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31 January 2014

The Color of Toxicity

No one ever said being a feminist would be easy and sure as hell, no one said it would be boring.

This week's excitement arrives via The Nation (which I have subscribed to off and on since college) and Michelle Goldberg's latest entitled, "Feminism's Toxic Twitter Wars."Hmmmm...wars is a bit much, dontcha think? So before I dive into this article's arguments, let's deal with the headline.

Declaring anything a war is a strong stance. Is feminism having a lot of heated debates and disagreements on twitter? Yes. Is it a war? No. A quick walk through feminist history in the USA and we will see political debate after political debate. Susan B. Anthony pleaded with Elizabeth Cady Stanton to leave the kids and hit the road with her. Surely some feminists side-eyed Amelia Bloomer and her pants. Sojourner Truth dropped the mic by stating, "Ain't I a woman?" One of the biggest riffs happened during suffrage when the young whippersnapper, Alice Paul, disagreed with Carrie Chapman Catt and took her ball home. Paul started the National Women's Party. As for disruption we go to Ida B. Wells who refused to march in a segregated suffrage parade. The first wave was full of heated debate & women of color disrupting. Let's zip up to the 1970s and we find Betty Friedan and Rita Mae Brown arguing over the Lavender Menace. And don't tell me that you haven't heard a second-wave feminist do a double take over the theory of intersectionality. Hopefully you get my point that during the act of reorganizing our society to be free of sexism, racism, classism, homophobia and other injustices that those of us working towards this shared goal will have a lot of disagreement on how to get there.

For me,  that was the root of the #FemFuture critique. That a hand-picked group of feminists, living in NYC, sat around a table and plotted out the future of feminism, specifically feminism online. At the heart of their plan was how the revolution would pay its workers. For many feminists, that line of thought was offensive. And those feminists took to twitter to make themselves crystal clear that #FemFuture did not represent them.

Yes. I will concede that some of the tweets were personal attacks. I won't condone those tweets. But the problem with selecting Mikki Kendall as the example of the feminist bully, is that there were more feminists than just she with harsh critiques. Call it what you want, but she is not the only one. She is just the one who has the spotlight on her. I think it is flawed to point out just one of her critiques of #FemFuture.  I  understand the limitations of an article, but online you can link to many examples. Just scanning through her tweets about #FemFuture, you can see that she had an epic laundry list of concerns, yet Goldberg chose to focus on Kendall's most outrageous tweet.

The erasure of a larger critique by Latinas, Asian women, Native women of #Femfuture and other feminist conversations is quite honestly insulting. Our issues may not be the same and not every woman of color was critical of these conversations, but it was far more diverse than just black feminist twitter. Why are non-Black WOC being ignored? Because we are no less outraged on any given day about feminism. Native feminists are questioning "One Billion Rising." Suey Park kicked ass with #NotYourAsianSidekick. AnaYelsi Sanchez, founder of #SecretLivesofFeministas, had this to say:
It isn't just Black women pushing back. It's all women of color. The sort of gaslighting and marginalization in Michelle Goldberg's article is what sparked #SecretLivesOfFeministas and other similar movements. It's easier to ignore us and focus on vilifying the "angry black woman" than to acknowledge the legitimacy of all of our anger. We're not going away. We're not sitting down. We're not shutting up
The article spends a good deal of time discussing that many "white feminist" projects such as #femfuture, Jezebel and Feministing are not run by just white feminists. And this is true. And while I do think it is poor shorthand, for me, when I see "white feminism" in twitter critiques it means that the feminism espoused is exemplary of middle-class liberal feminism that is stereotypically seen in white feminists who fight for access to sterilization at 25, but ignore/are ignorant that WOC have been sterilized by force for decades. Perhaps we would be more pointed to say "liberal feminism," but I am really not sure of that. I would love thoughts in the comments, as this is the one part I really don't have a solution for.

