Tag Archives: Activism

Day 28- (Dis)ability

I apologize for the lateness of my post; I have been traveling today. Although it’s still the 28th in the US, here in Turkey it is the 29th and so I have failed in my attempt to write everyday, but I will write again tomorrow (today) and everyday until the end of the month. Thank you for your continued support!

“Tomorrow I am going to rewrite the English Language.
I will discard all those striving ambulist metaphors
of power and success
And construct new ways to describe my strength.
My new, different strength.

Then I won’t have to feel dependent
Because I can’t stand on my own two feet.
And I’ll refuse to feel a failure
When I don’t stay one step ahead.
I won’t feel inadequate if I can’t
Stand up for myself
Or illogical when I don’t
Take it one step at a time.

I will make them understand that it is a very male way
To describe the world.
All this walking tall
And making great strides.

Yes, tomorrow I am going to rewrite the English Language
Creating the world in my own image.
Mine will be a gentler, more womanly way
To describe my progress.
I will wheel, cover and encircle.
Somehow I will learn to say it all.”
Tomorrow I’m Going to Rewrite the English Language by Lois Keith[1]

“Disability is a physical, social, mental or emotional condition which may or may not be handicapping.”[2] Many women who identify as disabled would agree that “people’s attitudes… are most disabling.”[3]

Maura Kelly explains how people’s assumptions about women with disabilities can be damaging “…what if I said I believed that prejudice expressed in subtle acts of misguided, uninformed “kindness” was not only equal to [hateful attitudes towards those of a particular race, religion or sexual orientation], but potentially more damaging and probably more difficult to change? …People can be so focused on my being in a wheelchair that they don’t even hear me saying I don’t need any assistance. This is the part that is so demoralizing…. I resent the people who feel the need to help me so much–though I am clearly not struggling–that I must wait and allow them to assist me, just to make them feel better…. Many of the people I come into brief contact with–it is clearly written on their faces–put me in an altogether different category than they do other people.”[4]

Kelly’s feelings clearly illustrate the need for women to be able to name their own identities and to group or separate themselves as they see fit. Judgments and assumptions based on physical traits–ability, skin color and sex–and not on merit or actions, have no place in an American society that touts democracy and freedom, yet they happen everyday.

The concept of passing, usually used with regard to race or sometimes sexuality, is based on these visual assumptions of physical aspects and can also be an issue in the disabled community. Kelly says, “Recently I was asked if I had trouble ‘passing’ since, other than being in a wheelchair, I don’t seem disabled…. I always associated [passing] with race or sexual orientation…. Usually the trouble is in getting people not to make assumptions about how little I can do.”[5]

Often women with disabilities are seen as doubly vulnerable because they are women and because they are disabled but many have proven their strength by organizing with the disability rights movement and by bringing information and support to others with disabilities.

Activist Anna Sullivan, after having her house blown up, was questioned by the police, “I tell them what I think, that it’s the work of the fascists…. Because of my anti-racist activity the fascists have threatened to kill me many times, now they have destroyed a part of me.”[6] While the blast did not physically harm her at the time, the trauma and stress of the event contributed to her condition- Myalgic Encephalomyelitis- making her vulnerable later in life to viruses and psychological illnesses.

Vulnerability, though not always present, can be a reality for women with disabilities as author Lois Keith shares, “I’m always nervous about going somewhere new. This anxiety is rarely a social one, it isn’t about meeting new people or feeling shy. I had thirty-five standing up years to deal with that one. This ‘normal’ anxiety is displaced for me by the sheer physical concern of going to a place I haven’t been before. Of finding a place to park, worrying about whether I can get out of the car straight on to the pavement, whether there will be kerbs [sic]. It’s anxiety about asking a total stranger (if there is a stranger to ask) to help me in some way. It’s the fear that there will be some obstacle no one has told me about – a step, a bollard, a pothole, a locked door.”[7]

Some women defy the vulnerable disabled woman stereotype, like Janice Pink, “When I was sixteen, nearly six feet tall, and still in pain, I went to another doctor…. Obviously, if you’re disabled, you should look fragile, which I didn’t then and never will now.”[8]

Other women who were involved in strategic nonviolent action when they were nondisabled may find it difficult to participate in the same way after becoming disabled but groups like the Disability Caucus of the National Women’s Studies Association can help ease the transition.

Lizard Johnson explains, “I had thought everything was possible, right down to nonviolent revolution. In moments of enthusiasm, I thought I could start the revolution by myself. Now I think: can’t do that by myself, can’t do this by myself. Certainly can’t start the revolution by myself.”[9] Relearning how to participate in activities that previously did not have to be given any thought can be very challenging for people who become disabled later in life.

These challenges can be exacerbated by other aspects of women’s identities as well. Carol Anne Roberson navigates the complex paths of disability, gender and race everyday as a white, quadriplegic woman with mixed-race (black and white) children. Hermina Jackson is another example of the intersection of gender, race, class and ability and proves that even though sexism, racism, classism and ableism are still in place, with hard work they will eventually be eradicated. She is working to do just that as a black, quadriplegic woman. As a member of a number of organizations in her local community that deal with the issues faced by women, black people, and disabled people, she shows that one person can be all of these things, and overcome the isms she faces daily.

“As a member of the Black United Front, Hermina is interested in the issues and needs of women, especially women with disabilities. She aims not only to get information for women with disabilities… but to educate the community about disabled women and what they need and how they feel.”[10]

Civil rights investigator Adrienne Asch, a blind woman who helped write legislation in New York to include protection from discrimination against disability in hiring practices, explains how her role as an activist helped to change her role as a disabled woman, “Had I not had a history of political activism, in civil rights for blacks and in opposition to the Vietnam War, I might not have been so ready to fight for my rights as a person with a disability. I realized I would have to take the energy I had put into social change for other people’s benefit and use it to benefit myself or other disabled people.”

Asch goes on to explain how her disability relates to other aspects of her life, “Disability is neither at the center or the periphery of my life. It’s just sort of there. I’m not saying blindness isn’t an important fact about me or that it doesn’t affect a lot of things, but it’s not part of my self-definition. If it’s part of the world’s definition of me, that’s the world’s issue.” [11]

The overwhelming message disabled women have for young women and girls who are facing a disability is not to ignore it or dwell on it, and to be realistic about how it will affect what kind of work one wants to do, but not let it be the only consideration. Anna Sullivan admits, “The rise of fascism again, and the many terrible things that are happening in the world, make me feel that I should be out and about organizing, but I know that I can’t do it any more.”[12]

It is true that some things are more difficult for disabled people to do but the kind of disability a person has greatly influences the ease or difficulty of a particular task. A common assumption about physically disabled people is that they are also mentally disabled and so infantilized as if they are not capable of thinking for themselves. Part of the work feminist groups must do in organizing any kind of event, from a rally to a phone bank, is to make sure that the venue is accessible for all kinds of women and to properly value the identities of all the women (and men) who will participate.

