Category: Think/Act/Reflect

Reflect Zone: Old Friends, New Paths

This past weekend, Lady Collective had the privilege of reuniting the entire day-one crew for our girl Devon’s wedding. (Congrats, Dev and Ben!) Overlooking a stunning view of the Atlantic Ocean, we smiled, we reminisced and I (D-Duff) danced my butt off. (Editor’s note: I fully intend to share a video of the couple’s first dance, but as of 9:00 am, my internet was down and my 3G refused to cooperate. Check back soon once I get my tech right.)

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Maybe it was all of us being in one place again, or maybe it was a function of a ten hour drive and an unlimited throwback playlist, but the weekend made me both nostalgic and reflective. The six of us met on the first day of college and, serendipitously, we all lived on the same floor. A lot can go wrong when you pack three strangers into rooms meant to accommodate two people, but through that experience, we became fast friends. Back then, it was easy: you could yell across the hall to get someone’s attention, take naps on each other’s beds, and meet for dinner every night. Post-graduation, the ease of getting together disappears, and sometimes I wonder if email or the phone is enough. While I’m pleased with my path and direction, I sometimes miss the days of midnight grilled cheese, haunted dorm rooms, and Balfour dances. The best I can do is to hold these memories close and plan to make more in the future.

All this reflection on the past has also made me think about the future, particularly the future. September 1 marks our one year anniversary, and I’d like to hear from you about where you think we should go. Is there a person you want profiled? A personal project you want to talk about? What women in your life should we feature? Or should we pack it up? Have we done enough? Should we pause and regroup? Your thoughts can inform the course of where we go next.

So send us an email, drop us a line on Facebook or Twitter, or leave your thoughts in the comments. We look forward to moving forward with you together.

Rest in Power: Natalia Molchanova, Champion Freediver

On August 2, Russian freediver Natalia Molchanova dove off the coast of Spain and never resurfaced. While her whereabouts are unknown, search efforts subsided after three days of efforts yielded no results. Over the course of her career, Molchanova set 41 world records and won 21 gold medals. She was the first woman to pass 100 meters diving with constant weight and the first woman to dive on one breath through Egypt’s Blue Hole arch. On some occasions, her dive times have bested those of the top male competitors.

Natalia Molchanova

Image courtesy of The Guardian

While some viewed Molchanova’s passion for diving as reckless, members of the diving community argued the opposite. The sport requires tremendous levels of focus and calm, allowing the divers to respond to underwater stress and hold their breath to complete the dive. Fellow divers remembered her tremendous spirit, her investment in her competitors’ successes, and her incredible focus that seemed to get better with age.

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Image courtesy of Wikipedia

As a practiced diver, Molchanova understood the risks and took necessary precautions to minimize unnecessary hazards; unfortunately, we may never know what led to her untimely death. But as her colleagues attested, risk is a part of life no matter what a person does; Molchanova’s expert knowledge of the ocean and her razor-sharp technique made the sport seem as risky as any other part of life. Her confidence in herself and her abilities led to tremendous success in a field where anyone else might crumble, serving as an example of how to dream big and chase lofty goals. We salute you, Natalia.

Safecity: Documenting Street Harassment

We live in a data-driven society: to address a given problem, you first have to prove it exists. In the past year, organizations like Hollaback have drawn attention to street harassment through videos and social media campaigns. But statistically speaking, how prevalent is the problem? Who’s logging complaints? Sometimes, street harassment takes the form of an annoying catcall or a demand that a woman smile. But other times, it can be downright dangerous: United Nations Women estimates that, over the course of a lifetime, one in three women experience sexual assault.

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Elsa D’Silva. Image courtesy of Impact Hub

Safecity founder Elsa D’Silva wants to change this statistic. In her native India, it is estimated that a rape occurs every 20 minutes. But with the guilt, fear, and shame often associated with street harassment, it is believed that many cases go unreported. D’Silva conceived of Safecity as a way for victims to anonymously report incidents and shed light on previously invisible crimes.

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Image courtesy of Rising Voices

In addition to collecting reports, Safecity aggregates the data and highlight trends on a map. This visual reporting style helps women take precautions in high-harassment areas and provides evidence of the problem to lawmakers. Outside of the app, D’Silva and her team run sexual harassment awareness workshops to empower victims and shift the attitudes of men and boys. As D’Silva points out, India does not teach sex education, so Safecity also aims to change attitudes about sex, gender, and relationships.

