It Takes a Village

By Rev. Patricia Rae Kessel
Rev. Kessel is a retired clergywoman living in Portland, Oregon and is this month’s guest writer. She touches on religion and the #MeToo Movement. 

When I was asked to write reflections on the #MeToo movement as a liberal United Methodist pastor (retired), I said yes and later wondered why I’d answered in the affirmative. I’ve titled this brief writing after the book by Hillary Rodham Clinton, “It Takes a Village.” That book expands on the necessity of community in all its variances as essential to the raising of a child. 

For the #MeToo movement, we need all parts of the “village,” including our brothers and sisters, our faith communities, our friends, families, colleagues, and yes, especially our government on all levels. 

From my 30 years of pastoral ministry, I offer a few reflections. The first is gratitude to the foremothers before me who fought for full ordination for women. The United Methodist Church included women as fully ordained in 1956.

In humility and sadness I learned that I was called to offer forgiveness even if I questioned the reason. I sat with a not so young woman who had already chosen to end a pregnancy, and had requested a pastoral call. I shiver to this day as I recall taking her by the hands and saying, “Loretta, in the Name of Jesus Christ you are forgiven.”

The #MeToo movement teaches me that it is right and even necessary to question and not believe some of the Scriptures of Holy Writ that would seem to support the abuse of women. A recent quote from the late theologian, The Rev.Dr. Marcus Borg, put it well. He said, (I’m paraphrasing here.) “I wish that when necessary, preachers would take the courage to speak out when ‘the Bible is wrong.’”

As a theologian I do value some of the stories in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Testament. I recall the audacity of Queen Esther as she summoned the courage to plead for her people. I shout AMEN to Ruth and Naomi who chose to stay with one another in a culture unsafe for single women.  I am awed by the Spirit Herself as one of the Trinity. (Since Ruach in Hebrew is a neutral word, and Pneuma in Greek is a feminine word, I dare say that this combination hardly yields a male spirit!)

I am stunned by the witness of the earthly mother of Jesus, whose faith had prepared her to say the eternal YES to bearing the Incarnation Itself. (Yes, I believe Mary had a choice!) I ponder Mary’s relative, Elizabeth who offered acceptance and full embrace of this unusual pregnancy. A woman encouraging another woman has great redemptive power.

I am encouraged by the two women at the empty tomb (called the apostles to the apostles). To them, Jesus said “Go and tell!”  I am made aware of my own imperfections when I recall Jesus’ saying to the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way and sin no more.” 

Out of sequence here, I must recall the Creation Myths when humankind was created and God declared that all was “very good!”

Since humankind is made in the Imago Dei (image of God) then we can confirm that even the Divine has a feminine component that has no less confirmation than the male counterpart. Adamah, the name means earth people, NOT just the ancient Adam. So in my belief system, I believe when any woman is used, abused, neglected, ridiculed or made to feel “less than,” the Divine Image is also suffering for she bears that divine stamp.

I wish to close with some words from The Rev. Kaji Dousa, a United Church of Christ pastor in New York City. Her writing comes in two parts.

“We believe that sexual assault is a non-partisan issue. We believe that sexual assault is a criminal act. We believe that there is no statute of limitation for trauma. We believe that speaking out is an act of courage. We believe that victim blaming is wrong. We believe that survivors come from all walks as life, as do assailants. “

As a retired clergyperson, I fully concur with the same author’s following affirmations which sound almost creedal.

“I believe the truth that your body tells. I believe what you are too afraid or too ashamed to tell. I believe that you deserve to be whole. I believe that God intends for you to be well in body, mind, and spirit. I believe that Jesus’ touch was never meant to authorize non-consensual touch. And, I believe that you deserve to give and receive loving touch that does no harm.”

My prayer is that my granddaughters and great-granddaughters will never have to raise a hesitant hand and admit, “me too.” May it be so. AMEN.

#MeToo & the Medical Field

Written by Kendal Flowerdew
Kendal is a Senior at Sarah Lawrence College and will graduate in May, 2019

The Me Too Movement was founded in 2006 by Tarana Burke in an effort to support young women of color who were survivors of sexual violence. As the movement gained momentum, they expanded their mission to support adults and people across the gender spectrum. In 2017, the Me Too Movement went viral with the hashtag #MeToo being used in support of survivors of sexual violence. Because of this sudden explosion of support, the #MeToo Movement was able to expand their platform and continue national conversations around sexual violence, in both the United States and abroad. While the Me Too Movement is often associated with “taking down powerful men or targeting individuals,” this is not the purpose of the organization. They want to support survivors of sexual violence and give them access to a “healing journey.” By the exchanging of the words “me too,” people are telling survivors that “I hear you, I see you, and I believe you.” In addition, they began a movement for radical community healing, where communities come together to make them safer for everyone and to protect the vulnerable members from sexual violence. They want to work against all the ways that have allowed sexual violence to flourish in our communities.

