Little somethin’ about agency

4/18/13

Reposted without permission from: http://thinkprogress.org/health/2013/04/17/1883121/west-virginia-abstinence-assembly/?mobile=nc

 

High Schooler Protests ‘Slut-Shaming’ Abstinence Assembly Despite Alleged Threats From Her Principal

By Tara Culp-Ressler on Apr 17, 2013 at 2:55 pm

High school senior Katelyn Campbell

A West Virginia high school student is filing an injunction against her principal, who she claims is threatening to punish her for speaking out against a factually inaccurate abstinence assembly at her school. Katelyn Campbell, who is the student body vice president at George Washington High School, alleges her principal threatened to call the college where she’s been accepted to report that she has “bad character.”

George Washington High School recently hosted a conservative speaker,Pam Stenzel, who travels around the country to advocate an abstinence-only approach to teen sexuality. Stenzel has a long history of using inflammatory rhetoric to convince young people that they will face dire consequences for becoming sexually active. At GW’s assembly, Stenzel allegedly told students that “if you take birth control, your mother probably hates you” and “I could look at any one of you in the eyes right now and tell if you’re going to be promiscuous.” She also asserted that condoms aren’t safe, and every instance of sexual contact will lead to a sexually transmitted infection.

Campbell refused to attend the assembly, which was funded by a conservative religious organization called “Believe in West Virginia” and advertised with fliers that proclaimed “God’s plan for sexual purity.” Instead, she filed a complaint with the ACLU and began to speak out about her objections to this type of school-sponsored event. Campbell called Stenzel’s presentation “slut shaming” and said that it made many students uncomfortable.

GW Principal George Aulenbacher, on the other hand, didn’t see anything wrong with hosting Stenzel. “The only way to guarantee safety is abstinence. Sometimes, that can be a touchy topic, but I was not offended by her,” he told the West Virginia Gazettelast week.

But it didn’t end with a simple difference of opinion among Campbell and her principal. The high school senior alleges that Aulenbacher threatened to call Wellesley College, where Campbell has been accepted to study in the fall, after she spoke to the press about her objections to the assembly. According to Campbell, her principal said, “How would you feel if I called your college and told them what bad character you have and what a backstabber you are?” Campbell alleges that Aulenbacher continued to berate her in his office, eventually driving her to tears. “He threatened me and my future in order to put forth his own personal agenda and make teachers and students feel they cant speak up because of fear of retaliation,” she said of the incident.

 

Despite being threatened, Campbell is not backing down. She hopes that filing this injunction will protect her freedom of speech to continue advocating for comprehensive sexual health resources for West Virginia’s youth. “West Virginia has the ninth highest pregnancy rate in the U.S.,” Campbell told the Gazette. “I should be able to be informed in my school what birth control is and how I can get it. With the policy at GW, under George Aulenbacher, information about birth control and sex education has been suppressed. Our nurse wasn’t allowed to talk about where you can get birth control for free in the city of Charleston.”

Campbell’s complaints about her high school reflect a problematic trend across the country. There are serious consequences when figures like Stenzel repeatedly tell young Americans that contraception isn’t safe. Partly because of the scientific misinformation that often pervades abstinence-only curricula, an estimated 60 percent of young adults are misinformed about birth control’s effectiveness — and some of those teens choose not to use it because they assume it won’t make any difference. Predictably, the states that lack adequate sex ed requirements are also the states that have the highest rates of teen pregnancy and STDs.

Some of Campbell’s fellow students at GW High School are also rallying for her cause. They plan to take up the issue at a local board of education meeting, which is scheduled for Thursday evening.

Femfuture?

4/17/13

Reported without permission from : 

http://diasporahypertext.com/2013/04/12/femfuture-history-loving-each-other-harder/

The “#FemFuture: Online Revolution” report was released this week. Organized by Courtney Martin and Vanessa Valenti, and funded in part by Barnard College, the report builds

“….on a 2012 convening where 21 writers, activists, and educators who work in the online feminist landscape came together to discuss their needs, desires, and hopes for the online feminist future. Here they provide a cogent explanation of the power of online organizing, the risks and challenges of the current state of the field, and some possible solutions for creating a more sustainable system.”

Critique of the report was immediate. Following the #FemFuture hashtag, bloggers, activists, educators, and organizers have taken the participants and the report to task for what appears to be U.S.-centric, mainstream, feminist elitism and historical erasure.

I have huge respect and love for a number of the #FemFuture participants. I’ve followed several of them–Brittney Cooper, Ileana Jiménez, Shelby Knox, Andrea Plaid, and Miriam Pérez–for some time and find their intervention online to be unique, refreshing, and necessary. I also find it fascinating that a group with so many perspectives on feminism and different levels of investment in what that word even means was able to gather for the purpose of crafting the report.  I applaud Barnard College for supporting it; academic institutions need to take a larger role in supporting, dare I say, sustaining the work that is happening on the ground and online. Educators have a significant part to play in encouraging and supporting feminist thought so I’m not surprised to see so many involved.

I read the report and I appreciate the work that went into it but I wonder about mistakes that may have been made and ways we can move the conversation into a real #FemFuture. I find myself facing the report with, as Charlene Carruthers tweeted, “mixed feelings and mixed loyalties.”

My thoughts are varied but I’ll share a few here. I hope you’ll read it in full but if you need to jump around (or jump ahead and come back), you can follow the anchors: History and the Newness of Things, Uncompensated Labor x Unrequited Love, We Are All in This…Together?, Who Pays for (Online) Feminisms, and Dear Academic Feminists: A Coda on Privilege.

