Writing at the intersection of motherhood, feminism and my Latinidad

25 February 2009

Guest Post:: It Takes a Nation of Cowards to Prove Eric Holder Right

With permission from Rinku Sen (ok, her agent) I am reposting her fab post on race & America:

Attorney General Eric Holder's speech to Justice Department employees urging the country to suck it up and have those hard conversations about race generated the predictable accusations from the pundit crowd, both conservative and liberal. Why is he still trying to make white people feel guilty?! We just elected his boss! The media reaction largely proves Holder's point. Rather than actually talking about the causes and consequences of our racial divide, the story has been that this speech has created the latest "controversy" for the Obama administration, starting with the AP article highlighting the "nation of cowards" quote. Apparently, there's only room for one black man at the highest levels of government taking the nation to task on race, and that man can do it once a year at most.

Smartly, Holder noted that our goal should not be to move beyond our racial past, and for the press to turn a blind eye to racial realities is the wrong way to go. He focused instead on raising the question of whether the nation's attitude toward its diversity will give us strength or take us down. I especially loved his note about how we manage to get along in the workplaces, but as soon as we can, we retreat to our racial corners on the weekends. That's because the diverse people of this country hold unequal power, which often dictates where and how we live.

The word 'coward' is a strong one, but the reality is that because we have such wildly different perspectives on why racial disparities exist, and because they continue to exist long after explicit racism has been outlawed, discussion of racial issues requires a high degree of tolerance for conflict, both intellectual and emotional. In my work reporting on the lives of everyday people and the institutions that shape their lives, I can see how our current rules and structures continue to produce disparities, even when no one intends that outcome. Understanding how the structures work - which has little to do with whether individuals intend to be racist - helps to lower the heat level significantly when these conversations do take place.

The flipside of cowardice is courage - something we all could use a little more of if we truly want to deal with our past and present racism, while we create a future that works for all of us.


Rinku Sen is the President of the Applied Research Center and the publisher of ColorLines, the magazine on race and politics. AND a member of the 2009 Progressive Women's Voices program. I am seriously glad that I got in when I did. No way I could have competed with her!

24 February 2009

Book Review: Feminist Mothering edited by Andrea O’Reilly

I like to call myself a feminist mom blogger, but after reading Feminist Mothering I find myself questioning that label. Mostly I find myself questioning how I see feminist mothering and what that means to me. If asked to give a definition of feminist mothering before reading this text, I would have told you that it was about raising a feminist child, empowering that child and helping them rise above or thru the sexist ways of the world. Or something like that. Yes, it would have included being a good role model, but this text has helped me realize that feminist mothering is much more or should be much more than that.

This is a text book not a feminist Dr. Spock or guide to feminist mothering, rather it is a collection of fifteen thoughts on what is feminist mothering, how can it be done, and what does that mean for the world. It is moving, thought-provoking and a must read for any mother and any woman. Just as a survey of 15 women would result in 15 different definitions of feminist, the same is seen for feminist mothering. Yet at the core is the belief that feminist mothering is woman centered not child centered. It is empowering for both the woman and child, if not more for the woman. O'Reilly offers this definition in the introduction: "Feminist mothering functions as a counterpratice that seeks to challenge and change the many ways that patriarchal motherhood is oppressive to women (p 10)."

Feminist mothering is much more than raising empowered daughters or thoughtful son. It is about breaking down patriarchy thru the way we raise children. It is more than making sure our daughters know that clothes come in something other than pink, it is showing her that being a woman can be a strength in this sexist society.

O'Reilly's contribution to this text is the most moving piece in this collection. As a feminist activist, I carve out time from work and family to be active in my community. This requires time away from my daughter for meetings and trips as well as countless hours on my computer writing, organizing and keeping up with the latest news. I have often pondered how much this effects my daughter and if she will rebel in a way that I can't comprehend – anywhere between becoming an Alex P. Keaton to just plain tuning out of politics and the movement. Mostly I fear that she will hate me for all that I do to make this world a better place for all of us. O'Reilly's contribution is a conversation between her teenage daughters and if you can trust that they are pretty candid and honest with their mom, you see that raising a child with feminist methodology pays off in spades. It also proves that sometimes kids do forget the nights you missed tucked them into bed and can be proud of having a mom who spends more time writing than baking.