As part of community healing, I believe that work needs to be done to improve the medical care and treatment of survivors of sexual assault. A recent study by Priyanka Amin, Raquel Buranosky, and Judy C. Chang revealed what physicians see as their role in sexual assault care and the barriers they face in providing care. They stated two main categories of roles: clinical tasks and interpersonal role. Clinical tasks was further divided into “(1) screening patients for sexual assault, (2) completing and documenting a history and physician exam, (3) conducting a forensic exam by completing a ‘rape kit’…(4) providing appropriate treatment for injuries and sexually transmitted infections as well as emergency contraception, (5) providing referrals to sexual assault experts, sexual assault crisis lines, women’s shelters, and/or mental health professions” (Pg 5). Interpersonal roles including educating and providing guidance to survivors, giving survivors support after a disclosure is made, and advocating for patients, both at work and in the community.

The barriers to sexual assault care had three broad categories: internal barriers, physician-patient communication, and system obstacles. Internal barriers included fear of getting a disclosure of sexual assault, emotional burdens of sexual assault management, and personal opinions regarding sexual assault and sexual assault survivors. The physicians in this study described the current approach to the topic of sexual assault survivors is “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” because they felt unprepared or uncomfortable. With managing sexual assault comes feelings of powerlessness and frustration when patients don’t follow up with referrals or plans or when they choose to remain in the abusive relationships. There is also fear of triggering more distress in patients by bringing up the conversation of sexual violence. The preconceived opinions about sexual assault and survivors mostly surrounds difficulty believing report because they suspect ulterior motives for disclosing the information. The physician-patient communication barriers can include language barriers, difficulty helping patients feel comfortable disclosing or discussing sexual assault, and challenges that arise when patients choose not to disclose history of sexual violence. The two system obstacles are time limitations and competing demands. The healthcare system is set to prioritize certain patients over others and for seeing more patients with less time, which puts pressure on physicians to get through patients quickly.

While improving the medical care and treatment of sexual assault survivors will not solve the root of the problem, it can help with physician, mental, and emotional healing. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends that a universal screening process be established for survivors of sexual assault. The American College of Emergency Physicians gives the policy recommendation that hospitals should “address the medical, psychological, safety, and legal needs of the sexually assaulted patient.” The plan set by the hospital for care should include counseling services and specifically address concerns about pregnancy and the treatment of sexually transmitted disease. In addition, systemic changes need to be made to address the problems of lack of time and competing priorities. With changes to the medical care and facilities, training for physicians should be required to address sexual violence. This will improve physician comfortability and competence regarding the topic. The training should specifically address communication skills, dealing with emotion, and understanding trauma.

Overall, the medical care of sexual assaults survivors by physicians is a point of concern that needs to be addressed in order to help survivors on their “healing journey.” The #MeToo Movement began in support of young survivors of sexual violence and has grown into a much larger organization providing support for many others. The medical community can help with the mission of the #MeToo Movement by providing exceptional, compassionate care to the survivors of sexual assault.

 

Bibliography

Me Too Movement . “You Are Not Alone.” Me Too, metoomvmt.org/home.

Amin, Priyanka, Raquel Buranosky, and Judy C. Chang. “Physician’s Perceived Roles, as Well as Barriers, towards Caring for Women Sex Assault Survivors.” Women’s health issues : official publication of the Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health 27.1 (2017): 43–49. PMC. Web. 12 Oct. 2018.

Pornographic Violence

Written by Marian Phillips
Marian is a first year student in the Women’s History Graduate Program.

Over the last year the United States has bared witness to a resurgence of legislature aimed at restricting sexually explicit images based on a possibility of violence, or risk of health. This year alone has seen Florida’s House of Representatives successfully declare the material as a public health risk, with Republican Representative Ross Spano of Florida as its sponsor. While questioning legal issues pertaining to sexually explicit material is not entirely uncommon in the United States, the discussion often pertains to the viewer, not necessarily the performers.

As the #MeToo movement has seen actors such as Lady Gaga speaking out against abuse, adult film actors Leigh Raven and Riley Nixon have also courageously used their voices to speak out against the abuse in the pornography industry.  As survivors of abuse in the pornography industry have spoken up, they have also called out their abusers. Porn actors James Deen and Ron Jeremy are two of the men that have been accused by significant others and coworkers of assault. Perhaps the biggest assailant of them all is the idol of many young men around the world, Hugh Hefner.

Playboy magazine’s founder Hugh Hefner passed away at the ripe old age of 91 in September of 2017. Since his passing, many women subject to Hefner’s abuse have opened up about it. Holly Madison, ex-playboy playmate and ex-partner to Hefner, wrote a tell all memoir of the relationship titled Down the Rabbit Hole: Curious Adventures and Cautionary Tales of a Former Playboy Bunny (2015). Madison tells the world of the relationship she had once shared with Hefner, detailing counts of coercion and manipulation at the hand of the elderly businessman. While some playmates have denied these allegations, others have come forward against him and in support of Madison in the wake of his passing.