In case it isn’t clear, when I speak of “black feminists” I am using the term in its broadest, gender-neutral, inclusive of all sexualities, diasporic conception. For me, it is a term that describes more than individuals; it describes a set of practices and living in the world.

I also use the term “radical woman of color” as defined in This Bridge Called My Back: Writing by Radical Women of Color, edited by Cherrie Moragá and Gloria Anzaldua, to include non-white radical thinkers and activists in the United States and globally (some prefer the term “Global South” others “Third World”). “Radical woman of color” has been critiqued for the limits it places on gender expression and ways it may elide differences of nation, ethnicity, and race. I, too, am uncomfortable with the way the term circumscribes gender, but find the term useful as a coalition-builder. I also recognize many of the individuals I discuss (myself included) see themselves as radical wom-n of color. There is a longer discussion to be had here (terminology, movements, gender, new generations of rwoc) but for the purpose of this post, I use the acronym (rwoc) as a gender neutral alternative.

History and the Newness of Things
There is a dangerous ignorance in assuming #FemFuture is a first, a start, or new.

Communities built around the Allied Media Conference, the Southeastern Women’s Studies Association, Incite: Women of Color Against Violence, Critical Resistance, VivirLatino, Quirky Black Girls, Angry Black Woman, Black Feminism Lives!, BrokenBeautiful Press and Ubuntu (which used blogs to create energy, awareness and support for rape victims in the wake of the Duke lacrosse case), Hermana Resist, Guerrilla Mama Medicine, Latin@ Sexuality, New Model Minority, the WOC Survival Kit, and TransGriot have been agitating online for years now. Not to mention older, defunct spaces like the Culture Kitchen (although Liza Sabater is busily tweeting away) and the Radical Woman of Color Blogring, or others who stepped away from active blogging like Brownfemipower. African Diaspora, Ph.D. (created in 2008) and Diaspora Hypertext have been part of this conversation as well. Moya Bailey and Alexis Pauline Gumbs wrote about many of these black feminist and rwoc networks in 2010.  There are many others (please leave suggestions in the comments, I will add them to the bit.ly) because well before Tumblr and Twitter, there were still blogs, and long before there were blogs, there was LiveJournal. Feminism was online even then.

Barnard College itself has been site and witness to some of this activity.  In 2010, Scholar & Feminist Online published a special issue called Polyphonic Feminisms: Acting in Concert. Barnard also hosted a Polyphonics Feminisms Gallery featuring Moya Bailey, Larissa Sansour, Speak: Women of Color Media Collective, Nuala Cabral, Lina Bertucci, Fe Montes, Lisa Factora-Borchers, Jasmeen Patheja, Anida Yoeu Ali and Mary Jane Villamor. This institutional memory extends to the #FemFuture report itself, Storified in the moment by the Crunk Feminists Collective.

These groups and activists have never stopped speaking. And the praxis at the heart of this work is believing and acting, online and on the ground, in a feminism that is rooted in community and therefore community accountable, challenges all forms of violence and oppression, is global, and practices and pushes for transformative justice.

Visit the sites, contact the bloggers directly, explore the issues and the frameworks they have described as ‘feminist’ and their understanding of how digital technology is used to make change.  Several of the individuals and groups described above have been actively speaking back on Twitter using the #FemFuture hashtag. Listening to them is a lesson in and of itself.

Admittedly, the aforementioned are imperfect creations.  Transmisogyny continues to be a problem. Ableism in black feminist and rwoc circles still needs to be addressed (see corrective work by cripchick, Mia Mingus). English is the language most often used, limiting global impact (important exceptions are Liza Sabater and Hue Global). But there is nothing new about bloggers attempting to create digital media and activate online networks to challenge interlocking oppressions while agitating on the ground for social change.

There is also nothing new about attempts to build coalitions with majority white feminist organizations and blog spaces. The problem is not that this hasn’t happened, the problem is how horribly it has failed in the past. Kristin Rawls, writing at Global Comment, describes some of the more recent moments–the lackluster response to Quvenzhané Wallis’ being slurred by the Onion, discomfort with supporting sex workers rights. Another example is mainstream feminism’s hot-and-cold support for artists like Rihanna, and what that might say about support for victims of domestic violence. And this post builds on a long history of written, blogged critique of moments like #FemFuture, as well as mainstream feminisms’ selective amnesia, internalized racism and elitism.

Black feminists and rwoc bloggers have historically been open to working in community with mainstream organizations and in majority white feminist spaces online but the vitrol and attack they have had to endure limits the success of these border-crossings. Some of the #FemFuture participants represent online spaces that have a less than stellar history with black feminst and rwoc blogging (Feministe, Feministing).  These are wounds that have never healed and cannot be healed unless this past is acknowledged, reconciled and dressed. Time and again the communal memory of radical bloggers has been pushed to the margins or glossed over instead of centered in the story of the revolt.

In 2012, when Barnard hosted the #FemFuture convening, a dense twitter conversation ensued and ambivalence about coalition-building across race was pervasive:

The #FemFuture report appears promising on the surface. It states “multiplicity is not only okay, but healthy and inevitable.” There are foundational radical bloggers, networks, and movements mentioned in the report–Viva la Feminista, #BeTheHelp, Janet Mock’s #girlslikeus, National Black Justice Coalition, #BlackTransProud, the QueerBlackFeminist blog, as well as Racialicious and the Crunk Feminist Collective.

