Episode 34 – Be Awesome or Don’t Bother

For Episode 34 I talk to Erin Matson an awesome activist about feminism, body image, pregnancy and everything in between

Interview Links
Erin Matson’s Site: http://erintothemax.com/
Erin’s post about pregnancy after an eating disorder – link
Erin on Twitter: Erintothemax

Other Links
My writing about Visions in Feminism at Fem 2.0 (link)
The April 6th Visions in Feminism Conference! Link

If you are a new listener to Fully Engaged Feminism Please subscribe to the podcast

White Feminism & ‘Ally Work’

The terms ‘ally’ and ‘ally-work’ are terms that I use sparingly. To be honest I hate them, but I understand their necessity when talking about doing anti-oppression work as a person who is not in the oppressed group facing oppression. The reason I hate the word is it feels/sounds/is used as an identity. A cookie/gold star/badge of ‘not being an asshat’ in the sea of ‘unenlightened masses.’ Magically the white person is a ‘non-oppressor’ and cannot/should not make mistakes.

I have seen (especially among liberal folks) this rush to create space between ourselves and the idea of what ‘a racist’ is – and in turn that we cannot face the ways in which racism is perpetuated. The racism, or racist act has to be obvious, or it hasn’t happened at all. I grew up in an incredibly racist home, and I don’t want to ever hold the belief that because I’m not ‘as bad as x’ I am somehow not complicit in the racism that happens in a daily basis across this country. Personally I hold the belief that white folk (myself especially included) have a legacy of privilege because of racism that is still perpetuated by current racism. Because I live, work, and am in this society I am the benefactor of racism, and as unwittingly and unwillingly as I might be – perpetuate a racist system. Now, I don’t demand that all white folks hold this idea of ‘all white folks are racist’ but it works for me (or at least I hope it does) by holding me accountable to the reality of my white skin privilege every day, so that I own the mistakes I do make.

This all for me intersects with feminism because white women especially have been socialized to fear making mistakes. We have been told to do everything perfectly, nicely, kindly and gently. The fear of making mistakes has kept a lot of folks from ever taking a first step on a path, and then because when racism is seen negatively it is seen (correctly) as hateful – I think some white women hold a fear of being seen as mean that overrides their ability to understand that – intent or not – they did something that was racist (and hurtful). The feminist platform has often been one so elevated that only those who could afford college (read: white, straight, middle class or above) could ‘speak for’ a movement. Ensuring that feminism addresses the oppressions that affect all women means that we all need to hear and see each other on from a level space. Women of color often voice the ways in which feminism leaves them behind, silences them, and ignores them. Such an instance was today when I saw folks talking about Clutch’s post calling white feminists to task (http://www.clutchmagonline.com/2013/02/quvenzhane-wallis-white-feminism/). I was disappointed to see folks debating the validity of the post.
At one point in the conversation the discussion of ‘how to do ally work’ came up – and given the jumble of opinion I shared above – lets just say I didn’t know where to start. I don’t think any of us can speak with authenticity on being an ally. It changes per situation, and only the person I am hoping to help can speak to their needs in a given situation. I can say though that if you don’t want to perpetuate racism (or any other ism) here are a few tips:
1. If a person is pointing out their experience with oppression – be it in a blog, or on twitter, at an event, or in a conversation do not reply with ‘I didn’t see my friends doing this!’ that is moot, and it derails the conversation shifting the focus on you/your friends rather than the person experiencing oppression.
2. If a person is explaining their experience with oppression and using general terms like ‘white feminists’ – asking them to name specific white feminists shifts the conversation (again!) from their experience to proving their experience to you (apparently for some kind of validation or approval).
3. If your reaction is anything along the lines of questioning the person who is brave/kind/generous to be sharing their experience – please ask yourself ‘what am I doing, why am I having trouble sitting with what they are sharing, where/why is this uncomfortable for me?’
4. Don’t just talk about racism/isms in the company of the oppressed. Don’t just wait for the oppressed folks to break down why something is perpetuating their oppression. These are conversations white feminist folks need to have among themselves – asking each other what more can be done to level the field, and calling each other out when we fuck up.

