October, 2011

The Line Campaign at Media That Matters Conference

Check out the clip from the Media That Matters Conference: Women and Girls Matter. Put on by Arts Engine, the annual conference highlights documentary films having impact. Judith Helfand of Chicken and Egg Pictures moderates the session, and highlights The Line Campaign, at 35 minutes.

Video streaming by Ustream

Book Review: What You Really Really Want

 

Full disclosure: I am one of the women whose thoughts and experiences around sex are quoted in Jaclyn Friedman’s new book, What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety. This not only means that I have been anxiously awaiting the publication of this book since the spring of this year, but also that I take a tiny bit of personal pride in it finally hitting the shelves. I shared my sometimes very personal thoughts and feelings on these topics (ranging from self-acceptance to sexual abuse) because I, like all of the other smart, articulate contributors and volunteers, knew that what Jaclyn Friedman was doing was long overdue and so, so necessary.

What made reading the final product doubly exciting for me now was that in the 7 months since I first heard about this book, I have unwittingly gone through the very process outlined in this book. Since leaving an unhealthy 5-year relationship in 2009, I had been working hard to take myself and my desires more seriously, to be more assertive about enforcing my boundaries, to give myself the permission and the space to explore what I truly want for myself.

In the spring of this year, I finally found myself at a point where I could test my new-found strength, and I began a friendship with occasional benefits with a queer man who, from the very first day, made me feel comfortable enough to be myself. He knows that I am queer, that I am a feminist, that I totally geek out about activism and getting involved and changing the world, that I am kinky, and that I have no use for heteronormativity, gender stereotypes, or doing what’s expected of me. He shares a lot of it, loves me for all of it, and has never once made me regret my honesty.

Fast forward to now, and I am in a polyamorous relationship with a wonderful man who loves me very much, the aforementioned friend is my sometimes-secondary partner, and I have never been happier. I still sometimes have to take a deep breath before “coming out” about the loves in my life, but I no longer feel the need to apologize for who I am.

I took the long, hard way to this place, and I often wished for guidance and support beyond what my fantastic, but mostly straight and traditional, friends could give me. Having someone like Jaclyn Friedman by my side, like a big sister who knows all the answers, would have been great. Because that’s what the book provides: a step by step guide towards learning how to love yourself, from someone who’s been there and gets what it’s like.

The book starts  by naming and then debunking, one by one, the many different and conflicting influences that we are inundated with and that prevent us from recognizing, much less voicing, our own desires. In the following chapters, Friedman invites her readers to “turn down the volume” on those influences, and to start looking for their own, authentic voice. Finally she gives helpful tips for sharing yourself, and your wants and desires, with your partner(s). All of this is supplemented with links to further reading, and with countless exercises designed to get the reader to really explore their thoughts and feelings. This book is not one to read in one sitting: it’s a workbook that you will want to take your time exploring, and that you may sometimes need to put down and get space from. But even through the uncomfortable passages, Friedman is right there to assure you that you are okay. Really.

Overall, I give this book two enthusiastic thumbs up. If you haven’t checked it out yet, do yourself a favor and give it a try. Even if you think you already know yourself pretty well, the book may help you tackle some issues you haven’t addressed yet. Or, you can share the book with a friend or relative who isn’t quite as far down this road yet, and encourage and help them to find out what they really, really want.

“Beauty in Truth” – a film about Alice Walker

Have you heard about the documentary Beauty in Truth yet? It’s a film about author, poet and activist Alice Walker, directed by award-winning filmmaker Pratibha Parma and her partner Shaheen Haq. The two have finished shooting the movie, and as they start the editing process, they need all the support that they can get. On the MS Magazine blog, Aishah Shahidah Simmons is asking for all of our help on their behalf. Check out Simmons’ article, and learn more about the film and what you can do to support it on it’s IndieGoGo page.

Oh Bondage! Up Yours!

Shira Tarrant is asking for your participation. In her new article at the Huffington Post, she talks about the importance of music to the activist movement, and lists some examples from the Dixie Chicks, Pete Seeger, or the band X-Ray Spex.

We’re in the middle of a global activist movement right now with Occupy Wall Street, and Shira asks:

What music moves you to fight unjust power and create a vision for a better world? What are you singing and what do you have to say?