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Image courtesy of Tech in Asia

Currently, Safecity collects reports in two forms: on the web and via phone callback. However, the team is working on an app to allow more detailed documentation. Follow Safecity on social media to track their progress and learn about future initiatives.

Pride 2015: Steps Forward, Miles to Go

Over the past several years, states opposing same-sex marriage have fallen like dominoes. One by one, states across the country erupted in celebration as state courts struck down the bans. However, there have been some hold-outs (Here’s looking at you, Ohio). On Friday morning, the United States Supreme court ruled that same-sex marriage should be legal in all 50 states.

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Image courtesy of ABC Australia

Other countries recently celebrated victories for the LGBTQ community. Last month, Ireland held a referendum to legalize same-sex marriage; citizens turned out in droves to cast their votes. In Mozambique, the government struck down laws that criminalized homosexuality. While the country’s sole gay rights group, Lambda, views the ruling as a victory, there is little faith that it will make a tangible impact on daily life for LGBTQ people.

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Image courtesy of International Business Times

But for every celebratory parade, reminders of the work that remains reared their heads. In Istanbul, Turkey, riot police broke up pride parades with tear gas and rubber bullets. The government declared that the LGBTQ community did not have permission to hold the parade, an event that has occurred on the same weekend in June for the past 13 years, because it coincides with the holy month of Ramadan.

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Image courtesy of Mashable

While people across the United States used Facebook’s rainbow profile picture feature, many in Russia and countries across the Middle East were not amused. Russia recently passed staunch anti-gay laws, forcing people with the means to do so to seek asylum. According to a recent poll, 80% of Russians oppose gay marriage; in response to the Facebook rainbow, some Russians overlaid national flags on their pictures and tagged them with the hashtag #ProudToBeRussian.

Although same sex-marriage is now legal in the United States, discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender remains poorly defined and policed. Same-sex couples can be denied housing and jobs based on a landlord’s or hiring manager’s own preference. In 2014, California banned the “gay panic defense,” but other states consider it an acceptable excuse for unwarranted violence against LGBTQ people. The very fact that these defenses gain traction illustrates how, in parts of the country, members of the LGBTQ community must still fight for their right to live. So while this landmark victory deserves celebration, let’s not forget that there’s still much work to do.

Bree Newsome Captures The Flag

After last week’s murder of nine Emanuel AME parishioners, the Confederate flag continued to fly high over Charleston, South Carolina. In spite of a petition signed by 568,000 people, persuasion from local government leaders, and even a plea from South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, the flag, viewed by critics as a symbol of white supremacy, continued to fly. But on Saturday morning, activist Bree Newsome decided that enough was enough. With the support of fellow activist James Ian Tyson, Newsome scaled the 30-foot pole and removed the flag herself.

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Photo credit: danteberry Instagram

Newsome’s actions come at a personal cost; the punishment for a misdemeanor charge can be a fine of $5,000, three years in prison, or a combination of the two. Yet in a press release, she made it clear that she believed the sacrifice was worth it. Newsome explained, “We removed the flag today because we can’t wait any longer. It’s time for a new chapter where we are sincere about dismantling white supremacy and building toward true racial justice and equality.” In two days, her supporters have raised over $100,000 to assist with her case.

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Image courtesy of Ana Mardoll

In addition to her activism, Newsome is also a classically trained pianist with a BFA in Film and Televison from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. In 2011, she became the first Artist-In-Residence at Saatchi & Saatchi, a prestigious NYC ad agency. Currently, she resides in Charlotte, North Carolina, and serves as Western Field Organizer for Ignite, an organization dedicated to helping teens improve their local communities. Check Newsome’s website and social media to keep up with her case.

Moment of Silence: Remembering the Victims of Charleston

What can I say?

What words could encompass the cocktail of disgust, despair, and anger that has churned in my belly since a white, racist gunman murdered nine black leaders during a prayer meeting at Charleston, South Carolina’s Emanuel AME church?

Why is the media so quick to label a white shooter as “crazy” and “disturbed?”

