momma, do you remember when

“remember when” by alan jackson played on the stereo loud

enough to chase the smell of summer through every room

in the house and out the open windows.

my mom was probably sweeping or folding laundry on the couch,

there was a list of chores for my sister and i to finish by the

end of a hot dry day.

my mom loved making lists 

-probably still does-

she had a planner to keep her schedule,

and dad’s and the three kids’ lives in a busy order.

i have to dig deep to remember these things like the music she played, 

the morning chores and breakfast, how i would sit on the edge of an empty 

bathtub, pointy elbows on scraped knees, while she curled her

pitch black hair and applied smokey shadow to her eyelids.

there was always a candle or wax lamp in the kitchen that

smelled like fresh cut frasier or mulled wine or sweet gardenias,

i learned to know what season it was by the early evening flame on the counter.

summer nights were a different kind of special when my socialite

mother had another family over for a bbq and swimming, these

are some of my favorite memories.

july nights were warm, the temperature was the same in and

outside, all the windows were open while music played on the stereo 

loud enough to fill the house, the scent of chlorine mixed

with the tennessee honey candle in the kitchen, which meant the moon 

was watching the stars dance across the surface of the pool.

water dripped down my ankles while i walked through the 

sliding glass door to my parents’ room to their bathroom,

sitting on the edge of the toilet next to the empty tub, my toes barely

touched the white linoleum floor.

it is difficult to remember these times, they seem so distant with a million

memories between my mom’s shadowed eyes, charcoal curls

and this moment.

recently, i’ve decided to reach for forgiveness, it’s a challenge to reconcile 

some memories, i keep a list of my mother’s injustices she apologized for

-more than once-

telling me that i crushed all her hopes and dreams but those words 

echo in my ears every time i say the word lesbian in her house.

but we have the same eyes, same smile, same handwriting, same laugh,

i cannot escape her memory.

i love to light candles or wax lamps to mark the seasons,

i keep a planner with classes, birthdays, and to-do lists

i sprayed her perfume on my baby blanket, the one 

she crocheted while i was still in her tummy.

at thirteen years old i was taller than her, but she was still stronger,

on my tippy toes i would reach something for her on the top shelf, 

for dinner she would make something hot with salad on the side 

with fresh fruit from her garden down the hill behind the pool.

she suffered the half death of a child she still puts to bed every night,

she used to cry when she was mad or when my baby sister wouldn’t

-or couldn’t- 

sleep or maybe when she slept alone.

she got older, i got older, struggled to grow into this skin and

new spaces for love.

momma, do you remember when 

old country music danced with sweet gardenias and

open windows breathed in summer air?

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.

My Mom Made Me Feminist: A Thank You Note of Sorts

By Rachael Nuckles

When I imagined my first year of graduate school at Sarah Lawrence College, I pictured myself finishing it out in my apartment in New York, going on my regular coffee date with a friend from the cohort to work on our papers, and citing all of my wonderful findings from the Riot Grrrl Archive at NYU. I packed a bag for a week of spring break, bringing an extra book or two, imagining my trip home might be slightly extended. Now, I’ve been home for over a month. My beloved archive is closed, the best coffee I can get is a pot brewed at home, and instead of the sounds of the city I am surrounded with the sounds of a quiet, Midwestern town.

As news about the world pandemic began evolving and my return to New York became a bit more uncertain, the assumption was that I would simply remain at home; though I’d be staying in the laundry room, I’d be more safe here than back in the city. My week turned into an indefinite stay.

While being home I’ve realized how much of “me” has been directly influenced by my mom. Without her, I don’t know that I ever would have been in a graduate program to begin with. I recognize how lucky I am to have her in my life at all, let alone to have someone so supportive of my endeavors no matter how far-reaching they might be. Not everyone gets to have that support system in their life. I understand firsthand what it feels like to have a parent walk out, without so much as goodbye. Some days I can’t help but wonder what he might think of my life’s trajectory: would he try to take any credit for what I’ve become? Would he even recognize me if I passed him on the street? 

Mom never let me give up easily. A challenge was always an opportunity to think creatively to solve the problem at hand. Sometimes problem-solving meant standing up for the things you knew were right, the things you knew in your heart, despite what others might think of the decision. Sometimes it meant taking a break from taking care of the world around you in order to accomplish what was necessary for your personal wellbeing; and while my mother never explicitly taught me these things, I learned these traits through watching her persevere through any and every struggle life threw at her. 

