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Breaking Down Patriarchy
76 minutes | Oct 12, 2021
Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay
Amy: Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy, I’m Amy McPhie Allebest. Last week we read “feminism is for everybody” by bell hooks. I love bell hooks for so many reasons - she is so thorough in her thinking, exploring all sides of every issue, she is always grounded in both truth and love, and she has a manner that is accessible to everyone, whether you have a PhD from an Ivy League or had to drop out of school at a young age to earn money for your family - she is a true humanist. This week’s author is Roxane Gay, and her book, Bad Feminist continues in that bell hooks tradition of being razor-sharp in analysis, but relatable and down-to-earth. If you watched her TED talk, “Confessions of a Bad Feminist” you might think that she’s a professional comedian - she’s so funny and real - and she explains that the title of her essay collection, Bad Feminist refers to the fact that she messes up all the time and falls short of her own ideals… just as we all do. Which is a huge relief to listeners and readers. Interestingly though, Roxane Gay is not primarily a comedian - she’s a writer and public intellectual who has a PhD and is a professor at Yale. But before we get into that, I want to introduce my reading partner, Setareh Greenwood. Hi, Setareh!Setareh: Hello! :)Amy: Setareh and I know each other through my daughter Lucy, who did the episode on the UN Declarations of Human Rights. (I’ll say a little more about you…) Can you tell us some more about yourself?Setareh: Sure thing! I’m 18, I’ve lived in California my whole life, I’m bi, and I’m half Iranian. My mom came to the US from Iran when she was 14 for highschool and then ended up having to stay here due to the Iranian revolution in 1979. My dad’s family is of European descent, according to 23&Me, he’s mostly British and German and his family came to the US roughly around the same time as the Mayflower, so they’ve been here for quite a while. Both my parents come from religious extended families (Baha’i and Muslim on my mom’s side and Christian on my dad’s) and atheist households. They’re both atheist and I would say I’m agnostic ? but I’m very very curious about Islam, the Baha’i faith, Zorastrianism, Sufism, and other religions that have influenced Iranian culture in particular. I’ve grown up pretty isolated from Iranian culture beyond my immediate family, so I’m always trying to learn more about it. I’m also really into Shakespeare, theatre, and music, and I stress paint quite a bit :) I’m going to be an English major next year (which is mostly exciting but also slightly terrifying) but I’m keeping my options open because I’m interested in a lot of things and I have a hard time picking just one thing. I haven’t picked a college yet but I’m leaning heavily towards Mount Holyoke :)Amy: Awesome. And what interested you in Breaking Down Patriarchy? I remember you and Lucy doing a project together for your Honors American Literature class where you compared and contrasted your experiences in your faith traditions - Lucy with Mormonism and yours with Islam. Does your religious background inform your thoughts and feelings about patriarchy, or are they mostly non-religious factors? Setareh: I think they’re largely non-religious factors but I’ve definitely thought about those factors in the context of religion a fair bit. I think that considering how to apply feminism and feminist values to a religion can be a good litmus test for how practical and compassionate those values actually are. For instance, people often make the argument that the hijab is anti-feminist and that banning it (as they’re doing in France at the moment) will free women from patriarchy without considering how essential autonomy and choice are to feminism and that in banning hijab, they are forcing women to conform to their idea of gender performance, which is just as harmful. It’s really frustrating that even people who consider themselves feminists or who operate under the guise of feminism still enforce patriarchy and try to control what other women do. I think feminism, which has to be intersectional in order to be feminism, is vital to our culture for it to be sustainable and I really love the exploration of that in this podcast. Amy: Ok, let’s learn about the author of this book, Roxane Gay. Setareh, can you tell us about her?Setareh: Absolutely! Roxane Gay is an American writer, professor, editor, and social commentator. She was born in 1974, in Omaha, Nebraska, to parents who are both Haitian. She began her undergrad studies at Yale University, but dropped out in her junior year to pursue a relationship in a different state, and then later completed her undergrad degree at Vermont College of Norwich University. She then earned a Master's degree with an emphasis in creative writing from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, and a PhD at Michigan Technological University in Rhetoric and Technical Communication. After completing her Ph.D. in 2010, Gay began her academic teaching career at Eastern Illinois University, where she was assistant professor of English. While at Eastern Illinois, she was a contributing editor for Bluestem magazine, and she also founded Tiny Hardcore Press. Next, she was an associate professor of creative writing in the Master of Fine Arts program at Purdue University, and in 2019 Gay started as a visiting professor at Yale University. Gay is a contributing opinion writer at the New York Times, and is the author of several short story collections, a novel, a memoir called Hunger, which came out in 2017, and Bad Feminist, which is an award-winning collection of essays. And Gay describes Bad Feminist in the following way: "In each of these essays, I’m very much trying to show how feminism influences my life for better or worse. It just shows what it’s like to move through the world as a woman. It’s not even about feminism per se, it’s about humanity and empathy."Amy:That definitely describes what the book felt like for me. And here I should mention that you had already read Bad Feminist, right, Setareh? What did you think of it overall when you read it before?Setareh: Yes, I read it around the beginning of high school! I was really struck by how honest, nuanced, and vulnerable the book is. It tackles really difficult topics with grace and complexity but it never loses its awareness of human nature or experience. I was probably a bit young to read it when I first did, especially the essays about rape and rape culture, but Roxane Gay’s media and culture analysis in particular really stuck with me and it’s really affected the way I think about the content I consume and how I regard popular narratives and cultural trends. Rereading it actually really highlighted how deeply it influenced me, from the research topics I’ve chosen to how I’ve interacted with the world, it’s been very much influenced by this book.Amy:Ok, let’s dig into the book. We chose three chapters each, so Setareh, why don’t you start, and we’ll switch off.Setareh: Peculiar Benefits:Okay cool! The first chapter I wanted to bring up was “Peculiar Benefits,” which talks about privilege and Roxane Gay’s experience with reconciling the ways in which she’s both privileged and marginalized as a Black, 2nd gen immigrant woman from what she describes as a loving middle/upper middle class family. It starts off with her talking about her experience visiting Haiti, where her parents are from, and seeing the juxtaposition of extreme poverty and, as she says, “almost repulsive luxury.” At the beginning of the chapter, she states that “To see poverty so plainly and pervasively left a profound mark on me” (17). This really stood out to me because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how people rationalize other-ing people and I think that one aspect of how we (white people especially) are taught to Other people is by avoiding confronting poverty and discussions about what allows poverty to exist. We’re taught to think of poverty as shameful, which feeds into a mindset that equates lack of success with moral failings– which makes it harder to acknowledge and address privilege, because you’re stuck believing that people suffering are suffering purely because of their own actions and not because of systems set up that make it harder for them to succeed (for instance, women being paid 78% - 95% of what men make at the same job).This chapter also talked about what I’ve heard some people refer to as Pain Olympics. She said “When we talk about privilege, some people start to play a very pointless and dangerous game where they try to mix and match various demographic characteristics to determine who wins at the Game of Privilege. Who would win in a privilege battle between a wealthy black woman and a wealthy white man? Who would win in a privilege battle between a queer white man and a queer Asian woman? Who would win in a privilege battle between a working-class white man and a wealthy, differently abled Mexican woman? We could play this game all day and never find a winner” (20). I really love how she puts this. I think that by making the discussion about who has more privilege and how to rank marginalized identities according to privilege, we ignore the very real issues of economic, social, and political systems that are built to hurt/oppress people. It’s a distraction from the real work and the distraction allows more people to be hurt. I’ve definitely had to remind myself not to take conversations (or my internal reactions) there when listening to people talk about negative ramifications of privilege. There’s an urge to distance myself from ~American whiteness~, especially because I’m half Iranian and my mom’s an immigrant, but I still benefit from white privilege in so many ways. I’m still working on internalizing my acknowledgement of it, but I make sure not to bring up my conflictions when it would derail a discussion by accidentally making it about white guilt.Amy, what do you think?Amy: I’m so glad you chose this chapter! I think her discussion of privilege is so helpful. I read this book during a time when I was having lots of conversations with lots of white men who were doing the hard work of introspection, really struggling with white guilt and male guilt, and a good bit of defensiveness as well. I think her insight is so helpful that “Nearly everyone, particularly in the developed world, has something some else doesn’t, something that someone else yearns for.”I was thinking about relatives I love who are white and male but who have significant physical handicaps that make everyday life really, really hard. I think about a friend of mine a few years ago who is a white woman, absolutely gorgeous, tons of money, but I found out later that her husband was abusive and had had tons of affairs. She also says “We tend to believe that accusations of privilege imply we have it easy, which we resent because life is hard for nearly everyone. Of course we resent these accusations. ...white men… tend to… say, “It’s not my fault I am a white man,” or “I’m [insert other condition that discounts their privilege]”, instead of simply accepting that, in this regard, yes, they benefit from certain privileges others do not. To have privilege in one or more areas does not mean you are wholly privileged. Surrendering to the acceptance of privilege is difficult, but it is really all that is expected. What I remind myself, regularly, is this: the acknowledgement of my privilege is not a denial of the ways I have been and am marginalized, the ways I have suffered. You don’t necessarily have to do anything once you acknowledge your privilege. You don’t have to apologize for it.” But then she says “You need to understand the consequences of your privilege, and remain aware that people who are different from you move through and experience the world in ways you might never know anything about.” (17) Setareh: That passage is so important!! I think this is a major reason why it can be so difficult to have discussions about how to dismantle systems that are hurting people; so many people recoil from acknowledging their privilege. - Having conversations about this with family lately - A lot of the resistance comes from a fear that if they have or acknowledge privilege, they’ll no longer be welcome in discussions about how to fix systemic issues and that no one will want to hear from them because they’re (for instance) able-bodied cishet white men- Can definitely understand that but it seems counterproductive to me- At least in terms of uplifting women (which is what I can speak to), I think men are needed and necessary in that discussion, especially because they have privilege and are able to use the authority their privilege gives them to reach people who might not listen to a woman about the exact same issue. They can enact change and amplify voices and important points that need to be heard and I think that’s really valuable Amy: How We All Lose:[Some people claim that] “If women’s fortunes improve, it must mean men’s fortunes will suffer, as there is a finite amount of good fortune in the universe that cannot be shared equally between men and women.” -I meet both men and women who believe in this “zero sum game.” This is common whenever things change. Think of when the system of feudalism began to shift in Europe and peasants began to have more rights - the aristocracy became afraid “what will be my place then?? What about my land? My work? -I don’t like “The Future is Female.” This indicates it has to be one or the other - if the future is not male, (as the past has been) then it must be female. This is the mindset that Gay takes on - she criticizes Hanna Rosin’s book The End of Men and the Rise of Women, which apparently claims that patriarchy is dead and that women have everything they could ever want now. Gay responds by saying that claiming patriarchy is dead“...is so patently absurd that the hashtag #RIPPatriarchy quickly flourished on Twitter in response.”“Rosin is not wrong that life has improved in measurable ways for women, but she is wrong in suggesting that better is good enough. Better is not good enough, and it’s a shame that anyone would be willing to settle for so little.”She then shares two very different examples that demonstrate that patriarchy is alive and well. First, “At TechCrunch’s 2013 Disrupt, two programmers shared the TitStare app, which is exactly what you think it is. Something so puerile is hardly worth anyone’s time or energy, but it’s one more example of the cultural stupidity that is fueled by misogyny.” (Note: #metoo hadn’t happened yet)AndFix the Family, a conservative, Catholic “family values” organization, published a list of reasons why families should not send their daughters to college.” (TikTok video with an Evangelical Christian dad saying he was teaching his daughter to be subservient to men because it’s Biblical and godly)“Feminists are celebrating our victories and acknowledging our privilege when we have it. We’re simply refusing to settle. We’re refusing to forget how much work there is yet to be done. We’re refusing to relish the comforts we have at the expense of the women who are still seeking comfort.”That was a huge one for me too - maybe a woman reading this really does feel like in her community, everything is really very equitable. And that is awesome!!! But please remember that even in our own country, there are so many women who face terrible inequities, and nobody’s free until everyone is free. Setareh, what did you think of this chapter?Setareh: I thought it was really interesting! I especially resonated with your last point about refusing to settle with our own comforts as long as there is still work to be done. I think that’s so, so important.There’s an argument you hear sometimes that ~oh you should be appreciative. Think about [x culture], they have it so much worse, you have nothing to complain about~. Rarely is the person making this statement actually working to make things better for the people they’re using as an example. It really bothers me! I’ve heard it a lot in the context of ~oh why are you so angry about how LGBT+ people are treated in this country? Think of how well off you are! You’re Iranian! You could be gay in Iran~. All it does is use guilt to manipulate people out of fixing our broken systems and helping people. It just guilts people into complacency; it never helps anyone.Your point is so, so relevant; nobody’s free until everyone is free.Setareh: Garish, Glorious Spectacles:Another chapter I wanted to highlight has to do with gender performance and what Roxane Gay calls “green girls,” based off a novel of the same name by Kate Zambreno. Essentially, Gay defines a green girl as a “young woman who is learning how to perform her femininity, who is learning the power of it, the fragility. Her education is, at times, painful. The green girl is as vicious as she is vulnerable… [The novel,] Green Girl reveals the intimate awareness many women have about the ways they are on display when they move in public, about the ways they perform their roles as women” (82).I currently have A Lot of questions about gender expression and performance and what it means to be a woman so I found this chapter really intriguing, especially how green girls are described as knowing the rules to their existence, all these expectations of how they must be, and how exhausted they are following them. [One girl] “wants to put her fist through a...
60 minutes | Oct 5, 2021
feminism is for everybody, by bell hooks
Amy: Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy! I’m Amy McPhie Allebest. Today we are going to discuss one of the most clearly-written, accessible texts on Patriarchy and Feminism that I’ve ever read. It’s called “feminism is for everybody: passionate politics,” and it’s by the iconic author, professor, cultural critic and social activist, bell hooks. It was originally published in the year 2000, and for this episode my reading partner and I read the new edition that came out in 2014. And speaking of my reading partner, I’d like to introduce Gina Haney. Hi, Gina!Gina:Hi, Amy!Amy:Gina and I met during our first week of a Master’s program at Stanford, and we have taken several classes together, including one called “International Women’s Health and Human Rights” and another called “The Civil Rights Movement in History and Memory.” So we’ve had lots of enriching discussions on these topics through the years, and I know the kinds of compelling insights that you bring to texts, Gina. Before we dive into the book, can you tell us a little more about yourself?Gina:As a woman in my fifties raised in rural Virginia, I cherish the diversity the world has to offer and have spent several years living and working in the Middle East, Africa, and South America. In 2008, I founded Community Consortium and began, with the government of Iraq, a stakeholder-driven management plan and World Heritage nomination for the site of Babylon. A mother of two girls, I appreciate the women who worked and are working to establish a more inclusive and empathetic world, like bell hooks.I received my undergraduate degree from Mary Washington University and a graduate degree from the University of Virginia.As Amy said, I am currently pursuing graduate studies at Stanford University. My research topic is understanding the Power of Place in a township in Zimbabwe. I plan to examine this place through the lens on the colonial government and the contemporary residents. Ultimately, i will understand these two narratives within the story that is being told to tourists about this place today.I have been a Girl Scout leader for 7 years, I love to knit and preserve food from my garden.Amy:Thanks, Gina. It’s so great to have you here. Let’s now learn a little about the author. Gina, can you tell us about bell hooks?Gina:We are using the biography that bell hooks has chosen to represent herself on the bell hooks institute website. It says:“bell hooks is an acclaimed intellectual, feminist theorist, cultural critic, artist, and writer. hooks has authored over three dozen books and has published works that span several genres, including cultural criticism, personal memoirs, poetry collections, and children's books. Her writings cover topics of gender, race, class, spirituality, teaching, and the significance of media in contemporary culture. Born Gloria Jean Watkins in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, bell hooks adopted the pen name of her maternal great-grandmother, a woman known for speaking her mind. hooks received her B.A. from Stanford University, her M.A. from the University of Wisconsin and her Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her books include Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism, Rock My Soul: Black People and Self-Esteem, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope, Where We Stand: Class Matters, We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity.”And Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics--the text we are discussing today. Also interesting to note is that bell hooks does not capitalize her name. On the website of the university where she teaches, Berea College in Kentucky, it explains this choice: “she has chosen the lower case pen name bell hooks, based on the names of her mother and grandmother, to emphasize the importance of the substance of her writing as opposed to who she is.”In that spirit, we’re going to keep her biography short, and instead spend the whole episode focusing on her work. Source: http://www.bellhooksinstitute.com/Amy:“feminism is for everybody: passionate politics” is about 100 pages long, and it’s divided into 19 chapters, plus a preface and an intro. So each chapter is quite short, and it’s a great book to stick in your bag and read when you have little snippets of time between meetings or waiting in a school pick-up line. We have selected just a few chapters to highlight, and will share a couple of main points from each of those chapters. We’ll start with some important points from the Introduction, so Gina, why don’t you start us off there.Gina:Introduction: Come Closer to FeminismAlthough this podcast is devoted to “Breaking Down Patriarchy,” the questions posed by hooks stem from the opposite and, perhaps, more complex end of the spectrum-- how do we build a feminist movement? From her perspective, to construct a truly feminist movement one must move out of the halls of academia, and patriarchy, to fully and truly engage the larger collective--both women and men; girls and boys around the world. hooks offers her definition of feminism as “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression” (xii) She envisions the building of the movement as twofold. One, by recognizing our participation in perpetuating sexism and two, by striving to replace it with feminist thoughts and action (xiii).Any thoughts on this definition of feminism, Amy?“Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” I love this definition.... Because it clearly states that the movement is not about being anti-male. It makes it clear that the problem is sexism. ...All of us, female and male, have been socialized from birth on to accept sexist thought and action. As a consequence, females can be just as sexist as males. ...We are all participants in sexism until we change our minds and hearts; until we let go of sexist thought and action. (xiii)--Imagine living in a world where there is no domination, where females and males are not alike or even always equal, but where a vision of mutuality is the ethos shaping our interaction. (xiv)I love that vision! One problem I see is that most defenders of patriarchy who I know would agree with that statement. is that I constantly hear men and women say that there is already no “domination” - they too decry male violence, and they say that aside from those situations, the world already is equitable and women are not oppressed. They think hooks’ “vision of mutuality” is the same as “complementarianism,” where males have certain traits and roles and females have other traits and roles. Where they differ from hooks is that in patriarchy, men are the ones defining and dictating the terms of that “vision of mutuality.”Great insight Amy! Shall we turn to Chapter 1?Amy:Chapter 1: Feminist Politics: Where We StandHooks was involved in the Women’s Liberation movement in the 1970’s, and she references her work in that movement a lot. This was really helpful for me, because I had never studied 2nd wave feminism before, and a lot of what I’ve heard about it comes from people who are very critical of the movement. I have three quotes to share from this chapter. Utopian visions of sisterhood based solely on the awareness of the reality that all women were in some way victimized by male domination were disrupted by discussions of class and race. ...we could only become sisters in struggle by confronting the ways women - through sex, class, and race - dominated and exploited other women, and created a political platform that would address these differences. (3)TED talk by Michael Kimmel: Why Gender Equality is Good for Everyone, Men Included. Story of “when I look in a mirror I see a woman.”Different approaches taken by “reformist” feminism and “radical” feminism.Most women, especially privileged white women, ceased even to consider revolutionary feminist visions, once they began to gain economic power within the existing social structure. (4) YES!Reformist feminists were… eager to silence [radical feminism]. Reformist feminism became their route to class mobility. They could break free of male domination in the workforce and be more self-determining in their lifestyles. While sexism did not end, they could maximize their freedom within the existing system. And they could count on there being a lower class of exploited subordinated women to do the dirty work they were refusing to do. (5)This echoes prior generations of exploited men breaking out of serfdom and other caste systems - reforming the system in order to allow upward mobility for themselves, but not looking around to see who they were leaving out. And leaving the system in place.3. Lifestyle feminism ushered in the notion that there could be as many versions of feminism as there were women. Suddenly the politics was being slowly removed from feminism. And the assumption prevailed that no matter what a woman’s politics, be she conservative or liberal, she too could fit feminism into her existing lifestyle. Obviously this way of thinking has made feminism more acceptable because its underlying assumption is that women can be feminists without fundamentally challenging and changing themselves or the culture. For example, let’s take the issue of abortion. If feminism is a movement to end sexist oppression, and depriving females of reproductive rights is a form of sexist oppression, then one cannot be anti-choice and be feminist. A woman can insist she would never choose to have an abortion while affirming her support of the right of women to choose and still be an advoate of feminist politics. She cannot be anti-abortion and an advocate of feminism. (6)I get her point of view - it’s consistent with what she said above - we as women shouldn’t benefit from privilege and then deny other women that same privilege. You can choose not to have an abortion, and you might have the privilege of never needing one, but we shouldn’t limit other women’s choices.However...In the car this morning I heard a young woman being interviewd on NPR who was praising Amy Coney Barrett as “the ultimate feminist” and I thought “bell hooks would disagree!” I have come to accept hooks’ veiwpoint (Refer to the episode on Roe v. Wade, where I share my journey regarding abortion/reproductive rights). I have a few thoughts about this:I think of my conservative Muslim friends, who are dipping their toes into feminist ideas but are told by some that they can’t be feminists and wear a hijab. Or I think of Esty Shapiro on Unorthodox when she looks horrified at the thought of abortion. Even aside from the effort to build up the Jewish population after the Holocaust, she has not been raised to think of pregnancy and bearing children as “reproductive rights.” That will be a long process for her.The conservative community that I know best is my own.Uncharitable and inaccurate to describe all women’s awakening as “fitting feminism into her existing lifestyle”The women I know who have experienced feminist awakenings have gone through excruciating inner turmoil. Many women I know had to promise obedience to their husbands when they got married. I know women who have experienced emotional, verbal, and physical abuse in their marriages. They are entering the path at a very different place than women who have been raised in liberal environments.If they are raised in overtly patriarchal environments, then patriarchy is deeply ingrained in their hearts and minds, entangled with a lot of love and joy as well.If you stand at the gate and say “if you believe x,y,z… then you can’t be a feminist,” then you will exclude some of the women who need feminism the very most. And you are keeping them off a path of gradual education and learning that will benefit them and benefit others. People need to be able to grow and learn, wherever they are entering the path.I think of my own path, and if someone had kept me out of “feminism” because of the beliefs I had a few years ago. My stepping onto the path allowed my daughters to step onto the path with me, and they have taught me so much!!Feminism should be a process, a path. We should welcome women onto the path, wherever they enter. She does say that “Feminism is for everybody.”Amy:Chapter 3: Sisterhood is Still PowerfulAttending an all women’s college for a year before I transferred to Stanford University, I knew from first-hand experience the difference in female self-esteem and self-assertion in same-sex classrooms versus those where males were present. At Stanford males ruled the day in every classroom. Females spoke less, took less initiative, and often when they spoke you could hardly hear what they were saying. Their voices lacked strength and confidence. And to make matters worse we were told time and time again by male professors that we were not as intelligent as the males, that we could not be “great” thinkers, writers, and so on. These attitudes shocked me since I had come from an all-female environment where our intellectual worth and value was constantly affirmed by the standard of academic excellence our mostly female professors set for us and themselves. (13)Gina, your girls attended an all girls school, right?Exactly right Amy. Coming from a single-gender high school and watching my daughters move through single-gender schools, I can attest to the power of sisterhood. First and foremost feminist movement urged females to no longer see ourselves and our bodies as the property of men. To demand control of our sexuality, effective birth control and reproductive rights, an end to rape and sexual harassment, we needed to stand in solidarity. In order for women to change job discrimination we needed to lobby as a group to change public policy. Challenging and changing female sexist thinking was the first step towards creating the powerful sisterhood that would ultimately rock our nation. (15)A couple of years ago I read an article that talked about the primates Bonobos. They are human beings’ closest relatives, and in contrast to other primates, they live in matriarchal societies where the mothers have higher social status and social power, and the males have to ask the older females for permission for food and to mate, etc. I thought this must be because female Bonobos are bigger and stronger than the males. But they’re not!! They’re actually smaller than males - proportionately the same as humans. The difference is that the females band together. If any males are getting aggressive with a female, a band of females will come over together and threaten him, and even bite and hit him if they have to. They have figured out how to work together. This reminded me of pictures of suffragettes protesting together, and of the women in Liberia bringing an end to a bloody civil war with a peaceful protest called the “Mass Action For Peace,” which I hope to highlight in a future episode.As women, particularly previously disenfranchised privileged white women, began to acquire class power without divesting of their internalized sexism, divisions between women intensified. When women of color critiqued the racism within the soiety as a whole and called attention to the ways that racism had shaped and informed feminist theory and practice, many white women simply turned their backs on the vision of sisterhood, closing their minds and their hearts And that was equally true when it came to the issue of classism among women. (16)I remember when feminist women, mostly white women with class prviliege, debated the issue of whether or not to hire domestic help, trying to come up with a way to not participate in the subordination and dehumanization of less-privileged women. Some of those women successfully created positive bonding between themselves and the women they hired so that there could be mutual advancement in a larger context of inequality. Rather than abandoning the vision of sisterhood, because they could not attain some utopian state, they created a real sisterhood, one that took into account the needs of everyone involved. (16)Ok, Gina, I believe you have Chapter 8.Gina:Chapter 8: Global Feminismhooks tackles the issue of global feminism--associating true plurality to this book “feminism is for everybody” in Chapter 8. I found this examination to differ from other feminist writing I have read.hooks sees the worldwide female commitment to Western imperialism and transnational capitalism as detrimental to the broader feminist movement led, for the most part, by white, Western women (45). According to hooks, “When unenlightened individual feminist thinkers addressed global issues of gender exploitation and oppression they did and do so from the perspective of neocolonialism” (46). She asserts we, as Western women, continue to struggle to decolonize feminist thinking and practice. A decolonized feminist perspective would examine how sexist practices are linked globally. As an example, hooks associates female genital mutilation with life-threatening eating disorders or cosmetic surgery to emphasize “the sexism, the misogony” underlying global and local sexism. (47). Until challenged, hooks emphasizes, “the tone of global feminism in the West will continue to be set by those with the greatest class power who hold old bias” (47). In other words, feminism as we know it is challenged by issues of class, race, and inequity.Any thoughts Amy?Gina:Chapter 10: Race and GenderThe movement from the civil rights struggle into female liberation was a logical transition for some women, yet the very foundation of civil rights--race--was lost. From the perspective of hooks, “they (white women)were following in the footsteps of their abolitionist ancestors . . . but, when faced with the possibility that black males might gain the right to vote” (before...
