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30 June 2014

Summer of Feminista: The Other Women

Sandra Ramos O’Briant is the author of The Sandoval Sisters’ Secret of Old Blood, winner of Best Historical Fiction and Best First Book at the ILBA, 2013. Visit her on Facebook and Blood Mother Blog.

The Other Women

I almost called this piece Girlfriends, Slutdom and Mom because they’re all of a piece, a patchwork perhaps, that once assembled became me. Boys were always easier for me. We liked being outside and played rough, whereas I was never sure how to engage girls in anything beyond dolls, which didn’t interest me. They also tended to stay in the kitchen with their moms.

Mom proudly announced that she’d been a tomboy, too, and followed her twin brother in his rough and tumble play. As she grew older, mom embraced the “sexy” Latina image. I think it gave a boost to her self-esteem, but it meant that her goal was to get a man which invited competition from other females. At her core she embraced a 40’s cinematic femme fatale role model and distrusted all women . . . possibly even me. A girlfriend who is of my mother’s vintage recently gave me advice on how to deal with my husband over some petty argument. “Have great sex and then do what you want anyway.” Manipulative, I said. She expressed no distaste with that word. “There’s a long line of women just waiting to steal him from you,” she said.

She reminded me so much of my mom that I only felt affection and pity for her generation. And wonder. Could she be right? I’ve seen that look–threatened, possessive, and defensive–on other women’s faces when they’ve watched their husband’s reaction to a beautiful woman standing in front of them. No, the beauty wasn’t me. My preferred role is observer, and I love women, need them even. Women are the leads in The Sandoval Sisters’ Secret of Old Blood, and sisterhood is explored in all its contexts: childhood friends, lovers, girlfriends who think nothing of cheating with your husband, a sinister mother-in-law, witchy ex-girlfriends, daughters, blood sisters, maidens, mothers and crones.

I’ve written previously of the bullying I experienced in elementary and middle-school (Bullied: Diversity, Differentiation, Distinction). That experience effectively isolated me and I stopped trying to make girlfriends. I had a brief respite in 9th grade when I lived with my father and stepmother in East Texas. A few girls in my neighborhood actually seemed to like me and we rode the bus to school together. No one was really dating then, but there was adolescent flirtation.

Back to New Mexico for high school and the pressure was on to date. Fortunately, I liked nerdy boys with a sense of humor. An assortment of males liked me; the girl’s locker room became hazardous when a boy sought after by one of the “popular” girls asked me to prom. Sometime in the 10th grade I was labeled a slut and I don’t think the slur came from a boy. It was the girls who shunned me.

The irony is that even though I’m now an outspoken feminist and embrace my inner slut, I remained a virgin all through high school. I refused to French kiss until I’d cleared it with the nun who taught an after-school religion class. “No it’s not a mortal sin,” she said. I’m forever grateful that she didn’t follow up that statement with what it could lead to. Perhaps she didn’t know, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway because I wouldn’t allow my boyfriend to touch my emergent breasts because of the pimples on my chest.

The slut-shaming worked. I wasn’t sure what I’d done wrong, but in order to remedy the situation I let down all the hems on my skirts, stopped dating, and stayed home from school as much as possible. The problem with that was 1) my mother’s fear–not that I might not graduate– but that I might not get in enough practice to find my future husband. “You’ve got sex appeal,” she said, which only terrified me more. The second part of that phrase was fine, nothing wrong with appeal. But the “sex” part was a problem made all the more complicated by 2) my extreme horniness.

What to do?

Fortunately, I got to go to college in the late 60’s. The Second Wave ruled! Birth control was readily available and there were savvy girls from all over the world at UNM. What was even better, they knew nothing about me. Sure, I was a little weird, but weird was in. I could blend. Somewhat.

I’d always had opinions, but had feared speaking out. My task was to overcome that sense of powerlessness, to embrace outcast status and make it work for me. Learning to do that was huge and the women’s movement helped me. Not only were there plenty of outspoken women from whom to learn, but I recognized the other me, before emergence, in women who came to consciousness-raising meetings. I could help them.

In grad school, my girlfriends and I had brunch every Sunday and read women’s sexual fantasies out of Nancy Friday’s My Secret Garden. Our laughter could be heard from down the street and we could have written our own book of sexual exploits, real and imagined. Peggy, one of the brunchers, met me recently in Venice Beach (A 70’s Redux).

