Welcome to the THANK A FEMINIST Issue!

Dear Readers,

Welcome to our Thank a Feminist Issue!

We are happy to introduce a new editorial year of Re/Visionist! The editors wanted to begin the 2013-2014 academic year on a note of gratitude, so we decided to devote our entire Sept./Oct. issue to thanking the feminist inspirations in our lives.

The inspirational people/ideas/icons included in this issue are from both the past and present; some we know well, some we admire from afar. Some are self-identified feminists, others would not use that label. In a world hostile to feminism and queerness, what matters more than what our inspiration looks like is finding it in ways both expected and unexpected.

This month features:

  • Two pieces by Re/Visionist co-editor Tiffany Williams about 20th-century artist Millicent Fredericks and activist/partner, Kamau Nkosi
  • A letter from Re/Visionist web editor Carly Fox to her brother James about his feminism
  • A collage from contributor Kate Amunrud reflecting her gratitude to her feminist icon–her mother
  • A letter from contributor Jessica Lynne about her Grandma’s unknowing plight in feminism
  • A letter from contributor Nicole McCormick where she gives thanks to Bruce Lansky for allowing her to enter new imaginary spaces
  • A poem by Blake Williams about his feminist inspiration

Sincerely,

Emilie Egger and Tiffany Williams, Re/Visionist co-editors

gratitude

As always, we welcome your suggestions and contributions. eegger(at)gm(dot)slc(dot)edu/twilliams(at)gm(dot)slc(dot)edu. 

When Construction and Feminism Meet Somewhere In Between

Dear James,

I often think of us as quite different.

When I was losing sleep about passing high-school AP exams and getting a top score on the SAT, you were writing songs on your guitar and riding your BMX bike at the skate park. I keep a collection of books —  bell hooks, Alice Walker, Cornel West, Adrienne Rich–, while you keep a collection of vinyl –Tom Waits, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, The Velvet Underground. I drink red wine. You chew tobacco.

Your appearance is the epitome of straight masculinity–your body muscled, not because you have spent a day in the gym, but because five days a week you swing hammers, dig ditches, and set housing foundations. If I did not know you and were to pass you on the street, I would most likely create a deep chasm of separateness between us.

You don’t identify as a feminist and we don’t use the same language. You aren’t familiar with words like heteronormativity, agency, intersectionality, transnationalism. You’ve never heard of Simone de Beauvoir, Sojourner Truth, Audre Lorde, or Gloria Stienem, and you don’t own any shirts exclaiming “This is What a Feminist Looks LIke.” But for me, you don’t need any of this. I already see it– your feminism– however tacit it may be, underpinning all your ordinary and audacious acts of openness, friendship, and love.

I see it when your girlfriend, a 22 year-old nurse, calls you in tears, fearful she might not succeed in her new job. You softly remind her, “Hanna, you are OK. You are amazing. Starting something new is always challenging at first.”

I see it when you show me pictures of you with your girlfriend’s gay father and his boyfriend in the Castro at San Francisco’s Pride. This is a reminder that somehow you never inherited the subtle and not-so-subtle homophobia of the 90 percent white, ‘Good Ol’ Boys’ small town of our childhood.

I see it in your accepting smile when I tell you I’ve fallen in love with a woman when the rest of our family stares with anger, shame, and indifference.

I see it when during a cross-country drive to New York you accompany me to what is likely the only gay bar in Omaha, Nebraska. We walk into a dark, music-less room, covered with pictures of bears–something I explain to you later. It’s 9 PM on a Wednesday night and the bar has only two people– the bar tender and an older man sipping a whiskey and coke.

“I’m sorry, James. Maybe we should just leave.” You grab my hand. “Come on, we’re already here.” You sit down, order two Budweisters, and say to the 20-something serving drinks, “So this is Omaha?”

I see it when in downtown Columbus, Ohio, bustling with college students dining at hip bars and expensive restaurants, you explain your theory of ‘the scene’ to me.

