Their Body, a Judge’s Choice: The Kansas Judicial Bypass Process Must Be Revised

By Marian Phillips

Warning: This piece contains sensitive subject matter pertaining to the legal processes that minors face when requesting abortion access. There are mentions of abuse (physical and sexual) and abortion. 

Reproductive rights are constantly debated within the political arena whether at the state or federal level. It is imperative to continually adjust and reformat legislation that dictates the rights that minors have over their reproductive health. Current policies set in place for minors seeking judicial bypass to receive abortion services in the state of Kansas are egregious to say the least. The current policies necessitate an entire revision of the definitions, restrictions, and requirements mandated within statute 65-6705 under Article 67 Section 5. A policy must be proposed to Kansas legislators to instate greater access to judicial bypass processes for minors seeking abortion and an adjustment of maturity evaluations that are conducted by doctors and judges. These changes must be done in order to offer greater opportunity for the minor to have their case expedited and granted.

         The state of Kansas, as stated in the 2015 statute 65-6705 under Article 67 Section 5, mandates that a minor who wishes to receive an abortion must have authorized consent from the minor and both parents (if they are married) or the minor’s legal guardian. The parent or guardian with primary custody may authorize the procedure. In the case that a minor is in a position where they cannot safely acquire authorization, they can seek to receive judicial bypass for the procedure. Once beginning the process of obtaining judicial bypass, a minor is asked to undergo a psychiatric evaluation prior to court proceedings. The evaluation is done in order to provide the court with reliable information on whether or not the minor sufficiently understands the procedure and is mature enough to make this decision. The state determines the maturity level of the minor by examining the minor’s judgement, perspective, age, personal finances, work, and their decision making prior to and during proceedings.

         There is an array of circumstances under which judicial bypass may be the only option for a minor. For example, if the minor has been assaulted sexually or physically by one or both parents, asking for authorization puts the minor at risk, and more. While these circumstances are listed in the current statute, there are others that have not been recognized and should be. Under Kansas legislature, minors who are seeking abortion and are immigrants, orphans, or “de facto orphans” whose parent(s) may be deceased, or imprisoned are not included. Due to this fact, these minors encounter a larger set of legal hurdles they must overcome before, during, and after requesting judicial bypass.

         While the maturity of the minor is mentioned many times throughout the legislation meant to aid in the abortion rights for minors, the term itself is never truly defined within the document. Maturity is entirely subjective, and some may view it as a minor being mature enough to take accountability and understand their rights within the court system to ask for judicial bypass. Others may view the choice as immature and as the minor not taking accountability for the actions that led them to become pregnant. While a doctor may relay to the court and judge that the minor is mature, the decision ultimately falls on the judge. This brings about more difficulty for the minor if the judge that is on their case is anti-abortion.

         In many cases, minors have been faced with judges who identify as being anti-abortion and, in some instances, prolong the minor’s case on the docket or outright deny judicial bypass without question. There must be a policy set in place stating that if a judge attempts to keep a minor’s case for judicial bypass on the docket, prolonging the pregnancy past the point of qualifying for the procedure, then the case must be expedited. All states have the ability to decide the length of time allotted for judicial bypass proceedings. These cases should not remain on the docket for over a month’s time.

         The need for expedited processing of judicial bypass cases is extremely important, and necessary. At this moment, the state allows for abortion procedures for pregnancies up to 20 weeks; after this point an abortion can no longer be done legally. The state of Kansas, to ensure the safety, health, and well-being of a minor, must instate a time limit based on an understanding of the length of time a minor has to legally be a candidate for an abortion. If denial of judicial bypass is proposed, this limit would provide the minor with enough time to request an appeal and continue fighting for their personal right to choose.

         As aforementioned, minors seeking abortion through judicial bypass come from a variety of experiences. Judicial bypass is a great means to assist minors who find themselves in difficult situations. Creating a clear definition of the maturity level – or even removing the maturity clause all together – alleviates subjective notions of too mature or not mature enough. In short, the state of Kansas must propose a policy that would ensure the safety of a minor and give the individual more autonomy than the current statute allows. By revisiting the abortion policies that currently exist in Kansas legislature, moving the state towards better policies that do not require parental consent or judicial bypass to receive an abortion, such as Oregon and California, may be possible.


Friedman, Susan Hatters, et al. “Judicial Bypass of Parental Consent for Abortion.” The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, vol. 203, no. 6, 2015, pp. 401–405.,  doi:10.1097/nmd.0000000000000298.

“Legislative Resources.” Statute | Kansas State Legislature, 1 Jan. 1970,        _article/065_067_0005_section/065_067_0005_k/.

Parenthood, Planned. “Information for Minors.” Comprehensive Health of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, great-plains/patient-forms/information-for-minors.

