Reclaiming Sexualization (11/2/17) Meeting Notes! by Eliya Ahmad ’19

In this meeting, we started off by discussing the difference between internal and external validation; internal validation would be doing something because you feel good, and external would be doing it because other people think you look good. People mentioned that sometimes others can misinterpret ones reasoning behind wearing revealing clothes — no one thinks, “okay, this low cut shirt is on and I’m ready to get attention from boys,” and yet sometimes that is what is assumed. However, sometimes it can be difficult to separate the personal from the societal, and one can end up subconsciously doing things for external validation due to internalized beauty standards.

People questioned whether it can be empowering to reclaim sexualization, or whether doing so it feeding into the issue. It can be a power, but you still have no control over how others view you. The poem “What Do Women Want” was brought up in relation to this. We also brought up a Margaret Atwood quote about male fantasies, and discussed how nearly everything is assumed to be done for men.

It was mentioned that it is nearly impossible to escape societal pressures in terms of appearance. Thinking you look good is still conforming to standards of what society think looks “good,” since otherwise we would just be wearing squirrel skin coats for warmth. Essentially, we decided that there is no good option; regardless of how you dress or act or present yourself, you are still affected by societal standards. 

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10/26/17 Meeting Recap! by Maya Bashner ’19

In this meeting we discussed a recently viral quote:

“I want any young men who buy a gun to be treated like young women who seek an abortion. Think about it: a mandatory 48-hours waiting period, written permission from a parent or a judge, a note from a doctor proving that he understands what he is about to do, time spent watching a video on individual and mass murders, traveling hundreds of miles at his own expense to the nearest gun shop, and walking through protestors holding photos of loved ones killed by guns, protestor who call him a murderer. After all, it makes more sense to do this for young men seeking guns than for young women seeking an abortion. No young woman needing reproductive freedom has ever murdered a roomful of strangers.”

We began by discussing the flaws in the quote, for example that it doesn’t mention what needs to change for abortion laws, and therefore doesn’t give a clear message about the point of the quote. This led into a discussion about different forms of activism. A point was made about how quotes like these assume the education of a reader, making them inaccessible to a wide audience. This led to a discussion about whether quotes like these over complicate or over simplify the issues at hand. In some ways, when quotes like these circulate the internet, they are continuously simplified to cater to web-users, depleting the original intention of the quote. However, it could also spread to a wider audience given the variety of users that could come across it.

Goals for 2017-2018! by Eliya Ahmad ’19

At last weeks meeting, we discussed our goals for the upcoming year, including both broad overall ideas and more specific ideas for individual meetings and projects.

We want to…

  • have an emphasis on intersectionality
  • collaborate with other clubs
  • get to know each other well
  • bring snacks :)))
  • produce a feminist mini-mag
  • make sure more people know what STAGE is about
  • invite more speakers to come either for meetings or Dean’s Hours
  • organize a feminist conference across high schools
  • increase STAGE’s presence throughout the school
  • create a safe space for anyone
  • have dinners as a club

This list includes some of the main goals we came up with as a club. If anyone has anything they would like to see STAGE do, feel free to contact us!

Interest Meeting (10/5/17) Recap! by Eliya Ahmad ’19

To start things off, we went around and shared why we’re each at the meeting. Common responses included:

  • no another place to discuss these topics
  • prior involvement in the club
  • new leaders
  • previous involvement in feminist movement, wants to continue
  • excited for discussions
  • collab with Diversity Initiative
  • impressed with conversations
  • learning new things

This was followed up by some logistical announcements (Thursdays in room 413), a description of a typical stage meeting (discussions that move from an impersonal to a personal level), and a discussion of last year (see previous blog post).

Next, we talked about why STAGE is Students Taking Action for Gender Equity rather than a feminist club, namely due to the various negative connotations people may have with the label of “feminist.” We opened the floor up for people to share some of their experiences with the word “feminist,” and why they do or do not identify as one. Some of the ideas discussed are listed below.

