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30 June 2011

Summer of Feminista: Speaking in order to spread social justice

My name is María Villaseñor and I am in expert in Chicano/a-Latino/a Studies, and Comparative Ethnic Studies because of the expertise I developed in graduate school, and have continued developing in my work as a professor at a public university in California. I teach a number of courses in Chicano/a-Latino/a Studies including a course on Chicana/Latina Feminisms. I am also developing as an expert in mentoring undergraduates—especially Latinas, students of color, working class students, and allies. Unfortunately, I am also an expert in grading and commenting on undergraduate student essays, an expertise I have developed from giving feedback on hundreds, possibly thousands, of essays in my new (5 years so far) career as a professor.

My academic and professional life have allowed me to know a number of women who could be Latina public intellectuals if given the right forum. That is, it strikes me that the role of the public intellectual is to foment public discussion and articulate informed and thoughtful perspectives on pressing issues. If this is the role, I know several powerful women who could fulfill it (I am lucky enough to have some of these women as my friends, my teachers, and have even had some as undergraduate students—young Latinas with a lot to say and contribute!). The challenge is that for a public intellectual to be able to disseminate her ideas, there need to be willing forums with broad based audiences. We need a group of us to be out there and spreading the word(s) about the issues that matter to us, but just as importantly, we need more forums and spaces where our ideas are valued and welcomed. For this reason, I am grateful to you (the creator of this blog) and others like you, who are seeking out our words.

I recently read the bell hooks book Feminism is for Everybody (by the way, why isn't bell hooks on that Top 100 Public Intellectuals list??) In it, she makes a simple and powerful point—the common perception of feminism continues to be that we hate men, burn our bras, etc. and the only way that this is going to change is if we start to do more educating, outreach, and engage in conversations with those around us (in the vein of the bumper sticker slogan-- “This is What a Feminist Looks Like”) via mediums like popular books, television, etc. The truth is that among those of us who are Latina feminist writers, the majority of us put a tremendous amount of energy into writing scholarly, theoretical, abstract texts that very few people can access, and even fewer want to read and access. In essence, most of us feminist writers spend a great deal of time talking with each other, and not enough time talking with others. Having a group of Latina (feminist!!) public intellectuals who actually had spaces where they could speak to a broad public would, I think, help us build a thriving public conversation about issues of gender, race, class, and the meaning of social justice. It is my hope that this public conversation would inspire people to work for social justice and equity, and it is
my sense that it really would. Perhaps naively, I believe that people accept injustice when they cannot imagine alternatives, or they do not know that injustice is so rampant. Latina public intellectuals could fulfill the important role of bringing the issues into the awareness of the public, and perhaps could help the public imagine other ways of being and acting in the world.

I would love to be a part of a coalition of Latina public intellectuals, and despite this, I have not sought out many opportunities to be in a role akin to that of “public intellectual.” As a pre-tenure professor, I spend most of the time in the classroom, in my office with students, and moving from committee meeting to committee meeting. I do visit elementary schools and middle schools in my community as often as possible. Many of the surrounding communities near my university are primarily working class and Mexican. With rates of attendance and graduation in college low, and high school drop out and incarceration rates high, I choose to focus a lot on my energy on Mexican/Chicano-a children and youth. More than a public intellectual, I often joke that I have become a motivational speaker for children. Whether we take on the role of public intellectual or not, there is much work to be done, and the important thing, I think, is for us to continue doing it.

Summer of Feminista 2011 is a project where Latinas are sharing their thoughts on Latinas as Public Intellectuals. Liberal. Conservative. Academic statements. Personal stories. Learn more or how you can join the Summer of Feminista. This is a project of Viva la Feminista. Link and quote, but do not repost without written permission.

28 June 2011

Summer of Feminista: In Search of Nuestras Hadas Madrinas

My name is Wendy Irula Braun and I am an expert in analyzing representations of Latinas in contemporary popular culture because I have not only studied these representations, but have experienced the daily harmful effects of negative or missing images of myself and my Latina hermanas.

It is not news that in most contemporary images and public discourse, Latinas are often portrayed as asexual maids, hypersexualized spitfires, and undocumented mothers of “anchor babies.” That is, if we are portrayed at all. We are rarely represented in the public eye as intellectuals, though as Linda Garcia Merchant points out in the last post, we are certainly here and doing the work despite a lack of public recognition. But it is also clear, as Veronica writes, that we do not have a “stand out Latina public intellectual akin to a Gloria Steinem or those on the top of the 100 public intellectuals list.”

As Merchant mentions, we do have contenders. We have many. So why hasn’t this role been filled yet and what are the institutional and social factors that may be preventing someone from filling this role? Do we need one stand out figure to fill this role?