Redden, Molly. “This Is How Judges Humiliate Pregnant Teens Who Want Abortions.” Mother Jones, 24 June 2017,   bypass-parental-notification/.Williams, Tine. “Planned Parenthood v. Lawall: Judicial Bypass Procedures Lacking Time   Limits Violates a Minor’s Constitutional Right to an Abortion.” Constitutional Law, 23 Am. J. Trial Advoc. (1999) Provided by: Wheat Law Library

A Backstage History: Reflections on Stage Management and Gendered Labor

By Rachael Nuckles

Before I devoted my life to full-time graduate school and academics, I was working hands-on in the world of technical theater as a stage manager and designer. It’s a world I hope to get back to after obtaining my degree, though maybe in a different capacity than before. Stage management often requires a considerable amount of emotional energy that isn’t always part of the job description. Sometimes taking care of yourself means taking a step back from something you love to focus on your health and wellbeing. For me, a break from stage management was certainly necessary in order to sleep more regularly, eat a little better, and prioritize my own emotions.

The American Association of Community Theater describes stage managers as people who “typically provide practical and organizational support to the director, actors, designers, stage crew and technicians throughout the production process. They also are the director’s representative during performances, making sure that the production runs smoothly.” [1] Recently, I endeavored to write a talk for an assignment about gender and stage management. In writing this talk I discovered two major considerations: first, there is very little written (at least that I can find) about the history of stage management. There are manuals and archival documents from which we might write a more legitimate history of the role and mentions within larger histories about technical theater more generally. We can also see mentions of stage managers in plays, sometimes under different terms. For instance, the word “prompter” is thought to define the closest role during Shakespeare’s lifetime, and in several of his works we can find reference to them. [2]

The second discovery I made, perhaps from my own experience on the job, is that stage management is a highly gendered position. The League of Professional Theater Women conducted a study from 2013-2018 which revealed that the only two technical theater positions dominated by women were stage managers and costume designers. These results were compiled after surveying thirteen different artistic categories (job positions) at twenty-two off-broadway theaters. For the 5 year period, women comprised approximately 72% of all costume design positions and 70% of all stage management positions. Every other category placed women significantly under the 50% mark, meaning that the positions were male dominated. [3] This is a fairly recent study, so it’s likely that numbers have not changed too much.

If there’s little on stage management history, there’s even less on women’s history in the position. One manual written by Larry Fazio notes that women in the U.S. were not given opportunities as stage managers until after World War II. [4] Although, one stage manager historian has discovered several instances of women stage managing much earlier. Jennifer Leigh Sears Scheier, whose brief blog post on women’s history in stage management is some of the only I have been able to uncover, describes women working as stage managers, prompters, or equivalents as early as 1754. [5] Fazio’s manual notes that after World War II, women stage managers were able to obtain jobs on Broadway and other equivalents. This is necessary to note due to the prestige associated with such institutions and the fact that most remain male dominated spaces. Other than the occasional factoid such as this, I have found looking for women’s experiences with stage management are difficult to locate.

Because there is so little written, I want to speculate on why stage management is one of two female dominated positions in technical theater. Modern stage management requires a nurturing, gentle persona, traits traditionally associated with femininity. Besides impeccable note taking ability and more administrative duties, I find that the caregiving requirement can dominate the day-to-day work of the stage manager. I want to borrow a definition of caregiving from Jessica Wilkerson’s To Live Here, You Have to Fight. She notes that caregiving involves an “array of activities and relationships involved in maintaining people both on a daily basis and intergenerationally.”[6]  The stage manager, quite literally the manager of all people involved in a production, maintains relationships of all kinds in order to make the process of putting on a show as smooth as possible. 

With this in mind, I wonder if we might consider stage management within the history of other, similar roles. Perhaps…the secretary? Annalyn Kurtz, an editor at CNNBusiness, writes that in 1950, the secretary became the most popular job among women. [7] It can’t be a coincidence that women stage managers also began to dominate in this decade. Furthermore, secretary and administrative professional positions have evolved to handle many of the same management duties as stage managers: running meetings, managing projects, composing correspondence.[8] While these connections between stage management and secretarial history have not necessarily been analyzed in any academic text, I think uncovering the relationship between secretary and stage manager will prove crucial to understanding our modern day gender disparities in technical theater positions. 

Going forward, I have two questions. First, did women become stage managers because the job required “feminine” qualifiers? Or, did the position become gendered once women began to dominate? As I continue my work as a student, before I get back to tech work, I hope I can get closer to an answer. Emotional labor, as found in stage management and other secretarial positions, can take a toll both mentally and physically and affect one’s overall health. This type of work has been disproportionately filled by women, as evidenced by our current health crisis and the labor of other professional women caregivers such as doctors and nurses. In fact, women make up 70% of health and social workforces globally. [9] As we continue to navigate uncharted waters, I urge you to thank your caregivers from stage managers to doctors regardless of gender. They all perform a thankless job which is crucial to our world’s overall health and wellbeing.


[1] “Stage Manager.” American Association of Community Theater. Accessed April 6, 2020.

[2] For some further reading on production during Shakespeare’s time, I’d like to recommend Stern, Tiffany. Making Shakespeare: from Stage to Print. London: Routledge, 2004. One of my favorite (and perhaps more recognizable) examples of the prompter appearing in Shakespeare’s work is in A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s play-within-a-play.