  • feminist movement is exclusionary
    • white feminism
    • makes it hard to identify with feminist movement
  • feminism vs. intersectional feminism
    • feminism should be synonymous with intersectional feminist
    • shouldn’t have to specify intersectionality, should go without saying
  • activism vs. feminism
    • categorized as “other” group if you believe in feminism or activism
  • word “feminist” is stigmatized—> systematic sexism
    • women’s words are seen as imposing in comparison to a mans
  • equity vs. equality (see cartoon at end of blog post!!!)
  • there’s always more to learn in regards to feminism
    • associations with the word feminist change as more is learned
  • growing up in NYC it’s easier to identify with feminism because so many people are surrounded by others that are outspoken
  • “fear” of feminists
    • “angry woman” stereotype
    • societal portrayal of feminism
  • sexist culture at home creates some hesitance towards feminism
    • forced to be against one’s culture
  • experiencing different aspects of feminism (feminism as a spectrum)
  • history of feminism skews how the definition is viewed now
  • power/ social force associated with feminism can be empowering

Also, check out cloudyfeminism.weebly.com, a blog about feminism run by Ella (9th)!

 

Image result for equity vs equality cartoon

 

Recap of 2016-2017! by Eliya Ahmad ’19

Before we begin a new year of STAGE, we wanted to take a moment to look back over the previous year. Last year was a busy year for STAGE, and while a brief blog post cannot begin to cover everything we did last year, here are some of the highlights.

  • Tampon Drive — Once again, STAGE ran its annual tampon drive in December. Donations of tampons and pads were collected for a few weeks, and then given to a homeless shelter. Tampons and pads are often overlooked when it comes to necessary donations, so tampon drives can be a big help.
  • Now That We’re Men — STAGE went to see Now That We’re Men, a play directed by Katie Capiello at St. Francis College. The play brought an interesting perspective rape culture among teenage boys.
  • Planned Parenthood Fundraiser Concert — STAGE held a concert at BHSEC where many talented students performed. The proceeds of this concert were donated to Planned Parenthood.
  • Planned Parenthood Speaker — A representative from Planned Parenthood led a STAGE meeting, where we discussed the reality of reproductive rights in the current administration, the discrepancy of reproductive rights both nation-wide and globally, the shortcomings of most health education classes, and many other fascinating topics.
  • Women’s Ally Week — STAGE facilitated a town hall discussion during the Diversity Initiative’s first annual Women’s Ally Week.

These are just a few of the many special events we had in STAGE last year, along with weekly discussion-based meetings and various other events. We are all looking forward to another great year with many great things in store!

STAGE’s Women’s History Month Project! by Margaret Linhart ‘17

This past Women’s History Month STAGE launched a project within Bard High School to celebrate the impact of women throughout history and across disciplines. We created a collection of posters and hung them outside of each academic office (math, science, social science, English, and language) as well as the Art room and the PE office. Each poster highlighted several women in their respective academic fields with a brief summary of their influence and life’s work.

Below are excerpts from various women’s descriptions, which were written by STAGE year twos Margaret (Maggie) Linhart, Miranda Leong-Hussey, Julie Seager, and Lily Gordon. Thank you so much to my peers for helping to execute the project! I’d also like to thank our school for supporting the project (specifically Dr. Kennedy and Ms. Powell) and all of the individual faculty members who were very enthusiastic and helpful!

“Frida Kahlo, 1907-1954: Frida Kahlo was a Mexican painter who is known for her vibrant self-portraits. Her paintings often depict Mexican and indigenous culture, her own physical and emotional pain, and her experiences with love. Her work crosses boundaries between surrealism and realism — it is often called surrealist by others but was considered realist by Kahlo herself.”

“Wilma Rudolph, 1940-1994: Wilma Rudolph was an American track star. She was the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field during a single Olympic Games. Rudolph was named United Press Athlete of the Year 1960 and Associated Press Woman Athlete of the Year for 1960 and 1961. She elevated the role of women of color in athletics and was voted into the National Black Sports and Entertainment Hall of Fame in 1973.”

“Hannah Arendt, 1906-1975: Johanna “Hannah” Arendt was a Jewish- American political theorist and writer. She rejected the label of philosopher, saying that she focused on how “men, not Man, live on the earth and inhabit the world.” Her works include The Origins of Totalitarianism, The Life of the Mind, and Eichmann in Jerusalem. The Hannah Arendt prize is named in her honor.”