Part of the problem is the lack of positive Latina representations. Hegemonic discourse has limited the public’s view or us and our potential, and has created a culture where “Latina Intellectual” is seen as an oxymoron—this country doesn’t believe that a Latina Intellectual can exist and therefore makes no room for any of us to fill this role. This became clear to me during Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination and appointment to the Supreme Court—the conservative media couldn’t wrap their brains around the idea of this woman and many opponents did their best to use Latina stereotypes against her, further demonstrating the persistence of these harmful stereotypes.

Part of the problem is that we define “intellectual” in a way that denies the work that many of us do. Intellectual work as it is currently defined often requires a type of privilege to focus on writing that many Latinas don’t have. Even if we are able to write, our work is ignored, accused of being self-serving, or discredited with attacks of reverse-racism or some other derailing tactic.

Part of the problem is that marginalized figures in a public role face a lot of hostility and this probably discourages most potential leaders.

But there is a desperate need for this person. I need this person. For my life and my sanity. And I am not alone.

I am reminded of a blog post my friend and colleague Martha Pitts wrote about bell hooks over at Ms. Blog. Pitts discusses the impact that hooks continues to have on her as a Black feminist and mother, and she even refers to hooks as a “fairy godmother” who gives guidance and creates empowerment through her texts in a way that resonates in Black women’s lives in invaluable ways.

I realized that I lacked this “fairy godmother” and that there was a deep hole in my heart because of it. As Merchant points out, many of us have direct personal or professional contact with several Latinas that can make a positive impact in our lives (and hopefully we do the same for them), but unfortunately, many of us don’t have this direct and/or frequent influence. Many Latinas like myself may live and work in a place where there is not a large Latin@ community and we are struggling to find a support system and mentor.

Sotomayor’s career is a huge step forward for us, and she does help our public image, but I do not feel a connectedness to her in the way I do for my favorite feminist activist-writers because she must be more careful of what she says and does. I often refer to the works of Gloria Anzaldúa, but she sadly passed away, leaving us to search and long for a contemporary of her caliber.

We need a stand out public figure—not only to counter the many negative representations of ourselves that fight to maintain dominance in public discourse, but also to fill an emotional void that many of us experience in our daily lives. We need someone who passionately and consistently speaks to us and for us in the same way hooks does for our African American sisters. Though we may have role models, we need and deserve our Latina Gloria Steinem or bell hooks. We deserve our fairy godmother, our hada madrina.

This is something that is often overlooked as an important by-product of activism and activist writing—the escapism that it sometimes allows the rest of us because we live in places we often want to escape. After a particularly hard day, we need this figure to read or listen to, someone we imagine talking to, laughing or crying with, and asking advice from when we try deal with the microaggressions that Latinas are subjected to each day. We need someone who makes positive political and social change for the days when we feel no progress is being made or when our own projects haven’t been as successful as we would have liked. We need someone who shows us that a lifetime dedicated to consciousness-raising and empowerment can be fulfilling and rewarding, especially on days when we think we no longer have the strength. We need someone who works to combine theory with activism, acknowledges the link between the personal and the political, who addresses the diverse lives of Latinas (and all of our intersectionalities) while remaining an ally to other marginalized groups and who writes/speaks for us and to us and our myriad experiences.

This sounds like a lot, but I see no reason why a contemporary Latina can’t join the ranks of Steinem and hooks. This relationship can’t be one-sided. We cannot simply force someone into the role and demand that they serve our needs. We need to continue to work to redefine the labels of “public” and “intellectual” in a way that incorporates Latinas and acknowledges our achievements, and we must support those who seem hesitant to fill the role by creating a culture where a “Latina intellectual” is not an oxymoron and is respected and nurtured.

If we continue this work, as I’m sure we all are, I know we can create a space for a Latina Intellectual (or several). A public Latina Intellectual is not only needed for the important impact she would have for institutional and cultural representation of Latinas and the inequalities we experience because of this, but she is also important because of the personal need we have for this figure.

I know that she is out there. And like in fairy tales, we must have faith that she will appear when we need her most.

Summer of Feminista 2011 is a project where Latinas are sharing their thoughts on Latinas as Public Intellectuals. Liberal. Conservative. Academic statements. Personal stories. Learn more or how you can join the Summer of Feminista. This is a project of Viva la Feminista. Link and quote, but do not repost without written permission.