Gisela Norat's contribution tackles the question of whether a mother's movement is a feminist movement through a historical look at mother's movement in Latin America. Norat's historical summary of how ordinary women whose children were disappeared or jailed throughout Latin America and how the government's silence propelled these women to take to the streets is moving and still relevant. She makes an eloquent case for why mothering can be the force that joins all women in a struggle, yet at the same time what we struggle against is also filtered through race and class. All mothers should be allies in the battle for a just world, yet some injustices, like environmental toxins in a neighborhood, benefit some and harm others.

And that is the heart of Feminist Mothering – In order to be a feminist mom raising a child in a feminist way, we need to look beyond our family to see how decisions impact our community and world. The fight for affordable child care should not end when we get a big raise or our children are capable of watching themselves. It should be a struggle for all women with children and some would argue all of us in general. In the end, Feminist Mothering could be a handbook if one uses it to guide her in how decisions are made in the household, how to organize in the community and how to have faith that your children will grow up to be the strong adults we imagine. It won't tell us what to pack for the hospital, but it will help us recenter ourselves when we're about to blow our gasket at that precious child who keeps sassing you.

We need to politicize motherhood and to recognize the work that mothers do - we need to claim that work for feminism, to learn its strategies, so that we might convince mothers that as much as feminism needs motherhood, mothers also need feminism. (Quoted from Hirsh 367 on page 254)

Feminist Mothering can be purchased at an indie bookstore or Powell's and it would be a wonderful Mother's Day present!

23 February 2009

Book Review: Dancing at the River's Edge by Alida Brill & Michael D. Lockshin, MD

Dancing at the River's Edge: A patient and her doctor negotiate life with chronic illness by Alida Brill & Michael D. Lockshin, MD is an easy read intellectually, but difficult on the heart.

A few disclosures: 1) I haven't read the entire book. Sadly my life is so busy that if I did read the whole book you wouldn't get a review until summer. BUT I do feel I have read enough to give you an honest review; 2) Alida & I were in the Progressive Women's Voices program together where we nurtured a wonderful friendship.

Which is why when she offered me a review copy of her book I was scared. I was scared that it wouldn't be a good read for me. Would I have the courage to tell her the truth? Luckily I don't have to cross that bridge.

I prefer to not think of myself as someone with chronic disease. Those are people with chronic fatigue syndrome or a mystery illness that keeps them from working or enjoying the weekend with family. In reality I am someone with a chronic disease and I know a few are on deck just waiting to join the game.

Since at least age 7 I've been on some sort of allergy pill for hayfever. Sneezine, runny nose, itchy eyes & occasional bloody noces were just life not a disease. This view may stem from being poor and going to a health clinic instead of a doctor's office. You don't go there with tales of sneezing every time the season changes. The only time I recall seeing a doctor was when I had strep or my sister broke some bone.

But after having gestational diabetes and watching my mother die so young, I began reflecting on her own journey of chronic disease. I was barely in high school when she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis - me about 13, her 31. Holy shit! I'm older than that already...and I can feel it. I've forced myself to think of people with chronic disease as someone other than me out of fear. Fear that I won't be able to live my life the way I want.

And that's just where Dancing at the River's Edge fits into my life, perhaps into yours. Alida has lived a full life, not the life one aspires to with her many trips to the hospital, but a life rich enough to be proud of. Upon being diagnosed with illness after illness, she did not sequester herself away from the world, even if some in her life might have wanted it that way. Her life story shows that even those of us with chronic diseases can live full and happy lives.

