So proud of Feministing.com for writing this piece on Willow Smith’s picture with 20-year old actor, Moises Arias. It is none of our business what Willow does nor is it our duty to dissect (i.e. critique) how the Smith’s choose to parent their child.
I grew up with a group of guys and I am sure we have countless pictures like this one (most likely in unprocessed film rolls because we are lazy) that only symbolize a deep friendship.
Let’s move on to more important matters. Ideally topics that do concern us.
Recently, a student from the University of California, Riverside, asked me to be a part of a senior study on doulas. One of the questions that she posed has really stuck with me:
On your Twitter and blog, it seems that you don’t mix your personal with your business. Have you always separated the two?
I’ve thought a lot about this question as my decision to become a full-time doula has coincided with by hiatus from the feminist world I once devoured.
When I began the transition into full time birth work, I had to decide whether or not I would bring my very strong political beliefs directly into the lives of the families that I would support as a doula.
Prior to becoming a birth doula, I had a digital media firm working for organizations doing social good and I was a very active in the online feminist and queer communities. As a public figure, and due to the nature of my professional work, everything I had done as an adult could be found online - protests that I was a part of, courses that I taught as an adjunct professor, blogs about my life as a queer woman of color, tidbits about my life with a woman (who is now my wife), etc.
In some ways, I thought it would surely be easier to gain a cliental of progressive-minded families by using my google-able name and personal experiences. On the other hand, I knew my personal business could exclude families who didn’t feel the same way that I did.
For me, being a doula meant and continues to mean, providing unconditional support. I felt that some women who needed (and deserved) a doula could end up feeling less-then if they didn’t share the same feminist convictions that I had and continue to have. Every family, and every woman, defines him or her self differently and has different ways of moving through the world. The last thing I wanted was a mom to feel as though she wasn’t powerful because she was in a heterosexual relationship, and lived the “cookie-cutter” life – a life that it seemed (at least online) I was protesting.
I ultimately felt that I would be doing a disservice as a doula, a person who is supposed to hold no judgment, if I unintentionally forced my clients into believing in the same things I did. And so, I made the very conscious decision to keep my personal and political life separate from my work as a doula.
As we live in the age of media and access, I am deeply aware that most of the people who hire me have most likely googled my name and found the work that I am doing/have done. In fact, many of them hire me because they share similar beliefs and will bring it up! But every once in a while I work with a more socially/politically ‘conservative’ family and I am so grateful that they can trust that I won’t judge who they are and that I can support and love them fully in their journey.
From Punishment to Public Health Informational Guide
Yet another information guide that I am proud to share through my work with JustPublics@365!
Over the last couple of months, we’ve (at JustPublics@365) highlighted the ways scholars, activists and journalists work to further social justice by shifting the public policy framework from one of “punishment” to “public health,” or P2PH. As we’ve shown, the research is clear that our policy of mass incarceration of the past 30 years damages our society. Today, we bring it all together.
The P2PH Information Guide is designed to bring together scholarship, activist strategies, and digital media tools to help you create your own social justice campaign.
Our goal with bringing this all together is to create a practical, resource-rich, all-in-one introduction to start a social justice digital campaign, whether you are an activist on the ground, a journalist writing a story or an academic who may want to connect your research to creating a more just society.
We hope that the Information Guide will help you reach you more people by integrating some of the most widely used social networks into your social justice campaign, your reporting, and your research or your classroom projects.
Our goal with bring this all together is to create a practical, resource-rich, all-in-one introduction to start a social justice digital campaign, whether you are an activist on the ground, a journalist writing a story or an academic who may want to connect your research to social change. If you are teaching a class or training people in your organization, you can also use this Information Guide as a tool for teaching and learning about stop-and-frisk.
This Information Guide is structured around three levels of social justice outcomes:
Make Your Issues Their Interest: Raising Awareness About An Issue with an Audience
Make Your Issue Their Issue: Getting an Audience More Deeply Engaged in An Issue
Make Your Issue Their Action: Moving an Audience Towards a Specific Action
Throughout this Information Guide, we cover basic campaigning how-to’s, some of the best tools for collaboration and outreach, and provide examples from the JustPublics@365 stop-and-frisk series.
We hope that the Information Guide will help you reach you more people by integrating some of the most widely used social networks into your social justice campaign, your reporting, and your research or your classroom projects.
A few years ago, an important person in my life asked me, “Why is it always so intense and emotional with you?” Obviously, the very fact that I have been holding onto this question seems to prove his point, but I’ve recently felt the urge to address it publicly.
This question is both multi-layered and problematic: For one, it came from someone I care deeply about so, it’s personal and has forced me to dig deep into my actions. But beyond that, it’s a question that women, especially black women and feminists, are asked all the time.
The narrative of the strong black woman stems from slavery and segregation. It is the notion that women of color have made it despite the odds and thus, should no longer be a source of concern. As Prof. Beauboeuf-Lafontant says in Behind The Mask of The Strong Black Woman, “It was part of the justification for treating a group of people like they weren’t human, so you could exploit them without second thought.”
Certainly not all women of color are “angry” or “intense” but if we are, it’s because we either have to be, want to be or need to be. And how could one not be angry in the face of racism, sexism, and classism in our society? How could anyone remain perky and upbeat if they are grasping for justice and love in a world of inequalities?
I wasn’t born intense, nor do I think anyone is. It wasn’t until I went off to a predominately white college, and felt the pressures of injustice around me, that I became so at various points. But I didn’t shy away from my concerns or anger - I voiced them. I organized to create social change, I became an activist and sought out likeminded individuals. And though I appeared to be angry to the outside world, I was also consumed with sadness, confusion and anxiety. Feminist activism, and putting on a tough face, were my ways of moving through the muck and finding a path forward.
So to the person (and future close friends and family members) who ask me, “Why Are You So Intense and Emotional All The Time?” I say this: I am “intense and emotional” with the people I trust most with my heart. You are my place to show fear at the end of the day, and to let go of the calm yet stern face that so many activists must put on each morning to fight for social change.
I hope the next person who thinks about asking a woman, a woman of color and/or an activist this, will take a moment to realize that even the the strongest person can find themselves in moments of weakness. Even the person who is independent, and yes, sometimes angry, needs a safe place to be “emotional”.
How My First Job After College Left Me Financially Unstable In Twenties
This is a story of what not to do if you are about to graduate from college, and enter the workforce.
I have been meaning to write this post for many years now… the story of how my first job “screwed me over” in the process of being financially stable in my early twenties.
I graduated Middlebury College in 2008 with an outstanding education, a great CV full of experience, and mind full of determination. Unfortunately, this was also the time when few people had job openings - and even fewer had money - so no matter how great I was (or thought I was), the opportunities were slim.
While the majority of my college friends had rightly decided to play it safe and enter the for-profit world (or, if they were lucky, travel around the world), I was determined to do something that would a. pay of my enormous college loans and b. be a part of something that would transform the world in a deeply magical way (Can you tell that I was a wide-eyed, bushy-tailed graduate who thought you could do both?).
Well, after about 2 months of applying to jobs, I finally got a response, followed by an interview and job offer. I was ecstatic. I was working in a field that I loved - the arts - and with a community that I admired - Brooklyn. I was so happy to have a job that I didn’t even think to ask how much I was getting paid until after I got hired (Colossal mistake). The result: I earned about $23,000/year (before taxes) for a job that seemed to always add new tasks but no more money.
