A Period Memory

By Hannah McCandless

Hannah is a first year graduate student in the Women’s History program at Sarah Lawrence College.

    Sitting in Mrs. Carter’s seventh grade Language Arts class during the fall of 2007, I slid down in my chair, legs spread out, relaxed – no care in the world. I always sat like that, not thinking about how much space I took up and loving how comfortable I felt. We learned about prepositions that day. Brandon Wilson, quite a bully throughout my time knowing him, sat directly across from me. I sometimes wonder if he ever saw it. I convinced myself he didn’t a few years ago when he reached out on Facebook to ask me on a date (I still got it). So he must not have noticed it, or maybe he blocked out the memory. Either way, it’s still pretty haunting.

Unlike the rest of my classes, Language Arts took two periods out of the seven I had. I didn’t mind. I loved the subject and Mrs. Carter was a real spunky teacher, so the two class periods didn’t bother me much. Her wit was quick, her accent thick – her class felt like the safest place to be. Though I can only imagine the 6 minutes in between periods would have been a great time to socialize with classmates, I never knew for sure. Thanks to a near disaster on a long bus ride years before, I always used the six minute break to run to the bathroom, whether I had to go or not (just in case).

    Down the hall, past my peers, I walked into my usual stall (the middle one) and my favorite bathroom (the one on the second floor of the old wing of the school), ready to sit and be alone on the toilet for a moment before heading back to class. I pulled down my khaki bermuda shorts to find a large, red stain. It looked like a murder scene. It took me a brief moment before I realized what had happened and I was quickly filled with terror wondering what to do next. I didn’t get a phone until I was in the eighth grade, so calling for help was out of the question. No one came into the bathroom during the entire 6 minute break, so there was no one I could ask for help. I didn’t carry a purse then because I felt like I had thwarted the patriarchy by being unfeminine in my clothing choices, so I had no tampon on hand. I didn’t know what to do.

School was important to me. I didn’t want to miss class. I wadded a bunch of toilet paper together, shoved it down my pants, and hoped I would make it through class. I spent the next 52 minutes of my life sitting with my back straight as a pole and my legs pressed so hard together that I could feel a heartbeat in my knees. I even crossed my ankles to the side. I took up as little space as possible. Never had I sat like such a lady during this class, or any class for that matter. I’m sure my grandmother would have been proud of my posture. I felt so small. I sat like that until the bell rang, at which point I quickly, but precisely, collected my things and went to the front office. They gave me a ratty, old pair of sweatpants to wear. Now everyone would know.


    This piece is the written form of a memory I had while listening to a speaker at a women’s history conference. The speakers were talking about the social justice issues surrounding periods: access to menstrual products in prisons, sex education and learned period shaming in schools, and access to medical services to address issues surrounding menstruation. Periods are complicated. A lot of people experience them, yet most memories and encounters with the bodily function are negative. The issues of menstruation are vast and in order to address the medical and emotional needs of the masses. It is necessary that a great many steps are taken in restructuring our educational values, how we treat the incarcerated, and the funding systems which support reproductive medical needs. The number of policy changes, and the of social and cultural overhaul which would subsequently need to occur, could very well be the topic of multiple books (and likely already are). But a simple first step is a bit more visceral.

    On top of policy changes, the action of speaking an experience into the ether can change lives. Despite the fact that billions of people menstruate, many feel isolated. The stigma of menstruation can be crushing and heavy. After years of understanding my body – how it functions and all the great things about being me – I still could not get out from under the weight of how small and dirty I felt in that classroom. That was ten years ago. I was socialized to take up less space, to be unseen, to be unnoticed and small. I thought that by dressing unfeminine, by taking up space, I could get out from under the pressure of that stigma. I didn’t. The memory rushed back without permission, and consumed my thoughts for a significant portion of the day. I wonder what might be different if we socialized kids differently: how might the human experience change?

Like I said, policy changes are necessary. But I argue that those changes are useless without changing the way we socialize kids. These discussions must start extremely young – well before the already heavy stigmas of puberty sets in. I know that many of my peers have similar memories consuming their thoughts, uninvited, on a regular basis. So I hope we can find ways to lift the stigma by fully supporting the bodies of children as we work toward lifting this harmful weight. Period.

An Interview with Shari Olefson and Lisa Lewin of the Women’s Equal Pay Network

By Jackie Collens

The Women’s Equal Pay Network is an organization committed to ending gendered pay discrimination in the legal professions. Their goal is to encourage women to break the silence about discrimination they have faced in the workplace by allowing them a place to share their stories and hear the experiences of others. I recently had a chance to speak with two women working on the WEPN, Shari Olefson and Lisa Lewin, to learn more about the organization.