24 June 2011

Book Review:: Radicals in their Own Time by Michael Anthony Lawrence

Goodness gracious is this book review late! This was one of those books lost in the shuffle of the spring semester that kicked my ass. As you might be able to tell from the cover, I was interested in Radicals in their Own Time because it included Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

I wasn't disappointed. Lawrence does a great job at tackling the controversies that surrounded ECS her whole life. From her upbringing, to how she was often too radical for her feminist friends to her decision to pursue women's suffrage in opposition to suffrage for freed slaves. I have read biographies of ECS and while all have touched on her controversies, none focused this closely on them.

Lawrence's mission was to tell the story of the United States through the eyes and lives of five radicals who helped shape US history. It is an academic book, but not academic in speak...academic in depth. Which for a big nerd like me is fine most days.

I was lucky to ask the author a few questions. Again, remember that I asked at a time when my brain was pretty fried.

1. Why focus on five individuals?
I focused on five individuals because I wanted to be able to include individuals from every part of America's four hundred year history, to create a seamless web of experience that has carried through every generation of Americans, both pre- and post-revolution. I wanted to show that every generation has them - men and women who speak truth to power in the face of sometimes overwhelming official and unofficial resistance; people who rebel against stifling orthodoxy and demand governmental tolerance and equal treatment even  when it seems they alone are waging the fight; individuals who crave freedom from arbitrary authority like the very air they breathe.

2. How did you select them as model activists?
Roger Williams, Thomas Paine, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, W.E.B. Du Bois and Vine Deloria are especially appropriate for our purposes since all are relatively lesser-celebrated figures in the American historical tableau. None are household names in the manner of a Franklin, Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, or King. None, moreover, were aristocratic legacies to family political dynasties. Rather, they were self-made, in true American fashion, and so represent well the millions of Americans over the past four centuries who have waged, and wage still, their own battles largely in obscurity.

Part of the reason these five are less-celebrated is that each was, in a sense, too principled for his or her own good. They were controversial and impolitic. They spoke truth to power in ways irritating to authorities, and all were at times harshly critical of America. They were not approval-seeking, conflict-averse people; rather, they were agitators, and they did not shrink from offending others - not only their enemies but sometimes also their own friends - as they resolutely championed the natural rights of liberty and equal justice. There were no sacred cows for these five - including, for all, the particularly combustible topic of religious orthodoxy.

If you are a history buff and a radical in your own right, this is the book for you. Not easy breezy summer reading, but still a great read. Get yourself a copy from IndieBound or Powells. 

Disclaimer: A publicist offered me a copy for review. 

* Book links are affiliate links. If you buy your book here I could make a very small amount of money that goes towards this blog.

23 June 2011

Sandals limit our daughters ability to be in the world

Dear Target, Payless and other sellers of shoes,

As the mother of an active seven-almost-eight-year-old girl, I am asking you to please, please, please stop selling a zillion types of sandals for summer and only a limited types of actual shoes, especially sneakers.

Here is a what the Target girls shoes site looks like:

Note that there are *85* different types of sandals and only 15 different types of sneakers. Yet the best sellers include a boot, a sneaker and an active sandal/shoe. The Payless site looks to have the same representation of sandal versus real shoe. We stick to the lower end of shoes because well, when you have a girl who tears through shoes faster than her foot is growing out of them, you don't want to invest a lot of cash into shoes.But even at Nordstrom there are three times more sandals compared to athletic shoes. OK, some of their sandals are actually functional...

Over the last few years the different type of sandals for girls has escalated and it is maddening. Why? Because outside of a few sturdy sandal styles, like the one pictured above, you can't do much in a sandal. Oh, sure your feet might look cute in them, but ever tried climbing a ladder in sandals? Or running in a race? The summer is the one time of the year when kids should be able to be kids. Running around like crazy! How are our girls supposed to know how awesome their bodies are, can be if they are restricted by their footwear?

The kid knows I have one big rule about shoes: No flip flops to school. Why? Just in case they get outside (her school doesn't have a consistent recess schedule), I don't want her running around the playground in flip flops. I remember what that was like. And since we're in Chicago, you can't always count on the playground being glass shard-free.

Just as some believe that stilettos are backlash against women's progress, I believe the influx of sandals is a way to keep girls immobilized during the summer.

It's not a big conspiracy in the conventional way, but it is happening because "being pretty" has become more and more important to younger and younger girls. And while flip flops have a function, a lot of pretty sandals don't. I'm not saying being pretty shouldn't be a factor for girls. But by the shear number of sandals versus functional summer shoes leads me to believe that shoe makers think girls (or their parents) want them to be pretty versus active.

Then again, maybe all these girls in their pretty sandals will just end up like me. Discovering the joy of running barefoot in the grass when the sandals just don't keep up with my life.