“Katherine Johnson, 1918-Present: Katherine Johnson was an African-American physician and mathematician who calculated flight trajectories for many NASA missions, including the first flight of an American into space and the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the moon. Before working for NASA, Johnson had a natural talent for mathematics and became one of three African-American students chosen to integrate the West Virginia University’s graduate programs. At age 97, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.”

“Tulsi Gabbard, 1981-present: Gabbard was the youngest woman ever elected to U.S. state office after being elected to the Hawaii State Legislature at 21 years old. She has served in the U.S. Army National Guard and in 2012 was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Gabbard is the first American Somoan and the first and only practicing Hindu to serve in the U.S. Congress.”

STAGE sees The Tempest! by Julie Seager ’18

Last Saturday, STAGE attended an all-female production of The Tempest in Prospect Park. The catch? It was an almost entirely nude production! In the words of the theater company, Torn Out Theater, “the production celebrates body freedom and uses storytelling to normalize the nude female form.” In a society saturated with nude images in ads, TV and porn, we’re accustomed to equating nudity with sex. This production aims to break this connection and present the female body as something more than a sexual object. In this regard, I think the play was successful. The play begins with about twenty minutes of a single woman, completely naked except for her hiking boots, gathering wood around the park. Throughout this part of the play, passersby were leering and occasionally trying to take pictures of the actress. The presence of spectators explicitly sexualizing her was a constant reminder of the difficulty for women to be nude without being treated like an object for the enjoyment of others. But even as the outside watchers dwindled, it took me a while to see the nudity as non-sexual.

I went into the play skeptical. Although I thought it was an interesting and provocative idea, I think too often the centering of “body liberation” as the main frontier of feminism is emblematic of white feminism. I didn’t actually get the impression from the play that the message they were sending was racially exclusive but I still think it’s important to consider some of these different perspectives:

 

“As I tumbled through, I landed on the same images and topics: body hair growth, sexual liberation, pastel-coloured hair, flowers photoshopped onto women’s bodies—they all seemed to be at the forefront of feminism. Topless protests were the ultimate key to freedom…As I absorbed it all, I began to realize many of these women weren’t just interested in leg hair and periods. They were interested in saving a certain kind of woman: me.

…I’m a Middle Eastern and South Asian Muslim woman of colour who can, apparently, only find liberation through the West. I am part of a misunderstood, over-exotified culture, part of the mystical backwards Orient where women are subservient and trapped.

These ideas are both true and untrue. I am a woman facing oppression, from my own culture and from Western culture. But what saved me and liberated me wasn’t the topless protests of FEMEN, or white feminists in flower crowns, but rather other women of colour, who showed, despite all the ideas put forth by white feminism, that they did not need saving from the West. They had saved themselves.” – Hana Shafi

https://this.org/2015/03/11/the-trouble-with-white-feminism/

 

Another flaw with the body liberation issue is that all women are not subjected to the same body expectations and therefore “liberation” does not look the same for everyone.

 

“Black feminists seek emancipation from the norms and expectations of typical white women. In a society where the Black female body is appropriated, Black feminists are clamoring to be seen as an everyday type of beauty rather than exotic.” -Georgina Class-Peters http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lindsay-hoffman/black-woman-white-movemen_b_8569540.html

 

These are just two voices, but I think that it’s important for STAGE as a club to continue to consider what the place of “body liberation” is in the feminist movement. In the past, many of our meetings have dealt with body politics, yet focused more on the pressures of western beauty ideals and how this affects white women. While body politics is a worthy issue to think about in the club, it must be addressed with a variety of perspectives in mind. A conversation about body liberation must take into account all of the ways in which different women are oppressed in this regard (for example through fetishization, hyper-sexualization, desexualization, etc.) We look forward to discussing these issues in the coming year!

 

More info about The Tempest: http://www.thefreetempest.com/

Book Recommendations from STAGE

I asked STAGE members to contribute titles of some of their favorite written works by/for & about feminists/feminism. Here is the compiled list, loosely broken down by genre. Feel free to contact us if you’d like to add your recommendation & enjoy!