I loved that job and I loved the people but the reality was that I couldn’t afford my own apartment, pay off my loans, or have savings. Though I felt a bit slighted when I learned friends where making quite a bit more in other nonprofits, it didn’t seem that bad then. I was happy, appreciated by my co-workers and doing work that I loved.
I eventually left because it didn’t fulfill all of my desires, but the reality of that minuscule salary did hit me later on. When I did move out of my home, it was difficult to find a job that paid me what I was worth because of the low salary history I had.
I have since done consulting work in the fields of new media and gender, and more recently, have begun a career as a doula - both of which support me and allow me to live a good life - but I wanted to share my story so that no woman entering the work force makes the same mistakes I did.
My partner and I were wandered over to the Wolfgang Puck take-out stand at the Chicago Airport to ease my stomach rumbles after a 4-hour flight from NYC. While I patiently awaited my highly over-priced but much needed margherita pizza, I got lost staring at a black man working in the restaurant, perhaps in his early 60s with grey curly hair. He had a dignified and calm aura around him as he rhythmically pushed pizza in and out of a brick oven. And then it hit me: how can one say slavery isn’t over when all of the people working behind the counter, serving the wealthy and predominately white travelers, are people of color? And how can we say there is greater equality today when people of color are more often those who fill the positions of attendants and servers in the United States? Seems like we have just added a bit more money and a few more jobs to a system of slavery that is still very much in place.
I’ve had this post saved in my drafts for over 5 months now. I was fearful of posting it out of the high possibility that I could offend many of the people that inspire me to be a better activist. Though some of these sentiments have shifted, I realize now how important this personal statement is to my development as a feminist since my journey abroad. And so, I hope that when you read this you understand I am critiquing a system rather than individuals or white, middle class feminist women.
A professor of mine once said that the United Nations is a community of white, male non-retires thus making it difficult for others to enter the system and create change. I have come to believe the same holds true for the feminist community in NYC, except they are a group of predominantly white, middle class women.
When I left for Costa Rica last year, I simultaneously disengaged myself from the feminist community in the United States. My experiences in NYC and LA had made me resent the world of feminism. I saw many powerful feminists have their voices hidden by mainstream feminist outlets because they chose not to focus on commonly discussed topics such as reproductive justice, or sexualities. And though I witnessed many well-known leaders within the feminist community who were supportive, they didn’t want to share their power in order for the younger generations, women of color, working classes etc so that they may be recognized. I was tired of feeling let down, and sometimes ridiculed, by those whom I looked up to. Of course, there were exceptions and some strong friendships have been made.
While I believe passionately about the many causes and fights within the movement, I can’t help but get the sense that this is a community in the United States that heavily focused on recognition. Though there is an immense amount of support, it’s often followed by sentiments of, “I know better and, I can do this event, job, petition, etc better.” The companionship that I’ve found has often been about self gain - who can I mentor, how can I get my name through the door, who is the best person to network with for this project.
But I don’t think this “problem” has to do with individual people, rather it is the effect of the system in which feminism and feminists exist within. The United States, especially NYC, is a competitive place and it takes a long time to get your foot in the door. Of course, once you have gained access and recognition the thought of someone else taking your place is daunting and so people hold on tightly, almost perpetuating the system that they experienced as activist and writers in their twenties. Hello! Why is it that the same women have been running the largest and most well-known feminist organizations (i.e. Ms.) for such a long period of time without passing the torch to others?
As much as we say there is an increasing focus on intersectionality within feminist circles in the United States, we need to put more emphasis on our communities and ask ourselves how we move forward in a way that encourages mutual learning and respect between all ages, classes, genders, races, etc within feminism. How do we empower younger generations, women of color, working classes, etc to do the feminist work that they love as a career path without continuing a cycle that perpetuates competition over teamwork and growth?
Ain’t I A Woman Conference, Galapagos Art Space, NYC Photo by Mimiko Watanabe + Christian Silva
I have been blessed to have a supportive group of family and friends who have respected my political beliefs and activism over the years. Sure, I have been challenged, my political stances have been questioned, and I have changed my mind regarding opinions I have had in the past-but never have I been told that I was a racist man-hating feminist… until now.
Part of my activism includes sharing pieces of myself so that others may understand the causes that I-and many others-fight for. So, for the person (or perhaps people) out there who believe that I am a radical, racist, man-hating feminist, here is my truth.
Feminism didn’t take me in like some sort of freakish cult and spit me out into a feminazi, bra-burning, hairy-legged lesbian. It hasn’t taught me to believe that I should hate men, or white people, or the very wealthy. Feminism, as a great friend and colleague says, has been hearing my pain, struggles and experiences in another person’s voice and realizing there is nothing wrong with me.
The feminist movement provided me with the words to talk about the brutal murder of my close friend by her ex-boyfriend. It allowed me to understand that getting roofied by a mentor at Lehman’s Brothers was not my fault rather it was the consequence of a larger system that excuses violence committed on women’s bodies. It was feminist activists in college who told me it was okay to love men and women, and antiracist activists who allowed me to appreciate the color of my skin and natural hair despite the hatred I experience because of it.
Like most people, the process of finding this level of self-appreciation and strength has not been easy, and the feminist community hasn’t always been perfect. Yet, contrary to some people’s beliefs, feminism allowed me to respect all people, to fight for peace, to act out of love instead of anger, and to extend a hand, smile or provide a stage for someone else to speak their own truth and reclaim their power.
There may always be those who hold hatred towards another group simply because of the color of their skin, their gender and/or sex, their wealth or poverty, but that simply isn’t me. I understand that each person has different realities. Through my activism, I not only try to respect and honor the different needs of individuals, I also try to find ways in which we can all work together to create transformative change.
Students Start Racist Protests After Election Result
On Tuesday, November 6th, 2012, the American people watched as President Barack Obama was re-elected. Though some rejoiced while others cursed in frustration, groups of students around the country gathered on their campuses to shout racial epithets and threats of physical violence to students of color.
At Hampden-Sydney College in Richmond, Virginia, 40 students “shouted racial slurs, threw bottles and set off fireworks outside the Minority Student Union within hours after President Barack Obama’s re-election,” says Steve Szkotak of the Huffington Post (According to Think Progress, the school’s president, who is black, sent an email to students’ parents calling the incident a “harmful, senseless episode,” but it is not clear whether he had plans for disciplinary action). At a protest at the University of Mississippi on Tuesday night, 400 people shouted racial slurs. Only two were arrested.
And in NYC, 16 year old High School student, Ricky Catanzaro, tweeted, “No n—– should lead this country!!! #Romney” followed by, “Only thing black people are good at is basketball #run #shot #steal,” says the NY Daily News.
The extent of these racist acts stands as a morbid example of the verbal and physical violence students of color endure on campuses across the country.
It is not enough to set up perimeters banning racist language on campus, for while those barriers may silence the most racist of students at school, most students will return home with the same racist ideologies they hold in their mind. Instead, there needs to be a fundamental shift in the ways we are teaching students about identities. Students should have the opportunity to ask questions about communities outside of their own, and address the stereotypes that have been created by the societies they live in.