At the same time, Dancing also gives us a peek into our doctor's head. Alida's long-time doctor, Dr. Lockshin, takes his turn in telling his side of the story - both as Alida's provider, but also as a doctor who knows that most of his patients will never recover or get well. Kids don't grow up wishing to be doctors of people they can't cure. It's the cure that propels the young women I work with through hours of organic chemistry. I don't know if they have ever thought of working with people who most likely will never know a cure. But Dr. Lockshin takes us into those dark places for doctors.

In the end, Dancing is a book of hope. Hope that despite the pills, the IVs, the hours spent on that damn paper-lined table that we will still have full and rich lives. That we are still owed love and respect. That our doctors are struggling with us as well. This fact may scare some, but I am actually comforted by this tidbit. It flattens the playing field. It makes me think that perhaps some of us are partners in healing, not just receivers of wisdom in the form of a pill.

Alida will be on the Bonnie Hunt show TOMORROW! Set your DVRs!

You can purchase Dancing from an indie bookstore or Powells.

18 February 2009

EVENTS:: Yes Means Yes Hits Chicago

The fabulous Jaclyn Friedman is hitting Chicago on Thursday for two book readings! Please join me as I welcome her to our fair town:


Thursday, February 19, 2009
Time: 12:00pm - 1:30pm
Jane Addams Hull-House Museum
800 S. Halsted St., Chicago, IL
RSVP at Facebok

Thursday, February 19, 2009
Time: 7:30pm - 9:30pm
Women & Children First Bookstore
5233 N. Clark Street, Chicago, IL
RSVP at Facebook

See you there!

17 February 2009

Spyhopping

I'm back from a quick jaunt to the beautiful Northwest. I have family in the Seattle area and I needed to visit them. Without too many details, let's just say that my godparents are about 70 and not in the best of health. That said, the kid & I did have a great visit with them and one of my friends who moved out there.

I love that part of the world and it's always a bit heartbreaking to arrive thinking it's just a visit and not a move. Yet I also love the hustle and bustle of Chicago. (Note to PR people, I don't live in NYC or Philly, k?) But almost 5 days without real internet access (my Treo keeps me connected, but my laptop was used more for movie viewing.) was rejuvenating. I dunno why the suburbs of Seattle are more appealing to me than the suburbs of Chicago - perhaps the hiking & beaches?

I returned to work to find that I did pass hurdle #1 for a grant, so I need to ask your patience again as I try to scrounge up government funds for my day job. I seriously canNOT wait for the stimulus funds RFPs to hit my inbox. I also have 2 requests for collaboration for other grants. It's good to be wanted, but not at the same time! haha...Seriously, it's good. All good.

Until I can get some real blogging for ya up here, follow me on Twitter (my outlet for now) or at least help me pick a new pair of rainboots! The candidates are on my Twitter profile & yes, you can leave your votes here too.

Love & miss yas!

11 February 2009

Guest Post:: What stimulus could mean if it included the formerly incarcerated

By Seth Wessler




Fourteen months ago, Vincent, a slim 46-year-old Black man with a youngish face and a pressed plaid shirt, worked as a maintenance technician in Detroit. He’d been with the company for almost three months, but five days before he would have become eligible for full-time hire and benefits, his employer ran a criminal background check, and told Vincent to pack up.

“A lot of times, they cut you out of the job before they hire you in [full time],” Vincent said, sitting at a diner near the temporary worker center where he waits for work from 8 am to 6 pm every day.

Vincent has had a few temporary jobs since but hasn’t found even a day of work in recent weeks. A breaking and entering conviction from 25 years ago follows him everywhere. “It’s real hurtful to know that your chances are so broke down to zero,” he said.

I met Vincent last month while traveling the country to explore the hidden impacts of the recession for my job at a racial justice think tank. Dozens of people told me how criminal background checks punish them indefinitely by imposing life-long barriers to successful employment and housing. The policies make reentry an uphill battle, negating the criminal justice system’s putative aim of rehabilitating prisoners. They also block our collective need to get people working in this economic crisis. Inequitable rates of joblessness and poverty are bad for all of us.