It is true that due to the speed of critique on Twitter and other social media outlets, I do fear speaking out on some topics. But for me, it helps me stop and frame my argument better. I do a little more research and not just shoot off my mouth. Dr. Cooper says a lot of great things about the tension in the feminist twitter community. Most importantly that the critique and hurt feelings from WOC has valid roots. But as Prison Culture & Andrea Smith point out, the idea that online feminism was a happy happy joy joy super fun place before twitter is a myth (BTW - make sure to read that post!). And the focus on fun feminism is skewing our vision on the ultimate goal - ending patriarchy, racism, classism and all the other things that is oppressing all of us. Yes, we can have fun, but lamenting the loss of fun feminism is the least of my concerns.

Crenshaw says intersectionality hasn't "been about chastisement", " but rather a collective effort to build a feminism that does more of the work that it claims to do." For me, this is what Mikki and other WOC feminists have been doing in their critiques. When Mikki asks if WOC get to be a good mothers, she is asking for feminism to do what it claims to do. I really enjoyed the paragraph where Dr. Cooper explains the use of intersectionality as a benchmark for all feminists online. Am I the only one who chuckled at the idea that WOC feminists have finally become too academic for our own good?
There are two unnamed Twitter users in this piece. I asked Goldberg why she failed to name the white feminist who "whitesplained" to Jamia Wilson. So far no response yet. But it is curious that either Wilson or Goldberg have chosen to hide this persons identity.
The other unnamed Twitter user is the one who backs up @DrJaneChi on not using vagina in reproductive justice work. I should point out that Martha Plimpton labels her work "reproductive freedom" and not "reproductive justice." This is important as the justice framework works with the idea that men and women (cis and trans) are united in repro justice and is more sensitive to using body parts to stand in for ideas.
I find this a VERY HARD habit to break and I know I fail many times, but try to catch myself. For me, it stems from wanting to take back sayings like "That took balls!" to "That took ovaries!" when in fact some women (cis and trans) do not have ovaries. I try to ask myself, "Do I need to name a body part for this argument to work?" Sometimes that answer is yes. Sometimes no.
Let's circle back to Kendall. The "She seems warm and engaging, but also obsessed" line is so awful, just awful. We have seen feminist blogs EXPLODE over women politicians be described in this same manner. Hell, it reminds me of when then-Senator Obama said that then-Senator Clinton was "likable enough." I'm been on the radio (Vocalo) with Mikki. We follow each other on Twitter, but we're not hanging out on a regular basis. But I think she's a pretty nice person, but nice is not the point of feminist debate. There are plenty of us "obsessive feminists" on twitter. Check out #NotBuyingIt for a taste of how obsessive some of us can get.
In the end this larger conversation is about power.

As I said earlier, I do agree that some critiques fall under the category of attacks. I don't support those. I think there is plenty to critique without using personal attacks. But the land of punditry has changed with social media. While you can avoid reading the comments section of your op-ed, you can rarely avoid the @ section of your twitter feed. This means that the indie feminist blogger has equal access to "the conversation" as the feminist who is paid $10,000 to speak at a college campus, has multiple books and a contract with a TV station. It can be scary to face the critique head on.

Twitter is being archived in the Library of Congress. This means that we are writing history every single day. This means that if anyone claims to represent feminism, those of us who have a critique must express the critique, otherwise the record shows silence as agreement. Twitter is not just a frivolous play thing. It can be and we often treat it as such. But when it comes to debating feminism online, it is serious business.

13 January 2014

#365FeminsitSelfie update!

Good gawd, I hope this blog doesn't turn into nothing but this challenge, but given my hectic schedule which leads to few updates here, it very well could! Anywho...

1) For the next month, Bitch Magazine is going to award one #365FeministSelfie Instagram participant a week a 1-year subscription. So make sure to not only use the #365FeministSelfie hashtag, but tag @BitchMedia.

2) I had two interviews about the challenge last week. The first piece is live at allParenting and I think it completely captured the spirit of the challenge.

3) I was asked to write up a "What I learned" post for Blogher.

EDITED TO ADD 4) A moving piece on selfies themselves and the #365FeministSelfie challenge. 

