PANEL: Women and Cultural Activism

Saturday, March 2, 2013 at 4:45 PM

This panel will be moderated by current SLC Women’s History student, Robert Leleux.

Out South of the Salt Line: Lesbians in the Court of Public Opinion

Debbie Hicks

Tourists recall images of the Gulf South port of Mobile, Alabama: teen Azalea Trail Maids as a pastel curtsy of antebellum hoop skirts; maskers rocking Mardi Gras floats; hurricane flooded bayous, and record-busting deep-sea fishing rodeos. Each image speaks, in part, to an aspect of history, custom, and values shaping the lives of women and their families living in a city which boasts a colonial legacy as birthplace of French Creole culture and Mardi Gras in America. Yet lesbians and other gender-minority women in coastal Alabama, like all women in the Deep South, can rightly claim less significant if less heard herstories of advocacy. Our discussion identifies lesbian advocates, their organizations, and strategies which advanced social justice for lesbians and other minority genders in the Mobile area.

Debbie Hicks is an independent scholar who lives and writes about the lives of women and gender-minorities in coastal Alabama, as well as historically segregated Indian communities in the Deep South. She is an activist whose work has included community organizing for civil rights starting in 1977, during which time she participated in the Student Coalition for Community Health (SCCH) to offer the first integrated health care program serving all residents in a rural Alabama community. She currently coordinates Charlotte’s Tree, a volunteer program that recycles materials destined for landfill to assist low-income persons.

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Womanspace Gallery: From the Laundromat to the Woman’s Building

Elizabeth Dastin

Los Angeles during the 1970s was host to a wealth of significant art historical feminist activity. The best known is the 1972 installation, Womanhouse, organized by Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro. As an homage to and extension of these efforts, the cooperative gallery Womanspace (1973-1974) opened its doors and the following year, as did the Woman’s Building (1973-1991), a non-profit arts and education center. Although the Woman’s Building closed in 1991, its legacy has recently generated a surge of interest, culminating in a 2011 Getty sponsored exhibition which historicized its contributions to feminist communities in Los Angeles… I correct the glaring omission of Womanspace within the narrative of the Woman’s Building and locate the gallery as an overlooked and instrumental player within feminist activity in Los Angeles. …I extend the Getty’s energies to unearth a narrative for the post-war art scene in Los Angeles to include Womanspace and its contributions to the regional expressions of 1970s feminism.

Elizabeth Dastin is a PhD candidate in Art History with a certificate in Women’s Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center. She holds an MA from Christie’s and a BA from Wellesley College. She has taught and lectured at a number of institutions in New York and California, and she currently teaches at Santa Monica College.

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Women and Political Activism in Selected Novels by Julia Alvarez

Naglaa Hasaan

Julia Alvarez (1950- ), a Dominican-American poet, novelist, and essayist, is known for her engagement with the political dilemmas of her native country, the Dominican Republic. In her novels In the Time of the Butterflies (1991) and In the Name of Salome (1994), she not only grapples with the traumatic historical experiences of Caribbean islands under dictatorship but she also foregrounds the role of women in creating a new revolutionary spring. Alvarez’s novels will be read in light of Foucault’s theory with particular focus on the mechanisms of power and resistance, how power works out to subjugate people and how resistance can take multiple forms, primary among which are discursive practices. To apply Foucault’s concepts to Alvarez’s feminist/political novels will cast mutual light on both writers, elucidating their views in a way that weds theory and practice.

Naglaa Saad Mohamed Hassan earned her PhD from Cairo University in Egypt. Her dissertation, completed in 2009, is entitled, “Cultural Politics in Selected Works of Derek Walcott: A Study in Postcolonial Theory and Practice.” She is a Fulbright scholar and currently lectures in English at Fayoum University. Her other accomplishments include numerous translations from English to Arabic, and articles exploring the Muslim world and Arab cultural identity.