Therefore, I was never one to give up on my goals, no matter how far fetched they seemed to others. My first major goal was to leave my small town, attend school for theater, and to prove that a career in the arts would be a viable option. My mom supported me through all the firsts that come with moving away from home. We left for college visits far earlier than we needed to, touring campuses in Chicago. It couldn’t have been easy to send your first into the unknown.

I would ultimately decide on a school which I thought would give me the most hands-on theater experience, and my mom supported my decision fully. She came to nearly every production I worked on as an undergraduate, bringing as many family members as were willing along with her. 

When the time came to determine post-graduation plans and I received an acceptance to graduate school at Sarah Lawrence, there was no question whether or not I would be going: only how. My mom helped me pay my deposit as I dealt with loose ends in Chicago, and when I moved to New York in August I gave her her first tour of the city. 

In the almost year I’ve been on the east coast, I’ve been forced to take charge of my life in a way I’ve never had to before. Though I’ve been relatively independent since the time I left home, being alone in a major city can be isolating. As I’ve navigated my New York life, I’ve discovered my mom in the crevices of my personality I didn’t expect. It’s only in returning home that I’ve been able to recognize where my quirks came from, and that the answer was in front of me the whole time.

I see her in my love for Chinese takeout, affinity for Saturday Night Live, and my crafty side which prevents me from throwing out anything that could be used in a future project. I recognize our similarities when we bake barefoot in the kitchen, making jokes in a voice reminiscent of Bobby Moynihan’s “I Miss My Little Kitty Cat” or sit down to catch up on whatever the latest cooking show (or Closer Look) might be. 

My mom taught me how to be me, and whether it was intentional or not she made me a feminist. She taught me that I am worthy of a seat at the table. That there is nothing I cannot do. She taught me how to respect others despite our differences. To demand more when the standards are not high enough. She taught me that when something is broken, sometimes it requires a closer examination; sometimes broken situations require reconfiguration. 

I see quite a lot in my life that I am proud of, yet I also see much that is broken. Systems failing large groups of people; blatant disrespect and discrimination in the form of racism, sexism, and homophobia; injustices that many are willing to overlook so long as the situation benefits them. But if my mom taught me anything, it’s that when you’re dissatisfied with the world around you, sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands to change the view. In this degree, I hope I can make her proud and harness the skills she’s given me. It’s cliche to say I want to make the world a better place, but really…don’t we all?

Rachael is a Midwesterner at heart finishing her first year as a masters candidate in Women’s History at Sarah Lawrence. Her thesis work will complicate the notion of the feminist wave and the construction of feminist “icons” while exploring the influence of the Riot Grrrl network of the 1990s in more contemporary forms of feminist activism. Some of her side interests include women’s rage, performance studies, and the double edged sword that is “cancel culture.”

Lessons from Post-Soviet Motherhood

By Katya Mushik

I am the first-generation daughter of a Ukrainian Jewish immigrant. There are many lessons I’ve painstakingly had to learn of what Post-Soviet motherhood is really like.

Lesson one: don’t date Slavic men.

One evening in Ukraine, I walked into a modern, multi-colored apartment with my mother. We’re in Obolon, the upper echelons of Post-Soviet suburbia. For the first time, I meet my mother’s high school friends, Nadia* and Alida*. They immediately greet us with an open bottle of champagne and fresh strawberries.

Sitting down, they recollect and reminisce – memories from high school in Soviet Ukraine. There are three things they have in common: they are all married, they have children, and they are in their early fifties. My mother, who immigrated from Ukraine in 1993, catches up with her friends. She hasn’t seen them for nearly thirty years. 

Alida, a mother of two daughters, lives an ideal life. She stays at home in her overly pink apartment, while her husband works full time to support her and the family. Nadia, on the other hand, experiences a much different life. Working part-time as a volunteer nurse and as a stay-at-home single mom, she has two sons, one an adult and a younger son who lives with her. After thirty years of marriage, her husband grew tired of the monotony of family life and left her and her two sons for a twenty-something year old woman.

This still occurs, even today in modern Ukraine. Unfortunately, at the kitchen table, it passed as another one of those casual stories. 