108 minutes | Sep 28, 2021
LGBTQ History Part 4: No Future, by Lee Edelman, and Cruising Utopia, by José Estaban Muñoz
Amy: Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy! I’m Amy McPhie Allebest. Today is our fourth and final episode on LGBTQ history and rights, with our essential texts being Obergefell v. Hodges, The Trouble With Normal, by Michael Warner, Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity, by Jose Estaban Munoz, and No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive, by Lee Edelman. Today we are going to discuss the last of two of those titles, and my reading partner is the spectacularly brilliant historian and teacher, Matthew Nelson. I’m so excited for this conversation with you today, Matthew! Thanks for being here!Matthew: Great to be back in conversation with you, Amy. Amy: Could you introduce us to the subject matter of today’s texts, maybe starting as usual with some background?Matthew: Few communities, like survivors of genocide, understand what it is to face annihilation -- both as an individual and member of a group. I was just a boy when the HIV/AIDS brutalized the queer community, but as a student of history I try to read every book and watch every movie related to this extraordinary and tragic moment in order to understand better. David French’s How to Survive A Plague, an emotionally arresting and informative book and documentary, most certainly ranks among my favorites to help me inhabit the experiences of gay men, who bore the brunt of the pandemic in the Long 1980s. I also obsessively watch Angels in America, Beats Per Minute, and The Normal Heart because I never want to be too far away from my community’s brush with queer generational annihilation. I talk to all of my gay forefathers of San Francisco about this darkness. One of the common themes remarked on frequently in these conversations is the disenchanting experience of seeing crowds of young gay men ambling about the sidewalks like zombies -- emaciated and stumbling. They tell me they went to a funeral every week, sometimes multiple times a week. Their circle of friends -- vanquished in the span of a decade. I used to live on Alamo Square in San Francisco, and I would jog to the Castro, a historically gay neighborhood, to visit my gym. I passed an older African American man who sold beautiful flower arrangements on a street corner who would smile and wave almost every time I passed. One day, I saw another of these documentaries called We Were Here, and I recognized that one of the men profiled in this PBS film was Guy, the same street-side florist who waved me on as I made may way to the gym. The next workout, I resolved to stop and say hi to Guy. So, I did. He was delighted that I admired his contributions to the film. I asked him what it must have been like to sell the funeral flowers to attendees of all these funerals, and he said, “Business was never better!” with a chuckle. Guy elaborated on his stories of death and dying to me, of course with a dolorous tone. But, he wanted me to know that younger gay men like me have to remember that death is forevermore an important part of our history, and we cannot be afraid of death. Instead, and this is where his tone shifted to jubilance: “We have a FUTURE!” Queer theorist, Heather Love, characterizes this contradictory experience as “looking forward” while “feeling backward.”Guy’s words reminded me of the concluding interviews with ACT-UP leaders Gregg Bordowitz, David Barr, and Peter Staley in France’s How to Survive A Plague. The men say:Bordowitz: I FEEL VERY FORTUNATE, AND THERE'S PROBABLY A LOT OF COMPLICATED REASONS WHY, BUT I STILL FIND IT VERY DIFFICULT TO PLAN FOR THE FUTURE, AND/OR ACCEPT THAT I WILL HAVE A LONG LIFE. WHICH IS UNFORTUNATE BECAUSE I'VE HAD A LONG LIFE AND I'VE BEEN LIVING WITH AIDS FOR 20 YEARS. BUT IT'S HARD FOR ME TO RELAX INTO LIFE.Barr: I KNOW LOTS OF US WENT THROUGH REALLY DIFFICULT TIMES AFTER... UM, TRYING TO FIGURE OUT, WELL, WHAT DO I DO NOW? YOU KNOW. NOT JUST BECAUSE I DIDN'T THINK I HAD A FUTURE AND NOW I DO, SO I HAVE TO MAKE SOME PLANS, BUT... HOW DO I DO SOMETHING ELSE THAT IS AS... [SIGHS] I MEAN, IT'S A WEIRD WORD, BUT AS FULFILLING AS THAT WORK HAS BEEN. Staley: TO BE THAT THREATENED WITH EXTINCTION, AND TO NOT LAY DOWN, TO STAND UP AND TO FIGHT BACK. THE WAY WE DID IT, THE WAY WE TOOK CARE OF OURSELVES, AND EACH OTHER, THE GOODNESS THAT WE SHOWED, THE HUMANITY THAT WE SHOWED THE WORLD IS JUST MIND-BOGGLING. JUST INCREDIBLE.These men had just come back from a war with AIDS, and they experienced survivor's guilt. Caught between a bewildering present, and a future that these men didn’t think they had, they essentially asked: How will I order my life, especially when I have suprned the patriarchal scripts of heteronormative temporality? This tension between the present and the future is at the heart of today’s queer theory about queer temporality that we discussed last episode. If you recall, we studied what heteronormative temporality was and contrasted it with the imaginative constructions of queer temporality that Michael Warner offered us. Today, we encounter the dualing theories of queer temporality from Lee Edelman and Jose Esteban-Munoz, taking the dispute over queer temporality into the 21st century. Amy do you want to introduce the authors of our two texts today? Amy: Sure, I can do that.Lee Edelman was born in 1953. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Northwestern University, and he received an MPhil and a PhD from Yale University. He is an American literary critic and academic. He serves as a professor of English at Tufts University. Jose Esteban Muñoz was born in Havana, Cuba in 1967, and moved to Florida with his parents the year he was born. He received his undergraduate education at Sarah Lawrence College in 1989 with a B.A. in Comparative Literature, and in 1994, he completed his doctorate in Literature at Duke University. He was a professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts until his death in 2013.Matthew, last episode we found Michael Warner’s The Trouble with Normal quite comprehensible, even if we were unsure of whether we could embrace his ideas. Why is queer theory so difficult to understand?Matthew: Great question, Amy. It is important to remember that queer theory has multiple influneces upon it, like postmodernism, feminist theory, gender studies, psychoanalytics, and philosophy. And most of this material is written by academics, for academics. I remember reading Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Gille Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Jacques Lacan, and even Judith Butler in graduate school wondering why I didn’t find them as graspable as I found, for example, Foucault. Now that I am saying this, perhaps it’s because many of these authors wrote their books in French, and much doesn’t translate over well? Our authors today are in this tradition where they have read the canonical, esoteric writings within queer theory, and they are contributing to the field. Sometimes style is substance; the queer should be abstruse because it’s… well, queer? I don’t know. I do wish that these powerful ideas were packaged in more coherent prose, given how important theory is to helping us evolve our thinking. For now, this is what we have and we will do our best to elucidate their profundity! Haha.Amy: Before we discuss the books themselves, do you have any more historical context for us that would be helpful to know before we start?Matthew: In fact, I do! Actually what I would also like to do is briefly fly over what I called in the last episodes the “wildest lands of queerdom,” before we get lost in the challenging language of the texts. Shall we do that? Amy: Sounds good to me!Matthew: In previous episodes we mentioned that the Queer Liberation Movement coarises with the Religious Right in America. As queers are coming out of the closet, celebrating eros, and are politically organizing, the Religious Right is branding feminists, queers, and Black Americans as enemies of this country. The Religious Right, the very transparent crusader of patriarchy and heteronormative power, see gay men in particular as the greatest threat to the family and Christian society. What with their non-normative sexuality, their effeminate ways, their care-free lifestyles, all their fun -- the Religious Right warns America away from this “alternative lifestyle.” Then, July 3rd 1981, the New York Times published an article entitled “Rare Cancer Seen in 41 Homosexuals.” At this point, the term “gay cancer” entered the public lexicon. In 1982, Larry Speaks, Press Secretary to President Ronald Reagan, joked about “gay plague” in the press briefing room. By 1984, “gay plague” now called HIV/AIDS, would already have infected 7,700 Americans and killed 3,500. As the CDC and National Institutes for Health were trying to investigate this strange new virus, President Reagan making good on his pledge to reign in Big Government, slashed their budgets. Except for the likes of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, who were calling AIDS God’s judgment on gays and America, government leadership remained silent and unresponsive. Not until 1985 did President Reagan even publicly mention AIDS, when 12,000 people were already dead of the epidemic. By then, even with the Surgeon General C. Everett Coop warning the country in 1986 about AIDS, the malignant neglect had already set into motion the massacre. Cases exploded from 47,000 in 1987 to half a million in 1995! Scholars call this necropolitics. Amy: So the word “necro” sounds like death. Is that right? Matthew: Necropolitics is the power of the state to determine who lives and who dies. Achille Mbembe, esteemed postcolonial philosopher, wrote scholarly pieces about necropolitics, detailing how the idea speaks to who the state deems disposable and who isn’t, and how the state enacts this decision. With the state’s necropower in moments of crisis, who should be saved and who should be sacrificed on the altar of state interests, comes into stark relief. Therefore, for example, if President Reagan didn’t direct the government to respond to AIDS because he mistakenly thought it just affects the loathesome community of gay men, then the state was consequently consigning a marginalized population to extinction. Think with me about the Obama Administration’s drone warfare program. President Obama authorized the kills of suspected Middle Eastern terrorists, and in the process claimed the lives of innocent people, sometimes women or children. Necropolitics. In our own times, when President Trump fantastically thought that COVID-19 would, “like a miracle,” just disappear, he was in his ignorance gambling with citizens’ lives out of his own selfish political interests. People of color had disproportionately higher rates of COVID infections for various reasons but particularly because many of them were our front-line workers, and the conservative Trump government insisted that the economy should open completely for business. Today COVID deaths are well north of 600,000. This is necropolitics. Amy: I can see where this discussion is going. So long as the state has this enormity of power, necropower, people should think long and hard about how they will fight it and how they will live. Precisely. But, also how we will live in light of our mortality. This is a reexamination of temporality -- interrogating hetero-patriarchal temporality, and conceiving of a plurality of queer temporalities.In the wildest lands of queerdom, our queer theorists today want us to think long and hard about how we will conceive of new temporalities in light of the precarity of our existence. Very existential!Death is where we find Lee Edelman in his book, No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive. Edelman urges readers to transcend the assimilationist/liberationist binary we discussed last episode. He compels us to subtract ourselves from the socio-political order altogether. Amy: I get the “transcending “assimilationist/liberationist,” but why would he want vulnerable minority groups, particularly the LGBTQ community which is enjoying rapid socio-political acceptance and power, to go dark? Matthew: Well, according to our theorists today, even though it was fashionable to claim in the last decade that “It gets better.” and the Obergefell and Bostock decisions suggest momentum, we are still very far from queer liberation, much less queer temporalities. Let me give you a synopsis of their arguments, and then we will delve into the texts. Edelman claims that in the midst of the ever-threatening biopolitics in American society -- especially when queers are still deemed arch-enemies to patriarchy, heteronormativity and temporalities; arch-enemies to the family, marriage, and capitalism -- queers shouldn’t order their lives aimed toward the future. Queer temporalities should be centered in the now. In this place, in the now, queers are outlaws, and in lieu of maintaining the politics of “normal” a la Warner and assimilating, queers should just embrace their villainy. Edelman urges us not to run away from our arch-enemy status, but embrace it! I am picking up not just an Existentialist note here, Amy, but the Nihilist variety of Friedrich Nietzsche.Edelman’s project is what he terms a Freudian embrace of the “death drive.” Life, being characterized by the heteronormative temporality -- including marriage, reproduction, rearing children, and leaving behind an inheritance for the children -- Edelman wants to blow all of it up to smitherines!We are going to the Dark Side -- yes, that Dark Side! What philosophers and Christian mystics, like Pseudo-Dionysius and St. John of the Cross called the via negativa. Edelman argues that queers should spurn politics altogether and focus on queer ethics. They do so by subtracting themselves from normative society, politics, and the whole reproductive agenda that characterizes heteronormative temporalities. Society has branded you with that Scarlet Letter -- Q! -- so own it. Revel in your vulnerable status. Vector of venereal disease? Embrace it. BDSM provocateur? Own it. Outlaw to respectable society? Baby, you were born this way! For Edelman, there is no future, so don’t participate in what he calls “reproductive futurity” (queer theorists sure love their jargon!). We will get to this concept when we hit the text. Esteban-Munoz, acknowledging he is indebted to Edelman, believed in a horizon where queerness is and it should motivate us to realize new echelons of queerness now. If anyone in the listening audience is familiar with the Christian theological concept of the Kingdom of God, may theologians talk about it having a quality of “Already/Not Yet…” The Kingdom of God is with us when Jesus was on Earth and with the Holy Spirit, but it won’t be fully realized until the Second Coming and the Eschaton. Similarly, Esteban-Munoz says that Queerdom isn’t realized, but with the hope of queer futurity, it one day will. Like Esteban, he asserted queers should reject the heteronormative temporality replete with the requirements of marriage, children, inheritance, and pursue queer utopian futrity. How do we do this? We advance toward the queer horizon in the aesthetic realm predominantly -- through performance art (like drag shows and punk rock music), physical art, and forming counter-publics (thick queer communities of eros and resistance). Lee Edelman, No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive (2004)Key ideas:Queerness: “Queerness can never define an identity; it can only disturb one.” (17) -- Queerness can only disrupt politics, not produce one. Queerness stands apart from all social structures and political orders. The Child: The imagined and central motif of the hetero-patriarchal temporality -- A stand-in for all present and future children -- a future that never comes -- in which all the barbarity of the present can be excused.Reproductive futurism: What we have been calling hetero-patriarchal temporality.Key Passages:“Do it for the children!”Page 11“The child has come to embody for us the telos of the social order and come to be seen as the one for whom that order is held in perpetual trust.“In its coercive universalization, however, the image of the Child, not to be confused with the lived experiences of any historical children, serves to regulate political discourse - to prescribe what will count as political discourse - by compelling such discourse to accede in advance to the reality of a collective future whose figurative status we are never permitted to acknowledge or address. From Delacroix’s iconic image of Liberty leading us into a brave new world of revolutionary possibility - her bare breast making each spectator the unweaned Child to whom it’s held out while the boy to her left, reproducing her posture, affirms the absolute logic of reproduction itself - to the revolutionary waif in the logo that miniaturizes the “politics” of Les Mis (summed up in its anthem to futurism, the ‘inspirational’ ‘One Day More’), we are no more able to conceive of a politics without a fantasy of the future than we are able to conceive of a future without the figure of the Child. That figural Child alone embodies the citizen as an ideal, entitled to claim full rights to its future share in the nations, good, though always at the cost of limiting the rights ‘real’ citizens are allowed. For the social order exists to preserve for this universalized subject, this fantasmatic Child, a notional freedom more highly valued than the actuality of freedom itself, which might after all, put at risk the Child to whom such a freedom falls due. Hence, whatever refuses this mandate by which our political institutions compel the collective reproduction of the Child must appear as a threat not only to the organization of a given social order but also, and far more ominously, to social order as such, insofar as it threatens the logic of futurism on which meaning always...
86 minutes | Sep 28, 2021
LGBTQ History Part 3: The Trouble With Normal, by Michael Warner
Amy: Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy! I’m Amy McPhie Allebest. A few years ago I was traveling in Asia and we took a bus out to a large lake where there was a floating village. As we took a boat out onto the lake and the shore disappeared behind us, I felt as far from home as I have ever felt, and a friend I was with was even more out of her element and visibly very uncomfortable. She leaned over and said “why are we here?” Right as she asked that, a tiny boat floated up alongside ours, and a woman looked at me and we locked eyes. We were about the same age, and I had a profound sense of shared humanity. My heart swelled beyond what I felt my body could hold as this woman looked right into my eyes, and I thought, I’m here because these people are real - as real as I am. I want to know about all the people I share this planet with not only because I am curious and I want to learn as much as I possibly can, but also because I love all my siblings, not just the ones who look like me or live like me. And also, as I talked about on our previous episodes, sometimes if we don’t make meaningful connections with people beyond our communities and our comfort zones, we might unwittingly harm them. We might support a war that kills and maims them or sanctions that impoverish them. We might unthinkingly use slang that demeans them. We might support policies and vote for legislation that limits their civil rights. Connecting with others’ ideas and others’ lives, in person and in books, helps us to make more informed choices, to make bonds with our siblings in this big human family, and to realize that we are not the center of the universe. SO. With the books I read for these last two episodes, I traveled farther from home than I had yet on this podcast! I’m so glad I did, and I’m so grateful to have my dear friend Matthew Nelson here to guide the conversation again. Welcome, Matthew! Matthew: Great to be back, this time surveying the wildest lands of queerdom. Matthew, you’ll remember that when we were talking about doing an episode on Obergefell v. Hodges, you suggested that we expand the conversation beyond marriage equality, and suggested some critical queer theory texts. And I must admit: sometimes I did find myself feeling so far out into unknown territory - so far from my home assumptions and beliefs, I thought “wait, why am I here?” and I had to remember “because my siblings live here” and it was a powerful experience for me to spend time inhabiting - via these books - a queer world, where queerness is central and I was the outsider. So thank you for holding my hand on this journey!!Matthew: I too can feel out of sorts reading these queer theory texts of liberation. I am a cisgender male still learning how to hold my privilege responsibly, working toward an anti-racist, gender egalitarian future. The queer theory on offer today also accosts me as a married man. Have I capitualited to an assimilationist agenda, supplanting the true political legacy of Stonewall? How might these texts embolden me to challenge my own assumptions of queer futures and democratic ideals? Personally, how might these texts move me off a gender performative binary, to a deeper embodiment of selfhood? Like all good books -- from the Good Book to Karl Marx’s Das Capital -- we really need to be shaken from the rigidity of ideology, certainty, and comfort as much as we can. Amy: So let’s dig in… we’ll review Michael Warner today, and Lee Edelman and Jose Esteban Munoz on our next episode. Michael Warner is considered one of the founders of queer theory.He was born in 1958, and received two Master of Arts degrees, one from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and one from Johns Hopkins University. He received his PhD in English from Johns Hopkins University in 1986, and is an American literary critic, social theorist, and a Professor of English Literature and American Studies at Yale University.Lee Edelman was born in 1953. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Northwestern University, and he received an MPhil and a PhD from Yale University. He is an American literary critic and academic. He serves as a professor of English at Tufts University. Jose Esteban Muñoz was born in Havana, Cuba in 1967, and moved to Florida with his parents the year he was born. He received his undergraduate education at Sarah Lawrence College in 1989 with a B.A. in Comparative Literature, and in 1994, he completed his doctorate in Literature at Duke University. He was a professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts until his death in 2013.So that introduces the authors… now I’ll turn the content over to you, Matthew.Matthew : Perfect, let’s get out of the cold of orthodoxy and head back into my classroom in A246. There is a plate of warm chocolate chip cookies on the table. Using a napkin, take one and sit. Don’t get comfortable. No one will be comfortable tackling these queer theorists today. As you can see on the white board, our essential question for today’s lesson is: To what extent do marriage and the family rely on patriarchy in modern American culture, and how are LGBTQ people subverting patriarchy in demanding equality in these institutions or spurning them outright? First, as a history teacher is wont to do, let’s anchor ourselves in the historical context to set our queer theory conversation:Remember, Stonewall & the 1970s...Now, why did the Queer Liberation Movement embrace relatively conservative institutions as its chief political priorities? Initially, the gay rights movement is focused on non-discrimination ordinances, sexual orientation recognition in hate crimes statutes, and domestic partner benefits in corporate America and in public jobs in big cities.Then, HIV/AIDS overwhelms so much of the political agenda of the Long 1980s.No one is demanding marriage rights. There isn’t a single active same-sex marriage case in all the 1980s. No gay rights group has endorsed marriage rights. And, very telling, their opponents are not even trying to deny them marriage rights. They are more concerned with stopping LGBTQs from teaching in public schools and adopting children. Remember -- coincidentally? -- the rise of the Religious Right paralells that of the Queer Liberation Movement in the 1970s and 80s. Intuitively, one would think that the top priorities would be employment and housing discrimination protections. Perhaps LGBTQ people would have foregrounded such things had AIDS not ravaged the community, but they didn’t.Two very interesting ideological critiques also assisted keeping marriage equality off gay rights activists’ agenda in the 1980s:A rift in the LGBTQ community between the:Assimilationists -- As if reverting back to the Homophile Movement of the 1950s, wanted to present as “normal” -- white, bourgeois, suburban gay lifestyle. Liberationists -- LGBTQ people had unique mores and values that we could offer mainstream American society.Second-wave feminists, including women lawyers, who were helping newly-out lesbians who had just been divorced from their husbands and wanted custody of their biological children, made the argument that marriage was created to subjugate women. Therefore, the goal of queer family law should not be to gain access to this patriarchal institution, but to advocate for state recognition of “multiple families” -- different permutations of forming a family (partnerships, single parents, co-parent adoptions, communal living, etc.). This is why domestic partnerships, like the law passed in Vermont in 2000, becomes the initial compromise within gay rights groups and between liberals and conservatives. Then in 1990, in Hawaii, local activists, quite apart from any professional advocacy group including the state chapter of the ACLU, won a victory at the state Supreme Court in 1993. Six couples sue the state for marriage rights, and unexpectedly the court rules in their favor. The LDS Church in Utah is the first to mobilize opposition including the Roman Catholic Church, fearful that a same-sex marriage in HI would have to be recognized in UT. They are ultimately successful. Religious conservatives make opposition to marriage equality a defining issue of the 1996 primary and the Federal DOMA advances to Bill Clinton’s Oval Office desk. By 1998, HI passes a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.Conservatives set the agenda for the Queer Liberation Movement with their culture war priorities -- same-sex marriage and banning open service in the military which leads to the DADT compromise. Second, to frame our conversation today, Amy, we need the audience to grasp two essential terms. Perhaps I can invite our listeners to find images or symbols that make such abstruse concepts more concrete.The first will be familiar to the audience given the last episode. Hetero-patriarchal normativity (heteronormativity): pervasive and invisible norms of hetero-patriarchy that underpin societyTemporality: is the social organization of time. In speaking about hetero-patriarchal temporality, we mean a temporality that turns on traditional family relations, heterosexuality, and reproduction.Let me explain how these two concepts connect -- heteronormative temporality. This concept speaks to the social construction of a life in heteronormative culture. Social scripts, stories and myths, rites of passage and rituals, norms and expectations shape how a young person should proceed throughout their life. What constitutes the good life? Heteronormative temporality teaches and reinforces this through a series of celebrated milestones which may include: coming-of-age rituals, dating and courtship, the prom, bachelor/ette parties, marriage, gender-reveal parties and baby showers, anniversaries, retirement, and funerals. Heteronormative temporality is on full display in our film culture, from: When Harry Met Sally to Bridesmaids to Beauty and the Beast. Recently, movies that question such normative temporality, even actively critique and deconstruct it are en vogue: from Mulan, to The Boys in the Band, to Moonlight, to Love, Simon. Now: What if we were to imagine queer temporaility? How might queer temporality radically recreate the world in which we now inhabit? How do our authors understand queer temporality differently vis-a-vis heteronormative temporality? Amy, do you think we are ready to launch into some queer theory today? Amy: Let’s do it!We will porceed through this queer theory chronologically. These authors are, of course, in conversation with each other. Michael Warner, wrote The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life in 1999 through Harvard University Press. Conservatives, gay assimilationists, such as Jonathan Rauch and Andrew Sullivan spent the 1990s and 2000s arguing that LGBTQ people should try to be as “normal” as possible if they expect to win equal rights and respect in U.S. society. Culminating in the right to marry, these gents suggested we'd no longer be marginalized, but be fully American. Professor Warner argued in this text that marriage equality is the wrong goal for queer politics and activism. He analyzes discourse, the likes of which also come from gays and lesbians themselves, which stigmatizes sex work, fetishes, polyamory, people living with HIV, and non-normative families. He argues that by participating with the state in elevating certain relationships, marital relationships, this inevitably denigrates domestic partnerships, non-traditional families, and broad-based legal and financial protections for all vulnerable people in society. He urges LGBTQ people to abandon the pursuit of normalcy, and fight for a queer planet of radical, universal prosperity and relational affirmation. Sexual libertinism, for Warner, is central to this utopic vision of queer activism, but ethical, political, and social transformation looms large too. Alright, class, let’s get into the text. Michael Warner, The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life (1999)Patriarchy enforces heteronormative temporality with the tool of shame.Page 8 “Almost all children grow up in families that think of themselves and all their members as heterosexual, and for some children this produces a profound and nameless estrangement, a sense of innner secrets and hidden shame. No amount of adult ‘acceptance’ or progress in civil rights is likely to eliminate this experience of queerness for many children and adolescents. Later in life, they will be told that they are ‘closeted,’ as thought they have been telling lies. They bear a special burden of disclosure. No wonder so much of gay culture seems marked by a primal encounter with shame.” Page 24-25 “Failing to recognize that there is a politics of sexual shame, I believe, leads to mistakes in each context: it confuses individuals, cowing them out of their sexual dignity; it leaves national politics pious and disingenuous about sex; and it reduces the gay movement to a desexualized identity politics. In later chapters, we will see how the politics of shame distorts everything, from marriage law to public health policy, censorship, and even urban zoning. I also argue that the official gay movement - by which I mean its major national organizations, its national media, its most visible spokespersons has lost sight of that policitics, becomeing more and more enthralled by respectability. Instead of broadening its campagin against sexual stigma beyond sexual orientation, as I think it should, it has increasingly narrowed its scope to those issues of sexual orientation that have least to do with sex. Repudiating its best histories of insight and activism, it has turned into an instrument for normalizing gay men and lesbians.” Warner contends that LGBTQ politics, as with the fight for marriage equality, is enthrall to hetero-patriarchal temporality.Page 47-48 “Try to imagine... that heterosexuality might be irrelevant to the normative organization of the world. People are constantly encouraged to believe that heterosexual desire, dating, marriage, reproduction, childrearing, and home life are not only valuable to themselves, but the bedrock on which every other value in the world rests. Heterosexual desire and romance are thought to be the very core of humanity. It is the threshold of maturity that separates the men from the boys (though it is also projected onto all boys and girls). It is both nature and culture. It is the one thing celebrated in every film plot, every sitcom, every advertisement. It is the one thing to which every politician pays obeisance, couching every dispute over guns and butter as an effort to protect family, home, and children. What would a world look like in which all these links between sexuality and people’s ideals were suddenly severed? Nonstandard sex has none of this normative richness, this built-in sense of connection to the meaningful life, the community of the human, the future of the world. It lacks this resonance with the values of public politics, mass entertainment, and mythic narrative. It matters to people primarily in one area of life: when it brings queers together. Gay political groups owe their very being to the fact that sex draws people together and that in doing so it suggests alternative possibilities of life.”Matthew: By implication, then, Warner is suggesting that LGBTQ politics allowed its thinking to get too small by making marriage equality its priority. Because the “normalcy” agenda held sway, marriage equality became the be-all/end-all agenda item. I don’t read Warner as saying marriage equality shouldn’t be one legitimate goal for the queer community to strive after, but that the 21st-century queer activist gamit should have been a grander one that one have secured freedom and protections for a multiplicity of “alternative possibilities of life.” This leads us back to the question we were asking before: How did what Warner is characterizing as an ill-fated quest for “normalcy” become a predominating preoccupation for queers?As Warner writes, “What immortality was to the Greeks, what virtu was to Machiavelli’s prince, what faith was to the martyrs, what honor was to the slave owners, what glamour is to drag queens, normalcy is to the contemporary American. Of course people want individuality as well, but they want their individuality to be the normal kind, and given the choice between the two they will take normal. But what exactly is normal?” (53) Page 59, “So it is ironic, to say the least, when we are now told that our aspiration should be to see ourselves as normal. No doubt gay people regard this as the ultimate answer to the common implication that being gay is pathological. No, they want to insist, we’re normal. But this is to buy into a false alternative. The church tells us that our choice is to be saved or be damned; but of course it might be that these are not the only options, any more than Democrat and Republican need be the only options in politics. Just so, normal and pathological are not the only options. One of teh reasons why so many peopel have started using the word “queer” is that it is a way of saying: “We’re not pathological, but don’t think for that reason that...
99 minutes | Sep 28, 2021
LGBTQ History Part 2: Obergefell v. Hodges
Amy: Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy! I’m Amy McPhie Allebest. For me, one of the most memorable quotes from Tara Westover’s book, Educated is where she says, “Never again would I allow myself to be made a foot soldier in a conflict I did not understand.” In our previous episode, I described exactly this phenomenon in my own life: When I voted against marriage equality in California in 2008 I allowed myself to be made a foot soldier in a cause I did not understand. Since that time I have changed my thinking and I’ve tried to atone for what I see as a grievous moral error, but I until now I had not taken the time to become educated on the topic of LGBTQ history. So this has been an incredibly meaningful journey for me.When I thought of Obergefell v. Hodges as a critical text for Breaking Down Patriarchy, I knew exactly who I hoped would be my reading partner - he is a dear friend with whom I’ve talked about this issue in the past, and he is also probably the smartest person I know. It’s Matthew Nelson, and I’m so happy to welcome you back today!Matthew: Thank you for having me back to your podcast!Amy: Please, explain “Breaking Down Patriarchy”, or what “patriarchy” has meant in your lifeMatthew: I’ll be brief on this point because I want to carefully deconstruct what patriarchy is to LGBTQ people. From my father to Catholic and Evangelical religious leadership, I have encountered “toxic masculinity.” I also want to be clear that I have encountered beautiful masculinity that need not be patriarchal and hegemonic. For instance, the now deceased Brother Edward at the Catholic school at which I taught, modeled sensitive, queer-affirming leadership even as a member of the Benedictine monastic community. If you recall from the last episode, throughout my life I have stood up to and stared down the most egregious performances of patriarchy. I have come to conclude that I just don’t think cishet [cisgender, heterosexual] men are encouraged to critically evaluate how dominant culture has conferred upon them a power that can -- witting or unwittingly -- cause great harm in the world. Thus, cishet men are generally blithely unaware of the real abuse and oppression they dole out to women and queers. We can speak more about this later. Amy: Before we discuss the text, could you set the stage by talking about some of the underlying social systems that make up the world around us? Sometimes we are so accustomed to the matrix of beliefs and customs and power dynamics that surround us that we don’t even see them, and we don’t recognize that it doesn’t have to be this way - human society could have evolved in a totally different way. So could you give us some background information to set up our discussion on Obergefell v. Hodges?Matthew: I would be happy to do that. As I am sure your devoted, learned listeners of this podcast will have surmised by now, the Venn diagram of patriarchal oppression that falls on women and on the LGBTQ community has much overlap. Of course patriarchy doesn’t exclusively refer to ancient civilizations’ political distribution of power -- the 20th-century feminists taught us that. Patriarchy is also a modern social system that subordinates, discriminates, or is oppressive to women. To state it differently, it is the priority of men to dominate with distributed power to other men in a conscious or unconscious attempt to marginalize women. This socio-political organization is socially constructed -- not dictated to us by nature, not genetic, nor of the gods as men often maintain -- and rooted in the systems and structures of society. These constructs have been with us for so long there is a givenness to them -- a self-evident quality of factivity that makes it difficult to critically examine, deconstruct, and create a new kind of world. So, what has this go to do with the LGBTQ community? Patriarchy creates the necessary conditions not only for sexism to flourish but for homo/trans/queer-phobia to flourish. Why? Because patriarchy can only exist if there is universal acceptance of the myth of heteronormativity (What Judith Butler calls the “heterosexual matrix,” which I believe you discussed in a previous episode) and gender binarism. Heteronormativity is a world in which heterosexuality is the only normative sexuality, and any deviation from this is marked as perverse and broken. And gender binarism suggests that there are only two genders -- male and female, even though we have many examples in nature of hybridity, dysphoria, and multiplicity, like with the prevalence of intersex persons in society. The ideology of binarism is the prerogative of patriarchy -- the strong to rule over the weak. The power and privilege derived from heteronormativity fuels patriarchy. Thus, patriarchy must advance certain logics to protect its preeminence, hence sexism and homo/trans/queer-phobia. Accordingly, sexism is the priority of men, especially in the social, economic, and sexual dominance of women in patriarchal culture and society (heterosexism). Queer gender and sexuality, as the ultimate subversion of heteronormativity, calls into question patriarchy’s power and privilege. By our very existence, we problematize and discredit the ideologies of heteronormativity and binarism that justifies patriarchy. The emperor has no clothes! We exist! We are not pyrite, we are 24k humanity, and we are going to live our truth even if it destabilizes the orthodoxy of men for the maintenance of patriarchy. Predictably, cishet men will not like this. Thus, the patriarchy deploys homo/trans/queer-phobia to safeguard its power and privlege. Really, from the earliest stages of life, boys learn how to police the rigid boundaries of heteronormativity and gender binarism so they too will embody the patriarchy as they grow older. For example, boys enfoece cisgender exclusivity and heteronormativity with comments like “that’s so gay” on the quad or lockerrooms. As enlightened as the academic community is in which I teach, my students report that they hear such things “on the daily” as the kids say these days. Though I am not privy to this, but even after the #MeToo movement men calling women “whores” or “lesbians” for exercising sexual agency and being feminists is still an all too common occurrence if my straight friends are to be believed.Let’s get a little more historically sophisticated with our analysis on this score. Heteronormativity’s technologies of control are encapsulated in the notion that queer desire, identity, and performance are “sick and sinful” (Foucault addresses this at length in his trilogy of The History of Seuality). Originally, the biomedical discourse maintained “homosexuality” to be abnormal and unhealthy (until the APA depathologized homosexuality in the DSM in 1973). Today, this technology of oppression is only wielded by fringe conservative groups, and religious organizations who engage in abusive “reparative therapy.” Therefore, only in the religious domain do we see pervasive and persistent use of the technologies of control. The religious discourse, especially in Christian, Biblicist traditions initially tried to brand queer life as sinful and immoral. Even though such theological condemnations of LGBTQ people predominate in Evangelical Christianity, like in the embattled Southern Baptist Convention, and with the Roman Catholic hierarchy in the United States, millennial and Gen Z Christains are increasingly rejecting their legitimacy. The scholarly literature has compellingly neutralized these ethically specious claims from the traditions and texts. Can you give us some examples of this neutralizing literature? I know so many LGBTQ people in my own religious tradition - and their families who love them - who are in absolute anguish because they were raised to believe that those scriptural passages are God’s word, full stop, and they only know of one way of interpreting them. They don’t have a way to make it work.Umm… sure, let me suggest a few: Evangelical ethicist, David Gushee, wrote a profound work of personal transformation concerning LGBTQ people in the church: Changing Our Mind. Also, for a more scholarly treatment, I like Dale Martin’s Sex and the Single Savior and Jennifer Wright Knust’s Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire.Thank you for those recommendations. So in that Venn diagram you mentioned earlier, can you explain what precisely is the overlap between sexism and homophobia? Yes, sexism (particularly misogyny) and homo/trans/queer-phobia are two sides to the same coin. Misogyny -- hatred or fear of women and their power; Homo/trans/queer-phobia: hatred or fear of anyone perceived to be like a woman (or those transcending binaries) and their power. In the eyes of cishet men: Why would any man willfully trade their power away in a patriarchal world in being like a woman? Trading their power and privilege as men for the subordinated status of women. Whether in the performance of gender or particular sex acts, men fear and denigratethe feminine, the subversion of patriarchy. And, slightly less mystifying for cishet men: How dare a woman be masculine and act like a man to try to usurp his privileged place in the socio-economic hierarchy of American culture? Thus, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender persons are living symbols of the absurdity of patriarchy.I remember you saying this to me once during our Women’s Health and Human Rights Class and it stopped the world for me for a minute - it all makes sense!!At the risk of being redundant, YES, queerness strikes at the heart of patriarchy. LGBTQ people are outlaws of the patriarchal world (once, quite literally in the U.S. before the Supreme Court case, Lawrence v. Texas, which we will explain shortly). With LGBTQ people, the sexual and gender binary and hierarchy are dashed against the rocks. If categories of gender and sexuality are fluid and socially constructed, then patriarchy will properly be seen as an unstable condition. Heterosexism, sexism, and queerphobia exist to animate opposition against us, as we question society’s scripts concerning what constitutes the good life -- how families should be structured, societies should be ordered, and resources allocated. Queerness prompts us to reevaluate political economy; ethics; law; and educational, healthcare, housing, carceral and other policies that have long-emerged out of patriarchy. Like sexism, if you dismantle homo/trans/queer-phobia, then the power and privleges of patriarchy seem dubious and unjust. Patriarchy is a fraud and even cishet men themselves will work for a more egalitarian society. So, at this juncture what is the takeaway for the cishet women and LGBTQ people listening today? Here it is, Amy: If feminists care about eradicating patriarchy, they must think intersectionally and approach the dismantling of heteronormativity as ardently as they would the dismantling of gender inequality. To the queers listening, for our part, queers must all be feminists!I’ve never heard it articulated so clearly. On our podcast we’ve talked a lot about the tragic history of white feminism - white, privileged women who want to free themselves from patriarchal restrictions, but who remain ignorant - sometimes willfully ignorant! - of the unique challenges of our sisters of color within a culture that privileges men and privileges white skin. And we have talked about our queer sisters in other episodes, but I’m really struck by the way you said that if we care about dismantling patriarchy, we need to dismantle heteronormativity as well - the structure that imprisons straight women on the basis of their sex is the same structure that imprisons our queer siblings because of their sexuality. It reminds me of that quote by Fannie Lou Hamer: “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” HENCE, the so-called culture wars are fought along the axis of reproductive rights & LGBTQ rights. BOTH! Coincidence? Of course not!Amy: Ok, Matthew, let’s turn directly to the Obergefell decision we are discussing today. Culturally and legally, how did we arrive at the Supreme Court decision we are discussing today? Put differently: How did queer politics come to embrace marriage equality as a priority, and what can account for society’s rapid shift to accept it? Matthew:May I invite the listening audience to my classroom, A246 of Menlo School? Come on in. Choose your own desk. And let’s go back to the beginning of the formation of the national gay and lesbian community. Stated simply: What would one day become the LGBTQ community was fiercely divided on how we should be in a heteronormative world, and how we would advocate for dignity, recognition, and rights. Perhaps it is helpful to think of two factions angling for influence among non-normative gender and sexul pariahs of American culture: the assimilationists and the liberationists. In the post-war era, the Homophiles, the assimilationists, had the upper hand. These were largely white, middle class, educated, and privileged men who believed we should prove ourselves worthy of acceptance from the cishet dominant culture. They loved to glorify the norms and values of antiquity, particularly of the Greco-Roman world where homoeroticism flourished. They hoped to prove themselves “normal” enough to blend into American society. The liberationists -- urbanites, bohemians: both well-educated, progressive Whites and poorer people-of-color how had little to lose with a more radical posture. Truly, the birth of queer liberation whether in LA (Cooper’s Do-nuts) or SF (Compton’s) were riots pitched by transvestites as they called them then that occurred in the midst of a failing assimilationist strategy. Then, the history-defining Stonewall Inn Riots of 1969, a violent uprising, occurred in Greenwich Village of Manhattan. Undercover police raided the gay bar, as they were wont to do, and often they would harass and blackmail the patrons they apprehended. On this occasion, the Stonewallers fought back, and they did so for three days, lead by many Latinx and African American queers and assisted by straight allies. LGBTQ people remember Stonewall as women remember Seneca Falls and African Americans remember Selma. Let’s quicken our pace here. The 1970s ushered in queer fever dreams of political organizing, free love, and liberation; but the HIV/AIDS crisis of the Long 1980s -- 1981-1996, would bring that to an abrupt end. While the liberationists, ACT UP in particular, fought the patriarchy of the Reagan Administration and the Roman Catholic Church during the 1980s, the assimilationists would see an opportunity to assert their agenda in the midst of chaos, death, and despair. Rather than transforming the world into a “queer planet” to quote Michael Warner, author of one of the texts of our final episode in this series, gays and lesbians moved toward the goal of inclusion into two of society’s most conservative institutions: the military and marriage. Let’s quickly look at the legal story, especially because Justice Anthony Kennedy recounts this story in his Obergefell decision:1986: Bowers v. Hardwick - upheld GA’s anti-sodomy law -- while the right to provacy failed to be extended to consensual sexual intimacy between same-sex persons, it thrust discrimination against sexual minorities into the spotlight.1996: Romer v. Evans – United States Supreme Court - The first of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s series of opinions advancing gay rights was a decision striking down a Colorado amendment that banned cities from passing antidiscrimination laws that protected gay and bisexual people. He wrote that the law was “unprecedented” in the way that it eliminated a whole group of people’s “right to seek specific protection from the law.” It established the precedent that LGBTQ people cannot be singled out as a class of people to be discriminated against.1996 -- Defense of Marriage Act (Clinton) -- Federal government and the states recognize marriage as a union between a man and woman only. This upheld a state’s right to marriage discrimination.1998 -- The Military’s DADT policy upheld2003 -- Lawrence v. Texas -- reverses Bowers and extends Romer -- Justice Kennedy, again, wrote the majority opinion stating that homosexual persons had the right to privacy in their own homes. All sodomy laws throughout the nation were rendered unconstitutional. Decriminalizing sodomy meant LGBTQ need not fear celebrating same-sex love in their own homes. 