**Bard students! Visit the library to check out LGBTQ+ Rainbow Club’s new section of queer works! Contact Lily Gordon (Y2) with questions.

– Miranda Leong-Hussey, ’17

Non-Fiction/memoirs:

  • Roxanne Gay: Bad Feminist
  • Paula Giddings: When & Where I Enter
  • Maggie Nelson: The Argonauts
  • Catharine McKinnon: Only Words
  • Adrienne Rich: Compulsory Heterosexuality & Lesbian existence
  • bell hooks: Feminism is for Everybody
  • bell hooks: Ain’t I a Woman? Black woman & Feminism 
  • Virginia Woolf: A Room of One’s Own
  • Malala Yousafzai: I am Malala
  • Rebecca Solnit: Men Explain Things to Me
  • Peggy Orenstein: Girls & Sex
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: We Should all be Feminists
  • Jessica Valenti: Sex Object
  • Simone de Beauvoir: The Second Sex
  • Catherine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe: American Woman’s Home
  • Nancy Cott: The Grounding of Modern Feminism
  • Alison Bechdel: Fun Home

Fiction & short stories:

  • Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale
  • Lucia Berlin: A Manual for Cleaning Women
  • Maxine Hong Kingsont: The Woman Warrior
  • Marilyn French: The Women’s Room
  • Toni Morrison: The Bluest Eye

Poetry:

  • Marie Howe: Practicing
  • Leslea Newman: My Lover is a Woman: Contemporary Lesbian Love Poems
  • Maya Angelou: Phenomenal Woman
  • Alice Walker: Democratic Womanism 

 

 

 

Mothers & Daughters

A lot of people scoff when white kids act like they’re a part of Hispanic culture. I saw this one Buzzfeed video making fun of how white people say they used to have a Latina babysitter, so they “totally get it”.

I don’t claim to understand the experiences that come along with an entire ethnic group. A teacher of mine recently spoke to me about racial boundaries regarding his lecture on Lakota Indians and the time he went on the Bigfoot Ride as a white man. As an ally to a group, you can be supportive and, at most, maybe even observe an experience, but you have to respect the fact that you can’t participate. He told his Native friend that he had discussed the massacre at Wounded Knee with her son. He talked about the Ghost Dancers who believed the right songs and dances could bullet-proof their bodies, could resurrect and reunite dead Indians and dead buffalo with the living, and could make the white men leave and die. He talked about how the police’s killing of Sitting Bull during arrest spurred Big Foot’s people to find asylum with Chief Red Cloud on the Pine Ridge Reservation, where the Natives had surrendered to a forced future of HUD housing, sterilization, empty wallets, and canned meat even dogs won’t eat. In December, while Americans still had their Christmas decorations up, the Lakota rode on horseback across snowy white South Dakota. My teacher told her son how they were stopped by U.S soldiers and, surrounded by American guns, told to give up all weapons. Whether it was miscommunication or a refusal to relinquish power, a gun went off and a scuffle ensued. He told her son about how U.S soldiers openly fired, chasing unarmed Natives for miles. The next day they carried wagons to collect 175 dead Native bodies frozen in the Christmas snow to throw them into a ditch. Twenty soldiers received Congressional Medals of Honor while the massacred men, women, and children were left as un-dancing, unnamed ghosts. He told his friend all this and she responded, “That’s your version.” My teacher told me that no matter what he said, it would always be his version in the voice of a white man. When he recounted his experience on the annual retracing of Big Foot’s journey— hearing the Natives belt war cries that held 500 years worth of pain and perform rituals that honored survival and suffering as a form of remembrance— he stressed to me that he could never speak for them. He could never pretend to be a part of their sacred rituals and to “get” their history.

I just messed up, though, because when my teacher told me all this he spoke much more plainly. His brevity respected the gaps of understanding, while my retelling is interwoven with my obsessive fanaticism with writers like Sherman Alexie. My speech is more a failed attempt at rewording his short stories and others’ accounts from books like “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee,” where I have no jurisdiction, than giving the proper air to writing that acknowledges a truthful and inevitable vacancy in my empathetic ignorance. You have to respect that no matter how many books you’ve read and no matter how many friends you make you will never get it. Those boundaries are the results of hundreds of years of mistreatment and salted wounds, injuries with permanent scar tissue that may be invisible to the eye, but are eternally perceivable by touch. Injuries that turn an American flag upside down and make Mount Rushmore a pilgrimage landmark for some and a point of mutilation for others. Injuries that take “American” out of the identity of a group white people classified as “Native Americans,” to clarify that the word is Eurocentric and Euro-created.