[3] Trujillo, Jackie. “A Look at the Theatre Industry’s Backstage Gender Gap.” New York Minute Magazine, December 20, 2018. 

[4] Fazio, Larry. Stage Management: the Professional Experience. Boston, MA: Focal Press, 2000. 5.

[5] Sears Scheier, Jennifer Leigh. “Women in Stage Management: Revolutionizing History with Inclusion.” Stage Directions, December 19, 2017.

[6] Wilkerson, Jessica. To Live Here, You Have to Fight: How Women Led Appalachian Movements for Social Justice. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2019. 5.

[7] Kurtz, Annalyn. “Why Secretary Is Still the Top Job for Women.” CNNMoney. Cable News Network, January 31, 2013.

[8] Eagle, Amy. “A Job Once Filled by Men Became a Pink Profession.” Chicago Tribune, August 23, 2018.

[9] United Nations Population Fund. “COVID-19: A Gender Lens.” United Nations, March 2020.

Rachael is a first year graduate student in the Women’s History program at Sarah Lawrence College. Her current research interests include girls’ cultural production and participation in subcultures, activist media technologies, and performance studies.

LGBTQIA+, Race, Class, Disability, and Region: The American Healthcare System

By Sidney Wegener

Every time I visit a doctor, I am asked a series of questions which include those about my sexual health. “Are you sexually active?” Yes. “Do you need a pregnancy test?” No. Oftentimes, a physician responds by informing me that even if I use protection I can still get pregnant. My response triggers confusion and a moment of awkwardness: I’m a lesbian; my girlfriend can’t get me pregnant.

If you are queer (non-heterosexual) or trans (non-cisgender) and able to see a doctor, this experience might sound familiar. Like me, you have likely faced similar, potentially much more severe, circumstances. Perhaps you, or your partner, are transgender, and the question, “do you need a pregnancy test?” causes discomfort. For queer, non-binary, and trans people going to see a doctor could put one at risk of maltreatment or refusal of treatment. Transphobic attitudes among healthcare professionals have caused over a third of transgender patients to experience harassment and rejection, severly impacting not only their physical well being but their mental health. [1] Almost half of transgender people have attempted suicide, and it is estimated that every time a queer or trans person experiences violence or abuse, the likelihood of self-harm increases by 2.5 percent. [2] The moment of confusion and mild embarrassment my physician experiences after I inform them I’m lesbian is sometimes humorous. However, there are many other moments for the LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, and more) community which are uncomfortable and/or harmful.

How queer and trans people experience the healthcare system is also directly impacted by race, economic accessibility, geographical location, and (dis)ability. Queer and trans people of color often struggle with racial discrimination, resulting in a lack of mental and physical healthcare support. Transgender people of color attempted suicide rates are thirty-three times higher than America’s general population; yet, access to mental healthcare services frequently remains out of reach due to a lack of insurance and providers. [3] As a result of systemic racism, homophobia and transphobia in the United States, queer and trans people of color are more likely to be working-class. This further puts them at an economic disadvantage and limits their agency to utilize healthcare services.

Indigenous queer and two-spirit folx are ranked among the highest at risk for discrimination in the United States healthcare system as well as attempted suicides. No Native or Indigenous tribe/nation understands queer, trans, or two-spirit folx the same; however, mistreatment and ostracisizaiton of their LGBTQ+ and Two-Spirit community members are generally not a part of cultural traditions.[4] Accessing healthcare as a member of the LGBTQIA+TS Indigenous community comes with the challenges of navigating a state/federal healthcare system and involves confronting providers who may not accept them as patients. Finding mental health support is critical for this community, assexual violence and abuse committed against Indigenous women, queer, trans, and two-spirit folx is at an astronomically high rate.[5] Financial instability and lack of health insurance further impacts those LGBTQIA+ youths who are homeless, often due to their families rejecting them. Roughly 40% of the youth/young adult homeless population in America are queer or trans. Members of our community who are Black, Latinx, without a GED, or single parents, face even more severe challenges.[6] 

The three million LGBTQIA+ people who live in rural or underserved communities which are impoverished or working-class are also less likely to have access to physical and mental healthcare.[7] Lack of geographical access is also a large contributing factor for people in rural areas of the United States. For queer and trans folx, who are often particularly isolated in rural communities, gaining access to adaquate healthcare can be extremely challenging. Healthcare providers are often located further distances away than they are in suburban or urban regions. Queer and trans people, who are more likely to be poor or working-class, might lack feasable means to transport themselves to a doctor’s office. In addition to geographic isolation, many rural towns and communities across the country hold homophobic, transphobic, racist, and sexist political and personal beliefs. One large challenge queer and trans people face is that fewer laws and regulations protect and support the treatment of LGBTQIA+ people among healthcare professionals, meaning they are more likely to be refused treatment, face harassment, or experience abuse.