CAAAV is really swamped with people seeking aid. Many are elderly and non-English speakers who are having a hard time. Volunteers are requested to come to the location to help. There is a special need for volunteers who can speak Mandarin. For more information and specific supply needs visit http://interoccupy.net/occupysandy/chinatown
We urgently need food, water, flashlights, batteries, candles.
We need a few volunteers here to help coordinate the supply donations as they come in.
Goles (open 11/2 12pm-6pm)
169 Ave. B btwn 10th and 11th
This is our new LES campaign headquartered out of GOLES, 169 Ave B. We need food water flashlights batteries candles and gas
Volunteers are needed for teams going into neighborhoods to check on and supply disabled, elderly and those who cannot get aid on their own. we have many buildings who need help. Please help us help them! come to GOLES @ 12pm. we’ll finish at 6pm. Just show up or contact: GOLES office 212-358-1223. or call goldi at 917-382-9868.
Henry Street Settlement
265 Henry Street (below delancey) at 10:45 on
Help distribute food to the Lower East Side tomorrow with Henry Street - PLEASE!!! come and bring canned goods, granola bars, cereal, juice boxes, bread, peanut butter, bottled water. We have a huge transitional housing population as well as a huge meals on wheels program with Seniors unable to leave their apartments. Please Help!
Help the Smith Apartments, 46 Madison St Friday, 10 am- 5 pm Bringing water, food and information to elderly residents stuck in their apartments.
BROOKLYN SHELTERS In light of the demand for a list of places to donate and volunteer in Brooklyn in post-Sandy, I have shared a message from State Committeeman Chris Owens on where to assist in Brooklyn.
Overview: There is no network of shelter phone numbers for volunteers to call, so please simply go to one near you and ask if you are needed. At the moment, the shelters have many daytime volunteers and assigned personnel. They need people in the evenings and at night. When you go to a location, ask to sign in and leave your number/email so the coordinators can get in touch with you if they need you.
Who Is Needed: 1. Individuals with medical training are always needed. If you are an RN or former RN, an EMT, etc., or a social worker, your help is needed.
2. Entertainers are always needed. Singers and musicians are most welcome (particularly during the day hours), and anyone who can be creative with activities for children. There may not be a lot of space to work with, but I have faith in my fellow cultural workers. Those who carry portable instruments (e.g. - your own voice, guitars, accordions, light percussion) will have the easiest time of it, but some schools with open auditoriums have a working piano!
Donations Needed: At this point in time, only bring BRAND NEW clothing items to the shelters and check with your location FIRST to assess what is needed there.
Shelter Locations: NYC Technical College, 300 Jay Street Park Slope Armory, 361 15th Street J.H.S. 57, 125 Stuyvesant Avenue I.S. 111, 35 Starr Street I.S. 117, 300 Willoughby Avenue I.S. 136, 4004 4th Avenue P.S. 189, 1100 East New York Avenue I.S. 246, 72 Veronica Place P.S. 249, 18 Marlborough Road I.S. 271, 1137 Herkimer Street I.S. 55, 2021 Bergen Street I.S. 292, 300 Wyona Street I.S. 383, 1300 Greene Avenue Franklin K. Lane High School, 999 Jamaica Avenue Brooklyn Tech High School, 29 Fort Greene Place Boys & Girls High School, 1700 Fulton Street John Jay High School, 237 7th Avenue Bushwick High School, 400 Irving Avenue I.S. 187, 1171 65th Street Franklin D. Roosevelt High School, 5800 20th Avenue Clara Barton High School, 901 Classon Avenue
I also recommend making a donation to non-profits along the waterfront in Brooklyn. Gere are several non-profits that could use your support through an online donation:
Up-To-Date List Of Locations Where Assistance Is Needed: Updated Regularly. Last Update, Friday 11:17am.
- Folks in Park Slope can also donate goods at Postmark Cafe on 326 6th St. They will be accepting sugar, flour, 100% juice, canned fruit and veggies, canned tuna and chicken, soup, pasta sauce, rice, beans, boxed milk with a shelf life, cereal, oatmeal, coffee, and tea from 7am to 7pm (Saturday at 8am).
- DUMBO’s Powerhouse Arena got rained on in a big way. Over two feet of water stormed the bookstore/event space, destroying store items and furniture with it, leaving the place stranded without flood insurance. However, Powerhouse is determined to re-open, and you can help with that! Donate to their efforts to clean up and restock. There’s also a Sandy Hates Books fundraiser on the horizon, currently scheduled for Saturday, November 17 from 12-8pm. Updates to come.
- If anyone is available today InterOccupy is meeting and regrouping to help the elderly people who still are without food, water and electricity in the Warbass and Brighton area. Today they ran out of food and water. Please bring bottled water and any kind of unopened food or fruits/vegetables. Things that can be eaten without cooking. They are meeting at the RAJE center and moving out from there. 2915 Ocean parkway between Neptune and Oceanview aves. Please be there at 11am.
- Please come to St. Jacobi Church 5406 4th Ave Sunset Park today, Friday, as early as 10am and throughout the day. We will be transporting volunteers and supplies throughout the day to Coney Island, Howard Beach and Far Rockaway. You can catch a ride to Sunset Park from any of the Brooklyn drop-off locations at 12pm or 3pm. Find all the Brooklyn hubs on http://interoccupy.net/occupysandy. Please check http://interoccupy.net/occupysandy/sunsetpark for specific needs to bring.
- In Red Hook, the Red Hook Initiative has been coordinating relief and support efforts (and doing a phenomenal job!). Feel free to drop in at 767 Hicks Street or call them at (718) 858-6782.
According to a new study by Kristina Durante and colleagues of the University of Texas, San Antonio, single women who are ovulating are more likely to be socially liberal while relationship-committed women are more likely to be socially conservative.
When women are ovulating, they “feel sexier,” and therefore lean more toward liberal attitudes on abortion and marriage equality. Married women have the same hormones firing, but tend to take the opposite viewpoint on these issues, she says.
“I think they’re overcompensating for the increase of the hormones motivating them to have sex with other men,” she said. It’s a way of convincing themselves that they’re not the type to give in to such sexual urges, she said.
In order words, if you are ovulating on November 6th and you find yourself to be single, you will a. feel really sexy this day and b. will vote for Obama. If you are married, apparently you will be voting for Romney out of fear on cheating on your spouse.
Luckily, Susan Carroll, professor of political science and women’s and gender studies at Rutgers University, sheds light on the harmful (and ridiculous) claims of this study and,
…sees the research as following in the tradition of the “long and troubling history of using women’s hormones as an excuse to exclude them from politics and other societal opportunities.”
Perhaps Durante and her fellow researchers should move away from re-instituting scientific studies resembling the 1940’s and focus on the social, political and economic issues that will affect men and women’s voting patterns this election.
The violations started small. I was 12, fairly tall with brand new boobs. My mother wouldn’t let me buy “real bras” for a long time. It didn’t occur to me that was weird until boys in my class started advising me to “stop wearing sports bras” because I was looking a little “saggy.”
“If Mitt Romney and his vice-presidential running mate, Representative Paul Ryan, were to win next month’s election, the harm to women’s reproductive rights would extend far beyond the borders of the United States.
