moral, social, and intellectual upbringing of their children, both boys and girls. This was all taking place in the early 18th century before the United States was born. 

Though living conditions were better and life got somewhat easier, it became clear pretty quickly that the education of young children took a great deal of time. So gradually, the duties of educating young children in these well to do homes was handed down (yes, that choice of wording was intentional) to the mothers. No worries, though, because now we are entering the cultural phenomenon of “Republican Motherhood.” 

Republican Motherhood was the idea that mothers were now responsible for the upbringing of a new and virtuous nation via raising children who would emulate republican ideologies in order to support that new nation. Republicanism during this time period versus now are very different ideas, so take note that “Republican Motherhood” had the intention of raising children who would engage in democracy and work to support the country. Because of this, several educational institutions were opened up in the 1790s in order to educate women, so they might better educate their own children. 

Fast forward to the mid-nineteenth century. Public education is becoming more common and available to most white children. As long as you lived near enough people to have a school and you were white, there was a good chance that a school might open up near you. Now, the debates about coeducation and class separation are thought provoking and worth taking a look at, but what we are here to focus on is how women were relegated to certain types of teaching roles. Women were often hired as teachers for children for both single sex and coeducational classrooms. The predominantly male administrators seemed to have no problem with this. But when women began applying for jobs to teach young men, there were serious doubts. This debate about women teaching young men would eventually lead to women being almost completely isolated from jobs teaching boys in adolescence. 

The pattern of women being isolated to teaching younger students began long before I entered the 7th grade. As our culture has shifted to value education less and college / job training more, women have become ever more present in the K – 12 educational world. Our culture suggests that the most important learning comes after we finish grade school and thus women in those roles are degraded, underpaid, and overworked. It’s difficult to sum up the issues of our educational system in a quick 1,000 words, but hopefully this gives some perspective. Nothing ever just happens by accident. Women being undervalued as teachers has a starting point. 


Bibliography

Tyack, David B. and  Elisabeth Hansot. Learning Together: A History of Coeducation in American Schools. Yale University Press: 1990. 

 

Theory Boys

By Kathleen Quaintance
Kathleen is a senior at Sarah Lawrence College who has just returned from the Oxford Program.

When I speak disdainfully of a ‘theory boy,’ if you are somewhat (even reluctantly) involved in the world of academia, you’ll know who I’m talking about. He’s an archetype that’s all too familiar in an academic setting. He spends a lot of time speaking — perhaps he just likes the sound of his own voice? — and he is preoccupied with performing what he thinks is intellectual behavior. He speaks authoritatively and confidently, and is often less than diplomatic —  attributes which women are taught, consciously and unconsciously, to suppress. ‘Oh, you’re reading that?’ he gestures at your book, rolling his eyes under his beanie and returning to his copy of Being and Nothingness before you have a chance to defend yourself. I am not the only one who has attempted to classify him – the feminist literature professor Toril Moi was perhaps the first to officially coin the term ‘Theory Boy,’ back in 2003. 

Her analysis is observational and rooted in her own experience (a breed of analysis in which the Theory Boy is inept), and describes what she has observed as a professor to graduate students. Many of her female students expressed to her that, in the classroom with the Theory Boy, they felt as if “…they are not listened to, that they are not taken seriously, and that they get the impression that their perceptions of the matter at hand are of no interest to anyone else.” (1) If you or your loved ones happen to be caught in the theory boy’s audience, you may feel this way. You could suffer from a nasty case of Imposter Syndrome. Unfortunately there’s no class-action lawsuit we can take against the Theory Boy. Indeed – the theory boy is not a monolithic breed of problematic man, he is a symptom of a larger issue. His actions replicate what Toril Moi defines as “a particularly clichéd ideology in which theory and abstract thought are thought to belong to men and masculinity, and women are imagined to be the bearers of emotional, personal, practical concerns.” (2) 

Sixteen years later, Moi’s description still seems eerily familiar. In the seminar setting, women are often confronted with feeling as if their contributions are overlooked in favour of those who speak with the kind of conviction that does not allow for another perspective. When Moi confronted the theory boys in her own graduate seminar, she found that they were shocked to hear that they were being inadvertently sexist. Unacceptable as their actions may be, they were simply speaking to a Western masculine tradition of strong monologic rhetoric, one that they had been stewing in since birth.

In the seminar room, you bring up a good point, but grow weary when you believe no one has heard you, for they were all squirming in their seats trying to think of the clever point they were going to raise themselves. Theory Boy to the rescue: he repeats your exact point to a lively response from the group. Later, you bring up another brief point, being very careful to keep it precise and succinct: you’ve even written down verbatim what you want to say in the margins of your notes. You’re afraid that if you spend too long speaking, someone is bound to interrupt you. To your relief, you’re able to finish speaking, but as soon as you’re done, the Theory Boy swoops in again with the infamous words, ‘Piggybacking on that point…’, and spends the next five minutes pretending your ideas are his. 

Annoying as he may be, the theory boy is not the root of the problem, he is the symptom: the problem is a broader pedagogical tradition of the intensely individual “genius.” It’s a regurgitation of a white male canon. The proclamations of the men in this canon are what have taught the Theory Boy to postulate as endlessly as he does. He co-opts other people’s points (often women’s), because he has learned that he must have his own bafflingly academic monologue in order to be considered a valid intellectual individual – individual being the key word here. He wants to establish himself and his thought and has little time for real dialogic conversation. He holds court in the classroom, monologuing like a Shakespeare character with a vocabulary consisting only of academic theory terms, without the courtesy of asking everyone else if he can borrow their ears.