21 June 2011

Summer of Feminista: Chicanas who spoke out and inspire

My name is Linda Garcia Merchant and I am an expert at understanding the importance of giving voice to our Latina history because I have made four films about that very thing. I am the Technical advisor for the ‘Chicana Por Mi Raza Digital Humanities Project’, a five year project through the University of Michigan Latino/a Studies Department. Our project will create a virtual library of materials and interviews of Chicana activists working during the period of 1965-1985.

I believe that there are a number of pioneering women that would never define themselves as Latina intellectuals but live their lives in just that way. Women that process the knowledge of books and academics and then find a point in their continuously oppressed everyday lives where they move forward to action. When they make the statement, ‘Ya! Enough is enough. Our lives, the lives of our children and parents and husbands and partners must change’.

As a documentary filmmaker with a focus on pioneering Latina women, I get to experience incredible personas in very normal settings. When I get to meet them, it is long after they’ve been in movements or made great impacts on life. I get to see them in the reflective moments, where there is still fire and passion but it is regulated by introspection and some editorial. Sometimes it is surrounded by caution, the wounds are just that deep.

What I find the most interesting about all of these women is how matter of fact they are about what they’ve done. Ask any one of these women what motivated them to take action, organize, protest, and make change and you get what I like to call, ‘the look’.

Ask ‘Chicana Feminist’ author Martha Cotera about Colegio Jacinto Trevino, an alternative college for Mexicans in the South East Texas Valley founded in the early 1970s, or about starting a third political party even earlier than that and her response is a look that says, ‘why wouldn’t we have done those things’?
To then go to lunch with Martha, Rosie Castro and Alma Garcia and hear the stories of El Partido Raza Unida. Their adventures with canvassing the get on the ballot, learning how to legally create a third political party, and never forgetting that this entire group of activists were under 30 years old at the time!

Ask Anna Nieto Gomez or Keta Miranda, why commandeer two station wagons full of young California women to cross five states to attend the first national conference of Chicanas in Houston Texas and their response is that same look that says, ‘how could we not be a part of that moment?’ To hear Virginia Martinez tell of hearing Graciela Olivarez speak at this conference and saying to herself, ‘I can do this. I can go to Law School, I can be a lawyer.’

Ask Pauline Martinez, Legislative Chair of the Texas Womens Political Caucus how she managed to get State Representative Irma Rangel elected and she will tell you that it was not easy to convince her to do it, but they did because, at the time, ‘Irma was the only one’.

Or my own mother, Rhea Mojica Hammer, unafraid of the Daley Machine, running for Congressional office, through death threats and black listing by her employers, taking on the challenge because as she says ‘none of the men would do it’.

Time and time again, these women demonstrate a fearless charge to revolution. Not for gain, or personal accolade, for each one of them experienced far more criticism, contempt and betrayal than acknowledgement or even approval. Many times the betrayers were members of their own sex and culture. To do the work and take the challenge on, because it was necessary.

What has made each one of these interviews special is that there is in every one of these women an overflow of love and ‘cariño’ to those of us in the middle of our own revolution, documenting each of their stories, one Latina Feminista at a time. I suspect there is camaraderie, a sisterhood if you will between these women and any other activist because activism is a very lonely profession.

Now as elders, I hear their thoughts on our bridge generation and their analysis of the activism coming out of our children’s generation. They are our mentors, guiding us more in general terms than specifically suggesting a path or choice. They feed us from wisdom and experience, all with love and humor. Their knowledge continues to grow, spiritually and comprehensively through teaching and reading and writing.

Yes, there are many Latina intellectuals but they are not defined by any one accomplishment or achievement and in many ways are not from the traditional academic trajectory. Perhaps it is because they have had to be so many things to so many people that their presence as intellectuals can be transparent.

What I do know, on a personal level is that I love everyone of these women I’ve helped to interview. I love them for their intellect, their passion, their sacrifices and their genuine cariño to me, the middle aged, struggling activista in the middle of my own revolution.

Summer of Feminista 2011 is a project where Latinas are sharing their thoughts on Latinas as Public Intellectuals. Liberal. Conservative. Academic statements. Personal stories. Learn more or how you can join the Summer of Feminista. This is a project of Viva la Feminista. Link and quote, but do not repost without written permission.

20 June 2011

Walmart low prices are at the expense of women's paychecks

I have to be honest, I really didn't expect the Supreme Court to toss the Wal-Mart class action. I don't know what I was thinking, but when I read that the USSC sided with Wal-Mart I yelped...and not a good one.