Not Dead Yet is one such group of disabled and nondisabled people that utilizes “shouting slogans, singing songs, blockading doorways, [and] being rude to cops” to protest physician-assisted suicide. Another activist group is riot grrrl, which awakens many young women to “the interconnectedness of all forms of oppression.”[13]

One of feminism’s greatest virtues is that it does value every woman’s experience, and thus should learn from every woman about how to make society more inclusive. Teacher Kate Bromfield, after battling Multiple Sclerosis for years, found hope, “I’m beginning to feel again that I can function as a responsible adult, in spite of illness, that my lifestyle can be as viable as anyone else’s.”[14] And lifestyle greatly depends on one’s ability or disability; deaf women may have no problem navigating a flight of stairs but it may be nearly impossible for someone with arthritis. A woman in a wheelchair may be able to read to her child at night but a woman with a learning disability may not be able to.

The one universal thing that disabled women are assumed not to be able (or have any desire) to do is have sex. That disabled people in general, and disabled women in particular, are often seen as asexual beings[15] may seem surprising at first, but makes total sense in the hierarchy of patriarchy: disabled women may not be able to function in some ways as nondisabled women do and therefore are demoted from the “normal” status of women in American society of sex object to something even more passive.

Author of Disabled, Female, and Proud! Harilyn Rousso explains, “One of the myths in our society about disabled women is that we are asexual, incapable of leading socially and sexually fulfilling lives. When I was growing up my parents and I accepted this myth without question. We simply assumed that because I had a disability, I could not date, find a partner, or have children.”[16]

Oddly, the possibility that disabled women may be physically weaker than nondisabled women is often cited as a reason they should not be mothers (even though the reality is that this bias is an extension of seeing disability as a barrier to sexuality and taking away agency from those who have a disability), yet being physically weak (compared to the able male norm of reference) is expected of all women.

See this story and previous posts regarding sexuality and violence for more information on the imposed horrors disabled women face at the hands of cruel people.

Gohar Kordi, a blind Iranian immigrant, tells of feeling her son’s pain at her disability, “He wants me to be like other mothers in his school, sighted, English.”[17] She is one example of the intersection of ethnicity and ability. Suna Polio exemplifies another intersection, “To the public eye I looked an unlikely candidate for motherhood. The wheelchair disqualified me.” She goes on to explain how her lesbianism and her disability intersect to unnecessarily complicate her life even further.[18]

Some disabled lesbians explain that where their lesbianism and their disability activism meet is to see “that the whole is really greater than the sum of its parts and that a better situation for everyone is possible if we see our interdependence.”[19] Not until April 15, 2010 was this interdependence starting to be recognized by the federal government. That is when same-sex partners earned the right in the United States to visit their partner in the hospital.

President Barack Obama issued a memorandum stating, “…gay and lesbian Americans… are often barred from the bedsides of the partners with whom they may have spent decades of their lives — unable to be there for the person they love, and unable to act as a legal surrogate if their partner is incapacitated. For all of these Americans, the failure to have their wishes respected concerning who may visit them or make medical decisions on their behalf has real consequences.”[20]

While corrective rape for lesbians seeking treatment for mental illness is no longer practiced in psychology in the United States,[21] disabled lesbians in the United States still face difficulties unique to their situation. Many women who identify as lesbian feminists, like Lizard Jones, have fought for the better part of their adult lives for economic and social independence, but adding disability to their identities makes life entirely more complicated.

Jones poses, “Maybe the struggle for lesbians with disabilities is categorically different from many other disability struggles because we have to convince our chosen families not to let us out, but to take us in.”[22] Social worker Joyce Peltzer admits, “It took me longer to deal with my feelings about being a lesbian than about having a disability….. All ‘isms’ are alike and you have to struggle with the internal attitudes developed by living in our culture. To be an integrated person, you have to accept your wholeness. We cannot be compartmentalized people. I had to integrate everything. I am a person who happens to be a lesbian, who happens to have a disability, but most importantly, I am a whole person.[23]

Vicky D’aoust, a deaf lesbian activist who uses a wheelchair, summarizes the disability and LGBTQAI rights arguments nicely: “I want to be who I am without fighting every step of the way…. We need actual change in how communities think, behave and act. Perhaps the biggest obstacle of all is that… attitudes are what prevent us from being whole.”[24]


[1] What Happened to You? Writing by Disabled Women Ed. Lois Keith. The New Press: New York. 1996.

[2] Restricted Access: Lesbians on Disability Eds. Victoria A. Brownworth and Susan Raffo. 1999. Seal Press

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Keith, 1996.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Brownworth and Raffo, 1999.

[10] Disabled, Female, and Proud! Stories of Ten Women with Disabilities Harilyn Rousso. Exceptional Parent Press: Boston, MA. 1991

[11] Ibid

[12] Keith, 1996.

[13] Brownworth and Raffo, 1999.

[14] Ibid.

[15] See “Loss” by Anne Macfarlane in Keith, 1996.

[16] Rousso, 1991.

[17] Keith, 1996.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Brownworth and Raffo, 1999.

[20] Obama, Barack. 15 April 2010. “Memorandum for the Secretary of Health and Human Services.” Federal Register. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House: Washington, D.C. 9 June 2010. http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/04/15/2010rightspatients.mem.final.rel.pdf

[21] Until the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV was published in 1973, homosexuality was considered a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association and women who were diagnosed as lesbians were sometimes raped to “cure” them of their homosexuality. This practice is still common in some parts of the world, especially South Africa.

[22] Brownworth and Raffo, 1999.

[23] Brownworth and Raffo, 1999.

[24] Ibid.


Day 27- Sexuality in the US

Disability is one of the few factors in women’s lives that can overcome racist assumptions about their sex lives. Nondisabled black women are very often compared to or pictured with animals in advertising[1] and this idea that black women will be wild, animalistic lovers is in the back of many people’s minds. But, if a black woman is in a wheelchair, most people will see the chair and assume asexuality before they make any association to her skin color. Neither assumption is correct but it is interesting how one aspect of a person’s identity can overshadow everything else.

Physical appearance is extremely important to American society and the superficiality of the media directly affects all people but has the direst consequences for women. In the hierarchy of patriarchy the closest women can get to the top is when they are young, thin, nondisabled, white (blond), straight and pretty looking. To be clear, women do not actually have to be any of these things but to be successful, especially in the media,they must appear to be all of these things.

Visibly disabled women are automatically excluded from this cult of beauty, as are women of color, normal-sized and heavy women, transgender and lesbian women, and older women. The male/female dichotomy has such a stranglehold on aesthetics in the United States that even when someone who does fit this description, like actress Julia Roberts, forgets to change something natural about her body (shave her armpits) she is publicly chastised and ridiculed for not conforming to the beauty ideals of Hollywood.