Check out her article, and help her create “our collective mixtape, the soundtrack to our era”

How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the “F” Word

I knew that there was something wrong in high school.

I knew that for some reason—even though it seemed like girls were smarter—boys were inherently better. I knew that in most situations, girls worked much harder—in many cases sacrificing their friendship with each other because of the constant pressure of competition—but boys had it easier. Boys could still get whatever it was that they wanted, maintain their friendships, be popular, and probably smoke a lot of pot in the process. Boys could get away with a lot and eventually have it all, but girls had to make sacrifices and ultimately choose an identity.

I knew that it was unfair. I just didn’t have the word for it.

I didn’t hear the word feminism until I started listening to Ani Difranco. I didn’t know what feminism meant, or what a feminist was, but I knew I felt something in her impassioned vocals and poetic lyrics—a mixture of rage and sensitivity, a desire to express and create but also to destruct everything that ever felt unjust.

If feminism was the word that I felt with lyrics were pounding my ears late at night, driving myself home through winding hills somewhere in Northern California—the feeling that guys, popularity, and social pressure was insignificant in this wave of simultaneous power, rage, and love—I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to be a feminist.

I didn’t know what feminist meant politically. Pro-choice seemed like a nice idea—what doesn’t seem democratic about choice? I had no conception of reproductive justice, the economic consequences of constraining reproductive choice, or really how to even use birth control in the first place—and I had no idea that the government was going after these rights, or that they were even rights to begin with. I knew I wanted to work—but I romanticized the idea of living in a box and being some kind of artist. I wasn’t thinking about breaking glass ceilings, but I wanted opportunities.

I wasn’t a political feminist. I didn’t know what that was. I was an angry feminist. I could sense that there was something systematic and universal—something that made it so that girls put on their makeup before their classes while guys hung out and listened to music. Something that made it so that girls had to always struggle to be desirable, while guys never had to try. Something that stratified, categorized, and grouped people based entirely on desirability. Something that seemed unnecessarily, yet inevitably pitted against women.

I thought that this translated into sex.

Some of my friends started giving blowjobs. I thought it sounded disgusting—how was that possibly pleasurable? It seemed demeaning too. I didn’t know that there was any female equivalent—and it didn’t seem like my friends knew this either. The furthest most people seemed to go in “hooking up” was some steamy, unreciprocated blowjob situation in the back of their parent’s car that ended in a negotiation of “spit, or swallow?”

Sex—or “going all the way”—seemed more or less the same, especially the first time. Word on the street was that you bled—a lot—and it hurt like a bitch. Even those who braved the second and third time didn’t report a dramatic improvement.

Of course, guys experienced none of this, further justifying my theory that there was a seriously fucked up skew in the balance of the sexes.

It was hard to imagine that sex would ever be pleasurable, especially when it seemed so skewed. A lot of my friends made a specific mission—some more successful than others—to lose their virginity before college. They wanted to arrive to college as sexual beings, ready to have one-night stands, and be seen as promiscuous and desirable.

However, they weren’t thinking of their own desire—they were imagining themselves as objects of desire.

So, now we’re in college.

Some of my friends went to more traditional colleges—they joined sororities and quickly discovered that parties were places where girls wore short skirts or shorts and high heels, not jeans and T-shirts like we did back home. Some other friends went to liberal arts colleges in the middle of nowhere—they lived seemingly idyllic lives, separate from the real world where they talked about Shakespeare, smoked pot, and fell in love with dreadlocked boyfriends, with whom they lovingly smoked pot and discussed Shakespeare. I went to NYU.

I always knew that I needed to be in a big city—I had an outspoken personality and a dirty mouth that couldn’t quite make peace with themselves in a small town in the Bay Area. Still, despite my “tough girl” exterior, and the Ani Difranco music pulsing through my veins, empowering me through justifying the unquantifiable rage I felt towards certain social institutions, something about me was very innocent. I wanted to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, solve world hunger, help victims of violence, and maybe find love somewhere along the way.

Girls around me were buying fake IDs from sketchy vendors, going clubbing, and meeting much older men. Many of my friends quantified their new “relationships”—some strictly sexual, some questionably more, all of them entirely antagonizing—based on each other’s background. “He’s a lawyer” or “He’s an investment banker” were far more common bragging mantras than “I love his fun personality” or “He makes me feel loved.”