Members of the LGBTQIA+ community who are also disabled physically and/or mentally also face many obstacles in accessing healthcare. Whether public transportation limits access or a mental disability requires assistance in navigating a confusing and complicated health insurance system, queer and trans people are at serious disadvantages. Depending on the state, disability services may not cover all of the healthcare needs of any given individual, and those states which do not have laws protecting the rights of disabled, queer, and trans folx put them at exterme risk of maltreatment and/or abuse. [8] What if you are transgender, Latinx, living in a rural area, wheelchair dependent, in need of personal assistance, member of the working-class, and your family does not recognize or support your gender identity? How do you access a healthcare physician? How do these circumstances impact your mental health and physical well-being? How do you survive? When we consider how the American healthcare system serves, or does not serve, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, it becomes critical to consider the intersectional nature of how each of us experiences healthcare differently. The challenges discourage many of us from accessing adequate healthcare whether for our minds, bodies, or both. However, advocating for those who are at risk of maltreatment, abuse, or care refusal are ways to help.

Many of the endnotes have sources which offer support and information for LGBTQIA+ folx and their allies.

[1] “Doctors don’t treat trans patients poorly because they are uneducated. They’re prejudiced.” LGBTQ Nation.

[2] “Facts About Suicide.” The Trevor Project.

[3] “Attempted Suicide Rates for Multiracial Transgender People.” National LGBTQ Task Force.

[4] “Why LGBTQ Indigenous Communities Struggle With Healthcare for the Homeless.”

[5] “Ending Violence Against Native Women.” Indian Law Resource Center.

[6]“LGBTQ Youth Disproportionately Experience Homelessness.” Human Rights Campaign. 

[7] “Where We Call Home: LGBT People in Rural America.” LGBT Movement Advancement Program.

[8] “Disability, Mental Health, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity: Understanding Health Inequity Through Experience and Difference.” Health Research Policy and Systems.

Sidney is a first year MA candidate for Women’s History at Sarah Lawrence College. They are pursuing research on interracial lesbian relationships in United States women’s reformatories and penitentiaries during the early twentieth century.

Mad and Valid: On Finding a Voice as a Women’s Historian

By Rachael Nuckles

For the past few months, somewhere beneath the surface, I have been experiencing an unnamed emotion struggling to make itself known. This semester, I made it a goal to find my voice and let it be heard; staying true to that goal, I have been wrestling continuously with questions and concerns about my newfound identity as “women’s historian.” Doing history is not a straightforward path. As I learn and relearn storytelling tactics, reconciling my background in technical theater with the world of primary research, I have noticed myself feeling what I lovingly refer to as an “in-betweenness.” This presents itself in my identity as an artist/historian and within the history I’m studying itself. 

The first book I read for class this semester was Beloved by Toni Morrison. It is a masterpiece, and a work I have constantly returned to for inspiration: it was the first piece I had read which had my ideal blend of art and history, the piece I didn’t know I had been searching for to guide my history writing practices. This was the starting point of my inner conflict. Professor Chikwenye Ogunyemi came to Sarah Lawrence College and spoke to our class of women’s historians about Beloved. Her words and perspective have stuck with me throughout the semester. One of the first things she mentioned was that nearly all of history is fictitious due to the role of the historian. The historian controls much of what is remembered by recording history, selecting which facts to highlight, which to leave out, and constructing their own version of events. I wondered, then, if any history could truly be objective; how can we distinguish so-called “fact” from “fiction”? 

As the semester has progressed, I have continued to question how I will use my voice to (re)write history. How will I distinguish fact from fiction? Whose voices will I make central in my narration? How can I infuse my history writing with my background in theatrical storytelling? Perhaps most recently, what is the relationship between the past, present, and future? Of course, I haven’t found answers yet. I don’t know that answers exist. What I’m trying to be more comfortable with is the messiness these questions encompass, understanding that my work as a historian will have me constantly defining and redefining the way I navigate reality. Part of researching the past has been realizing that much of the information is unreliable; it is biased, filtered by both the primary source creator and my own biased perspectives.

In academia, I have been feeling the weight of educational privilege and realizing that it’s something educated people often take for granted. We love to throw around words like “intersectionality” without fully defining (or maybe understanding?) them. These types of assumptions can make feminism inaccessible, like it’s a place for you only if you know enough buzzwords to keep up. In my work with girls’ activist technologies, this is something I’ve been thinking about constantly. I feel extremely privileged that I have the opportunity to obtain my master’s degree in Women’s History. My current research makes me mad, but it also makes me excited. As I work towards my thesis, I am locating and analyzing girls’ cultural production, paying specific attention to what Ednie Garrison describes as “democratic technologies.” These largely accessible technologies are used as “a resource enabling young women to get information to other young women, girls, and boys, a means for developing political consciousness, and a space that can legitimate girls’ issues.” [2] At the forefront of my work is the Riot Grrrl subcultural phenomenon, which was at its height from 1990-1997. As I navigate my personal identity as a women’s historian, I can’t help but be inspired by the Riot Grrrls who spread their knowledge, anger, and opinions via accessible technologies and girl-created media. It didn’t matter if they used the right lingo; it mattered that they had a voice at all.