The four Killing Us Softly documentaries with Jean Kilbourne best explain how dangerous being bombarded by these images can be for women. American women are expected to be nearly hairless, have flawless skin, long, silky hair, no fat or cellulite, a small waist and big breasts. The beauty industry in the U.S. is a multi-billion dollar per year business and has a big interest in challenging women to be flawless, knowing they will never achieve perfection but will spend lots of money trying.

Even women who have slightly masculine features can be discriminated against and face violence, especially if they are assumed to be lesbian. Obviously the male/female dichotomy is most dangerous for transgender and intersexed individuals who have the courage to confound gender stereotypes and live according to the aspects of their gender identity that they are most comfortable with, but even internationally acclaimed athletes are facing the consequences of being accused of not being feminine enough.

Caster Semenya, a world-record-holding Olympic runner, was forced to undergo sex testing to see if she is “female enough” to compete against other women. In accusing female athletes of not being entirely female the The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) are not concerned about fairness to all involved but rather about their own public images.

The co-founder of the IOC’s Olympic Science Academy and of the Sports Science Institute in Cape Town, South Africa, Tim Noakes, claims “As many as eight ‘intersex’ women may have been expelled from athletics in the past and I gather that they were warned that if they made a fuss, they would be exposed. So it seems it’s not about athletic advantage, it’s about keeping the Olympics free of ‘intersex’ athletes, free of unwanted complications. It sends the message that women must do what men say and if the eight previous athletes had to be sacrificed, so be it….”[2]

Noakes contends that athletes suspected of being intersexed are not treated with respect. Whether or not Semenya is found to be intersexed or not, he feels she should be allowed to compete stating, “You can’t exclude ‘intersex’ athletes and there is growing consensus… that whatever gender you were assigned at birth, that is your gender…. There is no single test that will show whether you are more male than female.” He goes on to argue that “some genetic variants” are allowed in sports and if they are “linked to gender, so be it.” Because the implications for forcing gender conformity are so widespread the LGBTQI community must come together to fight against discrimination on the basis of sex.

“As long as dependence is seen as a personality flaw in the lesbian community, our ability to be a truly diverse and inclusive force to be reckoned with is nonexistent…. As long as we think some of us are going it alone and others aren’t, we are ignoring the very real facts of social structure. The possibility of going it alone is just an illusion that distracts us from organizing. You are either successful on someone else’s back, or arm in arm with her. Your choice.”[3]

In a similar way that Asian-Americans are pointed at as being “model minorities” so too are lesbians singled out of the larger LGBTQAI movement. Well, not lesbians, per se, but actions that traditionally would have been classified as lesbian. And it is not because American culture suddenly woke up and decided to be more inclusive; it is precisely to continue dividing minorities and to pit them against each other so that they cannot fight together.“That’s the capitalist stake in keeping us divided. If we’re tied up fighting each other, we won’t be struggling together against the real enemy.”[4]

More and more heterosexual women are engaging in activities that twenty years ago would have had them classified as dykes: publicly kissing, touching and fondling other women. Some would argue that this shows a greater acceptance of gay culture in the United States. While acceptance of homo- and bisexuality has grown greatly over the past decades these straight-but-seem-bi women are using the heterosexual male lesbian fantasy to their advantage while simultaneously reinforcing gender inequality. Katy Perry, a popular U.S. performing artist, took this advantage to the extreme with her multi-million dollar record deal showcasing her not-really-lesbian behavior. Again, the labels one chooses to use to identify herself are extremely important personally, and politically.

Sexual relationships between women in the United States are generally seen in one of four ways: as an arousal tool for heterosexual men, as harmless (i.e. not cheating for a woman in a monogamous heterosexual relationship), as a threat or an abomination against God, or less often, as legitimate loving relationships.

The first two analyses of lesbian relationships are closely linked; they assume that women loving women poses no threat to the heterosexist patriarchal machine because women are valued less than men. The “joke” is still made that some women are only lesbians because they have not yet had sex with the “right” man.[5] This patronizing of women’s sexuality takes away agency and shows that often women’s opinions and feelings are not respected even when they are clearly voiced. The other side of this coin is that many men feel that if their monogamous female sexual partner engages in sexual activity with another woman it is not cheating, while if she were with another man it would be, once again showing how little value is placed on women owning their own sexuality.

This criticism should in no way be seen as a disapproval of polyamory, or love between multiple consenting adults, but rather as a critique of the sexist and misogynistic way in which women’s sexuality is viewed by the American culture at large.

The third view of lesbian relationships is the most overtly harmful because people who view women loving women as a threat to their way of life are more likely to act out against it by pushing for discriminatory legislation or in the form of hate crimes. Real opposition to lesbianism often comes from the Religious Right in the United States that has a strong interest in maintaining the patriarchal hierarchy. Because lesbians generally operate outside the normal sphere of “woman depending on man” this weakens men’s power over women, something the Church sees clearly. The lesbian community has often been an example of the strength of women and many heterosexual women have learned from lesbian communities that there are alternatives to depending on men.

Bisexualwomen, while they face some of the same discrimination as lesbians, also face discrimination that is unique to their situation. Biphobia–the fear or hatred of people who identify as bisexual–exists both in the heterosexual community and the homosexual community.

Everyone in America is brought up seeing the world through dichotomies: black/white, male/female, good/bad, straight/gay, etc. This socialization is just as effective on homosexuals as on heterosexuals and is often responsible for the polarizing of butches and femmes in the lesbian community. People who see the world only in pairs of opposites lack imagination and are made uncomfortable by anything or anyone who does not neatly fit into the good box or the bad box, as dichotomies always result in one side being clearly more valued than the other.

Bisexuals are discriminated against by heterosexuals who can only see that they love people of the same sex. They are further discriminated against by the homosexual community who see them as traitors to the cause for loving people of the opposite sex. Bisexuals are often seen as indecisive, confused, oversexed and/or dangerous. This exclusion can lead to both physical and psychological health problems; a recent survey found that bisexual women have the poorest health of all women. The LGBTQI community has poor overall health in general–a direct result of being marginalized by society.

“Compared to heterosexuals, gays, lesbians, and bisexuals…were more likely to be tense or worried, to smoke, have asthma, abuse drugs, or be victims of sexual abuse. Bisexual men and women were also more likely than heterosexuals to say they faced barriers to getting health care, had higher cardiovascular risk, felt sad, and had contemplated suicide in the past year. Binge drinking was more common among bisexual women than heterosexuals.”[6]

Bisexuals were also more likely to be poor and bisexual women reported the highest rate of sexual assault among all sexuality groups. Most bisexuals do favor one sex more than the other but are openly attracted to both men and women. Some bisexuals explain that they are attracted to certain qualities in people and it does not matter what sex the person possessing those qualities is. While bisexual is the most commonly used term for people who are attracted to more than one gender, other terms may be more appropriate to individuals’ situations such as pansexual, fluid, or omnisexual, as these terms do away with the male/female dichotomy that the term bisexual reinforces. Again, naming one’s own identity is an important step in political action.