I do love twitter, and the immediacy of the internet – and there are a lot of things we do need to react quickly to – and I think the Quvenzhané story shows where a lot of us white feminists could have done more. But if you are reading a critique of a group of folks (lets just say white feminists) that you fall into – do yourself and everyone a favor and sit on it. Read it. Let it marinate. Hell, journal your feelings about it. Then look at where your ego is involved. The ‘my friends/I didn’t do this!’ argument is moot if a woman of color is talking about what she saw/felt/experienced. Why does your experience trump hers? Do maybe you perceive 3 women ‘RT’ing a story about racism as ‘a lot of coverage’ and the WOC see those 3 ‘RT’ in a sea of hundreds of white faces ignoring the story – or worse defending calling a child an offensive term.

The reality is we all get this shit wrong. We all are doing (hopefully) as best we can in any given moment. While it is great that a lot of us are acknowledging that we aren’t perfect and trying is important – we also need to know how to hold the space of making a mistake and fucking up. If you step on my foot accidentally my foot will still hurt no matter how bad you feel about it. The same goes for racism within feminism. We can try our hardest – but this is an issue of institutional privilege – and when we don’t confront our own failures, or try to sweep them under the rug we are perpetuating (and shrouding in silence) the pain of oppression.

I want to thank the writers of Clutch for calling out my fellow white feminists. I also want to thank other writers who broke down the issue of the Onion’s tweet and why the insult directed at Quvenzhané is both racist and sexist:

http://www.racialicious.com/2013/02/25/apparently-people-have-beef-with-quvenzhane-wallis/

http://tressiemc.com/2013/02/28/did-white-feminists-ignore-attacks-on-quvenzhane-wallis-thats-an-empirical-question/

http://bitchmagazine.org/post/let-me-explain-why-the-onions-quvenzhan%C3%A9-wallis-tweet-was-so-hurtful

Episode 33: Collab with FAPCast (for 12th & Delaware)

For Episode 33 Mel (from FAPCast) and I discuss the documentary 12th & Delaware

Information Links (for things brought up during the show)

If you are a new listener to Fully Engaged Feminism Please subscribe to the podcast

Episode 32: Black Women’s Blueprint interview

For Episode 32 I talk to Janeen Mantin of Black Women’s Blueprint!

Interview Links

Black Women’s Blueprint
http://www.blackwomensblueprint.org/
Their Video – Under Siege
http://vimeo.com/25195147
@BlackWomensBP on twitter
Black Women’s Blueprint on Facebook

If you are a new listener to Fully Engaged Feminism Please subscribe to the podcast

Hugo Triggers My Internet (Any bandwidth is too much bandwidth)

This blog post (I will have a podcast episode soon, I swear!) looks more like a Livejournal entry from a decade ago than anything else. It is a guttural reaction to something that upset me on the Internet with no easy transitions from the link to my own emoting. And really, there are bigger things happening in the world. There is devastation from Hurricane Sandy in Cuba (CBS story), Haiti (Washington Post Story), the east coast of the US ( NY Daily) , an upcoming election in the US and a thousand more stories I miss in my US Centric quest for ‘news.’ But even after I stepped away from my first edit of this to go on vacation, to work on some other projects, and to just sit in stillness I kept coming back to this idea of my own silence on the issue as a kind of complicity. I am both a victim, and a survivor of abuse. I am not ok with the space that Hugo Schwyzer takes up in supposedly feminist space. I find having to scroll past him triggering and I can’t separate my past experiences from what I hurriedly try to ‘ignore’.