My mother, though shocked, laughed it off. She advised me half-heartedly, “See! This is why you don’t date Slavic men…”. Despite it all, Alida claimed to be a new and modern woman. (Later, she admitted to my mother that she is suffering from depression and can’t find a way out). 

My mother tied together values of motherhood with her journey through immigration. She met my father in Ukraine at age twenty-four and, within three months of dating, married each other and left for America that same year. They are still married to this day. My mother, rather than having children at the young age of twenty like her mother and grandmother did, waited. When I ask her why, she says, “I wanted to become financially stable first. With your father and I. We waited five years and had you at thirty. We wanted to make something of ourselves first. Get degrees. Pay for our own condominium.” Arriving in the United States with only a thousand dollars and little-to-no English, my mother survived, and, eventually, was lucky enough to thrive. From being a young immigrant in Los Angeles in the 1990s, she transitioned into motherhood, soon settling down in the suburbs west of Hollywood.


Lesson two: trauma is generational. 

The collapse of the Soviet Union disrupted both the socio-economic states of these countries and the mindsets of these people, especially women. How would they continue living?

Even after immigrants leaving the Soviet Union, their pasts continue to linger. This resonates among many children of Slavic parents, even in the United States.

I was a test-trial for my mother. The guinea pig in her first trial of having a kid. She incubated me in a pseudo-American household, with just the right settings to have me grow into an academic and extracurricular-minded kid. 

Beyond being her first child, I am a living testament to her success as an immigrant mother who grasped her first taste of what it’s like to live the American dream.

I am also living testament to the idealized societal pressures of Soviet life that never left. Communism impacted my mother. She is hard-driven, determined, and extremely nifty at working both a full-time job and being a wife and mother.

The “double patriarchy” [1].

Soviet mothers teeter-tottered between the patriarchy of their “spouses” and the “masculine authority of the state”1.

Gender “equality” did not mean rights for women – or as human beings – rather, it signaled their “equal participation in the paid labor force” [2]

Soviet women were both mothers and wives, but also “genderless utopian machines” [3] for the state. 


Lesson three: motherhood evolves yet nothing really changes.

Over a year ago, at my university I enrolled in a course called “Women in Russia”. The curriculum and reading revolutionized my knowledge about Soviet womanhood. However, I didn’t need a course to tell me what I already knew about Post-Soviet women.

Not too long ago, The Moscow Times created an online platform interviewing daughters, mothers and grandmothers to highlight the transition from motherhood in the Soviet Union to today. On their platform, they write:

The 19th century poet Nikolai Nekrasov famously said that Russian women could “stop a galloping horse or charge into a burning house.” More than a century later, the resilience that quote evokes still rings true.

In today’s Russia, however, a different idiom is being used to describe the position of women in society: “If he hits you, it means he loves you.”

Under the current regime, conservative values have become more deeply entrenched…

Gradually, women are raising their voices. 

Beyond the news cycle, however, women are rarely given a platform. [4]

From all over Russia and across Former Soviet countries, women are redefining motherhood for themselves.

I’ll never forget the lessons my mother continues to teach me – they are embedded within the voices of her intergenerational past. My great grandmother survived the holocaust; my grandmother gave birth to my father in a village shed on her own; my other grandmother gave birth to my mother at twenty years old; a few years later my grandfather left her for a younger woman. Nothing really changes. But the lessons remain.

Strength. Courage. Perseverance. 

Though these characteristics came out of a dark place of patriarchy and social disorder, the lessons that came with them never left. They are passed down from grandmother, to mother, to daughter. I carry with me both their traumas and their sense of strength. It’s a double-edged sword I am willing to live with.


*names changed to protect privacy.

Endnotes:

[1] Victor Tupitsyn (1997) If I were a woman, Third Text, 11:40, 85-93, DOI: 

10.1080/09528829708576688 

Link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/09528829708576688 

[2] Nanette Funk (1993) Feminism and Post-Communism, Hypatia, Vol. 8, No. 4 (Autumn, 1993), pp. 85-88 

Link to this article: https://www.jstor.org/stable/3810371 

[3] Victor Tupitsyn (1997) If I were a woman, Third Text, 11:40, 85-93, DOI:10.10/09528829708576688

[4] The Moscow Times. Mothers & Daughters (web). Link to this site:https://mothersanddaughters.themoscowtimes.com/?utm_source=themoscowtimes&utm_medium=banner&utm_campaign=970

Katya Mushik (she/them) is a third-year undergraduate student at the University of California, Davis, where she studies International Relations and Russian Language, with a focus on Peace and Security and Eastern Europe. She is currently researching Russian and Ukrainian feminist protest movements for her Senior Thesis.