Girlfriends are still not easy. More often that not, I let them pick me. When I started a business, almost all of my clients were male. Female friends were rare. If it hadn’t been for my friend Susan, I wouldn’t have had a baby shower for my first child or a partner in my new business.

More women entered the workforce. Now I had female employees and a new challenge balancing friendship and business: I didn’t always make the right decision. As often happens, friendships with women grew easier when I entered my 50’s. I’d relaxed, accepted that some women were not going to like me, and that it wouldn’t hold me back from expressing myself or reaching out to them. Older women have experience, both good and bad, and we all just want to have a good time. Here are some vintage thoughts from some of my girlfriends. They reflect my experience now. I’m so grateful to have arrived at this point, something I don’t think my mom ever achieved:

Susan: “My women friends have outlasted everything in this life: husbands, parents,
youth, and now . . . Even if we're not together, our laughter still rings in my ear.”

Bonnie: “No matter what I was slogging thru in terms of family stuff, work, life in general, girl friends sustained and supported me more than any other relationships.”

Melody: “Laughter; tears; support; brutal honesty; fun; sharing of wisdom; gossip; fashion help; basic survival; boy-friend hating; physical, mental & spiritual healing; having someone really listen to our story-telling without judgment; reminders that we are worth loving, even if we do not love ourselves at times!”

Summer of Feminista 2014 is a project of Viva la Feminista where Latinas are discussing girlfriends.  Link and quote, but do not repost without written permission. Read how you can join Summer of Feminista.

25 June 2014

#365FeministSelfie News: "Ohhhh, we're half way there!"



Oh yes, my dears, we're almost half way through #365FeministSelfie! Can you believe it?

To mark the occasion of the half way point on July 1, I wanted to ask everyone to post a half-selfie or maybe a selfie with "your better half." Just play up the half theme...Then a bunch of #365FeministSelfie'ers started asking...

"How can we all get together and take a mega-#365FeministSelfie?"

And of course, this came to mind:
Thus OPERATION ELLEN came into being.

For those of you who want to (no pressure), on July 1st - our half way point - include Ellen in your #365FeministSelfie:
Her show even is looking for people to send in funny photos including baby selfies, selfie fails, and most creative selfies. But know that once you send it in to the Ellen Show, they can use it however they want.
SAMPLE TWEET: #365FeministSelfie is at the half-way point, @TheEllenShow! Let's celebrate at your place! 
Then tag photo on Instagram, post to her Facebook page

Be creative! Remember that Ellen loves to dance (that's where Instagram video, YouTube & Vine can come in!), animals and is apparently vegan(ish). Let's see the vegan #365FeministSelfie'ers light this campaign on fire! Tell Ellen why you want us to get together in her TV studio. Why are you participating? What does it matter that you get to meet another #365FeministSelfie person in the flesh? Hell, there's even a cut-out Ellen head you can take a selfie with!

And spread the word...let other #365FeministSelfie folks know what is going down on July 1st.

If this isn't for you...that's fine. Tackle the half-selfie theme!

If you are in Chicago on July 1st, join me at the MCA for the Frida exhibit. She is our Patron Saint of Feminist Selfies. Comment/Tweet me/Facebook me to let me know you plan to join in the field trip. I am planning on being there at 10 am when the museum opens!

Lastly....Thank you once again to everyone who has been participating. Thanks that you have gotten so much out of this project that you want to get together! Whether you have posted every single day or missed a few, it means so much that you care about this wacky idea. If you fell behind, start again! If you're just hearing about the project, JOIN US!

20 June 2014

Book Review: Dear Sister: Letters From Survivors of Sexual Violence by Lisa Factora-Borchers (ed)

The feminist community has been in a battle over the use of trigger warnings on posts, books, movies, and even women's studies syllabi. But don't worry about that here because the title of today's book is TW enough: Dear Sister: Letters From Survivors of Sexual Violence edited by Lisa Factora-Borchers.

I don't have a big sister, but I read through the essays as if they came from her. The essays in this anthology are about sexual violence, but there is a gentleness and love to them. I did not read every essay. This is definitely the type of anthology that you read an essay, stop, cry, and return to a few days or weeks later. Or maybe you have been waiting to hear these words for so long you binge on them all in one sitting.

Lisa introduces the anthology by not only setting the stage, but also being transparent about how the anthology came to be. In a moment of brave honesty, she addresses the title’s use of “sister.” It can be a loaded word for many as it implies an idyllic sisterhood that allows for safe space that quite frankly not every woman has experienced. Lisa did think that the use of “sister” would create a bond, but after discussions with others and a lot of thinking, realized that it was not the sisterhood that would bind readers, but the shared experience of violence in our lives, including the burden of our shared trauma.