I realize that I’m not Peruvian, even though my babysitter shampooed memories of the provinces into my scalp and later braided her homesickness into my hair each night. Even though she cooked me Peruvian food for dinner and spoke to me only in Spanish so that my mind thought in duel patterns and my tongue tasted the trill of r’s against the roof of my second hand culture mouth. Even though she’s not my babysitter anymore and yet I’m still and forever her muñeca pecosa flaca señorita preciosa niñita.

I know I’m not Peruvian because I’m not genetically related to her, but she’s definitely a part of my family in the adoptive sense. I sometimes stay at her house because her husband, who enjoys getting into political discussions with me, always reminds me “mi casa es tu casa.” I have slept in her bed, wrapped in her motherly arms as she whispered Peruvian lullabies into my cheekbones.

I call her my “mamá número dos” or “mi tía.”

I know she feels the same about me. I know I’m the daughter she never had and it’s just these last couple of years that I learned exactly the weight of what that means.

She told me things she never told anyone, even her husband or son.

She told me that she was terrified of her brother. She held my hand tightly as we crossed the street and with each finger she communicated to me the fear of each payday, when her brother would come home drunk and she would be lying in bed and he would put his whole hand over her face. She would tremble unmoving at the smothering palm over her mouth and tell him nothing.

She told me she never wanted a son because she was so afraid that he’d end up bad, that she prayed and prayed for a daughter.

She told me that when she was a little girl, her uncle felt up her and her sister.

She told me she never told her son or husband or anyone else because she didn’t want them to dislike their family.

I remember that we were sitting on the bathroom floor when she told me. I was talking, as usual, in the abstract terms of a sympathizing ally. When she spoke, the abstraction became impressionism to me and all the while I knew that to her, it had been realism the whole time, an unfiltered photograph. She opened her past to me and I listened, forever leaving behind the blindness of the academic to the blurry-visioned cartoon heart eyes of a wannabe daughter.

I’m realizing that that’s all I really am: an ally.

I’m reminded of Baltasar Espinosa, the mediocre man that Borges wrote of in imitation of Christ. He was a city boy in the isolated wilderness gaucho-homeland, watching floodwaters destroy the countryside and all the while intellectualizing disaster as he meditated on William Hudson and poetry.

It’s the difference between a member and an observing outsider, a local and a tourist, a witness and a victim. I don’t ask for the first hand experience. I’m grateful to be the wrong narrator for every single thing that I write, to have the luxury of not being able to “get” oppression and abuse.

Privilege is not being able to understand, no matter how much you care about your friends, what it’s like to be viewed solely through the lens of stereotypes of inferiority. Privilege is not being able to understand trauma and fear.

Privilege is being able to talk about the statistics like those percentages are people in some other third world, but too often people forget that those countries exist on the same fucking planet as us and not some other part of the galaxy. Sometimes people forget that we don’t have to leave our countries or our states or our streets or neighborhoods or our homes to meet someone who is unlucky enough to understand everything perfectly.

But then again, I misspeak. It doesn’t fall on luckiness. The cause of abuse is not some mystical tarot card arrangement or newspaper horoscope; it’s the psychic holding the deck of cards and the writer at the newspaper headquarters that decide our future for us. Oppression is the result of human interaction and its blame falls on people.

I think back on all the bright pink shirts my babysitter bought me for Christmases and birthdays. It makes me realize how much she must love girls, the full fleshed out pinnacle of girly, the dramatized girl’s section of any clothing store version of what it means to be a girl because it is the opposite of what she learned it is to be a boy.

She told me that her husband was the only man she was ever with romantically. I always thought they were happily married, but this year she started telling me things.

She told me to never get married too young. She told me that I should develop who I am as a person and be able to support myself and have experiences.

She always tells me that I should be like my mother: tall and fit and independent and late-marrying and passionate and powerful.