And if you hadn’t heard of Hugo Schwyzer before – these blog entries are just a sampling of the plentiful amazing/eloquent/better than what I can write stuff out there on him:

http://www.redlightpolitics.info/post/34023521376/i-blame-schwyzer-for-the-ineffectual-whitewashed

http://studentactivism.net/2012/01/22/hugo-schwyzer-is-still-doing-harm/

http://www.peopleofcolororganize.com/analysis/men-feminism-race-movements-hugo-schwyzer-interview/

I came to know of Mr. Schwyzer through twitter. Specifically I was introduced by a friend on twitter who had asked that anyone retweeting or quoting him should ‘Google him’ before elevating his voice. I took her advice and did just that – visiting his page, several blogs critiquing him and a few other sites that posted his work. After reading up on his history, seeing his connection with projects I already held suspect (Jezebel and The Good Men Project in particular) I felt safe in knowing I wanted to avoid him and any of his ‘work.’ The problem is that he keeps popping up: friends or folks I admire signal-boost via twitter, post articles featuring him, and/or further the debate on the validity of his presence in feminist space. This has begun to reach its peak over a month ago when he wrote a really exploitive (w/o permission of the previous partner) blog entry about ‘assisting’ in a partner’s tampon removal. I rarely shy away from topics such as tampons (see also: my interviews with comic artist who do work focusing on menses) and I even love body horror movies – but Schwyzer’s piece revealed a total sleaze ball posing as a ‘sensitive guy’ (http://www.xojane.com/sex/on-digging-out-my-ex-wifes-tampon).

There is a reason I take the issue of Mr. Schwyzer and the voice he carries on the Internet to heart. There have been multiple times where people in my life  have discounted my boundaries and exploited a relationship -  hurting and causing me to question the validity of my own feelings. I was a victim of domestic violence. I grew up in a home where abuse was normalized, at age 15 I was sexually assaulted and then by age 17 I was engaged to marry a guy 9 years older than me who was emotionally and increasingly physically abusive. A year later we lived together in a small apartment where he worked nights and I attended community college on scholarship. I was economically dependant on him, which only furthered the power structure that had been brewing since I had met him the year before.

First let me say there is far too much pathologizing of victims of domestic violence. The idea that to be in a relationship with an abuser means that you have some kind of problem with your psyche focuses the ‘problem’ on the abused rather than the abuser. We can only speak to our own experiences, and the abused have been told by their abusers and ‘rescuers’ alike that they cannot trust themselves. This is how abuse starts chipping away at a person’s center so that they cannot trust their gut to make a choice (be it one about housing, sex, food choice, or job) for themselves. The reality for me was that I was young, poor, afraid, and mimicking the kind of relationship I had seen played out by my parents and the dominant culture. Being with a guy who was older, who claimed the identities of ‘liberal’ and ‘anti-authoritarian’ was an easy route to validation in a time and a place where I was denied self-actualization.

My abusive partner and I broke up by the time I was nineteen just as I began to forge an identity as an adult in the world. For as damaging as the relationship was – it was the slow ending of our ‘partnership’ that hurt the most. In any break up when a couple attempts to stay friends – the reassertion of boundaries is the hardest. Footpaths into our hearts and minds by exes are now dangerous reassertions of unwelcome patterns. An abuser especially knows how to push back on any new attempt at boundaries. These are people who uses the power associated with their various privileges (age, race, gender/sex, job, citizenship, etc…) to challenge the abused’s inner compass. I had to ask my ex to stop coming to my job to ‘shop’. Because it was a record store known for its varied selection (in a town with very little to do after 8 pm) he framed this as a hardship on him, and my assertion of space as a ‘over-reaction problem’. Why was I keeping him from something cool? Why couldn’t I just avoid him, go work in another section, or hang out in the back? Why was I making such a big deal out of it? Our break up had been long and messy – had already involved several loud fights and police intervention. Friends had taken sides and custody of the cats had been decided. I was tired, and worn down and just barely 19. I didn’t want to have to tell him that just seeing him made me sick, that I wanted to just sit down give up on what progress I had made in my own healing and cry, that it brought back not just the horrors of him throwing things at my face, but all of the history of my childhood that brought me to that very moment. I didn’t want to have to bear my soul to justify he find a fucking Siousie and the Banshees CD somewhere else.

