Women’s History Month

As we do every year, the blog will be doing spotlights on feminists from around the world throughout the month of March (Women’s Herstory Month) as well as getting back to our regular scheduled blogging. So happy Women’s History Month and stay tuned!

(PS. in case you did not know, yesterday was International Women of Color Day, an event that started in 1981 to celebrate women of color around the world. Despite its 20+ year existence, I did not know about it until a few days ago thanks to twitter. When I questioned my colleagues from multiple unis about the day, they did not know about it either. I find this lapse in our collective knowledge as troubling as the absences in many WHM videos on youtube. I’ll be teaching about the day and its history in my courses from now on.)

Spotlight: Women Aviators Make Herstory

Do you know what is significant about these women?

all_black_female_crew(Jones, Galloway, Grant, & Rogers photographer unknown)

One of the challenges for me last month was ensuring that I focused on varied moments in time to create a far reaching defintion of black women’s herstory for African American history month. Part of history however is not just “the past” but also moments in time that are “groundbreaking” or unique. While the moment captured above was only a month ago, it holds up to both definitions. On February 12, 2009, Pilot Rachel Jones, First Officer Stephanie Grant, and flight attendants Diana Galloway and Robin Rogers became the first all black female crew to fly a commercial flight in North America. It is a moment that is all the more significant because it happened in February and because it took until 2009 to happen at all.

As I think on the import of such a flight for both women and African Americans, I am reminded of an episode of a show my father likes to watch. In it, a flight attendant is murdered and a female police officer look-a-like takes her place. For the rest of the show, which is set in the late 70s, both police officers and pilots make sexist jokes and sexually harassing come-ons to the “stews” (flight attendants). The entire episode highlights real, historical, gender inequities in N. American aviation which include both the assumption that pilots are men and that flight attendants have no right to bodily integrity. Though we have transitioned into a world in which flight attendants are not all white, young, or even female, we have not stepped out of either the sexism or racism that permeates the way we as a culture imagine the industry. One needs only look at gimmick airlines like the Hooters flights to see what I mean.

As an academic, I fly quit a bit. Female pilots on commercial flights remain a rarity in my observation and they are something that crews always notice, even if it is just a slight nod between the woman at the counter and the pilot on her way to the plane or the overly jovial way the male co-pilot welcomes her at the boarding gate. I have watched these moments with subtle disinterest noting how the enacting of gender shifts in regions of the U.S. as well as other countries and how the race, accents, and regionalism change as well. In all of my racialized moments in U.S. airports, where I’ve been yelled at like a dunce at check-ins or entrances or in between flights, shaken down or threatened for lingering too long near someone that has been racially profiled b/c I want to bear witness, or simply ogled or even hooted at as I rush between terminals, it has never occurred to me that I have never seen an all black crew in the U.S. In fact, I have never seen a non-white racially homogenous crew in the U.S in my whole life, though clearly I have seen them elsewhere. And the sexism that I experience in the airport is almost always mediated for me by the subtle sexism I witness between pilot and crew on the plane or the way that sexism often works to get me on my flight faster or through sexurity quicker (at least in the U.S.)

My thoughts are jumbled here, I know. But it is often these fleeting moments in history that remind me of how far we have come and how much we remain the same. They place my own jumbled memories and experiences within a larger context that only makes since in the bright light of these seemingly innocuous goings on. Other historians get caught up in the “Great Men” of history or the “great movements” or “great wars” all marked as important w/that infamous “great,” but I am people’s historian. I am moved by those moments, like hiccups in time, that shift things immensely and yet could go completely unnoticed. This is one of those and I mark it today as part of Women’s History Month.

htp Black on Campus

Women Architects, Feminism, And Radical Education Praxis

standard disclaimer: this blog does not support nor profit from google ads. If you see a Google ad, please don’t click it.