Weekly Feminist Smorgasbord: Shame-Free Sex, Katie Roiphe (Eye-Roll), and Twilight

  • To paraphrase Rachel Maddow, this is the Best New Thing this week. Maddow introduces us to the OWS “bat signal”:

At no point does she address how not fun and amazing sexual harassment is for people whose intersecting identities make them a target for harassers who want to exploit their lack of institutional power. The workplace Roiphe is commenting on is some fake workplace, in which sexual harassment never goes too far, never impedes anyone’s ability to do their job, and never creates collateral damage for those employees least able to fight back. She does not see fit to address the cost levied against the targets of sexual harassment, who are likely to see their creativity, productivity, and standing within the company deteriorate.

I said, “Considering the fact that my son is hungry, and he’s sick, and the fact that it’s not illegal, I don’t find it inappropriate … And the judge said something to the effect of ‘It’s my court, it’s my decision and I do find it inappropriate.'”

  • Raise your hand if Bella, the protagonist of the Twilight book and movie series, makes your feminist soul writhe in pain! GOOD magazine offers fans of young adult fantasy fiction a list of “what to read instead of Twilight.”

GOOD magazine's awesome "no charts" serve this topic well.

  • But Sarah Blackwood at The Hairpin has another view on the series in her piece “Our Bella, Ourselves.” She argues that Bella’s passivity and the “gothic” depiction of her pregnancy in the series “has the potential to revitalize a number of our larger conversations about feminism, especially those related to sex, pregnancy, desire, and autonomy.” She writes:

Gestation, birth, and motherhood are gothic emotional and physical states in which many of one’s most carefully considered intellectual stances and commitment to autonomy are challenged and often dismantled. Even more importantly, these are topics not much talked about in young adult fiction aimed at teenaged girls, which means that, perhaps in the name of empowerment and feminism, we have omitted a major aspect of women’s lives from the very narratives through which girls come to deepen their understanding of how to live in the world.

  • Here’s your new desktop background: Benneton’s new “UNHATE” campaign. Check it out.
  • Victory for a Roma woman who was forcibly sterilized in Slovakia and has been awarded €43,000 as a result of her human rights appeal. This is a huge step forward for global reproductive justice, as it is the first time Strasbourg’s European Court of Human Rights has taken up a case of forced sterilization.

Some links!!: Mother’s Day stories, a sweet zine, and how to deal with anger

The U.S. Maternal Healthcare Crisis: 14 Numbers You Need to Know
Science & Sensibility: “Mother’s Day is May 8. At Amnesty International USA, we’re honoring mothers by fighting for maternal health — sending Mother’s Day action cards to U.S. and international decision-makers, hosting events and more (sign up at amnestyusa.org/mothersday).  Amnesty is also launching a One-Year Update to our groundbreaking report, Deadly Delivery: The Maternal Health Care Crisis in the USA. From that update, here are 14 numbers you need to know.”

When We Hated Mom
The New York Times: “Contrary to myth, “The Feminine Mystique” and feminism did not represent the beginning of the decline of the stay-at-home mother, but a turning point that led to much stronger legal rights and “working conditions” for her.”

The Greatest Hits in Contraceptive History
Mother Jones: “Pretty much since the beginning of time, people have looked for ways to control their own fertility—from jumping backward seven times after sex, to using elephant or crocodile dung as suppositories, to drinking mercury and donning reusable condoms. And for just as long, there’s been a veritable crusade against (mostly) women’s efforts to control reproduction. From the book of Genesis to the 21st Olympiad, here are some noteable moments in the war on contraception.”

“The PIC (Prison Industrial Complex) Is…” Zine
Chicago PIC Teaching Collective: “This publication is offered as a gift. The topic is tragic and deadly serious. However those of us who worked collaboratively to create this zine envisioned it as a crie de coeur and as something to be shared. We expect that those who care about issues of justice, equality, and humanity will use it as a teaching tool and as an organizing tool. ”

Anger Management: On Emotion, Oppression, and Being Productive
The Canonball Blog: “What is the correct way to express anger? How can you express your anger and still have productive conversations? How can we support each other in expressing anger? Lorde’s answer: people of privilege need to learn how to listen. “If we listen to the content of what is said with at least as much intensity as we defend ourselves against the manner of saying.”