Abuse can be obvious acts – but more often than not it is subtle. It is the small things that make up the day in a relationship that reveal an imbalance of power and respect. Personally I have found the concept of microaggressions (microaggressions.com & wiki entry) as the best way to explain how the words and actions considered by most as ‘small things’ that a more privileged person does to a disempowered person of living in an abusive situation (for me). It wasn’t the screaming, or the hitting but the constant questioning any time I had made a decision. It was never enough to simply hear my request of ‘stop’ or ‘I’d like’ or ‘that hurts me’ to change his behavior.

Posed with the idea that a victim or survivor of abuse may be upset by Mr. Schwyzer’s prominence in the feminist movement he says “I’ve heard from people who feel encouraged by my work as well as those who feel very upset by it. It provokes strong positive and negative reactions from different people. At some point – not to throw this back in your lap – this is more an editorial decision than anything else.” So those upset by his presence are erased because some are not, and really – it isn’t his fault that he’s on XO Jane because, darn it, they are offering that space. It is true that every blog, journal, and newspaper should vet their writers. But the bigger question is what kind of answer is that from a person who seeks to end power dynamics across genders and wants to end abuse? Are we not supposed to own our actions as much as we can control them?

When Mr. Schwyzer says in the same interview “ …this notion of “making room” in the blogosphere is based on a faulty premise of scarcity. … Look at most of the people whose work you publish; few are privileged white middle-aged men. People are free to click past me, to ignore me, to move on to the wealth of other writers who appear on sites like yours or at Jezebel.” (http://www.xojane.com/issues/hugo-schwyzer-controversy)
Is he really posing that the issue on XOJane or Jezebel really that there aren’t enough privileged white dudes on these sites? Or that the feminist sphere of the Internet doesn’t have enough white dudes? Are these the voices that are missing? Yes, men should be part of the feminist movement, but is their role as dominant voices? I think the heavily trafficked/mainstream feminist blogs need to do work seeking out and making space for the voices of women of color, queer folks, disabled folks, trans folks, folks in rural areas, folks w/o a US centric world view. Not a dude women studies professors who tried to kill a girlfriend and then apparently wants a fucking cookie for not submitting papers to National Women’s Studies Association.

About 6 years after my break up with my ex I had gotten a call on my cell – from a number didn’t recognize. Checking the voice-mail later it was a woman – asking if I had dated my ex, and if he had been abusive while I was with him. My heart broke in two hearing her voice – she sounded young, unsure, needed some kind of assurance that whatever happening wasn’t her ‘fault.’ I gathered some resources and left her a voice-mail back with a few hotlines to call – simply saying whatever she was feeling in the relationship was valid and she should trust her gut. The next day my abusive ex called my mother’s house and left some rambling message about ‘his confused girlfriend.’ His pattern of trying to control and contextualize the situation was reestablished.

I am not saying that Mr. Schwyzer isn’t working his steps, isn’t striving to be a better person – or even a more feminist person. But there are a thousand fucking ways to ‘do feminism’ – to be the kind of change we want in our communities. We model feminism and anti-oppression by the words we choose in our daily conversations, how we treat our neighbors and the folks on the bus, where we shop and whom we vote for. Asking Mr. Schwyzer not promote himself as an ‘expert on gender justice’ (words from his site) is not the same as asking him to not be a feminist. It is saying that your actions have meant that when you take up space as an ‘authority’ (conferred through publishing, speaking engagements, and so on) it is a continuation of abuse. The world is not hurting for white cis dudes (and honestly – white cis ladies as well) to have their voice lifted, lent credence and authority when discussing established power structures. More simply – Mr. Schwyzer: we will not miss you. Your ‘gems’ of getting all hot and bothered while supposedly helping out your ex wife deal with a traumatic medical situation will not make the internet devoid of nuance or understanding of sexism, of the male perspective, or in how to make the world a better place. In fact – if there was less Mr. Schwyzer, and talk of him maybe we could talk about how us white ladies need to shut the hell up and instead signal boost (as in sit and listen rather than speak for/speak over) those more disenfranchised than us.