It is with all of these thoughts in mind that I have been trying to articulate my unnamed emotion. I’d been calling it frustration, but that didn’t feel right. What I had been feeling, and continue to feel, is more visceral. On February 6, 2020, Hayley Williams released the first part of her upcoming album, Petals for Armor. Williams has been a longtime idol for me; as the frontwoman of the rock band Paramore, which formed in 2004, her music was with me during my formative years. Now, with her first solo project, I feel her words even more deeply. The first track, “Simmer,” opens:

Rage is a quiet thing

You think that you’ve tamed it

But it’s just lying in wait [1]

…and with that, I realized that this unnamed emotion I’d been feeling in my bones had a name: rage. A quiet, unsuspecting thing hiding and thriving in its unnamed-ness, building each time I disregarded it as nothing of value. This discovery has proven crucial to my ability to articulate myself. I am mad. I am angry. I feel rage and it is valid. I am mad that women’s anger has often been censored, reduced to “bitchiness” or simply “not thinking clearly.” In naming my rage, I feel as though I have never been more clear headed. My position as a women’s historian is now a necessity, no longer a choice. I have never felt more passionate about working to help women and girls of all backgrounds, all identities be taken seriously–for their voices, their experiences, their ideas, their stories, their feelings…their rage. 

[1] “Simmer.” Petals for Armor I, Hayley Williams, Taylor York, Joseph Howard. Atlantic Records, February 2020, 1.

[2] Garrison, Ednie. “U.S. Feminism–Grrrl Style! Youth (Sub)Cultures and the Technologies of the Third Wave.” In No Permanent Waves: Recasting Histories of U.S. Feminism, edited by Nancy A. Hewitt, 379–402. Rutgers University Press, 2010. 388.

Rachael is a first year graduate student in the Women’s History program at Sarah Lawrence College. Her current research interests include girls’ cultural production and participation in subcultures, activist media technologies, and performance studies.

A Response to Everyone Who Asks me “Why Women’s and Gender History?”

By Madison Filzer

Oftentimes I’m bombarded with the question, “Why would you get a master’s degree in Women’s And Gender History?” As if the work of Women and Gender Historians is insignificant and unnecessary with little to no place in a world outside of academia. This question suggests that I have done something wrong by choosing this path rather than attending law school straight out of college like I intended to.  If I were to answer the question above, it would warrant a two-part answer from me. Sarah Lawrence College encourages dialogue amongst our peers, and Re/Visionist gives me space to openly answer that question, so I am going to take the time to do so. First, I took the opportunity to get a degree in Women’s History because I wanted to discover the truth in all situations, past and present. To me, that is what the art of history is all about, finding the truth by looking at its source. Second, learning how to construct a narrative based on my own interpretation of evidence, as historians do, is a skill that will translate well in the legal field. I have found that people expect that I will have a broad knowledge of all history that has ever happened, EVER. This is not the case. In the last few years, I have learned how to find truth in books, on the internet, and in physical archives to make sense of the past for both myself and for others. 

The first thing that comes to mind when I think about my understanding of historical truth is the American Women’s Suffrage Movement that took place in the early 20th century. The first time I heard of Women’s Suffrage was when someone jokingly asked whether I wanted to end women’s suffrage. Since I had never heard of it, I assumed it meant ending women’s suffering, and I said yes. Joke was on me because I had no idea what Women’s Suffrage really meant, but after a quick google search, I found some level of truth on what it meant to “End Women’s Suffrage”. However, it was not until my first year of graduate school that I was able to wrap my head around how complex the Suffrage movement really was. One particular assignment was to write a historiographic essay in which we would look at a primary document and analyze the way other historians have made sense of it. We were tasked with reading a debate between leaders of the Suffrage Movement, specifically Susan B. Anthony and Cady Elizabeth Stanton, as well as Henry B. Blackwell, a proponent of African American Suffrage. [1] For me, this historical moment validated my desire to find the source of information and be able to . Reading the transcript of the debate enabled me to formulate my own understanding of the Suffrage Movement. With my own knowledge, I can retell a narrative of the Women’s Suffrage movement in America that showcases the racism within the leadership of the Movement accurately. 

The efforts of the Suffragists always arise in March as part of Women’s History Month, and this August will mark 100 years since white women gained the right to vote. I think this is a notable example for me to reflect on because 4 years ago, I didn’t even know what the Suffrage Movement was. Now when people start talking about how great Susan B. Anthony and Cady Elizabeth Stanton are, I can reference the exact words these women used to prioritize white women’s right to vote over that of African American’s. In doing so, I can reconstruct a narrative that tells more than one side of history. 

To answer the question, by getting a degree in Women’s History I can spend my life searching for sources of truth and offer interpretations of my discoveries in ways that may not have been done before. As I begin to work on my thesis, I have found that few, if any, historians or scholars have researched my topic of choice making me the first female historian to write about the 1968 Glenville Shootout in Cleveland, Ohio. There aren’t many places where you can obtain a degree specific to Women’s History, and to be doing it at the first institution in the nation to offer this type of degree is an accomplishment worth postponing law school for. Not only are we creating history, but some of us are making history too. 

Madison is a second year Master’s Candidate in the Women’s 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.