In this country, they would support the recriminalization of abortion with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and they would limit access to contraception and other services. But they have also promised to promote policies abroad that would affect millions of women in the world’s poorest countries, where lack of access to contraception, prenatal care and competent help at childbirth often results in serious illness and thousands of deaths yearly. And the wreckage would begin on Day 1 of a Romney administration.”—The New York Times: “A World of Harm for Women” (via barackobama)
A student of mine at Hunter College recently sent a tweet with an image of an advertisement for Bowlmore Lanes featuring a scantily dressed woman mounting a man who is bowling with the caption “Getting Jumped In An Alley Has Never Been This Much Fun.”
In the last fifteen years, the world has been told to believe that New York City has become a safer place, free of much of the crime and violence that used to occupy it’s streets. Yet, according to the NYTimes,
The number of rapes and attempted rapes recorded citywide so far this year has increased by more than 4 percent, to 1,058, according to Police Department statistics. The vast majority of those crimes involved a suspect and a victim who knew each other: about 12 percent of rapes involved strangers, according to statistics provided by Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s chief spokesman.
With a rise in violent crimes, the city doesn’t need more advertismenets that make light of assault on people’s bodies.
NOW-NYC feels the same way and has requested that these ad’s be removed stating,
The ad attempts to poke fun at a serious issue - rape - and instead invokes the “just get over it ladies!” kind of attitude we’ve heard again and again this summer from our lawmakers, comedians, and other public figures. With ads like this, how can rape be taken seriously? Enough with the ads that confuse sex and rape and make that OK.
Tell the MTA to remove this ad from our city subways: mta-nyc.custhelp.com or call 511
Call out CBSOutdoor, the company responsible for subway ad space: 800.926.8834 or cbsoutdoor.com/contact.aspx
Call out Bowlmor CEO Tom Shannon on his ad: firstname.lastname@example.org, 212-777-2214
The Bowlmor CEO, Tom Shannon, has responded in defense of the advertisment saying “The ad is humorous and flirtatious, ” he said, according to Jezebel. “NOW’s position on this is extreme and laughable.”
We are surprised and disappointed that our recent advertisement - intended to be a humorous play on the words “bowling alley” - has been misinterpreted to advocate violence against women. Our company - consisting of hundreds of talented men and women - does not support abuse or violence in any form. Since its inception, Bowlmor Lanes has strived to be socially responsible and offer a family-friendly environment to our customers. We offer our sincere apologies to anyone who was offended by this advertisement. The campaign in question was scheduled to run throughout Aug. 2012, and is no longer in circulation. There are no plans to generate this campaign again.
So why are these ad’s still up in NYC? It’s time to take action and reach out to the CEO of Bowlmore lanes and the company responsible for subway advertisements to have these removed once and for all.
Equality For Whom?: Looking at communism through a gender lens
Once the veil is lifted, once relations between the sexes are seen as power relations, it becomes impossible to see as simply unintended, well-intentioned, or innocent the actions through which women are told every day what is expected and when they have crossed some line - Catherine MacKinnon
I am always stunned when I hear young activists romanticize the need for (largely Marxist forms of) communism in the United States. My astonishment of this wide-spread obsession with communism is not because I believe that nation-states should maintain or move towards neo-liberalism or capitalism; rather, it’s because I have yet to see an example of communism that creates global peace without domination or the continuous subjugation of women.
There is a tendency for young activists (at least in New York City) to wear trendy red shirts with images of Che in support of communism without understanding the political, social, economic and gendered implications behind the communist movement. I admit, before I stepped foot in Cuba I was one of those people. However once I saw the realities of a nation whose people live in fear to speak negatively about their leader (at the time, Fidel), where women still remain unprotected by the effects of domestic violence and sexual harassment, and where wide-spread access to abortion remains an issue, I locked up my infatuation with communism and put it in a box with the capitalism.*
In theory, communism sounds like paradise for anyone who supports equality and equal access to resources (without a gender or race lens). Communism is most simply understood as a classless, and stateless social order in which everyone has common ownership of production. However, in a world that is highly divided not only by class, but also on the bases of gender, race and ethnicity, the benefits of communism can be limited.
Within societies exist hierarchies that have subordinated women and people of color to such an extent that their oppression is perceived as natural. Communism’s neglect in mentioning or addressing women and people of color’s preexisting oppressions in relation to class oppression makes it a system that continues to not only subjugate women and people of color, but ignores the process of their creation as subalterns.
MacKinnon claims “[m]ens forms of dominance over women have been accomplished socially as well as economically, prior to the operation of law, without express state acts, often in intimate contexts, as everyday life” (p. 161). Likewise, despite the attempts to create an egalitarian society by communist leaders and its ‘fans,’ communism remains a system that is structured and maintained by male dominance and patriarchal visions of utopia. Unless we acknowledge how systems of domination have been created to place women and people of color in subordinate positions, communism remains just as harmful to oppressed groups as capitalism, neo-liberalism, and democracy.
A woman cries as she waits with other flood victims at the Convention Center in New Orleans, Thursday, Sept. 1, 2005. Officials called for a mandatory evacuation of the city, but many residents remained in the city and had to be rescued from flooded homes and hotels and remain in the city awaiting a way out. (AP Photo/Eric Gay), http://www.flickr.com/photos/nabibhr/5407928368/
On Monday, August 29th 2005, all eyes where on Hurricane Katrina when it hit the state of Louisiana. It was the fifth deadliest storm among recorded Atlantic hurricanes and the relative lack of status, power and resources put many women of color at risk in the hours during and years after Katrina’s wake (Knabb, Richard, Brown, Daniel & Rhome, Jamie, 2005).
Thousands of New Orleans residents – overwhelming poor, largely people of color, and majority black – were left alone to face one of the worst “natural” disasters in US history. In the case of Katrina, women, men and their accompanying children were left to die on the streets, in prisons and in nursing homes. Those who survived, were victims of sexual and physical violence in places of refuge, and were criminalized as “looters” by local authorities for fighting to obtain provisions such as food, water, medicine and diapers. Hurricane Katrina reminded the world of an ugly truth: the lives of women, the vulnerable, poor, and nonwhite remained insignificant to the US government (South End Press Collective (Ed.), 2007).
Despite the sheer number of women present in New Orleans, as well as their transparent economic disparities, the nation made no provisions to assist these families as Hurricane Katrina rolled in. No government official sought to ask what the needs of these women were in the event of a massive storm nor did they provide the adequate support necessary to provide them with either protection nor assistance in Katrina’s aftermath.
Rather, it was women’s rights organizations that stood up for these women. INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence was and remains a radical grassroots organization that challenged the economic, political and social structures of New Orleans that placed women of color in dire positions. INCITE! understood that women living at the intersection of systems of oppression were paying the price for militarism, the abandonment of their communities, and the ongoing racial and gender disparities in employment, income and access to resources and support (INCITE!, 2005). As a collective organization, they demanded that there be no further criminalization of survivors of the hurricanes and that attention be placed on those with the least access to privilege.
This evening, we sit quietly as Hurricane Isaac hit Haiti and now strikes New Orleans. Though we are well aware of the hazards and inequalities ‘natural’ disasters can inflict on a community, it appears as though most media attention has been placed on the 2012 GOP Convention, and feminists speaking on race and gender issues online remain silent on the potential impact of Isaac.
What has lead to such silence? Have the continuous strikes on our lands by “natural” disasters jaded us? Why are we so preoccupied with politics when destruction may come to the people of New Orleans once more? When did we become a community that waits for a disaster to strike before we take action?