Faith and Feminism

(here I am again Writing Rather Than Podcasting)
This essay is thanks to the blog carnival prompt over at the Feminist Odyssey Blog Carnival

The full blogroll on this topic can be found here

Thinking on these two words ‘faith and feminism’ bring up too many messages, too many ideas, too many cultural cues to write on any one thing. So I sit, I sit and try to not think. The sound of traffic muffles crickets and other nighttime sounds. I close my eyes trying to feel the cool breeze coming into the window, the almost full moon is lost from my view – and I am too lazy to hunt for her light in the other rooms. One of my cats, formerly an ‘outside cat’ is entranced by the fresh air and looks at the cars eleven flights below, perhaps imagining them mice or other treats. Just as quick as her arrival she bores and leaves me alone in my office – the way so many days start and end. It is in the early morning during yoga and sitting meditation, or quiet nights where I work on schoolwork and delayed activist projects where I simultaneously find my center, and reach outwards.

My faith, my spiritual and political practices all ask – no demand – that I dig deep. Easy answers don’t answer the big questions and ignoring the call of nature only makes me feel claustrophobic. Feigning meditation won’t help me or impress any deity just as half assed work won’t change the patriarchal power structure. There are days where I might whisper my religious identity – that of a witch – in the same way that I am reluctant to frame my personal outlook within feminism in mixed company. So while the complete context of my religion or politics might never be shared, I bring both my faith and feminism into everything that I do.

I grew up Catholic with my mother teaching CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine), and her mother playing organ in the church. My father never came to a service and it was my understanding that religion was an entirely feminine affair. My experience was mirroring a national trend where women self report religious and active members of their religious communities more than men. (2009 Pew Data) Over the years I changed churches, and ultimately religions, just as I distanced myself from some of the sexism my family tried to put upon me. When I first started to research paganism, in its many forms, I held the erroneously belief that it was somehow impervious to sexism. I was not alone, there is still the perception that pagans are ‘more enlightened’ when it comes to women, and gender; that having the possibility of worshiping a goddess means that one wouldn’t hold rigid views on gender. In my time within the pagan community I have run into as much essentialist theory tying my spiritual path to the limits/duties of my womb as I would have in any other conservative or dogmatic faith. Paganism has quite publicly battled on ideas of gender identity; acceptance and inclusion (see: Z. Budapest) probing no religion can claim they are more repressive or more ‘liberated’.

It was one night through where my faith and feminism threatened to split in two, only to weave together into something much stronger. Years ago I facilitated public rituals in an occult store in the suburban town I lived in. These were great events with waxing and waning attendance, but each one included great people, a moving ritual, a canned food drive and a great potluck afterwards. After the ritual many of us were talking, and one fellow dominated the conversation doing what I have come to recognize so well as ‘mansplaining’ – waxing poetic on how hard it was for men, and how I should really hold that space to listen to how feminism was hurting him. I tried as best I could to be neutral and let this man feel heard and understood but inside I was fuming. I came home late at night, tired and emotionally rubbed raw and began instant messaging my friend on the other side of the country about the distance I often felt within my community.
Too often I had heard that paganism was perceived as ‘too feminine’ that ‘the assumption that pagans were feminists’ was ‘hurting’ the religion, and worse yet, some men might be assumed to be gay because of their faith! Krista for years had been a safe space for me to vent, and that night I let it all out – the pain, the tiredness of holding space for community that didn’t seem to want to have me, and the fear that perhaps this path – like my Christian one – was wrong too.
Krista had been feeling the same kind of isolation, and the same yearning for a practice that had as its foundation anti-oppression work. She wanted a religion that challenged, that asked us to demand more from our community and ourselves and resisted the cultural appropriation found in so many pagan paths. That was in 2004. Since then our group, Threading Flame, while still small shines a large light in my life not allowing self doubt or angst about my community to overshadow the power that is truth telling and trust in each other. Threading Flame is not the beginning or end of my spiritual practice, but it is what I consider ‘home’ a place to take off shoes, to sigh heavily and know I can remain silent, or let loose a torrent of vulgarity out of anger and frustration. It is my feminist safe space.
Which this brings me back to where I started: finding stillness in the quiet darkness of the morning or night; finding stillness to center and act from a place of calm and compassion. Feminism needs reflection, if we don’t look at the picture beyond our own experiences we can perpetuate privileges we haven’t seen, we can lose historical context, or miss the meta messages. I can’t effectively organize a feminist conference, do clinic defense, or host my podcast in pure ‘reaction’ mode. How many good activists burn out because they were so busy fighting the good fight they lost sight of how to self-care? I could have kept hosting a ritual without voicing my hurt until all I felt was that stifled pain and associated that with all religion, but where would I be now?