I would like to thank anonymous for “Letter 2.” I am not one for self-affirmations, but this one is contextually perfect. I did not realize how much I needed to read this letter until I was half way through and in tears.

The essays within are not just letters to a sister, but also contain a hard look at violence in our world. In the interview with Zoe Flowers, she points out that while we talk of sexual violence as intimate violence or domestic violence and make it a personal issue, it is actually rooted in historical contexts. We need to remember that persons of color and women have only recently become free. As she says, we have been free far shorter than we have been enslaved and controlled. I wholeheartedly agree that in order to move forward we must know our history.

What may be the most controversial essay in this collection is based on an essay that originally ran at XOJane. In it the author profoundly believes that survivors do not owe anyone to report an attack. We occasionally will read about a rape survivor who will be lauded for her courage to come forward, report and press for charges. All that a survivor owes to anyone is to heal. And for many survivors not reporting is one method. We must honor that.

We must also honor the courage it will take many survivors to read this book as Mary Zelinka takes the time to note. And we should. Yes, if you are a survivor this book will be tough to read. But I do hope you find solace inside the covers. Perhaps find that story that makes you feel less alone. Because that is why we tell our stories, not to share our life, but to connect with others.

And if you feel like you want or need to tell your story, "Dear Sister" wants to hear from you. 

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

I received a review copy of this book through the publisher. 

12 June 2014

Obvious Child: The rom-com where someone has an abortion!

Obvious Child opened in NY and LA already, but I live in the rest of the country, so we get the movie on June 27th.

AND YOU SHOULD GO SEE THIS MOVIE!

I was lucky to get invited to a media screening and seriously, this is the feminist movie of the year. Hands down. There's no way this movie can be beat. Why? Because for too long we have been subjected to movies and TV shows where women have a pregnancy scare, maybe consider abortion and end up 1) getting their period late; 2) miscarry; or 3) changing their minds.

I have written before pondering why Hollywood can not imagine abortion being part of a love story. And thanks to director & writer, Gillian Robespierre, we have it! It is far more in line with quirky Juno and slapstick Knocked Up with its comedic genius.

There are a few political moments (Thank the goddess for Gaby Hoffmann), but overall it is a sweet movie about a young woman in crisis. Her boyfriend dumps her, she drunk dials him a zillion times, she meets a far too adorable guy, has a one night stand and gets pregnant. Oh yeah, she also finds out she is losing her job. There's no way to spoil this movie because well, she gets the abortion. The beauty of this movie is how it all unfolds. The question at the end is if love can blossom after an abortion? As I state at allParenting,
"This film shows that the decision to have an abortion is not frivolous in the manner that anti-choice forces would want the rest of the world to believe. Rather women choose abortion as their best option and some struggle with the ramifications (Donna's relationship with her mother, whether to tell Max). But in the end, it is their decision.
I do think this is a travel pack of tissue movie. You won't need a box, but will need a few tissues. Or maybe even some salt-free napkins.

To find out when "Obvious Child" hits your town (pssst...Chicago, June 13th!) check out the movie's ticket page.

11 June 2014

Musing on Maleficent (spoilers!)

The most anticipated movie in our house for the past forever was Angelina Jolie's "Maleficent." And while I did have some misgivings at the start of the movie, by the end I was a fan of this retelling.

A lot of pixels have been spent on how feminist this movie truly is and yes, I'm throwing my two pixels in to the fray.

We immediately meet the land of Sleeping Beauty as a bifurcated land where peace and love lives in the fairy forest called "The Moors" and hierarchy lives in human land. This is where I did a cartwheel in my head. I just knew it from the trailers (I didn't read a lot about the movie beforehand) that Maleficent would be painted as wronged by someone, propelling her into evil. And you can bet your bottom dollar that all the alarms went off in my head when it was clear that this was going to be another "woman scorned" story. Just really?

I admit that I got caught up in the evilness of Stefan to forgive the crappy story set up. Half way through the film I thought, "Aha! History is written by the victor." Because as a friend pointed out, we are never truly told why Stefan betrays Maleficent in the most cruel way, other than he is an orphan and seeks out power.