How can wearing Confederate flag and Rhodesia patches and writing a manifesto calling for a race war be considered anything but racist?

How did a five year-old girl who survived the massacre know to lie down and play dead?

How can the black community recover from this act of terrorism and feel safe in places of worship, on the street, or in any public place?

How long will it take for the media to sweep this rampage under the rug?

In what ways must we, as individuals, examine the ways in which we excuse racist statements  by saying, “Oh, it was just a joke”? What happens when these “jokes” stop being jokes?

When will America, as a nation, confront its racist past and stop pretending that race “doesn’t exist”?

I refuse to give the shooter air time he does not deserve. Instead, I choose to honor the dead whose lives were stolen by hate.

Myra Thompson Reverend Clementa Pickney Reverend Daniel L Simmons Reverend Depayne Middleton Doctor Sharonda ColemanSingleton Susie Jackson Tywanza Sanders Cynthia Hurd Ethel Lee Lance

What Makes A Woman? Living Your Truth

It’s been a wild week for women in the media, which would be exciting if the issues in question weren’t so frustrating. First, Elinor Burkett’s New York Times op-ed, What Makes a Woman?, prompted a wave of responses from women across the feminist spectrum. Following closely on its heels came the bizarre story of Rachel Dolezal, the Spokane, Washington, NAACP president whose family revealed that she is, in fact, a white woman. Over the last week, these two news items have been compared, often incorrectly, so I’d like to clarify some points.

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Image courtesy of Janet Mock.

What Makes a Woman?

My first worry (of many) Burkett’s article is that she takes Caitlyn Jenner and uses her as the face of all trans women while she tears her down. In a conversation with Diane Sawyer, Jenner, speaking of her own experience, said that her brain is much more female than it is male because she is, indeed, a woman. What woman, who was gendered a woman at birth and lives as a woman, doesn’t have an innate pocket of her brain that tells her this?

In this case, the difference is that women who are born women and who society deems “look” like women don’t have to wrestle with the dysphoria that occurs when the appearance of the body doesn’t match that pocket of the brain. When Burkett goes off about how “their truth is not my truth,” she implies that one form of oppression is more egregious than another. Yet trans people constantly face verbal discrimination and physical violence just by living as themselves. This societal hatred takes a damaging psychological toll as well, resulting in gender dysphoria and sometimes depression. Apparently, these indignities aren’t the “certain” ones Burkett believes all women endure.

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Collage by Shani Nottingham

 

This lack of awareness that oppression is oppression frustrates the hell out of me. For decades, white women have silenced the stories of women of color, tabling their concerns indefinitely because white women simply do not have to deal with racial discrimination in addition to misogyny. The whole purpose of intersectional feminism is to realize that women come from a whole swath of different backgrounds and experience different types of oppression as a result. If you’re an ally in a fight that doesn’t directly impact you, it’s totally okay (and often encouraged) to speak to people in that group and gain a better understanding. Listening to one celebrity’s thoughts on a news program isn’t enough.

Ultimately, I feel like my job as a feminist is to fight people’s right to live their truths. And yes, part of that is supporting women that want to vamp it up, to embrace the aesthetic of the pinup girl, and to wear whatever she wants. The key in that statement is “what she wants,” because it is possible for a woman to dress for herself and gain power from heels, makeup, and other clothing deemed “tool of the patriarchy.” In 2015, we should know better than to think that there’s a one-size-fits-all definition of how a woman should be. Should she stay at home? Should she go to work? Should she have kids? Should she not? Should she glam it up? Should she go all natural? At the end of the day, I fight for her to choose what’s best for her so she can live her truth.

Living Your Truth vs. Living The Truth

The issue of truth lies at the eye of the Rachel Dolezal media storm that broke last week. After Dolezal reported a piece of hate crime-mail in the NAACP mailbox, some media outlets contacted her parents. Larry and Ruthanne Dolezal, a white couple from Troy, Montana, then told reporters that Dolezal was white and had presented herself as black for over a decade. In subsequent interviews, Dolezal insisted that her racial identity was “complex” and that she identified as black.