The issue that the class action hinged on? Commonality. Apparently because the majority did not think that all the 1.5 million women of Wal-Mart had a common experience, the case can't be a class action suit. I wonder where they leaves other large class action suits? But what really got my goat is the implication that Wal-Mart is so large that it can't be held responsible for what a few "bad" managers do in respect to women employees. Really? Wal-Mart is too large to sue for sex discrimination? Oh hell no!

Then in the majority decision, Scalia says that he believed that any manager would want the best person for the job, man or woman.

Really? This clearly shows that Scalia has no idea what happens in the real world and hasn't had to cold apply for a job since high school. A real, cold, apply for a job. Not a "My uncle Bob called his fraternity brother Skip and he wants to  meet you" interview. This from someone who should have recused himself due to his son being connected to the case. And conservatives complain about "the Chicago way" just getting to DC in Obama's backpack. HA!

Rep. Pelosi used this moment to restate why the Congress needs to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act: 
"Today’s ruling underscores the need to act boldly and strongly on behalf of women’s rights: we must pass the Paycheck Fairness Act to ensure that women receive equal pay for equal work," Pelosi continued. "It is a matter of fundamental fairness in our nation, and we must work — in the courts and in Congress — to correct this injustice throughout our country."
Which, by the way, WAS passed under Speaker Pelosi, but Sen. Reid and Sen. Durbin FAILED to whip the Democrats into line in order for it to pass. And I'll add that it was also President Obama's failure to make it a real priority.


If you are pissed off, tell your Congressperson to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. There are also rallies on Tuesday, check if your city has one!

What we need to remember is:
  • This was NOT a decision on the merits of the case. Merely on the ability for the women of WalMart to sue as a class action;
  • This means that the individual women will need to make a decision if they will go this alone. After ten years, the word is that most of them will continue on;
  • There is also some thought that perhaps instead of one big class, there will be a lot of smaller classes (managers, floor workers, executives, etc). We'll have to wait and see. 
Until then, I'm thankful I can keep my hard money out of Walmart's aisles.

18 June 2011

Bandits' Grand Opening Night in New Stadium

I took the family out to Rosemont to attend opening night for the Chicago Bandits. It was a great game and a great new stadium. I wrote a short summary for Gapers Block:

Opening night for the Chicago Bandits, Chicago's professional softball team, was a pitchers' duel between Bandit Monica Abbott and the USSSA Pride's Danielle Lawrie. After a picture perfect first inning, an errant throw by Abbott in the second led to the Pride getting on base. Thankfully she was saved by a clinic-worthy cutoff throw to home to keep the game scoreless. The duel resumed and continued until the bottom of the seventh, when the Bandits skillfully moved Megan Wiggins, who led off the inning, around the bases, capped off with Caitlin Lever's shot to right field to bring Wiggins home. The crowd erupted in a roar to signal the end of the game.

This was also opening night for Rosemont Stadium, the new permanent home for the Bandits. Having attended Bandits games in Lisle and Elgin, where they were visitors using college fields, the news of a permanent home field was much welcomed. Not only do fans know where to find the Bandits in coming years, but the place is beautiful. The field is lush and well maintained. The stadium is configured to keep the sun out of fans' eyes (except those in the outfield bleachers) -- and as my husband pointed out, right in the eyes of first base. Even though the stadium is located next to O'Hare, the parade of planes didn't take away from the atmosphere. Located just off of I-294 just west of the Rosemont Theater and close to the Rosemont Metra station, it is a welcome addition to the area. The field is so new that Google still does not have it listed, so be sure to check out the Bandits' stadium page for directions and a map. Single game tickets range from $9.75 to $13.25. 

Disclaimer: The Bandits invited me out to the game. We did pay for one ticket and all our snacks. 

15 June 2011

Announcing Summer of Feminista 2011 -- Sign up today!

It's back! Summer of Feminista 2011 is here!

Last year I asked Latinas to share their thoughts about feminism on this blog. I was overwhelmed by the response I received by a simple request. I've been pondering a theme for this year's summer and thanks to Ileana for providing a great theme and listening as I fleshed it out over email. So what is it?

THEME:: Latinas as Public Intellectuals

WHY:: There are not enough Latinas embracing the role of the public intellectual. There is also not a stand out Latina public intellectual akin to a Gloria Steinem or those on the top 100 public intellectuals list. So my dear Feministas...I ask you to respond to the following prompts:

In the spirit of the Op-Ed Project, start your blog entry out with
My name is _____ and I am an expert in ______ because ________. 
Don't be scared by the word expert. You might be an expert on foreign relations (I'm not) or an expert on starting book clubs. Every topic has an expert and just about every person I know is an expert on some topic. Your expertise does NOT have to be reflected in your thoughts about Latinas as public intellectuals. Be an expert on window box gardens, but then tell us your thoughts about Latinas.
Then choose one or more of the following:
  • Is there a Latina public intellectual?
  • Should there be a stand out Latina public intellectual? Or do we need a group of Latina public intellectuals? Or none at all?
  • Do you know a Latina who could be or should be recognized as a public intellectual? 
  • How are you embracing/could you embrace the role of public intellectual?
The theme really came together on Saturday while I was in the Op-Ed Project training (for the 3rd time*). Most of the training is not about writing, but about finding or focusing your voice on a topic, establishing your expertise (first with yourself and then to others, thus the first prompt) and then exercises in how to write an op-ed. With all the talk about how few women voices there are on op-ed pages, obviously Latina voices are even scarcer. And that's when Ileana's suggestion crystallized for me.

So sign up to respond to the prompts and join Summer of Feminist 2011.

The How:: 

1) Sign up for a week
2) The Monday of that week, email me your post and I'll post it sometime that week here.
3) If you want, you can repost on your blog, but it's not a requirement.
4) In fact, if you feel that you need to be anonymous, that's ok. Just as long as I know who you are.
5) Yes, I am asking for Latinas who identify as feminists, Chicana feminists, womanists, etc, to respond. No married white dudes, ok?
6) As for who is a public intellectual...I shall leave that up to YOU. Feel free to define it in your post or not, but it's up to you.

That's it! Oh, then come back once summer begins to read what Latinas have to say about being public intellectuals.

For those interested in the Op-Ed Project training, I can pass on a $50 credit to anyone I refer. Just send me an email asking for the code. Not sure if I can post it here. They also offer a set number of "pay in words" scholarships for those in need. The next public seminars are on June 21st-22nd in NYC, July 17th in SF, July 23rd in DC, August 28 in LA, September 17 in NYC, October 1 in Chicago.

* 1st time was a pre-OEP workshop and 2nd time was during Progressive Women's Voices

13 June 2011

Trust Texas Women

When people ask me where I am from, I say my dad is from Mexico and my mom was from Texas. Her side of the family have been in Texas so long that they are one of those families where the border crossed them. I even went through a phase where I said I was half Texan. So when I received the press release from the Center for Reproductive Rights about Gov. Rick Perry having zero trust in the women of his state, well, I had to add CRR's campaign, Trust Texas Women, to my "current actions" box in the right side bar.

Click over to read the scoop and sign their petition to show your support for the women of Texas. 

12 June 2011

The Final Stretch!

While you are voting for Viva la Feminista, take a moment to also vote for the other feminist moms on the list such as my bloggy BFFs PunditMom, Gloria Feldt and Write like She Talks. There are also other fab feminists on the list too. Thanks for your support!

09 June 2011

Book Review: If Sons, then Heirs by Lorene Cary

If Sons, then Heirs by Lorene Cary broke my heart by page 5. This was an especially bad thing to do since I was just peeking at the book. It showed up in my post office box near the end of the semester and I knew I wouldn't be able to touch it for weeks. It taunted me on my bookshelf. The first time in a long time a book called out to be read. When I finally got a chance to start reading it, I devoured it.

The story begins with 30-year-old Rayne searching for the mother who put him on a train to his grandfather's house at age 7 and then never had him return. The story plays out as if Rayne was adopted by strangers rather than his grandfather and great-grandmother, Nana Stella. Adoption is a major thread in the story as if that quest of "Who am I?" To ensure a secure retirement for his great-grandmother, he ends up having to dig up past tragedies, secrets and face the fact that his own sad tale springs from one fateful day long before his mother was even born.

The story centers on what is called "heir property," a term used for the plot of land given to one of the ancestors by their former slave master. Thus I got quite a lesson in life during Reconstruction and the Jim Crow South. Don't get me wrong, I knew facts, but what Cary does here is place those facts into lives. She makes the facts live, love and die. She makes them human. Rayne recollects the first time he heard a lynching story. His Uncle Jones tells it to him over Nana Stella's objections. "Jones didn't tell Rayne this story to cripple him, but only to let him know not to believe how things look on the surface; people lie." The harsh reality of life for African-Americans in the South is on almost every page. It's not presented as if they are victims. Rather this family is strong, hella strong.

Cary crafts a beautiful tale of love, family and forgiveness. The characters she created jump off the page, even Nana Stella shuffling along with her walker.And she turns phrases that are just delicate and powerful, like a ballerina taking a leap of faith. By the end of the book, you will feel a part of the Needham family.

I should also warn you that the last third to quarter of the book is a whole box of tissues. I warn because I read the last bits of the book in coffee houses and took all my strength to not bawl like a baby at points. And I was crying the good cry. But there are sad cries too.