PREVIEW: 15th Annual Women’s History Month Conference in Honor of Amy Swerdlow

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“Mr. President, How Long Must Women Wait For Liberty?” — Photo Courtesy of the Library of Congress’ Women’s History Month archives. http://www.womenshistorymonth.gov

Hello women’s history enthusiasts and loyal readers!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year– namely, WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH! To kick off the month of March, Sarah Lawrence College’s Women’s History graduate program hosts an annual conference, centered around a theme in women’s history and activism. This year, our conference honors the late Amy Swerdlow, historian, activist, member of Women Strike for Peace, and former director of the WH program at SLC. Swerdlow expertly combined scholarship and activism in her own amazing life, and we draw on her example as inspiration for the work and message of this year’s celebration.

womenstrikeforpeace

As a member of the conference’s committee, I was privileged to read and select from the brilliant submissions to our conference this year. In the next day or two, the Re/visionist team will be posting excerpts from the papers that will be featured at the conference on March 1st and 2nd, 2013.

In the mean time, mark your calendars and don’t forget to REGISTER HERE so that when you arrive at Heimbold Auditorium on March 1st and/or 2nd, there will be a lovely folder with your name on it!

I can’t wait to see you all there for a day and a half of illuminating and diverse presentations on the intersection of feminisms, activisms, and scholarship in the study of women’s history.

Cheers!

Emma

I Love That You Hate Me for Being a Cheerleader by Brianna Leone

{Brianna Leone is a 2nd year graduate student at Sarah Lawrence College. Her favorite method of procrastination is to find new television obsessions in which she invests too much of herself. She is hoping that someone will enable her television addiction with related employment after her graduation in May.}

  

{Yes, I stole my uniform and used it as a last minute Halloween costume my first year of college. No, my face does not normally do this.}

Confession: I was a high school cheerleader. This is not how I imagined introducing myself to the readers of Re/Visionist but there it is. Don’t misunderstand me; I loved being a cheerleader and (mostly) enjoyed my time with my teammates but “Cheerleading Captain”, a title I held for four years, was not one that ever matched up with my personality. I think most people who learn this factoid about my past wonder if my affinity for sarcasm has reached new heights and this revelation is part of some elaborate prank. (Actually, I think most of my high school peers thought the same thing but it was more believable when I was standing in front of them in a skimpy blue and gold cheerleading uniform with TIGERS printed across my chest and ass.)

It is a part of my life which is now basically nonexistent. Considering the seriousness with which I approached the sport over six seasons and four years, I dropped it with more swiftness and eagerness than I anticipated I would once I began my first year of college. With no regular contact with my former teammates or coaches, other than the occasional Facebook message or – I’ll admit – nostalgia-induced intoxicated SMS, it is sometimes difficult for even me to remember the zeal I once had for cheerleading (or that I participated in the sport at all). But when tasked to write a piece for R/V’s Sports issue this month I was remembering more and more the marginalization I witnessed and experienced in relation to the female-aligned sport.

I will note here that cheerleading was a solely male sport from its creation in 1898 until 1923. But it was not until World War II, with the absence of men, that women’s squad presence began to dominate the sport. It was women who brought athleticism to cheerleading with tumbling and stunting; their inclusion, however, was contingent upon classmate votes rather than ability, thereby establishing a foundational correlation between female cheerleaders and popularity. The impression of cheerleading as key to entry into the upper echelon of high school social hierarchy was not indicative of my time as a participant of the sport. It was just the opposite, in fact. At my small rural/suburban hybrid school in Northern Westchester County, New York, football did not exist and neither did cheerleading. It was announced that if there was enough interest a winter squad would be formed to support the men’s basketball team. One of my best friends thought it would be fun and I was a gymnast when I was young and spry so I figured, why not? That friend is actually the only reason I committed to stay on for the entire season; after two weeks I thought I could not possibly last an entire season at this but she pleaded and I caved. One week later she and I were both named Captains and I begrudgingly fell in love. If I had not, I would have been forced to give up on it much sooner than I did.

To state the obvious, starting a new sports team is hard. It becomes even harder when cultural preconceptions regarding its participants paint them as airheaded and loose girls who are so desperate for attention that they have found a school-sanctioned excuse to parade around varsity boys in too-short skirts and are so self-involved that they could never comprehend what it means to be a team member. Convincing the community that we were legitimate athletes proved to be an uphill battle, one that I would fight for four years.