At the same time, moments of discomfort emerge. The refrain “feminist blogs are the consciousness-raising groups of our generation” is provided without attribution (the quote is from Samhita Mukhopadhyay) even as the premise is a strategic jumping off point (see pages 3, 6, 8, 24, and 26). This seems emblematic of the larger problem with the gathering and mission of the project. In other words, the base of knowledge appears to be generated and propelled by black feminist and rwoc online activity; the citation, attribution, and support of this work appears to be missing; and those who stand to benefit most from the visibility and exposure the report appear to be digital feminism’s elite, women who already have professional capital, publications, and institutional funding. It may be that the report was meant to be a communal, co-authored venture, but if so, this isn’t stated clearly. If only because of this history, it should be.

Since these concerns were raised in tweets before the report was published, in a robust conversation occurring online in tandem with the gathering, it is unclear why they make no appearance outside of key sections (see Part II, “Creating Space for Radical Learning”). Did the writers of the #FemFuture report chose smooth, clean narrative (and the silencing that attends the same) over incorporating the critique levied ten months ago? And as a digital humanist invested in theorizing social media, I wonder what it says about the potential of the “back channel” to speak back to power? As digital feminists, shouldn’t this too be an issue we are concerned with, something we integrate into our online and offline engagement?

Black feminist and rwoc bloggers are quite clear about the dispossession and dismissal they have experienced in their encounters with mainstream online feminism. That history is at the heart of much of the critique. lllegal Plum Pudding discusses several omissions in the report here. A #FemFuture Response Tumblr was created within days of #FemFuture going live. Lisa Factora-Borchers, Jessica Luther, and TF Charlton respond in Bitch Magazine. Jessica Luther published a Storify of her live-tweet read of the report and asked several questions around who might have been in the room, the format, and process leading up to the report.

#FemFuture would have done better to address these outright.  One of the key frameworks of the report is the “collective.” If so, why not acknowledge this history? How is it possible to move forward when it appears these feuds are being ignored? The report does little to address how “multiplicity” operates along power lines and therefore is both horizontal and vertical.

Perhaps a level of transparency should have been built into the report. How did the meeting come to be convened?  Was a general call for participants circulated? How were participants chosen–by availability, by skill, by field of expertise and interest? By race? By class? Was Skype made available to those who could not attend or participate? What kind of effort was made to build a reasonably equitable balance of people and interests–funding, targeted asks, etc. Who claims ownership over the knowledge created in the room and if it is communal, which communities are the participants/organizers/funders accountable to? Is there a plan to disrupt any power & privilege in the room–or created by its very existence?

These are some of the questions black feminist and rwoc bloggers, mainstream feminist bloggers, and academic bloggers divide over. There is no hopscotching over these conflicts into a #FemFuture or we will find the future includes only certain feminists and a certain kind of feminism. It is necessary to address them, especially in a context where a small group of people purport to speak for the whole.

Uncompensated Labor x Unrequited Love
I found the Crunk Feminist Collective‘s narrative in the report especially satisfying. The report’s affirmation of issues of community-building, storytelling, knowledge creation, poetry, and intimacy as necessary for building loving relationships that will sustain any movement appeared to come right out of CFC praxis. And I wonder whether providing this framework of analysis in the name of the “collective” is uncompensated labor as important as the work of “constantly educating people with white privielge about racial justice issues” (as described by Andrea Plaid in the document).

In other words, loving is labor. Delicious labor, but labor nonetheless. How can we better appreciate ways love-work ties into dense histories of uncompensated labor and unrequired love within communities of color, and is linked to the same moments that birthed (mainstream) feminism (anti-slavery, civil rights movement, etc)? How can we imagine this link as a symbiosis and not a binary?

Consciousness-raising is also rightly cited as one of the ways online networks and digital media make an impact. But unacknowledged intellectual production is another deep well of uncompensated labor causing burnout and fatigue, a fact acknowledged, perhaps without meaning to, in the report itself—

“Another striking development in online organizing today is the role of citizen-produced media in online activist work. On feminist blogs, for example, writers post commentary about the day’s news with a feminist lens, highlighting and amplifying social justice work that is off the mainstream media’s radar, and often linking this analysis to action that readers can take. This widespread, collective effort creates the necessary consciousness and a broad range of content that organizations like Hollaback!, Color of Change, Move On, UltraViolet, and the Applied Research Center draw on as they share articles, connect with others, sign petitions and pledges, and use online tools to mobilize on-the-ground action. Users can then be instantly contacted to request action in the future.” (emphasis mine)

Differentiating the labor of creating “citizen-produced media” from the labor of organizing online and on the ground (re)creates unnecessary fault lines, privileges certain kinds of organizing over others, certain kinds of knowledge over others, and further gnarls issues of compensation, attribution, citation, and recognition that are the heart of black feminist and rwoc critique of the report (Full disclosure: Having just engaged some of these issues on an online project I’m part of, I’m viscerally aware of how damaging this kind of silencing can be).

These missteps by the writers mean critics miss the condemnation of feminist organizations as “hierarchical, insular, monocultural structure” that is also part of the report. Instead, comments like this…

“Online feminism has the power to mobilize people–young, old, and everyone in between–to take politicla action at unprecedented scale at unprecedented speeds. So far this power has mostly been exercised in ad-hoc, reactive (as opposed to proactive), and unsustainable ways, but even so, it has had remarkable effects.” (emphasis mine)

… highlight the uncompensated work black feminist and rwoc bloggers have done to build online feminisim into what it is today while diminishing the impact this work has had on the communities these groups represent. This perspective hints at the presence or black feminist and rwoc online but devalue it as “reactive,” in a disorienting back and forth.