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Tell me a little about how and when the Women’s Equal Pay Network got started:

 Shari: It actually started when a few of us at the Carnegie Group became more aware of the issues that women faced in really enforcing their rights when it came to enforcing equal pay, and we thought it would be great if women had a place to tell their stories. The legal system can be really inaccessible, and this is a way to give women a voice.

 

What strategy is the WEPN using to seek an end to gender discrimination in the legal professions?

 S: Well, first and foremost we’re collecting women’s stories and sharing their stories with policy makers.

Lisa: What I’m trying to do through social media is build a following and give news updates, highlights, trends, whatever’s going on out there currently about the equal pay discussion, and at the same time direct people to the website. It’s important to have that first step of having somebody listen to the women sharing their stories and helping them feel validated.   I think with everything it’s very hard to put a face to an issue when you just keep hearing these numbers all the time. When you hear someone’s personal story it’s easier to put a face to the issue.

 

What would you say has been your greatest accomplishment, or most rewarding experience, with the WEPN so far?

L: I’ve only been doing this for about three weeks now, and there’s a lot of start-up. In another life I was a lawyer so I love to tackle something new and research it. Personally I really enjoyed just digging into it and seeing where things stood. From a social media angle, it’s very hard to build a following from scratch and move into an area like this that has such heavy hitters. And we’ve been able to move in, we’ve been re-tweeted by Ms Magazine; we’ve had people dialoguing back and forth on twitter. We’ve been able to become part of the conversation very quickly.

S: Everyone I’ve spoken to so far and asked if they’re interested in being involved in this, has been so overwhelmingly enthusiastic.   They just are very excited about being involved. Everyone has automatically shared at least one of their stories. Always, everyone has a story like that.

L: Everywhere you go, you’re right, everyone has a story.

S: Think about if we didn’t have this issue, what the arc of our lives would be like. It would be totally different. There’s never been a depository for those stories. It’s been really rewarding to see.

 

What do you see in store for the future of the Women’s Equal Pay Network?

 S: First of all, we really have to focus on growing the social media platform and of course we need to focus on growing the story bank. But we really need to find a way to make people comfortable.   There really is a social stigma with talking about this issue. Getting women to share these stories has been really challenging, but once you do, they really open up. Some people have fifteen or twenty stories, not only their own, but they want to share others’ stories as well.

 

What are the best ways for others to get involved in the fight for equality in the workplace?

 S: Get involved with the Women’s Equal Pay Network! Get people to share stories. If you know of someone who is experiencing challenges with their work, we will also help someone who wants to file an EEOC charge. There is an unlimited license to use our logo. Stay aware of the news. Re-share it, re-tweet it, like it. The more people who see that we’re talking to each other, the more power we have together. There’s a power employers have in knowing women are too afraid to talk about this. By outing that, we eliminate that huge power.

L: I agree. It’s social media. Once you start to see everyone else doing it you want to jump on the bandwagon. This is the way people talk and this is the way they get their information. We need to get people to be comfortable sharing their stories. This is a unique place where people can take a moment and be heard about what’s happened to them. I think people don’t realize how many people it affects.

 

Are there any final things you’d like to say about employment inequality or the Women’s Equal Pay Network?

 S: If there are readers who are interested in becoming involved, all they have to do is type their story. We really want to get those stories.

L: It’s really important to share. You can do it anonymously, but share your stories.

If you’re interested in learning more, getting involved, or reading the stories, visit the Women’s Equal Pay Network at www.wepnetwork.com, and follow them on twitter @WEPNetwork

Book Review: Taking Haiti: Military Occupation and the Culture of U.S. Imperialism, 1915-1940 (2001) By Mary Renda

Book Review by Hank Broege

“The American Africa”

In the land of sloth and vice
Where they never heard of ice
Where the donkeys and women work all day
Where the land is full of ants
And the men don’t wear their pants
It is here the soldier sings his evening lay.
Underneath the boiling sun
Let them have their Benet gun
And return us to our beloved homes.[1]