Millions of people leave jails and prisons every year and that number is about to grow. Citing unconstitutional health conditions, a panel of federal judges on Monday told the state of California to reduce prison overcrowding by 55,000 people, about a third of the total state prison population, over the next three years.

If the ruling holds up to appeal, tens of thousands of people, overwhelmingly Black and Latino, could return to their communities. But, like Vincent, these men and women will find themselves with no real chance of getting a job, having a place to live and supporting themselves – in short, the situation that Vincent is in.

The White House has appropriately put creating and saving jobs at the center of the stimulus plan. But for people with criminal records, the prospects of inclusion in the national recovery are dismal. It’s not enough to create a job when a quick criminal background check will result in so many people losing it or not getting it at all. Those with prior convictions will be excluded from the game before the starting whistle sounds.

Communities of color experience higher rates of joblessness. This is due in part to the damning mix of the stigma of having a criminal record, the assumption that ex-prisoners can never redeem themselves, the ensuing ban on public employment for people with felony convictions and the practice of employers doing background checks.

According to Princeton sociologist Devah Pager, joblessness among former prisoners after a year is somewhere around 75 percent -- three times the level among the same population before incarceration. The trend toward never-ending punishment, even after people have served their time, infects communities of color, especially Black people, with particular venom.

So why does it matter to white people in places like Orange County, California or Flint, Michigan that three quarters of formerly incarcerated people in places like Oakland or Detroit can’t get a job a year after prison?

Because racial inequity eventually hurts us all.

Consider, for example, the subprime mortgage crisis. It could not have occurred without a whole population of people of color whose economic and political vulnerability made them easy targets for exploitative loan products, which eventually spread out to other homeowners and took down the entire mortgage industry. And that kind of inequity is growing. In January Black and Latino unemployment was 12.6 and 9.7 percent respectively, compared to 6.9 percent for whites. Black and Latino poverty is close to 3 times that of whites. To get this economy moving again, we need people working, spending and paying taxes.

Fixing inequity is a prerequisite for constructing a healthy and just economy. As historians tell us, massive inequity preceded and contributed to the Great Depression. Removing concrete barriers to employment is one step in that direction. As we are implementing this stimulus plan, we should at the very least expunge the records of people with non-violent convictions, as the state of Illinois did in 2005. We should also severely limit employers’ rights to conduct criminal background checks, especially in situations like Vincent’s, whose employer routinely used them to keep the workforce temporary and insecure.

At the diner in Detroit, as the waitress dropped our check, Vincent said, “I look at myself every day that I get up and I actually wonder if it’s going to be the day that things totally fall apart.” It’s up to us to prevent that, starting with changing the rules that now sentence people to a lifetime of punishment.

Seth Wessler is a research associate at the Applied Research Center. Cross-posted from RaceWire.

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If you are interested in guest posting at Viva la Feminista, please feel free to contact me!

08 February 2009

Women's Bureau of the US Dept of Labor

In 2001 the Bush Administration attempted to kill the Department of Labor's Women's Bureau. This underappreciated arm of the government mission is "To improve the status of wage-earning women, improve their working conditions, increase their efficiency, and advance their opportunities for profitable employment."

While I have to fully admit that the Women's Bureau, even under a very tight budget, has been pretty good to my place of employment during the past administration*, I have been awaiting a change in the White House with the hope that the WB would be allowed to fully do what they are meant to do. I've received word from friends that current NOW President Kim Gandy's is being thrown about for Director of the Women's Bureau!

If I'm correct, this position can't be filled until we get Hilda Solis confirmed.

After Kim's term is over at NOW (sometime in August, I believe) she would be a wonderful person to lead the WB. I've worked with Kim over the past 5 1/2 years on various NOW issues. While we haven't always agreed on methodology & implementation, we do agree on the centrality of economic justice to women's rights.

Kim understands that choice cannot mean anything without women having access to education & training and to fair & equal pay. She understands that the fight for marriage equality is not just about marriage, but economic security. Kim gets it people.