Women Architects . . .

woman20at20drafting20tableRecently, I met an African architect who told me that architecture is a feminist issue. I remember trying to process that quickly, you know since she was standing there, and sort of failing. It is not that hard a concept really. Psychologists have long argued about space and mental well being and in the late 80s and early 90s a fusion between psychotherapy and landscaping created several “calming spaces” in Canada and parts of Western Europe. Older traditions like Feng Shui also operate on the mind-space connection. Add to that longstanding manipulation of city planning to disenfranchise or physical isolate marginalized groups from the socio-political process and access to basic municipals as well how these enclaves (or ghettos) become sites for egregious environmental racism, the connection between architecture and feminism is not that hard to make.

What companion argued was a combination of psychology and redistricting/ghettoization, in which she argued that architectural innovation could create spaces that helped communities thrive, students commit more easily to education, and ensure greater safety for women.  All three of things alleviate engendered burdens placed on women – having community gardens decreased the subsistence level agriculture of individual women for collective labor, easier access to education decreased care work and increased female educational attainment, and water wells or water reclamation built into communities decreased exposure of young girls and women to rape on water routes. By designing planned communities with women’s success at the center, my companion argued feminism was changing the face of architecture. Architecture in turn was changing the face of our world.

I was reminded of this conversation this a.m. when reading Eco Warrior which highlights a video (embedding is disabled, follow the link) by two women architects about how they transformed a Laundry House in Jersey City into a charter school that encourages community through open shared spaces, learning through extra exposure to light and light and natural materials, and pedagogical innovation through the creation of functioning office spaces, built around a quad model, for teachers rather than a single faculty lounge which is often just a break room. According to the video, these innovations have already transformed the learning process for both students and administrators as evidenced by test scores, educational attainment, and community involvement. The architects took their eco-feminist vision of a school in which both youth and critical thinking are valued, not just fleeting numbers on national level test scores, and in which difference is a basis of community, and created a space that ran counter to the traditional wherehousing of youth in downward spiraling communities. The emhasis on environmentalism also transformed existing unused space that was a visual blight on the landscape of the city into productive and celebrated space. In so doing, they combated both the negative connection between psychology and space in marginalized neighborhoods and minimized the carbon footprint of construction.

Obviously, this is not my area. However, both of these encounters, as well as the recent petition to save Rhizome, have inspired me to read more about the connections between urban planning, ecology, and feminism beyond the sociological studies I teach and into the realm of architecture and design. Excitingly, there are several texts on the subject:

And because this is women’s history month, here are some links to pieces on some of the first women architects:

Feminist Spotlight: Vandana Shiva

shiva(image unattributed)

If you don’t know who Vandana Shiva is you should, or more importantly, you should rush to the library or South End Press and pick up some of her books.

Women were, really, in my view, the ones who domesticated plants, created agriculture. And as long as women were controlling agriculture, agriculture produced real food. Agriculture was based on [women’s learned and passed on] knowledge. A Women’s centered agriculture never created scarcity. As long as women controlled the food system you did not have a billion people going without food and you didn’t have 2 billion going obese and w/diabetes. This is the magic of patriarchy having taken over the food system. Earlier, patriarchy left food to women, modern patriarchy wants to control food . . . women’s knowledge has been removed from agriculture . . .we can only have a secure food culture if women come back into agriculture. – Shiva Interview

Shiva works on environmental feminism and social justice. Her’s is a philosophy devoid of the kind of cultural appropriation that often typifies the genre. As part of a new, or newly recognized, cadre of feminist environmentalists that includes Winona LaDuke, Arhundati Roy, and the like, Shiva offers people committed to a decolonized feminist praxis a way of understanding the active part that the environment plays in social justice work.

Her efforts to stop corporations like Mansanto and Coca Cola from destroying seed and water has helped her leed non-violent protests, public intellectual engagement, and the formation of both formal and informal global networks of women and their allies for a sustainable world. Shiva is a founding board member of the International Forum on Globalization and the founder of Navdanya International, a science and policy research center, which includes Diverse Women for Diversity, which seeks to honor all women’s knowledge and center all women’s needs in a sustainable future. She has won several international awards for her work, including from the UN. In 1993, she won the Right Livelihood award, known as the alternative Nobel Peace Prize, “for placing women and ecology at the heart of modern discourse.” (see RLA) She has also sponsored women’s seminars on environmentalism and encouraged what she once referred to as the “grandmother’s college” to encourage younger women to learn the knowledge that older women posess but that has been shoved out or devalued in favor of modern/masculine ways of knowing.