Slowly bisexuals are becoming more accepted within the LGBTQAI movement, as is apparent that people rarely forget the ‘B’ in the alphabet soup, but the people behind the letter are still rarely visible. Women of all sexualities must be included in the campaign for gender equality in the United States and around the world.

The LGBTQAI movement has long been visible in the United States and has paved the way for Pride Movements around the world. The determination of the politically active sexual minorities within the U.S. can be felt all the way to the White House. Only last year, in 2010, did LGBTQAI individuals earn the right to visit their partners in the hospital and make medical decisions for them if they are the appointed guardians. Nation-wide legalization of same-sex marriage is still a ways off, at least until California’s ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8, gets to the Supreme Court.

“It’s not possible to know whether the final ruling in this case will broadly confront the overarching denial of equal protection and due process created by prohibiting one segment of society from entering into marriage. The Supreme Court has, in different cases, called marriage ‘essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men’ and a ‘basic civil right.’”[7]

Other legislation is also in the works to guarantee civil rights for the LGBTQAI community. On May 20, 2010 Senator Al Franken introduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act to the Senate, the bill “would prohibit discrimination in schools on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.” According to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) more than 85% of LGBT students have been harassed and more than 60% feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation.

Moreover, one-third of LGBT students “missed a day of school in the past month because of feeling unsafe, five times higher than a national sample of students.”[8]Despite the advancement of rights with this legislation LGBTQAI students in New Jersey will still not be able to find books in their school library with which they can identify. The school board took the liberty of banning “gay-theme books” from a local high school.[9]

Just days before Senator Franken introduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act, the Human Rights Campaign reported that the Minnesota governor had vetoed a bill that would have given same-sex couples the right to take charge of their partners’ remains after death and also to sue in cases of wrongful death.[10]

In many ways laws regarding the rights of same-sex couples, or sexual minority individuals, follow the “two steps forward, one step back” rule. The most visible battle currently is to reform the United States Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which the Obama administration historically has decided not to defend.

And very recently the US finally overturned the military’s policy of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) regarding sexual orientation of service members. Under this policy those service members who were found to be homo- or bisexual or who disclosed their sexual orientation to anyone could be discharged from the military. Even though this policy was supposed to apply equally to all serving in the military those serving who filled a difficult position, or were much needed by the military, were generally overlooked in the witch-hunt. “In 1994 Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer, winner of a bronze star in Vietnam, won reinstatement in the Army Nurse Corps after being discharged for admitted homosexuality.”[11]

The ban disproportionately affected minorities and women. The latest data, compiled by the gay rights group Servicemembers United from Defense Department numbers, showed that in 2008, 45% of troops discharged under ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ were minorities, while minorities were 30% of the service. Women accounted for 34% of the discharges but were 14% of the military.[12]

Highly vocal spokesperson for the repeal of DADT, Lt. Daniel Choi, an openly gay Korean-American man whose skills as an Arabic translator made him too valuable for the Army to let go, was reinstated while DADT was still ineffect, after being discharged because of his sexual orientation. He and other military activists took direct action to overturn DADT, including handcuffing themselves to the White House fence, and fasting.

Autumn Sandeen, a disabled transgender Navy veteran who handcuffed herself to the White House fence, was disrespected and harassed while in custody because of her gender identity. Federal law enforcement officers referred her to as an “impersonator,” “shim,” and “it,” degrading and dehumanizing terms that do not reflect the federal government’s duty to protect and honor all American citizens.

In an eloquent and telling letter to President Barack Obama she wrote, “I personally approached this civil disobedience action with honor, courage, and commitment — the core values of the U.S. Navy — and my honor, courage, and commitment was met with disrespectful and dehumanizing epithets by your representatives in the Park Police and U.S. Marshals.”[13]

Inclusion of a clause disallowing discrimination based on sex or gender in the Constitution would provide grounds on which Sandeen’s case could be taken to the federal level. As has been seen with legislation regarding homosexuality, individual laws are not striking forcefully enough at the inequalities faced on a daily basis by a considerable number of Americans.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon in American society for women in general to be disrespected or dehumanized. One of the cruelest examples of this is the lack of Reproductive Justice (RJ) available to so many women in the United States. Because women’s opinions are not valued their autonomy and decision-making abilities are frequently called into question while men’s decisions are considered sound and logical.

In the Catholic Church priests are not punished for sexually abusing children over decades while one nun was excommunicated for allowing doctors to perform a life-saving abortion on a woman in a Catholic hospital.[14]When women make the choice to terminate a pregnancy they are vilified by right-wing conservatives who only proclaim to be pro-life until they themselves need an abortion.

One blogger explains, “Women are talked about, and legislated upon, as though having the organs in question disqualifies women from the discussion.”[15]But abortion, and legal, geographical and financial access to it, is not the only concern of the RJ movement.

SisterSong explains that Reproductive Justice “is the complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, economic, and social well-being of women and girls, and will be achieved when women and girls have the economic, social and political power and resources to make healthy decisions about our bodies, sexuality and reproduction for ourselves, our families and our communities in all areas of our lives.”[16]

Demands for RJ can include accurate sex education for all women, including disabled women and lesbian women; economic and legal access to birth control and emergency contraception; the right to choose and form a legal commitment to one or more partners; and the right to become pregnant and adopt. Some of these ideas, especially recognizing same-sex marriage and the right to become pregnant, are still fairly radical but are imperative to ensuring that all women in the United States have equal rights.

Sexologist Bianca Laureano of Reproductive Health Reality Check questions the medicalization of women’s sexuality (and the “selling” of female sexual dysfunction) in the United States from a RJ perspective:

“When people discuss “comprehensive sexuality education” what do they really mean? Because when I discuss it I’m not just talking about sharing options in contraception, birth control, consent, etc. but I also include race, class, national origin, dis/ability, immigration status, and the criminalization of certain communities. Who decides what “comprehensive” means and includes/excludes?
Why is the U.S. sexuality and sexual health field so racially White, able-bodied, English-speaking, doctorate degree having, and older…still?!…
Why not mention the big elephant in the room: that FSD is focused on people whose sex assigned at birth is female and does not include transgender people or people who identify as intersex? How do we continue to “Other” and medicalize bodies that do not conform to what medical professionals have classified as “normal”?
How does a disability framework complicate, challenge, or affirm the medicalization of sexual dysfunctions?
What about working class and working poor people? Is sexual dysfunction just a illness of the middle and elite class who may have health insurance to cover such medications, procedures, access to entering into a trial, or the time to seek out specialized care?”[17]

As Laureano’s questions show, there is much work to be done to ensure that women are not discriminated against just for being women. All American women, LBTQAI, straight, disabled, nondisabled, Arab, Asian, black, Latina, Native, mixed-race, immigrant, and white of all classes, religions and ages must work together in strategic nonviolent action to include women in the Constitution and make sure discrimination on the basis of sex is no longer legal.