In the moments before and in the wake of a disaster, there exist great possibilities for radical activists and local community members to address the deep veins of social injustices that exist and will likely remain long after the roads, homes, levees and bridges are rebuilt. We must not adopt the strategies of our nations government – we must address the issues that come with disasters head on, and before they arrive. Let us name the issues that still exist for women and men living in poverty in the city of New Orleans. Let us use our voices and fight for those who are, quite literally, silenced in the moments of a disaster.
Unfair Housing Laws and The Lessons You Learn When Moving (Back) to NYC
After an incredible year in Costa Rica (and a few years by the beach in LA before that), my partner and I made the decision to move back to Brooklyn, NY where I will be teaching at Hunter College and my partner will be studying Traditional East Asian medicine.
The decision to move back to NYC was certainly not an easy one for us perpetual wanderers and lovers of wide open spaces. Though the thought of being closer to friends, family and the feminist community were exciting, the prospect of being back in a concrete jungle (rather than a lush green one) was a bit terrifying.
Nonetheless, here we are!
I adore this city for everything it has to offer but the process of settling was certainly trying. I assumed we would immediately find a home that we loved: in an area that was close to the best subways and friends, with a backyard where we could plant our organic garden and our dog, Joplin, could frolic in all year. I know - any NYer would say that we were crazy if we thought that could happen but we did find many of those spaces. The problem was getting accepted as renters.
See, for those of you who don’t know, NYC is so jam packed with people that the competition for housing is steep. If you are lucky to find a place before someone else grabs it, you then have to prove that you make 3x the rent, have proof of employment, a credit score of 700 (considered “good”) or have a co-signer who looks even better than that. As students (coming from an international location) we had no recent tax returns or employment. And though my partner and I started our own company, get paid well- but by contract - we didn’t have proof of a stable income. If you couple that with the intense amount of loans I have had to defer because, well, we are living in a recession (among other societal issues) - we don’t look that good on paper though we are probably better off than most (thanks to our hard work, pinching pennies, and the kindness of our parents).
In Costa Rica, we got our apartment off of craigslist and the landlord accepted us largely because we were nice, had friends in common (we only learned this after we spoke) and were both activists. There were no questions about our dog, income, or our personal lives, etc. So, you can imagine how much of a shock it was to be reminded of the extent to which the NYC housing hunt runs on image and money. If you have a good look, and lots of money, you are in. This city that is overly accepting of individuals also has a side that discriminates against those who are younger and haven’t had the opportunity to build up their “good on paper” image, live in a recession, and/or have decided not to join the masses in a “deskjobforlife” career by adopting an untraditional lifestyle (i.e. Travelers, artists, etc). Unfortunately, we fit all of those categories.
After being told that we couldn’t live in a few apartments because we didn’t have “the right look on paper” or because we had a service dog (which, by the way, is illegal to say) we have finally settled into a little and adorable apartment in South Park Slope.
I am completely in love with our new home (see picture below), but I don’t want to forget about the process that we had to go through to get here. I know that we are not the only ones who faced such difficulties in finding a home and it’s important to me that something shifts with NYC real estate laws. I can only imagine how difficult it is to be a single woman of color, a undocumented citizen, a retired veteran, and/or persons with disabilities looking for good housing in this city.
Fifty Shades of Grey: Not "Mommy Porn" Rather, A Glimpse into Domestic Violence
At some point this year, my partner informed me of the fury that was rising surrounding the new bestselling “mommy porn,” Fifty Shades of Greyby British author E.L. James. With a course load of readings from my masters program, little down time and absolutely no interest in reading yet another text that supported the submission of women in relationships, I was quick to push this book out of my mind and off my bookshelf.
But, after reading one critique after another from my fellow feminists, I realized it was silly of me to ignore a piece of literature that had so many people up in arms. And so, I sat down to read the first book of Fifty Shades of Grey while celebrating my birthday at a little hot springs in Costa Rica.
To be honest, I began reading this novel with the belief that I would ultimately find the concept okay; I had heard that it was largely about BDSM (Bondage, Discipline, Dominance, Submission, Sadomasochism, Sadism, Masochism) and though I don’t believe I could ever partake in such a relationship, I have never denied the fact that others obtain pleasure from this subculture. However, what I found to be the basis of Fifty Shades of Grey was not erotica or BDSM, rather it was the story of a man, Christian Grey, who had experienced severe amounts of physical and emotional trauma as a child and whose only way of feeling sexual and emotional pleasure was by dominating others.
In the book, Christian Grey’s partner, Ana, has fallen in love with a man with a dark past and she tries to save him all the while negotiating whether or not she can actually be the submissive partner he wants and “needs.” But the submission isn’t only in the bedroom or the “Red Room of Pain,” as she calls it. Grey’s desire to dominate and control Ana is translated into their daily lives where Grey demands that Ana remains obedient: doesn’t talk with other people, dresses in the clothes he chooses, waxes all of her body hair and exercises based on his schedule (oh, and she is able to negotiate this one to only work out three days a week rather than four, Yippie! - insert sarcasm). Yes, Grey learns to love it when Ana talks back and asks questions, but largely because it means that her “defiance” will lead to punishment, which Grey deeply enjoys giving by “fucking” and “spanking” her.
In my personal experience, this is a tell-tale sign of domestic abuse… of a man who is only able to work through his past traumas through, often literally, beating others into submission. In reading this book, I couldn’t help but be reminded of many cases of domestic violence that I know of - of men and women who were victims of violence in the home as children and grew up to act out that violence on others.
The author, E.L. James, appears to want her readers to feel bad for Christian Grey and to understand the root of his violation on the bodies of others. I agree that it is certainly important to understand the root causes of violence and provide those who have experienced it with the necessary support - but it is not, and will never be a sexy or erotic journey.
I did not find Fifty Shades of Grey as a book that could or should have all the girls desiring a man who dominates them, as major newspapers and articles have expressed. It is a book about one man’s violence over another, of the desire and need to be healed, and of a young woman’s tumultuous and heartbreaking journey of falling in love with a man who doesn’t know how to love her tenderly.
I admit that I will most likely read the other books to see how the author chooses to continue this sad and often disturbing story. But I will be crossing my fingers that Grey gets the help that he needs and deserves, and that Ana finds the strength to love herself enough to walk away.
Some excerpts from the book:
"Why don’t you like to be touched?" I whisper, staring up into soft grey eyes. "Because I’m fifty shades of fucked up, Anastasia." Oh… his honesty is completely disarming. I blink up at him
"Because I think I love you, and you just see me as a toy. Because I can’t touch you, because I’m too frightened to show you any affection in case you flinch or tell me off or worse - beat me? What can I say? - Ana
And after spanking her: Siting beside me, he gently pulls my sweatpants down again. Up and down like whores’ drawers, my subconscious remakers bitterly. In my head, I tell her where to go. Christian squirts baby oil into his hand and then rubs my behind with careful tenderness — from makeup remover to soothing balm for a spanked ass, who would have thought it was such a versatile liquid. - Ana
He’s not a hero; he’s a man with serious, deep emotional flaws, and he’s dragging me into the dark. Can I not guide him into the light? - Ana
“We exists as women who are Black who are feminists, each stranded for the moment, working independently because there is not yet an environment in this society remotely congenial to our struggle—because, being on the bottom, we would have to do what no one else has done: we would have to fight the world.”—Michele Wallace - Black Feminist’s Search for Sisterhood (via jasmineburnett)
In an article posted by the NYTimes yesterday, it was reported that “[m]ore than half of all of African-Americans and other non-Hispanic blacks in the [New York] city who were old enough to work had no job at all this year…” And, if that isn’t enough of a staggering number, black New Yorkers who lose there jobs spend an average of one year trying to find a new one.