Her books include:

  • Biopiracy – in which she documents the use of patents by the U.S., Canada, Britian, and others to literally claim ownership of indigenous lives and lifestyles as well as ownership of flora and fauna that has grown or been cultivated by “third world” people since before colonialism.
  • Earth Democracy – which outlines the disconnect between a philosophy of “the commons,” or things held in common good, and privatization or global capitalism. She outlines some of the histories of commons based societies, including in the West, and how we can get back to those if we choose people over profit.
  • Stolen Harvest – a well researched and impassioned piece on the impact of genetic engineering and corporate farming on the safety of our food and the livelihood of our farmers.
  • Water Wars – focusing on water this time she unveils the multiple ways in which global capitalism and MNCs are eroding or polluting water resources around the world and the impact that both is having on people, communities, economies, and the world. She indicts several specific and popular companies for stealing water until there is none left and what it means to consume their products.

Her discussion of water in particular, connected the issues of environmentalism to women’s labor, health, and safety from violence. She has been asked to speak on multiple documentaries on the issue because of how salient the issue of women’s rights and environmentalism actually are in a world in which women are the last to eat, the first to be depended on to maintain household needs under stress, and seen as imminently violatable, rapeable, when they are walking for water.

(ADB Water Doc. outlines connections, since Shiva water comments not available on youtube)

I regularly teach both Earth Democracy and Water Wars as well as chapters from Biopiracy. Very few other books on my regular teaching list motivate my students more to ask questions about inequality, economy, and accountability. Even fewer help them to do so while making clear and present links to feminism and women’s rights.

In the segment below Shiva connects “Free” Trade Agreements, The War on Terror, and Environmentalism in ways that show how easy it is to make these connections when you are dealing with a global feminist social justice mindframe:

As much as women as water providers stretch their energies, walk miles . . . there is a limit beyond which one cannot walk – Shiva in One Water Documentary

Her books are short, most under 175 pages, and written with the lay person in mind. Most of my students report reading them in 1-2 days when getting them to read a 10 page article often takes the strength of thousands. In keeping with Southend Press’ feminist commitment to making social justice texts affordable and readily available, Shiva’s books never cost more than $20 and are often between $10-$15 which is great for universities such as mine where the cost of books can mean the difference between taking or not taking a class.

She recently edited a “manual for sustainability” called Manifestos on the Future of Food and Seed as well.

If you are interested in hearing a much longer discussion of her work by Shiva herself, click here. (video is 1 hour 15 min)

If anyone is interested in doing a blog-a-round on any of these texts, or preferrably several of them, please let me know. I think it would be great to have a multi-blog conversation about these texts as a key example of doing feminism from a decolonized, radical, social justice perspective. Rather than continuing to fight over what that means, why don’t we follow in the footsteps of the seed movement, typified by communal meetings and sharing of feminist voices like Shiva’s and LaDuke’s, and actual show each other the work in the hopes of bring each other along?

Even if you don’t want to discuss her work in the public space of blogging, here are a few of her essays on women and ecology to get you started on your own thinking about what she has to say and what it means to feminism this Women’s History Month:

Feminist Spotlight: Shirin Neshat

You get two today, b/c I pre-empted them for Katrina.


Persian feminist Neshat is a visual artist whose work addresses fundamentalism, nationalism, faith, war, collective and individual identity, immigration, and gender. Some of her more widely circulated pieces juxtapose the rights of men with the loss of rights for women under fundamentalist Islamic regimes. Other work from the same series, shows how she uses the same method of juxtaposition in subtle ways, combining sacred texts, body art, and images of militarization to trouble both the image of Muslim women as passive and the impact of war on women’s lives.