Do I even need to tell you click over and buy yourself a copy from IndieBound or Powells? Really? Because really, this is great book. If you like your summer reading to be good and not just fluffy, this is the book for you.

AUTHOR CHAT: Lorene Cary will be chatting about this book on Sunday, 6/12 for at 7pm.

Disclaimers: A publicist offered me a copy for review. 

* Book links are affiliate links. If you buy your book here I could make a very small amount of money that goes towards this blog.

08 June 2011

Where I am this week

I'm at Chicagonista asking, "How Will Chicago Women Fare in a post-Oprah World?"
Well she’s gone. After a long and star-studded good-bye, Chicago is Oprah-less.

For feminists, Oprah was a double-edged sword. At times she wielded her power to shed much needed light on domestic violence and the need to educate our girls here and around the globe. Yet at the same time she taught a whole generation how to pine for “Favorite Things” and gave a platform for some anti-medical foolishness. But for women on the whole, Oprah validated their lives and opinions by giving voice to them. I know some women felt safe believing that Oprah was on the case, that she was essentially in the wings waiting to pounce on injustice in the world. How many times did an event or issue provoke someone in Chicago to say, “Let’s get Oprah!” Instead of a knight in shining armor, women had Oprah to look to for saving, informing and organizing us to action.

In a post-Oprah world, we must do it for ourselves. And there is plenty to do ladies.

Read the rest at Chicago Feminista
I'm also at Girl w/Pen with a little Grrl Talk:
There are rare moments when I read an article or listen to a recording and can’t form words to respond. Today is one of those moments and it is because you really should just listen to this recording for yourself. It’s that perfect.

The NYTimes invited four women who are at the top of their respective fields of science in for a roundtable discussion. They shared their thoughts about differences between men and women in science, having a family, asking where the women are going, and what they would say to their daughter about going into science.
Read the whole piece at Science Grrl,

03 June 2011

Book Review: Wonder Girl by Don Van Natta Jr. (and giveaway!)

There is a point in one's life when you grow up and realize that your sports heroes are just as human as you are, some are mean, some are as awesome as you hope and some you wish you had never rooted for. During the first few chapters of Wonder Girl: The Magnificent Sporting Life of Babe Didrikson Zaharias, I started to think it was wrong to ever idolize The Babe.

Don Van Natta does an excellent job at painting a picture of the young girl, who was nicknamed Babe, as spoiled and an awful brag. Tales of bullying classmates to play by her rules and having the muscle to back up the threats, Babe was unstoppable. She was also quite the racist by taking glee in beating up on black boys and girls in her quest to prove how tough she was.

When I mentioned her brashness to the ChiFem book club members, one of them said, "But if she were a guy, would it seem so bad?" Well, yeah...it still would be. Babe was like the Neon Deion of her generation. The LeBron of today. So cocky of her greatness that even if she was the best athlete on her basketball team, no one really rooted for her. All through her career, Babe was clearly the star. On the basketball court, when she was a one-woman track team, on the golf course and even on the Vaudeville stage. She was blessed with a universe of talet, but the Goddess left out humility and that cost her many friends.

Van Natta goes on to show the evolution of Babe. An evolution of sorts. She never seems to outgrow her desire to win, but she does move from winning to prove herself to winning for a larger and greater purpose -- the birth of the Ladies Professional Golf Association. And yes, for those of you who scoff at the fact that the league is called "Ladies," the story behind the name is in there too.

Despite my reaction to her brashness, I have to tip my hat to how well she blew apart society's view of what women could do. Before Babe, women in sports were a rarity or relegated to "pretty" sports like gymnastics and tennis. I thought of Tonya Harding a few times, when Babe's lack of girlyness was discussed. When she stepped onto the greens, she never hid her strength even when she did eventually wear more stylish clothes. And of course her strength led to questions about her sexuality and even her gender. Was Babe a lesbian or merely a man in women's clothing?

The questions didn't stop, even after she married, because no story of a champion would be complete without a love story. Whoa boy does Van Natta give us one. And one that seems to fit Babe perfectly. At first at least...Then we get to the classic, "Woman outshines her man" story when it all seems to go downhill.

I did stop at one point and put the book down to ponder the question of when does one stop being a role model and become a mere prop. How much did Babe HAVE to do in her life versus she felt she HAD to do.

Babe's story is also one of an amazing athlete who couldn't be felled by any competitor...except cancer. I truly believe she kicked cancer's ass big time, even if it did ultimately take her life.

In the end, one's life is often summed up with how one ends the race, not so much how they start out or even the glorious middle. Babe's life is one of contradictions, triumphs and honestly is quintessential of the great American Dream.While Babe didn't win over many friends in her life, her fans should continue to grow. She left a mark that changed how we view women and women as athletes.

