Today, we are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of one of our graduate professors, Dr. Karen Dugger. Karen, who served as the chair of the Women's Studies Program and Director of the Institute for Teaching and Research on Women (ITROW) at Towson University during our tenure, was a passionate educator, who helped inform our intersectional feminist perspectives. She was instrumental in creating the Center for Race and Gender at Bucknell University, and the Pathways Program at Towson University which provides scholarships as well as academic and social support to low-income parents.
Each of us had a unique relationship with Karen.
Rachel worked closely with Dr. Dugger, who served as her advisor and mentor. Her unparalleled encouragement and enthusiasm gave Rachel the confidence to whole-heartedly pursue her academic and professional passions. Rachel was honored to co-author a chapter in the book And Finally We Meet
with Dr. Dugger and fellow alum Katie McLaughlin. Dr. Dugger’s profound impact will continue to inform and inspire Rachel’s work.
Jeffrey worked as a graduate assistant to Karen at ITROW during the 2010-2011 academic year. He has fond memories of working with her to mentor recipients of the Pathways Program scholarships, as well as discussing feminism, tattoos, pornography, and what would become a week-long sex positive event called "SexFest" which we successfully programmed in April 2011.
Katie was Karen's student for a semester when she took her class, Women in an International Context. She remembers Karen as a tough, yet fair professor who demanded the best from her students. (Katie still has her A+ midterm to prove it!). She was one of many women's studies professors at Towson University to teach Katie to critically look at feminism from a global, intersectional perspective and question our own position as Western feminists.
We will be honoring her memory at the memorial being held at Towson University on Nov. 23 from 2-3pm
Dear Radical Feminists in attendance at the Shulamith Firestone Women’s Liberation Memorial Conference on What is to be Done,
I too, was gathered with you for this conference in New York City. I was excited to be involved in a consciousness raising session, and interested to hear your collective thoughts on what is to be done. I had heard the criticisms of transphobia within your movement, but naively hoped such sentiment came from a small, removed faction. As I sat among you, and your notable speakers, I realized I couldn’t have been more wrong. Transphobia and transmisogyny are alive and well within your walls. The disdain with which you referred to trans women and your collective refusal to accept them as women was shocking and horrifying. This letter is to voice what I did not have the courage, or the words to say when I was in your presence.
Ladies, you are not feminists. Feminism, as defined by bell hooks
is the movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression. Your tactics and vision place you squarely as oppressors. You are fundamentally no different than the patriarchal system you supposedly seek to dismantle. Your vitriolic exclusion of women whose bodies do not qualify as appropriately “female,” is little different than the exclusion of white women from the public sphere or blacks from white-only spaces. The logic is the same. You are an elitist class exercising and maintaining privilege by denying a systemically oppressed class access to your space. It is an age-old tool of oppression.
Maybe you’ve been so focused on your own liberation, you failed to notice that trans people suffer immensely from the discrimination and hatred that those like you dish out. In fact, 41%
of trans people have attempted suicide, one in five
have experienced homelessness, and nearly all have feared for their lives. Trans women are the most frequent targets of anti LGBTQ hate crimes
. Is this really the group you choose to target?
At the conference one of you spoke out about the fundamental right of lesbian women to bodily autonomy, emphasizing the importance of being free to choose who to love. Others of you made it clear that women should not be defined by their reproductive capacity. The hypocrisy in these sentiments were mind-blowing. In one breath you championed your own freedom from biology, yet scoffed at the idea that trans women are not defined by theirs. Your suggestion that SOME women deserve bodily autonomy, while others do not is horrible, self-aggrandizing and reprehensible.
I’d like to know how you determine which women are worthy of bodily autonomy and of occupying your space. You see, sex and gender aren’t quite as simple as you seem to think. Human beings are complex creatures, and sex, gender and sexuality can be expressed in an infinite number of ways at different points in time. It wouldn’t even suffice if one were required to show their genitalia before entering your space, since human sex/gender is not clear-cut. Yet, your obsession with the idea of “real” women makes this horrific scenario all too plausible.
By erroneously defining women as those with female physical characteristics you have elevated your own status as cis-women and willfully exercised your privilege to oppress others. You do so, seemingly with the belief that you must climb over the backs of others to achieve liberation. The exclusion of trans women is, as one of your invited speakers explained, the linchpin, the one issue that would be the most effective in gaining “women’s” liberation. Making an argument for women’s liberation by denying access to some women is simply nonsensical.
However, it all started to make sense when another one of your speakers ranted about how, “it is necessary to fight your OWN oppression, rather than focus on the most oppressed,” and that you “can’t get wrapped up in guilt over someone else’s oppression.” It became clear that unlike your radical feminist title suggests, you are not worried about systems
of oppression. Your lone concern is for your OWN liberation from your OWN specific form of oppression. Contrary to the fundamental tenets of radical feminism, you will gladly uphold oppressive systems if and when they benefit you.
While radical feminist theory presents valid criticisms and strategies to achieve liberation, your perverse rendition does not. Your trans-exclusionary practices are not feminist, and are certainly not radical. They are based on the retrogressive principle of biological hierarchy – the same principle that has subjugated women (and others) for centuries. I implore you to consider adopting a strategy aimed at achieving liberation for all women, and all people, regardless of race, class, gender or sexuality.