[1]Kilbourne, Jean (Producer). (2010). Killing Us Softly 4: Advertising’s Image of Women [Motion picture]. Northampton, MA: Media Education Foundation.

[2] Borland, Ken. 19 May 2010. “Eight athletes secretly banned over gender doubt.” National Post. Johannesburg, South Africa. 10 June 2010 http://www.nationalpost.com/sports/story.html?id=3047610

[3] Brownworth and Raffo, 1999.

[4] Alaniz and Wong, 1999.

[5] An idea that springs from “corrective rape.”

[6] Cooney, Elizabeth. 10 June 2010. “Survey: Bisexual women in poorest health.” White Coat Notes. Boston, MA.

[7] “Marriage, a Basic Civil Right.” 11 June 2010. Editorial. The New York Times.  p. A30.

[8] Presgraves, Daryl. 20 May 2010. “Franken Introducees Student Non-Discrimination Act in Senate to End Anti-LGBT Discrimination in Schools.” 10 June 2010 http://www.glsen.org/cgi-bin/iowa/all/news/record/2579.html

[9] Marinelli, Louis. “Gay-theme books banned from high school.” 10 June 2010 http://www.protectmarriagesite.com/nj.html

[10] Warbelow, Sarah. 17 May 2010. “Update: Minnesota Gov. Pawlenty Vetoes Domestic Partner Funeral Rights Bill.” 10 June 2010 http://www.hrcbackstory.org/2010/05/update-minnesota-gov-pawlenty-vetoes-domestic-partner-funeral-rights-bill/

[11] Celebrating Women’s History: A Women’s History Month resource book Ed. Mary Ellen Snodgrass. 1996. ITP: New York.

[12] Bello, Marisol. 27 May 2010. “‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ affects women, minorities more.” USA Today. 10 June 2010 http://www.usatoday.com/news/military/2010-05-26-dont-ask_N.htm

[13] Spaulding, Pam. 26 April 2010. “President Obama: A Transgender Veteran Is Not An ‘Impersonator,’ ‘It,’ Or ‘Shim.’” 10 June 2010 http://www.dailykos.com/story/2010/4/26/860860/-President-Obama:-A-Transgender-Veteran-Is-Not-An-Impersonator,-It,-Or-Shim-

[14] Bradley Hagerty, Barbara. 19 May 2010. “Nun Excommunicated for Allowing Abortion.” National Public Radio. 10 June 2010 http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126985072

[15] Presley, Katie. 14 May 2010. “3 Main Ways Right-Wing Legislators Control Women’s Bodies.” Ms.blog 10 June 2010 http://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2010/05/14/3-main-ways-right-wing-legislators-control-womens-bodies/

[16] Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice. 2007. “What is Reproductive Justice?” SisterSong. 10 June 2010 http://www.sistersong.net/reproductive_justice.html


Day 26- RAISE Initiative

Yesterday’s discussion centered on Reproductive Justice (RJ) and SisterSong, a US-based women of color collective working for RJ. Today’s post features an organization that understands the need for reproductive justice to be at the forefront of everyone’s minds all the time, even in times of crisis and emergency.

The RAISE Initiative-Reproductive Health Access, Information and Services in Emergencies-aims to improve the quality of life of those affected by natural or human-made disasters. Oftentimes, and especially in the wake of a major catastrophe, reproductive health (RH) is overlooked or seen as an unnecessary or secondary concern of governments and NGOs working to help people recover from a disaster.

Numerous case studies have shown that when water, food and shelter are the only concerns of organizations seeking to “help” survivors, harm inevitably comes to the groups with the highest pre-disaster risk factors for vulnerability: basically anyone who is not able-bodied, adult-but-not-elderly, and male. Consider that the number of boy and girl children, adult women, disabled or ill adult men, and elderly men and women combined is considerably higher than the number of healthy, nondisabled men ages 18-55; with this fact in mind it is absurd that what is “normal” and necessary for survival is based on what that minority of the population may need.

Women are at least half of any population, (although, because of socially-constructed gender roles and a lack of survival skills women may have been disproportionately killed in any disaster) and their needs should be taken into consideration when providing any services to an affected population. Women’s needs may include sanitary pads, extra-nutrition if they are pregnant or breastfeeding, well-planned and secure shelter, soap, and birth control. Many people mistakenly believe that life stops for survivors in post-disaster camps, but babies are born and love is made, even in the shadow of chaos.

Much has been written about the opportunity that arises in the wake of a disaster to weaken patriarchy and reinforce gender equality and yet the same mistakes are made over and over again, from Haiti to Pakistan to Japan.

RAISE, which has offices in New York, London, Brussels and Nairobi,  recognizes the vital role in overall health that reproductive health plays, and understands that these needs in an emergency setting are even more pressing. “Access to reproductive health care is a basic human right. Yet integrated and fully comprehensive reproductive health services are not the norm in most emergency settings. People are displaced from their homes for many reasons, and an overwhelming number of preventable deaths and illnesses related to reproductive health affect populations in crisis.”

RAISE, as far as I know, is one of the only organizations of its kind. I know very little about the Reproductive Health Response in Crisis Consortium, or the Women’s Refugee Commission. If you know of other organizations that specifically address the reproductive health needs of populations affected by disaster please share them in the comments section. RAISE is unique in its approach, and addresses RH through technical support to partner organizations, clinical training, advocacy, research, and documentation and dissemination of information.

Additionally, RAISE offers resources for advocacy, up-to-date news articles about reproductive health issues, and a large multimedia library with information about sexual and reproductive health in numerous contexts.

“By promoting awareness of the full range of reproductive health (RH) challenges in refugee and internally displaced person (IDP) situations and the consequences of inaction, RAISE Initiative staff and advocacy partners work to mobilise key humanitarian actors – UN agencies, international bodies, donor governments and host countries – to include RH as an integral part of their humanitarian response and action.”

RAISE works on long-term projects in a number of places, including Colombia, two projects in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Southern Sudan, the Thai-Burmese border, and Uganda. RAISE offers a number of services such as comprehensive reproductive health care, emergency obstetric care, family planning, testing and information for HIV and STIs, and assistance in bringing about an end to gender-based violence.

If you would like to help make RH a priority in both emergency and everyday situations, there are many ways to contribute to or participate in the RAISE Initiative. RAISE offers clinical training in emergency obstetrical care, post-abortion care, and family planning, in addition to offering a multimedia training tool for clinical care for sexual assault survivors. You can also subscribe to their email list for regular RAISE updates and a weekly literature review.