Black feminist and rwoc bloggers struggle against erasure and silence, and for inclusion online, which saps their energy, taking time away from meetings, coalition-building, and making media. These battles become moments of trauma that are then rehashed online without permission, attribution, or consent. They encourage black feminists and rwoc to write under pseudonyms and alter egos, if only to protect themselves from further retribution from the people and institutions they critique. This uncompensated labor is at play as you read this post; it includes the labor of those who I solicited for feedback and the intellectual production of those commenting on the hashtag, or discussing it in back channels around the (English-speaking?) world.

This labor will go into creating a #FemFuture that appears more inclusive and holistic regardless of whether it is acknowledged because there are so many speaking out. But without extending invitations to enter the room, without proper acknowledgement, how to return this labor and love? And who, then, is #FemFuture for? What is #FemFuture’s feminism that I walk away unsatisfied and wondering if the people I love most–my grandmother, my mother, sisters, my future daughters, my lovers, and sons–will ever be included?

The fatigue that accompanies these questions is the sort of fatigue unique to the most vulnerable, least funded, least institutionally supported activists operating online.

We Are All In This….Together?
There is something disingenuous about calling the report, “#FemFuture: Online Revolution” while asking critics to focus only the reports discussion of sustainability, funding, and corporate backing.

So let it be plain here–this is not a history of ‘online feminism.’ In response to critiques, nearly all of the participants have been careful to note #FemFuture is not a comprehensive primer on the history of feminist activism online.

That said, this illustrates one of the structural flaws of the report–a desire to use and coin a blanket term like “online feminism” in the name of collective action. A misrepresentation of an heterogeneous internet space teeming with polyphonic & polyrhythmic feminisms, “online feminisms” attempts to assimilate too many perspectives into one type.

Why do so? Why “collect” as opposed to ally? Coalitions, alliances, links forged–this may be the best we can hope to achieve because attempts to create grand, master narratives of any movement always require we leave someone behind. Even then, no coalition is power-neutral and nodes of power should be acknowledged. Feminism is messy, bumpy, and often uncomfortable. Why this investment in glossing over the differences? Why package and dumb it down and for whom? Black feminist and rwoc bloggers already know there is nothing easy about what we do. Perhaps this is why there is such an ambivalent investment in espousing an industrial model whose purpose is to consume us, swallow us whole.

This power, at play in the space, conveners, and even among the participants, is precisely what allows the long history of black feminist and rwoc online activity to be erased. We are not all in this together. Some feminists are able to write the story down, tell it, and have it be seen as the gospel truth. Power and privilege are invisible and insidious and difficult to face, but only power and privilege explain why such a well-documented past (and thriving present!) is not explored. As a historian of slavery, I’m well familiar with what happens when certain stories are told and others are dismissed. It was never the case slaves weren’t telling their own stories or philosophizing their own experiences. But it was always the case that the means through which they spoke–from the languages they used to the technology they chose–were seen as illegitimate.

Why not address this by creating a website, databank, wiki, or hyperlinked blogroll as an addendum to the report? The report is a narrative of “online feminism” in PDF format [EDIT 4-12-13 @12:02pm: Organizers have since added a Scribd version for easier mobile access]. Why not take advantage of the technology that is being discussed? Why leave unspoken and unnamed the thousands joining forums, networks, and blogs instead of creating a forum whereby those reading the report can explore those networks for themselves, maybe be exposed to issues they did not consider before?  Some of this is discussed in the recommendations but I was disappointed at what was not implemented around the report itself.  As Jessica Luther suggested on Twitter, why not, from the start, take advantage of  using Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook to broaden and continue the conversation? What about mobile technology, which is one of the primary ways youth of color in the U.S. (and I believe globally) connect online?

Not addressing these questions plays into concern over who #FemFuture’s audience is. Who is #FemFuture accountable to? Whose life is it saving? Why aren’t we asking these questions from implementation to execution? It is possible to do so. Groundbreaking conferences like Alien Bodies at Emory University or the Queerness of Hip Hop/Hip Hop of Queerness at Harvard implemented social media schemes with intention, drawing a brave community of participants into their knowledge network. The Allied Media Conference has done the same for years.

Because the report is supported by an academic institution with considerable resources, in a format legitimated by both the academy and policy-makers and written in English without accompanying translations, it holds the megaphone. The linear narrative, absorbing the voices of everyone in the room that day, mediates the dissonance of feminism(s) that were not in the room, who could not or were not asked to “show up:” youth, transgender and genderqueer activists, non-US writers and thinkers, disability activists, single mothers, undocumented, incarcerated, and more.

We are not all in this together but we could have spoken across the table to each other. So is it any wonder that critics (many of whom are women of color) express hurt and anger? It is the deep, acerbic pain of a movement ignored and exacerbated by knowing none of this is new.

And it begs an important question, one I’m still grappling with myself–what can be done to shift that balance of power?

Who Pays for (Online) Feminism?
Speak plain and the critique and conversation could move productively to “keeping the lights on”– a very, very real concern for all of us online whether we are proto-capitalists or grassroots funded.

Speak, perhaps, of “Sustainability, Marketing and Funding Feminism Online: A Primer.” A report with that title would still be critiqued for what some see as a capitalist, corporate, anti-feminist framework. But at least it would be clear this is the purpose of the report, allowing activists who are invested in a different kind of sustainability, community accountability, and in disrupting the media-industrial complex to respond with more accuracy.