2003: Goodridge v. Department of Health – Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court -- marriages begin in MA -- I was there at the Cambridge courthouse early in the morning on May 17 2004 when the ceremonies began!2008 -- CA SCOTUS rules for same-sex couples, but then CA reverses that with Prop 8 (declared unconstitutional in 2010).2013: United States v. Windsor -- With the case of Edith Windsor, the Supreme Court, in another decision authored by Justice Kennedy, agreed with the lower courts that the ban on federal recognition of same-sex couples was unconstitutional. The Federal government must recognize same-sex marriages from states with marriage equality (knocking out section 3 of DOMA). This is how we arrived at the Supreme Court in 2015 with Obergefell v. Hodges!Amy: Alright, let’s study today’s text!Matthew:Obergefell v. Hodges -- 2015: Shortly after the Windsor decision, and a love that spanned two decades, Jim Obergefell and John Arthur married in Maryland in 2013. Mr. Arthur was receiving hospice care, having received a diagnosis of A.L.S., or Lou Gehrig’s disease, two years earlier. A few months after the newlyweds returned to Ohio, Mr. Arthur died. Obergefell sued Ohio alleging discrimination against his same-sex relationship by refusing to identify his name on the death certificate of his husband. The case continued all the way to the Supreme Court — a fight that ultimately resulted in all marriage bans nationwide being struck down on June 26, 2015. Thus, knocking out section 2 of DOMA. THAT is what my husband, a lawyer, calls a fact pattern. Let’s turn our attention to Justice Kennedy’s decision.Passages:Since the plaintiff’s argument rests heavily on the Due Process & Equal Protection Clauses of the 14th Amendment shall we read that first?“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to
42 minutes | Sep 28, 2021
LGBTQ History Part 1: Amy's and Matthew's Stories
Amy: Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy! I’m Amy McPhie Allebest. Today we are presenting a four-part series on patriarchy and the LGBTQ community with the crux being the Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges, in 2015, which granted same-sex couples the right to marry, and effectively overruled states’ rights to prohibit same-sex marriage. My guest is my dear friend and classmate in Stanford’s Masters of Liberal Arts program, Matthew Nelson - Hi, Matthew! [Hi, from Oakland Amy!]. I am so deeply honored to be on this journey with you, Matthew. [There is no one I trust more with the map, compass, and provisions for this journey than you, Amy.] This week’s episodes will be a bit different from our prior discussions: First, we are devoting an entire episode to our personal stories on this topic, which we wrote in the form of personal essays and will share today. This will be Part 1 of the series. And for the first time ever, we’re recording this episode on video as well as audio! So watch for it on our website, and we may choose to post it on YouTube as well. On our second episode, Matthew (who is a master teacher of history) will explain the historical context and the details of our essential text, Obergefell v. Hodges, and on the third and fourth episodes, we will take the Supreme Court case as a point of departure to discuss some critical questions and issues within queer theory. So let’s begin. I will share my story first, and then Matthew, you’ll share yours. ----My story begins with a quote from the book Fear and Trembling, by Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard. In this passage Kierkegaard is talking about the faith of the Biblical prophet Abraham. A harder test was reserved for him, and Isaac’s fate was placed, along with the knife, in Abraham’s hand. And there he stood, the old man with his solitary hope. But he did not doubt. He did not look in anguish to the left and to the right, he did not challenge heaven with his prayers. He knew it was God the Almighty who was testing him; he knew it was the hardest sacrifice that could be demanded of him; but he knew also that no sacrifice is too severe when God demands it — and he drew the knife. -Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling In the Fall of 2008, my husband Erik and I were living with our four small children in the heart of Silicon Valley, not far from San Francisco, CA. Erik had recently finished his MBA at Stanford, and one night he told me that his friend and former classmate Dane wanted to come over and talk. Of course he could, I answered — Dane was kind, funny, smart, and didn’t seem to mind the kids running around. But I was nervous. The election was getting close, and the air was electric with tension. Every newspaper, every poster-plastered street corner, every conversation sparked with controversy over Proposition 8, a measure which sought to deny same-sex couples the right to marry. Erik and I were Mormon, and we had been asked by our Church leaders, whom we had been taught were spokesmen for God Himself, to donate our time and money to the “Yes on 8” campaign. And so we did. We donated money, we canvassed our neighborhoods, knocking on doors and handing out flyers, and we were planning to vote Yes on 8. We hadn’t talked about it with Dane yet, but he knew we were Mormon, and we knew he was gay.Dane showed up on our doorstep with chocolate chip cookies. I let the kids have a couple while we chatted (they were thrilled - it was bedtime!), and then I rounded them up and took them to bed, straining my ears to hear what the men were saying in the other room. After Dane left, Erik recounted the conversation, which was indeed the confrontation I had feared: Dane asked Erik point blank if he was going to vote against same sex couples’ right to marry, and Erik answered honestly that he was. Dane asked him how he could do that, and Erik struggled to find words to explain the reasons we had been taught our whole lives and that we continued to be bombarded with — we were receiving constant emails from family members, friends, and community members (mostly Mormon, but also a slew of forwarded emails from other religious groups) detailing the myriad ways in which “gay marriage would unravel the very fabric of society.” Talking with Dane, though, face-to-face, Erik suddenly found those reasons too hurtful and too absurd to say out loud. Instead, he replied dutifully, “I guess in the end it’s just that we believe that God has spoken on this issue, and we choose to follow God, whether or not we understand, and whether or not society understands.” Listening to my husband sum up our choice in that way, I felt the familiar rush of righteousness that came when we sang in church, “Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war.” But that virtuous surety only lasted a second - it faded fast and left me with a dis-ease that made me almost physically ill. Erik told me that Dane had been really hurt, and he told Erik that we were going to find ourselves on the wrong side of history. As I went to bed I glanced at the kitchen and saw the plate of cookies for us on the counter. All these years later I am still haunted by those cookies. I wonder what was going through Dane’s mind as he prepared that tender offering. I imagine him taking the butter out of the fridge, beating in the sugar and the eggs, planning what he would say. Adding the flour, rehearsing his talking points. I picture him taking them out of the oven, choosing a plate, driving over to our house alone, walking up to our door like Queen Esther approaching King Xerxes to plead for the life of her people. I think of what was at stake for him and his community in that election, compared to what was at stake for us. I think of our privilege, the straight people with the mighty scepter of historical precedence, institutional might, and voting power in our hands. I see him now as I was not able to see him then, courageous on our doorstep, bravely saying like Esther, like Isaac, “my fate is in your hands.” I see him that way now, strong and generous, extending his offering in a gesture of goodwill that now fills me with shame. He, the one whose civil rights were under attack, gave us the benefit of the doubt, gave us the chance to explain our views, gave us the plate of cookies. The kids and I ate the rest of those cookies the next day, not even thinking about what they had meant to our brave friend. I can’t think about it now without weeping.I say we didn’t think about what those cookies meant, but that’s not true. Erik and I talked about it constantly. I had grown up in an environment where I absorbed a general sense of homophobia that was frequently confirmed at church, and there were no influences counteracting that gradual formation of bias and condemnation. Erik had been raised in a politically active, explicitly homophobic environment - I remember (and he is devastated now to remember this) that when he was preparing to attend grad school at Stanford he asked me “what will I do if there’s a gay person in my study group?” I remember answering “um… study with him? Isn’t that what people do in study groups?” My upbringing had taught me to hate the sin, but love the sinner; his had taught him to hate the sin and avoid the sinner at all costs. So it was a shock for Erik when, early on in his Business school program, he attended the student lecture series he and a friend had started, and his friend Mark - whom Erik really liked and respected - chose as his lecture topic not his impressive pre-Business-school career; not his athletic endeavors; but instead, what it had felt like to realize he was gay. Mark stood in front of his classmates and talked about how scared he had been, and that his first thought as a gay teenager was to kill himself. Erik came home from the lecture that night, and he cried and cried and cried, considering for the first time in his life what it might feel like to be queer in this world. A switch flipped for Erik that night - that’s how he works - he can make even dramatic updates to his mental hard-drive really easily - and over the course of the two years he naturally became close friends with several business school classmates who were gay, with no reservations. By the time Prop 8 hit in 2008 we were awakening intellectually as well as socially and emotionally - I remember arguing with my staunchly obedient Mormon mom friends that denying fellow citizens a civil right that we ourselves enjoyed was un-American, that it was unkind, that it was morally wrong. I remember saying that it seemed especially ironic and hypocritical for the descendants of persecuted polygamous Mormons to use the argument that “marriage is between one man and one woman” to restrict the marriage rights of others. I remember these friends arguing back that this was all about protecting children from being adopted by gay parents, that kids would be better off being raised in foster care than being adopted by parents who lived in sin. I remember crying a lot. I couldn’t look my non-Mormon friends in the eye, knowing I could never explain why I was going to do something that felt so wrong. I thought often about Abraham, Kierkegaard’s Knight of Faith, who was willing to sacrifice not only his only child, but his obedience to the great commandment, the first divine injunction, “thou shalt not kill.” Abraham placed his moral code and his conscience on the altar along with his child - that child who represented the love of his life, the love of his wife’s life (did Sarah even know what Abraham had agreed to do?). Isaac was their only chance at the posterity which God had promised would number the stars in the sky; the sands of the sea. It didn’t make sense, it was morally indefensible, it would desolate him. But Abraham prepared to do it anyway. It was the ultimate test, and Abraham passed. “I am Abraham,” I repeated as my stomach churned. “I am Abraham.”So on November 4, 2008 I readied the ropes and sharpened the knife, and I took my gay brothers and sisters to Mount Moriah to be sacrificed. I closed my eyes to block out their faces and I prayed with all my heart that an angel would stay my hand, telling me it was ok - I didn’t have to do it - my willingness to obey was enough and I had passed the test. But no such angel came. I voted, along with scores of other Mormons and Catholics and nonreligious voters whose motives I can only imagine, and Californians passed Proposition 8 by 52%.For a long time I really did feel that I had done the right thing, and the more my conscience protested, the more sanctified I felt. “If it weren’t hard, it wouldn’t be a trial of faith,” I remember saying over and over. I avoided the gay people I knew, unable to bear the searing guilt I felt when they were invariably so nice to me despite knowing I was Mormon. I wrestled and struggled, my heart pounding with dissonance whenever it was discussed at church. Clinging to scripture to combat my remorse, I turned to Genesis and Kierkegaard: “He who loved himself became great by virtue of himself,” I repeated, “and he who loved other men became great by virtue of his devotedness. But he who loved God became the greatest of all” (Kierkegaard 16).But as months and years passed I found that in place of the peace and confidence that had been promised for passing God’s test of obedience, I felt more and more sick. I read the news, following the court cases mounting to overturn California’s vote, and as most of my Mormon friends clamored that the voice of the people must be upheld, I found myself secretly rooting for the Supreme Court to step in and override California’s vote, as it had done in the mid-20th Century when virulently racist Southern states refused to desegregate. It was too late for me to redeem myself, but perhaps it was not too late to revive Isaac. Perhaps the Supreme Court would step in like an angel after all. I remember the day in 2010 when the federal court deemed Proposition 8 unconstitutional, and I also remember the summer day in 2015 when I found my 14-year-old daughter sobbing with joy in her room, and she told me the news that the United States Supreme Court - via the case Obergefell v. Hodges - had guaranteed marriage equality for all. I marveled at her purity and goodness, and I hugged her as we cried.I know that some people will tell me that my story uses too extreme a metaphor – I didn’t actually kill anyone. Are you sure? Only nine years earlier, when California was roiling with controversy over Prop 22 (which was nearly identical to Prop 8), a 32-year-old gay Mormon man named Henry Stuart Matis wrote a letter to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, begging them to re-think their position on same-sex marriage. He then drove to his local chapel in Los Altos, California and shot himself in the head on the church steps. His suicide was so effectively hushed that I, living in Utah at the time, never heard about it. Only after I had helped to pass Prop 8 did I learn that Matis’ suicide had taken place at the very chapel where I would later gather with my congregation. The chapel where all four of my children were baptized. The chapel where we sang “Love One Another” and “Onward Christian Soldiers.” The very chapel where Erik and I reported to receive our Prop 8 canvassing assignments. Did people die under our collective knife again in 2008? Undoubtedly they did. This knowledge will haunt me for the rest of my life.And even for the queer people who survived Prop 8 physically, I sacrificed their “inalienable” right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” - happiness that my church had taught me came from getting married and forming a family. That was the whole point of life, according to my religion - to grow up, to fall in love, to commit my life to one person and share not only physical intimacy, but the sacred emotional intimacy that comes from supporting each other through grad school and work stresses and first homes and paying bills and raising children together. Marriage and family was the greatest joy, my church said. …But that fulfillment was not allowed for some of our brothers and sisters. All of that joy, all of that meaning, is not for them. When I consider what it would have felt like for Erik and me if our beloved religion had not only denounced our love but rallied our beloved community to make sure we could never, ever be married? That would feel in every way like death.I will never be like Abraham again. I guess, to be honest, I never was like him in the first place: In Kierkegaard’s words, Abraham “…did not look in anguish to the left and to the right, he did not challenge heaven with his prayers.” I did, and I know now that that very anguish, that frantic looking to the left and right, that challenging heaven with my prayers –if anything was God, that was God. That anguish was the divine in me saying “this is not right. If there is a God, God would never ask you to sacrifice another human being’s hopes and dreams and love and family on his altar.” It was an unholy sacrifice – it was a sacrifice that wasn’t mine to make. And I will be sorry for the rest of my life.-----Matthew:Parker Palmer, a true humanist of our age, author of Healing the Heart of Democracy and The Courage to Teach, wrote: “The more you know another person’s story, the less possible it is to see that person as your enemy.” Toward that end, I hope you will take away truth in the recounting of my story that illuminates the experiences of gay boys and men in the U.S. Of course, I speak to you not just as an openly gay man, but also as a Christian, a husband, a teacher and a student, a runner, a humanist, and a cisgender man with flaws. Oscar Wilde famously said, “Every saint has a past, and every sinner a future.” In hearing my story, may you draw their own conclusions. Since this is a text-based discussion, I would like to share a passage from a contemporary Sikh-American feminist to prime the thinking of your listening audience. Valerie Kaur writes in a book I cherish, See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love: <<Deep listening is an act of surrender. We risk being changed by what we hear. When I really want to hear another person’s story, I try to leave my preconceptions at the door and draw close to their telling. I am always partially listening to the thoughts in my own head when others are speaking, so I consciously quiet my thoughts and begin to listen with my senses. Empathy is cognitive and emotional – to inhabit another person’s view of the world is to feel the world with them. But I also know that it’s okay if I don’t feel very much for them at all. I just need to feel safe enough to stay curious. The most critical part of listening is asking what is at stake for the other person. I try to understand what matters to them, not what I think matters. Sometimes I start to lose myself in their story. As soon as I notice feeling unmoored, I try to pull myself back into my body, like returning home. As Hannah Arendt says, ‘One trains one’s imagination to go visiting.’ When the story is done, we must return to our skin, our own worldview, and notice how we have been changed by our visit. So, I ask myself, What is this story demanding of me? What will I do now that I know this?>> Perhaps, I could invite you to follow Kaur’s wisdom. I grew up in central Massachusetts, outside of Wooosta, a blue-collar city 40 miles West of Boston. We were a traditional American family -- with divorced parents, step-brothers, a sister, a step-sister, and from them an extended family of lovely sisters-in-law and nieces and nephews. We were a nominally Roman Catholic family, helmed by confident and sometimes domineering men, but my sainted mother, Denise -- wise, kind, and true -- was the actual spiritual leader of all of us in the ways she lived out Gospel values in her daily life. From the experiences of physical and psychological abuse she sustained, I learned well about the insidious nature of patriarchy. I went to St. John’s High School in Shrewsbury, and even today I praise the Xavarian brothers for giving me a sterling education and the social-emotional intelligence I would need to make it through the pending tumultuous years. Like many teens, I yearned for meaning and purpose, and the high-liturgy and hypocrisies of the Roman Church gave way to a more Biblicist sect… a kind of neo-Calvinist Evangelicalism. After being “born again” in this church of my high school journey -- what I now realize in retrospect was a juggernaut of the worst “Muscular Christianity” and complementarian misogyny -- I converted many members of my family. (Ironic, I know, given how you might be able to foresee how that would back-fire on me.) I preached in the church and led the youth group (with an adult leader who, I would learn in college, abused his power with an underaged girl, a close friend of mine at the time). As a teen, I was confident, but also hid a great uncertainty about myself. I knew I did not have the same feelings for girls that many of my peers had. My desire was for some of my male friends, like my best friend Nick starting in the seventh grade. This was something I discovered about myself, something I knew as someone
83 minutes | Sep 21, 2021
The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy, by Allan G. Johnson
Amy: Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy! I’m Amy McPhie Allebest. Today’s book is called The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy, and it’s the first text we’ve read that was written by a man since we read John Stuart Mill’s The Subjection of Women several months ago! I have loved reading all of these books by women, but as I read this book it hit me how important it was that a man had written it, and here’s why: One of the biggest lessons I’ve realized in my education on racism recently is that society often places the burden of changing racist structures onto people of color… when the responsibility should be on the people who uphold those structures. So racism is a problem for white people to solve. White people need to own it. Likewise, sexism - which exists in all cultures in various ways - is often treated as a “women’s issue,” so as Jackson Katz says in his TED talk, men often tune out and don’t pay attention. So I love that Dr. Allan G. Johnson, who was a sociologist and college professor - and a man - took on patriarchy as his life’s work. And I was really gratified to see a lot of online reviews of his book written by men, who said this book helped them see things they had never considered before. So I’m really excited to discuss this book today, and want to welcome my friend Kasey Cruz to our discussion. Hi, Kasey!Kasey: (Say hi - I’m so happy to be here! Or whatever comes to your mind) :)Amy: I met Kasey a few years ago - she became part of our family’s little bubble of safe people during the Covid lockdown and she was our family’s fitness coach when all the gyms were closed down. She is so incredibly energetic, cheerful, optimistic, and hard-working, and she’s just a couple of years older than my oldest daughter so she became a dear friend as we spent hours together chatting between burpees and jump roping. :) So one day while we were working out Kasey, you told us about your grandmother and about your great-grandmother, and we were so mesmerized that we stopped mid-exercise and wanted to know every detail. And that conversation led to me asking you to be on the podcast. So I wonder if you can tell us about yourself, and start with the story of your great-grandmother.Kasey: My name is Kasey Cruz, I am the oldest of two children. Just me and my brother. My father’s family is Guamanian and my mother’s family is a mix of German and Cherokee and Palentin Indian. I was born and raised in Los Altos, California where I currently live. I recently graduated from Chico State University in the year 2020, sadly during the pandemic. I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Kinesiology and a minor in Adapted Physical Activity. For anyone that doesn’t know Kinesiology means, it is the study of the body and its movement. I had many life changing experiences during my time at Chico. I was involved in programs that helped individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities of all ages be involved in sports and exercise. Also, I interned at an elderly care facility for those with dementia and memory loss. There I led group exercise classes. I also played soccer since I was four years old and ended up playing for about 2 years at the collegiate level. I’ve always had a passion for sports and exercise and loved the physical and mental challenges. At the university, I found a passion for helping others achieve their goals and challenge themselves through physical activity. Which leads me to what I am currently doing, I am a personal trainer, a strength and conditioning coach for athletes, and a group trainer at F45.Now a little bit about my great, great, great grandmother. As a little girl, we had this family tree project where we had to make a visual board of our family lineage on both sides. My mom was helping me with her side of the family and she told me that my grt grt grt grandmother was Cherokee and she was the chief’s daughter. Her name was Starshine Chitwood and she was traded for a saddle and a horse to be married to my grt grt grt grandpa. She birthed 13 children and her name was later changed to Sarah. As a little girl I was so enamored that I was related to a chief’s daughter. My friends and I would play imaginary games and pretend to live off the land like but as I grew up and learned more about treatment of Native Americans in our country, broken treaties, murder, etc. . .I started to think about the story told to me years ago and how sad and frustrating that her legacy was about her baring many children and she was traded for goods. Amy: What does “breaking down patriarchy” mean to you?Kasey: When I visualize “breaking down patriarchy,” I think of an old dilapidated building that has cracks, shattered windows, and its foundation is still standing but needs to be torn down and rebuilt. Creating conversations about the history of. . .and sharing our stories of the significance of gender roles in our culture, workplace, school, and our society. Sharing experiences allows for a space for education, compassion, and relatedness which can allow us to break away from these old and outdated perspectives of men and women in society. Amy: Thanks so much, Kasey. I’m so interested in your point of view as we talk about this book, because you bring all of those parts of yourself to this topic: the cultural background of both sides of your family, and as a Californian, as an athlete, and also as a young woman. Most of my readers have been in my own age bracket or older, so I’m really excited to hear how this stuff strikes you as a member of the rising generation who will soon be running the world. :) So I’m really eager to hear your thoughts. Before we start digging into the book, I’ll just quickly share a bit about the author: Allan G. Johnson was born in 1946 in Washington DC. He earned his bachelor's degree in Sociology and English at Dartmouth College, and his PH.D. in Sociology at the University of Michigan. His dissertation focused on women's roles in Mexico City, and after receiving his PhD, he worked at Wesleyan University in the sociology department. After he left Wesleyan, he worked at Hartford College for Women, teaching sociology and women's studies. During this time, he wrote a number of books, including The Gender Knot: Unraveling our Patriarchal Legacy, in 1997, and afterward he became a corporate speaker and freelance lecturer. He was a husband, father, and grandfather, and he passed away in 2017. And now, let’s start sharing our highlights from the book! The first thing that I want to say is that Dr. Johnson does briefly address gender as a spectrum and devotes a chapter to LGBTQ issues, but the great majority of the book refers to “men” and “women” as a binary and as cis-gender.So we’ll start trading off chapters! I have the first two chapters.Chapter 1: Where Are We?Dr. Johnson starts with a description of a workshop that he does on gender issues in the workplace, where he asks them to list how gender shapes their lives at work (and beyond). He divides them into a men’s group and a women’s group, and describes how both groups describe a system that advantages men and disadvantages women in many, many ways. He says,“The accumulated sum hangs heavy in the air. There are flashes of anger from some of the women, but many don’t seem to know what to do with how they feel. The men stand and listen, muted, as if they would like to find a safe place to hide or some way to defend themselves, as if all of this is about them personally. In response to questions about how the lists make them feel, one man says that he wants to hang onto the advantages without being part of their negative consequences for women. “Depressed” is a frequent response from the women. (4)On a scale both large and small, we are faced with the knowledge that what gender is about is tied to a great deal of suffering, injustice, and trouble, but our not knowing what to do with that knowledge binds us in a knot of fear, anger, and pain, of blame, defensiveness, guilt, and denial. We are unsure of just about everything except that something is wrong, and the more we pull at the knot, the tighter it gets.” (4-5)One of the most important points from this chapter is this one:“Male dominance promotes the idea that men are superior to women. - and here I want to say that I don’t personally know any men who would say that they believe men are superior to women. BUT they are often in denial of the structure that we all live in that really does place men in a superior position, even if individual men don’t claim superiority. Dr. Johnson says:“If men occupy superior positions, it is a short leap to the idea that men themselves must be superior. If presidents, generals, legislators, priests, popes, and corporate CEO’s are all men (with a few token women), then men as a group become identified with superiority. It is true that most men in patriarchies are not powerful individuals and spend their days doing what other men tell them to do whether they want to or not. At the same time, every man’s standing in relation to women is enhanced by the male monopoly over authority in patriarchal societies. ...To see herself as a leader, for example, a woman must first get around the fact that leadership itself has been gendered through its identification with manhood and masculinity as part of patriarchal culture. While a man might have to learn to see himself as a manager, a woman has to be able to see herself as a woman manager who can succeed in spite of the fact that she is not a man. (7-8)Also on this topic…Living in a patriarchy means that every woman must come to grips with an inferior gender position and that whatever she makes of her life will be in spite of it. With the exception of child care and other domestic works and a few paid occupations related to it, women in almost every field of adult endeavor must still labor under the presumption of being inferior to men, interlopers from the margins of society who must justify their participation and their right to be counted as ‘one of the guys.’ Just last month I was talking with a man I know well and he was talking about having to go to the doctor. He said “I have a woman doctor. She’s actually really good. I really like her. She’s smart, she’s very thorough. I tell her, ‘wow, you’re the first woman doctor I’ve ever had. And I really like you.’ I just tell her she’s not allowed to touch me.” Can you imagine someone saying that about a man? “I have a man doctor, and you know what? He’s actually really smart! He’s really capable!” So I told him “you’re a really good man doctor - you’re just not allowed to do part of your job by examining my body, because, you know, you’re a man.” (Eye roll) Just think of that doctor getting that all the time from people, and then let’s wonder why women report higher anxiety in the workplace. Female in the fitness industry Being underestimated because I am a femaleBack to the quote...Men may have such experiences because of race or other subordinate standing, but not because they are men. It is in this sense that patriarchies are male dominated even though most individual men may not feel dominant, especially in relation to other men. (22)This still comes up in conversations with men all the time. Patriarchy does not mean that all men are tyrants or even that all men feel empowered! Being a human is hard, and men and boys struggle with all kinds of things. I see my husband and my son and my brother and my nephews struggle with all kinds of different challenges that are no different than my daughters and sisters and nieces. But in addition to those individual struggles, girls and women have to struggle with structural inequities. (And in addition to those struggles, women of color have to struggle with additional structural inequities.) Just to drive the point home, he goes on to say that some men claim that men are oppressed, and proof of this is that men are drafted into wars:“Even the massive suffering inflicted on men through the horror of war - which I will add is one of the most tragic horrors of our world, and is also caused by “dominator” mentality - even that is not an oppression of men as men, because there is no system in which a group of non-men subordinates men. (23)We must remember that as deeply as the patriarchal tree shapes our lives, we are the leaves and not the roots, trunk or branches. We are too easily blinded by the good/bad fallacy that says only bad people can participate in and benefit from societies that produce bad consequences. ...men do not have to feel cruel or malevolent toward women in order to participate in and benefit from patriarchy as a system. This is a crucial distinction that makes the difference between being stuck in a defensive moral paralysis and seeing how to participate in change. (25)Amy:Chapter 2: Patriarchy: An It; Not a He, a Them, or an UsThe something larger that we all participate in is patriarchy, which is more than a collection of individuals. It is a social system, which means it cannot be reduced to the people who participate in it. If you go to work in a corporation, for example, you know the minute you walk in the door that you have entered ‘something’ that shapes your experience and behavior, something that is not just you and the other people you work with. You can feel yourself stepping into a set of relationships and shared understandings about who is who and what is supposed to happen and why, and all of this limits you in many ways. And when you leave at the end of the day, you can feel yourself released from the constraints imposed by your participation in that system. You can feel the expectations drop away and your focus shift to other systems such as family or a neighborhood bar that shape your experience in different ways. (29)This is such a great way to illustrate this phenomenon. This was something I noticed right away when I started my masters degree and started to have male colleagues and friends who were not Mormon for the first time in my life since high school. There was one class period in particular when I was sitting by my friend Mark, who is probably around my dad’s age, and is a super successful investment banker and board member on all these fancy organizations, and he gave me some compliments about how I had contributed to our cohort and our program, and I remember saying “Oh, I’m just a mom, I just care about people.” And he said “I call it leadership.” And that sank in deep, and I noticed how completely opposite it was from the environment I operated in in my life outside of school, where women only lead children and other women, but are never leaders of adult men. I started to discern that very noticeable culture difference of when I would be on campus with men as my peers… and at church or certain family groups where men were my leaders.And you can definitely feel that difference in different countries again, and different companies, and all kinds of environments.Have you ever noticed that difference between more or less patriarchal environments, Kasey?Being a female athlete I always wanted to play with the boys because I wanted the aggression and to be challengedMany times men would take it easier on me or if I was fouled other men would bag on their teammate saying “She’s a girl”An old client of mine that I discontinued working with because of the way he spoke to meBeing a young, female he felt like when a conflict came around that he could speak over me and he was to decide when the conversation endedHe did not like that I had my own opinions and feelings that I would speak about If it was my father speaking to him, he would’ve handled things way differently---So while on one hand, a system and an institution like a company is more than the sum of its parts, on the other hand, it’s not. If all the people that comprise the company or the church or the family vanished, then that institution would vanish as well, because “Stanford” or “The Catholic Church” is just a construct inside people’s heads. So Johnson says:Because people make systems happen, then people can also make systems happen differently. ...When a man objects to a sexist joke, for example, it can shake other men’s perception of what is socially acceptable and what is not so that the net time they are in this kind of situation, their perception of the social environment itself - not just of other people as individuals, whom they may or may not know personally - may shift in a new direction that makes old paths (such as telling sexist jokes) more difficult to choose because of the increased risk of social resistance. (31)And here I want to say how grateful I am that things have already changed so much!!! Sophie and I were just talking to my aunt the other day, and she was telling us how when she was in theatre in college, she would get literally chased around backstage for guys, and they were always saying sexual things to her, trying to touch her, one guy threw her on a bed backstage and she had to physically fight to get away, a teacher asked her out on a date and when she said no, he said he would make sure she could never get a master’s degree at the university… it was absolutely awful, and I had it so much better. But at the same time, I did get sexually harassed CONSTANTLY, and even people I respected would tell me “that’s just because he likes you.” So I never told anyone when a guy would say explicit things to me, or a guy once shoved me against a row of lockers, or a guy friend of mine just lifted up my shirt in a big group of people. I didn’t know I could say anything - I felt completely powerless.So to compare, do you feel like things are better than that? What was the environment for you in high school and college? You were in college during the #metoo movement, right?Lived in a bubble in Los Altos and it wasn’t until college I started piecing things togetherMeeting new people from all over who had different perspectives Sexually harassed and intimidated Its better than beforeAllies everywhere and there’s an open conversation about speaking upOn male privilege, he says “you don’t have to feel privileged to have privilege,” and in fact in one of my favorite TED talks, Michael Kimmel says “privilege is invisible to those...