It has truly been a whirlwind 13 days and I know you will get tired of me saying this, but thank you for participating.

07 January 2014

#365FeministSelfies and my mother

Today is my mom's birthday. She would had been 58. That's me with her when I was about three years old. That's my puppy in my tiny hands! This is one of my favorite photos of my mom and me. And after she died in 2003, I realized it was one of the few photos I had of us together.

Today the #365FeministSelfie challenge is one week old. Apt that it falls on her birthday because of all the comments/captions I have been reading when people, mostly women, post their photos, the one that stands out is, "I want my kids to have more photos of us together after I'm gone." 
Back to 2003. 
My parents had moved from the Chicago are to North Carolina in 2000. As with any more, things are lost.  I always felt they lost a lot of photos.  And the suckiest part of someone dying is digging through boxes of photos. Can there be a worst time to dive into memory lane? GAWD! So there I was, by the way 6-months pregnant, digging for photos I swear we had. Finding piles of photos from family vacations and seeing photos of myself, my sisters, our dad, and all of us...except my mom. Oh, she'd pop in every once in awhile, but she clearly was the family photographer.
It may have a lot to do with the fact that film was precious. I bought my first digital camera just weeks before she died. She never owned one. When I was 10, I was tasked with taking photos of my newborn cousins. When we developed the film, there were far too many photos of my sisters and me having fun in Seattle and cousin photos didn't meet the ROI. Where today we might take a dozen photos to get it right, she directed us for minutes before she would click the camera. 
The past week has been overwhelming in the response to this challenge. I have met so many new people snapping pics of themselves with their kids, friends, godchildren, cats, dogs, blankets and winter hats. Someone I've never met, Cara, started a Facebook group for sharing photos. ZOMG! And so many of you have written about why you are participating (see sidebar for links). I am touched.
I started the year off thinking that I would like or heart all the photos on Instagram, share messages to the Flickr group. To say thanks for sharing yourselves with me and everyone else. But quite honestly the response has been intense, far more than I expected and since I do have a full-time job, I can't always like your photo. But know I'm trying to keep up!
In coming weeks I will post some theme-challenges to keep us from getting into a rut. If you have ideas on themes, just post in the comments or tweet me.
And if you are "late" to the challenge, jump in! 

06 January 2014

Book Review: Women Aviators: 26 Stories of Pioneer Flights, daring Missions, and Record-Setting Journeys

This collection of mini-biographies of women aviators is a must have for every parent whose child has to do a biography project and for every teacher who assigns them. Sure we all know about Amelia Earhart - Ella did a project on her a few years ago - and perhaps even Bessie Coleman, but Women Aviators: 26 Stories of Pioneer Flights, daring Missions, and Record-Setting Journeys by Karen Bush Gibson will expand your universe.

Not only are the biographies short enough for your child to read on their own and not be overwhelmed, but they include citations so your child can dig deeper if needed.

Thanks for Chicago Review Press for allowing me to bring you an excerpt on  Ida Van Smith:

Teaching Children to Fly

Imagine a group of children, both boys and girls, on an airfield, with lots of bright smiles and perhaps more than a few lips trembling with fear. Chances are, all eyes are big with wonder. They take trips to airports, visit aerospace museums, and learn how to do preflight checks. Many get to ride in a real airplane. Often it’s the first airplane ride they have ever taken.

Welcome to an Ida Van Smith Flight Club gathering, where minority children can learn to fly.

Ida Van Smith opened her clubs because she wanted children to have opportunities that took her half a century to experience. She said, “I believe that anything children do very young, they will probably be able to learn better and feel more at ease with than if they wait and they were my age to begin.”
Learning to fly airplanes had been her dream since she saw her first one at the age of three. Being both African American and female meant that there was more standing in the way of that dream, but she never forgot it.

Finally, in 1967, 50-year-old grandmother and teacher Ida Van Smith took flying lessons. She had looked into classes at Butler Aviation School at LaGuardia Airport in New York, but she received too many stares. She decided to shop around and found an instructor she liked at Fayetteville’s Grannis Field Airport in her home state of North Carolina.