Happy Mother’s Day: On Choice and Childbirth in the U.S.

I’m writing this Mother’s Day post through a fog of a nasty sickness, so I can’t guarantee it will be as polished as I intend. My hope is that it will make a modicum of sense! I am here on this day to write about the issue of childbirth, choice, maternal healthcare and the violations that are rampant in the U.S. regarding all of these things. I want to open the conversation up about an aspect of women’s choice that I have not heard discussed even once in mainstream feminist circles: The choices that women should have to decide how and where they want to have their babies.

Yesterday, with my throat too sore and my brain to busy to sleep, but my body too sick and tired to do much of anything I came across the documentary “Pregnant in America: A Nation’s Miscarriage” on netflix, available for instant view. Despite the fact that the average childbearing age in the U.S. is 29.4 years old, and I am a mere 25 years old, I can think of a dozen women around my age who are my good friends who have kids (many of them have more than 1 by now) or are pregnant. And that is just off the top of my head! “Why the heck not, I thought. This will be illuminating if nothing else,” so I watched it. And mind = blown, a little bit.

Continue reading

So Far This Week: Osama’s death, the GOP and rape/abortion, the history of rainbow pride, and more!

Hey hey hello there! I was trying to wait until the end of the week to post links, but all of a sudden this morning I already had so many. Here are some the news bits that have caught my eye so far this week. Enjoy! – Katrina

In Search Of Meaning: Osama Bin Laden and the Dancing Americans
Mondoweiss: “Those of us that know history did not begin on September 11th have been resisting the abrasive, suffocating encroachment of imperialist and reactionary elements on our lives and identities, building up to the present moment of revolution: between Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and the rest of the region, Arabs, Muslim or otherwise, are fighting to end the age of US puppet regimes on their own terms. One cannot help but wonder what “victory” the United States can claim in the murder of Osama Bin Laden on Pakistani soil.”

The GOP’s Stealth Plan to Redefine Rape
Mother Jones: “While they’ve amended their legislation, which faces a floor vote in the House on Wednesday, Republicans haven’t stopped trying to narrow the already small exception under which federal funding for abortions is permissible. They’ve used a sly legislative maneuver to make sure that even though the language of the bill is different, the effect remains the same.”

White House to Host First Ever Trans Meeting
Note: This meeting happened days ago, but I wasn’t able to find any analysis/commentary/news on the meeting itself. But it happened!! 
The Washington Blade: “‘This is the first president who has allowed trans people — really allowed LGBT people — to bring forward problems and then advocate for them,’ Keisling said. ‘In the Bush administration, we couldn’t even do that. They wouldn’t even listen to us. They didn’t care what our problems were. In fact, they were making most of our problems.'”

Detroit’s Financial Martial Law Hits Home for Teen Moms
Colorlines: “Now, with all 5,466 of Detroit’s public school teachers getting laid off, Catherine Ferguson is on a list of schools to be either turned into charter schools, i.e. sold to and remade by a company with its own agenda, or closed. When students got wind of the impending closure plans, they made the decision to protest; community organization BAMN (By Any Means Necessary) lent support, police were called in, and the day went downhill from there.”

Claiming Rainbow Pride
Bilerico: “In this paper, I will provide a historical context for the [rainbow] flag’s creation, as well as critique the rhetoric used when telling this history, searching for what or who it might leave out. Taking South Africa as a case study, I will present some discourses around how certain people are erased from gay and lesbian visibility, space, and politics in Cape Town as a result of intersectional identities and oppressions. My aim is to open a door for discourse that more deeply questions whose history we take up as queer people when accepting the symbols (and politics) handed to us at first ‘outing.'”

Norway is Best Place to Be Mom; U.S. lags
Jezebel: ” A worldwide study shows that the best place to give birth is Norway. … The US ranks 31st out of 164 countries on Save the Children’s Mothers’ Index. Its maternal mortality rate is 1 in 2,100, the highest of any industrialized country (that’s 15 times higher, for instance, than the mortality rate in Greece). Child mortality is also relatively high, with 8 out of 1,000 children dying before the age of five.”