In the same breath, the lawyers and investment bankers were most likely bragging that their new fuck buddies were “Nineteen with a tight ass.”

Something about it intrinsically bothered me. I didn’t have the language to voice that I found something inherently repulsive in how men were valued for their money and status while women were valued for their appearance and how much they were willing to accept their male partner’s authority. Something about it felt skewed and unjust, only this time dirtier and more hopelessly institutionalized than the unreciprocated blow jobs in the backseat of the parents’ car, so once again I pounded my ears with Ani Difranco, this time while walking the streets of New York City, trying to find answers that could be expressed in words.

In a lucky mistake, I came to school planning to major in International Politics. I quickly learned that there was more science than politics, and this line of study was filled with equations, and inarticulate foreign professors who cares more about their research than their classes. I went to my advisor, discussed my interest in human rights, and discovered the “Social and Cultural Analysis” program at NYU—I got to pick two concentrations—and one of them was Gender and Sexuality Studies.

My professor warned us on the first day—this class is going to get very personal.

We read Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, and bell hooks. We looked at women in the media, and brilliant news articles that contextualized my rage—rage that women were eternally objectified, air brushed, and pressured to adhere to photoshopped ideals of beauty to be valued. We looked at men and masculinity—how the media and advertisements institutionalize a gender binary that idealizes men for being forceful, macho, and sexually experienced. Women were even worse off—though they were always supposed to be beautiful, their sexuality rested on a fine line between desirable experience and whore—and their sexual desirability affected their professional lives as well.

Feminists wanted to break this gender binary. Feminists wanted to imagine the radical—transgressing who and what they were supposed to be, in order to co-exist as equals and put a past of subjugation behind them. I wanted to be a part of this.

We read “The Myth of the Female Orgasm”—and me (and plenty of other young women in the class, I’m sure) realized that pleasure is localized in the clitoris, which geographically is a bit of a (short, but still) trek from the vagina. It suddenly made sense that sex—a type of sex that was slightly more complex and a little more detailed, and—localized if you will—than the traditional college missionary position pounding—could be extremely pleasurable.

It also didn’t have to necessarily be with a man, although you didn’t need to be a lesbian to be a feminist.

For us young women, it was a radical—and refreshing—notion that men were not something that we needed but something that we could want. It was possible to have our worth imagined independently of whether or not we were dating a lawyer or an investment banker, but we were still allowed to want men as sexual partners and amorous companionship—and deign to call ourselves feminists.

I found feminism outside of the classroom. I found feminist books—by both legends and contemporaries who will become legendary. I found the feminist blogosphere. I found websites and campaigns—The Line Campaign being one of them—that created a brand of feminism that could be personalized, according to your specific needs, wants, and exact desires.

I found media as a way to convey feminism—and feminisms.

I found that feminism is about a lot of things, and a lot of issues. It is about economics and equality. It is about motherhood, family, and deciding how and when and if we wanted to negotiate these into our lives. Feminism is about justice and equality, and having great relationships—and really great sex—on our terms, and our partner’s terms.

Misogyny, Activism and Occupy Wall Street

Feministe’s Jill has written a very spot-on article about the Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall Street tumblr.

This sums it up nicely:

If you’re at an event and you strike up conversation with someone cute? Wonderful. But creating a blog and a video dedicated to showing women at a protest with the sole purpose of reminding dudes that women at the protest are hot? That does reduce women to objects of male attention. It’s another reminder, for women, that how seriously we’re taken and how valuable we are depends on how sexually attractive we’re deemed.

Check out the whole article here: Steven Greenstreet proves he’s definitely not a misogynist by making rape jokes.

Addressing Sexual Violence as an International Issue

Over the past few years Nicholas Kristof has used his column in the New York Times to speak out against sexual violence as a weapon of war and he was one of the loudest voices in the mainstream American media to highlight the ongoing conflict in Sudan. Recently one of his columns focused on the continued plague of sexual violence in Freetown, Sierra Leon.