Day 25- SisterSong

To the readers who know me personally, the lack of discussions surrounding sex and reproductive rights and health has probably been puzzling. Sex, sexual rights, and sexual health are some of the areas about which I am most passionate. As Jean Kilbourne states in Killing Us Softly, sex is both more important and less important, than the advertising industry shows. I have not delved into sex/sexuality yet because it is such an intense topic and I have to be mentally prepared for it. Sunday’s blog will go in depth into the fight for sexual/reproductive rights in the US.

Today I want to introduce you to SisterSong, an amazing organization that is “building a movement for reproductive justice.” Reproductive justice is one of my favorite phrases in the English language. Put simplyRJ is “the complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, social, and economic well-being of women and girls, based on the full achievement and protection of women’s human rights.” In other words, reproductive justice explores women’s sexuality and reproductive health while fighting for individuals’ rights to make fully-informed decisions regarding every aspect of life from education to employment to the environment.

SisterSong is a Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. I know that all sounds really hippy feminist, and it is, but hear me out.  Let’s break it down: women of color includes any and all women who are marginalized by the imposed, socially-constructed racial heirarchy in the US, usually anyone who is not or does not appear to be white and does not benefit from the privileges of whiteness; reproductive justice, again, is a social movement that seeks to teach an understanding of sexual and reproductive health and rights issues as it relates to the framework of oppression women face in the US, including poverty, racism, ableism, ageism, and homophobia, in addition to sexism; finally, collective underscores the need for solidarity amongst women to not fall prey to the imperialist tactic of divide and conquer, as SisterSong explains: doing collectively what we cannot do individually.

The Goose Story explains members’ clear committment to the work they are doing and how vital a community of support can be. The SisterSong community includes Southern RJ Activists, the Latina Encuentro, Trust Black Women and these member organizations. SisterSong also produces Collective Voices, “the only national newspaper addressing reproductive health created and distributed by and for women of color….” They also recommend these publications and articles.

July 14-17 this year SisterSong will host its 2011 Let’s Talk About Sex Conference in Miami Beach. The theme this year is Love, Legislation and Leadership. Sistersong also offers three different levels of RJ training which are aimed at audiences of 10-20 people.

If you would like to support the work SisterSong does to end racial oppression and sexism you have a few options: you can register for their training sessions so that you will be more prepared and able to discuss RJ with anyone who will listen; you can donate to Trust Black Women to help continue the fight against racist billboards aimed at shaming black women into not asserting their right to choose; you can donate to help preserve Mother House, the historic home offices of SisterSong in Atlanta, Georgia; or you can donate to SisterSong’s Women of Color Scholarship Program to ensure that “women of color, working class communities, immigrant communities, and young women and students” have access to information and services surrounding SisterSong’s work.


Day 23- Activism Surrounding the Prison System

I have to admit that I am somewhat ambivalent about the death penalty and I welcome any and all arguments for or against it as long as you are civil to each other. Also, most information I have regarding prisons is US-based so any information about prisons from other countries is welcomed, too.

In the United States, the country with the highest documented incarcerations in the world, there are many organizations that are working to reform the prison system as well as some that advocate the abolition of the prison system because of the horrendous conditions prisoners face including rape, injury, illness and even death.

The racism behind the prison system in the US is blatant and damaging to every aspect of society as shown by the Prison Policy Initiative. This list of political prisoners compiled by The Prison Activist Resource Center shows the severity of the impact of racism on minorities in America– roughly 70% of inmates are not white while minorities only make up 35% of the total US population. According to the U.S. Justice Bureau 1 of every 32 adults in the US is either incarcerated (in prison or jail), on parole, or on probation. This number does not include the more than 90,000 children held in juvenile facilities.

Nearly 93% of inmates are male but despite blacks making up only 12.4% of the total population, black men outnumber white men in prison 6 to 1, and most people who are incarcerated have not been convicted of violent crimes. The November Coalition is one organization fighting for the reform of drug policy in the US. The rape of prisoners is one of the biggest concerns of human rights groups such as Los Angeles-based Just Detention International, while such reputable organizations as Human Rights Watch also address the conditions under which prisoners are held, reforming drug policy, and class issues as they relate to inmates. The issues surrounding the use of solitary confinement in prison were outlined in Law & Order: SVU (Season 11, Episode 3). Prisoners of the Census is another organization that fights the immoral gerrymandering of political districts based upon census figures that count prisoners where they are incarcerated rather than where they are from.

HIV+ inmates make up at least 1.7% of the incarcerated population and face specific challenges and discrimination within the prison industrial complex, including an infection rate of 5-10 times that of unincarcerated people, but some groups do exist within prisons to help prevent the spread of HIV and offer support to those who are HIV+ such as ACE (AIDS Counseling and Education) at the maximum security women’s prison Bedford Hills in New York. Here is a brief history of the fight against the spread of HIV and AIDS within the prison system. LGBTQAI (especially male-to-female transgender) inmates are almost certain to face violence, and rape, while imprisoned. This long piece explores the history of “Queer Encounters in Gay and Lesbian Prison Activism.”

The US drug policy “has become a war on women,” and a staggering 58% of women inmates were victims of violence before being incarcerated. Women in prison face challenges their male counterparts do not, but often their experience is invisible. From these statistics we learn that 60-67% of female prisoners are black or Hispanic in the US, while only 24% of the total US population is black or Hispanic; women are 33% more likely to be incarcerated on drug charges than men; 64% of women enter prison without having graduated high school and women in prison are 12 times more likely to be HIV+.

The health and well being of women is not one of the US government’s priorities, neither are eradicating racism, ending poverty or improving education, therefore it is clear that women in prison may constitute the most vulnerable group in American society as the isms of patriarchy are suffocatingly piled on them.

Jailing pregnant women has recently gotten much press with many women being shackled during childbirth. The Rebecca Project for Human Rights’s Anti-Shackling Coalition has been very vocal in its opposition to this inhumane treatment. The Prison Doula Project is another group working to improve conditions for pregnant inmates. Pregnant women are not only being sent to prison for violating real laws, but are also subject to “pro-life” sheriffs and judges locking them up for potentially breaking laws.

Other activism for women’s rights in prison includes The Advocacy Project which “believes that incarcerating women is an inappropriate and ineffective response to profound social problems such as poverty, racism, childhood sexual abuse, and mental illness,” The California Coalition for Women Prisoners, and the amazing, highly-recommended Women + Prison which also takes on the issue of incarcerating women who use violence against their abusers. All of these inspiring organizations utilize a feminist perspective in their activism. The International V-Day Movement also raises awareness of issues specific to women in prison with productions of the play Any One of Us: Words From Prison and screenings of the film What I Want My Words To Do To You.