If you are sports fan, a women's history buff or heck both, get yourself a copy from IndieBound or Powells. This was the first book I picked up after my semester was over and I devoured it in mere days. It's an easy and passionate read.

And now the giveaway....
I have three copies of this book to giveaway to readers. Just leave a comment here or on VLF's Facebook page to enter. Yes, you can comment at both places and enter twice. Winners will be chosen using Random.org. I'll start counting on VLF and then FB. So if I get 5 comments here and 2 on FB, Those on FB are entries #6 and #7. Restrictions are US and CA residents only, no PO boxes please. Make sure your comment includes your email address or I can't get the book to you.

Disclaimers: A publicist offered me a copy for review and I said "A world of yes!"

* Book links are affiliate links. If you buy your book here I could make a very small amount of money that goes towards this blog.

02 June 2011

Guest Post:: School Sexual Harassment Tips for Parents

By Mandy Van Deven

Today’s guest post is part of the Hey, Shorty! Virtual Book Tour. Check out this link to find out how you can support the 25-date nationwide tour!

In the spirit of transparency, I find it necessary to let you know that I am not a parent. I am a person who has children in my life whom I care deeply about and who has worked with parents and children for a number of years; however, I understand the parameters of my experience only extend so far and there is a limit to the usefulness of my knowledge when it comes to real life practice. I say this because it is important to note that the information I have about how parents and caregivers can intervene in and respond to sexual harassment in schools is either observed or secondhand, and I encourage those who are raising children to add your own expertise to the comments of this post. Learning from each other is crucial and there are so few places where parents come together to talk about sexual harassment in schools.

There are many reasons to be concerned about the state of education in the United States, and for many, sexual harassment doesn’t receive a rating on the scale of what’s most important. But as we’ve seen in the media lately, the mistreatment of students can have severe effects. Poor grades, depression, and unhealthy decisions (e.g., drug use, eating disorders, suicide) can be the result of social interactions happening at school, and it is the responsibility of the school system to do its best to keep every child safe. Unfortunately, this is not a luxury every student is afforded.

Parents and caregivers should feel secure about sending their children to school every day, but it can be difficult to determine what is going on in the hallways and classrooms of your child’s school. It can be particularly for those who find it challenging, or impossible, to take on extraneous activities at your child’s school because of barriers to participation you face – including working multiple jobs or jobs with evening hours, familial responsibilities, disabilities, and health issues, all of which understandably take priority and can leave a parent feeling powerless and frustrated. Although it may be a struggle, it can be a great relief to join (or start!) a group for parents and caregivers where you can share their frustrations with one another, gain support from peers, and work toward solutions. Email is a good way to do that when you can’t show up in person.

For those who don’t have the option to participate in this way, here are some strategies from the newly released Hey, Shorty!: A Guide to Combating Sexual Harassment and Violence in Schools and on the Streets that parents can implement in their daily lives to help prevent sexual harassment in schools:

— Encourage your child to discuss school life with you, including grades, sports, extracurricular activities, and friends. Let your child know you are interested and available to talk, no matter what the topic.

— Use language that is inclusive of both genders and avoids stereotyping individuals based on gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, or other characteristics.

— Raise your child’s awareness of other people’s feelings. Fostering a sense of respect, empathy, and compassion will help prevent your child from hurting others.

— Take advantage of “teachable moments.” When an incident of sexual harassment occurs in your presence (whether in the school, on the street, or in a store), seize the opportunity to raise your child’s awareness about sexual harassment and openly communicate to your child that such behavior is unacceptable, hurtful, and illegal.

— Encourage your child to speak up for him or herself. Promoting self-confidence in a child is the first step to prevent him or her from becoming victims of sexual harassment or other types of abuse.

— Request a copy of your child’s school’s sexual harassment policy. Keep it on hand as a reference. If your child’s school does not have a sexual harassment policy or has a policy that is confusing or inaccessible, talk to the school administrator or a school board representative.

— Discuss the school’s anti-discrimination policy with your children. Let them know that you are aware sexual harassment is a problem in schools, and that you are available to talk about it.

— Create and distribute materials to help other parents and their children discuss issues like sex education, gender equity, and sexism.

Viva la Feminista encourages you to purchase your copy from indie bookstores or Powells.com.
* Book links are affiliate links. If you buy your book here I could make a very small amount of money that goes towards this blog.


This blog is my personal blog and is not reflective of my employer or what I do for them.

What I'm Currently Reading

I Thought It Was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame
The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation
Gabi, a Girl in Pieces

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