After she earned her pilot’s license and instructor rating, this history and special education teacher opened a flight club in Long Island, New York. With a grant from the FAA, she was able to get an aircraft simulator. She provided a Cessna 172. Ida was the first African American female flight instructor in New York and the first African American female pilot from North Carolina.

Once per month during the 1970s, Smith held workshops at York College in Jamaica, New York. She invited air-traffic controllers, commercial pilots, airplane mechanics, and other people in aviation to talk with students from the Ida Van Smith Flight Clubs.

Funding for the program often came from Ida’s own pockets in the early days. But word of Ida’s schools caught on and spread. More than 20 schools opened in locations in New York, North Carolina, Texas, and St. Lucia in the Caribbean. Thousands of young people from ages 3 to 19 have experienced aviation through the Ida Van Smith Flight Clubs, and many have gone on to aviation careers with airlines or in the military.

To continue learning about Ida and her fellow lady aviators, please purchase a copy (and support VLF) from Powells or Indiebound.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from a publicist.

03 January 2014

CFP: Mothering Multiples: (Re)exploring, (Re)presenting and Making Meaning of the Process of Becoming Pregnant, Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting Experiences with Multiples


Demeter Press

is seeking submissions for an edited collection entitled

Mothering Multiples: (Re)exploring, (Re)presenting and Making Meaning of the Process of Becoming Pregnant, Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting Experiences with Multiples (working title only)

Editor: Dr. Kathy Mantas

Deadline for Abstracts: April 30, 2014

There has been an increase of twin babies and higher order multiple birth babies born in Canada and around the world in the past few decades. The wide use of fertility drugs and high-tech procedures are considered to be one of the major contributing factors to the increase in multiple births, but there are others as well. This edited collection seeks to (re)explore, (re)present, make meaning, and contribute to a body of literature that is, at the moment limited, on the process of becoming pregnant, pregnancy, childbirth, parenting, and becoming a parent from the perspective of multiples, and all the layers and complexities this entails. Submissions from researchers, mothers, fathers, adult children (twinless twins or higher order multiples), grandparents, healthcare experts, community workers, artists, and activists are welcome. Chapters from a wide range of disciplines and cultural perspectives, both theoretical/scholarly and creative (e.g., stories, narrative, creative non-fiction, poetry, image-based), are highly encouraged and will be considered.

Topics may also include (but are not limited to):
Mothering in families with multiples; increased maternal age and mothering in families with multiples; queer engagements with reproduction and mothering multiples; cross-cultural perspectives on reproduction, reproductive technologies and multiples; reproductive technologies, multiples and the relationship with religion;carrying multiples; (in)fertility; experiences with/in fertility clinics; fertility clinics and in/accessibility issues (geographical, financial, etc.); experiences with assisted reproductive technologies and multiples; the medicalization of becoming a mother, pregnancy and childbirth with multiples; experiences and relationships with experts in the assisted reproductive technologies field and/or with medical experts in high-risk pregnancy units in hospitals; how assisted reproductive technological procedures are negotiated within and impact upon the work (public) and home (private) space; perspectives from activists; de/constructing dis/embodied understandings of reproduction, pregnancy and childbirth; historical overview of assisted reproductive technologies with respect to multiples; genetic testing and risks involved; fetal reduction with multiples; the experience of egg and sperm donation; outcomes associated with scientific/technological interventions regarding the pregnancy and birth of multiples; complications (gestational hypertension, preeclampsia, anemia, gestational diabetes, premature rupture of membranes, and postpartum hemorrhage, reduced activity, withdrawal from employment, and prescribed bed rest - at home/hospital or both - during pregnancy, and emergency and planned Cesarean section, etc.); surviving traumatic birth experiences with multiples; preterm births; infant death(s); simultaneously dealing with birth(s) and death(s) of one, more or all multiples; loss, grief and memorialization; experiences in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU); mothering multiples or singletons (twinless twins) in the NICU; mothering twinless twins; surrogate breast milk; pumping breast milk; breastfeeding multiples; nurturing/feeding multiples; care of twinless twins or multiples after life in the NICU; mothering multiples with special needs; academia and mothering multiples; mothering/mothers of multiples and identity (class, ethnicity, race, gender, religion, spirituality, culture, etc.); mother's of multiples and self-care; pre and post-natal care of mothers with multiples; adoption, surrogacy and multiples; stepmothering multiples.