69 minutes | Sep 14, 2021
Declaration of the Elimination of Violence Against Women, by the United Nations, 1993
Amy: Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy! I’m Amy McPhie Allebest. Today’s topic may be difficult for some listeners - we will be talking about violence against women, including all kinds of physical and sexual violence. The essential text we are discussing is the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, given at the United Nations in 1993, and we are including it in this history-based project on systemic patriarchy because throughout history, violence against women and particularly domestic abuse was seen as a private matter, sometimes in some places, even endorsed by the state. But even when not promoted, patriarchal institutions have condoned or disregarded violence against women, looking the other way and failing to protect victims and survivors, and instead protecting the perpetrators of that violence. Even the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, or CEDAW, in 1979 (and listeners should look that up if you haven’t heard of it), neglected to address violence against women. So in 1993, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted this resolution, the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and we’ll be sharing passages from it today. It’s an incredibly important declaration, and in addition we will be sharing important, difficult stories that require a lot of strength. My reading partners and I went over this content in a very detailed way beforehand so that they could choose what they wanted to talk about, and I’m really honored and grateful for this amazing mother-daughter team, Elena and Abigail Gonzalez, who are with me today to discuss this issue! Hi, Elena and Abigail! Elena/Abby: Hi, Amy! Amy: Our family met Elena and Abigail in California in 2006, and we have been dear friends ever since. Occasionally in my life I have had a feeling, right when I met someone, that I knew them already, which in my religious tradition we explain with the belief that all human beings lived together as siblings in one family before we were born. Elena, I had that feeling really strongly when I met you, like “oh, I know you,” like I remembered you. That’s only happened a handful of times in my life, and I’m so grateful that we are friends. And Abigail, we have known and loved you since you were little, and I’m so grateful that you agreed to be here and have this important discussion today! Abby: Response Amy: So I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about yourselves and tell your story. Elena, why don’t you go first. Elena:My name is Elena Gonzalez. I was born in Mexico, and I grew up with seven siblings, three sisters and three brothers. It was a family that was really dysfunctional. Unfortunately, ever since I can remember, I have suffered abuse….[pause] of every type. My mom and dad were completely oblivious to everything going on… my siblings and I were pretty much on our own. My parents eventually separated, and I remained alone with two older brothers, so at that point I was the youngest. As time passed the abuses continued… from cousins, my brother - my own brother - [pause]... step-fathers, when my mom brought us with her to their houses. As I grew up I never went to school. I wanted to go to school, so finally I started when I was ten years old, and I attended until I finished my first year of high school in Mexico. Then I came to the United States. Like so many people I immigrated to the United States without any documents. It was really difficult and I arrived here with my mom and one brother and one sister. Once I arrived here they didn’t put me in school; instead they took me to work, and I have been working ever since. After awhile I met the man who is the father of my three children. (pause) Unfortunately it was an experience that went on for 15 years and was really really difficult. At the beginning obviously he was really caring, really convincing. But after a short time he became violent. He said he would change, but…. (pause) I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know where to go. I couldn’t go back home because I was afraid they would abuse me there too… so I didn’t have any other path. So I stayed with him. I had a son, and he was born at 7 months. The doctors didn’t know why, but I knew why - it was because of the abuse… the abuse I suffered every single day. Thank God my son is ok - he’s 22 years old now.I had my daughter - just like my first pregnancy I had a lot of problems when she was in utero because of that same abuse. Thanks to the care of my doctors, we were both ok, and she was born safely and now she’s 17. When I was pregnant with my third child - I found out I was pregnant when I was two months along - and that was when I decided to leave the relationship because it would be better for me psychologically. I say “better” because he had always told me I was good for nothing, that I would never be able to get along without him, that I didn’t do anything right - my cooking, my cleaning, anything I said - it was all bad. So my self-esteem was literally on the floor. But I kept working, I kept the house running… and sometimes when he said those things I would think, “How is it that I’m good for nothing, if I pay the rent, I pay the bills, I buy food, I take my children everywhere they need to go, how am I good for nothing?” But I didn’t know how to leave. BUT, then I started going to some classes, thanks to a friend I started attending classes and the teacher helped me to have more confidence in myself… to believe in myself. And that helped me to finally say “NO MORE.” One of the things also was that he had…. (pause) Other interests (implied that he was having affairs). So that was how I could leave, because he was gone sometimes and wasn’t attacking me all the time. It was really hard to leave when I was pregnant and had two other kids. But now we’re ok. It was a really hard process - I think it was three to four years, that I was trying to protect my children. Because my children suffered the same that I suffered - hitting, yelling… I fought for custody, but he had visitation and unfortunately he hurt my children. Those were really hard times. Actually when I look back I don’t know hoq I did what I did. I don’t know how I got through all of that. But it made us stronger, and my kids and I supported each other. Now we are… we finally feel safe. We finally have protection so he can’t get near us. He doesn’t know our address, he doesn’t know anything about us, so we feel safe. Amy: Thank you so much. And then the other question I want to ask is what brought you to this project. What interested you in this topic? ElenaIt’s sad that still in this time there still exists this machismo and discrimination against women. Ever since I can remember I have seen that it was always men who made the rules and ran the house, and could say what a woman could and couldn’t do. But I’m a single mother now. I raise my three children, I keep them moving forward… and I have been able to do everything a man does. My children are studying in school - my son goes to UCLA and he’s working, I have kept a roof over their heads, they have had food, they have had clothes, I do everything a man does. So I feel like they should give us more rights and opportunities and that that stigma should change. Amy: Ok, let’s get started. I’ll begin with some background information about this document and what prompted its creation. So historically, if we think back to some of the very first episodes on this podcast, we learned that the very first human writings, the Code of Hammurabi and the Middle Assyrian Law, women were considered in many ways to be the possessions of men, and if they behaved in a way that the men thought was out of line, the men could legally beat the women, or “crush her mouth with a brick” or stone her to death. We remember the stories in the Bible about wives and daughters being offered to be assaulted so that a man wouldn’t be harmed. We learned on other episodes that the term “rule of thumb” comes from a law in the United States that a man could only legally beat his wife if the stick he used wasn’t bigger in circumference than the base of his thumb. So the concept that women have a “right” to a life free from violence is a new idea. And since it has always been men and not women who have historically been in power, these norms have been very, very slow to change. And even in the versions of patriarchy where the leaders say that they value women and want to protect women, like conservative religions, patriarchal institutions have in too many cases been very, very slow to condemn the perpetrators of violence against women. Data from the UN Women website:Amy: It is estimated that 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner (not including sexual harassment) at some point in their lives. Some national studies show that up to 70 per cent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime. Abigail: In 2017, 87,000 women were intentionally killed. Of those, more than half were killed by intimate partners or a family member. This number means that 137 women across the world are killed by a member of their own family every day. Amy: Adult women account for nearly half (49 per cent) of all human trafficking victims detected globally. Women and girls together account for 72 per cent, with girls representing more than three out of every four child trafficking victims. Abigail: It is estimated that there are 650 million women and girls in the world today who were married before age 18. During the past decade, the global rate of child marriage has declined, and South Asia had the largest decline during this time, from 49 per cent to 30 per cent. Still, 12 million girls under 18 are married each year and in sub-Saharan Africa—where this practice is most common—almost four out of 10 young women were married before their 18th birthday. Child marriage often results in early pregnancy and social isolation, interrupts schooling, limits the girl’s opportunities and increases her risk of experiencing domestic violence. (Here I want to encourage listeners to look up the work of National Geographic photographer Stephanie Sinclair and the work she has done documenting this for Nat Geo and the New York Times, and please look up girlsnotbrides.org. Amy: At least 200 million women and girls aged 15-49 have undergone female genital mutilation in the 30 countries with representative data on prevalence. In most of these countries, the majority of girls were cut before age five. More than 20 million women and girls have undergone female genital mutilation by a health care provider. With population movement, female genital mutilation is becoming a practice with global dimensions, in particular among migrant and refugee women and girls. Amy: Approximately 15 million adolescent girls (aged 15 to 19) worldwide have experienced forced sex (forced sexual intercourse or other sexual acts) at some point in their life. Based on data from 30 countries, only one per cent ever sought professional help Abigail: Eighty-two per cent of women in government positions throughout the world reported sexual harassment while serving their terms (harrasment is defined as remarks, gestures and images of a sexist or humiliating sexual nature made against them. They cited social media as the main channel through which such psychological violence is perpetrated; nearly half of those surveyed (44 per cent) reported having received death, rape, assault or abduction threats towards them or their families. This is extremely sobering data. And I feel like now is a good time to add just one more comment, which concerns all the content of this episode, including the title of this UN declaration. I watched a TED talk several years ago by Jackson Katz, called “Violence Against Women: It’s a Men’s Issue.” Please, please watch this TED talk today - it’s so important. (https://www.ted.com/talks/jackson_katz_violence_against_women_it_s_a_men_s_issue?language=en)He talks about the grammatical structure of the sentences we use when we talk about violence, and how that reflects our cultural attitudes. What we often do - and again, you’ll hear it all throughout this episode - is that we frame violence in the passive voice. Instead of saying “John beat Mary,” we say “Mary was beaten.” And that removes the perpetrator of the violence completely, and puts the burden on the victim to solve the problem. And there’s a great TikTok video by poet christi steyn that builds on this idea - she says: “We talk about how many women were raped last year, not about how many men raped women. We talk about how many girls in a school district were harrassed last year, not about how many boys harassed girls. We talked about how many teenage girls got pregnant in the state of Vermont last year, rather than how many men and teenage boys got girls pregnant. So you can see how the use of this passive voice has a political effect. It shifts the focus off men and boys, and onto girls and women. Even the term “violence against women” is problematic. It’s a passive construction. There’s no active agent in the sentence. It’s a bad thing that just happens to women. When you look at the term “violence against women - no one is doing it to them, it just happens. Men aren’t even a part of it.” I do think we have to be careful to not generalize and make it sound like all men are rapists and all men are harassers. But I do think it’s really important that when we talk about the violent acts that do happen, that we shift the focus back onto the perpetrators of those crimes, rather than thinking of it as the victims’ issue and the victims’ responsibility and burden. So now to the document, which was written in 1990 and is largely constructed in that passive voice. But we’ll read it as it’s written. Abigail, can you start us off by reading the beginning of the declaration? Abigail: Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women.Proclaimed by General Assembly on December 20, 1993.The General Assembly ,Recognizing the urgent need for the universal application to women of the rights and principles with regard to equality, security, liberty, integrity and dignity of all human beings,Affirming that violence against women constitutes a violation of the rights and fundamental freedoms of women and impairs or nullifies their enjoyment of those rights and freedoms, and concerned about the long-standing failure to protect and promote those rights and freedoms in the case of violence against women,I think it’s meaningful that this document acknowledges the way that abuse can destroy people’s quality of life, and makes them unable to enjoy any of their rights and freedoms. The “enjoyment” of life is not something we hear about in formal documents, but it is valid and useful.Abigail:Recognizing that violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women, which have led to domination over and discrimination against women by men and to the prevention of the full advancement of women, and that violence against women is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men,Violence prevents the full advancement of women. (Professor Beverly Allen’s work in Bosnia, where they used rape as a weapon of war. This is an old strategy. It humiliates and demoralizes the survivor so they can’t advance in any area - indeed it is a social mechanism whereby women are forced into subordination. It also makes me think of a few scenes of Mad Men. You see these men in suits who are sexist, but pretty civilized, but when the women in their lives are insubordinate, all they have to do is press their advantage, and they can completely dominate the women into doing whatever they want. Abigail:Concerned that some groups of women, such as women belonging to minority groups, indigenous women, refugee women, migrant women, women living in rural or remote communities, destitute women, women in institutions or in detention, female children, women with disabilities, elderly women and women in situations of armed conflict, are especially vulnerable to violence,We can’t talk about this topic without bringing up the epidemic of violence against Native American women in our country right now. I just listened to Koa Beck’s book White Feminism: From Suffragettes to Influencers and Who They Leave Behind, and there is a whole section on this topic that I highly recommend reading, but for right now I’ll share some information from the Indian Law Resource Center website:In the United States, violence against indigenous women has reached unprecedented levels on tribal lands and in Alaska Native villages. More than 4 in 5 American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence, and more than 1 in 2 have experienced sexual violence. Alaska Native women continue to suffer the highest rate of forcible sexual assault and have reported rates of domestic violence up to 10 times higher than in the rest of the United States. Though available data is limited, the number of missing and murdered American Indian and Alaska Native women and the lack of a diligent and adequate federal response is extremely alarming to indigenous women, tribal governments, and communities. On some reservations, indigenous women are murdered at more than ten times the national average....the vast majority of these women never see their abusers or rapists brought to justice. ...For more than 35 years, United States law has stripped Indian nations of all criminal authority over non-Indians. As a result, until recent changes in the law, Indian nations were unable to prosecute non-Indians, who reportedly commit ...96% of sexual violence against Native women. The Census Bureau reports that non-Indians now comprise 76% of the population on tribal lands and 68% of the population in Alaska Native villages. Many Native women have married non-Indians. However, it is...
83 minutes | Sep 7, 2021
The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions, by Paula Gunn Allen
Amy: Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy! I’m Amy McPhie Allebest. Today we will be reading The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions, by Paula Gunn Allen, written in 1986. My reading partner is the amazing Sherrie Crawford, whom listeners will remember from way back at the beginning of the podcast on our episodes on Gerda Lerner’s The Creation of Patriarchy! Welcome back, and thank you so much for being here, Sherrie!! Sherrie: Hi Amy, thanks for having me! (or whatever you want to say) :)Amy: And can I start by sharing something really quick? I was recently talking with a friend about the feeling of discovering that women had come before us and made huge intellectual and psychological contributions that we didn’t even know about and therefore weren’t able to benefit from… and she said “it’s like that part in the movie ‘Moana’ - Moana has been drawn to the sea for her whole life, not really knowing why, but she feels like it’s her power and her destiny… but she’s all alone in that calling. Then she goes into that cave and sees the ships of her ancestors and she’s like “WHAT??? Why didn’t anyone tell me we are literally descended from voyagers??” I think that analogy is powerful for all women as we become educated about our intellectual foremothers, but I thought of you specifically, Sherrie. Because in those first episodes, you shared as part of your biography that the side of your family that you thought was “Spanish” was actually both Spanish and Native American, and that had a huge emotional impact on you. And this book shares how so many Native American cultures, before European colonization, were matrifocal, matrilineal cultures that were much more egalitarian than the European cultures that oppressed them. So for me it’s kind of poetic and emotional to call all of these women on the podcast “my foremothers” - they are spiritual foremothers. But for you they are not just your emotional, intellectual foremothers - they are your literal, genetic ancestors. And I kept thinking of Moana singing “We are descended from voyagers” and thinking of you discovering your foremothers. Sherrie:Grandma Lucero: “We are Spanish people,” and you have the Spanish red hairYour siblings have darker hair, complexions, so they have moved through the world differently than you have - they look more Latino23 and Me test - not Mexican ancestry, but Pueblo Nation in New MexicoClass at BYU-I: The Spanish conquered and enslaved the Pueblo Nation in New MexicoIt’s interesting to think about how we view maps and borders between countries: New Mexico was Mexico for so long, and before it was Mexico, the borders between nations were different too. I had thought of “Native American” as different from “indigenous Mexican,” but really our current borders have nothing to do with the pre-European-imposed borders. Sherrie: Naturally, I struggle with borders, or divisions between lands, schools, teams, families. My nature wants more inclusion everywhere, and the whole notion of an arbitrary boundary feels false or unnecessary. I really do love maps though. Before we sell or own land, it has to belong to someone, but who says who that original someone is? The whole concept is weird. Amy: Ok, so before we get into the book, let’s talk a bit about this author: who she is and why she wrote The Sacred Hoop. Amy:This biography is taken mostly from a tribute to Paula Gunn Allen on the occasion of her death, on her website, www.paulagunnallen.net.Paula Gunn Allen was born Paula Marie Francis, to Elias Lee Francis, former Lieutenant Governor of New Mexico, and Ethel Francis, in 1939. She grew up on the Cubero land grant in New Mexico, which is a Spanish-Mexican land grant village bordering the Laguna Pueblo reservation. Allen was of mixed Laguna, Sioux, Scottish, and Lebanese-American descent, and she always identified most closely with the Laguna, among whom she spent her childhood. Both her father’s Lebanese and her mother’s Laguna Pueblo heritages shaped her critical and creative vision.Allen was a powerful voice in Native American literature and the study of American literature. She was also a founding mother of the contemporary women’s spirituality movement. Her most recent work, Pocahontas: Medicine Woman, Spy, Entrepreneur, Diplomat (2004, Harper-Collins), received a Pulitzer Prize nomination. The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions (1986, Beacon), a collection of critical essays, is a cornerstone in the study of American Indian culture and gender. Her edited anthology Studies in American Indian Literature: Critical Essays and Course Designs (1983, MLA) laid the foundation for the study of Native American literature, and she promoted and popularized the works of other Native American writers through several anthologies, which are listed on our website, [Song of the Turtle: American Indian Literature, 1974-1995 (1996, Ballantine); Voice of the Turtle: American Indian Literature, 1900-1970 (1994, Ballantine); and Spider Woman’s Granddaughters: Traditional Tales and Contemporary Writing by Native American Women (1989, Ballantine Books), which received the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation] and she also authored multiple books: Off the Reservation: Reflections on Boundary-Busting, Border-Crossing, Loose Canons (1998, Beacon); As Long as the Rivers Flow: The Stories of Nine Native Americans (with Patricia Clark Smith) (1996, Scholastic Press), and Grandmothers of the Light: A Medicine Woman's Sourcebook (1992, Beacon Press). A prolific writer, Allen published six volumes of poetry: Life Is a Fatal Disease: Collected Poems 1962-1995 (1997, West End Press); Skins and Bones (1988, West End Press); Wyrds (1987, Taurean Horn); Shadow Country (1982, University of California Indian Studies Center); A Cannon Between My Knees (1981, Strawberry Press); Blind Lion (1974, Thorp Springs Press). [and] America the Beautiful. And The Woman Who Owned the Shadows, a novel, was published in 1983 (Aunt Lute Books). Her creative and critical work has been widely anthologized. Allen received her BA degree in English in 1966 and her MFA in creative writing in 1968, both from the University of Oregon. She earned her Ph.D. in American Studies in 1976 from the University of New Mexico. She taught at Ft. Lewis College in Colorado, the College of San Mateo, San Diego State University, San Francisco State University, and the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque prior to joining the faculty at the University of California, Berkeley, where she became a professor of Native American and Ethnic Studies. In 1999, she retired from the University of California, Los Angeles as a professor of English, Creative Writing, and American Indian Studies. Allen received many awards, including postdoctoral fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Ford Foundation-National Research Council, the Hubbell Medal for Lifetime Achievement in American Literary Studies from the Modern Language Association, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas, the Susan Koppelman Award from the Popular and American Culture Associations, the Native American Prize for Literature, and most recently a Lannan Foundation Fellowship. She passed away at her home in Ft. Bragg, California, on May 29, 2008, after a prolonged illness at the age of 68. Family and friends surrounded her at the time of her passing. She is survived by a daughter, Lauralee Brown (Roland Hannes), a son, Suleiman Allen (Millisa Russell), two granddaughters, two sisters, and one brother. Two sons, Fuad Ali Allen and Eugene John Brown, preceded her in death. Sherrie:I also think this summary from Wikipedia is helpful as we start:Based on her own experiences and her study of Native American cultures, Paula Gunn Allen wrote The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions (1986). This groundbreaking work argued that the dominant cultural view of Native American societies was biased and that European explorers and colonizers understood Native Peoples through the patriarchal lens. Gunn described the central role women played in many Native American cultures, including roles in political leadership, which were either downplayed or missed entirely by explorers and scholars from male-dominated European cultures. Allen argued that most Native Americans at the time of European contact were matrifocal and egalitarian with only a small percentage reflecting the European patriarchal pattern.The American Indian Movement ("AIM") has itself been criticized by feminists as being sexist. In spite of this, Allen's book and subsequent work has proved highly influential, encouraging other feminist studies of Native American cultures and literature, including an emergence of Indigenous feminism. It remains a classic text of Native American Studies and Women's Studies programs. Amy:So with that background established, let’s get into the book! We’ll take turns sharing chapters that spoke to us, and I’ll start with the introduction. Introduction: Talks about three main themes:First, connection to nature:When I was small, my mother often told me that animals, insects, and plants are to be treated with the kind of respect one customarily accords to high-status adults. ‘Life is a circle, and everything has its place in it,’ she would say. That’s how I met the sacred hoop. (1) I am especially fortunate because the wind and the sky, the trees and the rocks, and the sticks and the stars are usually in a teaching mood; so when I need an answer to some dilemma, I can generally get one. For which I must say thank you to them all. (7)I just re-read the letters of Sarah Grimke in 1838, where she was writing a rebuttal to a minister who was telling his congregations not to listen to women who had the audacity to speak in public on political topics. He wrote a letter that said in all caps, “if you have a question, you must go to your PASTOR, not to a woman.” That quote provides such a contrast between the two world-views! Second: Women’s involvement in many traditional Native American culturesBefore I read this one, I’ll remind us of some of the word definitions that we talked about at the beginning of the podcast. There were and are gynocracies - that is, woman-centered tribal societies in which matrilocality, matrifocality, matrilinearity, maternal control of household goods and resources, and female deities of the magnitude of the Christian God were and are present and active features of traditional tribal life. (3-4) Traditional tribal lifestyles are more often gynocratic than not, and they are never patriarchal. These features make understanding tribal cultures essential to all responsible activists who seek life-affirming social change that can result in a real decrease in human and planetary destruction and in a real increase in quality of life for all inhabitants of planet earth. (2)This takes us back to the very first episode, The Chalice and the Blade, where we talked about ancient “partnership cultures,” which were overrun by “dominator” cultures. Riane Eisler’s subtitle of The Chalice and the Blade is “Our Past: Our Future.” Perhaps The Sacred Hoop can be seen as the “Western Hemisphere” version of a very similar story. And as a matter Tribal gynocracies prominently feature even distribution of goods among all members of the society on the grounds that First Mother enjoined cooperation and sharing on all her children. (3) Third, the impact of European colonizers on Native American culturesThe colonizers saw (and rightly) that as long as women held unquestioned power…, attempts at total conquest of the continents were bound to fail. In the centuries since the first attempts at colonization in the early 1500’s, the invaders have exerted every effort to remove Indian women from every position of authority, to obliterate all records pertaining to gynocratic social systems, and to ensure that no American and few American Indians would remember that gynocracy was the primary social order of Indian America prior to 1800. (3) Western studies of American Indian tribal systems are erroneous at base because they view tribalism from the cultural bias of patriarchy and thus either discount, degrade, or conceal gynocratic features or recontextualize those features so that they will appear patriarchal. (4)Sherrie:Grandmother of the Sun: Ritual Gynocracy in Native America“At the center of all is Woman, and no thing is sacred without her blessing, her thinking.”“To assign to this great being the position of ‘fertility goddess’ is exceedingly demeaning; it trivializes the tribes and it trivializes the power of woman. Woman bears, that is true. She also destroys. That is true. She also wars, and hexes and mends and breaks. She creates the power of the seeds, and she plants them.” “To address a person as ‘mother’ is to pay the highest ritual respect.”“The rains come only to peaceful people.” “Among the Pueblo of the American Southwest are two notable traditional offices: That of the cacique, who was charged with maintaining internal harmony, and that of the hotchin or “war captain” whose office was concerned with mediating between the tribe and outsiders.” “This dyadic structure, which emphasizes complementarity.”Amy: When Women Throw Down Bundles: How Native American nations were subjugated (and again, this is the story told from the point of view of a Native American, and a woman. When do we ever hear of the conflict from that perspective? Never!!The Iroquois story is currently one of the best chronicles of the overthrow of the gynocracy. Material about the status of women in [many nations] are lacking. Any original documentation that exists is buried under the flood of readily available, published material written from the colonizer’s patriarchal perspective, almost all of which is based on the white man’s belief in universal male dominance. Male dominance may have characterized a number of tribes, but it was by no means as universal as colonialist propaganda has led us to believe. (32)...Under the old laws, the Iroquois were a mother-centered, mother-right people whose political organization was based on the central authority of the Matrons, the mothers of the Longhouses (clans). ....At the end of the Revolutionary War, the Americans declared the Iroquois living on the American side of the United States-Canadian border defeated. Pressed from all sides, their fields burned and salted, their daily life disrupted, and the traditional power of the matrons under assault from the missionaries who flocked to Iroquois country to “civilize” them, the recently powerful Iroquois became a subject, captive people. ...The Longhouse declined in importance, and eventually iroquois women were firmly under the thumb of Christian patriarchy. (33)Gunn then talks about the Algonquin people, who were described by the conquering Europeans as only having male chiefs, but she says that this is because that’s what they expected to see - they assumed universal male leadership so they ignored tons of evidence that there were also female chiefs and what is translated as the title of “Empress.” In addition, every person’s name that the Europeans didn’t know or understand, they recorded as male, and as a commoner in society. Gunn says:“This falsifies the record of a people who are not able to set it straight; it reinforces patriarchal socialization among all Americans, who are thus led to believe that there have never been any alternative structures.” (36)She offers another example of women’s power:Cherokee women had the power to decide the fate of captives, decisions that were made by vote of the Women’s Council and relayed to the district at large by the War Woman or Pretty Woman. The decisions had to be made by female clan heads because a captive who was to live would be adopted into one of the families whose affairs were directed by the clan-mothers. The clan mothers also had the right to wage war, and...Indian women were famous warriors and powerful voices in the councils. (36)BUTBy the time the Removal Act was under consideration by Congress in the early 1800s, many of these British-educated men and men with little Cherokee blood wielded considerable power over the Nation’s policies.In the ensuing struggle women endured rape and murder, but they had no voice in the future direction of the Cherokee Nation. The Cherokee were by this time highly stratified, though they had been much less...
88 minutes | Aug 31, 2021
WomanSpirit Rising: A Feminist Reader in Religion, edited by Carol Christ and Judith Plaskow
Amy: Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy! I’m Amy McPhie Allebest. If you are a listener who loved our episode on The Gospel of Mary Magdalene or Mary, Mother of God, then you will love the texts we are discussing today: WomanSpirit Rising: A Feminist Reader in Religion, and Weaving the Visions:New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality, both edited by Carol P. Christ and Judith Plaskow. These books contain essays that were written in the 70’s 80’s and early 90’s, and they reflect a movement within feminism that was grappling with the patriarchal aspects of religion, and rather than rejecting religion altogether as so many feminists were doing at the time, these authors were working to retain the spiritual, the mystical, and the ritual parts of religion while still confronting and challenging patriarchy. As an introduction I’m going to read just a couple of sentences from the 1992 version of WomanSpirit Rising. It says that some feminists...“are convinced that religion is profoundly important. For them, the discovery that religions teach the inferiority of women is experienced as a betrayal of deeply felt spiritual and ritual experience. They believe the history of sexism in religions shows how deeply sexism has permeated the human psyche but does not invalidate human need for ritual, symbol and myth. While differing on many issues, the contributors to this volume agree that religion is deeply meaningful in human life and that the traditional religions of the West have betrayed women. They are convinced that religion must be reformed or reconstructed to support the full human dignity of women.” And no one better to discuss this issue with than the magnificent Maxine Hanks! Welcome back, Maxine.[Hi Amy -- thanks for inviting me to read this book with you, it holds a lot of meaning for me personally.This project has already been so enriched by your wisdom and experience! You’re an expert on many Women’s Studies texts, but my understanding is that in the tradition of the Gospel of Mary Magdalene and the Letters on the Equality of the Sexes by Sarah Grimke, you are a person of faith and most at home in feminist theology. Is that right?Maxine: Yes, I’m a feminist theologian and historian, focused on women’s studies and women’s history in religious culture, mainly in LDS/Mormon culture and in Christianty. My spiritual path, personal faith journey and my scholarly path, scholarly work are very intertwined. My work on recovering feminism in Mormon history and culture overlapped with my own personal work to find feminist voice in Mormon culture, and my own path through feminist theology, clergy formation and ministry overlapped with my scholarly work on feminist theology in Christian tradtion and LDS tradition. So as I found my way in life and work as a feminist, I found my way as scholar in feminist work, the two were interdependant. I’m a deeply spiritual person, I rely on my relationship with god for decisions about both my life and professional path. I’m a minister, chaplain, and theologian, historian, and I see spirituality as one lens, one approach, one hermeneutic method among others, so my work brings spirituality and scholarship together. I think it requires multiple approaches, interdisciplinary work to adequately assess the situation of women in religion -- gender studies training, historical method, and theological/religious studies, so I trained, took degrees in all three to use in my work.Amy: If you’re comfortable, I’d be grateful if you could talk about your own journey as a feminist theologian, including your book, Women and Authority: Re-emerging Mormon Feminism, and the ensuing events after the publication of that book.Maxine: Sure, the main thing to mention about my work, my book and WSR, is that they parallel each other, taking a very similar approach, and with similar results, but ten years apart. WSR came in 1979. I began working on WA in 1988-89, published in 1992. Yet in 1979, a decade before I published WA, I had been working through the very same issues that Christ, Plaskow, et all were dealing with, and at the very same time. In 1978-79, I was a feminist, who used that label for myself, and I was serving as an LDS missionary. I noticed and was frustrated by the dominance of male voices and sexism re: women’s own experience, bodies, views. I was also frustrated by how few Mormon women were willing to express their true feelings, frustrations and feminist concerns or voices in Mormon culture. The only exceptions were MERA and Sonja Johnson, and they were feared, shunned by most Mormons. Sonia's excommunication in 1979 happened when I was on my LDS mission in the East and it impacted me deeply, as a feminist who was really hurting from the sexism in the mission. I keenly felt the need for validating our own women's and feminist perspectives and our own female relationship to God and priesthood. I felt that I had received some form of priesthood in the LDS temple and as a missionary -- I knew I was a valid minister, but I didn’t know how to defend that or document that in 1979. That came a decade later with my book. But I knew we had an inherent feminism or feminist traditoin in Mormonism; I had been aware of that since 1976 via the WE and EXII. But I didn’t yet know where or how to find the sources, and present the evidence for our feminist history and theology, which came later, and I’ll describe that in a moment, later in the larger historical context of the role and effect of Woman’s Spirit Rising.It’s important to understand how groundbreaking and vital Woman’sSpirit Rising was for its time in 1979 and what it accomplished. So I’d like to share some larger historical context about femininst theology in American culture first, to situate WSR. Then I can circle back to say how W&A and my work fits into that context and relates to WSR.HISTORICAL CONTEXT FOR WSRContext -- WSR arrived at a crucial shift in 2nd Wave feminism (like Sexual Politics embodied the arrival & shift in feminism from the '60s to '70s), WSR captured the arrival & shift in feminist theology from '70s into '80s feminism -- the last of the 3 decades in the 2nd Wave. '60s feminism formed the theories, goals of feminism then '70s feminism took it wider to the public, popular discourse, workplace, homes, media, but still new, struggling to prove itself, persuade the public of its truth. Then in the '80s feminism arrived, found mainstream acceptance, validity, normalcy, not freakish, an integral feature in colleges, media, workplace, breaking the glass ceilings (movie Working Girl). Feminist theology was one decade behind feminism. The major religions were patriarchal, thus much slower than secular culture to deal with or accept feminism, including their own inherent feminism within those religions. So we didn't see very much feminist theology or books in the '60s, it begins in the 1970s with books emerging mainly from Catholic and Jewish feminists, like Mary Daly, Rita Grosss, Elaine Pagels, Merlin Stone, Carol Christ, and Judith Plaskow, then in the '80s it continued with these authors and increased with more work by women like Rosemary Radford Ruether, and Riane Eisler and others. In the 80s it widened out with more work and bigger exposure -- just like feminism itself had done in the 1970s. Yet in the 70s and early 80s, very few college courses or programs dealt with feminism in religion or feminist theology. Women's studies departments and programs were growing and thriving in colleges in the 1980s (like the UU program and Weber State and USU), but there were very few courses or programs on women in religon or feminist theology. (We had one course at the UU in 1980s-90s, taught by Vella Evans). The Harvard WSRP was the first program to focus on study of women and religion in 1973. So women's studies in religion was emerging in the major schools and Ivy League in the 70s like femnism had in the 60s, but very few programs in the 70s; that began taking hold in more colleges, courses, programs, and majors in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when programs emerged at more schools, like Claremont and others. One important point here -- is that secular feminism itself. arose from religious women, who took their spirituality into society and politics, their Christianity into social reform. Anne Braude's book, Radical Spirits, explores how the women's rights movement and women's spiritualism were intertwined -- the role of religion in women's history and the women's rights movement. So feminism began in religion, in the 1800s, and moved outward into society, but it took a long while for feminism to come back home and find itself accepted in its own roots --other than a few faiths like the Quakers who were feminist all along. We see this in Mormonism, which was a leader in feminist innovations within the Church in the 1830s & 40s, 10-20 years before Seneca Falls, and Mormon feminists took that testimony of women's agency, authority and equality into the larger social sphere and communities in the 1850s-1890s as pursuing vocations and careers outside the home in medicine, education, nursing, especially via suffrage as pioneers in the suffrage movement -- due to having gotten the vote themselves in the Church in 1830. Yet they lost ground within the faith in the 19th century and had to re-emerge in the 1970s-80s-90s, which brought conflict and backlash, so only in this century is Mormon feminist theology in our own origins finally finding wider understanding, recovery and acceptance within the Church. I chronnicled this in my book W&A on Mormon feminist theology, which I compiled in the 1980s-90s -- but more about that in a minute. So, in 1979 -- Carol Christ and Judith Plaskow looked at the pioneering work of feminist theologians emerging in the 1970s and wanted to capture and summarize it -- to map the main approaches, gather the major voices, and make them more available by editing an anthology of writings. This was SO needed at that time, to make the few groundbreaking voices in feminist theology of the '70s more known and available. So that's what they did, with Woman's Spirit Rising --they created a reader that would bring the key pioneers and their pioneering work on feminist theology forward, and legitimize it, make it known and useable more widely to help educate and inspire more women and work. They succeeded immensely. Women's Spirit Rising was a watershed moment in American feminist theology, concretizing that subfield of both women's studies and religious studies and their intersection, and letting women everywhere know -- this work was real, and happening and needed. It inspired so many women in so many religions to engage that work in their own cultures and studies. As a result, the 1980s saw an explosion of feminist work on religion and theology, in schools and in church cultures. Female clergy were emerging in the 1970s & 1980s in Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Anglican and Community of Christ churches but articles and books took hold in the 1980s. In 1989 at the Scientific Study of Religion conf. a panel of Roman Catholic, Sikh, Jewish, southern Baptist, and Mormon women found a consensus: that women were no longer waiting for approval from male religious leaders but moving ahead with feminist theological investigations. That consensus was reaffirmed in a 1992 book Megatrends for Women which predicted that feminists were reaching a critical mass within traditionally male-dominated religions and would make significant changes in the 1990s and beyond. I had the same idea as Christ and Plaskow in Woman's Spirit Rising, the same approach and inclinations --- but my work began before I had seen their book. So we were operating from a similar vision, 10 yrs apart. We both wanted to validate feminist theology. I wanted to make our own feminism and feminist theolgoy more known and available -- as inhereent in our own tradition and history, and not some secular agenda that feminists were imposing on the LDS Church. I wanted to recover our own unique home-grown feminism and feminist theology-- and that has remained true to hte present day and my work now. So I researched Mormon feminism and feminist theology in LDS history to the present, for 3.5 years, and selected major voices, texts, and excerpts, and commissioned some new articles on current work at that time on needed topics, then pulled together all this work in one book. It was gutsy, a whole lot of new cutting-edge, overt feminist work and recovery on topics that had been feared and repressed for so long-- it shocked people. It was a bombshell, so the reactions were intense. In the 1980s very few Mormons, even very few feminists were using the word "feminism" which had been tainted by Sonia's excommunication. And nobody was using the term feminist theology. My book was the first book to reclaim Mormon feminism in word and concept, validate it as real and inherent in our own tradition, and recover it as American feminism. And my book was the first to use the term "feminist theolog." I was the first to advocate the need for that in LDS culture and studies -- at the 1990 Sunstone Symposium panel on the Current State of Mormon Theology, in a paper titled “Toward a Mormon Feminist Theology.” . I said then, that the most lacking and most important area of needed work in Mormon theology on the horizon was feminist theology. I was working on my book at the time, which I published in 1992. Even liberals and feminists, were a bit freaked out by my assertion then -- most of them advised me not to use the word "feminsim" or the term "feminist theology" because it would frighten too many people away, but use other terms. I was tired of feeling stifled and censored, I felt it was time to own our feminism, call it was it was, not hide it any more behind terms like "sisters." So I just put it all out there and let it confront the fears and do its work -- and it did. It dissolved the stigma and fear of feminism and helped it go mainstream, enabled it to be engaged, used, by members, leaders (the RS Pres. each had a copy and told me they used it regularly) and also by scholars outside the faith in colleges across the country, in Wm Stds programs, incl. at Harvard. So other religious feminists and scholars of feminism in religion could see what the Mormon women were doing. So W&A functioned just like Woman's Spirit Rising did -- which was a wonderful coincidence and discovery, since I didn't discover Woman's Spirit Rising and its writers and works until I was nearly done pulling together my own book, b/c I was immersed in Mormon studies and recovering our own voices. I wish I HAD seen it before I started my book -- it would have helped me so much and made my work easier, far less stressful. I was figuring it out on my Own. But WSR coming along at the end of my project was a huge boost of validation and confidence that I needed at that time, to get me through what I was facing after the book came out. . WSR came along a a time in American feminism when feminist theology and women's studies in religion were not widespread but were emerging as another movement within feminism and within academia, and among women within religions. WSR gave all of us-- a giant boost of validation and inspiration to do our work. Amy: Thanks so much for providing that context! So let’s introduce the EDITORS of these books and then we’ll dive in!Carol Patrice Christ was born to a Protestant Christian family, in California in 1945. She obtained her PhD from Yale University and has served as a professor in universities such as Columbia University and Harvard Divinity School. Her best-known publication is "Why Women Need The Goddess", which was initially a keynote presentation at the "Great Goddess Re-emerging" conference" at the University of Santa Cruz in 1978. This essay helped to launch the Goddess movement in the United States and other countries, and it discusses the importance of religious symbols in general, and the effects of male symbolism of God on women in particular. Christ calls herself a "thealogian" with an a - "thealogy" is derived from Ancient Greek θεά (theá, “goddess”) + -logy. Her work has helped to create a space for the field of theology to be far more inclusive of women than has historically been the case.She is the director of the Ariadne Institute for the Study of Myth and Ritual, where she conducts pilgrimages to sacred sites in Greece (mostly Crete, as listeners will remember from our episode on The Chalice and the Blade), and she lives on the Greek island of Lesbos, which was the home of the poet Sappho. Judith Plaskow was born to a Jewish family in New York in 1947. Throughout junior high and high school, Plaskow dreamed of becoming a rabbi, even though women rabbis were unheard of and opposed by many, including her own rabbi. However, even she had reservations: she wanted to be a trailblazer but wasn't absolutely certain that she believed in God. She says that her life changed one day during closing services on Yom Kippur when she realized she could get a doctorate in theology instead. Had she become a rabbi, she would have been only the second ever female rabbi, but she says she was "born a theologian" and is sure she made the right choice.Plaskow earned her doctorate at Yale University,...