Her “apolitical” stance in her earlier work was often misinterpreted as pro-Muslim, Neshat was raised Christian, but as her work progressed she presented a more aggressive critique of Muslim fundamentalism. She also produced lesser viewed work juxtaposing natural and human elements to expose the impact of violence on women and the earth and to show the connections and disconnects between nature and human life.

She also works in short film. Her 1999 film Soliloquy discussed issues of inbetweenity for Muslim women trapped between the East and the West and Between Modernity and Tradition. In 2001-2002 she collaborated with singer Sussan Deyhim which combined multimedia images, live performance, ancient text, and “silent chorus.” And in 2008 she did two film pieces, Munis and Faezeh, based on Shahrnush Parsipur’s novel Women Without Men.

Her work continues to evolve and to provoke questions and conversations about global gender issues in general and Muslim women in particular. Many of her most famous images from her Women of Islam series appear in the youtube compilation below:

Feminist Spotlight: Mohja Khaf

Kahf is a creative writer, essayist, and academic. Her work includes discussions of Arab identity, migration, gender, sexuality, and feminism. Her published work includes: The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf a critically acclaimed mohjasemi-autobiographical piece about a transnational migrant woman learning about herself, the women in her family, and identity while growing up and returning to Damascus to visit her grandmother; E-mails from Scheherazade a collection of poems that include critiques of domestic violence, explorations of love, female friendship, and women’s identities; and Western Representations of Muslim Women a thorough history of the images and the imaginary of the West with regards to Muslim women from contact forward. The latter, addresses how women’s images change in order to suit the needs of the political climate of Western nations rather than changes in Muslim women’s lives. Finally she is the Susie Sexpert of Muslim WakeUp!’s Sex and the Umma Column answering questions through narratives/short stories about sex and sexuality, both homosexual and heterosexual, for readers. The goals of the column are as follows:

  • To raise awareness among Muslims of sexual pleasures, problems, challenges, and concerns, from a perspective that affirms life and sexuality. Our views are shaped by egalitarian Muslim values, conceiving of sexuality in a joyous and Islamically inspired way.
  • To address modern day Muslim sexual experiences even if they do not match Islamic prescriptions for sexual conduct.
  • To affirm the sexual drives and concerns of women as much as those of men.
  • To bring to light aspects of the Islamic heritage related to eroticism, sexuality, and love, including the many national cultures and literatures influenced by Islam.

Her humor, dedication, and concern for women’s equality in all areas shows in the multiple forums in which she expresses her voice and invites others to be part of the conversation.

Feminist Spotlight: Joanna Kadi

It is hard to describe Kadi’s work’s profound impact on the discussion of the interconnectedness of oppressions from joannakadichildhood experiences forward. Her work addresses, sexual violence, class oppression on the left and the right, homophobia, zenophobia, anti-Arab sentiment and Orientalism from popular culture to written texts, and the ways these are taught and internalized by children, college students, intellectuals, marginalized peoples, etc. Her gift is in the searing lyricism of her prose, be it fictional or analytical, and the intensity of her poems.

The first time I read her book Thinking Class, her descriptions of working class Catholicism and the fate of poor children born on the wrong side of town left me speechless and heartbroken for the children of my own neighborhood who did not make it out. In a world where my students often lament the loss of critiques of classism and elitism outside of discussions of global capitalism, this is the book that sets such discussions right.

She is a bold voice in feminist analysis of class and bold enough to train her eye on both conservatives and liberals guilty of classism and elitism.

Kadi connects the art of writing to revolution:

All systems of oppression — from child abuse to racism to ableism — function most effectively when victims don’t talk. Silence isolates, keeps us focussing inward rather than outward, makes perpetrators’ work easier, confuses and overwhelms. I didn’t know this as a child and teenager. I just knew I had to be quiet. The few times I managed to croak something truthful, I experienced repercussions, swift and brutal, that left no doubt about my oppressors’ intentions.

I take speech seriously. This revolutionary action often comes with severe consequences. Speaking out carries danger, and not in abstract, theoretical ways. Telling the truth can’t be taken lightly, or engaged in glibly.