Sustainability IS a huge issue and #FemFuture critique should not detract from that. But the black feminist and rwoc critique of #FemFuture suggests sustainability is about more than blogging. It is linked to communities inability to access all kinds of resources–from legal support, to health care, to welfare, to housing, to protection from police violence.

Black feminist and rwoc bloggers are burned out and fatigued because, for many of them, their everyday is a battle to survive the very issues they blog and organize around. Feminist work online suffers from “a psychology of deprivation.” But for black feminists and rwoc bloggers, these corporeal concerns add another dimension to the problem and require a several-tiered approach to institutional oppression. And I wonder whether the study’s focus on “third-party ad companies” and “inadequate attempts to bring in revenue” as reasons for burnout and fatigue misses these concerns. That is to say, these are reasons but there are others that may be more immediate.

To this, it is easy to suggest, “We need to start somewhere.” But black feminists have responded to that before and they are informed by lives that are disappearing, not just blogs that are disappearing.

Sustainability is absolutely a node to build a coalition on. The report makes an important structural point: “no women’s foundations have initiatives specifically dedicated to online feminist work.”  Certainly, part of the purpose of the report is to create new kinds of grants and back channels of funding for feminists online. Support models like crowdfunding and membership drives are outlined and already being used in different ways among black feminist and rwoc bloggers. Also discussed in the report are selfcare retreats, annual meetings (although how this would differ from meetings that already exist, like the AMC, I’m not sure), skillshares, and several suggestions geared towards helping either bloggers or organizations develop sustainable business models. It is a problem that #FemFuture does not differentiate between feminists online with unequal material access to application processes (paying for copies, mailing costs, fees, paper; computers; advice on building grant narratives; mentoring to discover where funding is). Many of the recommendations (Part III) seem pitched to address at least some of this. And providing material resources is only half the battle. Are funders ready to pay for the anti-racist, anti-misogynist challenge these projects present? Again, imagining coalition-building, one consideration might be for mainstream feminists to leverage their connections and resources against organizations to make space for the more marginalized feminist projects. This was not suggested in the report. And is the “collective” prepared for “action that affirmative?”

There is nothing sexy about poverty. No one, activist or otherwise, should be online advocating bloggers reject advice, education, or resources. There are excellent suggestions embedded in the fabric of the report and may be useful whether or not bloggers or organizations embrace capitalist modes of operation. But for all of those resources, the report is still two-tiered.

The concern with sustainability is the first-tier.

The climate around the report–its delivery online (including format, language, and lack of social media), the launch in New York, the #FemFuture hashtag, the memes, the infographics, and, yes, the history it claims even as the organizers and participants describe it as a start–all of these constitute a second-tier.  And this may be less defensible in the end.

Dear Academic Feminists: A Coda on Privilege
A letter I’ve been meaning to write, that deserves a longer conversation, was inspired by this moment but is not of this moment.

Let’s discuss how to love each other a little harder.

I am a historian. I could never speak of an interviewee without permission or discuss a historical intervention without giving proper attribution and citation. I could ruin my reputation by not acknowledging the labor that has gone into creating ideas, intellectual frameworks, fields of study, or disciplines.

This logic of scholarly interaction is still missing from “online feminism” (or however we wish to describe it). When we fail to ask permission, cite, or acknowledge movement-making on the ground and online, when we tell stories that aren’t ours without considering the trauma that comes from reiterating certain narratives of violence, we do harm to our ability to create coalitions across degrees of education, access, and other borders. The academics among us should know better. The self-described feminists among us should know best.

In the spirit of transparency and accountability, I took certain steps while writing this post to try to counter my own privilege. It was sent to several of the individuals described and I incorporated much of the feedback I received. I want to thank them for that “uncompensated labor” and give them my love. Lisa Factora-Borchers gave me especially challenging feedback and while I hope I did it justice, I think I will need to come back to it in future posts. I asked permission before using screenshots and block quotes (except quotes from the report) and that permission was received. I sent a version to the #FemFuture participant I’m especially close to and discussed with her the timing of publishing this post. And I still know I have not done enough to balance the privilege I have on one side with my commitment to black feminist and rwoc activism on the other.

I say all of this, because it is very important for those of us with the larger megaphones–English-speaking, U.S.-based, salaried, consensually mobile (as opposed to displaced through gentrification, detained, incarcerated, deported), cis-gendered women with multiple degrees to stop, listen, and reflect on ways our power and privilege impact our approach to transformative justice and equity. Even those of us who embody race, gender, or sexual difference, again, myself included, in this one instance, though it may not feel that way, we are the whites in the room.

If we don’t reflect, we defraud ourselves of useful coalition-building. We risk looking, sounding, and advocating feminist paradigms that may in fact be harmful to the very people we say we represent. We risk silencing or ignoring the most marginalized and least resourced in our communities. Just as we fight against being presumed incompetent in the academy, we should not presume the incompetence of those outside. Some of the most incisive critiques have been from activists who have spent a decade and longer on the front lines of online and on the ground movement-making. There is a history there that ought to be shared, pondered over, and digested. That critique should be heard, not labeled “hating,” “unkind,” or ungenerous:

This is not to say we should stand idly by while we are attacked! But there is attack and there is critique. And while no one deserves to be vilified, academic feminists should also remember that the level of privilege we operate from means the hand we use to slap others down is larger, flatter, and wet. Mainstream feminists should consider this as well. We should not be so invested in winning tenure or internet celebrity we are willing to sell our souls.

I’m not alone in hoping the next step in digital academic feminist evolution will mean discussing a praxis of engagement online that allows all of us, inside the academy and out, to be supported, support others, and create alliances. In other words, I join Maegan ‘la Mala’ Ortiz and others who hope we learn more from this about loving hard, loving harder.