[1] DOCUMENT 30 (II: 381-98): Debates at the American Equal Rights Association Meeting, New York City, May 12-14, 1869

Amina Wadud and Sherine Hafez: Activism and the Voices of Women in Arab Societies

By Marian Phillips

During the final semester of my undergraduate degree at the University of Kansas, I took a course titled “Religion, Power, and Sexuality in Arab Societies” with Dr. Marwa Ghazali.  The course and the professor made a deep and everlasting impact on me. Throughout the course, I gained an abundance of knowledge on a variety of topics in Arab societies, such as religion, power, class, sexuality, and many others. As I read through articles by Amina Wadud and Sherine Hafez, I found that the voices of Muslim women are integral to unpacking the patriarchal translations of the Qur’an. Furthermore, they draw attention to necessary activism through images, which can influence more women to become activists in Arab societies. When reflecting on the knowledge I gained, three distinct moments of this activism stuck out to me based on Wadud’s text Qur’an and Woman (1992) and Hafez’s article “The Revolution Shall Not Pass through Women’s Bodies: Egypt, Uprisings and Gender Politics” (2014): the subjectivity/objectivity of translations of the Qur’an, the social and cultural interpretations of the text, and the importance of imagery in activism. By analyzing Wadud’s discussion of the Qur’an and Hafez’s article with an emphasis on activism, I find that the voices of women in Arab societies greatly enhances a larger awareness of the injustices they face and deeply impacts activist efforts. 

Amina Wadud’s text illustrates the subjectivity and objectivity of interpreting and translating the Qur’an. She considers the fact that men such as Abdullah Yusuf Ali have the privilege of this opportunity rather than women. Wadud notes the inherent sexism and gender bias that men have towards women when translating the text: “the Qur’an does not propose or support a singular role or single definition of a set of roles.” [1] Furthermore, she cites that Yusuf Ali’s translation seeks to provide a definition of the roles of men and women based on social morality and modesty. She illustrates that these social mores vary in interpretation of the Qur’an based on time, location and culture significance by an individual. In turn, Wadud locates Yusuf Ali’s inherent gender bias in his subjective translation of the text. As the Qur’an never definitively separates men from women with a distinction of one having more power over the other, the patriarchal interpretations have the ability to, “place an inherent distinction between males and females and then give values to those distinctions.” [2] Thus, Wadud unpacks the gender biased interpretations of the text, going further to deconstruct the inequality that women face when they are impacted by a subjective and negative translation. She provides previous translations and interpretations of the Qur’an with the voice of a Muslim woman to make women in the Qur’an visible, attempting to remove the negativity that women have faced as a result.

As Wadud uses her voice to shed light on the negative interpretations women face based on gender biased translations of the Qur’an, she prompts women to seek further empowerment through their own visibility and voice in Arab societies. Sherine Hafez continues to establish the importance of women’s voices in Arab societies through detailing activist efforts and imagery used by women, for women when fighting against injustices. Hafez details, “the events of the Egyptian revolution,” where, “women – as well as men – rose to demand their right to ‘bread, freedom and social justice.” [3] By doing this, she draws attention to Muslim women activists such as the woman in the blue bra, Aliaa al Mahdy, and Samira Ibrahim. Each woman signifies a piece of the fight towards social justice as their names, stories, and images are markers of the greater injustices women face in Arab societies. Images of the woman in the blue bra, while unidentified, have been imperative to the discourse surrounding police brutality against Muslim women. One photograph caught the moment she was dragged across the ground by police as her clothing was pulled over her head, exposing the blue bra. 

The woman in the blue bra influenced women such as Aliaa al Mahdy to use their own bodies in their activism. Aliaa al Mahdy uses “her body as a weapon to expose hypocrisy and male chauvinism” [4], participating in nude feminism and joining the nude feminist group Femen. While both instances can be classified as imagery, highlighting the importance of voice through images is imperative to understanding the influence of the woman in the blue bra on al Mahdy’s use of her own naked body as a form of activism. A photo, painting, and other sources of imagery have a specific message attached to them by their creator and audience. The voice that an image has speaks to an array of topics; sometimes love, anguish, injustice, prejudice, and even violence. As some have said, an image is worth a thousand words, and in these cases those words pertain to social injustices, police brutality, and the fight towards freedom for Muslim women. Samira Ibrahim’s case illustrates the strength of voice in a political and legal arena, as she spoke out against the brutality and trauma of forced virginity testing on women in Arab societies. Having been a victim herself, Ibrahim’s lawsuit against the police officer who assaulted her prompted other women to vocalize their own trauma and the impact these forced testing procedures have had on them. The three women mentioned, while having individual experiences, find commonality in their ability to form a sense of community amongst women in Arab societies, and prompt other women to seek out methods to fight against the social injustices that they face. 