Her ability to express passion about stigmatized popular culture and to confront oppression even in the places we pretend it does not exist are both profound and scary to my students and assume her general readers but also lead to some of the most provocative discussions I have had in a classroom. Always the optimist and devourer of books, Kadi also offers a message of powerful transgression, survival, and love. She does so with an unabashedly strong sense of herself as an Arab woman and a survivor of abuse. She is the author/editor of two books: Thinking Class and Food For Our Grandmothers: Writings by Arab American and Arab Canadian Feminists both published by feminist press Southend.

  • Read her piece on “Writing as Resistance, Writing as Love” here.
  • Read her piece on classism in urban queer communities “Homophobic Workers or Elitest Queers” here.

Feminist Spotlight: Kathy Najimi

Najimi is a prominent actress, comedian, and activist whose uncompromising “second wave” feminism has permeated every aspect of her work and life. She has been a prominent face in gay rights, human rights, animal rights, and women’snajimi rights causes. She received the LA Gay and Lesbian Center’s Achievement Award for over 18 years of AIDs activism.

In 2004 she was named Ms. Magazines Woman of the Year. And she was also honored with Arabic Comedy Lifetime Achievement Award.

She has written, co-written, and performed feminist comedy shows like: The Mo and Kathy Show (performed for over 15 years around the world) and It’s My Party (her one woman show in which she tackles themes of bisexuality, feminism, identity, feminism, etc.). She also spent five years with the feminist theater group Sisters on Stage.

Her activism includes work with: Project Angel Food, GLAAD, PETA, Planned Parenthood, Voters for Choice, and others. kathy-najimi-peta-thumb-400x300Over the last few years she has raised over $250,000 through celebrity appearances to donate to women’s causes in Afghanistan, to stop violence against women, and to empower young girls.

As a “plus size” woman, Najimy has also worked to help women and girls find peace with their bodies and embrace being big and beautiful, two things that are almost always opposed in weight obsessed N. America, much of her work has addressed how hating one’s body is a form of patriarchal control over women.

She has also written essays about Roe v. Wade in the book The Choices We Made.

  • AP Photo Gay Rights Rally. unattributed.
  • PETA ad. unattributed.

Feminist Spotlight: Sedika Mojadidi

Mojadidi is an Afghan-American filmmaker whose work explores issues of immigration, women’s rights, and the histories sedika1of wars and their impact on women. Her first film short Kabul, Kabul explored her reaction to “returning” to Afghanistan for the first time since birth through the lens of gender: her experience as a woman connecting to other women, the relationships and lives of her female relatives, and the limitations she felt as an Afghan-American woman trying to work and fit in within a nation she had only imagined. The interviews also discuss the hardship of being a nation under waves of war, reminding us that Afghanistan was Russia’s Vietnam before it became the U.S.’ forgotten war. (The film was completed before the rise of the Taliban and does not address the impact of conservative fundamentalism on Afghanistan as a result.) One of the most telling pieces of this short film is the way it brings women’s lives to the foreground. Her aunt talks about going from marriage and family to widowhood and refugee camp. Her mother and grandmother talk of displacement and desire for return, which is juxtaposed to her own loss at not finding the nation she was dreaming when she was an outsider/insider in the U.S. Other women in the movie talk openly about what they see as an internal masculine culture of greed, abuse, and disregard for women.

Mojadidi’s longer film Motherland Afghanistan discusses the impact of the current war on Afghanistan and women’s health and survival. She juxtaposes internal problems with providing proper health care to women with those created by U.S. intervention, holding both sides accountable for failing to meet women’s needs.

“The Laura Bush OBGYN Ward”

She also gives us a brief glimpse into the resiliency of women, when she highlights an orphanage/school run by widowed women for refugee children (lost in the fighting, orphaned by war, escaped from human traffickers, etc.). Mojadidi’s critique and her discerning eye for women’s experiences is critical to the discussion we must have about the gender of war and imperialism/neo-imperialism and the resilience and strength of global women that is so often missing from the N. American imaginary. (You can read a longer review of the film in my post Speaking of Health Care.)