“It’s about three things: popularity, education, and money. Guys like me don’t have these things.”

In my ignorance, I haven’t realized that you too are looking atthe world with a critical lens, constructing yoru own narrative. “I see it all the time, Carly. Like when you say you’re going to graduate school and people respond with an excited ‘How wonderful!’ or an encouraging ‘Good for you!’ I say I work construction and people let out a hesitant ‘Ohhhh….'”

I see it when you’re helping me lift my bookshelf that will hold the books in which you are thoroughly uninterested up three flights of stairs to my apartment.

I see it in your refusal to be different than you are when we are going into Manhattan and I try to tell you that you should wear something besides your faded Vans, ripped 501 Levis and the red shirt you found at the Salvation Army with a yellow Iguana and the words “It’s rockin’ in Cancun, Mexico.” You respond, “No, this really works for me.”

Most significantly I see your love that is rooted in feminism when I confess my fear that I might not be good enough for graduate school, that perhaps it was an accident I was accepted. You simply laugh and say, “Stop believing lies, Carly.”

You remind me that as much as I try to deconstruct and distance myself from ‘the scene’ you describe, I also contribute to and benefit from my membership within it. I know it is not your intent to challenge me, to encourage a rethinking of my politics and consciousness. Yet you’ve deepened my understanding and stretched my boundaries of what it means to be and act as a feminist.

You are a constant example that feminism is much more than books, fancy words, or credentials from academic institutions. At its core it is about love and connection.

In your love you are political–a radical, a feminist.

With gratitude,

Your sister in feminism

Finding Feminism in my Grandmother’s Georgia

Dear Grandma,

I have often wondered about the days when you were young. The days before your children. The days before you divorced your first husband. Before you fell in love with your second. The days before you sported a perfectly combed Afro. The days when you drove a tractor, plowing your grandfather’s farm. The days when you played the dozens.

When I imagine you young Grandma, I see a brown girl toting schoolbooks and dreams down a dirt road in Pinehurst, Georgia. A brown girl telling the world to make space for her brown hands and brown eyes and brown elbows and brown hips. You walk down this road with your head held high, passing corner stores and lynching trees, and stick ball games daring anyone to question your humanity, your fullness. I imagine this moment and I take comfort in knowing that you are my grandmother.

I imagine you young and I ask myself: did you know that you would one day teach me how to love my little brown girl self?  That you would be my first example of radical black feminism?

And because I know you, I know that should you read this, you will scoff at the word feminism. To you, like many black women making a way in the Jim Crow South, feminism belonged to white women. Not you. Feminism would not pay your bills, would not feed your children, and would not soothe your back pain after a long days work. There was no place for you inside a feminism defined by a society that had always deemed you inferior.

But Grandma, you are radical. You have fashioned entire worlds with your hands, creating magical spaces for my little brown girl self as we baked homemade cheesecakes and stitched quilts. You taught me how to pray to the Goddess of little brown girls, how to thank her for my own brown hands and brown eyes brown elbows and brown hips. You told me the secrets of vitamin E oil, disclosed the potency of a glass of apple cider vinegar and water, and reminded me that I should live harmoniously with the earth.

Before I fell in love with Zora’s stories or began to quote Audre’s poetry or recite Toni’s manifestos, I had you Grandma. I stand at the edge of the universe with my arms wide open because Grandma, you have taught me that a woman with her arms closed is not ready to receive her blessings. A woman with her arms closed can serve no one. And what is a life devoid of service?

As a caretaker for the elderly and sick, you are proof that healing does not come by medicine alone but through kind words and laughter and healthy doses of sweet tea- antidotes not bound by the politics of race or class or sexuality. Your arms are open to all.

Perhaps, you will choose to describe your life in another way but I imagine you young Grandma, toting schoolbooks and dreams down a dirt road in Pinehurst, Georgia, and some part of me just knows that you have always understood your power. There is nothing more radical, more feminist than this.  I will always be grateful to you for that lesson.