87 minutes | Aug 24, 2021
Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, by Judith Butler
Amy: Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy! I’m Amy McPhie Allebest. Thus far on Breaking Down Patriarchy, we’ve talked a lot about how the system of patriarchy has impacted women, but we haven’t talked much about what it means to be a woman. Simone de Beauvoir famously said “one is not born, but becomes, woman,” and we talked about the concept that sex is biological and gender is social, or put another way “sex is between the legs and gender is between the ears.” But today we’re going to discuss a groundbreaking text that called those assertions into question and paved the way for queer theory. It’s Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble, written in 1990, and I’m so happy to have the brilliant and very experienced Maxine Hanks here to discuss it with us! Thanks so much for being here again, Maxine.Maxine: It’s always fun to discuss books with you, I love your podcast. I’ve been looking forward to discussing Gender Trouble, it’s a major feminist work that changed the landscape of feminist theory and gender studies. I was majoring in women’s studies in the late 1980s and early 1990s when this book came out, so it loomed large in our program, and reading list, shaping feminist theory courses at the U.U. I found it really challenging yet invigorating then, and it has continued to be both since, along with Butler’s subsequent works. Amy: This book was recommended to me by you, Maxine, and once you mentioned it I started seeing it referenced everywhere, including by my friend Matthew, who will be doing our episodes on LGBTQ history and queer theory, and told me I had to read Gender Trouble as a primer. :) So I’m very glad we added it to the reading list! Although I must say it’s pretty dense and academic and jargon-y, so most listeners will probably appreciate the summary, rather than reading the whole thing. It’s definitely a text you would read in a grad school course on gender theory - not something you would take on vacation. So we’ll really appreciate your experience having taught this book!I’ll start us off with a brief intro of the author, and then I’d love it if you could provide some context and framing before we start sharing passages of the book.I’ll note that Judith Butler is legally nonbinary, and Butler goes by both she/hers and they pronouns. In sharing her bio right now I’m choosing to use “they” pronouns, and I’m going to be completely honest and a little vulnerable in sharing that because I was raised in the time and place I was, and because I don’t have any nonbinary friends, it feels very new to me and thus outside my comfort zone to use “they” pronouns. So while Judith Butler would be ok with “she/her” pronouns, I am going to use “they/their” so that when I meet nonbinary people in the future I will have some practice. During the rest of the episode I might revert to she/her, but I want to be clear that if Judith Butler said “please use ‘they’ then I would use ‘they’ the whole time.Judith Pamela Butler was born in 1956, in Cleveland, Ohio, to a family of Hungarian-Jewish and Russian-Jewish descent. Most of their maternal grandmother's family perished in the Holocaust. Butler's parents were practicing Reform Jews; their mother was raised Orthodox, eventually becoming Reform, while their father was raised Reform. And here I have to just have to comment again - it keeps coming up - the contribution of Jewish people to the field of philosophy and women’s studies!! And I want to point out that Reform Judaism is a major Jewish denomination that emphasizes the evolving nature of the faith, and the ethical aspects of Judaism rather than the ceremonial ones, as well as the importance of human reason and intellect. This makes sense, then, that Butler attended both Hebrew school and special classes on Jewish ethics, where they received their "first training in philosophy". Apparently these ethics classes were created by Judith’s Hebrew school Rabbi as a punishment because Judith was "too talkative in class".Butler chose to attend university at Bennington College because “it seemed to be a place where, as a young queer kid, I would be okay in 1974. I knew that there were other people there who were at least minimally bisexual.” Butler says that their parents, while not always wholly comfortable with their sexuality, were ultimately accepting. Judith remembers that their father was very happy when they came home from college with a Jewish girlfriend. So Judith attended Bennington College before transferring to Yale University, where they studied philosophy and received a BA in 1978 and a PhD in Philosophy in 1984. Butler taught at Wesleyan University, George Washington University, and Johns Hopkins University before joining University of California, Berkeley, in 1993.So in the preface to the 1999 edition, Butler shares some of the motivations and thinking behind writing Gender Trouble, which I found really useful as I approached the book. First, Butler says “I sought to undersatnd some of the terror and anxiety that some people suffer in ‘becoming gay,’ the fear of losing one’s place in gender.” (xi)Second, I found this description really helpful:“[the text] was produced not merely from the academy, but from convergent social movements of which I have been a part, and within the context of a lesbian and gay community on the east coast of the United States in which I lived for fourteen years prior to the writing of this book. Despite the dislocation of the subject that the text performs, there is a person here: I went to many meetings, bars, and marches and saw many kinds of genders. I understood myself to be at the crossroads of some of them, and encountered sexuality at several of its cultural edges. I knew many people who were trying to find their way in the midst of a significant movement for sexual recognition and freedom, and felt the exhilaration and frustration that goes along with being a part of that movement both in its hopefulness and internal dissension. At the same time that I was ensconced in the academy, I was also living a life outside those walls, and though Gender Trouble is an academic book, it began, for me, with a crossing-over, sitting on Rehoboth Beach, wondering whether I could like the different sides of my life.” (xvii)And finally, this passage was really striking, and I believe, important in understanding the book:“I grew up understanding something of the violence of gender norms: an uncle incarcerated for his anatomically anomalous body, deprived of family and friends, living out his days in an ‘institute’ in the Kansas prairies; gay cousins forced to leave their homes becasue of their sexuality, real and imagined; my own tempestuos coming out at the age of 16; and a subsequent adult landscape of lost jobs, lovers, and homes. All of this subjected me to strong and scarring condemnation but, luckily, did not prevent me from pursuing pleasure and insisting on a legitimating recognition for my sexual life. It was difficult to bring this violence into view precisely because gender was so taken for granted at the same time that it was violently policed.” (xx)“This book is written then as a part of the cultural life of a collective struggle that has had, and will continue to have, some success in increasing the possibilities for a livable life for those who live, or try to live, on the sexual margins.” (xxviii)So with this introduction about Butler, and the personal questions and struggles that drove them to write the book, Maxine, could you give us some broader context about Gender Trouble and what it meant when it was published.Maxine: Sure. I use the allowable “her” and “she” pronouns for Butler, even tho I’m comfortable with using they, but find it cumbersome in a conversation like this.Gender Trouble arrived at another paradigm shift between the decades of feminism (like Sexual Politics in 1970 and Woman'sSpiritRising in 1980), as a watershed moment that shaped, captured, even created a new horizon for feminism. GT marked the end of 2nd wave feminismand beginning of 3rd wave feminism. To use a post-modern term, it was a "signfier" of that shift, from 2nd Wave feminism & women's studies in the 1970s-80s, to queer theory & gender studies of 3rd wave feminism, in the 1990s to 2000s.In her Preface to 2nd edition, Butler said she "didn't know it would constitute a provocative "intervention" in feminist theory or be cited as one of the founding texts of queer theory." Like the mothers of feminist theory before her, she didn't know she was the mother of a new movement or paradigm shift, she was just struggling to voice a vital new perspective. Her explanation is revealing: "As I wrote it, I understood myself to be in an embattled and oppositional relationship with certain forms of feminism, even as I understood the text to be part of feminism itself." This confession describes the crux of her work's position in relation to feminism, and also my response to her work -- which I see as indeed oppositional to some feminisms, departing from feminism while also emerging from it. Her theories are feminist in some ways but anti-feminist in others. I see this paradox as both the strength and weakness of her work, and why there were mixed reactions from other feminists to her work, as well as to queer theory which arose from her work. 2nd Wave feminism had worked hard for decades to remove sex & gender limitations for women yet also provide a needed distinction between sex identity as biologically based vs. gender identity as socially constructed or fluid. This distinction gave men, women, LGBTs, intersex and trans individuals more freedom and validation to determine and claim their own unique gender identity, sexual orientation, sex roles, and sexual identity -- regardless of their biological identity. So the premise was that while sex is biological, gender and identity are constructed. Amy: Ok, let’s dive into some of her basic premises along with sharing some passages from the text! Maxine, would you like to get us started with some important concepts from the book?Maxine: Sure. Butler's work was a radical departure from and deconstruction of that feminist notion of sex vs. gender as a dichotomy. Butler argued that both gender and sex are performative as established through one's choices and behavior, so one can construct different gender and sexual identities via differing behaviors. She proposed a notion of performative identity as the basis for gender & sexuality, asserting that both are created by behavior or performance.“If gender attributes and acts, the various ways in which a body shows or produces its cultural signification, are performative, then there is no preexisting identity by which an act or attribute might be measured; there would be no true or false, real or distorted acts of gender, and the postulation of a true gender identity would be revealed as a regulatory fiction. That gender reality is created through sustained social performances means that the very notions of an essential sex and a true or abiding masculinity or femininity are also constituted as part of the strategy that conceals gender’s performative character and the performative possibilities for proliferating gender configurations outside the restricting frames of masculinist domination and compulsory heterosexuality.” So Butler criticized a key premise of feminist theory and practice regarding gender and sex, arguing that both gender & sex are irreducible to natural or heterosexual categories. Her view opposed all essentialist claims about sex as natural or fixed, instead emphasizing that sex & gender are both relational, thus like all relations, they are constructed. She asserted that no "stable gender identity" exists behind actions that seek to "express" gender, but these acts constitute an "illusion" of stable gender identity rather than a stable reality. “If the immutable character of sex is contested, perhaps this construct called ‘sex’ is as culturally constructed as gender; indeed, perhaps it was always already gender, with the consequence that the distinction between sex and gender turns out to be no distinction at all.”Butler also insisted that power is a major factor in the formation or performance of identity.Butler shifted the view from biological sex as natural or essential to the view that nothing is natural or essential -- all aspects of the body and identity are fluid, constructed by behavior, desire, performance, and power. Gender Trouble engaged theories from Freud and Lacan on psychological formation, de Beauvoir, Kristeva, Irigaray, and Wittig on female sex, gender and feminism, plus Derrida and Foucault on post-modern theory. She used the work of these theorists to support her view that sex as well as gender is socially constructed. Her conclusions became the basis for many gender studies and feminisst theory courses in the 1990s onward, which replicated her engagements and conclusions. Even a fanzine "Judy!" celebrated her influence.Butler critiqued the feminist differentiation between gender and sex, arguing that feminism was wrong to view "women" as a group of people who had common characteristics. She labelled that as "ahistorical" or not grounded in actual history of bodies, identity and their evolution, thus unreal. “If there is something right in Beauvoir's claim that one is not born, but rather becomes a woman, it follows that woman itself is a term in process, a becoming, a constructing that cannot rightfully be said to originate or to end. As an ongoing discursive practice, it is open to intervention and resignification.”Butler argued that feminism had reinforced the binary view of gender relations, and traditional gender roles, thus feminists should not try to define "women" as a definite category but feminists should instead "focus on....how power functions and shapes our understandings of womanhood in both society and within the feminist movement." Butler dissolved the linking of sex and gender, so that gender and desire (which replaced sex as the more operative factor) can be "flexible, free floating and not caused by other stable factors." Butler theorized that both gender and sex are socially-constructed, malleable, fluid, or "performative" rather than sex being fixed biologically, unmutable or "essential." This notion of identity as entirely free and flexible performance, not essential, is one of the foundations of queer theory.Butler was right in several ways -- that the binary of male vs. female sexed bodies doesn't always hold true. Nearly 2% of human bodies are born with nonbinary primary or secondary sex characteristics--- atypical chromosomes or intersex reproductive organs, thus not exclusively male or female but somehwere between or both sexes. Also, half of 1% of all people identify as transgender -- and even typical male or female sexed bodies can morph from male to female or female to male, via hormone treatment and sexual reassignment surgery. So biological sex identity, as well as gender identity, can be fluid, malleable, performative. Her work inspired and championed a much-needed inclusion of sex/gender fluidity, nonbinary sex & gender, queer theory, sex & gender performance, trans identities and activism as integral parts of gender studies -- thus widening women's studies and feminist theory into broader and more complex fields of gender studies and queer theoryAmy: So what were the responses to Butler’s work? Were they mostly positive or critical or both?Maxine: They were more positive than negative but energetically both. Critics asked -- are Butler's views sound, valid arguments? Also, do they go too far? And does she champion true inclusion? or erasure? Her work moved a feminist theory away from difference feminism (that biological sex is still essential and binary in some ways while gender identity is constructed, fluid) to a gender theory that there is no essential sex so there is no binary.“There is no reason to assume that gender ... ought to remain as two. The presumption of a binary gender system implicitly retains the belief in a mimetic relation of gender to sex whereby gender mirrors sex or is otherwise restricted by it.”She shifted the perspective for defining identity -- away from binary bodies to nonbinary bodies, from a binary view of life to a nonbinary view. This was powerful and needed -- so that nonbinary lives could speak as central, real, not marginal or Other or unreal. So now, there were two conflicting central premises or perspectives from which to define bodies -- biological vs. constructed, and binary vs. nonbinary.The nonbinary view of queer theory and trans bodies redefined sex & gender terms from...
105 minutes | Aug 17, 2021
The Beauty Myth, by Naomi Wolf
Amy: Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy! I’m Amy McPhie Allebest. I remember one time several years ago, my husband and I were getting ready to go out somewhere fancy. I took a shower, shaved my legs and underarms, dried off, moisturized with one lotion for my body and one lotion for my face, blow-dried my recently-color-treated hair to make it straight (it naturally dries in small curls), then used a curling wand to make it have big curls. Then I put on a bra to lift my boobs higher than they naturally are, Spanx to suck my torso to look smaller than it actually is, a dress, and high heels to make me look taller than I am. Then on my face I did a little concealer to make my skin look a more consistent color than it really is, eyeshadow and eyeliner to alter the appearance of my eyelids, mascara to make my eyelashes look longer and thicker and black (when they’re really just brown) eyebrow gel to darken my eyebrows, (but first I tweezed them to be a different shape than they really are.) Then some bronzer to make me look like I was blushing and some lip gloss to make my lips look shinier than they are naturally. And of course a little jewelry for some added sparkle. Next to me, my husband took a shower, dried off, put on his suit and flat shoes, and, okay, he did put lotion on his face and hands and put in one dab of one hair product in his hair. And he was ready to go. And I thought - wow. I just altered almost every aspect of my body in order to measure up to society’s beauty standards for women - and I spent a lot of time and thought and money on each and every one of the products that enabled me to meet those standards. And my husband altered nothing, and spent no extra money, and absolutely no extra thought. And I thought: I have been sold something here. Todays’ book is called The Beauty Myth, written by Naomi Wolf in 1991, and I am super excited to discuss it with my reading partner, Vanessa Loder. Hi, Vanessa!Vanessa: Hi, Amy! I am really thrilled to be here supporting you and this podcast. I have been trying to unwind all the ways I’ve internalized the patriarchy for the last decade and the layers of that onion just keep peeling back and go deeper than I ever realized. Amy: I met Vanessa in 2005, when my husband and Vanessa were assigned as table partners during their MBA at Stanford. Vanessa was like a 20,000 watt lightbulb - whip smart, hilarious, intimidatingly accomplished in her education and her career already even before business school, and drop-dead gorgeous. And yet she was also just so approachable and kind, she was impossible not to love, and we’ve actually become closer friends during the past few years at reunions and weddings and retreats and stuff, and I just adore you and am soooo grateful that you’re here today to talk about this book!Vanessa: (I’m saving all my mushy truths about you so I can surprise you and make you blush!) ;)Amy: So could you start us off by telling us a bit about yourself? Who you are, where you’re from, what makes you you.Vanessa: Bio.. Will do! Amy: I also like to ask my reading partners what interested them in Breaking Down Patriarchy. Vanessa: Why you agreed to do this :) As a feminist spiritual teacher, this is at the heart of who I am and the work I do in the world. But really, it comes from my own pain points. They say you teach what you most want to learn and that has definitely been the case for me. There are so many ways that I have accidentally internalized messaging I really don’t believe in by going along with mainstream messaging, culture, family and community beliefs and attitudes, and it hasn’t made me happy or fulfilled. It feels like some of the biggest and most important work of my life to intentionally unwind all the ways I’ve inadvertently internalized the patriarchy, and then carry that out into the world to create external change too. So yeah, this podcast couldn’t be more up my alley.Just last week, my husband had an old swim buddy over for beers. I found myself trying to keep the kids out of their way so they could have a nice catch up, and serving them a cheese platter while simultaneously stewing in resentment...I realized it just wouldn’t cross my husband’s mind to do either of these things if I had a girlfriend over whom I hadn’t seen in a long time. And my husband is a kind, thoughtful, loving and considerate man. Since getting married and having kids, I’ve noticed all these roles I automatically took on without pausing to consider if I WANTED to take them on. And frankly, at times I feel annoyed that I have to educate my husband to help him feel motivated to create change in how we show up in partnership as well. We both defaulted into these roles as husband/wife and father/mother, for me, that’s when a lot of the inequality began in our partnership and how we each showed up. Once we had kids, the roles became even more exacerbated...you know that cartoon that shows a woman running around a track and her male peers at work each have a clear lane but in her lane is the dishwasher, and hanging laundry, and all these other domestic tasks. And none of that even takes today’s topic into consideration, The Beauty Myth, which is another hidden construct that contributes to the current overwhelm, exhaustion and burnout that women are experiencing at astounding rates.There are so many ways that I have found myself unconsciously buying into so many myths about success, what it means to be successful at work and “crush it” in a man’s world while simultaneously internalizing stereotypes based on a 1950’s housewife, and full time mom who also needs to be skinny and look good...it’s insanity. Through my online group coaching programs, meditations and in person retreats, I coach brilliant women who are also feeling so much PRESSURE to meet these gold standards in all areas of their lives. The Gold Standard Wife, Mom, Career Woman and the Gold Standard Beauty (white, skinny, young)....it’s exhausting and I’m REALLy interested in finding new and creative solutions, belief structures and paradigms of success and leadership that support integrated wellbeing and encourage women to have the impact and fulfillment we deeply long for with our one wild and precious life.Amy: Let’s start talking about the book The Beauty Myth, and in order to understand the book, let’s talk just for a minute about its author.Amy:Naomi Wolf was born in San Francisco, California, to a Jewish family. Her mother is an anthropologist and her father was a Romanian-born scholar at UC Berkeley and a Yiddish translator. Wolf attended Yale University, receiving her Bachelor of Arts in English literature in 1984. From 1985 to 1987, she was a Rhodes Scholar at New College, Oxford. Her initial period at Oxford University was difficult for her as she experienced what she called "raw sexism, overt snobbery and casual antisemitism". Apparently a professor at Oxford assessed her writing as personal and subjective, and advised her against submitting her doctoral thesis. Wolf later talked about that by saying: "My subject didn’t exist. I wanted to write feminist theory, and I kept being told by the dons there was no such thing." The project she was working on formed the basis of the book, The Beauty Myth.The Beauty Myth was published in 1991, and became an international bestseller. It was named "one of the seventy most influential books of the twentieth century" by The New York Times, Gloria Steinem wrote, "The Beauty Myth is a smart, angry, insightful book, and a clarion call to freedom. Every woman should read it." Betty Friedan wrote in Allure magazine that "The Beauty Myth and the controversy it is eliciting could be a hopeful sign of a new surge of feminist consciousness."After Wolf published The Beauty Myth, she had a career in politics, brainstorming ways to reach female voters for presidential candidates Bill Clinton and later, Al Gore, and later, Wolf returned to Oxford to finish her PhD in English literature in 2015.If you look her up now, you’ll see that some of her recent work has been criticized and she has gone a bit kooky in recent years. So as we’ve said on other episodes, sometimes we tell inspiring stories about the authors of these texts, but the authors are not the important part. Podcasts like What’s Her Name and Encyclopedia Womannica do a great job of telling women’s stories. Our podcast is about the history of patriarchy, and the texts that have challenged it, and this work has stood the test of time and remains a staple on many Women’s Studies lists because it raises so many critically important issues. And really quickly I’ll just define a couple of terms for listeners that we’ll refer to in the episode The first one is the concept of “shifts.” When I hear the word “shift” I think of a change, but when Wolf talks about a first shift and a second shift, she’s talking about shifts that you work at a job. So right before the Beauty Myth, an author named Arlie Russell Hochschild had just published a book called The Second Shift, and it pointed out that women were working a shift at their actual jobs, but then coming home and doing a whole “second shift” of work with childcare and cooking and cleaning and running the family. So later Wolf will build upon that idea saying there’s even a “third shift” that gets added.And then the other term is the PBQ, which stands for the Professional Beauty Qualification, which is the standard that gets applied to women. And the best way I’ve heard this described is in a hilarious op-ed in The New York Times by Jennifer Weiner, where she describes life as an amusement park, and for women, there’s a “You Must Be This Hot in Order to Participate” sign to ride the roller coasters, while there is no such requirement for men.So those are the two definitions: “Shift” = shift at work, and PBQ = professional beauty qualification. So I can’t wait to dive in and discuss this with you, Vanessa! As always we’ll take turns talking about the points we found the most important.Amy: The first theme I want to talk about is the claim that Current standards of beauty are a means of controlling women and maintaining the patriarchy.Wolf says, “Beauty is the last, best belief system that keeps male dominance intact."She starts by recounting the historical process through the 20th Century that led us to this point. She references what Lucy talked about on our episode on the UN Declaration of Human Rights: women had been constrained and confined to the home during the Victorian era, then many women joined the workforce in order to support their countries during the world wars. They learned new skills, they found new self-confidence, they gained some financial independence for the first time… but then when the men came back home, the women were fired from their jobs. Wolf cites that 3 million American women and 1 million British women were fired from their jobs at the end of WWII. (64) At that point she describes a media campaign that glorified “women at home” in magazines and TV ads, which takes us into the era of “The Feminine Mystique,” which listeners will of course remember from our episode on that book from 1963. Wolf references The Feminine Mystique by describing how marketers capitalized on American housewives in the 1950’s and 60’s:“The marketers’ reports described how to manipulate housewives into becoming insecure consumers of household products: ‘A transfer of guilt must be achieved,’ they said. ‘Capitalize… on ‘guilt over hidden dirt.’ Stress the ‘therapeutic value’ of baking, they suggested: ‘With X mix in the home, you will be a different woman.’ They urged giving the housewife ‘a sense of achievement’ to compensate her for a task that was ‘endless’ and ‘time-consuming.’ ...Identify your products with ‘spiritual rewards.’ For objects with ‘added psychological value,’ the report concluded, ‘the price itself hardly matters.” (65) Wolf points out that Friedan’s book showed women how their insecurities were being manipulated to make money for advertisers. So in the late 60’s and 70’s many women had moved beyond the model of the serene and demure homemaker, and they entered the workforce again, but there was another marketing trend created to capitalize on women’s insecurities. She says:“Feminists, inspired by Friedan, broke the stranglehold on the women’s popular press of advertisers for household products, who were promoting the feminine mystique; [Then] at once, the diet and skin care industries became the new cultural censors of women’s intellectual space, and because of their pressure, the gaunt, youthful model supplanted the happy housewife as the arbiter of successful womanhood.” (11)We’ll talk more about that marketing later, but just to summarize the timeline, once women couldn’t be sold the latest model of home appliance any more, it got a lot more personal: women were made to feel that in order to be successful women they needed the latest model of body. Not just the latest clothes, which had always been the case for women - but a different physical body.She sums up the thesis of her whole book by saying:“We are in the midst of a violent backlash against feminism that uses images of female beauty as a political weapon against women’s advancement: the beauty myth.”So I have a couple of thoughts about this.First, the timeline makes sense, based on other readings we’ve done on the project. And I agree that current standards of beauty keep women down, keep women from achieving their potential, etc, because focusing on our appearance takes up tons of time and money and thought that could be better spent in meaningful pursuits that have lasting value, and it’s been shown that focusing on how we are perceived by others negatively impacts our cognition. So this hyper-focus on beauty makes us sadder and less smart, and that’s proven. I agree that women are being purposely manipulated for profit, just like advertisers manipulate every demographic for profit. That’s what advertisers do. And I agree that one result of this is that women don’t rise into their power and challenge the patriarchal system. She says:In assigning value to women in a vertical hierarchy according to a culturally imposed physical standard, it is an expression of power relations in which women must unnaturally compete for resources that men have appropriated for themselves. (12)I definitely think that’s true - if we remember how Trump praised women for their beauty, and denigrated other women based on their looks - even posting an unflattering picture of Ted Cruz’s wife next to his own wife to compare their “hotness”, we get a very crass reminder of how powerful men reinforce those hierarchies all the time. And like we’ve talked about on other episodes, many of us still carry with us the residual belief from past eras that men have ownership over women’s bodies. I remember a boy I had a huge crush on in 8th grade - one day I came to school wearing a little bit of eyeliner for the first time and he said to me “you look like a hooker.” And he - and other guys - would constantly make comments about my body, what I should wear, what I shouldn’t wear. What made me “hot.” And of course I liked their attention and I wanted to please the boy I had a crush on. On the other hand, at church I would hear from boys “modest is hottest”, and the adult men I admired told me that if I showed my shoulders or my shorts were too short I was being a “flesh merchant.” I’ve said before that this made me feel like I was getting torn in half between being “the madonna and the whore,” trying to please two opposite groups of men who were setting those expectations and beauty standards. On the other hand, back to Wolf’s claim that men use the beauty myth as “a political weapon against women’s advancement,” I feel a little skeptical of one part of her claim, and that is that it’s an intentional effort by men to subjugate women and keep them from becoming empowered. Any time she would talk about “the patriarchy keeping women down through beauty standards” I would think WHO, exactly, is doing that, on purpose? Are there men in an office building somewhere with a plaque on their door that says “the patriarchy” and they’re laughing evilly “muah-hah-hah-hah-hah, now the women will never escape?! We will make them fixate on their looks so we can keep them subjugated!!”? I don’t think so. All throughout the book I kept waiting for Wolf to show me the wizard behind the curtain, and she never did, and I don’t think such a person or group of people exists. In fact that’s why I don’t use the term “the patriarchy.” There’s nothing wrong with saying “the patriarchy” - I’m not opposed to it - I just don’t say it that way because that makes it sounds like it’s a specific group of men with a plaque on their door that says “The Patriarchy.” It’s not like that. Rather, “patriarchy” (sans “the”) is just a system that all men and women live within. Like “White supremacy,” there are definitely governments, like the Apartheid government in South Africa, or groups like the KKK, that unabashedly embrace White Supremacy. But white supremacy continues to form an invisible matrix all over the world, including or perhaps especially in the United States. But there’s no organized government called “the White Supremacy.” It’s way more widespread and pervasive than that - it exists in people’s minds, many of whom deny that they have absorbed those beliefs! And in a way that makes it harder to fight. Similarly, with patriarchy, some conservative religions fully embrace the structure of Patriarchy, and you can see embodiments in the leadership of those churches, but “patriarchy” is an invisible matrix of power that we all live in and participate in - it exists in our heads and in subtle ways in our relationships, and in a way, that makes it harder to dismantle.But I don’t think there’s a group of men purposefully planning to keep women down by making them fixate on their looks. Make money off them on purpose, yes. I do think the Beauty Myth is real, I do think we all swim in the...