Since the story broke, trolls have had a field day comparing Dolezal to Caitlyn Jenner, trivializing the black and trans communities simultaneously. Let’s get one thing abundantly clear: the defining facet is honesty and authenticity. When Jenner presents herself as a woman, it’s not an identity she can wash off. Transitioning is a life-changing process, not a costume, and trans people inherit the change in privilege that society bestows on different genders. Jenner’s backstory is also her own; she doesn’t pull elements from Kris Jenner and her daughters to embellish her own experience. While Jenner transitioned in her 60s, her presentation up until that point was more about safety and survival than her own personal choice; there is no denial or secret about the gender she was born with not matching how she feels. As she so poignantly explained to Vanity Fair, Jenner said, “I’m not doing this to be interesting. I’m doing this to live.”

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Image courtesy of The Hotness

Dolezal, on the other hand, constructed her personal narrative from experiences that she did not, in fact, live. She was not born in a teepee; her alleged black son, Isaiah, is actually her adopted brother; she did not live in South Africa nor did her parents punish her and her siblings “by skin complexion” with a baboon whip; and while she reported harassing phone calls and hate crimes on many occasions, the particulars of the investigations remained murky. As a student, Dolezal applied to Howard University and later sued for discrimination for being white.

In this context, it feels like Dolezal’s “blackness” appears only when it benefits her, a notion that is unbelievable at best and offensive at worst. As a white woman, Dolezal could still have fought for racial justice and made great strides for the black Spokane community. But instead of doing the work of accepting her own privilege and place as an ally, it seems as though Dolezal took the easy way out and shirked this responsibility. Regardless of her intentions or identification, this trail of lies following Dolezal brings anger and pain to the very community she claimed to represent. By owning her personal history, she could saved herself and the black and trans communities significant grief.

Points of Reference

Ultimately, the issues we’re talking about are complex and there are many different ways to approach them. I’d like to close with links to articles by trans women and black women about these respective issues; they offer some amazing insights. Give them a read and let us know: what do you think?

Brynn Tannehill: Who Decides What Makes a Woman?

Dana Beyer: What Makes a Woman? A Trans Woman Responds to a Mid-20th Century Era Feminist

Leela Ginelle: Trans Women Are Women. Why Do We Have to Keep Saying This?

Mey Valdivia Rude: What We’re Going to Say About Caitlyn Jenner

Zeba Blay: Why Comparing Rachel Dolezal To Caitlyn Jenner Is Detrimental To Both Trans And Racial Progress

Syreeta McFadden: Rachel Dolezal’s definition of ‘transracial’ isn’t just wrong, it’s destructive

Osamudia James: What Rachel Dolezal doesn’t understand: being black is about more than just how you look

Jamilah Lemieux: The Infallibility of Miss Ann (Or, the Last Rachel Dolezal Thinkpiece Ever)

Kirsten West Savali: Let’s Not Question Blackness Because a White Woman Says So

Ijeoma Oluo: How Rachel Dolezal’s Lies Hurt Black People

Breaking News: Deconstructing Entertainment Journalism

It’s truly remarkable how much focus the media places on women’s bodies. Glance quickly through the tabloids in the grocery checkout aisle and you’ll glimpse a quick overview of which women in Hollywood gained weight, lost weight, made a fashion misstep or looked fantastic. At first, it may seem like harmless media fluff. But if you’re not paying attention, you may not be aware of the impact these headlines make on your consciousness.

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Image courtesy of Erin Valentine + Ashley McGetrick

Unsatisfied with this lack of awareness, Elon University students Erin Valentine and Ashley McGetrick set out to highlight the problem and demand change. Their project, Breaking News: Deconstructing Entertainment Journalism, started as a class assignment but evolved into something much bigger. The pair took several headlines from popular media outlets and modified them with a feminist bent. They then asked study participants to take a pretest, compare the headlines, and take a subsequent post-test to gauge how the headlines impacted their opinions.

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Image courtesy of Erin Valentine + Ashley McGetrick

The pretest collects information about subjects’ age and gender demographics, how frequently they consume entertainment journalism, and what concerns they have about this type of media. Once the test is over, it’s time to view the images. The “before” selections focus exclusively on post-baby bodies, outfits, weight loss, and overall “hotness.” (I’ll let you guess which one led me to laugh aloud.) Each “before” headline comes paired with an “after” designed by Valentine and McGetrick. Finally, the post-test asks subjects to reflect on how annoyed their were with the headlines and if it will reflect how they consume media in the future.