This song, constructed and sung by U.S. Marines during their nineteen-year occupation of Haiti, bears a striking resemblance to The Royal Canadian Kilted Yaksmen Anthem, but unlike the Yaksmen described in the anthem, Haiti is real, yet seldom depicted as such, and thus more often depicted as an exotic African fantasy held within a predominantly white U.S. imagination. Due to the significance of Haiti’s Orientalization by U.S. discourse, I decided to title this book review of Taking Haiti after what the evangelical missionary Wilhelm Jordan described as an “American Africa.'”[2]
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Taking Haiti: Military Occupation & the Culture of U.S. Imperialism
, 1915-1940, by Mary Renda, is a colorful and engaging work of historical scholarship comprised of hundreds of sources that Renda uses to articulate the U.S. discourse of Haiti in journals, letters, pulp fiction novels, theatre, and tourism. She discusses the discourse coming from the U.S. government, especially the Wilson Administration, who commissioned the invasion of Haiti in 1915. Renda even discussed a few of the most prominent writers of the 20th century, including Eugene O’Neill, Langston Hughes, and Zora Neale Hurston and how they depicted Haiti in their literature. However, the primary focus of analysis for Renda are the U.S. Marines, whom Renda sees as an essential vehicle for U.S. discourse on racism, exoticism, gender, sexuality, phycology, imperialism and most importantly, paternalism, which is used so frequently as a framework for examining political and social relations that it at times teeters on the brink of repetitiveness.

It’s difficult to quibble even in that regard, however, because the paternalist framework existed so firmly on several levels. Woodrow Wilson, as president of the U.S., viewed Haitians as rotten little boy in need of severe punishment.[3] Major general Smedley Butler, AKA “The Fighting Quaker,” who headed the Haitian gendarmerie, who he referred to as his “little chocolate soldiers.” Coincidentally, Butler had three little children of his own whom he viewed in a similar light to his “little fellows” on Haiti: Smedley Jr., Tom Dick, and a daughter nicknamed “Snooks.”[4] The Marines themselves of course viewed the Haitians as children, including Faustin Wirkus, who saw himself and other Marines as “trustees of a huge estate that belonged to minors.”[5]

Nevertheless, this would not prevent Marines from indiscriminately killing Haitians who they suspected of being Caco rebels, overseeing Haitians being literally worked to death on cotton plantations, and the rape and killing of nine prepubescent girls in one night.[6] Since they were white Marines in Haiti, any wrongdoing would be attributed to their circumstances and not to their actions, so they were all let off the hook. At worst, they would be sent back to a mental hospital in the U.S., like sergeant Ivan Virski was after his drunken shooting rampage. According to Renda, this behavior stemmed from exposure to a range of discourse on race, gender, and nation before they even landed on Haiti.

While some Marines were born in the U.S., some were immigrants, nor were all the Marines criminals. Nevertheless, nearly all of the Marines shared a sense of racial nationalism and superiority, which was yet another paternalist framework. Furthermore, the marines also had a shared ignorance for Haiti’s history; a history that up until the 1930s, thanks to the promotional work of black pride, black nationalist, and far left organizations, as well as literature published by Arna Bontemps and Langston Hughes, had been deliberately omitted by U.S., French, and other Western discourse.

While aboard their ships to Haiti, the only literature on Haiti the Marines could get their hands on was on voodoo, and how Haitians used that to poison their enemies. [7] They even tested what they had learned on the subject by making a Haitian drink an entire bucket of water, and then waited for him to die, which he did not.[8] Therefore, prior to the U.S. occupation of Haiti, the Marines did not read about the thirteen-year Haitian Revolution that concluded in 1804 with the expulsion of French colonialists, and the establishment of the second independent republic in the western hemisphere. They did not read about how American merchants supported the Haitian, which Thomas Jefferson approved of, but could not recognize the Republic of Haiti because of the institution of slavery in the Southern U.S., and the U.S. relationship with France. The Republic of Haiti would not be recognized until the U.S. Civil War was underway. They also did not read about the thousands African Americans who immigrated to Haiti in the 1920s to escape racism and enslavement. Lastly, they did not read about the enormous debt that the French saddled Haiti with for ‘stealing’ their colony, which Haiti could not seem to recover from, especially after the U.S. took control of Haiti’s national bank and its debt in 1910, and then invaded five years later, swiftly dismantling Haiti’s political system (which has yet to be restored), and installed a puppet political system to serve U.S. imperial and neocolonial interests.

 

[1] Mary Renda, Taking Haiti: Military Occupation and the Culture of U.S. Imperialism, 1915-1940 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001) 233.

[2] Ibid, 303.

[3] Ibid, 100.

[4] Ibid, 102.

[5] Ibid, 13.

[6] Ibid, 163.

[7] Ibid, 71.