{During our Junior year my co-captain and I joined a neighboring school’s squad during the Fall season to cheer for the football team with which our high school was joined. She usually looked much happier than this and I typically did not have such crazy eyes.}

What time, distance and a sprinkling of maturity have helped me realize is that the constant judgments our team suffered (more frequently from faculty than from fellow students) was that we were subjected to ridicule not because of a lack of ability, but because of what we represented. Cheerleading was something to be mocked and although at its core the sport represents community and support, we were instead pushed to the fringes of our local athletic community. We were never given adequate practice space since we were considered to be of lesser value in comparison to other indoor (and some outdoor) sports; with whom we were in competition for the gymnasiums. In the first fifteen minutes of each practice we would reorganize the cafeteria to accommodate our team and drag poorly padded mats from the gym into our newly cleared space. The cafeteria became a hangout as other students waited to meet with teachers or for their clubs and athletics to start. As they loitered we were put on display as they made a game out of distracting and goading us. We were in the middle of a Catch-22: without better resources we could not improve as a team but we had no hope of convincing the Athletic Department that we deserved and needed more support. The distinction that we even needed to fight for the most basic of supplies and space in a district that never wanted for funds did not escape me either.

Most of the teachers and administrators that I came across never put their prejudice against cheerleaders bluntly—that is—all except for one specific physical educator. He seemed to get a certain enjoyment out of taunting my co-captain and I. Eventually it erupted into yelling—one day as we walked away from him—as we were still too fearful to directly challenge his authority as an otherwise respected faculty member at the school. I do not maintain any bitterness over this rivalry between student and teacher if, for no other reason, that little that occurred during my teenage years is worth holding a grudge over. Though, at the time, I found his dismissal of the 18+ hours a week I practiced (in addition to attending games in support of basketball players that he once coached) extremely irritating. Unfortunately I did not possess the rhetoric to properly articulate or discuss why I found his attitude so unacceptable and could not properly argue why he was wrong and I was right – because I was (and am) right.

{With the Fall squad at John Jay, we attended Pine Forest Cheerleading Camp in the Poconos. This is part of the team shortly before we headed home.}

No other girls’ team would have ever been made to suffer for wanting to play as we had. And while we have been unique in that our team was so young, I am certain that we were neither the first nor the only cheerleaders to be marginalized; nor were we the only female athletic team to have to argue their legitimacy. With no dance or gymnastic team we were the only performers that also fell under the umbrella of “athletics.” But that was the crux of the argument. We had not been successful enough in our beginning years for our efforts to be considered real athletics. Especially as our team was not a feminized version of a male-sport, we became the other.

As a testament to the marginalization of cheerleading at my high school, the team was never featured in the yearbook and I am in possession of no team photographs. Essentially, outside of the memories of those involved, the existence of cheerleading in the mid-2000s at that school has been erased. Rampant conservatism in my hometown would most certainly reject my assertion that because our identity was rooted in our gender and we had no brother team to balance our existence in the school’s sports community, we were invalidated as an athletic team. Prejudices in my town are rarely publically proclaimed and so, no, there was never any blatant statement that the cheerleading squad was considered an inferior addition to the Athletic Department because it is deemed a wholly female activity and has no right to align itself with the likes of field hockey, baseball or soccer players. But I have yet to come across a better explanation for the substandard treatment I received in comparison to other student athletes. Although cheerleading does not consume my time or my thoughts the way it once did, I maintain that it gave me confidence and a sense of restless indignation, which, while frustrating at the time, has served me well since then. In fact, I am almost grateful to the close-mindedness that I fought in my own small way everyday growing up. I rarely won any of the small battles I took up but I was also never discouraged by the condescension and yielding to the status quo. After all, what good is a feminist without an internal balance of humor, passion and perseverance?

Screw You, Tim Tebow: Thoughts from a Feminist Sports Fan

{Katy Gehred is a first-year graduate student in Women’s History at Sarah Lawrence College. Originally from Dayton, Ohio; she is currently researching gender in early-America.}

Photo courtesy of SI.com

Prior to the Broncos/Steelers game of January 8, one of my friends posted a Facebook status which read something along the lines of: “Well, one of them will rape you and the other won’t let you get an abortion.”

I’m sure that dark comedy like that was floating all over the internet before the Tim Tebow/Ben Roethlesberger showdown. I noticed because usually the sports smack-talk that shows up on my feed is humorous at best, and at worst annoying; rarely does it touch upon topics that I actually care about.