Featured Image Credit: Folasade Adeoso | http://lovefola.com/theblog/

___________________________

Suggested Reading

Polyphonic Feminisms: Acting in Concert | S&F Online | Polyphonic Feminisms http://bit.ly/1230G9d

Moya Bailey and Alexis Pauline Gumbs | We Are the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For | Ms. Magazine (Winter 2010)  (no link available)

BCRW hosts #femfuture conversation on online feminism | crunkfeminists | Storify http://bit.ly/10NbbL5

Jessica Luther | #femfuture Storify | http://bit.ly/ZhjGg1

US Centrism and inhabiting a non space in #femfuture | Red Light Politics http://bit.ly/10TdRW2

illegal plum pudding – i am absolutely *appalled* at the #FemFuture… http://bit.ly/ZHhCns

Online Feminism #Femfuture and the “Dirty” Money Problem | Fake Pretty http://bit.ly/10UJgdc

Why We Can’t Ignore Being Ignored or Accused of “Sniping” | Mamita Mala :One Bad Mami blog http://bit.ly/ZRd0eC

The #FemFuture Report Bundle | curated by @jmjohnsophd | http://bitly.com/bundles/o_5h4obm5uq7/i

M: “assumptions- that I will not be very tough”

4/13/13

1) What physical spaces do you feel safe or unsafe in? Emotional spaces? How does this relate to your race, age, sexual orientation, background, class, etc?

I feel unsafe in places where I’m one of few women or one of few white woman on the street. more at night than during the day. generally where llok different than other and may draw attention.

2) How do you perceive your own physical appearance and those of other women? How do you think others perceive you physically? What elements contribute to these perceptions?

I think of myself as small and noticeable (with big, red hair). I think of my self as white. Others would view me similarly. Gender roles and assumptions- that I will not be very tough.

3) How do you feel walking outside as a woman? Safe, unsafe, targeted, ignored, harassed, invisible? Does this change depending on where you are, how you are dressed, who you are with, who else is around?

I feel less vulnerable in a sexual way as I get older and more vulnerable as a weaker person. Mostly, I feel safer as I age.

4) What does the intersection of your woman-ness with other elements mean to you? I.E. race, class, age, ability, ethnicity, sexual orientation, I’m sure I’m missing some.

I think my woman-ness is a significant part of my vulnerability in all respects. Of course, I don’t know how it feels to be a man! I feel vulnerable as a white woman, but I’ve become accustomed to living in a multi-racial world so I feel increasingly less conscious of my race and more conscious of my age. I don’t think my sexual orientation play a role in this.

narrative

4/4/13

Narrative for ISMS class

What ARE you?

they asked me again and again with my bushy eyebrows my 18 year old breasts on a 10 year old chest my flying away nest of hair as it stood

three inches from my head

until I was furious with my straight-haired mother who never owned a pair of tweezers or a cup size above B

“can I turn you over and mop my house?” they asked until my father offered to walk me to the busstop

each morning.

jewish is never the right answer, never the satisfying answer

 

I am not pretty to you like this

you do not know this type of beauty and you will not. Stop. Talking. Until I am not

pretty to me either

Until

what ARE you

 

Tell them you are tired of trying to make other people happy with labels that do not belong to you.

it is the small spaces, the cracks on the edges

that belong to me. 14 is not enough,

when I crawled beneath my bed and couldn’t breathe for hours or

seconds

is there a name for this dyingness

Is it okay as long as you’re quiet about it? As long as you feel ashamed?

Don’t pretend not to notice.

Make it a joke. Make it funny.

Make it not real.

I spend only 3 dollars a week on hand sanitizer because I know all the bargain brands

I know the bargains for everything

that makes you clean

I wish sometimes I could bathe in it

I think sometimes if you sliced me open I would bleed lysol

beneath the desks I sanitize five times each class but you will never say a thing

until three beers after finals and then you say, oh I wondered about that

 

there is no section of me until intersection I am

wide open and barely here

 

I call myself crazy before you can so when you think it

I can pretend not to notice

 

so why still do I want to show you the dark-spotted rashes

of my wrists

What IS that?

What ARE you?

why do I want to tell you about the summer I was sure

my mother was trying to kill me or my friend who’s bi-polar and every three months

like clockwork, drops her phone into a glass of wine because

she just. can’t. pick up.

 

I could love a woman, a non-man, a trans person, a non-man, a gender-neutral person, I could love someone else.

“Stop calling yourself queer, you date boys!”

“You, bi? You’re boy-crazy!”

Boy-crazy boy-crazy boys are easier

boys are so easy I know how to do boys how to do

boys

maybe if I can feel bad enough about being the white one in this thing I will not notice you are the one in this thing

whose dick is in my mouth how did you not notice

your dick was in my mouth

you are not sorry so I am not

sorry for saying it

 

24 is not enough, “should I say she or they? How can you not care?” I will say she because I knew her when she

or never she

I want to say the right thing.

What ARE you?

 

27 is not enough, “you no longer

meet this diagnosis”

no shit because you stuffed me full of pills

till I was choking

 

Is it okay as long as you’re quiet about it? As long as you feel ashamed?

only tell the truths you are sure about.