Faith and Feminism meet in the moment where I stand up from meditation and give voice: share a hurt, raise a concern, thank a friend, excitedly declare an idea, and propose a solution. Faith inspires, and Feminism encourages. Faith fortifies and Feminism fights. Faith heals, and Feminism forges on.

Pew data:
http://www.pewforum.org/The-Stronger-Sex—-Spiritually-Speaking.aspx
Z. Budapest:
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wildhunt/2012/02/gender-transgender-politics-and-our-beloved-community.html
Threading Flame
http://www.threadingflame.com

Episode 31- The BFD Collective interview

For Episode 31 I talk to three amazing members of the BFD Collective about making Fat-Positive Space in a Fat-Phobic World & I rant about consumerism as activism

Interview Links
BFD on Facebook
BFD on Tumblr
get signed up for their list-serve at bfdcollective {at} gmail{dot}com
BFD recommends ‘The Fat Studies Reader’

Intro/Outro
Stuff Mom Never Told You
Overdressed review on Bitch Magazine
Chick Fil A & Homophobia

If you are a new listener to Fully Engaged Feminism Please subscribe to the podcast

Episode 30 – Radically Feminist

For Episode 30 I talk about feminism trans misogyny, Interview Avory of the Radicaly Queer blog & chat about The Hunger Games

As I said in my intro DCAF could definitely use your funds to help out poor folks make the reproductive health decision that is best for them! Throw a few bucks my way at my donation page & you are really helping a person in need!!

Intro/Outro
Joycelyn Elders
Ms. Blog
PantheaCon Debacle
Cotton Ceiling Tumblr
TransGriot (Monica Roberts)
Kate Bornstein
Hunger Games
Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale
Marge Piercy

Interview Links
Radically Queer
Women’s Media Center
Queer Feminism

If you are a new listener to Fully Engaged Feminism Please subscribe to the podcast

Episode 29 – So Much Awesome

In episode 29 I discuss the passing of a poet, I interview the AMAZING Michelle of Fat Nutritionist, cover a bit of pop culture and ask for cash!

Links
Fat Nutritionist Blog
Ellyn Satter
Adrienne Rich:
Obits: NY Times * LA Times
Critique: You’re Welcome Blog * Rafe Posey

Raves & Rants
Melissa Harris-Perry‘s book Sister Citizen
Jezebel article about Pharmacists
Hunger Games

Donate!! As I mentioned in my podcast I don’t ask for funds – this isn’t a money raising venture. That said DCAF could definitely use your funds! Throw a few bucks my way at my donation page & you are really helping a person in need!!

If you are a new listener to Fully Engaged Feminism Please subscribe to the podcast

Episode 28 – Crossing the Line

This episode I talk a little about street harassment, Trayvon Martin, and public perceptions, and I interview Holly Kearl about AAUW ‘s report Crossing the Line. Also Robin Covers Downton Abbey

Links to check out:
Holly Kearl http://hollykearl.com/
http://www.meetusonthestreet.org/
Geraldo Blaming Hoodies
http://www.aauw.org
Crossing the Line Report
Visions in Feminism
Momentumcon
Downton Abbey