The article claims one reason for this is that blacks have been largely employed in government agencies, construction and manufacturing - all fields that have suffered the most in the economic depression. Moreover, blacks tend to occupy what Dr. Frank Braconi, chief economist for the city comptroller’s office, calls the middle market in the labor force in terms of wages and education. And it is this middle market that has been the most affected by the recession.
Blacks are now required to hold a Bachelors or Masters degree to compete in the market they once occupied in order to obtain economic stability. But as most people of color know, a long list of academic accomplishments doesn’t and has never necessarily lead to the equivalent salary and benefits as our non-black counterparts.
Though I have no doubt that this study is spot-on, the reality is that people of color across time have always faced either the lowest employment rates and/or the lowest salaries/benefits.
Historically the unemployment rate for African Americans age 16 years and over has been higher than that of the total labor force:
And though the number of African Americans in the labor force that have graduated from college increased from 16 percent in 1992 to 24 percent in 2009:
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2010, that unemployment rates actually fall as educational attainment increases. “In 2009, the unemployment rate for African Americans 25 years and over without a high school diploma was over 21 percent, while the jobless rates for high school graduates and those graduating with a bachelor’s degree and higher were 14.0 and 7.3, respectively.”
There is no doubt in my mind that we continue to live in a society that conveniently places people of color in service industries where increased education and skills training make it more difficult for us to reach the top. Perhaps we need to stop putting all of our attention in looking at the economy and begin looking at the social dynamics that have placed “minority” groups in positions of lesser economic prosperity.
Kickstarter Fundraiser: Too Much Information, A Photography Book
Cait Oppermann and Yael Malka* are recent graduates of Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. They received their BFAs in Photography and are now preparing for a two-month long trip across Europe (as well as Turkey and hopefully Morocco) starting in July. What they really want to do is make a book of the photographs and text they collect on their trip.
Because their work is so deeply rooted in American culture, they’re both excited and curious about taking on a completely different set of cultures and visual language.
To learn more about the project, check out their Kickstarter page!
*Yael Malka also happens to be the sister of one of my oldest and kindest friends from High School, The Beacon School.
In previous posts (first here, then here), I spoke about the eurocentric symbolism of the graduation cap and the difficulties it has given to natural haired people of color who are embarking on the glorious journey of graduating from their academic institutions.
I made a strong personal stance and stated that I would choose to break the tradition of the academic regalia by not wearing the cap at my graduation. With this, I asked that all of you do the same in honor of your self, your accomplishment, heritages, decisions to go natural and/or in support of your natural haired colleagues.
The response that I received was outstanding - Young women with natural hair, whom I have never had the pleasure of meeting, wrote to me to say that they were struggling with their graduation cap and were grateful that I had given them a space to honor who they were. Friends of friends from Europe wrote that they had experienced the same issues as graduating students, and members of my own graduating class at the United Nations University For Peace came out in numbers to show their support by removing the cap.
I was further surprised by the reaction of my universities Vice Rector and Rector, who made positive references to my decision to remove the cap, and told our class that we were “mature” in the ways that we challenged the institution, and “the cap was a symbol of that.”
The reactions of my local and global community stand as an example of the power of standing up for what you believe in. You never know how your community or institution will react unless you take action.
With that, I am sharing with you an image from my cap-less graduation. I hope that you will share yours with me as well and continue to encourage graduating students to remove the cap in the years to come.
UPDATE In Need Of A Paradigm Shift: Protesting The Graduation Cap
In a previous post, I discussed the need for a “paradigm shift” surrounding the old standards of power and prestige that come from the graduation regalia. I was surprised by the number of responses that I received from natural haired women of color from around the world exclaiming how they, too, were disappointed by the expectation to wear a graduation cap which a. they couldn’t get to fit on their head b. didn’t necessarily believe in. Friends who had never questioned the graduation regalia even vowed to pledged their support by not wearing the cap on graduation day.
I was looking forward to this moment of change… until I received an email from my universities graduation coordinators exclaiming all students were expected to wear the full graduation regalia if they wanted their names to be called at the podium (underlined and in bold, mind you).
For a brief moment, I felt that this was a personal attack on the the political and highly personal statement that I was about to make (I now doubt this is true). Rather than waiting around and even risking not being called on graduation day, I decided to write a kind email to the coordinators explaining to them all the reasons why I wouldn’t be wearing a cap on graduation - I wanted to be honest and sincere about my intentions.
To my surprise, the graduation coordinators agreed to let me go sans-cap and encouraged me to share the message with anyone else who felt that the cap would restrict their cultural, political, social beliefs.
So here it is: I encourage all those in a similar position of not being able to or wanting to wear the graduation regalia, to reach out to their institutions and let them know why. Every student deserves to walk across the stage in a way that honors who they are and celebrates the growing diversity of academia.
Just in case you are having trouble with that email to your graduation coordinators, here is a sample below. Feel free to use it and spread it around!
I hope that you are doing well. Thank you so much for all of the work that you have and continue to put into the graduation planning. I am writing this letter as I wanted to discuss the graduation regalia. I understand that it is a requirement of the school to wear the full regalia, however, as an African American woman with natural hair, it will be a challenge for me to wear the cap. I know this is something that few people think about, and I have debated whether or not to mention it myself. However, after speaking with members of my community, I realized that this was not just an individual desire, but a cultural and personal issue that affects many people. For me, my hair is such a huge part of my identity, not for the physical, but for what it stands for - for the decision to be able to honor myself and what I was given without fitting into a mold. And while the obvious suggestion would be to ask me to straighten my hair just for the moment, it would mean that I would not be walking across the stage honoring who I am and the promises that I have made to myself and to my community. I respect that other people want to hold onto this tradition of the cap and gown however I believe that I, as well as others, also reserve the space to honor our cultural and individual traditions and norms on this momentous day. I believe that this is the basis of UNIVERSITY NAME HERE- an appreciation and understanding of our different backgrounds, beliefs, bodies, etc. For this reason, I ask that the cap (AND GOWN IF YOU CHOOSE) be made optional for students. I sincerely appreciate your understanding, and hope that we can all work together to make this possible.
In Need Of A Paradigm Shift: Protesting The Graduation Cap
In exactly three weeks, students from the UN University For Peace will be walking across the stage to accept our M.A. Diplomas. We will all wear our universities signature white-and-blue caps and gowns as a symbol of our achievements. This will be a moment of sheer excitement for our successes and the future that we have worked hard to create for ourselves.
I have taken part in this tradition since the age of homemade-caps in Kindergarden. And each year, I have asked myself, “What am I going to do with my hair?” In Kindergarden, I walked across the stage with a mishap bees nest on my head (one of many attempts in my childhood made by my biracial mother to style my natural hair). In Middle School and High School, I found the solution of braids - although I admit it was a tight squeeze into those small caps. And then in College, I walked across the stage with permed hair pulled back into a simple bun.