He does this because he strives for symbolic capital, and thus it seems that symbolic capital is awarded to those who speak in abstractions, and taken from those who bring up  observational analysis, rooted in lived experience. It is no wonder that these two categories have traditionally been assigned a gender: past philosophies have implicated that the abstract theory of the “masculine” mind trumps the truths of “feminine” embodiment. Perhaps this is why, when discussing an issue in an academic setting, people who abstractly theory-babble are somehow lauded as more intellectual than those who share their real-life experience with the issue at hand. The theory boy has learned what will gain him heaps of symbolic capital, so he performs a role to ensure he continues to roll around in it. Maybe you are ignoring the theory boy and thinking about what the next clever thing you’re going to say – this might actually make you theory-boy-adjacent, because his hallmarks are a flaunted academic prowess coupled with poor listening skills. 

This is why theory boys are not always male: they are simply people who have learned a way to glean this symbolic capital and have become addicted to multiplying it, in a perverted sort of academic greed. But it is unsurprising that theory boys tend to be men, because they are socialised to engage in this kind of behavior. Boys coached in childhood that they must always win, particularly those with white privilege which has indicated to them that they are destined to always win, may very well grow up to be academics obsessed with this kind of word-regurgitation.

Theory boys are not destined to be rooted in this role forever, but there has yet to be any remotely hegemonic suggestion that he would be better off listening, contemplating, or considering; as opposed to his monologic routine. Theory boys reproduce theory boys in a vicious cycle: in undergrad, theory boys read theory boys; eventually become mentored by them, and in later in their academic careers, they cite each other, sit on panels together, and score tenure alongside people who talk just like them. This relation, according to feminist theorist Sara Ahmed, is “…often paternal: the father brings up the son who will eventually take his place. Patriarchy: it’s quite a system. It works.”  (3) 

There is, however, a potential antidote to the negative symptoms of the theory boy. It’s by no means a quick fix, rather, it would require a complete overhaul of how we are taught to intellectualise in the Western male tradition (unlikely), but just learning about it just might relieve you slightly. Eve Sedgwick dissects a particularly helpful dichotomy in her essay, ‘Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading, or, You’re So Paranoid, You Probably Think This Essay Is About You.’ According to Sedgwick, critical theory has often relied on what Ricoeur called a ‘hermeneutics of suspicion.’ This just means that theorists are concerned with being right by defining the way things are without any wiggle room, squashing all potential counterpoints. Think of Freud insisting that his theories create a framework for the operation of pretty much all social relations – that’s a hermeneutics of suspicion. These theory boys, trying to replicate their theory boy forefathers, seek universality and totality in their definitions. Sedgwick calls this ‘strong’ theory, but ironically it’s not actually strong: it doesn’t leave room for the contingencies that academic analysis should value. 

The opposite of this (and, maybe, our solution) is weak theory, which I prefer to call ‘soft’ theory, because it can be powerful. Weak theories can be described as ‘situated knowledges,’ in that they preserve nuance, which would otherwise be trampled and crushed by strong theory. Strong theory tries to be universal, but weak theory realizes that is an impossibility and instead focuses on local observations rather than all-encompassing proclamations. Strong theory seems to be much easier: it’s easier to strongly argue for the subjugation of bodies under matrices of power than it is to propose alternative solutions – yet the theory boy thinks he’s quite clever for bringing up Foucault for the hundredth time. If soft theory were valued, the woman who describes her lived experience in relation to a topic would not be scoffed at by the man who only speaks in abstractions. 

Soft theory is a creative feminist reimagining of what our theoretical conversations could be, if we committed ourselves to opening up the dichotomies that silently control our seminar rooms. It isn’t about diplomacy or trying to avoid hurt feelings, it is a way to find bits of colour in problems that are often considered black and white. Next time you’re in a seminar with a theory boy that won’t shut up, remind yourself that you’ve got the upper hand when it comes to nuance and creative analysis, and you don’t have to lean on a paranoid hermeneutics of suspicion to articulate your thoughts.


End Notes

  1. Moi, Toril. ‘Discussion or Aggression? Arrogance and Despair in Graduate School’, in The Grind: The Duke Graduate Student Newsletter, vol. 4 issue 1, Fall 2003. 
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ahmed, Sara (2014) ‘White Men’ Feminist Killjoy Blog http://feministkilljoys.com/2014/11/04/white-men/

Bibliography

Moi, Toril. ‘Discussion or Aggression? Arrogance and Despair in Graduate School’, in The Grind: The Duke Graduate Student Newsletter, vol. 4 issue 1, Fall 2003

Burton, Sarah. The Monstrous ‘White Theory Boy’: Symbolic Capital, Pedagogy and the Politics of Knowledge, Sociological Research Online, 20 (3), 14<http://www.socresonline.org.uk/20/3/14.html> DOI: 10.5153/sro.3746

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky, ‘Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading, or, You’re So Paranoid, You Probably Think This Essay Is About You,’ in Touching Feeling : Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity. Durham ; London, 2003. Print.

Ahmed, Sara. ‘White Men’ (2014) Feminist Killjoy Blog http://feministkilljoys.com/2014/11/04/white-men/.

 

Everyday Liberating Forces

By Hannah McCandless

Hannah is a second year student in the Women’s and Gender 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.