There is also "an anonymous" email going around smearing Kim based on the fact that NOW endorsed Obama & Biden. Oddly I didn't see a similar smear campaign against Hillary Rodham Clinton, patron feminist saint, for taking the Secretary of State job with the Obama administration. Apparently Clinton supporters who followed Clinton's call for unity are traitors, but not Clinton herself. OK, I get that. Not.

Yes, there are other feminists who would do an awesome job at WB. But there is nothing I have seen, heard, or experienced that would convince me that Kim Gandy would not rock the WB.

We need someone with the passion that Kim has in the WB to not just make sure that it sticks to its mission, but also that women's working issues are not sweep under the rug with stories about men losing their job faster than women. The economic status of women is not just about how many of us are working -- With the wage gap, us women need to work more than men to earn enough as men -- It is nuanced with discrimination, child care issues and elder care issues. It is about women working multiple past-time jobs when their husband's get laid off. It is not as simple as counting jobs, but the quality of those jobs.

I would be proud to continue working with Kim Gandy if she is indeed appointed as Director of the Women's Bureau. The women of this country would be well represented.


* One of my office's projects is listed on the left sidebar. Hint, it's in purple.

06 February 2009

BUST is back

...on my good list.

I use to subscribe to BUST many years ago then didn't renew after a series of issues, maybe 3-4, where the cover woman would say "I'm not a feminist, but..." WTF? I purposely subscribe to feminist magazines and I get 3-4 issues of "I'm not a feminist, but..." in my mail? Oh, hell no!

Every once in awhile I'd poke around BUST at the bookstore, but it never satisfied me like it did back in the day...UNTIL this issue.

The interview of Amber Tamblyn is KICK ASS. I have adored Amber since her days on "General Hospital" as spunky Emily, orphaned girl then adopted by the rich, powerful & crazy Quartermaine family. I never got into any of the other Emily's after Amber left. The other actresses never had that spark.

I'm thinking of subscribing again, but I might just pick it up at the bookstore more often. Or snag the issue after a certain friend is done with her issue.

BTW - Amber, if you're reading. I'll go to breakfast with you anytime I'm in NYC. I'll be there in June. Give me a buzz!

04 February 2009

Feminism 2.0 Debrief - Linkfluence Presentation

And that my dear readers is what our community at Viva la Feminista looks like.

A group called linkfluence made a presentation on the "top feminist blogs & sites" on the web. It was quite interesting, especially since I sat between Kim Gandy, President of NOW, and Liza Sabater during the presentation. It was like a really weird episode of Mystery Science Theater.

They had maps for a lot of different issues and blogs to show us that the feminist web (blogs & web sites) are a tight group AND fairly well entrenched in the overall progressive web. Of course, I think progressive should equal feminist, but let's not go there shall we? VLF has the white halo around it and sites that are linked to us here are outlined in black. If the circles are yellow that means I link to them, but they don't link back. Green means we love each other. Red means someone loves me & I don't give them linky love. I love this because I've found a few blogs that I had no idea link to me. New friends!

So what did we learn from this presentation?

  • Eleanor Smeal was not buying into the calculations. She made at least 3 comments about it during our plenary. I think that her and Kim Gandy feel that by having thousands of pages on policy & news, that being a huge resouce (which they are) should elevate them higher. BUT as I pointed out to Kim, this calculates your influence by linky love. NOW & Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) get a lot of linky love, but they don't give much, if any back.
  • Engage. I have a Twitter friend who is always ranting about the Twitter elites telling us regular peeps what to do with a simple "Engage me & I'll follow you!" I think this is a simple, almost common sense idea for us bloggers who have been doing this for some time. It's more than just leaving comments, it's engagement.
  • Linkage counts. Many of you know how I feel about blogrolls and well, I'm right. Calculated influence is about linkage & blogrolls. But the debate has exploded on Twitter on how well influence can really be calculated.
    ***First, there is the definition of "feminist web site" that needs to be addressed. The linkfluence team admitted that this was a weakness in their methodology.
    ***This doesn't even touch on the debate on what feminism is. Does brownfemipower count as a feminist site if she rejects that label?
    ***And this is about linkage. This blog's URL changed in the last year. As did bfp's blog. This degrades our influence. I saw this on my bull shit technorati rankings after I moved from a blogspot URL to my domain URL.
So what do we do?