Following Rachel's article, "Feminist Dialogue Starts with 'You Can Touch My Hair'"
(cross-posted on Fem2.0
), she was invited to take part in a digital panel discussion about the "You Can Touch My Hair" interactive public art exhibit. This hour long discussion was a great opportunity for the differing view points on this exhibit to be voiced, and discussed in a public forum. You can watch the panel discussion below!
By: Rachel Piazza
Has anyone ever asked to touch your hair? As a white woman in the U.S., it’s not something I’ve experienced, but if you’re a black woman, chances are you have. For most of the women who attended the “You Can Touch My Hair
” public art exhibit on Saturday, June 8th at New York City’s Union Square, the experience was all too common.
The event, inspired by Un’ruly
founder, Antonia Opiah’s article, “Can I Touch Your Hair
?” was billed as an invitation to explore the “tactile fascination with black hair.”
Sensing that there was more to this exhibit than an open invitation to touch various textures of black hair, I decided to check it out. As I arrived at the event Saturday afternoon, I immediately spotted three gorgeous black women holding signs that read, “You Can Touch My Hair.” They were standing in front of a crowd of mostly black women, who were actively conversing with one another on the topic.
While I had come to the event to learn more about this aspect of black women’s oppression, the conspicuous absence of white women seemed indicative of the disinterest in and disassociation with black women’s issues that the feminist movement is notorious for. “You Can Touch My Hair” was performance art that put U.S. gendered race relations on center stage. It did what good art has a habit of doing. It stirred up intense emotions and sparked meaningful dialogue. Through asking questions and conversing with women in the crowd, I got the sense that while having people want to touch your hair is nearly universal among black women, the reactions and feelings to the question are incredibly diverse. Some women didn’t mind as long as it was respectful, even finding it flattering at times. Others felt that their hair is part of their body, and any attempt to touch it is violating and dehumanizing.
Representing the latter viewpoint was a group of women who showed up in protest, holding signs that read “you CANNOT touch my hair.” Some were adamant that Un’ruly’s exhibit was disgusting and demeaning. One protester likened it to a slavery auction block or a petting zoo. It wasn’t hard to see her point. But as a lover of art and nuanced messages, I couldn’t help but agree with those I overheard saying that both groups had the same message. I wasn’t the only one interpreting Un’ruly’s exhibit as a statement about the objectification and dehumanization of black women when people ask to touch their hair.
Of course, however, the exhibit had many layers. It also seemed to be a genuine invitation for dialogue. It was clear that the issue of hair touching is more than just hair touching. It’s about entitlement, privilege and control. When white people (usually women I hear) feel entitled to touch and investigate black women’s hair, it is eerily reminiscent of the historic imbalances of power and race-based abuses that continue today. When white people ask to touch a black woman’s hair (or touch it without asking), they do so without recognizing black women’s experience or understanding the potential impact of their actions. In a society where black women are exoticized and made to exist as the other, a white person’s fascination with their hair can add to the feeling of alienation.
Laurel Macey, a woman who demonstrated in protest, eloquently explained how the question, “Can I touch your hair?” adds another layer to black women’s marginalization.
In speaking to women like Ms. Macey, “You Can Touch My Hair” affirmed what I already knew. It is imperative that white feminists listen to black women. When we shut up and listen, something amazing happens. Walls come down. We begin to understand what it’s like to be a black woman in the U.S. and how race intersects with gender to create an experience vastly different from our own. If, as feminists, we wish to break down structures of oppression, we must understand how that oppression manifests in different people’s lives and how we perpetuate it ourselves. “You Can Touch My Hair” was a step in this direction. It opened a door for dialogue that far too few white women walked through. White women must do a better job at listening to and being allies for black women. In the spirit of race and gender justice, we must recognize our privileges and seize opportunities to gain a better understanding of one another. So instead of reaching out your hand to feel a black woman’s hair, reach out your hand in friendship. The world will be better for it.
By: Rachel Piazza
Kree Harrison and Candice Glover went head to head tonight, each with three stellar performances. This was no surprise, as judges Keith, Nicki, Randy and Mariah have been singing their praises all season, predicting successful careers in the industry for both finalists. But as these two talented women belted their hearts out on stage, I started singing their praises for a different reason entirely.What had been percolating in the back of my mind all season finally struck me, front and center. Each time Candice or Kree step on stage, looking all kinds of fabulous, they are making a powerful statement. Not fitting the cookie cutter mold of female pop stars today, their mere presence on the Idol stage serves to redefine cultural notions and standards of beauty.
Each week, along with over 11 million
people, I get to see beauty in a slightly different package than is typically presented on tv. I sit in awe every Wednesday and Thursday night and admire the way these two women look. Don’t get me wrong, I am most in awe of their talent, and the way they command the stage, as if they know at their core that they belong there. However, the visual appeal of these two women does not go unnoticed. And while that is revolutionary in and of itself, it doesn’t stop there.Candice and Kree’s beauty is not just physical – it is all encompassing. As they perform on the Idol stage, they are not passively pretty – objects performing for a male gaze. Their talent and emotion interact with their physical beauty in a magical way. It’s kind of like they are these full and complex human beings – whose physical attractiveness plays a part in how they are perceived, but doesn’t define it. As I said, revolutionary.