108 minutes | Aug 10, 2021
Sister Outsider, by Audre Lorde
Amy: Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy! I bought the book Sister Outsider, by Audre Lorde, several months ago in preparation for this episode, and every time I passed it on my bookshelf, those two words would drop into my consciousness and stay there for awhile. Two words that are so laden with meaning and emotion, and are complete opposites. A sister is one of the most intimate relationships a person can have - your very own family, sharing your DNA and your home. And outsider - a stranger, an intruder, someone who is not brought into fellowship. I thought of the great human family, which really is how I was taught to see the world, with all people as siblings, and I thought of what Audre Lorde was trying to tell me with that two-word title - that some of my sisters feel like outsiders in their own family. And so before I even started the book I was deeply moved. And as I read it I felt so grateful that she shared her powerful mind and her poetry with the world, and I felt humbled to be able to read it and learn. This is a book I would recommend for all listeners to purchase and read slowly and carefully. So we’ll get into this book in a minute, but first I want to introduce you to my reading partner today, Suzette Duncan. Welcome Suzette!Suzette: (Response) Amy: Suzette and I met in Palo Alto in 2015, when my two youngest kids were attending a school where Suzette was a teacher, and she became one of the all-time favorite teachers of both of my kids. And one memorable moment was in the summer of 2016 when our family was walking along the Highline in New York City in an absolute crush of people - huge crowd - and there was Suzette!! Literally about to bump into each other! I think my kids will always remember that - like seeing “home” in a sea of strangers. We adore you and miss you and still think about you all the time. We like to start each episode with an introduction of our reading partner. So Suzette, could you tell us about where you’re from, your family, what you love, some things that make you you?Suzette: My family is from the West Indies, like Audre Lorde’s. We are from Guyana, which is on the mainland of South America. It was a British colony and so is the only English speaking country in South America. We have family in Venezuela and Brazil as well. And, because Guyana was a British colony our family includes people of native, East Indian, and African descent. My family’s origin is very important to me and has colored how I see the world. For instance, I would say two seminal events in my childhood involve the West Indies, even though I only visited Guyana once as a toddler. They are the Jonestown Massacre and the invasion of Grenada by the United States. Those events caused me so much distress and fear as a kid, and also highlighted my feeling of being different, since they were not worries shared by black or white american peers.Can I interject here? I’m so embarrassed to admit that I’m one of those white Americans who doesn’t know about the Jonestown Massacre or the invasion of Grenada. Can you tell me quickly what those events were? My twin sister and I were the first people in our family to be born in the US. My mom came to the US first, followed by my dad (they’d known each other since they were kids), and then my grandparents and their two youngest kids, my aunt Allison and Uncle Steve. I actually learned at my grandmother’s funeral that she left Guyana the day of one of my uncle’s weddings to arrive in the US to start a new life and in time for the birth of my sister and I.I grew up in NYC, in a big extended family. The last of my cousins arrived in the US in 1981 or 1982. Until I was about 9, our house was home to grandparents, aunts, uncles, god parents, cousins, etc. I loved the way I grew up. It was a big change for me when started living more apart, though I lived within walking distance of my grandparents and some cousins until I left NYC.Interesting education because in 80s private schools were opening doors to “less privileged kids.” I went to a private school on the museum mile in Manhattan, but lived in a modest house on the edge of Queens. My classmates included children of some of the wealthiest folks in America, meanwhile, crack was decimating my previously safe and happy neighborhood in the 80’s. The dissonance of that experience was something I had to figure out as an adult. Grateful for the education I got, and it wasn’t without costs.Started studying japanese in high school. Kept going with it, and lived in Japan for about 3 years. Finally I found myself in a PHD program for Japanese literature. I left without finishing, because I figured out I really loved the teaching part of my academic career so I got a teaching credential to work with K-8. I wanted to a) bring a different experience to kids like me in private schools and then 2) use what I’d learned in them to improve the experiences of kids in public schools.I had my dream job working with teachers in public schools after leaving teaching in private schools, but I’ve been dealing with a disabling illness that has put a pause on that work. I hope to get back to supporting education in some way some day.I'm so very sorry, Suzette. Actually as I've been doing the podcast, occasionally I think back on things that some authors have written that I’ve said on episodes that are kind of "pull ourselves up by our bootstraps", and I realize how insensitive that can be when people are dealing with all kinds of factors that can make life more complicated than just “go to grad school! Get a job! Be empowered!” My own mom has suffered with chronic pain for decades and I know she yearns to do more, but has been very limited by physical struggles. So I’m glad you brought it up - I need to be more aware of the huge variety of people’s abilities and circumstances.But back to you...I’m married to a woman. She is white. We have a daughter who is white and Mexican/Cuban and just turned 18. We have raised her with her dad and although we don’t look like a family we all love each other a lot.I’ve had the benefit of living a life that has put me in touch with a lot of different people from a lot of different places. I really appreciate that about my life.Amy: And then what does “breaking down patriarchy” mean to you?Suzette: right now, with the world the way it is, I find that I can't think about patriarchy without thinking about the history of European dominance and colonization over the world. Audre Lorde writes about the mythical norm (Mythical Norm) that allows for the dehumanization of so many. that norm is white and male, because of that history of European colonization. so I think decolonizing, by examining and being honest about that history, and then finding out how other humans can lead us away from that mythical Norm is really essential to breaking down the patriarchy. we can't think about breaking down patriarchy without thinking also breaking apart the hegemonic systems that support it.Amy: Last step before discussing the text is to get to know the author. Could you tell us about Audre Lorde?Suzette: Audrey Lorde was born in New York City on February 18, 1934. Her father was from Barbados, and her mother was Grenadian from the island of Carriacou. Lorde's mother was of mixed ancestry but could "pass" for Spanish, which was a source of pride for her family. Her father, on the other hand, was darker than the Belmar family liked, and they only allowed the couple to marry because of his charm, ambition, and persistence. Audre was the youngest of three daughters, who were praised for their lighter skin - Audre’s mother had picked up her family’s deep aversion to dark skin, and Audrey always felt that disdain from her mother. Additionally, Audre was nearsighted to the point of being legally blind, and in her book Sister Outsider she talks about these early memories - being shamed for her dark skin and being visually impaired - creating a deep sense that there was something wrong with her. At the age of four, she learned to talk while she learned to read, and her mother taught her to write at around the same time. If asked how she was feeling, Audre would reply by reciting a poem; she said that she even thought in poetry. Around the age of twelve, she began writing her own poetry and connecting with others at her school who were considered "outcasts", as she felt she was. And a note about the spelling of her name: When Audre was a kid she decided that she was more interested in the artistic symmetry of the "e"-endings in the two side-by-side names "Audre Lorde" than in spelling her name the way her parents had intended, so she dropped the “Y” at the end of Audrey. :) She attended Hunter College High School, a secondary school for intellectually gifted students, and graduated in 1951. While attending Hunter, Lorde published her first poem in Seventeen magazine after her school's literary journal rejected it for being inappropriate. She also participated in poetry workshops sponsored by the Harlem Writers Guild, but noted that she always felt like somewhat of an outcast from the Guild because she "was both crazy and queer... but [they thought] I would grow out of it all." In 1954 Lorde spent a year as a student at the National University of Mexico, and upon her return to New York, she attended Hunter College, and graduated in the class of 1959. She furthered her education at Columbia University, earning a master's degree in library science in 1961, and working as a public librarian in nearby Mount Vernon, New York. In 1962 Lorde married attorney Edwin Rollins, who was a white, gay man. She and Rollins had two children together, but then divorced in 1970. In 1966, Lorde became head librarian at Town School Library in New York City, where she remained until 1968. In 1968 Lorde was writer-in-residence at Tougaloo College in Mississippi, leading workshops with her young, black undergraduate students, many of whom were eager to discuss the civil rights issues of that time, and through her interactions with her students, she reaffirmed her desire not only to live out her "crazy and queer" identity, but also to devote attention to the formal aspects of her craft as a poet. Her book of poems, Cables to Rage, came out of her time and experiences at Tougaloo. Lorde founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, which published the anthology This Bridge Called My Back: Writings By Radical Women of Color [which this podcast covered just a couple of weeks ago!]. She was active as a writer, teacher and public intellectual throughout the 70’s and 80’s, founding coalitions all over the world to help women recover from abuse and injustice, notably helping women in apartheid South Africa. She also did particularly groundbreaking work in Germany, inspiring Afro-German women and helping increase awareness of intersectionality across racial and ethnic lines. Her legacy in Germany was captured in an award-winning film, Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years 1984–1992.Lorde published many, many works of poetry and prose, growing more well-known in her own lifetime, and the essay she is most famous for is called The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House. This essay is contained in the anthology of essays and speeches that we’re going to discuss today: Sister Outsider, which was published in 1984.Lorde was known to describe herself as black, lesbian, feminist, poet, and mother. In her novel Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, she focuses on how her many different identities shape her life and the different experiences she has because of them. She shows us that personal identity is found within the connections between seemingly different parts of one's life, based in lived experience, and that one's authority to speak comes from this lived experience. She also spoke frequently about the need for feminism to address how all forms of oppression were interrelated. During her time in Mississippi in 1968, she met Frances Clayton, a white lesbian and professor of psychology who was to be her romantic partner until 1989. Their relationship continued for the remainder of Lorde's life.From 1991 until her death, she was the New York State Poet laureate.Lorde died of breast cancer at the age of 58 on November 17, 1992, in St. Croix, where she had been living with black feminist activist Gloria I. Joseph. In an African naming ceremony before her death, she took the name Gamba Adisa, which means "Warrior: She Who Makes Her Meaning Known". ----Amy: Thanks so much, Suzette! Ok, now we are each going to share some parts that struck us the most from the book. Suzette, do you want to start?Suzette: Chapter 22 Growing up, metabolizing hatred like daily bread, because I am black, because I am woman, because I am not black enough, because I am not some particular fantasy of a woman, because I am.I used to have a joke that my default emotion was anger. It’s hard to communicate the amount of stress and anger, digesting daily hate creates.Anecdotes about my anger - talking with my sister about the state of the world - I get actually screaming angry. I understand the meaning of the phrase, depression is anger turned inward. That was my experience - the anger before deep depression in my late 20s.It takes so much energy to feed anger, and it robs you of the energy for your own liberation.One thing that this quote and your response reminds me of is a part of Isabel Wilkerson’s book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, where she says that white people love - and praise - Black forgiveness. She says that many, many white people don’t have tolerance for Black anger, and we want Black people to just say “it’s ok,” and absolve us of our collective guilt. And that of course places the burden back onto African-American shoulders. In fact Lorde says this:“Black women are expected to use our anger only in the service of other people's salvation or learning. But that time is over. My anger has meant pain to me but it has also meant survival, and before I give it up I’m going to be sure that there is something at least as powerful to replace it on the road to clarity.” (132) Does that resonate for you, Suzette?Holding it in toxic and releasing it is damaging.Anecdote - destructive anger during our recent move. Willingly endangering my health to demonstrate my anger - this story also let’s me talk about disability.Work of adulthood has been figuring this outSuzetteI was not meant to be alone and without you who understandToughest part of the book for me, reflecting on invisibility and loneliness of black womanhoodI spent a lot of time feeling angry about feeling rejected by other black folk because I didn’t conform. What she describes is not so past tense.The connection she makes between the ambivalence between black women and the impact of patriarchy, oppression, racism - so important.HAIR is big part of this - I got a lot of grief for my hairIn recent years I’ve noticed that there’s a greater acceptance of diversity of self expression and lifestyle among black folks, but it’s not a uniform community and I think not lifting up the diversity with the community of black folks harms us.AmyI was thinking about that phrase “I was not meant to be alone and without you who understands” and for me it connected to an idea that she develops about understanding each other. She says:“Difference must be not merely tolerated, but seen as a fund of necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic. Only then does the necessity for interdependency become unthreatening.” (110)I love this encouragement of being who we are honestly and truly, and not hiding ourselves, and rather than fearing differences in other people, saying “bring it on!! What a wonderful opportunity to learn from our differences!” With that attitude, we can really learn from each other. It’s inspiring to think that creativity can spark between opposite opinions, different ways of being… but that does require us to have really good communication skills so we end up really listening to each other and trying to deeply understand what the other person is experiencing and trying to share with us. In fact, I want to share another part on the same topic - she says:“As women, we have been taught either to ignore our differences, or to view them as causes for separation and suspicion rather than as forces for change. Without community there is no liberation, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between an...
106 minutes | Aug 3, 2021
ain't i a woman, by bell hooks
Amy: Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy! I’m Amy McPhie Allebest. Last week we discussed the book Women, Race, and Class, by the controversial intellectual and cultural icon, Angela Davis. That book was published in 1981, and undertakes the telling of American history with Black women as the main focal point. This week’s book was also published in 1981, and it takes on a similar project, looking at American history and culture through a Black feminist lens. It’s called ain’t i a woman, of course referring to Sojourner Truth’s famous speech, and it’s by the brilliant and beloved author, bell hooks. Interestingly, although Angela Davis’ book and bell hooks’ book came out the same year and address similar topics, they are very different, and one significant difference is that bell hooks had written the first draft of ain’t a woman ten years earlier, when she was a 19-year-old freshman in college at Stanford University. She published it when she was 29, after graduating with her PhD from UC-Santa Cruz. (Angela Davis taught at UC-Santa Cruz after hooks graduated). So ain’t i a woman technically predates Women, Race and Class, and it reflects a younger voice and a different personality. And I’m so excited to talk about it today with my guests, Manuela Zoninsein and Ashley Jackson Beal. Welcome, Manuela and Ashley!!(Hi, etc.) :)So I’m kind of third-wheeling today - Ashley and Manuela are close friends and I think it will be so beautiful and really powerful to have you two discussing this work together. One of my hopes with this podcast is that people will actually read more of these texts and discuss them with their friends and their families, which is very much bell hooks’ vision and goal as well.Manuela and I know each other through our husbands - Manuela’s husband Andy was one of my husband’s first friends and best friends at business school, and they are still peas in a pod and partners in crime. :) I’m so excited to have you here today, Manuela, because you are absolutely brilliant and fascinating, and a role model for my daughters. You’re doing so much good in the world, and you’ve been a feminist and a scholar for a lot longer than I have - your whole life really, and I hope you talk about that in a minute.And I’m so thrilled to have you here today, Ashley! Ashley and I met recently through Manuela, and is also an incredible mind and soul, and it was Ashley who suggested this book, which I’m so grateful for. I’ve been recommending it to everyone I talk to ever since you put it on the reading list. I’d like to start with introductions, so I’d love for both to talk about where you’re from not only on a map, but in terms of your family and community of origin and some things that make you who you are.Manuela: Hi Amy! It’s such an honor and pleasure to be here. Thank you for having Ashley and me on your podcast, and, more fundamentally, for starting and leading this incredible project. It feels particularly special to be here because I’m just learning, as a new mom, how much the values of egalitarianism, curiosity, and what Jewish people call “Tikkun Olam” - repair the world - start early, passing from parent to child. This realization has led me to reconsider and appreciate anew how uniquely I was raised, and how important it is that I start early with my son. First off: I’m an immigrant, the child of immigrants, and the grandchild of immigrants. My sister and I were born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to an American mother and Brazilian father. Each one had a parent who had immigrated: my dad’s dad to Brazil from Moldova and my mom’s mom to the US from the Russian-Ukraine border. I trace some of my individual traits to their journeys: I consider myself scrappy, resourceful, frugal, curious for knowledge, hard-working, and globally oriented. I’m also pretty hard on myself and hold myself to high standards, which is one of the reasons I’ve dug in the last couple years to re-assess racial politics in the US.My parents were activists and academics their whole lives. My father led the communist student movement in Brazil, something he started as a teenager; he then fled the Brazilian dictatorship after university for Chile, where he worked on the economic team of Salvador Allende’s democratically elected government. When the US-supported coup led by Augusto Pinochet violently removed Allende’s government, my dad fled across the border to Colombia, and eventually made his way to the US where he received his PhD from the New School in New York, which is considered the most left-leaning economics department in the US (although in Europe it would be considered centrist). He became a professor of development economics and, before passing away 11 years ago, wrote a book comparing the economic benefits of affirmative action programs across the US, Brazil, and South Africa.My mom worked with Students for a Democratic Society while studying at the University of Chicago and was a Freedom Fighter helping to register Black American voters in Tennessee. Given Bob Moses’ passing earlier this week, talking about this effort feels particularly pertinent. She attended Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech on the Mall; she worked backstage at Woodstock; she drove a taxi cab in NYC in the 70s. So yeah, she’s a bad-ass. After finishing her anthropological field research focused on an Afro-Brazilian matrilineal religious group in the Northeast of Brazil - she focused on a specific church in candomblé - she returned to finish her PhD at the New School - and met my dad. They moved to Brazil and my mom eventually taught the first university-level courses in Brazil on feminism. She went on to help establish the field of social entrepreneurship, opening the Brazil office of Ashoka - which spearheaded the category - and subsequently shifted to philanthropy focused on women’s reproductive rights and health, working at different times for various foundations, most notably the MacArthur Foundation in Chicago where she led their portfolio in West Africa while teaching at Northwestern in their African Studies Department.From my earliest memories, dinner table conversations discussed social inequality and the interplay of gender, race, and class - with my mother arguing that gender and race were more powerful determinants in our societal hierarchies, and my father banging the drum for class. My parents made sure I went to integrated public schools and we always had friends of different races, nationalities, and backgrounds. My godfather, for example, was homosexual and one of the first black men to study at Yale. In retrospect, I see that I sought distance and independence from this very heavy, complex debate; it was a lot for me growing up, especially since we moved a lot and I have struggled for a long time with my immigrant identity. I think that’s in part why I focus on climate change and environmental issues: it’s my own “thing,” but also integral to social issues: the more we understand about the rapidly deteriorating state of our planet, the more we’re also learning that the same inequalities of the past are rearing their ugly heads and dictating that those who will experience the greatest burdens and suffer the most will be, yep, you guessed it: people of color, especially Black Americans in the US, women, and the poor. For my day job, so to speak, I’m a serial cleantech entrepreneur. I started as a journalist in China, reporting for Newsweek and some engineering publications, then decided to start my own thing: an information service based in Beijing that covered the Chinese agtech market opportunity. We built an incredible database but it was deemed critical to national security when Xi Jinping came into power, so I sold the assets to a business partner. We had received a grant from the Brazilian government to do something in agtech, so I moved to São Paulo and helped start what is now called InstaAgro, an online marketplace for smallholder farmers in Brazil that is preparing to raise a round of funding. I’m now in the early stages of building my third company called Kadeya. We deliver convenient, quality water without the waste through a closed-loop water bottle service - think of it as Citi Bike for water bottles, but focused in offices and military bases.With a nascent understanding that racial justice and environmental justice are deeply intertwined, and during the recent racial awareness-raising and awakening of the last few years while I was pursuing my MBA - which led to a lot of difficult and important discussions with people from all walks of life - I am committed anew to revisiting a lot of the ideas and questions I had when I was younger, from childhood onward. And this time, I feel mature enough and better informed to be able to process a lot of these structural observations and apply them more directly in my life.I also want to be sure and recognize your other guest and one of my very best friends, Ashley Beal, who has been patient and thoughtful and curious with me as we’ve discussed race relations and feminism over the last few years during our awesome book club, and for suggesting that I read bell hooks! She has an incredible, brilliant, beautiful daughter Belle - who I’m honored to call my God-daughter - so I’m realizing how much I still have to learn! It’s really because of her that we’re with you today. [Amy bridge]Ashley: BioAs a child I lived in between two states that really became two worlds. Living in California in the 90s I was exposed to many cultures, communities and varied ideologies. In Louisiana I was very aware of segregation and class inequality and most namely sexism. Because I went to an all black private school for the professors of the college I never really interacted with people who weren’t black in highschool. Because segregation was so deeply entrenched in the area my whole life was black. My doctor, dentist, nurses, teachers, and principals were all black. So my dominant experience was not daily racism(because I rarely encountered white people) but rather daily sexism. My mother who was a black feminist and a woman unafraid in every sense encouraged me to push back on the administration and my peers who reinforced in every way possible that boys were more important than girls. Needless to say I didn’t change Louisiana. But I did discover that fighting for equality felt right and felt good even if there was no net change. I decided I could do more if I were educated so I threw myself into books and study. I was always autodidactic so I chose to read books about women and by women(at that time mostly classical fiction and non-fiction physics and evolutionary theory). I found through this process that I was most interested in science and soon I discovered the story of Henrietta Lax. Hers was such an allegory on black womens simultaneous importance and degradation that I felt deeply connected to her and felt a duty to be more involved in science. I initially thought that path would be into medicine but soon discovered that as under represented as black women are in medicine we are even less represented in bench science. I decided to pursue research and development to address disparities in how black people are included in scientific research at every level. That desire led me to pursue a masters in Neurobiology and that pursuit made me understand that women in general are underrepresented in science and as a result the scientific community prioritizes development of drugs like Viagra meanwhile birth control has been essentially the same since the 70s. I haven’t revolutionized the science world yet but I'm heartened to see the numbers of black women in natural science research is increasing and the general awareness of the disparities has improved. Manuela is one of my best friends and a Godmother to my beautiful black daughter so her awareness and active pursuit of knowledge in the area of black feminism means so much to me. I believe women can ban together and create real change for our gender but it requires many authentic conversations about intersectional feminism and I'm glad to be a part of that today Amy: What are your thoughts on breaking down patriarchy? (either the phrase or what led to your interest in participating in the podcast)?Manuela: As I mentioned before, your podcast has given me the opportunity to revisit ideas and texts that I once attempted to understand, but couldn’t yet. It’s opened up a new conversation with my Mom, who grew up referencing these texts and raised me as a feminist. And you’ve given me an excuse to reference the phrase “breaking down patriarchy” casually, initiating some pleasantly surprising conversations with people I already consider feminists, and some shocking learnings about other people I thought were more progressive and informed than they actually are!It’s also reminded me that, even though my mom did the work and educated me...the work doesn’t end there. In fact, it never ends. Ashley and I are both moms, and we talk about how we will educate our kids. Making this a part of our local and global conversations and awareness is a work in progress and requires constant effort and unending commitment. Thanks for making this fun and accessible for more people! Amy bridgeAshley:It's a necessity for real progress for any nation to break the male dominated stranglehold on every aspect of society. Dismantling the patriarchy will solve most of the world's ills. Malcolm x observed and said that societies that uplift and educate women thrive and advance. I believe that is the best reason to break down the patriarchy. True to form we must save the world and save men from themselves. I love the idea of this podcast and love so many of the episodes. Especially the ones featuring my favorite books. I think exploring feminism through literature provides the perfect platform for real conversations that can lead to change.Amy bridgeAmy: Intro of bell hooks:We usually spend some time talking about the author, but when my friend Gina and I recorded our episode on “feminism is for everybody” - which will air later - she pointed out that bell hooks wouldn’t have wanted a long biography. She is an extremely modest, unassuming person - in fact she doesn’t even capitalize her name because she wants readers’ attention to be on the substance of her ideas, not on her identity. So I won’t disrespect her wishes by talking too much about her, but I do want to share just a little bit because she is such a magnificent human being and I want listeners to have some background as we discuss her work. [And I highly recommend a NYT article about her by Min Jin Lee, published on Feb 28, 2019, called “In Praise of bell hooks.”] bell hooks is a pen name - she adopted her maternal great-grandmother's name because her great-grandmother "was known for her snappy and bold tongue, which [she] greatly admired". Her real name is Gloria Jean Watkins, and she was born on September 25, 1952 in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, which was a small, segregated town (this was two years before Brown v. Board).Her father worked as a janitor and her mother worked as a maid in the homes of white families, and Gloria was educated in racially segregated public schools, later writing that this is where she experienced education as the practice of freedom. She describes the great adversities she faced when making the transition to an integrated school, where teachers and students were predominantly white. She was an avid reader all throughout her childhood, and after graduating from high school she attended Stanford University, where she graduated with a degree in English in 1973. And as I mentioned, astoundingly, it was during her time as an undergrad at Stanford that she wrote ain’t i a woman. She then got her MA in English from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1976. She spent several years teaching and writing, and then completed her doctorate in literature at the University of California, Santa Cruz, completing her dissertation on author Toni Morrison.She has published more than 30 books, ranging in topics from black men, patriarchy, and masculinity to self-help, personal memoirs, and sexuality. A prevalent theme in her most recent writing is community and communion: in three conventional books and four children's books, she suggests that communication and literacy (the ability to read, write, and think critically) are crucial to developing healthy communities and relationships that are not marred by race, class, or gender inequalities.She has held positions as Professor of African-American Studies and English at Yale University, Associate Professor of Women's Studies and American Literature at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, and as Distinguished Lecturer of English Literature at the City College of New York. She currently serves as a Distinguished Professor in Residence in Appalachian Studies at Berea College, in her home state of Kentucky. Before we start discussing ain’t i a...
70 minutes | Jul 27, 2021
Women, Race, and Class, by Angela Davis
Amy: Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy! I’m Amy McPhie Allebest. Today’s book is Women, Race, and Class, by Angela Davis, and when I was reading this book in preparation for the episode last month, I left my copy of it out on my kitchen table. A person I know who is a generation older than I am walked past and raised her eyebrows and said “hmmm, Angela Davis, huh?” So I quickly grabbed the book and stuffed it in my bag. I shouldn’t have done that, no matter how controversial the book might have been, but the truth is, once I read the book I realized there was nothing to worry about anyway! It was just a history book. A really interesting, really readable history book, and a hugely important contribution to American history because it foregrounded and placed as central the experience of Black women. Angela Davis does continue to be a controversial figure though, and I’m so excited to discuss her life and this book with my reading partner, Brianna Jovahn. Welcome, Brianna!Hi!Second only to me, Brianna knows Breaking Down Patriarchy better than anyone else in the world - she’s our editor so she’s been working tirelessly behind the scenes, listening to every word of every episode of the podcast. So we know each other really well, and Brianna, you have been an absolute joy to work with, etc. :) Can you tell us a little about yourself?Brianna: My name is Brianna Jovahn and I am the creator of What Good the podcast. Initially, my goal was to climb up the corporate ladder, but the Lord said something differently. I’m from Cedar Hill, Texas and graduated from Cedar Hill High School. I went to Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas and graduated with an Accounting degree. After securing my first job, after college, I stayed in Houston for another year. I was away from family but so close to my friends, so I really wasn’t as focused as I should have been. My mom called me one day and asked what were my next steps in life, and I really could not answer. After taking some time to pray, I decided to move home to get my MBA.Once I graduated from school a second time around, I was still unfulfilled with my life. I started working at ADP but I found an internship that allowed me to move to Los Angeles for two months. The day I saw the application, I immediately prayed because the move was going to cost me $5,000. I asked God if he could supply the cost, let’s make it happen. In God’s will, I was accepted in the program, and came up with the money within 2 weeks.That experience really helped me understand what’s for you is for you. All you have to do is walk into the opportunity.Moving forward to where I am presently, I moved home from Los Angeles and for some reason, I felt like it was time to get my life together, officially. At this point, I was back in the corporate setting, but I also had a vision about a hobby I wanted to pursue in college, and that was radio. In college, I had so many friends that were creative. I had several friends who created a clothing brand, I knew someone that sold his own watches, someone who helped build the football stadium and the list went on. On top of that, our conversations were amazing, so I could only imagine what the show would include. So I’m back home, diving deep into my career, and the idea for the show came to me twice over from the original idea. It was more for me to learn about the local community of Dallas. I was still driving back and forth to Houston from Dallas and I felt the need to slow down. It was time to find out about my hometown, and that was the foundation of What’s Good podcast. It has been such an amazing journey to where I help and coach other podcasters. If that means editing the podcast, marketing, helping strategize shows, and so much more. I have never felt so fulfilled in my life. Amy: And this is where I usually ask my guests what “Breaking Down Patriarchy” means to them. This will be a very different question for you, since you have literally heard every second of every episode, sometimes over and over. What was that like for you? Had you ever studied patriarchy before the podcast? What have been your favorite parts/episodes, have there been some parts that were hard? What have you learned? Brianna: This podcast has been an eye opening experience for me because I never really thought about patriarchy. Growing up in a baptist household with my grandmother, she really showed me what it looked like to work and still tend to your family. As I was thinking about this question, it really reminded me of the scripture in the Bible, Proverbs 31(Read the Scripture). She cooked, cleaned, and received a degree at Prairie View, Texas. She was a prayer warrior for the family and exemplified everything to me of what a wife should be. My grandmother was like the go to of the family. If anything happened to her sisters, brothers, or any other family members, she would be the person everyone called. I also grew up in a household where my father would get home before my mother, and he would cook to take the edge off her day. Even when I was a little girl, my mom went on a girl’s trip and my father attempted to do my hair. He definitely failed and my aunts had to rescue me, but he did the best he could. I also remember on pay days, he would slide my mother his paycheck, and trusted my mom to take care of the bills and the household. One episode in particular that really resonated with me was the Sojourner Truth episode. I usually do research on my own once I finish listening to your episodes, but the amount of information I gained while listening meant the world to me. I have dealt with a couple of racism experiences in my life, from someone not wanting to sit next to me on a bus, pulled to the side at work to up my dressing game so I can be more respected within the office, and the list goes on. Even when I was working at GEICO, I should have been hired under the management acceleration program since I have two degrees, but they missed those two very important points on my resume. They then came back and told me it was too late to add me to the program because I had already started my position. So learning more about Sojourner Truth and hearing Rayna’s personal experience as well just gave me encouragement to keep pushing despite what happens in the world. I know I told you this before, but the support you gave Rayna also made me want to love you that much more, because it’s needed within a true friendship. We all go through personal things despite the fact that others may not have gone through the same situations. Just showing up and being of support goes a long way.Amy: Let’s get to know Angela Davis - this is someone that you knew about, and you asked specifically to read something by her because you had always wanted to learn more, right? Brianna: Yes!!!Angela Davis was born on January 26, 1944, in Birmingham, Alabama, and we’re going to listen to a clip of her talking about her childhood. This is in response to a reporter asking her if she condones violence.Davis attended a segregated black elementary school, and Angela’s mother, Sallye Bell Davis, was a national officer and leading organizer of the Southern Negro Youth Congress, an organization influenced by the Communist Party aimed at building alliances among African Americans in the South. Davis grew up surrounded by communist organizers and thinkers, who significantly influenced her intellectual development.Other early influences were her church youth group and Sunday school, which she attended regularly. She also attributes much of her political involvement to the Girl Scouts of the United States of America, which she loved as a child and in which she marched and picketed to protest racial segregation in Birmingham.By her junior year of high school, Davis had been accepted by an American Friends Service Committee (Quaker) program that placed black students from the South in integrated schools in the North, so she chose Elisabeth Irwin High School in Greenwich Village, and moved to New York.Davis was awarded a scholarship to Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts (where Pauli Murray would become a professor right after Davis graduated). At Brandeis she was one of three black students in her class. She encountered the philosopher Herbert Marcuse at a rally during the Cuban Missile Crisis and became his student. She later said, "Herbert Marcuse taught me that it was possible to be an academic, an activist, a scholar, and a revolutionary." She worked part-time to earn enough money to travel to France and Switzerland and attended the eighth World Festival of Youth and Students in Helsinki, which was a Communist-sponsored festival, and she returned home in 1963 to an FBI interview about her attendance there.During her second year at Brandeis, Davis decided to major in French and continued her intensive study of philosopher and writer Jean-Paul Sartre (whom listeners will remember as the life partner of Simone de Beauvoir). She was in France when she learned of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing, committed by members of the Ku Klux Klan, in which four black girls were killed. This is the bombing that we heard her describe just now, and she grieved deeply, as those girls were her neighbors.In 1965, she graduated magna cum laude, and then went to Germany to continue studying, and when she returned to the US she was very interested in the Black Panther Party and the transformation of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to an all-black organization.Davis earned a master's degree from the University of California, San Diego, in 1968, and then a doctorate in philosophy at the Humboldt University in East Berlin.Beginning in 1969, Davis was an acting assistant professor in the philosophy department at UCLA (although both Princeton and Swarthmore had tried to recruit her). She was known as a radical feminist and activist, a member of the Communist Party, and an affiliate of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Black Panther Party. In 1969, the University of California initiated a policy against hiring Communists, and at their September 19, 1969, meeting, the Board of Regents fired Davis because of her membership in the Party, urged on by California Governor Ronald Reagan. There followed a back-and-forth where a judge determined that she couldn’t be fired because of her political affiliation, but then the Regents fired her again for the "inflammatory language" she had used in several of her speeches. In 1970, an event occurred that would change Davis’ life: a heavily-armed 17-year-old African-American high-school student named Jonathan Jackson, went into a courtroom in Marin County, California where black defendants were on trial. He armed the defendants and took the judge, the prosecutor, and three female jurors as hostages. As Jackson transported the hostages and the two black defendants away from the courtroom, one of the defendants, James McClain, shot at the police, and the police returned fire. The judge and the three black men were killed and one of the jurors and the prosecutor were injured. It was soon discovered that Angela Davis had purchased several of the firearms Jackson used in the attack, including the shotgun used to shoot the Judge, which she bought at a San Francisco pawn shop two days before the incident. She was also found to have been corresponding with one of the inmates involved.Davis was charged with "aggravated kidnapping and first degree murder in the death of Judge Harold Haley", and a warrant was issued for her arrest. No one could find her, and four days after the warrant was issued, the FBI director J. Edgar Hoover listed Davis on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitive List.So Davis became a fugitive and fled from California, and according to her autobiography, during this time she hid in friends' homes and moved at night. On October 13, 1970, FBI agents found her in New York City, and President Richard M. Nixon congratulated the FBI on its "capture of the dangerous terrorist Angela Davis."While being held in the Women's Detention Center, Davis was initially separated from other prisoners, and for a time was held in solitary confinement. Across the nation, thousands of people began organizing a movement to gain her release. In New York City, black writers formed a committee called the Black People in Defense of Angela Davis, and by February of 1971 more than 200 local committees in the United States, and 67 in foreign countries, worked to free Davis from prison. John Lennon and Yoko Ono contributed to this campaign with the song "Angela”. In 1972, after a 16-month incarceration, the state allowed her release on bail from county jail. On February 23, 1972, her $100,000 bail was paid by Rodger McAfee, who was a 33-year-old white alfalfa farmer from Fresno, California. And the United Presbyterian Church paid some of her legal defense expenses. The trial was moved to Santa Clara County, and after 13 hours of deliberations, the all-white jury returned a verdict of not guilty. Amy:[I had never heard of this before - it was before my lifetime - but I can definitely see now why Angela Davis is such a polarizing figure] Davis was a celebrity in Communist Cuba - she spoke at a rally there and the crowd was so enthusiastic she could barely speak over the cheering.In August 1972, Davis visited the USSR, and received an honorary doctorate from Moscow State University.On May 1, 1979, she was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize from the Soviet Union. She visited Moscow later that month to accept the prize, where she praised "the glorious name" of Lenin and the "great October Revolution".She also visited the Berlin Wall, where...