Doesn’t she realize I wish I could be like my “mamá número dos” as well?

Doesn’t she realize that I never can because I won’t ever be able to fully belong to her?

She tells me that there’s a lot of machismo in South America. A lot of catcalling. A lot of teen pregnancies, especially in rural provinces where sex education is shoddy and abortion isn’t an option.

She tells me that domestic abuse is a household name and it’s common for men to beat their women. She says that her mother-in-law told her to always come at her husband with the same amount of force that he came at her with and to never ever let him hit her.

If he shouted, she would shout twice as loud. He never laid a finger on her.

The funny thing is that I always thought her husband was the vocal authority in the family. He was always the one who talked so fast that even native speakers struggled to keep up with him. Yet I’m beginning to realize things.

I’m beginning to realize just how strong and powerful a person the woman who didn’t give birth to me is. Where I used to see silence, I see a secret that only I know. I see that she has entrusted me with alliance.

She says that she’s married civilly and under the church. I wonder when she presses her fears of men along the line of my temples that love is of the heart and not of one’s Temples.

Another thing I got wrong: Belonging to a discriminated or oppressed group doesn’t invalidate the goodness that comes along with that group. There’s nothing wrong with that group, just the way they’ve been pushed down by others.

The thing about being an ally is that, even though you personally haven’t experienced a wrong, you realize that those percentages comprise your amazon mother, your quiet “mamá número dos,” your best friend, your neighbor, that girl that always sat in the back of your math class, that boy that seemed so okay on the outside. You realize that everyone you care about has been wronged and it’s no longer an abstract intellectual conversation, but devastation pooling on your doorstep. You realize that, even as you open the door, you will never be able to say you understand.

I don’t understand. All I know is that I am the daughter she does have because family is stronger than understanding.

It’s winter, late at night. My dad and I are driving to our lake house. The car stereo plays a podcast from The Moth over a slight buzzing from the speakers, like the ocean soundtrack from inside a conch shell. The podcast was about a woman who had daymares about rape and how she would, hypothetically, defend herself. Here and there I could hear the soft laughter of the audience. When he held her against the ground, she didn’t fight back and I felt the audience’s smile stiffen uncomfortably. That’s the thing about public radio: you can hear the way things look. I felt the air in the car lose the luster from the ventilation system. She spoke to him, tried to understand him, get through to him. In the end, he let her go. She never went to the police. In the following weeks, another girl walked down that same street and she did get raped. It wasn’t her clothes, it wasn’t her actions, it wasn’t that she didn’t fight back hard enough. It was the eerie quiet that took too long to drag from the audience so that it matched the snow-induced silence of the American roadside outside.

In 1980, the US government offered the Sioux Nation $102 million as reparation for all of the land that they stole. The Sioux refused the offer because the US government didn’t understand: that land was never for sale.

Ps: I asked permission to write about my babysitter and she said it was fine as long as it was anonymous.

– Lily Gordon, ’17

A recap of the first meeting of the 2015-2016 school year!

At our first STAGE meeting on Thursday, 10/29 we compiled a list of our own definitions of feminism as well as a list of things we want to do this year. These lists are representative of our club while keeping in mind that each person’s definition of feminism is personal and ever changing.

-Maggie Linhart (Y1)

Some definitions of Feminism:

  1. Being as inclusive and intersectional as possible, as well as being aware of other structures and inequalities- intersectionality!
  2. Power in discussion
  3. Being aware of disparity and inequality
  4. Fighting against how women are limited because of their gender
  5. Finding common ground with our peers through feminism
  6. Strengthening and empowering each other
  7. Detaching from gender norms
  8. Allows us to be proud of being women/ being non binary while being inclusive

Goals for STAGE 2015:

  1. To include non binary people in the feminist conversation
  2. To collaborate with other clubs
  3. To take on more projects- both inside and outside of the school
  4. To have more analytical meetings
  5. To learn more about feminist history
  6. To have movie nights
  7. To reach out to the rest of the school and have a stronger presence
  8. To become a more diverse club
  • As our third year of STAGE picks up, we hope blog posts do as well! To submit submissions, send to stage.bhsec@gmail.com