Now, as a Packers fan I know a little something about loyalty to a sports team (unlike Brett Favre, OH SNAP!) and so I understand how trivial it is. I mean, I root for the Packers, I get emotionally involved to the point of shouting at my television screen and then I move on with my life. Loyalty to a specific sports team is simultaneously insanely dedicated and astonishingly trivial. Because after the blood, sweat, tears, and emotion of a football game is over, it all comes down to a bunch of guys in weird outfits running around and knocking each other over.

Perhaps I’m revealing myself as a bad fan or something, but I’ve always assumed that the whole point of football was that it didn’t matter. It’s a cathartic way to have some silly regional pride—or vent some pent up emotions—while eating Buffalo wings with people you like.

And so when a scandal happens, like Ben Roethlisberger or Kobe Bryant being accused of rape—or the horrible Penn State child abuse case—all of a sudden something fun and cathartic gets mixed up with something deeply serious and disturbing. And that can be conflicting for a fan whose parents dressed them in team jerseys before they could even talk; it’s hard to shake that kind of dedication.

Much ink has been spilled about sex scandals in sports. The media loves pitting the stereotypical he-man sports fan—who’s never taken a Women’s Studies course in his life— against the anti rape-culture of women’s rights activism. Rape cases and sex scandals are rarely cut and dry and so a whole lot of hate and victimizing gets spat out before the media finally loses its interest. And by then, usually, the perpetrator goes back to being a role-model for children and making more money than I’ll see in my entire life.

And so life is hard for a feminist sports fan. I certainly don’t have any answers. Is it better to just pack it in and boycott sports? When I think about the beer commercials I’ll have to sit through that sounds pretty tempting. But then I think about that Giants game last week when I could hear everyone in the apartments around mine celebrating simultaneously. I’ll never hate sports, but I just can’t forgive the rape apologists either.

Weekly Feminist Smorgasbord: All-American Muslim, Victim-Blaming Ad Campaign & “Muscular Empathy”

via feministryangosling.tumblr.com

  • In an attack on women of color’s reproductive freedoms, anti-choice members of Congress have pushed for a bill called the “Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act,” which seeks to prevent women of color from attaining abortions in the name of “civil rights.” Clarification: Neither Susan B. Anthony nor Frederick Douglass would have supported this BS.
  • Feministing breaks down the victim-blaming and just downright disturbing “rape prevention” campaign at “ControlTonight.org”, targetting — you guessed it — young women victims. Same old ridiculous narrative: the raped person should control the rapist’s urge to rape by NOT going out and drinking.  The ad’s image itself is a trigger warning, so be prepared to fume with anger.
  • Ta-Nehisi Coates responds to the Forbes article, “If I Were A Poor Black Kid.” It’s entitled, “Muscular Empathy,” and explores one of the greatest challenges an historian faces, let alone a human being: empathy with people from very different circumstances than ourselves. Here’s an excerpt:

This basic extension of empathy is one of the great barriers in understanding race in this country. I do not mean a soft, flattering, hand-holding empathy. I mean a muscular empathy rooted in curiosity. If you really want to understand slaves, slave masters, poor black kids, poor white kids, rich people of colors, whoever, it is essential that you first come to grips with the disturbing facts of your own mediocrity. The first rule is this–You are not extraordinary. It’s all fine and good to declare that you would have freed your slaves. But it’s much more interesting to assume that you wouldn’t and then ask “Why?”

Harris-Perry is at her strongest when she breaks down the devastating and unseen culture of shame that is put upon and often internalized by black women; it is fed by a dangerous form of misrecognition that harms both individuals and societies. Harris-Perry is nuanced in her understanding of shame not only manifesting as a sort of shrinking-away, but in the compensating “strong black woman” stereotype that seems positive, but leaves little room for the full scope of human vulnerability. Shame, then, serves as a kind of social control.

  • Robin Lim, an American midwife who has served thousands of Indonesian women in their births, is CNN’s Hero of the Year.

Sebelius claims that her reason is that the FDA didn’t show that 11-year-old girls, some 10 percent of whom are fertile, understand how to follow the EC directions….If a sixth grader can’t understand those elementary, crystal-clear instructions, we should just move back to the caves, because civilization is finished.

Weekly Feminist Smorgasbord: Remembering the Ms. Revolution, the History of ‘Personhood’, and Umbrellas

The first cover of Ms. magazine, Spring 1972.