The debate over the influence not only goes from a certain male blogger being in the original list, but also the lack of WOC or LGBT bloggers on the list.

For institutional organizations, I'll get to them.

For us bloggers, especially us under-the-radar, WOC, individual, LGBTA, non-group bloggers...we need to have each other's backs. Yes, it's fine that we link to Big Feminist Blog who broke a story or had enough writers so that they were the first to blog about the story. BUT we need to do better at linking to each other. I am guilty of this. I spend a lot of my precious blog reading time trying to keep up with the Big Girls when I should be spending that time engaging with individuals.

Don't get me wrong, I love my Big Girl blogs, but it's hard to keep up with them sometimes. There's so much. Perhaps one days I just clear them in my Bloglines and spend that 20 minutes I would have used scanning their headlines & read an entire bfp post (and ya know sometimes it takes that long! hehe...).

But that is if we want to influence each other and raise our collective influence in the blogosphere. Are we satisfied doing our work read but not being labeled influential? Or do we want both? Instead of getting pissy that this blog or that blog got on the list, let's work on creating our own influence not tearing another blogger down. Let's lift each other up.

I guess I need to work on that blogroll, eh?

Other thoughts on the Linkfluence report:

03 February 2009

Feminism 2.0 Debrief - Opening Plenary

WOW

Yeah, there I am in the blue sitting between Kim Gandy & Elisa Camahort. I've known Kim for almost 6 years now, but it still is a bit mouth-dropping that I get to sit next to her at lunch, so sitting next to her on a panel was overwhelming. At the same time I was there to do a job and I wanted to do it. The idea was to talk about where feminism has been and where we can go. After Kim & Eleanor Smeal talked about the fact that NOW and Feminist Majority Foundation were one of the first sites online, I chimed in with some friendly criticism that we need to keep moving foward.

I remember when I would check the FMF website obsessively hoping for something new because it was one of the best feminist sites out there. Not that they aren't today, but I wouldn't say they are the best. I should have given them props for not changing the look of the site too much. Somehow they got the design pretty good early on.

But I retold my tale of how my feminism grew with my learning online organizing tricks. That I learned a lot online and applied that knowledge on the ground. And despite being a Twitter holdout for some time, I praised it's worthiness and how Tweet-ups are just as important to the community as Tweeting. I also added in that many of us aren't paid to blog either.

I understand the push-pull that institutional organizations have with controlling the message. NOW can't open up a community blog or even a community blog where only members or leaders can post. Do I need to remind you that a NOW member endorsed Palin? But I do think that there's a few college-aged feminist bloggers out there who wouldn't mind interning at NOW & FMF so they can build on that platform. I know it won't happen overnight, but I'm very optomistic that these orgs will be blogging or using social networks more than we see them today.

I don't feel like I was as eloquent as I've written here, but I hope it got thru. As someone who is an active NOW member and has written for Ms. magazine, I know (hope) that Kim & Eleanor know that my suggestions are constructive only.

I'll debrief on the two amazing panels soon...hold me to this one!

Being Amber Rhea live-blogged the plenary & offers her own commentary.

02 February 2009

Checking in from Feminism 2.0

Hi all.

Just wanted to put up a quick post that I'm utterly tired, but so energized for the feminist movement both on the ground and online. I think we're going to see a lot new projects so rest up because there will be plenty of work to go around!

This trip was so well worth it. I've met new people, met people who I've only known online and reconnected with people.

I left my computer glasses at home, so I don't want to give myself a migraine - esp since I'm teetering on the brink of something - so this is all I'll say for now.

There has been words used that lead me to believe that this will happen again next year. I'm wondering if there should be regional Fem 2.0's as I've mentioned this to locals and all have been excited about it, but couldn't make the trek out. I'm so privileged to be here and even more privileged to have spoken.