[8] Ibid, 79.

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.

Self-Perceptions of Older Women in the Age of the Waif

by Kate Angell

Note: The present paper is a synopsis of my college thesis, written over a seven-month period from 2005-2006. While editing the thesis for publication in RE/VISIONIST, I reflected that some of the material from this study has the potential to be outdated. As a social scientist, my immediate rationalization was to delve into articles published in the past five years and consequently update the study. However, I decided against this option, and chose to submit it to RE/VISIONIST as a historical document reflecting inhabitants of a very specific temporal and social location – New England senior women of the mid-2000s.

Attribution: “old woman” by Lauren Gledhill

Over the past couple decades, numerous psychological studies have been conducted to examine whether the exposure of girls and young women to images of thin, glamorized women in popular media, such as Glamour and Cosmopolitan magazines, results in disordered eating and/or poor self-regard. Some researchers (Champion & Furnham, 1999; Cusumano & Thompson, 1997; Martin & Kennedy, 1993) maintain that this particular relationship does not lead young women to internalize these socially imposed norms.  However, other studies have concluded the opposite, positing that exposure to such photographs can cause an increase in body dissatisfaction, depression, and low self-esteem (Morrison, Kalin, & Morrison, 2004; Pinhas, Toner, Ali, Garfinkel, & Stuckless, 1999; Turner, Hamilton, Jacobs, Angood, & Dwyer, 1997).

Continue reading

Another Body Talk

by Robert Leleux


One of the most peculiar things about The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls is that it seems, at times, to have been written by your Great Aunt Rose. Joan Jacobs Brumberg is an accomplished historian and an enlightened thinker, but she sometimes expresses a tone of agonized propriety that I can’t recall having heard since the days when Lucy and Ricky slept in separate beds. Take, for example, the following sentence, delivered absolutely without irony in the course of an impassioned plea on behalf of sexually exploited teenage girls: “The way in which a society handles young girls in trouble,” she writes, “is…revealing.”[1] The “trouble” to which Brumberg is referring to is, incredibly, the “Is she in trouble?” kind of trouble. The kind of “trouble” that always comes with quotation marks around it, even when it’s used in conversation.

Except, I haven’t heard that kind of “trouble” used in conversation since I was a small boy in Texas, playing under my grandmother’s dining room table, and listening in on the conversation of the old ladies in my family who still considered “pregnant” an unsuitable term for that “delicate condition.” Likewise, “out-of-wedlock births,” another Eisenhower-era phrase of which Brumberg avails herself several pages later.[2] In fact, The Body Project is sadly, but revealingly, littered with such creaky, antiquated expressions. Never more so, I’m afraid, than in the very, very unfortunate section devoted to body piercing, of which the following sentence is perhaps the most mortifying: “Teenagers today,” Brumberg explains, “grow up in a world where rigid dichotomies between gay (homosexual) and straight (heterosexual) behavior are disappearing.”[3] Oh, dear, dear, dear. Statements like this remind me of the kind of “talks” ladies used to give on current events during monthly luncheons at the club. Continue reading

David Simon’s The Wire: A Study of Women

by Amanda Seybold

David Simon’s The Wire, which aired for five seasons on HBO from 2002 to 2008, is possibly one of the most probative and insightful shows that has ever graced the small screen.  While some would describe it as a show about police in Baltimore who investigate and apprehend drug dealers, the show actually presents thoughtful and in depth examinations of many aspects of urban life, which would otherwise be ignored by middle-class America.  Despite being outside the regular scope of the show, The Wire, perhaps intentionally, perhaps unintentionally, uses the juxtaposition of two female detectives, Detective Kima Greggs and Detective Beadie Russell, to illustrate a discourse on gender norms, racial implications, sexuality and motherhood.

At the end of her text No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Women, Estelle Freedman takes a moment to reflect on the changes that have occurred in both the public and private sectors with regards to women’s issues.  She notes “[w]omen and men are demanding new social policies that allow them to choose both caring and breadwinning rather than choose between them.”[1] It is apparent from The Wire’s depiction of both Russell and Greggs, however, that the show is a bit behind the developments that Freedman lauds in her text.  Ultimately the show’s story arc stays with Greggs while Russell is relegated to a secondary position after just one season.   Greggs’ character seems to illustrate Simon’s argument that in order for a woman to succeed in the high energy and exciting world of crime fighting in Baltimore, she must essentially align herself more closely with traits we have come to regard as part of the male gender, rather than with the female. Continue reading