Some terrifying statistics are outlined in his piece “In This Rape Center, the Patient was 3” published earlier this month. Reporting from a rape center in Freetown he tells us that 26 percent of rape victims the rape center treats are 11 years old or younger. Learning of sexual violence is always shocking, but particularly where victims are so young and so many.

Kristof continues:

Sexual violence is a public health crisis in much of the world, and women and girls ages 15 to 44 are more likely to be maimed or killed by men than by malaria, cancer, war or traffic accidents combined, according to a 2005 study. Such violence remains a significant problem in the United States, but it’s particularly prevalent in countries like Sierra Leone, Liberia or Congo that have endured civil war. The pattern is that after peace arrives, men stop shooting each other but continue to rape women and girls at staggering rates — and often at staggeringly young ages.

The United Nations has recognized the use of mass rape of both men and women as a tool of terror used in war and there are reports of this horrendous human rights abuse in the conflicts in Congo, Darfur, Bosnia, Rwanda and Liberia. In 2008 United Nations Security Council resolution 1820 was unanimously adopted to address sexual violence in conflict. The resolution as explained by UN Women

identifies sexual violence as a matter of international peace and security that necessitates a security response, by recognizing that such acts can exacerbate situations of armed conflict and can impede the restoration of peace and security.

Kristof notes that passing H.R. 4594: International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA)  is a modest action the United States could make legislatively to bring the issue of sexual violence to the forefront of the political landscape.  In the current political climate Republicans continue to hinder the sexual rights of women both domestically and abroad by attacking organizations such as Planned Parenthood providing women with sexual and reproductive health care. Eliminating funding to the  international development agency the United Nations Population Fund, an organization which aims to, “reduce poverty and to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV, and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect” is another troubling way House Republicans aim to hinder women’s control of their own sexual health and freedom.

Empowering women through improved access to education and economic programs such as Kiva’s microfinance lending are two examples of ways to improve conditions for women in Sierra Leone and ultimately shift the climate away from the ever-present threat and domination of sexual violence in women’s lives. Kristof suggests readers donate directly to the International Rescue Committee’s (IRC) fund to help women  by providing such services as the Kalilahun Women’s Center.  Readers are also encouraged to leave feedback and comments at his On The Ground blog. Eva Mendes and Nicholas Kristof are currently filming Half the Sky, a documentary to air in 2012 based on the book of the same title addressing ways to educate empower women including a segment about sexual violence and the work of the IRC.

Badass Activist Friday Presents: Fivel Rothberg

It’s Friday, and we all know what that means! Interviews with your favorite badass feminists and activists. Whether social media queens and kings, creative artists, sex educators, or just kick-ass personalities, these people harness righteous anger, instigate movements and inspire cultural change. We’re here to honor them and their work, but more importantly, to highlight how we can all get up, plug in, and Just Start Doing.

This week, we talked to filmmaker Fivel Rothberg, who is just putting the finishing touches on his documentary House Devil, Street Angel, a very personal story about depression and abuse. If you would like to support him in this, you can check out the movie’s website or the project’s Kickstarter site. But first, let’s hear some more about Fivel’s activism and his current project.

Introduce yourself to our readers! What has your journey to activism been like? Did you find your way here on accident, or was it a purposeful journey? Where do you see your role as an activist and what are you trying to achieve in your work?

I am a Brooklyn-based, Philly born and raised, father of a 13-year-old son, Noam. I’m also a media maker and I teach two courses at a small SUNY college in Long Island.  My route to activism regarding abuse, mental illness and masculinity has been an incredibly challenging one. It is a purposeful journey now, but it was a circuitous path. And it’s one that is constantly evolving as I strive to learn more about gender based violence, and in turn share my story in House Devil, Street Angel to spark dialogues about issues like abuse, depression and fatherhood. My aim with the film is to use it as a consciousness-raising tool, primarily with men.  We need to be able to learn how to talk about these issues with one another, support each other and grow as men.

Years ago, I considered myself a media activist. I helped to establish the Independent Media Center in Philly (Philly IMC) and later worked for organizations like Scribe Video Center & the Media Mobilizing Project (MMP). For a time, I volunteered with the Kensington Welfare Rights Union to produce a cable access-style TV show about poverty in Philly and the nation. I wanted to use my skills, and class and race status, to aid marginalized people in producing their own media. It’s still pretty standard in the documentary and social issue media world for people of great privilege to speak on behalf of the so-called “voiceless.” Even though access to the Internet and cheaper recording devices has revolutionized the media landscape, the paradigm remains the same. Places like Scribe and MMP flip that paradigm, and that’s what I love about them.