 

B: “I am a mirage, I am thirst-quenching, I am brief, I am physically attractive which registers as a meal to men”

4/11/13

1) What physical spaces do you feel safe or unsafe in?  Emotional  spaces?  How does this relate to your race, age, sexual orientation,  background, class, etc?
#1) and a little #3): I feel unsafe walking to my car after work,  walking from my car to my house, walking at night…I suppose its  because I live in G-town and Im white, while most of my  neighbors are black, and Im usually dressed up in a skirt that feels  beautiful when I look in the mirror, but suddenly feels like bad  idea when I step outside. I usually regret my clothing choice when  Im walking to my front door at 3am. I wish there was a softer way to  close my car door. I wish I wasnt so aware of my fear because it Im  afraid its palpable. I sometimes think my over-awareness and fear  wakes thieves up at night….its blood in the water. Bad men sense  it and know how to find me…sniff me out.
My uncle says to walk with confidence…walk like I have power. So  I do that now.
I must appear wealthy walking out of my great big mansion with my  multiple coats and scarves dressed to the nines.
I want to yell: “NO! am very poor! these clothes were purchased by  my parents! and not even they can really afford them! they should be  saving for retirement, but I think they still feel guilty about  divorcing so I get a lot of gifts! These headphones were an impulse  buy! Im sorry! Please dont break into my home! I collect vintage  things! its all I have, my things!

2) How do you perceive your own physical appearance and those of  other women?  How do you think others perceive you physically?  What  elements contribute to these perceptions?
#2) I am a pretty girl. My family tells me. My friends tell me.  Strangers tell me. Men who have no business talking to a young girl,  tell me. Married men wink at me while their wives backs are turned.  My boss likes my shirts and tells me so, more often than he should.  Old men tell dirty jokes after I help them to their cab. Police men  roll down their windows and ask if I need a ride (cue wink and hat  tip) Old boyfriends want “one more night” before they commit to  meaningful relationships.
After 3rd and forth dates I am pushed up against closed storefronts  on Passyunk and kissed violently. My breasts are ravaged and sore  for days. My hair is pulled on dark porches. I am ran-sacked. I let  it happen because im sexy. I provide an outlet for the beast in men.  I am fantasy and kink and things you do while you’re young…before  the mortgage payments come….before you wed that woman that will  solider through your marriage and always take the kids to school. I  am a last stop on the way to regualr sex, 9-5 jobs, or a mid-life  break from all that.
Men don’t want to marry me, they want to fuck me in soccer nets on  the fields of their high schools in the middle of the night because  they never made the team.
Men want me to give them blow jobs in their new cars because it’s  the first thing they’ve ever really owned.
Men want to take me to Japanese fan exhibits and take me back to  their apartments and dress me like a geisha and spank me.
Men want me to keep my glasses on, take my bra off, leave my high  heels on, turn around, apologize, say thank you, slap them, keep  quiet for three months and do it all over again.
I am a mirage.
I am thirst-quenching.
I am brief.
I am physically attractive which registers as a meal to men.  Sometimes I think Im expected to know how to be on top during sex,  give great head and talk dirty. S actually said to me, “I  thought you would have loved being on top”     ….    What the fuck  does that mean? what about me registers as loving being on top?! I  hate it, actually. WHich turned him off. I KNOW it turned him off  because when I decided to suck it up and try being on top, he lost  his erection. I climbed down like I had lost…utter defeat. “no no  its me…i had too much to drink”  he says…..not an acceptable  excuse. I know it was me. He was expecting some crazy red-head to  rock his world and I failed. Humiliating.
It will all end when my looks fade.
Other girls are jealous because their boyfriends think about me  naked. They want to have three-somes and tuck me in on the couch  after giving me too much wine. They want to give me the spare room  and they peek through the crack in the door while im undressing.
Some women are pretty and travel in attractive circles and dress  well and never pay tabs and dont know their boyfriends over-tipped  me because they paid me for my beauty (as Ani says)
I have been those other women, and sometimes, for a night, they  become me, but we are not alike.
Some women will have backyards.
Some women will never have dates to weddings.

*I think this answers #3….or its a ramble…I AM longwinded, after-all.

Some days I want to hide. I blame it on my profession which is kinda  like a prostitute. The sexier I am, the more likely you will buy  alcohol and get drunk and tip me money. I feel good on Mondays….I  meet my friend for coffee in the morning at a local cafe and we have  gorgeous conversaton with gorgeous women who offer insight from  their classes up the road. I feel filled with ideas and  confidence. I am excited and relaxed and feel like a million bucks.  I call it my girl factory. I need it, because every week, something  or something(s) happen where I want to crawl into a sleeping bag  while at work and change my clothes and put a patch over my eye. Its  a feeling that gives me the start of an anxiety attack. I feel  trapped. I feel powerless. Maybe I overhear my boss talking about a  co-workers breasts to a bunch of regulars, maybe Im at a table, and  this jerk with a sick southern drawl tells me he’ll only tip me if I  can name the republican members of congress. “Dont know that one?  I’ll give ya an easier one” he smirks….his dumpy wife looks  uncomfortable….I imagine very little pleasure in their sexual  life…I am unable to answer his questions about politics. I provide  some sass, and a smile and clear the table to find a “conservative  tip” and all of a sudden I am trapped again. cant go to my girl  factory, cant catch a break, cant name the rebuplicann members of  congress…fuck fuck fuck. I feel a gender gap widening. “we’ll have  two pale ales sweetheart, and make it quick cause my friend here is  thirsy”      “before you say anything, we want napkins because your  table is dirty” They dont speak this way to male servers….i know  it for a fact. Im out of responses that wont get me fired. Frankly,  im out of energy. I cant WAAIT for girl factory on Monday….I may  go Thursday too…just to get a boost.