In summary, Amina Wadud’s ability to use her voice to counteract the subjective and patriarchal voice of translations of the Qur’an, the image of the woman in the blue bra, Aliaa al Mahdy’s nude activism, and Samira Ibrahim’s court case highlight the importance of women’s voices in Arab societies. Specifically, the voices of women are crucial when tackling social, cultural, and political issues that they have faced in a society that has been dominated by men. When I reflected on what I learned throughout that final Spring semester, I found myself drawn to the voice of Arab societies. As we discussed in the course, the prophet Muhammad spoke on the equality of women and men, but as we dove further into the semester, I found that his voice became lost in translation, figuratively and literally. What often brings me back to when I first learned of the prophet Muhammad are the voices of women interpreting the Qur’an, such as Amina Wadud, and the women who are actively fighting against the inequality they face based on the translations of the Qur’an that express a gender bias. This bias is not the only one to blame for the social injustice Muslim women face; there is also the continuous lack of Muslim women’s voices in Arab societies that further silences them. By the provision of women’s voices, it encourages women to further their efforts towards bread, freedom and social justice. 

Marian Phillips is a second year Master’s Candidate at Sarah Lawrence College studying Women’s and Gender History. Her research interests include LGBTQIA+ history, the history of punk movements/music, social movements, 1950s Cold War America, and Horror film studies.

End Notes

[1] Amina Wadud, Qur’an and Women, Penerbit Fajar Bakti Sdn. Bhd., 1993, pp. 8.

[2] Wadud, pp. 35. 

[3] Sherine Hafez, “The Revolution Shall Not Pass Through Women’s Bodies: Egypt, Uprising and Gender Politics,” The Journal of North African Studies, vol. 19, no. 2, 2014, pp. 172. 

[4] Hafez, pp. 175. 

Works Cited

Hafez, Sherine. “The Revolution Shall Not Pass Through Women’s Bodies: Egypt, Uprising and Gender Politics.” The Journal of North African Studies, vol. 19, no. 2, 2014, pp. 172 185., doi:10.1080/13629387.2013.879710.

Wadud, Amina. Qur’an and Women. Penerbit Fajar Bakti Sdn. Bhd., 1993.

Carrie Chapman Catt: Suffrage and the Politics of Race

By Crystal Brandenburgh

This summer marks the 100th anniversary of American women gaining the constitutional right to vote through the 19th Amendment. The upcoming centennial has sparked a flurry of new scholarship, including a reckoning over the often racist tactics of White suffragists, the exclusion of diverse voices from the suffrage movement, and the disfranchisement of Southern Black women, Native American women, and Asian immigrant women until later in the twentieth century. On my campus, this reckoning began 25 years ago and has not yet stopped. In 1995, Iowa State University renamed Old Botany Hall after Carrie Chapman Catt, a prominent suffrage leader and ISU alumna. Protests erupted because the demonstrators believed Catt had embraced racism in the suffrage movement. [1]

As an ISU History major, I decided to examine both Catt and the criticism, a decision that turned into a three-year investigation of Progressive Era race and gender politics. I found that criticism of Catt concentrated on two main charges: she used a racist argument to sway White Southerners to support suffrage, and she failed to stop the disfranchisement of Southern Black women after the ratification of the 19th Amendment. These charges, both containing a grain of truth, require context and nuance to be understood.

Carrie Chapman Catt was born on 9 January 1859 and grew up in a typical Iowa farm family. She graduated from Iowa Agricultural College, now ISU, in 1880. [2] After the death of her first husband, Catt became active in the Iowa suffrage movement. She quickly climbed the ranks through her talent for organizing. By the 1890s, she was one of Susan B. Anthony’s protégés and in 1900 she became Anthony’s successor as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. After five years of dedicated service, Catt resigned the presidency to care for her ill husband. [3] Catt was called back to the presidency in 1915, at a time of enormous stakes for the suffrage cause. [4]

In no region was suffrage more of an uncertainty than the South. White Southerners were consumed with a fear—inflamed by anti-suffragists—that woman suffrage would upset their racial hierarchy and end white supremacy. [5] Suffragists had to acknowledge this fear through a tactic known as the statistical argument which was first iterated by Henry Blackwell, famed suffragist and abolitionist, in his 1867 essay, “What the South Can Do.” He argued that White women so outnumbered African Americans in the South that white supremacy would be unaltered by the passage of woman suffrage. [6] It must be noted that, across the South, White people outnumbered African Americans, but this was not the case in Mississippi and South Carolina. [7] Additionally, this argument quickly became common practice among White suffrage leaders and it inherently perpetuated white supremacy. 

In her 1917 book, Woman Suffrage by Federal Constitutional Amendment, Catt listed seven objections commonly used by anti-suffragists. Then she refuted the objections one by one. To quell White Southerners’ fears, Catt repeated Blackwell’s statistical argument, writing, “White supremacy will be strengthened, not weakened, by woman suffrage….Woman suffrage in the South would so vastly increase the white vote that it would guarantee white supremacy if it otherwise stood in danger of overthrow.” [8] Catt then concluded, “Ridiculous as this list of objections may appear, each is supported earnestly by a considerable group, and collectively they furnish the basis of opposition to woman suffrage in and out of Congress.” [9] Thus even though she found the argument “ridiculous,” Catt had to address the racist fears of White Southerners, because their support was critical for woman suffrage to be enshrined in the Constitution. In fact, only three Southern states ratified the 19th Amendment: Texas, Arkansas, and Tennessee; and Tennessee, the last state to ratify, did so by a one-vote margin. [10] While the Blackwell argument was one of inherent racism, it was also the tool Catt used to tip the balance in the South in order to enfranchise half the nation. 