This year is a bit different as I have moved away from chemical straightening and synthetic extensions, and have learned to adore the beauty of my natural afro. And so, as I looked over the graduation attire requirements given to us this week, I paused at the word: CAP. The dreaded thought came back, “How am I going to wear this cap now??”
For many people, this may seem absolutely ridiculous - I should just be grateful that I am graduating. I admit, I was thinking the same thing as I started coming up with alternatives to my natural hair for the big day - not taking my cap off until I go home so no one has to see my flattened hair, and even blowing out my hair to fit the tradition. Searching for ideas, I spent a few hours away from work Googling, “Caps with Afro Style,” “Afro Hair Cap and Gowns” and “Caps Natural Hair” so many times to find ideas and yet it seemed that virtually no had ever posted about it, at least online.
Though I was frustrated, it wasn’t until my (white) partner said that this tradition was “unfair to people of color with natural hair” that I really begin to think about it. Where does this tradition come from? Why would an institution with a multitude of races and ethnicities ask people to wear this? And why didn’t anyone at these academic institutions ever think about how it would affect us?
A little research revealed that the Cap and Gown or ‘Academic Dress’ originated from the early 19th Century Europe. As the tradition moved into the United States, committees were organized to develop the standard of academic dress. It goes without saying that people of color were neither included in this conversation, nor were they (heavily) represented within academia at the time. Essentially, the construction of the cap and gown (including shape, height and structure) never included the bodies of people like me.
But how is it that we have never considered changing this system of celebration to suit people from all over the world? How can an academic institution that encourages diversity within their system, not understand just how stressful a moment of celebration can become for us? Even in an international institution, it appears as though no one’s paradigms (or realities) have allowed them to see this issue for those of us who have learned to appreciate our natural hair and bodies.
I may end up walking down the aisle feeling completely out of place, but I will certainly not revert to an old standard of beauty and tradition that doesn’t include my physical, but also very political, identity as an African American woman. We simply cannot accept an age-old tradition that does not include all members of its communities. I hope that other natural-haired women and men (and our supporters) graduating this year will join me in shifting the paradigms by rejecting a tradition that never included us by rocking our natural hair sans cap.
“Patriarchy is not men. Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate. It privileges, inter alia, the interests of boys and men over the bodily integrity, autonomy, and dignity of girls and women. It is subtle, insidious, and never more dangerous than when women passionately deny that they themselves are engaging in it. This abnormal obsession with women’s faces and bodies has become so normal that we (I include myself at times—I absolutely fall for it still) have internalized patriarchy almost seamlessly. We are unable at times to identify ourselves as our own denigrating abusers, or as abusing other girls and women.”—Ashley Judd, here. (via thenewwomensmovement)
"You can’t build peace by leaving half the people out." Resolution 1325. Source: http://www.upliftmagazine.com
Fighting for justice can be a lonely experience.
I have found myself to be very much conflicted by my decision to attend a peace university. When I applied to this institution, I was naive and believed that everyone would believe in the same peace that I fought for - the only peace that I thought existed - equality and justice. What I have learned is that the notion of peace is different for everyone, and it does not always mean peace for the entire world or fighting for what you fully believe is right.
Students at peace institutions around the world at taught that peace means compromise. While this is certainly an important lesson to learn for daily situations, compromise isn’t enough when there are power imbalances… and we live in a society that is full of that.
Here, I find myself walking the halls, smiling gently at people studying peace who do not believe that I can be a lesbian, let alone create a family with someone of the same sex. I sit next to students who have harassed my friends and colleagues and I go into meeting with counselors who believe that being a gender major means being a “man hater” and activists who seek justice are “troublemakers.”
Perhaps the most difficult reality to swallow are the women and men who know that things must change, but who sit quietly because they don’t have the time, or the desire or the knowledge of how to create change.
I admit that I am incredibly selfish; Speaking out and shaking things up for the sake of equality is a life that I chose and not everyone has to or will be on board. It is a lonely experience, and I know that it will certainly not make you a lot of friends (I imagine it is a lot easier to say nothing… and sometimes I wish I didn’t see inequalities). And yet, despite this knowledge - or perhaps with it - I feel an overwhelming amount of despair.
I am used to being classified into a box with the titles of manhater, sinful, radical, hippy and the like slapped onto my forehead, but when I applied to this institution, I honestly thought that I would be bored. I thought that everyone would agree with everyone and that my thoughts would not be nearly as radical as everyone else’s.
I was wrong. Even at peace institutions there exists sexism, homophobia, violence, harassment, and racism. Apparently, our job as activists and feminists is not even close to being done yet.
On the positive side, there are many other activists out there who are supporting you even when you can’t see it. Check out this post: On the lonely job of progressive activism. http://bit.ly/xbV1Va
I write for those women who do not speak, for those who do not have a voice because they were so terrified, because we are taught to respect fear more than ourselves. We’ve been taught that silence would save us, but it won’t.- Audre Lorde
I applied to the University For Peace with the belief that I would be entering into an institution that had none the major issues affecting elite liberal arts universities in the United States. I believed that I would find no signs of discrimination, harassment, or violence; rather, I envisioned a community of yogis, nature lovers and progressive thinkers. I thought of a commune.
After writing my recommendation letter to UPEACE, my former college professor, Laurie Essig, wrote to me saying that she was curious to see how this school and the concepts of peace would mesh with my beliefs. I knew she had formulated some thoughts about it, but I had no idea what they were. I mean, “How could studying Peace not relate to my work as a feminist activist?” I thought.
I kept asking myself what she meant and now, after six courses and seven months of being within this community, I understand what Laurie was thinking. The road to peace is complex… it cannot always be peaceful, is often based in patriarchy and is certainly not filled with “hippies.”
Peace is understood as the absence of war and the presence of tranquility. But peace can also be dangerously embodied as compromise and remaining silent out of fear of creating a conflict.
Around the world, UN Peacekeepers are sent out on missions to give peace to war-torn countries, and yet they themselves are often the perpetrators of violence (most commonly on women and children). They remain silent on the violence their UN colleagues place on others and often lack the gender lens to understand the specific needs of the men, women and children within those areas. They put an end to the visible signs of war, but don’t cease violence from existing within the crevices of a community.
This is the peace that I am learning about and see happening before my eyes - the silence against harassment and discrimination by an administration and a fear that exists amongst students for speaking out.
I want to still believe in Peace - I know that I would have left months ago if I did not - but not this way.
The peace that I know includes mediation, and an understanding of the world through the eyes of others. Peace is about addressing issues (always using a gender lens) rather than allowing them to exist deep within us. Peace should not be something that we seek to bring only to others, but that we try to create within ourselves.
Coexistence & Compromise: Thin Lines Between Hasidic Jews and The Modern World
I flew home to New York City to bring in 2012 and indulge in the chaos of the city after an extended (3-year) absence. On one of my last days in the city, I had the unexpected but immense pleasure to catch up with an old friend, Leemore, from High School. We hadn’t seen each other in years but without hesitation, we managed to talk about all of our experiences starting from the day we had last seen each other.
Somewhere in the conversation, I told my dear friend that I had brought in the New Year sober, and in an Hasidic Jewish community… eventually my statement turned into an engaging conversation about the Hasidic community in Brooklyn, and Leemore’s modern Jewish family.
As this is a space that deeply relies on the belief that the personal is political, I asked Leemore if she would share her thoughts* with us. She said yes. Take a look!