Harkening back towards the aforementioned legislature passed in Florida, Spano presented the argument that viewing pornography in excess would result in an inability to form healthy intimate partner relationships and result in sexual deviance. What the Republican Representative of Florida forgets to mention is the recognition of abuse in the industry as a whole. As many young men in the United States have idolized Hefner, Deen, and Jeremy, is it too bold to say that their idolization has resulted in what Spano recognizes as deviance? Or would it be appropriate to determine that toxic masculinity and violence towards women is bred through a lack of recognizing the impact of idols with abusive behaviors when presented in positions of dominance?

As the #MeToo movement continues to draw nationwide attention and prompt other women to speak out on their abuse by men in positions of power, it is important to ask these questions. By questioning the core of pornography in its production at the hands of abusive men, the results can reveal many more questions, but just as many answers. Pornography as a whole is not necessarily an inherently abusive medium, for historically it has been used in favor of women for educational purposes. Yet it does pose the question of how men seeking dominant position have used it to inflict dominance, and in turn abuse, towards women they work with or employ.

I find it is important to note that sexually explicit images are entirely subjective based on the individual who is consuming the material, I am not trying to stake claim on what is or is not explicit. Please find a list below of a few historians that have conducted in-depth analyses on pornography.

  • Whitney Strub
  • Robert Darnton
  • Anna Clark
  • Marta Vicente
  • Robert Rosen

This blog post is in no way a stance against pornography. It is meant to question the motives of men in the industry of pornography and the phrasing used in anti-pornography legislation. 

#WhyIDidntReport

Written by Hannah McCandless
Hannah is a first year student in the Women’s History Graduate Program.

The last several weeks have been a stressful time for survivors of sexual violence. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation of sexual assault by Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh have dominated the news cycle and forced numerous victims of assault to relive difficult and traumatizing memories. One of the most common damnations of assault victims, including Dr. Ford, is that many non-victims do not understand why someone would choose not to report. The assumption that if someone does not report their assault immediately makes the assault less valid or less believable than someone who reports immediately is infuriating and demeaning.

An archive’s worth of posts could be written on this topic, but for this week, we have chosen to highlight the voices of the thousands of survivors who expressed their outrage on twitter with the hashtag #WhyIDidntReport. Below are the voices of women and men who are fed up, hurt, tired, and motivated. Their reasons are heartbreaking, but as a collective voice they are empowering, strong, and inspirational.

ℂ𝕒𝕣AAAAAAAAA!! 𝕄𝕔𝔾ee

I shared my story on Facebook and a dude messaged me to tell me I needed to stop trying to ruin mens lives so that’s how today is going

Sara Marshmallow
because even making this post, I am scared of what will happen.

Emily H Stooksberry

being assaulted in HS, oh wait I did. I told the school counselor. She wrote me up for “public display of affection” and gave me detention. I was so shamed I took corporal punishment instead so my parents wouldn’t find out. At least he didn’t rape me.

Lauren Sheldon

At 6, I was six.
At 17, he was a “friend” and I didn’t want to “ruin his life.”
At 19, I was drunk.
At 23, I was ashamed it had happened again.

Emma Anne Moody

He was a leader of a religious organization I was a part of

Teri Kolter

-l’m 70. The attempted rape was in HS. I had no proof. I talked my way out of the assault by agreeing to walk out of BR with his arm around me – so his friends thought he scored. Like Ford, It’s still a very clear memory of only the encounter.

pizzaprincess

because I was a stripper and it happened while working, I figured people would assume I brought it upon myself or think I deserved what happened because of what I did for a living and where it happened.

Jesse Lynn

To those who aren’t posting your reasons for , who couldn’t watch his testimony, who are quietly processing & coping
Your story is also valid you are also strong and it’s no one else’s fucking business

Benji Franks

because I didn’t want to think it actually happened to me. I begged myself to get over it. I couldn’t and I’ll never get over it.

Audrasaurus 

is nobody’s fucking business! Sexual assault victims shouldn’t have to justify their actions in order to make them valid.

We aren’t lying. We are strong. And we are a force to be reconned with.

For the NEH…

Historians Joan Kelly, Alice Kessler-Harris, Joan Scott, and Nell Painter, photographer Candacy Taylor, and filmmaker Mira Nair. What do these women have in common? All received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), a government-funded agency now more than a half-century old.