89 minutes | Jul 20, 2021
This Bridge Called My Back: Writings By Radical Women of Color, by Cherrie Moraga
Amy: Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy! I’m Amy McPhie Allebest. Today’s book is This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color. It’s an anthology of essays, letters, and poetry by Black, Native American, Asian American, and Latina women, some of whom identify as lesbian. It was edited by Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua, and published in 1981. I had never read a book like this before, and because all the essays are written in the first-person, and based on their real lives and thoughts and feelings and hopes and anger and grief, I had the sense of sitting next to them or reading their diaries - which was sometimes uncomfortable. And I am sooo grateful for that discomfort because it pushed out and expanded the borders of my understanding and helped me think about some things differently, and it increased my empathy. And I’m not someone who has lived in a bubble - I’ve lived abroad in several different countries, I speak Spanish and have many close friends in South America, I am lucky to have a circle of friends that includes lots of different backgrounds. And yet with this book, I found myself constantly pushed to learn, to consider new points of view, and my heart and mind grew so much. So I highly recommend reading this book in its entirety! And I’m so excited to discuss it with my reading partner today, Jenn Lee Smith. Hi, Jenn!Jenn: Hi, Amy!Amy: Jenn and I have tons of mutual friends in California, and our daughters know each other as well, but it wasn’t until a few months ago that she and I went on a few walks together and discovered that we have a ton in common and should have been getting together for years. Also, some listeners may be familiar with Jenn’s work: she is a producer behind the award-winning films, “Faithful,” which is about “two women in love with each other and their religion,” and “Jane and Emma,” which is about the friendship between Joseph Smith’s wife Emma Smith and a Black convert named Jane Manning James. Jenn, I’m so grateful that you agreed to read this book with me - I know you had read it before - in fact I think you were the one who suggested putting it on the reading list, right?I remember when you were first building up your reading list, I was missing the books that helped define my feminist identity in grad school. I had read This Bridge Called My Back and Sister Outsider and declared myself a Third Wave / Transnational Feminist. Lol. Roxane Gay - Bad Feminist - realized I was better at being a Bad Feminist. Introduce yourself - tell who you are, where you’re from, and what perspective you bring to the discussion.Jenn: Bio I was born on an island called Taiwan and most Taiwanese would like it to be recognized as a country, however, China claims it is a province. Regardless, Taiwan is a friendly, vibrant, democratic “place” and the first to legalize same-sex marriage in Asia in 2019. I was five when I immigrated to the U.S. growing up in UT and CA. I studied international relations for my undergrad in Utah and then started a PhD in Feminist and Human Geography at UCLA, which I never finished because I discovered screenwriting and film producing classes, instead. But I did earn a Masters in Geography, which is useful in the film producing of mostly documentaries. I welcome opportunities to be a part of film and writing projects that explore underrepresented stories particularly at complicated intersections. For example, I started my producing career focused on films at the intersection of religion and sexual orientation. One of those films will be out on Netflix in August. It’s called Pray Away. Another film is called Dilemma of Desire about the gender politics around not recognizing female sexual desire - it’s rooted in Audre Lorde’s essay Uses of the Erotic (from Sister Outsider, which is the next book in the podcast?). Right now I’m collaborating on a film on indigenous knowledge of fire to heal our lands, a film on a black woman in her 70s and her passion for more inclusion in tennis, and a feature-length sports doc on an Asian female basketball player. (black, indigenous, poc)Also I am co-editing an upcoming book titled I Spoke to You with Silence: Essays from Queer Mormons of Marginalized Genders. It is a book I would have liked to read when I first realized in my mid-20s that I was also attracted to women. Fortunately, I did get to read Professor Lisa Diamond’s research on female sexuality and it’s an honor that she’s written the Foreword to the book, published by University of Utah Press out in 6-8 months. Amy: And then could you tell us about your interest in Breaking Down Patriarchy? What interested you in doing this project with me?Jenn: First of all, I am so happy that this podcast exists and that you are the one to do it. You and I both gravitate to the fault lines - I’m borrowing your words - and I’m wondering if it’s because we notice that people are better to each other when they do the hard work of learning about categories of difference and how most of them are made-up, socially constructed. From my experience, I first need to do the work of listening and learning and diving into questions of difference before arriving at the understanding that I have more in common with people than I first thought. This podcast is doing the work of breaking down notions of hierarchy, where these ideas come from, how they became embedded into our culture and systems, and then discussing whether or not these notions are still useful. I also decided a while back that my activism interests are too broad and so I tend to focus on gender and spectrums of gender. While recognizing the artificiality of binaries, it does feel like in this anthropocene era (the geologic age of the human species making the biggest impact on the environment), the earth is out of balance with too much of the masculine energy which is accessible regardless of one’s gender.Amy:Ok, and a bit about this book and its editors. Cherríe Moraga was born September 25, 1952 in Los Angeles, CA, and is a Chicana writer, feminist activist, poet, essayist, and playwright. I’m going to throw in here that the term “Chicana” is the femnine form of “Chicano,” and it specifically refers to a US citizen of Mexican descent. She attended Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles, gaining a graduated bachelor's degree in English in 1974. Soon after attending, she enrolled in a writing class at the Women's Building and produced her first lesbian poems. In 1977 she moved to San Francisco where she supported herself as a waitress, became politically active as a burgeoning feminist, and discovered the feminism of women of color. She earned her master's degree in Feminist Writings from San Francisco State University in 1980, and she is part of the faculty at the University of California, Santa Barbara in the Department of English. Moraga is also a founding member of the social justice activist group La Red Chicana Indígena which is an organization of Chicanas fighting for education, culture rights, and Indigenous Rights. Gloria Anzaldúa, born on September 26, 1942 in South Texas. was an American scholar of Chicana cultural theory, feminist theory, and queer theory. She graduated as valedictorian of her high school, and in 1968, she received a B.A. in English, Art, and Secondary Education from University of Texas–Pan American. She then earned an M.A. in English and Education from the University of Texas at Austin. She loosely based her best-known book, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, on her life growing up on the Mexico–Texas border and incorporated her lifelong experiences of social and cultural marginalization into her work. She also developed theories about the marginal, in-between, and mixed cultures that develop along borders. ---And a bit about this book: This Bridge Called My Back was a major event in Women’s Studies, and it is considered critical reading in many universities’ curricula. It is even described as being responsible for starting the third wave of feminism. Cherrie Moraga wrote a bit about the authors of the book in the introduction: “The women in whose hands This Bridge Called My Back was wrought identify as Third World women and/or women of color. Each woman considers herself a feminist, but draws her feminism from the culturue in which they grew. Most of the women appearing in this book are first-generation writers. Some of us do not see ourselves as writers, but pull the pen across the page anyway or speak with the power of poets. The selections in this anthology range from extemporaneous stream of consciousness journal entries to well thought-out theoretical statements, from intimate letters to friends to full-scale public addresses. In addition, the book includes poems and transcripts, personal conversations and interviews. The works combined reflect a diversity of perspectives, linguistic styles, and cultural tongues.” (xlv)So let’s dive in! Jenn and I each selected a few writings, and we’re going to share passages and then talk about our impressions and what we learned. I’d like to start with the very first piece in the book, “The Bridge Poem,” by Kate Rushin, which inspired the title of the book and is considered iconic in studies of intersectionality.Jenn reads: The Bridge PoemBy Kate Rushin, Black (b. 1951) (pronounced Russian)I’ve had enough I’m sick of seeing and touchingBoth sides of thingsSick of being the damn bridge for everybodyNobodyCan talk to anybody Without meRight?I explain my mother to my father and my father to my little sisterMy little sister to my brother to the white feministsThe white feminists to the Black church folks the Black church folksTo the ex-hippies the ex-hippies to the Black separatists the Black separatists to the artists the artists to my friends’ parents…ThenI’ve got to explain myselfTo everybodyI do more translating Than the Gawdamn UNForget itI’m sick of itI’m sick of filling in your gapsSick of being your insurance againstThe isolation of your self-imposed limitationsSick of being the crazy at your holiday dinnersSick of being the odd one at your Sunday BrunchesSick of being the sole Black friend to 34 individual white peopleFind another connection to the rest of the worldFind something else to make you legitimateFind some other way to be political and hipI will not be the bridge to your womanhoodYour manhoodYour human-nessI’m sick of reminding you not to Close off too tight for too longI’m sick of mediating with your worst selfOn behalf of your better selvesI am sick Of having to remind you To breatheBefore you suffocate Your own fool selfForget itStretch or drownEvolve or dieThe bridge I must beIs the bridge to my own powerI must translate My own fearsMediate My own weaknessesI must be the bridge to nowhereBut my true self And then I will be useful. ---Amy your reflection….What are your thoughts, Jenn? My shoulders are tensing up in memory of a very long period of my life when I thought it was my burden to carry the weight of representation. When I first read Rushin’s poem like 14 years ago I read it with the eyes of someone who frequently went out of her way to protect the feelings of white people. I didn’t have various kinds of safety within my immigrant family, so a Church community that was predominantly white became my pseudo- family. So when I read these passages, I immediately felt uncomfortable and an urge to protect my Church family. I thought it was my duty and role to be the token person of color/Asian at any given event, to be a bridge between my culture and the white culture - one of my projects at Brigham Young University in Utah was titled Building Bridges Across the Pacific. And then adding to the bridge metaphor, there’s a short passage by Cherrie Moraga on the next page:“A Bridge Gets Walked Over”“...Another meeting. Again walking into a room filled with white women, a splattering of women of color around the room. The issue on the table, Racism. The dread and terror in the room lay like a thick immovable paste above all our shoulders, white and colored, alike. We, Third World women in the room, thinking - back to square one again. How can we - this time - not use our bodies to be thrown over a river of tormented history to bridge the gap? Barbara says last night: “A bridge gets walked over.” Yes, over and over and over again. ...I cannot continue to use my body to be walked over to make a connection. Feeling every joint in my body tense this morning, used.” (xxxvii)What do you think of that poem and that passage, Jenn?I’ve been in rooms as Cherrie Moraga has described where I consciously or unconsciously volunteer myself as a bridge to be walked over. Over time, the frustration and fatigue builds from mediating, teaching, and filling in the gaps because others won’t do the work for themselves. At many social functions, I am the only person of color. Until very recently, I thought it was my role to explain, for example, that when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression (quoting Wayne Reid). It doesn’t matter what I say or how I say it. If folx choose to feel like victims in an increasingly diverse and inclusive world; if somehow queer, trans, poor, disabled, people of color feeling safe to speak their own truths is an affront to cis, white, hetero people, that is their choice and I cannot be useful. Kate Rushin’s closing lines reminds me thatThe bridge I must beIs the bridge to my own powerI must translate My own fearsMediate My own weaknessesI must be the bridge to nowhereBut my true self And then I will be useful.These words set me free to explore my own privileged place in this world - my own suppositions and prejudices. I believe we each must be a bridge to our own power. AmyI’d like to start with this one because it’s shockingly subversive and breaks open the conversation into some potentially uncomfortable places for white liberal women listeners. It will then be followed by my choice of a poem about wanting to be white -- The Pathology of Racism: A Conversation with Third World Wimmin, by doris davenport If I were a white feminist and somebody called me a racist, I’d probably feel insulted (especially if I knew it was at least partially true). It’s like saying someone has a slimy and incurable disease. Naturally, I would be reactionary and take out my ...liberal credentials, to prove I was clean.” (81)If we …(even accidentally) mention something particular to the experience of black wimmin, we are seen as threatening, hostile, and subversive to their interests. ...Because of their one-dimensional and bigoted ideas, we are not respected as feminists or wimmin. Their perverse perceptions of black wimmin mean that they continue to see us as “inferior” to them, and therefore, treat us accordingly. Instead of alleviating the problems of black wimmin, they add to them. (82)[some black women] have at least three distinct areas of aversion to white wimmin which affect how we perceive and deal with them: aesthetic, cultural, and social/political. Aesthetically (and physically) we frequently find white wimmin repulsive. That is, their skin colors are unaesthetic (ugly, to some people). Their hair, stringy and straight, is unattractive. Their bodies: rather like misshapen lumps of whitish clay or dough, that somebody forgot to mold in certain areas. Furthermore, they have strange body odor. Culturally, we see them as limited and bigoted. They can’t dance. Their music is essentially undanceable too, and unpleasant. Plus, they are totally saturated in western or white American culture with little knowledge or respect for the cultures of third world
69 minutes | Jul 13, 2021
Roe v. Wade, Part 2
Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy! I’m Amy McPhie Allebest. Today is Part 2 of our discussion on the 1973 Supreme Court case Roe vs. Wade. Last time we introduced this landmark document, and we covered about half of the points of the case. And today we will share our thoughts on some of the key points from the second half of the text. And again I’m joined by my reading partner, Lindsay McPhie Hickok. Hi, Lindsay!Lindsay: Hi, Amy!Amy: We ended our previous episode with the story of Mehnaz in Pakistan. And after we recorded that episode I was thinking that I would like to share another story, this time about someone I know. This is a story of a very, very dear friend of mine, so I won’t say her name to protect the anonymity of her family. But Lindsay you remember her. Lindsay: Yes I doWhen I was a new mom with just Baby Lindsay, I had a neighbor who had a baby just Lindsay’s age, and we became friends. We took turns watching each other’s babies so we could exercise and then we would eat lunch together, we kept our own food at each other’s houses because we were together so often. We served in church together, spending hours and hours outside of church in planning meetings and doing service for a congregation that had a lot of needs. We got pregnant with our second babies at the exact same time, so we went through the pregnancies together and then had our babies within a week of each other. We shared a lot of really deep conversations - she had a masters degree in social work and we both loved learning about psychology - she was a really curious person and a deep thinker, and she was also really fun. She was one of the best friends I’ve ever had in my life. Eventually she and her husband moved to a different state so that he could go to law school, and I was devastated that she moved, but we talked on the phone sometimes. We weren’t great about keeping in touch - that was before texting and neither of us were really phone talkers… but she did reach out and said “Hey, I just want you to know I just got diagnosed with melanoma. I’m near one of the best cancer hospitals in the country, but it’s complicated because I’m pregnant so they can’t treat it aggressively.” So she and her husband had to make the choice of what to do. She chose to keep the pregnancy and do a very complicated and difficult balancing act of doing what they could to treat the cancer without hurting the baby. She carried the baby as long as she could, and then when the doctors decided the baby was healthy enough, they delivered the baby by C-section. The plan had been to battle the cancer as soon as the baby was out, but it was too late, and Erin died 6 days after her baby was born, leaving her husband with their two little boys and a newborn in the NICU.Obviously this is really hard for me to talk about - it’s been almost 14 years and I still can’t say her name without crying - but what I want to say is that my friend was a smart person. My friend was a courageous person. My friend was a moral person and a wise person, and she happened to be a spiritual person too. When I think of her being in that agonizing, excruciating situation, I have two really strong urges: the first is that I want to hug her and tell her she is good and brave and that I love her. And the second very strong urge I have is that I want to clear the room to protect her from anybody who thinks they know what is best for her, and just tell them to go home and keep their opinions to themselves. I know that in this moment of anguish my friend brought in her husband and her family and a team of doctors, and she was a person of faith, so I know she prayed every second of that time while she made the decision… and I don’t think it’s anybody’s right to judge her or tell her what was right for HER LIFE and HER FAMILY. That was nobody’s right but hers. And as I’ve read more and more stories of girls and women - and you can go on the website if you want to read some - I have that same urge. I want to hug them and say “you are brave. You are smart. You are wise.” And then ask them “who do you trust to support you while you make this choice?” And then clear the room of EVERYONE ELSE so that she can think clearly and have every option that she and her doctor think is best.Lindsay: I think you are brave for sharing that story. I know her death was heartbreaking for you. And that is a really complicated situation that she was in! Weighing maternal against fetal health feels nearly impossible sometimes. My heart aches for the women who have to make these difficult choices.Me too. And I also want to say that making abortion safe and legal for all women, in all the different complex circumstances they find themselves in, does not mean that a woman ever has to have an abortion. If a woman feels for any reason - religious or otherwise - that she doesn’t want to end her pregnancy, she never has to. That will never be imposed on her. But it also makes sure that her private beliefs won’t be imposed on anyone else either.Amy: Ok, well let’s start back into Roe vs. Wade. Last time we highlighted some parts of the historical timeline, and we’ll continue that now by talking about the tradition of American law in the 19th Century.5. Amy: First, the document explains how English common law was adopted by different states differently. He goes into a lot of detail, but the main point is:It is… apparent that at common law, at the time of the adoption of our Constitution, and throughout the major portion of the 19th century, abortion was viewed with less disfavor than under most American statutes currently in effect. Phrasing it another way, a woman enjoyed a substantially broader right to terminate a pregnancy than she does in most States today. At least with respect to the early stage of pregnancy, and very possibly without such a limitation, the opportunity to make this choice was present in this country well into the 19th century. This changed in 1857, when the American Medical Association Committee on Criminal Abortion was formed and they began a campaign against abortion rights. Roe vs. Wade cites this campaign as a huge turning point in American attitudes. Here’s a quote:“In 1871 a long and vivid report was submitted by the Committee on Criminal Abortion. It recommended... among other things, that it "be unlawful and unprofessional for any physician to induce abortion or premature labor, without the concurrent opinion of at least one respectable consulting physician, and then always with a view to the safety of the child— if that be possible," and calling "the attention of the clergy of all denominations to the perverted views of morality entertained by a large class of females—aye, and men also, on this important question."Several things stand out to me from that quote: First, again I have to point out that the American Medical Association was comprised of all men. And they were marshalling the forces of doctors (who of course were all men at the time) and the clergy (again - 100% men) to make the decision on a matter that takes place 100% inside of women. And then further, they describe the women’s views as “perverted views of morality.” And the other two things that I see as being problematic are the phrases: “always with a view to the safety of the child” - not the mother; andthat it "be unlawful and unprofessional for any physician to induce abortion or premature labor!” What do you think of those things, Lindsay??Okay. First off, that statement makes me crazy because it says that a large class of females are perverted. I feel to say “how dare they.” How dare they judge women in this way.I do want to give a bit of background though. During the time at which that statement was given, doctors practiced what is called medical paternalism. It was believed that only a doctor could properly understand symptoms and draw useful conclusions. During this period, the prevailing consensus was that disease was nothing more than symptoms. This meant that the individual history of the patient didn't matter in providing care, so the patient him or herself was irrelevant in the medical encounter.This was how all medicine was practiced. So if you cast that light on obstetrics, the woman is rather irrelevant and all that matters is just delivering a baby. It’s all about the safety of the baby. I am so glad we know and do better now. Medical paternalism fell out of favor towards the end of the 20th century and doctors now consider the views and experiences of their patients as critical information when they are creating a care plan.That is so interesting, and reminds me of our episode on “The Yellow Wallpaper.” That story was about a new mother with postpartum depression at the end of the 19th century, and she was not taken seriously at all by her doctor, and that explanation of medical paternalism makes a lot of sense when I remember that story. And speaking of medical paternalism - the word itself of course comes from “pater,” which is latin for “father” and has the same root as “patriarchy,” the American Medical Association Committee on Criminal Abortion, nearly 100 years later in 1967, still thought that they should make the rules. Although maybe some of these rules seem better - Lindsay what do you think? It says there should be no abortion...“except when there is "documented medical evidence" of a threat to the health or life of the mother, or that the child "may be born with incapacitating physical deformity or mental deficiency," or that a pregnancy "resulting from legally established statutory or forcible rape or incest may constitute a threat to the mental or physical health of the patient," two other physicians "chosen because of their recognized professional competence have examined the patient and have concurred in writing," and the procedure "is performed in a hospital accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals." Lindsay: Yes! Good! We are making progress right? Now we are talking about the health and the life of the mother! Though I will say we still have a long way to go, because as you said, in the 1960s, they said that abortion would be allowed if a pregnancy was from legally established rape or incest. Ugh. Legally establishing rape or incest is nearly impossible. It is estimated that less than 25% of rape is reported and it is less than 10% for incest. Rape kits in many areas are backlogged, victims don't often get medical help (and, thus, evidence) right away, and most don't ever even seek legal help. Allowing women the option of abortion, but then making it hinge on the legal system, is ridiculous. It gives the appearance of options, but in the real world, this doesn't help.LindsayPutting that condition aside, there were many good developments happening in the 1960s and 1970s. With the decline of paternalism, the American Public Health Association adopted rather helpful standards for abortion services - the national recommendations included safe, clean environments, highly trained professionals and counseling for patients. Please note, we are now entering the era of Roe v Wade. So the American Public Health Association was making strides in recognizing that abortions do occur and that women seeking them needed assistance, but this is happening in a national body. State by state, things still varied greatly. Like in Texas, where Roe challenged Wade - abortion was still criminalized.Amy:In the next part, the document lists three reasons why laws criminalizing abortion were advanced in the 19th Century. We’ll cover them quickly, but I do want to cover them because they bring up some important issues. “It has been argued occasionally that these laws were the product of a Victorian social concern to discourage illicit sexual conduct.”That can’t still be the case, because the law in Texas didn’t discriminate between unwed and married women. However, I have heard that argument a lot! That if abortion is legal, then people will have sex all the time and it will encourage premarital sex. Lindsay: “Yeah, people are not going into a sexual encounter thinking “yes, we’re going conceive, but no biggie - we’ll just get an abortion. People who are going to have sex are going to have sex either way.Right. There are lots of ways that people are foolish and irresponsible in their sexual lives, like not using birth control, but they’re more likely to think “I’m not going to get pregnant.” Not “I am going to get pregnant and have an abortion.” A second reason is concerned with abortion as a medical procedure. When most criminal abortion laws were first enacted, the procedure was a hazardous one for the woman.This was particularly true prior to the development of antisepsis. Abortion mortality was high. Even after 1900, and perhaps until as late as the development of antibiotics in the 1940's, standard modern techniques such as dilation and curettage were not nearly so safe as they are today. Thus, it has been argued that a State's real concern in enacting a criminal abortion law was to protect the pregnant woman, that is, to restrain her from submitting to a procedure that placed her life in serious jeopardy.First of all, I appreciate their concern, but it’s patronizing - as you described Lindsay it’s evidence of that attitude of “medical paternalism” for the all-male “state” to override a woman’s wishes in the supposed notion that they want to protect her. It’s like a parent-child relationship where men are saying to women “we know what is best for you, so this is against the rules,” and she is saying “actually I am an adult and I know what is best for me, and I’m going to do it anyway. The statistics show that throughout time, women have gotten abortions whether or not they are legal.Back to the document: Modern medical techniques have altered this situation. … although not without its risk, [abortion] is now relatively safe. Mortality rates for women undergoing early abortions, where the procedure is legal, appear to be as low as or lower than the rates for normal childbirth. Consequently, any interest of the State in protecting the woman from an inherently hazardous procedure ...has largely disappeared. So that means obviously that that paternal reason of protecting women from unsafe abortions by making them illegal was no longer relevant. So what we have now is a situation where, because hospitals have antibiotics and trained professionals and sterile equipment, abortion is extremely safe in a medical environment. But it’s extremely unsafe in an unregulated environment. So if the state really wants to protect women’s lives, then it needs to keep abortion legal. Because making abortion illegal does not prevent women from getting abortions, it just endangers the lives of the women. In my research project I read about women in such desperate situations that they performed their own abortions with whatever they could find - poison or sticks and bicycle spokes. Or we have all heard of “back-alley abortions,” performed by local practitioners who have no medical training on sanitation or even anatomy. These practitioners are sometimes called “butchers” - although sometimes they are seeking to help these women in desperate situations, they are sometimes just seeking the profit. And because these procedures take place secretly and illegally, there is no oversight to make sure they are performed in a clean, sterile environment. So many, many women throughout history have died from these procedures.In fact in parts of the world where abortion is illegal, botched abortions still cause about 8 to 11 percent of all maternal deaths, or about 30,000 each year. (https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2018/10/how-many-women-die-illegal-abortions/572638/) So here we see that the Supreme Court in 1973 acknowledged that fact. Justice Blackmun writes:“The State has a legitimate interest in seeing to it that abortion, like any other medical procedure, is performed under circumstances that insure maximum safety for the patient. This interest obviously extends at least to the performing physician and his staff, to the facilities involved, to the availability of after-care, and to adequate provision for any complication or emergency that might arise. The prevalence of high mortality rates at illegal "abortion mills" strengthens, rather than weakens, the State's interest in regulating the conditions under which abortions are performed. Yes. I think this is one of the most important facts that I learned during my research project, so I’ll read it again:The prevalence of high mortality rates at illegal "abortion mills" strengthens, rather than weakens, the State's interest in regulating the conditions under which abortions are performed. Women will get abortions either way. They always have. All throughout history. Keeping them legal and safe protects women’s lives. So next Roe v. Wade keeps talking about women’s safety, and specifically about the fact that abortion is safest when it’s performed early. It says:Moreover, the risk to the woman increases as her pregnancy continues. Thus, the State retains a definite interest in protecting the woman's own health and safety when an abortion is proposed at a late stage of pregnancy.Yes. The risk to a woman definitely increases as pregnancy continues. So let’s talk about late-stage abortions. They are extremely rare, and can usually be avoided if early abortions are legal and easy to procure, and don’t have a ton of hoops to jump through. The more barriers and requirements for permission and waiting periods, the later the abortion takes place.However there are cases where late stage abortion is needed. There are so many situations women can find themselves in that we can’t anticipate, and I was extremely impacted by a Facebook post that our cousin shared about a year ago. A young woman named Destiny Young posted pictures of herself and her husband doing a big “gender reveal” with a pink puff of smoke to announce that they were having a girl - they looked ecstatic… next to a picture of her husband and her curled up together in a hospital bed. She wrote:“If you’re mad about the new abortion law in New York please take a minute to read this. You’re probably picturing the horrible women who decide last minute that they in fact don’t want to be mothers and decide to kill their baby instead. I understand why that image makes you angry so please look at these ones instead.After having 2 miscarriages, I almost died giving birth to my stillborn daughter. She had a genetic problem that was not compatible with life outside of the womb. WE had no idea until she died at 32 weeks. Recovery was hard, I had an emergency c section and lost more than half my blood. We stayed in the hospital for a week, until my levels were okay enough to spend the next 6 weeks at home on bed rest, grieving my...