COEXISTENCE & COMPROMISE: Thin lines between Hasidic Jews and the modern world
by Leemore Malka
In August of 2010, I found myself in a restaurant called Gottlieb’s in the Satmar Hasidic Jewish section of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I am neither kosher nor religious, but my uncle Yoav and his daughter Tirza are and they were visiting us from Jerusalem. Tirza, my mother, my sister and I were the only women at Gottlieb’s… And aside from Tirza, we were certainly not dressed accordingly.
We’d ended up at Gottlieb’s Restaurant by accident after the kosher restaurant we’d researched in a secular neighborhood turned out to be closed. My sister and I were decked out in our best summer dresses, our long brown hair spilling down our backs, and our mother was wearing shorts and a tank top. The men cast their eyes towards us, not with any kind of ill will, but they were certainly piqued by our presence. A young redheaded man came to take our order and we couldn’t help but notice he was shaking and stuttering. When he left our table, our uncle Yoav smiled at us and said: “He isn’t used to seeing girls who look like you.”
I was deeply marked by this moment and it echoes back to me in the wake of two current disputes: The fight between the Satmar Hasidics and young cyclists (particularly women) of Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg; and the Haredis (a larger classification of Orthodox Judaism of which Hasidism is a subset) confronting the secular community (again, particularly its women), of Bet Shemesh, Israel, near Jerusalem.
The conflict happening in Williamsburg first came to my attention when I read Michael Idov’s excellent and memorable article in New York Magazine, and my father first told me about the one happening in Israel very recently. I instantly drew a parallel between the two and the more I contemplated them, the more I realized that the crux of these situations is a complicated tangle of coexistence and compromise.
In New York, the Satmar Hasidics are dismayed and disturbed by young female cyclists bicycling through their streets in summer clothes, baring their legs, arms and chests, as most of us want to do at that time of year. In Israel, the (or at least a number of) Haredis expect the secular women that have long inhabited Bet Shemesh to follow the rule they uphold in their own communities: Men and women must stay segregated.
The uproar continues on both sides in Israel after Tanya Rosenblit, a secular Israeli woman, refused to move to the back of a city bus last month when a male Haredi passenger instructed her to do so. In Idov’s article, Isaac Abraham, a Satmar spokesman, says of the cyclists: “How long have you lived in the community that you now want to make the rules and totally ignore my opinion, when I’ve lived here for 50 years?” The women of Bet Shemesh must be thinking the exact same thing.
The Satmar Hasidics may have closely recreated the shtetls of their old country on a couple of streets in Williamsburg, but they can’t ignore the existence of the rest of the neighborhood and its inhabitants’ right to move freely. But they live their lives by the rules of the Bible, and the Bible tells them they are forbidden to even glance at an “improperly dressed” member of the opposite sex.
I believe we have to respect each other’s beliefs, but what happens when the belief is not ours, and it is being enforced upon us?
Unfortunately, Idov’s article does not include any perspectives of sympathy towards the Satmars from the young cyclists… In fact, they are portrayed as disrespectful and even mocking of the Satmar way of life. Their insularity, insouciance and egotism frustrate me; it certainly won’t help matters and does nothing to bring the two groups any closer together. But the central issue at hand is that women are riding their bicycles, they are in movement, passing by for only a brief moment… And the Satmars can’t handle it. Averting their eyes is not enough. They are trying desperately to deny the undeniable: That women exist, and that she is inseparable, inextricable, one in the same, as her body, her sexuality, her skin, her breasts, her legs and thighs and hair. Is this such a sinful fact? How can one ignore the truths and traits that have marked us since the beginning of human life on earth?
The situation in Bet Shemesh is much simpler to me, particularly after I read an article from Ma’ariv, a leading Israeli paper, in which Haredi leader Mordechai Blau justifies and condones the incident: “Every Haredi woman simply enjoys to sit in the back in the company of women where she can speak about women oriented topics, and not to sit in the company of men, and not to open her mouth there. She is comfortable in the back. Women have certain topics of conversation: the kitchen, the household, and child rearing. This is natural”. (translated to English here)
OK. WHOA. “This is natural?” That’s all women talk about? GET A CLUE! It’s 2012. Hell, I don’t think that’s EVER all that women talked about! You can run your community by the Bible’s every word (or your interpretation of it?) but you can’t go out into the rest of the world and expect them to follow rules that are discriminatory. What’s “natural” here is incredibly skewed.
A day after beginning research for this article, I find out that Tanya Rosenblit, “the Rosa Parks of Israel” as she is being called, has received multiple death threats AND that Haredis are stoning “mixed” buses. (All this information comes from leading Israeli papers Ha’aretz & Yediot Ahronot and can be read in English at failedmessiah.typepad.com) The ignorance, denial and entitlement here is tuned to a fundamentalist pitch. How can the Haredis allow their religious beliefs to lead them so astray? Do they truly believe a secular way of life is completely invalid? And most interestingly, what do Haredi women make of all this?
I feel much less compassion for the Haredis than the Williamsburg Satmars, yet there remain several correlations between their two clashes. How much do we have to compromise in order to coexist, if anything? What do the Satmars and Haredis need to compromise in order to be at peace with reality outside their communities?
The first answer that comes to mind is their belief, but that won’t do, will it? For us women, are we going to take a different bike route in the summertime? Maybe, if women feel deep compassion for the Satmars perhaps. Is it our right to ride down Bedford Avenue in a short skirt? I believe it is. But are women going to sit at the back of the bus? You better not.
*All thoughts belong to the author. They have not been changed for this site.
Blue Ivy Carter and the Abolishment of the "B-word"
Celebrity magazines are once again excited to profit off of the recent birth of yet another celebrity baby, Blue Ivy Carter, the daughter of Beyonce and Jay Z.
Unlike most tacky and mindless celebrity magazine articles that share the amount of money spent on new baby clothes, the focus this time is on the “special gift" the couple with everything has given to their new baby girl: lyrics or perhaps a poem on Jay Z’s abolishment of "the b-word" or Bitch.
Before I got in the game, made a change, and got rich, I didn’t think hard about using the word B—-. I rapped, I flipped it, I sold it, I lived it now with my daughter in this world I curse those that give it. I never realized while on the fast track that I’d give riddance to the word bitch, to leave her innocence in tact. No man will degrade her, or call her out her name the women won’t despise her and call her the same. I know it’s gonna miss me cuz we been together like Nike Airs and crisp tees when we all used to hang out front singing 99 problems but a lady ain’t one. Excuse me miss, can I be your mister cuz I can tell the difference from a little girl and a sister, She never grew up, her father left her alone I promise not to talk like we used to until Kingdom Come. I’m so focused on your future, The degradation has passed I wish you wealth, health, and insight forever young you may pass. Blue Ivy Carter, my angel.
I sincerely congratulate Jay Z for finally recognizing the negative connotations this profane word has towards women. Furthermore I support his (finally) desire to never call a woman a “Bitch” again and yet, I wonder how loving and subsequently marrying a woman didn’t stop him from using the term before.
Why is it that having a child suddenly teaches you how to treat a person with respect? Did he not have the deepest respect for the incredible women in his life prior to Blue’s birth?”
The sad reality is that most fans will only continue to view Jay Z as a tremendous activist and musician rather than understanding the serious implications his music has had on gender issues for women around the world.