Submission Guidelines:

Abstracts: 250-word description of the proposed paper, including a tentative title. Also, please include a 50-word biography, citizenship details and your full contact information.

Deadline for abstracts: April 30, 2014

Full Manuscripts: MLA style, between 15-18 pages, double-spaced. Shorter stories/narrative works, image-based and/or creative submissions are also welcome (500-2500 words). Final acceptance of the manuscript for inclusion in the collection rests upon the strength and fit of the completed full piece.

Deadline for full manuscripts: December 15, 2014

To Submit: Please direct all submissions and inquiries to Kathy Mantas at kathym@nipissingu.ca

Disclosure: I am getting a complementary membership to MIRCI and subscription to the journal in return for posting these updates. It is, however, something I would have agreed to do for free because I think their work is so wonderful.

02 January 2014

#365FeministSelfie is a go!

I am overwhelmed at the response to the #365FeministSelfie challenge!

So many amazing pics on Flickr, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. If there are other outlets I should be monitoring, just say it! Edited to add: Duh! Google+! And Tumblr!

And if you are late to the party, it's ok. Join in!

01 January 2014

Book Review: League of Denial by Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada

Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago during the 1980s means that the team of all teams was the 1985 Bears. Walter Payton flew over defensive lines and on occasion did land on his head. To us, it was amazing. To his body, it was brutal.

"League of Denial" [P | I] provides amazing detail into how brutal the game of football is to the human body. On page 5, the Fainaru brothers cite a physicist who calculated a Dick Butkus hit as equivalent to the size of a small adult killer whale. HOLY CRAP!

Ultimately, the Fainaru brothers tell the story of how football players were paid a king's ransom to play a boy's game, but their bodies and brains paid the real price. The NFL told players that they were special. Weaker men, who would be hurt by concussions, had been weeded out. They were the cream of the crop in more than just playing skills, but in how their bodies reacted to injury.

Many of the men highlighted in the book clearly were full of regret for not hurting themselves, but hurting their friends, their brothers in arms. Story after story involves not just brain injury, but loss of employment and ultimately the destruction of many families due to violent behavior and/or economic strain. Even agents, such as Leigh Steinberg, began to question what the hell they were doing.

They also tell of a vast conspiracy that bled into children's lives. See, in an effort to keep NFL players in the dark, the NFL created a whole team of scientists and studies that said, "Concussions? No need to worry about them! They rarely happen and when they do, no big deal." Yet, helmet makers wanted to create the concussion-proof helmet and when they felt they did, they marketed it to parents and youth leagues too. The other issue with the helmets were not just that they didn't protect one from getting concussions, but it left players with a false sense of security -- to hit harder!

And this conspiracy began by an accident. Concussions were never under scrutiny. The chance that one former NFL player happened to die on a day when a curious corner was on duty spurred this whole discussion. Outside of one or two people involved in "discovering" the extent of the concussion issue, all the scientists involved were strong football fans. They wanted to help the NFL make football safer and to keep players as healthy as possible. They never wanted to kill football. Yet, the league quickly dismissed them and framed them as quacks, when they should have worked with them right then and there.
If only 10 percent of mothers in America begin to conceive of football as a dangerous game, that is the end of football. - page 206
And if you're the NFL who do you turn to to make sure this doesn't happen? Mom bloggers. Yup, in 2012, after a change in leadership, the NFL invited a select group of mom bloggers to NYC to listen to their side of the concussion story. The moms listened to other women: Holly Robinson Peete (Judy Hoffs from "21 Jump Street," wife of a former NFL Player and mom of 4 children), a neuropsychologist & consultant for the Chicago Bears, and a health communications specialist for the CDC (page 322). And yes, the mom bloggers live tweeted that football was safe. One mom blogger, then-Dumb Mom-now-DudeMom, blogged that her concerns arose from the fact her young son started playing tackle football:
I worry that something will get broken, or pulled, or torn, or strained, or sprain. But mostly, I worry that he will be concussed.