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Image courtesy of Erin Valentine + Ashley McGetrick

A key tenant of the project center’s around media consumers’ ability to vote with their wallets. If a market shows no interest in sexist headlines, there’s no reason to perpetuate them. By supporting media sources that produce well-rounded, complex reporting, consumers send a message that sexism in media will not be tolerated. One person’s choice may feel like a negligible ripple in a large pond, but as more people become aware, the ability to make waves increases.

Want to participate? Take the test and let Erin and Ashley know that you support their research.

Women On 20s Followup: Harriet Tubman Wins

10 weeks ago, a campaign surfaced that called on the American people to put a woman on the face of the $20 bill. The initiative, better known as Women On 20s, solicited nominations, presented them to voters in a series of primaries, and whittled the selection down to four candidates. Over 600,00 people voted and today, we have a winner. We present to you the victor, Ms. Harriet Tubman, looking like a boss on the $20 bill.

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Image courtesy of NBC News

So what’s the next step? According to Executive Director Susan Ades Stone, the organization and its supporters must catch the ear of President Obama, who holds the power to issue an order to the Treasury. While legislatures in New York State, Philadelphia, and Baltimore have vocalized their support, only the President can replace President Andrew Jackson’s countenance with Harriet Tubman’s. In addition to video and written petitions, supports can tweet at the President using the hashtags #DearMrPresident and #HelloHarrietTubman. As Stone points out, “Our paper bills are like pocket monuments to great figures in our history.” With Tubman’s tremendous contributions as an abolitionist and humanitarian during the Civil War, she is more than a deserving candidate. Vote, tweet, and petition to get Tubman on the bill before the 2020 anniversary of women’s suffrage.

Laverne Cox Empowers Everyone

If you couldn’t tell from her Dame of the Day blurb, Laverne Cox is a boss. From her stellar performance on Orange is the New Black to her activism and advocacy for the trans community, Cox consistently pushes herself to do more. She even embraces opportunities that require her to take risks and be vulnerable. Last month, she took the plunge with 15 other celebrities and posed nude for Allure. (Spoiler alert: she looked fantastic.) Although she was nervous, Cox explained, “I honestly just want to make myself happy most, and if other people like it, then that’s great. If they don’t, then I’m still happy.”

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Image courtesy of GLAAD

Yet while actresses Katheryn Winnick and Sandrine Holt received praise for their spreads, Laverne Cox’s photographs raised some eyebrows. What’s even more infuriating is that the commentary in question came from a self-proclaimed radical feminist. In a recent blog post, author Meghan Murphy insists that Cox’s  use of hormones and plastic surgery nullifies her message of self-acceptance. Instead, she proclaims, Cox buys into the idea of the “‘perfect’ body, as defined by a patriarchal/porn culture.” According to Murphy’s view, trans women fall outside of feminism’s purview because they modify their bodies and offer them up “to the male gaze for consumption.”

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Needless to say, I find this opinion to be completely ridiculous. The very title of the post, “Laverne Cox’s Objectified Body Empowers No One,” misses the point entirely. In a society where murder rates for trans women of color grossly outnumber any other group, Cox’s decision to pose nude is incredibly revolutionary. Defying the din of voices telling trans women of color that they are not light enough, not feminine enough, and not worthy of love, Cox’s portrait contradicts all these assertions and loudly proclaims: “I am beautiful and I am enough.” If Murphy doesn’t feel empowered by that statement, then perhaps she’s lucky enough to not need it for survival.

Murphy’s views are not uncommon in the radical feminist community. Debates over whether trans women “get” to be considered women have persisted for years. Just a month ago, the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival announced it would rather shut down than include trans women in its lineup. Yet the argument that trans women are men infiltrating “women’s space” is utterly bogus and hypocritical. Women policing the bodies of other women not only wastes time and increases factionalism, but it also perpetuates the very same bullshit feminists purport to dismantle. Why should some women (particularly white women) get to dictate a narrow definition of womanhood for others? Whether it’s applying eye shadow or getting plastic surgery, what Cox chooses to do to her body is her choice. It’s not being disingenuous; she’s living her truth and expressing who she is. At the end of the day, Cox just wants to make herself happy, and that, perhaps, is the most radical form of self-acceptance.