  • In honor of its 40th birthday, a fabulous tribute to Ms. magazine at NY Mag. My favorite tid-bit: some of the proposed titles for Ms. included Everywoman, Sisters, Lilith, Sojourner, Female, A Woman’s Place, The First Sex, and The Majority. Plus the article is structured as an oral history, with insights from the pioneers themselves. From Mary Peacock, one of the founding editors:

When Ms. started, you couldn’t pick up the phone and say, “Ms. Magazine,” because what people heard was “Mmzzz” and they’d ask, “What are you saying?” This would happen 25 times a day. So when we picked up the phone, we said each letter separately: “M-S magazine.” But gradually something changed—I could shoot myself that I can’t remember when it changed, because it was a huge watershed: Suddenly you could say “Ms.,” and everybody knew what you were talking about.

  • And also at NY Magthe feminist blogosphere! Holllllaaaa! Emily Nussbaum uses blogs to show how far the movement has come since the days of Ms.:

Subjects recurred from early feminism, including outrage at sexual violence. But there were also striking differences: While seventies feminists had little truck with matrimony, feminist bloggers lobbied for gay marriage. There were deconstructions of modern media sexism, including skeptical responses to the “concern-trolling” of older women who made a living denouncing the “hookup epidemic.” There was new terminology: “slut-shaming,” “body-snarking,” “cisgender.” And there were other cultural shifts as well: an acceptance (and sometimes a celebration) of porn, an interest in fashion, and the rise of the transgendered-rights movement, once seen as a threat, now viewed as a crucial part of sexual diversity.

  • Barbara Ehrenreich on OWS and homelessness–reminding us that the messy conditions faced by protesters are a daily reality for many Americans. She asks, why aren’t our cities legally required to find accomodations for homeless folks? It is a deeply troubling contradiction:

LA’s Skid Row endures constant police harassment, for example, but when it rained, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had ponchos distributed to nearby Occupy LA.

  • Also, Nick Kristof breaks it all down and builds it back up with his defense of birth control and family planning in the NY Times. Here’s something to tattoo on yourself: “Contraceptives no more cause sex than umbrellas cause rain.” BOOM.
  • House Democrats have filed an amicus brief against the anti-LGBT rights Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), arguing that DOMA undermines the stable family structure that children need to thrive by denying married gay and lesbian couples federal marriage benefits. Hell yeah–but it’s not just for the kids’ sake, right Dems?
  • “I’ve been protesting what’s been going on on Wall Street for a long time.” -Elizabeth Warren showing her support for the OWS movement at a speech in Brockton, MA, Wednesday evening. Watch this video and read about how she eloquently handled some Tea Party b.s. during the speech. [Favorite part: As the Tea Party dude is leaving, members of crowd shout, “Thanks for coming!” as others boo.]

Of course men’s liberation is tied up in women’s. Men, particularly those operating within a traditional Western context, have missed out on some of the most exhilarating parts of being human for far too long—authentic expression of emotion, the joys of being a present parent, intimate relationships with other men in which they can show up as their whole, vulnerable selves. Likewise, they have suffered from tremendous pressure to make money, to appear eternally strong, to wedge their diverse interests, passions, and reactions into the narrow box of socially acceptable masculinity.

Ten Questions with Caroline Biggs

{This month features Urban Theorist/Feminist/Fashion Socio-Historian Extraordinaire Elizabeth Wilson. Author of dozens of books and countless articles, she has earned quite the international following for her groundbreaking scholarship on fashion, urbanity, and modernity—and the lifelong devotion of at least one budding academic-fashionist. <3}

Describe yourself in one word.

Energetic

 To date, what do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

Bringing up a daughter. 

What or whom has been your greatest source of inspiration?

My partner.

What quality in others do you find the most admirable?

Kindness. 

What quality in others do you find the most deplorable?

Spiritual Meanness

What are your three favorite texts?

Marcel Proust, A La Recherche du Temps Perdu

Walter Benjamin,  Arcades Project

Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights 

If you could spend one day in history, when and where would it be?

A day during the Russian Revolution

Finish the thought: “Feminism is . . .”

The recognition that men and women are equal.  [Discussion of presumed innate or learned psychological and other differences is irrelevant to this truth].

What is something about you others would be surprised to know?

In lots of ways I am quite conservative.

 What are your words to live by?

The stiff upper lip is much underrated.

 

{Endless thanks and admiration for Elizabeth Wilson. xx}

{Photo courtesy of The Idea Store.}