In related news, the death of a prominent prison rights advocate in Greece caused an uprising in women’s prisons there. For just a few poignant references to the prison system in pop culture listen to “Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash, “Locked Up” by Akon, and especially “Prison Song” by System of a Down. If anyone knows any good songs in this light by female artists I would much appreciate a heads-up. To support prison reform (or abolition) and fight for human rights check out any of the organizations mentioned above and consider volunteering, donating, writing to your representative, or even just educating yourself (and those around you) more about this normally-hidden issue.


Day 22- Equality Now

Over the past week we’ve had discussions about violence against women and a few of the many organizations that work to eradicate VAW by using strategic nonviolent action techniques. The second week of March was a look into what women in different parts of the world are doing to overcome injustice in their own countries. And the first week of March we delved into what women of different races have done and are doing in the US to work towards gender equality.

The rest of the month of March will be a hodgepodge of activism, with no particular theme, other than take action. We will learn about women’s use of SNVA within the disability movement, sexual minority strategic actions, organizations that fight for reproductive justice and much more. Any ideas, suggestions, advice, links, comments or information would be more than welcome.

Today we will focus on the incredible work of Equality Now. Equality Now may be the first encounter I ever had with a women’s rights organization and organized feminism. I was in junior high and someone from EN was featured on Oprah and was talking about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). From then on I was determined that no one should suffer abuse just because she is female.

Equality Now is available in English, French, Spanish and Arabic. This organization combats many forms of gender discrimination and gender-based violence, including FGM, human trafficking, rape, domestic violence, political participation and reproductive rights.

Started in 1992, “Equality Now documents violence and discrimination against women and mobilizes international action to support their efforts to stop these human rights abuses.” They have organizations in New York, Nairobi and London. There is an open position at the NY office for a bookkeeper and they also have internships at each of their locations.

The Women’s Action Network of Equality Now is how individuals and international organizations are mobilized in support of or in opposition to a specific issue. Here is a long list of the current actions supported by Equality Now. They include letter-writing campaigns to end FGM in Tanzania, and to end the femicides in Ciudad Juarez, among many other actions.

Equality Now also organizes political campaigns such as a benefit to combat human trafficking and sex tourism, and they publish Awaken which raises awareness and acts as a forum for strategies to combat FGM. They are also active in using UN mechanisms to urge governments to change their policies that are discriminatory towards women, and they support the Lawyer’s Alliance for Women Project which promotes individuals’ use of the law to combat injustice. Here is a list past events Equality Now has held, including a film screening of Fatal Promises and a panel discussion with the authors of Half the Sky. EN is supported by such celebrities as Meryl Streep.

There are many ways to support Equality Now and its work, including joining the WAN, taking actions and making donations. Equality Now also offers a list of creative ideas for ways to fight injustice. EN offers a number of items for sale featuring their super sexy logo and you can spread the word about their work by becoming a Facebook fan.


Day 20- RAINN & NDVH

I love acronyms. I think they’re immensely useful. Two of my favorite acronyms are RAINN and NDVH.

RAINN is the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, and NDVH is the National Domestic Violence Hotline, both of which are primarily US organizations. I have posted their contact information at least twice in the past week but wanted today to focus on their work and explain how they help to combat violence against women. There is also a free NDVH in the UK.

RAINN provides startling statistics as to the nature of sexual violence in the US: every 2 minutes someone in the US is sexually assaulted, 44% of victims are under age 18 and 80% are under 30, 60% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police, roughly 2/3 of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows, and 15 out of 16 rapists will never spend a day in jail.

For more information regarding sexual assault statistics, victims, offenders, and reporting, go to the respective links. RAINN offers information on different types of sexual assault including rape, incest, child sexual abuse, stalking and many other violent crimes. There is also advice for what to do in the aftermath of sexual assault, how to recover from sexual assault, information about the possible effects of sexual assault, and tips for computer safety.

RAINN has many high-profile supporters, including Rachel Bilson, Tori Amos, Blythe Danner, Cybill Shepherd, Law & Order:SVU’s Mariska Hargitay, and national spokesperson Christina Ricci, who lend their faces and voices to Public Service Announcements.

This organization also works to adjust public policyThese links offer information and support for various issues surrounding sexual assault such as drugs and rape, male rape, mental health, military resources, and international resources, and here is a list of resources by state. You can search for a local rape crisis center here or call the National Sexual Assault Hotline toll-free at 1.800.656.HOPE (4673) for live help.

To show your commitment to ending sexual violence, get involved by contacting your representatives about public policy or volunteering, shop at one (or all!) of these many retailers or support RAINN through their numerous donation options. RAINN also offers 5 different internships in Washington D.C.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline here gives information on signs of various types of domestic violence, including emotional, physical and sexual abuse. NDVH also offers information for abusers and witnesses to abuse as to how to help end the violence. Teen dating abuse is explored here and this information specifically addresses the unique situation of immigrant women in dealing with DV. Women with hearing disabilities can find useful information here.

NDVH offers these resources and advice for safety planning. To find help in your area, such as shelters and coalitions, go here. You can contact the hotline here or by calling toll-free 1−800−799−SAFE (7233) or TTY 1−800−787−3224. También hay información sobre la violencia contra mujeres en español.

 

You can support the hotline and its work by volunteering, shopping here or making a donation. You are also encouraged to share your voice in hopes that others might see themselves in your story and find a way out of an abusive situation. Numerous celebrities also support NDVH and appear in their PSAs including Salma Hayek, Martina McBride and Marlee Matlin.


Day 19- Women in Black

Over the past four days we have seen various organizations that hold awareness raising events to combat violence against women. Today’s organization is different in many ways, but the overwhelming similarity it shares with its predecessors is that this group these groups are made up of women who are saying no to violence.

Women in Black started in 1988 in Israel as an anti-war movement. Today Women in Black (and many translations of it) are active in at least 17 countries (with possibly as many as 150 separate groups) around the world, and are estimated to include roughly 10,000 members. The WiB motto “For justice. Against war.” is the minimal guidance new groups have in launching their own protests against violence. Annually the international chapters meet at a conference; this year’s meeting will take place in Bogota, Colombia in August.

WiB classifies itself as “not an organization, but a means of communicating and a formula for action.” Women in Black “is a world-wide network of women committed to peace with justice and actively opposed to injustice, war, militarism and other forms of violence.”

Women in Black is not a typical nonviolent organization; there is no formal structure, there is no recipe for a good protest or vigil, the only requirement is that women wearing black come together to take a stand against violence, usually on a weekly basis. Often these protests are silent, but placards are used to convey succinct messages.

Other forms of strategic nonviolent action used by Women in Black include occupying public (or forbidden governmental) space, marches or processions, vigils, masks, effigies, music, and obviously, symbolic colors. To download Gene Sharp’s list of 198 nonviolent actions YOU could be taking to speak out against violence, go here.