This undoubtedly sends a message to the recesses of girls’ and women’s minds that their bodies, whatever size and shape, are beautiful vessels in which they can do amazing things. It is for this reason I am singing the praises of American Idol’s Season 12 Finalists, Candice Glover and Kree Harrison.
Today is Equal Pay Day - the day when women's 2012 wages catch up to men's 2012 wages. It's a day that we, as women, get to think about just how much money we're missing in our paychecks, which varies depending on our race and ethnicity. According to the National Women's Law Center, the average woman loses $11,000 in wages due to the gender wage gap each year. That means, if the wage gap didn't exist, we might have an extra $11,000 EVERY YEAR. It got us thinking....
If The Wage Gap Weren't a Thing... Feminist Friends Could Travel the World!
$11,000 can get you surprisingly far. Here's a list of all the places we could travel to and still have over $6,000 to spend while on our dream vacation.
Wow! What at amazing trip! $11,000 a year would provide an awesome opportunity to see the world and experience different cultures. Fact is, though, the wage gap leaves many of us struggling to simply provide for ourselves and our families. An extra $11,000 could pay for a year's worth of rent or a year's worth of groceries. With many women without benefits or paid sick days, $11,000 could mean being able to afford getting sick every once in a while. It could also mean saving for retirement, buying your kids new clothes, or simply being able to cover the bills each month. Point is, if the wage gap weren't a thing... life might be a little bit easier. There's also no acceptable reason why gender and race should impact our earnings. Here's to working for progress and prosperity for women. Happy Equal Pay Day!
We recently presented a workshop on using Twitter to achieve feminist goals to Towson University's Feminist Collective. We want to share our Prezi for those in the group to refer back to it, and for anyone who might find it useful! The TU Feminist Collective is now on Twitter - You can follow them at @TU_FemCo!
Rachel Piazza, BJJ purple belt
As a woman, a Jiu-Jitsu practitioner and a feminist, I was horrified to learn that two high profile male Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitors repeatedly raped their female teammate after offering to drive her home on New Year’s Eve. This story
from Washington, D.C. has shocked the close-knit Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) community, many of whom are connected in some way to those involved in this gut-wrenching crime. As BJJ practitioners, we know the bond that teammates share and the trust we put in one another every time we step on the mat. As a BJJ community, we are disgusted at our association with these monsters. When those two men raped their teammate, they betrayed us all. As women, this crime reminds us of our own vulnerability to sexual assault and rape.
While we cringe because we know the trust that is shared among teammates, this scenario is unfortunately all too common. According to the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), approximately ⅔ of rapes are committed by someone known to the victim
. The rape of a female BJJ competitor by her teammates reminds us that our community does not exist outside the misogynistic culture that fuels these attacks.
For me, BJJ is a way I resist this culture. When I put my gi on and grapple with men, I am refusing to listen to messages that tell me to be quiet, polite and docile. But this act of resistance can be a double-edged sword. Feeling overpowered by grappling partners can be a reminder of the power dynamics I’m trying to overcome. While I trust my grappling partners, as I’m sure this woman did, those fleeting moments bring on the sense of powerlessness that too often characterizes being a woman in this world.
As I write, there are a number of high profile rape cases in the media. The Steubenville case
is eerily similar to this one, with an incapacitated woman being raped by football player friends. Then, there’s the horrendous gang rape case in India
where the victim suffered fatal injuries. But these are only the tip of the iceberg. In fact, 1 in 6 women
have experienced a rape or attempted rape in their lifetime. As women, this reality is always firmly planted in the backs of our minds. While BJJ gives us many tools to defend ourselves and feel empowered, it does not change the culture that says our bodies are public property. This fact violently infiltrated our close-knit community upon reports of the horrific New Year’s Eve rape.
Having long benefited from a squeaky clean image, BJJ usually attracts attention in the news for thwarting criminal activity
or when a child uses their BJJ skills to fight off an attacker
. Now it finds itself in unfamiliar territory. This heinous crime committed by, and against, some of our own demands that we evaluate how we may be complicit in rape culture and how we can take steps to reject a culture that devalues women and claims ownership over their bodies.
Can we join forces to condemn the actions of these men and stand against rape? Let’s stand in solidarity with the rape survivor, by speaking out against these men and the shame they have cast on our sport.
Here are some things you can do to take a public stand.
- Make a statement on your Facebook page or Twitter account condemning these acts and the shame it has cast on our BJJ community.
- Make and share a “Don’t Rape!” meme to spread the message!
- Use the hashtag #BJJAgainstRape to share what you are doing to end rape.
Ending rape also requires that we take action in our everyday life. Here are some great tips for what WE can do to stop rape.
We are excited to announce that we will be leading a social media workshop in Havre de Grace, MD at the end of January. The workshop will focus on helping artists harness the power of social media. As with all Feminist Friends endeavors, the workshop will promote a feminist ethic. You may email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions!
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