After Catt’s extraordinary constitutional victory, at which White Southern opponents of suffrage immediately began to chip away, she handed the reins over to the newly-formed League of Women Voters and turned her attention to the fight for world peace. Catt had suffered the horrors of World War I alongside her friends in the transatlantic suffrage network and felt called to ensure it would never happen again. Thus, she told the younger generation of women activists, 

“For thirty years and a little more, I have worked with you in the first lap of this struggle toward woman’s emancipation. I cannot lead or follow in the next lap. I do not wish to advise where I cannot follow. Younger and fresher women must do that work, and because I cannot advise and cannot follow, I only point to the fact that the battle is there, and that I hope you are not going to be such quitters as to stay on the outside and let all the reactionaries have their way on the inside.” [11]

For Catt, age 61, the battle was done. She expected the League, her brainchild, to carry on where she had left off. But, as we know, the LWV ultimately refused to combat White Southerners’ relentless, successful, and long-lasting campaign of disfranchisement of Black women.

Carrie Chapman Catt died on 9 March 1947. [12] She repeated a racist argument to convince Southern Whites in the last years of the campaign, and then left American suffrage work after her electoral triumph. Though her rhetoric on race was shaped by the high-stakes politics of the suffrage movement, the documentary evidence proves that she became braver about asserting her own, more enlightened views after resigning the NAWSA presidency. She investigated and exposed racist rumors of Black military misconduct in Germany in 1921, protested against a Washington, D.C. hotel’s segregation policies in 1925, suggested returning land to people of color worldwide, and fiercely advocated for the publication of African American suffrage leader Mary Church Terrell’s memoir. [13] ISU’s Catt Hall stands as a reminder that progress in this country has been uneven and exclusionary, but it is still progress. As Catt herself stated in 1917, in her ideal world every woman could exercise democracy’s most powerful tool: the vote. [14]

Crystal Brandenburgh is a senior History major with a minor in Political Science at Iowa State University. Crystal plans to attend graduate school in the fall, pursuing a PhD in History. Her research focuses on Progressive Era Women in Politics.


[1]  “Catt: Figure of Controversy,” Off Our Backs, Vol. 26, No. 10 (November 1996): 5; “Suffragette’s Racial Remark Haunts College,” New York Times, 5 May 1996, 30.

[2]  Jacqueline Van Voris, Carrie Chapman Catt: A Public Life (New York City: The Feminist Press, 1987), 4-5.

[3] Van Voris, Carrie Chapman Catt, 64-65, 72, 79-80.

[4] Noun, “1872-1920: Carrie Chapman Catt,” 312-313.

[5] Aileen S. Kraditor, The Ideas of the Woman Suffrage Movement, 1890-1920 (New York City: Columbia University Press, 1965), 165-168.

[6]  Henry Blackwell, “What the South Can Do,” Leaflet, New York, 15 January 1867.

[7]  U.S. Census, 1870: The Statistics of the Population of the United States, Washington: Government Printing Office, 1872; Fourteenth Census of the United States Taken in the Year 1920: Volume III, Population, Washington: Government Printing Office, 1922. 

[8]  Carrie Chapman Catt, Woman Suffrage by Federal Constitutional Amendment (New York City: National Woman Suffrage Publishing Co., 1917), 91, 93-94.

[9] Catt, Woman Suffrage by Federal Constitutional Amendment, 91, 93-94, 131.

[10] Louise R. Noun, Strong-Minded Women: The Emergence of the Woman-Suffrage Movement in Iowa (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1969), 321; Wheeler, New Women of the New South, 35; Elaine Weiss, The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote, (London: Penguin Books, 2018), 305-310.

[11]  Carrie Chapman Catt, “Political Parties and Women Voters (On the Inside),” 14 February 1920, in The Woman Citizen, Vol. 4, No. 32 (March 6, 1920), 947-948.

[12] Van Voris, Carrie Chapman Catt, 218.

[13]  Carrie Chapman Catt, “The Truth About the Black Troops on the Rhine,” Woman Citizen, Vol. V, No. 40, 5 March 1921, 1038; Carrie Chapman Catt, “Report of the First Conference on the Cause and Cure of War,” 18-24 January 1925, 151; Catt to Arrangements Committee, Nov. 11, 1924, Box 5, Josephine Schain Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College; Catt, “Report of the First Conference on the Cause and Cure of War,” 18-24 January 1925, 150; Carrie Chapman Catt to Mary Church Terrell, March 2, 1939, Correspondence, -1954; 1939, Jan.-Mar,  Mary Church Terrell Papers, Digital Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress; Catt to Terrell, October 14, 1940, Mary Church Terrell Papers, Library of Congress; Catt to Terrell, October 30, 1940, Mary Church Terrell Papers, Library of Congress.[14]   Carrie Chapman Catt, “Votes for All,” The Crisis, November 1917, 19-21.