Operating under the banner “Because democracy demands wisdom,” the NEH provides funds to “cultural institutions, such as museums, archives, libraries, colleges, universities, public television, and radio stations, and to individual scholars.” These funds help share photos depicting scenes from across an ocean and time (and art and artifacts from the North American continent too), bring books to life, engage young minds at the museum, disseminate knowledge to educators, and tell us what’s in the archives so we can find it later!

Even if you’re not a scholar, you may have come into contact with the NEH. It’s one of those things you might hear about on PBS (This programming is made possible by…). Personally, one of my favorite pieces of NEH work is “The Presidents” on PBS’s American Experience.

As a student, I have come across the work of or had some sort of connection to all the individuals I named above. Joan Kelly was one of the creators of the SLC Women’s History program. Alice Kessler-Harris, who once taught at SLC, was one of the women’s historians whose work I came across while browsing the library of the women’s center where I once worked. Joan Scott and Candacy Taylor’s works were among our readings in our first year as graduate students. Nell Painter presented the keynote address at our “Black Women in White America, Revisited,” conference this year. I wrote about one of Mira Nair’s projects in an undergraduate paper on women-directed films. It is exciting to think that NEH grants helped them on their way to success, on their way to students like us seeing their work and being inspired.

If you are a member of the American Historical Association (AHA) or a savvy observer of the news, you may have heard way back in January about imperiled funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities. Well, the President’s budget proposal is now out in the open, and the AHA has provided its analysis of the President’s proposal, which is basically to dissolve the NEH.

As a graduate student who wants my fellow classmates and my teachers to have opportunities for research and for the exhibition of their work to the public, I see the National Endowment for the Humanities as an important asset to this country. When grants that can, for example, help us protect our primary source documents or interpret history for techloving audiences are in danger, the professions to which many students aspire are also in danger. It’s important that we protect the NEH!

 

This article reflects the opinions of the author and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Sarah Lawrence College or the SLC Women’s History program.

A Local Field Trip: AC-BAW in Mount Vernon

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(a) An envelope directed to Miss Lynda M. Smith of the Peace Corps, with an Abraham Lincoln postage stamp (U.S. Government work).

I became a stamp collector when a friend of my mom introduced me to the hobby in third or fourth grade. I already loved history and the idea of finding stamps that had been used for mail decades ago and had come from far away places was especially exciting for me. The images on the stamps showed me beautiful art (introducing me to the many iterations of the Madonna and Child for instance), visages of the presidents and historical figures, various animals and plants, and of course, the American flag.  I never collected anything particularly valuable. My stamps were almost all postmarked, and the basis of my collection consisted of duplicates from hobby collectors who never would have been in the position to pay for something rare or expensive. But for me, that was all fine. Maybe I had a few fantasies of discovering something amongst the cast-offs, but there were no “inverted Jennys” to be found.

I can’t believe it’s been this long, but a few months ago, I visited an exhibit about African Americans on postage stamps at AC-BAW Center for the Arts in Mount Vernon. I found out about the exhibit from the community newspaper. As a women’s history student, I wanted to see how Black women figured on postage stamps and in the exhibit.

322px-Shirley_Chisholm

(b) Shirley Chisholm (Wikimedia Commons)

On postage stamps, I had seen Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, aviator Bessie Coleman, singer Roberta Martin, and the illustration of the musical Porgy and Bess. I used sheets of stamps of jazz artist Sarah Vaughan and writer Maya Angelou for my own correspondence. However, I was surprised by the vast number of stamps in the exhibit and the number that I had never seen before! (Unfortunately, I am not finding any public domain images of the actual stamps to show within this post, so I will link to outside sources and show images of the individuals I mention…but you should go to the exhibit to see them all!)

Stamps depicting presidential cabinet secretary Patricia Roberts Harris, gospel singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and actress Fredi Washington (in writing only) were among those I had never cast my eyes on before. There were several people of which I previously had no knowledge at all.

Imitation_of_Life_(1934)--Fredi_Washington

(c) Fredi Washington from Imitation of Life (Wikimedia Commons)

While I was there, I scribbled the names and years of a number of cool stamps that caught my eye. Ethel Payne, a columnist for the Chicago Defender, and Secretary Harris (named above) figure in my research on historical Black newspapers. I wish I knew about these fascinating women earlier! Congresswoman Barbara Jordan‘s stamp had to be one of my favorites though. There are too few women elected officials who have made it onto the postage stamp (the reasons why are a whole other blog post). Congresswoman Jordan was an awesome person about whom I don’t think enough people know.

The exhibit at AC-BAW was originally supposed to close about a month ago, but when I visited, a board member told me that it was extended. So, you should still be able to go see it! If you need a break from your work or perhaps after you finish the semester, go check it out! If you have any particular favorite stamps, share with us!

 

 Image Credits blog post 4.26.17

*Please note that any links to outside sources are for educational purposes. I tried to avoid pages where the stamps were being sold, but some stamps were less visible online than others.

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.