And that, friends, is a legitimate worry.

Because kids do suffer concussions on the football field. And, sometimes coaches and parents and other adults involved in the sport aren’t educated enough to keep that from happening; or to respond to it appropriately when it unfortunately does.

That is knowledge I acquired when I went to the NFL offices and sat in on a discussion with USA Football, the CDC, and prominent physicians to learn about a program they call Heads Up Football.

It encourages coaches to teach boys a new, head’s up way to tackle (no leading with their head) and it’s helping to spread awareness about concussion treatment and prevention.

It’s helping parents, coaches, players, and physicians really understand the severity of having your brain bounced all around in your skull in a way that has never before been done.
She goes on to bust concussion myths, but at the same time gives her thumbs up to young people playing tackle football. While this is an individual choice, I wanted to point out, yet again, why word of mouth stuff must be taken with a grain of salt. But we must ask why would the NFL go to this trouble? Because of this quote: "If only 10 percent of mothers in America begin to conceive of football as a dangerous game, that is the end of football." I asked DudeMom if her sons are still playing and she said yes. She hasn't read the book, only scanned the part where she's quoted.
The things I have learned via my work with Heads Up Football about being a proactive sports parent have helped me make this and a multitude of other decisions when it comes to my sons and their athletics.  They are passionate about the game and I support them in this by being involved and working with the league and our local team to create a better, safer playing experience.
Because the concussion issue does bleed into soccer (Ella's sport of choice & amazing skill), I get why it is important to be a proactive parent. I am merely asking all of us to question the type of junket that DudeMom was a part of.  In soccer, we are advised to not allow for players to head the ball until they are older than 10. This type of precaution is not a part of football, as far as I could find (as always, correct me if I am wrong!). If US Soccer invited me to the same type of event, I would expect you to push me too.

Overall the book will make you think twice about letting your child play football. It will also make fans look at the game differently. I wince when I see guys take a huge hit. I admit to letting out, "ohs!" in the past. In fact, I still do. I do not think that we can take tackling out of football. But we can try to minimize the injuries, especially reducing helmet-to-helmet hits. Ultimately, as fans we must question our role in the fact that our favorite players, such as Jim McMahon, and most hated players, such as Bret Favre, can not remember large parts of their lives.

The book is not perfect. As a scientist, I think they minimize the scientific process, especially the peer review process. That said, there are always points in the process that can and should be questioned. 

The racism that is evident in how Bennet Omalu is treated during the evolution of the concussion debate is often minimized. It is something that should be better fleshed out, as the sexism that Ann McKee faced was.

The cult of masculinity is the real enemy in this puzzle. The hardest part of the book was the section on Dave Duerson, a beloved member of the 1985 Bears, and his evolution from defending the NFL to ultimately committing suicide by shooting himself in the chest so his brain could be studied. His story includes all the tropes - wondering why some players are whining, that "I'm ok, why aren't you?" and on and on. We are told the tale of a smart and loving person who spins out of control. Outsiders see a washed up athlete who can't handle retirement, when in fact he is a deeply wounded person. How often did he get 'his bell rung" and sucked it up to stay in the game for job security?

As a football fan, I wondered if offsides are a function of concussions? Has anyone looked at this? Considering how former players described the sensation of "shaking it off" and heading back in for the next play, I would bet that offside calls could be a detection point.

This is a must read for every football fan and every parent thinking about letting their young children play tackle football. You may still enjoy the game, I do. You may still allow your child to play, as DudeMom does. But at least you will know a likely reason as to why Junior Seau spun out of control in retirement and killed himself.

Support Viva la Feminista by purchasing your book through Powells or Indiebound.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from a publicist. 


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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