Love,

Jessica

Martyrs are Made or Forgotten

Dear Millicent Fredericks,

You are not forgotten. I repeat. You are not forgotten.

You may not be found in my history books like America: A Narrative History, American Story, or other ‘American’ history texts. These books are written by white, upper class men armed with a privileged lens that systematically undermines ethnic minorities in order to sustain a patriarchal society. American is a term I use loosely because within this word are barriers prohibiting brown, black, and red voices from entering the narrative.

Although discouraged by the books that plague our public and private learning institutions, I am thankful for the feminists who grant voices to the unknown. I am grateful for the collection of essays published in 1981 by radical women of color called This Bridge Called My Back. Instead of minorities operating in the margins, these radical feminists created a platform for women of different ethnic, racial, and sexual backgrounds to be heard.

Gabrielle Daniels found you in the creases of the diaries of Anais Nin. Anais Nin was a Spanish- Cuban woman born in France in 1903 who grew up in the United States where she became an established author. It’s funny how a woman who didn’t understand your color or class paved the way for your voice to be discovered so people like me and Gabrielle could write about you… simply because we look like you.

Your dark brown cocoa skin, rough callused feet from long work days and little sleep, the deep wrinkles in your hands from washing too many dishes, folding too many clothes,washing too many plates filled with food that could feed your entire family, you were discouraged. Even though you worked until your skin turned charcoal grey, it was never enough to satiate your brilliant mind. The life you intended to lead was a life you never saw. You were uprooted from your home in Antigua and sought freedom in America where you married a black man and birthed four beautiful babies.

You witnessed your son be gunned down and killed by a gang. You saw your husband stumble home after late nights of drinking. Still, you were a certified teacher who taught kids how to do math, read books, and to grow up with dreams.

It’s funny how history can leave people like you out. It says something about who writes our history and who controls it. Maybe you are the solution for feminists and women of color to take ownership of our history. To commit our stories to paper so our children can understand their ancestry.

I imagine that if you were here, sitting next to me, you would be writing the same thing about another woman you knew that is not woven into the fabric of our memory unlike Thomas Jefferson, The Pledge of Allegiance, or Declaration of Independence. All things that are supposedly important to our freedom. I say it’s a bunch of fallacies and inconsistencies that deprives us of the truth.

Just know that I tried to capture you with words and recreate you in a painting. I attempted to paint your cocoa skin that breathes Antiguan sands and I tried to capture the fluidity of your beautiful body. I tried my best to give you the life you deserved through oil paints and brush strokes.

But the truth is, martyrs and saints are made or forgotten. You are not forgotten even though history chose to forget you.

Sincerely,

a feminist that chooses to remember

To My Partner- Marching in Feminism

Dear Kamau Nkosi,

You are a silent feminist. Not a loud, verbose, self-righteous, attention-seeking, ‘all-hail-feminism’ type of feminist. You have never been the one to post soliloquies on Facebook to parade your liberalism or acceptance of gender equality. Because, for you, your actions are more important than words posted on a digital platform where sentences and ideas live only for half a second.

You are the feminist that attacks with calculated intentions.

You penetrate the thirsty minds who thought they knew about systematic enslavement, second wave feminism, the prison-industrial complex, Angela Davis, bell hooks, and Sybrina Fulton and challenge them so nonchalantly that they have to self-reflect on their own ignorance and misconceptions.

When I say you are a feminist, some people might think of it as a negative. But I ask: why can’t a man be a feminist? I don’t understand why some men are afraid to claim feminism as a philosophy that they believe. In their minds, feminism equates to radicalism or women only. In reality, feminism utilizes race, sex, gender, and class as tools of analysis to address economic reform, health care, stop and frisk laws, social issues, and politics. It’s an all-inclusive philosophy that should be integrated in the way we think about policy and reform. It should not be considered the exception or an option women seek because they hate men.