57 minutes | Jul 13, 2021
Roe v. Wade, Part 1
Amy: Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy! I’m Amy McPhie Allebest. Today we will be talking about the 1973 Supreme Court case Roe vs. Wade. This is such a complicated and delicate topic, and there is so much to discuss, we decided to break up the conversation into two parts. So today will be Part 1 and next time we will resume with Part 2. In preparation, my reading partner read a bit about the case, and then we read the actual case, which we found online on Google Scholar. Neither of us had ever read the original text before, and we both found it to be so much more readable and accessible than we expected - we felt like we could feel the judges wrestling with every angle of the issue, taking it very seriously and so wanting to do the right thing. It was really worth reading, and I’m very excited to discuss it. But before we dig into this essential text and talk about its implications for women, I’d like to introduce my reading partner, Lindsay McPhie Hickok. Hi, Lindsay!Lindsay: Hi, Amy!Amy: Lindsay is my sister, actually the third sister to be a guest on the podcast, so I feel like I should introduce the McPhies! There are five kids in our family - I’m the oldest, then Lindsay, who is here today, then comes our only brother, Scott, and his wife Rachel whom we consider to be a sister too, then comes Courtney, who did the episodes on the Seneca Falls Convention speeches and Margaret Sanger’s “The Morality of Birth Control,” and then Whitney is the youngest, and Whitney did the episode right before this one, on Title IX. We are all extremely close and the best of friends, and I adore and admire them all for different reasons. Scott frequently makes me laugh so hard that I cry, Rachel seems to have all the craziest things happen to her and she is the absolute best storyteller, also often making us laugh so hard we cry, Courtney is a trailblazer in our family by being the first of the siblings to get a master’s degree, and I admire Whitney for her incredible resilience. And Lindsay, one thing I love about you is the passion with which you care for women and babies in your job as a labor and delivery nurse. I wish every laboring woman had a coach and defender and nurturer as fiercely loving and empowering as you are. So Linz, could you tell us about who you are, where you're from, and what kinds of life experiences and points of view you bring to today’s conversation?Lindsay:Sure! As Amy said, I am the second child in our family. We grew up in Colorado, and I live in Utah now, with my husband and three children. I like to hike and bike and garden and basically do anything outdoors. I graduated from BYU with a nursing degree, and besides a short stint in same day surgery, I have spent my whole career in labor and delivery. Many of my most intense life experiences come from either the delivery room, or from my faith. I was raised in a very devout Christian home. My parents raised me in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and that faith has played a huge part in who I am and in how I view the world. I was taught from the time I was born that God cared about the choices that I made, and that all life was sacred and beautiful. Not only was I raised to believe that life was holy, but I get to see the magic of life every time I go to work. I am a labor and delivery nurse, and for thirteen years I have walked with women as they have labored and birthed their little babies. I love seeing the strength of women. I have seen incredible heroines in the delivery room, and it takes my breath away every single time.In addition to my Mormon roots, I also have Scottish roots and that feels very much a part of who I am. One of my core values is freedom of choice - think William Wallace yelling “freedom!” or, if that is too distant a past, imagine Mormon pioneers walking barefoot across icy plains, suffering sickness and grief, all to have a place where they could worship God in the way they chose. So, to this project, I bring the core value of protecting and honoring the magic of life and the core value of protecting and honoring free will.Amy:The other thing I like to ask my reading partners is what interested them in the project. Lindsay:Have you heard the commencement speech given by David Foster Wallace, entitled This is Water? It begins with “There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”” This resonates so well with me. I have been swimming in patriarchy from the day I was born, but for a long time I didn’t have a name for it. For years I accepted the patriarchy of the scriptures and of my church. I accepted that men were the heads of the households, and other such patriarchal ideas. When I would ask questions about patriarchal concepts, I was always met with responses like “men are always in charge because someone has to be in charge. It might as well be men.” or “Leading is a burden. Aren’t you so glad you don’t have to make the stressful decisions?” The older I have gotten, the more frustrated I have become with these kinds of answers. The decisions that men make affect women. If half the world population is female, then half of all leadership teams should be female. Our leadership should reflect our population. Patriarchy, in any setting, is problematic and I am interested in breaking it down. For this episode, I take particular interest in Roe v Wade because it brings my core beliefs of the sanctity of life and the importance of free choice directly into the spotlight, and because I am deeply devoted to women’s healthcare and how childbirth affects their lives.Amy: That’s such a powerful introduction to this discussion, Lindsay. And I am truly so grateful that you are going to be the one to talk about this with me because you are so thoughtful, so precise and careful in your thinking, so loving, and so wise and experienced and passionate in your care for women and babies. You have engaged with women’s reproductive lives on a regular basis for years and years, but for me this topic is very new.The first time I dedicated time to studying and thinking about Abortion and Abortion rights was in a class called International Women’s Health and Human Rights at Stanford in 2019. We had to do a semester-long research project where we were asked to choose any topic we wanted having to do with women’s health, and we had to post about a different aspect of that topic every week on a blog for our classmates to read and comment on. Conversations on Abortion had always made me uncomfortable because there was so much contention and my religion and my experiences as a mom had made my feelings really tender about the topic. So I decided to confront my discomfort, and for the first time, attempt to understand why so many people I respected supported women’s rights to an abortion. Some takeaways from that project:I dislike the terms Pro-Life and Pro-Choice. They’re divisive and arguably disingenuous and they often shut down conversation instead of promoting understanding.Implied in “Pro-Life” is that the other side is “Anti-Life” or “Pro-Death.” That’s not fair or accurate, because many women who hold this view would personally not choose abortion as an option. AND in general people who hold that view are very concerned about the quality of life of mothers and children, and support programs to lift people out of poverty. They support healthy, flourishing lives for people already on this planet, many of whom are dealing with unimaginably difficult circumstances.Implied in “Pro-Choice” is that the other side is “Anti-Choice.” And that’s not fair either. Many people who hold this view emphasize that it most people do have the choice of whether or not to have sex. Most abortions are not cases of rape or incest or threats to the mother’s life. So they emphasize that most of the time a woman has choice of whether to have sex. She has a choice of whether to use birth control. They say rather than using your power of choice so late (especially as an unwanted pregnancy progresses and a fetus does approach viability, or even does become viable), a woman should use her power of choice to avoid the situation entirely. But that is not fair either and is often not an accurate assessment of women’s actual lives.Lindsay: I appreciate you calling these sides into question. I know I struggle because I am pro-life but I also am pro-choice. Interestingly, I did some additional research and the woman who was “Jane Roe” in the famous Roe v Wade, struggled to identify fully with one side of this black-and-white divie as well. “Jane Roe”’s real name was Norma McCorvey, and though she obviously wanted an abortion, she didn’t envision becoming the poster child of the cause. When she sought help to obtain an abortion, she said “my attorney saw these cuts on my wrists, my swollen eyes from crying, the miserable person sitting across from her and she knew she had a patsy.” She was used by the pro-choice side, and the court case took so long that she just waited and waited and never obtainined the abortion she had wanted. But then, later in life, she was baptized as a born-again Christian and fought fiercely against abortion rights. But then, on her deathbed, she switched again, confessing that she had been paid off by the pro-life advocates and did believe in women having a choice. In the end, she was used by both sides and felt like she didn’t fully identify with either.Amy: That is so interesting and so sad. I feel like in your case and in my case, we have done research and acquired life experiences that give us nuanced thinking about this issue. And sadly in Norma McCorvey’s case she didn’t seem to really understand the issues and that made her vulnerable to being used. So sad.Ok, so my next point is:On an individual level, no woman thinks “you know what I really want in life? I want to a pregnancy that will result in an abortion.” The vast majority of abortions come from women confronting an unwanted pregnancy, and by definition no one wants and unwanted pregnancy. So how can we avoid unwanted pregnancy? Better sex education Egalitarian attitudes from the time children are little, so boys would never consider putting a girl at riskAs part of that, boys’ understanding of their part in causing pregnancy - “irresponsible ejaculations” (Design Mom’s Twitter thread on abortion)Access to birth controlOn a societal level, noobody wants high abortion rates. Nobody, not Republicans, not Democrats, not men, not women. Which countries in the world have the lowest abortion rates? What are they doing? Why can’t we agree on those measures, since everyone has the same goal of fewer abortions? Look at the countries that have the highest abortion rates. What are they doing? Why can’t we agree to avoid those measures, since everyone has the same goal of fewer abortions? Why are we not just following the data?In my class, my fellow students approached this issue in varied ways. I remember one student saying “this is a moral/philosophical issue.” Another said “this is a public health issue.” Another said “this is a women’s rights issue.” One of my biggest “aha” moments was when I looked at photographs of the people who were telling their stories of why they felt they needed abortions. And of course they were 100% women. And then I looked at the people who were making the rules for those women - there’s that famous photo of Trump and Pence and a huge room full of men in suits. And the Catholic Church - literally a gigantic crowd of men in robes. Southern Baptist Convention - all men. The Mormon Church - 100% men. In Pakistan, a photo of imams who were making an announcement about abortion rights - 100% men. That was huge for me. While many women are Pro-Life and many men are Pro-Choice, at the level of determining religious and secular rules - the rules determining women’s reproductive rights, it’s all men. And at the level of the actual issue at hand, it’s all literally women. And so when I saw those photos I had this big mental shift of “whoa, this is - at least partly - about men controlling women.”And I came to this: for me, abortion is a big deal. It should be taken seriously on a societal level. It should be taken seriously on a personal level. It is a hard, hard choice to make, with so many different circumstances factoring in for each woman. So who is qualified to make that difficult choice? Who can be trusted to make that difficult choice? I love how Pete Buttigieg said “I think the dialogue has gotten so caught up on when you draw the line that we’ve gotten away from the fundamental question of who gets to draw the line.”Yes, exactly. Pete Buttigieg is honoring the fact that the location of the choice is within a woman’s body. Whether you personally view the fetus as its own body or part of the woman’s body, the fact remains that it is inside the woman’s body and the woman is the one whose life is impacted by that pregnancy. I read a quote in my research that said, “society’s relationship with the fetus must be mediated by the woman carrying the fetus.” So who has the right to make that difficult choice? A group of all men who has never met the woman? Or the woman herself, hopefully with the help of a doctor?Those are some of the issues that my class helped me consider, and we’ll encounter some of those points in the text. So let’s get down to Roe vs. Wade itself! Lindsay, can you read the quick summary of the case that we found on Encyclopedia Britannica?Lindsay: Sure! “Roe v. Wade, legal case in which the U.S. Supreme Court on January 22, 1973, ruled (7–2) that unduly restrictive state regulation of abortion is unconstitutional. In a majority opinion written by Justice Harry A. Blackmun, the Court held that a set of Texas statutes criminalizing abortion in most instances violated a woman’s constitutional right of privacy, which it found to be implicit in the liberty guarantee of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (“…nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”).”So that’s one key fact that it’s important to know - in determining whether abortion rights were protected by the constitution, the Supreme Court justices determined that the “privacy” clause of the fourteenth amendment covered women’s rights to make this very intimate decision with her own doctor, and that it would violate her privacy for the government to interfere. Amy:So now we’ll start reading the text. I’ll start with the opening paragraph.We forthwith acknowledge our awareness of the sensitive and emotional nature of the abortion controversy, of the vigorous opposing views, even among physicians, and of the deep and seemingly absolute convictions that the subject inspires. One's philosophy, one's experiences, one's exposure to the raw edges of human existence, one's religious training, one's attitudes toward life and family and their values, and the moral standards one establishes and seeks to observe, are all likely to influence and to color one's thinking and conclusions about abortion.In addition, population growth, pollution, poverty, and racial overtones tend to complicate and not to simplify the problem.Our task, of course, is to resolve the issue by constitutional measurement, free of emotion and of predilection. We seek earnestly to do this, and, because we do, we have inquired into, and in this opinion place some emphasis upon, medical and medical-legal history and what that history reveals about man's attitudes toward the abortion procedure over the centuries. I really appreciate the balance of this introduction, on one hand acknowledging the emotional and spiritual aspects of the topic, and on the other hand stating that their job is to uphold the US constitution. It can’t be swayed by emotion or religion (separation of church and state).The next part introduces Jane Roe, whom you talked about already Linz, but I’ll just read a bit of the text in order to set it up:Jane Roe, a single woman who was residing in Dallas County, Texas, instituted this federal action in March 1970 against the District Attorney of the county (Henry Wade, in Dallas County, Texas). She sought a declaratory judgment that the Texas criminal abortion statutes were unconstitutional on their face, and an injunction restraining the defendant [Henry Wade[ from enforcing the statutes.Roe alleged that she was unmarried and pregnant; that she wished to terminate her pregnancy by an abortion "performed by a competent, licensed physician, under safe, clinical conditions"; that she was unable to get a "legal" abortion in Texas because her life did not appear to be threatened by the continuation of her pregnancy; and that she could not afford to travel to another jurisdiction in order to secure a legal abortion under safe conditions. She claimed that the Texas statutes were unconstitutionally vague and that they abridged her right of personal privacy, protected by the First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments. By an amendment to her complaint Roe purported to sue "on behalf of herself and all other women" similarly situated. Lindsay:I really appreciate how the case states it is “on behalf of all other women”. Something I learned in reading the case was that there was another plaintiff who filed a case alongside Jane Roe! That plaintiff was actually a married and childless couple known as John and Mary Doe. QUOTE: Mrs. Doe was suffering from a "neural-chemical" disorder; that her physician had "advised her to avoid pregnancy until such time as her condition has materially...
67 minutes | Jul 6, 2021
Amy: Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy! I’m Amy McPhie Allebest. Today’s text is Title IX, which is the most well-known portion of the United States Education Amendments, passed in 1972. This is an incredibly important piece of legislation, and we’re going to get into its history, the way it impacts people’s lives, and the way it is or isn’t enforced effectively. All of this based on just one sentence. And just so listeners are aware, we are going to be talking about sexual assault later in the episode - not a graphic description, but a true story on a sensitive and difficult topic, so please be advised of that.Before we begin our discussion, I want to introduce my reading partner for today, Whitney McPhie Griffith. Hi, Whitney!Whitney: Hi, Amy!Amy: Whitney and I are sisters, and we have had the great fortune of living near each other several times in our lives, but sadly we live far away from each other right now. So it’s been so wonderful to work on this project together. I’m so very grateful that you were willing to talk about Title IX and share your experience and your wisdom. Thank you so much for doing this. Whitney: I’m happy to be here!Amy: So could you tell us a little about yourself? Where you come from, who you are, etc.?Whitney: Yep! I’m from Colorado, mostly. I lived in many different places, but I spent my childhood in CO, then slowly made my way to the west coast. My husband and I moved to Portland from California two years ago, and I really really love it here. I’m a pianist and multidisciplinary artist, and I’m currently working on a graphic design degree. My husband started a company a couple years ago, so I’m also a sort of creative director, editor, photographer, digital content manager, web designer, morale coach, etc for his company. It’s fun.Amy: And then I also like to ask my reading partners what interested them in this project. What brought you to Breaking Down Patriarchy? Whitney: I love breaking down patriarchy! I think it’s so important to discuss what patriarchy is-- a complex topic that I don’t think is understood well enough. I’m grateful to join you in this conversation on Title IX, as I have some personal experience with it.Amy: Thanks so much, Whit. Again, I’m so grateful to have you here today and to hear your perspective as we talk about this document.So we are going to structure our conversation by explaining Title IX itself, talking about who the major players were in getting Title IX passed, and what its impacts have been. So Whit, could you start us off by explaining a bit about Title IX?Whitney: Sure!The official website of the US Department of Education says:“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”Then it goes on to talk about the scope of Title IX:“Title IX applies to institutions that receive federal financial assistance from the Department of Education, including state and local educational agencies.Educational programs and activities that receive Department of Education funds must operate in a nondiscriminatory manner. Some key issue areas in which recipients have Title IX obligations are: recruitment, admissions, and counseling; financial assistance; athletics; sex-based harassment; treatment of pregnant and parenting students; discipline; single-sex education; and employment.”----Amy: Thanks, Whit. So any listeners who heard the episode on the book, Keep the Damned Women Out, about United States universities excluding women from educational opportunities, will know why this legislation was needed. And you also might remember many of our episodes that talked about women like Sarah Grimke who watched from home while her brothers were sent to Yale, or the genius Civil Rights Activist Pauli Murray, who was rejected from Harvard solely because she was a woman. So yes, women had always been kept from educational opportunities that were available to men, and that’s why this legislation was needed. And so now, because we always talk about the authors of these essential texts, let’s also highlight one of the primary architects of this statute, Patsy T. Mink. Whitney, let’s take turns telling this story. Maybe I’ll start out, and then you can take the second half. Sound good?Whitney: Yep!Amy:Patsy Matsu Takemoto Mink was born on December 6, 1927 on the island of Maui, when Hawaii was still a US territory. She was a third-generation Japanese American. After graduating as valedictorian of the Maui High School class in 1944, she attended the University of Hawaii at Mānoa for two years and then subsequently enrolled at the University of Nebraska. That set off a red flag for me when I read it, thinking uh-oh, doing the math, that transplants a Japanese American from Hawaii, where there are many, many people of Asian descent, into the midwest, and right after WWII was over. That cannot have been good. And sure enough… she experienced terrible racism in Nebraska and worked to have segregation policies eliminated. After illness forced her to return to Hawaii to complete her studies there, she applied to 12 medical schools to continue her education but was rejected by all of them. Following a suggestion by her employer, she opted to study law and was accepted at the University of Chicago Law School in 1948. While at university, she met and married a graduate student, John Francis Mink. When they graduated in 1951, Patsy Mink was unable to find employment as a married, Asian woman, and after the birth of their daughter in 1952 the couple moved to Hawaii.She was refused the right to take the bar examination, due to the loss of her Hawaiian territorial residency upon marriage. That would never have happened to a man - a man would not have lost his residency upon marriage - so Mink challenged that rule. She won the right to take the test and passed the examination. But because she was married and had a child she could not find public or private employment. Mink's father helped her open her own practice in 1953, and she worked as an attorney for the Hawaiian territorial legislature in 1955. She hoped to change discriminatory practices through law, and the following year, she ran for a seat in the territorial House of Representatives. Winning the race, she became the first Japanese-American woman to serve in the territorial House and two years later, the first woman to serve in the territorial Senate. In 1964, Mink ran for federal office and won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. She was the first woman of color and the first Asian-American woman elected to Congress, and also the first woman elected to Congress from the state of Hawaii. She championed the causes of education and child-care, and in 1970, she became the first person to oppose a Supreme Court nominee on the basis of discrimination against women. In 1972, she co-authored the Title IX Amendment of the Higher Education Act, later renamed the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act in 2002. Whitney:Mink's initial draft of Title IX was formally introduced in Congress by Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana in 1971 who was then its chief Senate sponsor for congressional debate. At the time, Bayh was working on numerous constitutional issues related to women's employment and sex discrimination—including but not limited to the revised draft of the Equal Rights Amendment. Just as a note, The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was supposed to protect women from discrimination, but it did not cover discrimination in Education, so many people were advocating for the ERA because it would build "a powerful constitutional base from which to move forward in abolishing discriminatory differential treatment based on sex". ] But he was having difficulty getting the ERA Amendment out of committee, so in 1972 Bayh re-introduced a provision found in the ERA bill as an amendment which would become Title IX. In his remarks on the Senate Floor, Bayh stated, "we are all familiar with the stereotype [that] women [are] pretty things who go to college to find a husband, [and who] go on to graduate school because they want a more interesting husband, and finally marry, have children, and never work again. The desire of many schools not to waste a 'man's place' on a woman stems from such stereotyped notions. But the facts contradict these myths about the 'weaker sex' and it is time to change our operating assumptions." He continued: "While the impact of this amendment would be far-reaching, it is not a panacea. It is, however, an important first step in the effort to provide for the women of America something that is rightfully theirs—an equal chance to attend the schools of their choice, to develop the skills they want, and to apply those skills with the knowledge that they will have a fair chance to secure the jobs of their choice with equal pay for equal work".Title IX, or “the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act,” became public law on June 23, 1972. Amy: Ok, so let’s talk about Title IX’s impacts. First, let’s do sports, and then we’ll cover sexual harassment and assault. Whitney, can you tell us a bit about how Title IX affected women’s sports? Whitney: Yes.So prior to Title IX, women were not only discriminated against in classes, they were also not given opportunities to participate in sports. In 1972, only 15% of college athletes were women, and in high school, only 7% of athletes were girls. And the girls’ sports teams that did exist had to provide their own uniforms and equipment, while boys’ teams were paid for. By the way, this data comes from TED talk called Equality, Sports and Title IX, and it’s a really short, really effective little educational video. Anyway, After Title IX was passed, it became the law that a school that received federal funding had to provide equitable funding for girl’s sports. And of course, when schools offered better sports programs, a lot more girls started playing sports. If you think back to some of the earlier books you talked about on the podcast, a lot of women in the 18th and 19th centuries argued that girls wanted to be active and play outside too, and they were so frustrated that they weren’t allowed to. And men just argued by saying “girls don’t like to do stuff like that,” and these women activists kept saying “YES, WE WOULD if we had the chance!!!” So this was really the case right up through the 1960’s and 70’s and Title IX. So to all you listeners: if you are a woman who played sports as a kid, or you are a parent who has daughters who play sports, and those girls have uniforms and funding and a robust group of girls to play with and compete against, then you have Title IX to thank for that. On the website of the famous tennis star Billie Jean King (who is featured on the movie “The Battle of the Sexes,” if you’ve seen that), it says, “The impact of Title IX on women’s sports is significant. The law opened doors and removed barriers for girls and women, and while female athletes and their sports programs still have fewer teams, fewer scholarships, and lower budgets than their male counterparts, since Title IX’s passage, female participation at the high school level has grown by 1057 percent and by 614 percent at the college level. The impact of Title IX stretches into professional sports as well. More opportunities have emerged for young women to turn their sport into their career, particularly in the WNBA. Collegiate and professional coaching opportunities have increased as well.” Amy: That’s so great and so important. So now we are going to shift gears and talk about another aspect of discrimation that Title IX covers, which is Sexual Harassment and Assault. I was having a hard time understanding how topics as different as girls’ sports participation and sexual assault were covered by the same one sentence of legislation, but I looked at the Title IX website and it helped me understand. It says: “Advocates such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) maintain that "when students suffer sexual assault and harassment, they are deprived of equal and free access to an education." Further, according to an April 2011 letter issued by the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, "The sexual harassment of students, including sexual violence, interferes with students' right to receive an education free from discrimination and, in the case of sexual violence, is a crime." [Title XI website] Amy: Whitney, I know you’ve had personal experience with this. So could you tell us about that? Whitney: Yes. I think the easiest place to start is a couple of years ago, when I shared a very personal story publicly on Facebook about an experience I had when I was in college. So I’m just going to start by reading that post. From FB: It’s time for me to share my story about one of the darkest chapters in my life. I’ve been trying to decide how I’d go about this and have been thinking very seriously about it over the past year, knowing that I’d never feel like I’d be able to write it “perfectly” or feel ready to put myself out there like this. But the time is now. While I was at Utah State University in 2009, I was raped by an instructor in the piano department. I didn’t tell anyone for a while, until I sunk into a deep depression and everything in my life seemed to be completely falling apart. I called my dad one day about four months later in hysterics and told him what had happened. After discussing the issue with my dad, the Sexual Assault and Anti-Violence Information office, and my therapist, I decided to report the incident to Title IX. It was one of the scariest things I’d ever done at that point, but I mustered all the courage I possibly could and read my handwritten statement and details of the events out loud. Their solution was to talk with this individual. They set up a meeting with him and the head of the department, and he was told to knock it off, essentially given a slap on the wrist. He said that he was sorry and that he was now “on the straight and narrow” and was turning things around. And that was the end of that. After spending one year away from the program, I returned, only to find that one of the required courses for piano performance majors was dropped from my schedule, after the semester had begun, because the head of the department “didn’t want there to be any drama” (between me and the instructor/rapist). I went to see the dean of the music school. He had called the head of the department, without consulting me first (not to mention considering the confidentiality I was supposed to have had guaranteed), and they went ahead and dropped my class and waived the course requirement for me. They weren’t giving me the education that I was there to receive. Later that semester, I had a serious wrist injury that required surgery and left me unable to play with my left hand for about eight weeks. At the suggestion of the head of the department, I obtained the required signatures and information necessary to drop another course due to being unable to finish. It wasn’t until I had my final grades, well after the semester was complete, that I saw that he’d given me an F in the course. When I brought it up to him he refused to do anything about it. After hearing that the instructor/rapist had also been assaulting other students in the piano program during this same period, my anxiety became so debilitating that I withdrew from USU altogether the following year. I’d tried to push through and get what I’d gone to USU for in the first place: an education, exceptional music and piano instruction, and a piano performance & pedagogy degree. I was living my lifelong passion and dream. But I couldn’t do it. No one else who had experienced what I had with this rapist was willing or ready to talk about it, and I felt too alone and weak to continue on. I ultimately left Logan and over time, rebuilt my life outside of the piano world. Then, about a year and a half ago, I learned that even more students in the piano department had been sexually discriminated against, harassed, and assaulted—not only...
102 minutes | Jun 29, 2021
Our Bodies, Ourselves by The Boston Women's Health Collective
Amy: Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy! I’m Amy McPhie Allebest. Our book today was published in 1970, and it’s called Our Bodies, Ourselves: A Book By and For Women. And before we even talk about the content I want to pause and think about the weight of that title. For listeners who have been with us since the beginning, you’ll remember Gerda Lerner’s The Creation of Patriarchy, and how ancient laws designated women’s bodies as belonging to men. For thousands of years, women were legally bought and sold by men. Men had the right to kill a woman for breaking certain laws or to kill her baby if they decided to; men had the legal right to rape and to beat their wives until very, very recently, even in this country. Then think of the medical paternalism in “The Yellow Wallpaper,” and how women were still not believed when they talked about their own physical or mental health. Then remember “The Case for Birth Control” in the 20’s and 30’s, and how the Comstock Laws forbade people from mentioning women’s reproductive systems, and birth control was completely illegal, so women had no idea how to control their own pregnancies or births. When we consider this historical timeline, it feels like a powerful act for women to proclaim OUR BODIES, OURSELVES: A BOOK BY AND FOR WOMEN. It’s an act of claiming ownership and sovereignty.I should also alert listeners that we do talk about sexuality in this episode, so if you’ve recommended this podcast to kids, you should give this one a listen before deciding what age it’s appropriate for.And now I want to introduce my reading partner today, Jessica Harder. Hi, Jessica!Jessica: (Response)Amy: Jessica is my husband Erik’s cousin (younger and cooler than we are) :) , and she’s the niece of the amazing Franceskay Allebes, who did our episode on John Stuart Mill’s The Subjection of Women a few months ago. So to start off, Jessica, can you tell us a little about yourself?Jessica: • born in 1984/ Grew up in southern California.Conservative religious upbringing with a strong patriarchal cultureDutch background influence in upbringingI didn’t realize some of my upbringing was Dutch culture until I later lived there. Dutch culture is closer to an egalitarian society than in the US. Mixed messages: Many strong women in my family/ women take a back seat to men at churchI was also trained to want children and a husband. But could have cared less for this. Parents artist: art was an influence at homeStarted designing and sewing at the age of 4 At 5 years old I saw a career woman wearing a suit pick up another kid at school. I was mesmerized. At that moment I knew I had to be a career woman. I figured out I could combine the designing and career together and At 16 started designing for a designer. 17 was on the Nordstrom's fashion Board At 18 I went to school for design, which was a no brainer. At the same time I started doing yoga and meditation Started working for a local designer all through school. When I graduated I took off and moved to the Netherlands. The first week there I met my husband.I taught myself to speak Dutch.While I lived there I worked in tourism, for a bike company, and in the fashion industry. Work sent me back to school to study the Dutch language and I started doing translation work for them. After 6 years I ended my time in the Netherlands working for my favorite designer My husband and I moved to USA.We lived with and took care of my Dutch grandfather for 4 years.I went through a career switch due to: toxic environment, not wanting to promote consumerism, wanting to work less than 70 hours a week. So after 13 years of doing yoga I completed a 200 hour Yoga Alliance Teacher Training Program and became a yoga teacher. In my teaching carrier I taught at a senior center, rock climbing gym, yoga studio, olympic athletes, and at drug and alcohol rehabs.Completed a 500 hour Yoga Alliance Teacher Training Program and became pregnant the week we were studying prenatal yoga. I had a very difficult pregnancy and birth complications.During that pregnancy I began teaching prenatal yoga.The day before my labor started I was leading a teacher training program for prenatal yoga teachers I switched to working part time and got to teach baby and me yoga and breastfeed while I taught. I went into another training program this time for Trauma Informed Yoga in Drug and Alcohol Addiction Rehab.I had another challenging pregnancy. Had to quit training the olympic athletes due to the pregnancy. And then Covid hit and I went on maternity leave.I started a group to connect women giving birth during the pandemic. We still meet today. I chose to take an extended maternity leave due to covid, recovery complications and my family's needs. But I got too restless not working: so I started writing a book about prenatal yoga. Just started teaching prenatal yoga this week to some private clients. Amy: And what attracted you to the Breaking Down Patriarchy project?Jessica: I have been listening to every episode as they come out and loving this work you have been creating.When we started discussing doing the podcast you mentioned this book. I had the pregnancy version of the book already in my library when you mentioned it to me. My views of pregnancy and birth have warped dramatically through my experience of having babies. As a kid I was groomed by the leaders of my religion to have lots of babies. It was seen as a divine purpose for a woman to have many children. Pregnancy was idealized and glorified as an almost Godly mission for women. When I finally experienced pregnancy it was far from the truth. Over 110 different pregnancy symptomsER and urgent care visits every week. Lost the use of my handsFractured pelvic boneCould hardly walk at the endHad to quit jobs during both pregnancies I became obsessed with research on how to manage the pain, symptoms and prepare for birth.If this was pregnancy what was childbirth like? 2 to 5 hours of research a day during both pregnanciesMy doctors told me I knew too much and should stop researching, my husband and doula told me the same thing. I was not admitted into a birthing class because the woman leading the class told me it was obvious that I knew everything she was going to teach. I was as prepared as anyone could be when labor began. Immediately after my son was born I was told I had 45 minutes left to live due to hemorrhaging. Two weeks later I ended up back in the ER due to hemorrhaging, and had to have a surgery that saved my life. With my daughter’s birth the same medical situation that threatened my life happened again. Because of the urgency the Doctor could not wait for the anesthesiologist. So I had to have surgery in order to stop the bleeding without any anesthesia or medication. This was far from the fairytale of pregnancy and birth I was told women had. But having all my knowledge about how my body worked in these life threatening situations allowed me to remain completely calm and collected.I have never felt so at peace. I was able to have real conversations with my doctors and understand what they were saying and doing. I felt the knowledge I had gave me power in a powerless situation.This is why I was so excited when you said the title of the book. I was aware of this book and its importance to women’s health before you mentioned it. The book is about gaining power and control over your body through knowledge about your body. And learning what stories society or in my case religion tells us about our bodies that are simply not true. So I was excited to read this book that brings the power over your body back to you. Amy: Thanks so much for that, Jessica! Ok, let’s introduce this book. I had heard the title “Our Bodies, Ourselves” before, but I didn’t even know what it was before we did this project. So I’ll introduce the book, and then we’ll hear some of the parts we found most important. This description was taken from the website: ourbodiesourselves.org.Amy: In May of 1969, as the women’s movement was gaining momentum and influence in the Boston area and elsewhere around the country, a group of women met during a “female liberation conference” at Emmanuel College. In a workshop on “Women and Their Bodies,” they shared their experiences with doctors and their frustration at how little they knew about how their bodies worked.The discussions were so provocative and fulfilling that they formed the Doctor’s Group, the forerunner to the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, to find out more about their bodies, their lives, their sexuality and relationships, and to talk with each other about what they learned.They decided to put their knowledge into an accessible format that could be shared and would serve as a model for women to learn about themselves, communicate their findings with doctors, and challenge the medical establishment to change and improve the care that women receive.In 1970, they worked with the New England Free Press to publish a 193-page course book on stapled newsprint entitled “Women and Their Bodies.” The book was revolutionary for its frank talk about sexuality and abortion, which was then illegal. [They later changed the name to Women and Our Bodies, reflecting that the women themselves were the ones who wrote the book, whereas the first title, interestingly, sounded like the women were still outside of themselves, seeing their bodies as men see them. Even these women experienced a shift in consciousness from assuming man as the center to putting woman at the center]In 1971, they changed the title to its current version, “Our Bodies, Ourselves” to emphasize women taking full ownership of their bodies. The book quickly became an underground success, selling 225,000 copies, mainly by word-of-mouth. The cost to buy the book was 30 cents.In 1972, after strenuous debate, the group of founding authors decided to publish with a mainstream publisher in order to reach a wider audience. They formally incorporated as the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective and negotiated a contract with Simon & Schuster that included a 70 percent clinic discount for low-income women and provision for a U.S. Spanish translation.The first commercial, expanded edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” was published in 1973. The preface and the first chapter, “Our Changing Sense of Self,” are available online.For forty years, “Our Bodies, Ourselves” was updated and revised approximately every four to seven years. The most recent edition was published in 2011.The book has sold millions of copies and received numerous honors. Library Journal named the 2011 edition one of the best consumer health books of the year. Also in 2011, Time magazine recognized “Our Bodies, Ourselves” as one of the best 100 nonfiction books (in English) since the founding of Time in 1923. In 2012, the Library of Congress included the original “Our Bodies, Ourselves” in the exhibit “Books That Shaped America”, a collection of 88 nonfiction and fiction titles “intended to spark a national conversation on books written by Americans that have influenced our lives.”As far back as 1974, publishers and women’s groups in other countries started translating and adapting “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” and developing books inspired by it. In 2001, the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, now known as Our Bodies Ourselves, or OBOS, formalized the Our Bodies Ourselves Global Initiative, which provided support to and worked closely with women’s groups adapting the book for their own cultures and communities. In 2011, Our Bodies Ourselves celebrated its 40th anniversary with an international symposium that included a dozen global partners. As of spring 2020, “Our Bodies, Ourselves” has been reproduced in 33 languages, reaching millions of people around the world.I think it’s important to also point out that when the first edition was printed the only way to learn about how your body worked was in books written by men, or through your male doctor if he was willing to explain things to you. There was no internet. That really puts the importance of this book into context. Amy:I want to introduce the book with three important parts from the Preface, written by the original authors in the 1973 edition:“You may want to know who we are. We are white, our ages range from 24 to 40, most of us are from middle-class backgrounds and have had at least some college education, and some of us have professional degrees. Some of us are married, some separated, and some of us are single. Some of us have children of our own, some of us like spending time with children, and others of us are not sure we want to be with children. In short, we are both a very ordinary and a very special group, as women are everywhere. We are white middle-class women, and as such can describe only what life has been for us. But we do realize that poor women and non-white women have suffered far more from the kinds of misinformation and mistreatment that we are describing in this book. In some ways, learning about our womanhood from the inside out has allowed us to cross over the socially created barriers of race, color, income and class, and to feel a sense of identity with all women in the experience of being female.”This is really, really important that they’re aware of their limitations. Many people then - or even now - wouldn’t have even noticed the absence of diversity because white middle-class has been seen as the default, “normal” person. So I’m impressed that they acknowledge the absence of so many women. At the same time, this book was originally titled “Woman and Their Bodies.” That sounds like a universal, encyclopedic reference, and the subtitle of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” is “A Book By and For Women.” I keep hearing Sojourner Truth in my mind, saying “Ain’t I a Woman??” I love the sisterhood that these women were trying to create, but I feel like a sisterhood where all the women are white is like going to a family reunion and starting the party… but then realizing that only some of your siblings are there. I wish they would have said “uh-oh, stop the show, we are missing too many of our sisters” - and had pressed pause on the project until they got a more diverse group together. And not just one token woman of color and one token woman from the other side of the tracks, but an actual group that reflects what the American population really looks like. So: looking back, it was 1970, I’m impressed that they did better than so many; still leaves room for improvement, and I have a feeling if Frances Beal picked up this book she would have just slammed it right down. And I should add: I’m going to take all my excerpts from the original book, because I’m looking at it as an artifact - a historical representation of how women were thinking at the time. But Jessica, you already owned some other editions of this book, and you’re going to reference the most current edition sometimes, right?Jessica: • Yes, I owed the Our Bodies Ourselves Pregnancy and Birth edition from 2008. •Through my crazy pregnancy research I had come across way too many references to this book to not read it. • It is interesting to read the 1970 edition and then the 2011 edition and compare. The female body has not changed in that time frame but science, our knowledge of AIDS and society's views have. • We can see the progress in fertility treatments when reading these books side by side. (1970 does not address it, 30 pages/ one entire chapter in 2011)• I don’t know if you were thinking this while reading the chapter on venereal disease in the 1970 edition but I kept thinking “If they only knew that the AIDS pandemic was around the corner this chapter would be very different.” WOW, what a great point!!!• They have two full chapters about STI’s and how to protect yourself from them in the 2011 edition and only 8 pages on STI’s in the 1970 edition. • With society's views opening, particular topics were able to be discussed in the most current version were not even mentioned in the 1970 edition. • It makes me wonder what topics are too taboo
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