Stefan's cowardice is shown in his assault of Maleficent and robbing of her wings. As the scene was unfolding, I was cringing. I knew what was happening and was not happy with it. Why couldn't her wings by stolen on the battlefield like the warrior she had proven herself to be? Not by foolishly falling for the lies of a man and being drugged! Yet, Stefan never stepped on the battlefield. He was too cowardly to even do that. Fine.

Another thorn in my side about the movie is its reliance on gender essentialism. Maleficent was a fairy from the nature-loving land and was essentially good...with that whole 20 years of evil in between. Stefan represented the world of man, not human, but man. Attempting to conquer the nature-loving world that Maleficent protects. Even as a goddess-loving-tree-worshipping-woman, I still don't like to see women presented as "one with nature."

What I did love is the softening of Maleficent. That love, yes even a maternal love, was what allowed her to open her heart again. I enjoyed watching her try to not care for Aurora, including saving her from starvation and falling off a cliff. I loved her banter with the Crow-Man.

I also love watching Jolie in a fight scene. She could play a mom from 1985 fighting over a Cabbage Patch doll and I'd pay money to see it.

I am also a sucker for all these re-imagined works of fairy tales. Because one, I love fairy tales. And two, the re-imagination is happening along feminist lines.

So let's revisit the "history is written by the victor" line I mentioned earlier. The vast majority of fairy tales involve evil witches or sorceresses. Yet we never know why they are evil. We are supposed to believe it without doubt. This is essentially what we are asked to do with Stefan. The story is told to us by Aurora, who obviously was told the story to by Maleficent. Would you care to justify why your boyfriend violated you? Nope. He violated her and to hell with an explanation.

I've been raving about this movie over social media, mostly because I think it is an excellent piece to have us discuss what is a feminist movie. Is a woman kicking ass all that is required? How does the use of motherhood play in? Why doesn't Aurora's mom do anything but die? Is it feminist to empower one woman, but not another? So yeah, I love this movie more because it makes me think, rather than for the movie itself. But don't get me wrong, I was cheering for Mal the whole time.

09 June 2014

Summer of Feminista: Friends During Hardships


Summer of Feminista kicks off with a provocative piece by Estela Delgado. Please share your respectful thoughts in the comments.

I have plenty of friends but few are or have been my close friends, fewer are or have been my best friends because for me the forever part has not worked out. I do not know if I should be sad because my childhood dream and desire of finding a BFF did not come to fruition or over coming to the realization that sometimes I outgrow people and others I have only needed in certain situations and or for certain periods of time. Unfortunately, after giving it some thought I have to admit that as I have grown older I have let go of some people.

With that being said, I suppose that as I have gotten older so has my personality and perspective have changed and with them so have my friends. I know we are all different and I value and appreciate it. I am open to learning from everyone, thus I am open to all people from all walks of life. But these differences do make a difference sometimes and it is then when I move on. Nonetheless, I still am in search of those people or that one person who embraces all of who I am, strengths and weaknesses, in my good days and bad days. More importantly someone with patience to understand my weaknesses and is not afraid to challenge them and vice versa.

I have also found myself having more guy friends than girls. Guys talk about everything and do not over think things; it is what it is with them. And I especially like the fact that I get a guy’s perspective on things, and they like getting my perspective too. Unfortunately, I’m not very fond of some women. For starters because I personally think some women are overdramatic. I get it that we are emotional but some overdo it. And secondly, I especially hate it when they speak badly of their bodies and constantly talk about dieting. And if that was not enough they compare themselves to other women and put them down. I do have girlfriends that do that but they do it subconsciously. They are not satisfied with their own body but do not put down others so they feel better about themselves. Regrettably, some women waste their time being in constant competition with each other instead of being friends.

Sadly, I have not been able to find a girl BFF who I can truly say is my partner in crime; someone who I can have girl talks with and who is a little crazy like me. However, I am grateful that there have been women in my life that I have been able to go to and have been there when I have faced life’s challenges. I have to admit that there are moments in life that feminism kicks-in in most all women and rise to the occasion. It is astonishing how when women face hardship differences are overridden and we get support from someone you least expect it from. It is very disappointing for me that I have outgrown or moved away from certain people because we are different. And I hope I can find the BFF of my dreams someday but if it does not happen I’m sure someone will be there for me when I most need them. Friends have always been there for me in their own way during my hardships and I am grateful for that.

Summer of Feminista 2014 is a project of Viva la Feminista where Latinas are discussing girlfriends.  Link and quote, but do not repost without written permission. Read how you can join Summer of Feminista.

02 June 2014

Summer of Feminista on Breaking Through with Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner



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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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