Seattle WiB is very active, as are the Northern California Bay Area Women in Black, Mujeres de Negro en Uruguay, Italy’s Donne in Nero and Zene u Crnom in Belgrade, and many other groups.

Other anti-war groups around the world respect and honor Women in Black and use their actions to exemplify what anti-violence should look like. One such group is Savaş Kaşıtları here in Turkey. But not everyone supports what WiB does, this video shows some of the attacks faced by anti-war, anti-violence, and anti-occupation protesters.

The main lesson to be learned from all of the participants in Women in Black is that if you are persistent, you can make yourself known, make your views heard, and make a difference.


Day 18- V-Day Movement

All over the United States, and throughout much of the world, The Vagina Monologues make people blush, laugh, cry, get angry, and feel hope on an annual basis. This mixed up rush of emotions takes place within a 90 minute performance where amateur (and sometimes professional) actresses bring to life the intimate confessions of other women’s vaginas.

But playwright Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues is no longer simply a theatrical production, the VMons (as many of the women who have participated in them come to call them) have transformed into the V-Day Movement, a movement that will continue “Until the Violence Stops.” 

From their website: “V-Day is a global activist movement to stop violence against women and girls. V-Day is a catalyst that promotes creative events to increase awareness, raise money and revitalize the spirit of existing anti-violence organizations. V-Day generates broader attention for the fight to stop violence against women and girls, including rape, battery, incest, female genital mutilation (FGM) and sex slavery.”

The V-Day Movement is comprised of much more than just The Vagina Monologues: at least five other annual events take place under the V-Day umbrella including two other performances, two film screenings, and a workshop, in addition to teaching events surrounding the Spotlight Campaign.

A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant and A Prayer is a performance piece that encourages men to get involved and perform monologues to help stop violence against women. “The volume features such authors and topics as: Edward Albee on S&M; Maya Angelou on women’s work; Michael Cunningham on self-mutilation; Dave Eggers on a Sudanese abduction; Edwidge Danticat on a border crossing; Carol Gilligan on a daughter witnessing her mother being hit; Susan Miller on raising a son as a single mother; Sharon Olds on a bra; Patricia Bosworth on her own physically abusive relationship; Jane Fonda on reclaiming our Mojo; and many more.”

Any One of Us: Words From Prison is another performance piece. It chronicles the experiences of women in the prison system in the United States, and explores how violence shaped women prisoners’ lives even before they broke any laws. “Together these writings reveal the deep connection between women in prison and the violence that often brings them there.”

Until the Violence Stops is a film screening that gets its name from the mission of V-Day- to continue to combat violence against women and girls until there is no more violence. This film is a documentary of the experiences of women around the world who have worked in the V-Day Movement.

What I Want My Words To Do To You is a film that documents Eve Ensler’s conversations with women inmates. “The film culminates in an emotionally charged prison performance of the women’s writing (the first edition of “Any One of Us”) by acclaimed actors Mary Alice, Glenn Close, Hazelle Goodman, Rosie Perez and Marisa Tomei. The film documents both the wrenching personal journeys undertaken by the inmates to find the words that tell their own stories, and the power of those words to move the outside world.”

Finally, V-Men is a powerpoint presentation and teaching workshop for men only. It is a safe space for men to discuss their own feelings (and sometimes their own actions) surrounding violence against women, and ways they can help end violence.

Some of these events require an admission fee, most don’t, but all of the events, whether they raise money or not, help end the silence surrounding violence against women, and help survivors heal. Ninety percent of proceeds from any events held are to be donated to a local organization that is working to stop violence against women and girls, while the other ten percent is given to the V-Day Foundation to be donated to the women of the Spotlight Campaign. This year V-Day has been focusing on the women and girls of Haiti and the unbelievable amount of physical and sexual violence they face on a regular basis. V-Day also operates a scholarship program and numerous safe houses around the world.

“Since the Campaigns’ inception in 1998, participation has grown exponentially. In 2010, over 5,400 V-Day benefit events took place in 1,800 locations, including all 50 U.S. states and 55 countries. That is 400 more communities than were reached as recently as 2009.

The proceeds generated from these events have also grown. College and community activists raise an annual average of $4 million for local groups such as domestic violence shelters and rape crises centers. Also, ten percent of each event’s proceeds are channeled back to V-Day’s Spotlight Campaign.”

Any and all information regarding the V-Day Movement is available at vday.org and I encourage you, if there is not yet a production of The Vagina Monologues planned for your town, do it yourself. You won’t be disappointed. The V-Day website is also a wonderful resource.


Day 17- Take Back the Night

In the past two days we have seen how ordinary articles of clothing can be catalysts for change, and can help break down barriers by promoting people to ask questions. Any conversation that educates someone as to the gender inequality in a given society or the dangers of gender-based violence is a good one, and Take Back the Night (also known as Reclaim the Night) has been promoting survivors of violence to break the suffocating silence since at least 1975. These events are held all over the world in recognition that women’s rights are still in jeopardy.

The idea behind this life-changing event is for women (and men) to gather together after dark, share their stories of violence, literally light up the night (with candles), and reclaim their right to be in public at night. You can find the history of the event here. TBTN is also a forum for survivors to realize that they are not alone in facing violence. 

As an undergrad at SDSU I had witnessed (and marched and chanted slogans in) one TBTN event before I had the courage to take the mic at the second event my sophomore year. I, oddly, have no fear whatsoever of public speaking but standing up and telling the microphone and everyone who was on the other end of it the hell I faced as a survivor of child sexual abuse and incest was terrifying. I felt exposed, like a gaping wound. I tried to fight back tears but as my mother says, sometimes tears are the necessary lubricant for painful words.

Once my story had been told and all of these people, these strangers, now knew that I was a survivor, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off me, I felt liberated. And everyone at the event touched a caring hand to my shoulder, or hugged me through a layer of their own tears, telling me they felt the same way, and thanking me for telling their story.

Take Back the Night changed my life. It was the first time I ever identified myself as a survivor of incest; a word which still makes my stomach flip and my skin crawl. I participated in the subsequent events on campus throughout my college career but never again felt the need to speak up. Of course, I raised my voice as we marched around campus and “Our bodies, our lives, our right to decide!” has served me well in pro-choice rallies too.

The cornerstone of TBTN is local events where ordinary citizens have the courage to speak up and show that they are sick and tired of being fearful. The TBTN Foundation welcomes submissions of local events and will add them to its national calendar. Normally these rallies are held near the end of April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (and Child Abuse Prevention Month). They are often held in conjunction with a number of other activities including Denim Day and the Clothesline Project.

Many groups and organizations participate in Take Back the Night, including universities, women’s groups, LGBTQAI associations, local shelters, religious organizations, and men’s groups who speak out against violence against women. If you are interested in finding a local event to participate in or volunteer for, or if you want to create an event, go here. If you need help dealing with a violence experience, here are some useful resources.


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