4) What does the intersection of your woman-ness with other  elements mean to you?  I.E. race, class, age, ability, ethnicity,  sexual orientation, I’m sure I’m missing some.

4) Age plays a crucial role for women and how they define themselves  in society. I do feel pressure to procreate and marry. No direct  pressure, but there is a lingering feeling of a race to win, a rush  of sorts to complete this selfish goal of taking more space,  breeding and ruining the planet. The other day I overheard two young  Indian girls talking about their friend who had gone astray. This   woman had married a non-hindu man and was living in sin somewhere in  Philadelphia so her parents cut her off. Instead of sympathy, the  two girls criticized their friend for choosing love over financial  stability, suggesting that she would have been much happier marrying  a hindu man and staying in her parents good graces. I was appaled.  Not only because they were drinking white zinfandel which is the  lowest of the low on my wine scale, but because I was raised with  the go-ahead to fuck, marry, elope, and procreate with whomever I  chose. When I brought K home to meet my mother she didnt say  “get that philandering Jew out of my house”,  she bought him a  sweater for Christmas and told me to have sex somewhere else besides  my bedroom because we were waking her up. If I brought home a woman  to meet my mother, she might have a fit, but she’d soften when we  had children. My woman-ness mirrors what my mother and grandmother  taught me, and some things Ive learned on my own from books and  movies. I wanted to be Gigi the outspoken french girl, Nancy Drew  the daring sleuth, and my grandmother all rolled into one. I still do.
I still feel my intelligence is sub-par. That in order to be taken  seriously, I have to be smarter or I will be that wise-ass WAITRESS  forever. I feel stronger for having slept with women….like we  exchanged some feminine power that refueled me. I feel marginalized  without a degree, however. Maybe that’s on my end…in my own head.  What do you say when you introduce yourself though? My name is  B. I am working, I live here, I read these books, I listen to  this music, I went to school briefly here, maybe I give my age, my  relationship status…..It’s strange. Withiin minutes Ive been  compartmentalized to a group “no degree” “single” “almost 30” gulp  gulp gulp.
When people compliment me on carrying multiple plates I want to slap  them. “I can do so much more”! I register this overreaction as  insecurity, but I never get the chance to describe myself with the  details that make me an individual. Its seems unfair.
On the upside, I am a white girl from the suburbs. No one in my  family has ever been incarcerated or killed. I have pride in that.  We managed to keep it fairly scandel-less throughout my familys  history save for some substance abuse and mental illness. I don’t  feel alone, is what im trying to say. Even when Bipolar hits, and I  want to end my life, there is a part of me that has stability within  my family. In the end it makes me feel like I have something to  offer. My family provides a sense of security that in essence helps  me become a woman with values and love. They provide confidence and  care above all. Perhaps thats why I would be unable to live far away  from them. Perhaps Ive been nurtured too much and have lost some  independence.
Essentially I am a caregiver. I am a direct product of the love I  was given. I cherish history and continuity and tradition. I am my  mother, but with fresh ideas. I am my grandmother, but stronger.

S: “knowing I am more likely to get harassed on the street with my hair done”

4/10/13

1) What physical spaces do you feel safe or unsafe in?  Emotional spaces?  How does this relate to your race, age, sexual orientation, background, class, etc?

I feel safest in middle-class urban environments (this is difficult to pinpoint, but I’m going to go with the parts of cities filled with businesses, moderate-cost housing, with mixes of blue and white-collar workers): this is probably due to being raised in a predominantly white, middle to upper-middle class suburb. Being mixed race, I feel safer around racially diverse areas, and being a sexual minority, the city provides me with a much larger community of other sexual minorities to feel more comfortable around. 
As far as emotional spaces, I feel most safe in spaces that are open-minded and liberal. Because I am often faced with environments in which I am a minority, openness helps to ease my discomfort with being different.

2) How do you perceive your own physical appearance and those of other women?  How do you think others perceive you physically?  What elements contribute to these perceptions?

I perceive myself to have a mildly masculine presence in comparison to most other women. I feel most comfortable in men’s clothing (however, due to the lack of masculine clothing cut for women’s figures, this is difficult to accomplish). I think others perceive me to be more feminine than I feel at times, but this is usually heterosexual women that I feel that from. At least heterosexual women with little exposure to masculine women. I think this is maybe because my face has soft features, and I like to wear makeup, and I have a curvy body.

3) How do you feel walking outside as a woman?  Safe, unsafe, targeted, ignored, harassed, invisible?  Does this change depending on where you are, how you are dressed, who you are with, who else is around?

When I am by myself and my hair is down, I am more aware of being stared at and am more alert, knowing that I am more likely to get harassed on the street with my hair done. I don’t necessarily feel unsafe, but I feel mildly uncomfortable. This discomfort is heightened when I am alone in lower-income areas with a predominant Black/Af Am population. This could be for a number of reasons, but sometimes I feel it might be that I’m perceived as more attractive in these communities, or it is just more culturally normative, but I’m not sure.

4) What does the intersection of your woman-ness with other elements mean to you?  I.E. race, class, age, ability, ethnicity, sexual orientation, I’m sure I’m missing some.

I enjoy being a part of the LGBTQ community, because I don’t feel as much pressure to conform to the generic expectation of what a woman should look like. I still cave partly to this pressure in professional settings (like I won’t wear a tie to an important interview even though I want to). Also professionally, there is always a women majority in any setting I’m in, which I think actually helps in expressing myself as whatever type of woman I want. I think that’s because I expect diversity in a large group of women, whereas if I’m in a group of men, I feel like I’m almost representing all women in a way.