When you organize events like the Bronx Defender’s Block Party, Youth Justice Summit and your trips to City Hall to rally on behalf of Ramarley Graham, you stay awake countless nights planning, pondering, sending emails, and worrying because your passion for justice is not just a thing you do. It is who you are.

I see your love for feminism when you buy me books by bell hooks and expose me to shows like “The Wire” where the victims are chained to a socioeconomic space from which they are unable to escape.  Because black mothers couldn’t be mothers, black fathers couldn’t be fathers, and teachers can’t teach because politics and power govern policy and the police.  And in the end, jail becomes home to petty crimes and black faces that thought selling heroine would grant them self-esteem.

In reality, no else was around to teach them how to dream.You realize that the tools for self-empowerment and self-liberation are not equally distributed amongst everyone.

You understand that beauty wears many shades, comes in different heights, and in different shapes. And despite the shortness of my kinky golden curls, you have never sent me a text message that read “I think you look better with long hair, a woman should have long hair.”  Hair, for you, never determined a woman’s beauty. It was the confidence and the way she carried her crown that made her beautiful. Thank you for never placing beauty in a box.

Even though you are quiet in your actions, you are deliberate and thoughtful. You may not knock on a thousand doors to announce your presence or intentions. But when you decide to knock on one, it has a ripple effect and everyone listens…including myself.

Thank you.

Smiley

At First I Believed in Fairytales and then Came Bruce Lansky

I was a whimsical six-year-old, preferring to inhabit the elaborate realms constructed in my imagination instead of the real world. During playtime I’d become whoever I wanted to be that day. Sometimes that was fairly simple: I’d play ‘teenager,’ which solely involved pretending my chocolate milk was coffee. More often, however, I’d fashion myself into a much more elaborate character, usually inspired by a favorite story or movie. Depending on my mood, I could be Eloise ruling the Plaza Hotel, or Angelina Ballerina sashaying across a stage.

Disney films offered an especially seductive world. I relished the chance to be beautiful, to be in love, to live happily ever after, tropes that delimited female fulfillment as branded by Disney. Snow White, Ariel and their cohorts were happy and successful—and really, that’s all I wanted to be. So I’d become a princess.

When I was in first grade, my mom brought home a new book of bedtime stories, Girls to the Rescue. This collection of folk tales edited by Bruce Lansky, recounts tales of heroines succeeding without the intercession of fairy godmothers and dashing princes. Its varied protagonists rely on wit, instead of magic or beauty, to overcome obstacles.

I hated it. The stories left me unsatisfied. To me, none of the main characters got truly happy endings: they’d achieve their goals, but not the passive marital bliss I had anticipated. Because in my mind, “happily ever after” defined female success. I could not sever the girls in the stories from the established archetype I cherished. I felt sorry for the stories’ protagonists: they’d been cheated of a true happiness.

But my mom kept reading, and soon the stories started to grow on me. I became comfortable with these new female characters, and with them a novel appreciation for their tenacity. Subconsciously, my simple six-year-old mind reoriented itself towards female protagonists. Girls to the Rescue told about heroes unqualified by their femininity. These adventurers, uninhibited by proscriptions along gender lines, opened up an unprecedented, exciting window in my imagination.

Girls to the Rescue altered my perception of other girls, which catalyzed a change in my expectations for myself, of those faraway dreams I could achieve through my own action and determination. And so I thank you, Bruce Lanksy, for coaxing me into taking that first step towards empowerment. Without my realizing it at the time, Girls to the Rescue helped me develop an inchoate feminism that redefined not only my imagination but my sense of self.

Later that same year, I watched the original Star Wars trilogy for the first time. I proceeded to watch it every day for the next several years. I adored Luke Skywalker, the noble, light-saber wielding hero. I began devoting my daydreams to Jedi training and X-Wing maneuvering. I disregarded Princess Leia entirely.

Princesses were boring.

Thank you Bruce Lansky,

Nicole McCormick