You’re currently working on finishing up your movie House Devil, Street Angel, an autobiographical documentary about the abuse cycle and depression. When and how did you come to decide to make such a personal film? What has the experience of making this movie been like?

It’s been insanely challenging. I completed a large portion of this film as my thesis project at Hunter College, where I graduated back in January 2011. But I didn’t want to work on it for a while after graduating because it was so emotionally draining. I recently came back to the film because I know in my heart that it has value.  And I’ve been told that it has value by my peers and advisors. Most importantly, I’m motivated by the sincere emotional responses that I’ve gotten when I’ve shown it to groups of men. Certainly, people of all genders can connect with the film, but I think it’s been particularly meaningful for men to hear someone be so open about their struggles as a father, a man with depression, a survivor of abuse and as a former perpetrator who has come around.

I first started documenting how my son goes back and forth between vastly different households when he was about two or three-years-old.  And I thought that I would eventually make a film about his experiences as a child of a very privileged white Jewish dad and a poor Puerto Rican mom.  Our families lived only miles apart geographically, but they were worlds away socially. My son’s mom also came from an abusive home; on top of that she faces additional challenges to face as a Latina, that was really eye opening too. It inspired me to work on the rights of Puerto Rican political prisoners and learn the history of one of our nation’s oldest non-mainland colonies.

After being a shitty partner, and a totally freaked out young dad, I worked on being a new kind of father to my son. When Noam’s mom and I broke up, he would spend half of the week with me and half of the week with her.  When he was about seven-years-old she moved out of Philly with Noam and her boyfriend.  I later I decided to finally leave Philly and pursue grad school in NYC. During grad school I slowly began to approach making more personal work. Judith Helfand, who made Blue Vinyl and Healthy Baby Girl, said that successful documentaries depend on intimate access to one’s subjects and as a filmmaker with few resources you are your own best subject. I didn’t have to work for years to build trust with my son or family – they’re part of the package.

So with that in mind, I began a project that I had put off for years – a doc about Noam’s experiences. Yet, I found that problematic and realized that this film opened up unresolved issues  – like how abuse, trauma and neglect made me the person and parent that I am. So that began the arduous but beautiful process that is represented in House Devil, Street Angel.

You’ve already connected with some non-profits and started showing your movie. What has it been like for you to share your work? What kind of reactions have you gotten so far, what conversations have you sparked?

Thus far, several dozen people have seen the film in its rough cut stage. And after being inspired by projects like The Line Campaign, I knew that I needed to reach out and get non-profits and leaders on board so that I could finalize it and get it out there. At the moment House Devil, Street Angel has three partners: CONNECT, a gender violence prevention organization, Voice Male Magazine, a pro-feminist men’s issue publication, and NYC Dads Group, a Meetup group for fathers in the region. I hope that groups with similar goals will join them, help spread the word about the project, and eventually use the finished film in classrooms and workshops.  This film can help generate a really powerful conversation that we as men need to have about the intersections of culture, social forces like patriarchy, and personal choice when it comes to abuse.  We have to figure out how to change. And that’s a process, not a one-size-fits-all scenario.

It’s been both fulfilling and exhausting to share this film.  I screened the rough cut, when it was called Internal Exposure, to members of NYC Dads right after I graduated in order to get feedback.  Only the organizers of the screening knew what the film was about. Most of the other dads in the audience had no idea what they were getting into. They just came knowing that a fellow dad wanted to show a work-in-progress.  I introduced the film and sat back, and listened carefully for any sign of reaction as it played.  They were utterly quiet, except for some laughs as Noam, at three-years-old, says, “I hate your camera” as he refuses to eat breakfast. Afterwards they were both eager to ask me questions about the film, and several men in the audience shared very touching stories about their experience as survivors, some with depression, and how they have had to worked to be better parents. I know my prejudice was challenged when one man, who looked like a bit of a jock, came up to me afterwards and really opened up. That was incredible.

People really get into the film and the characters. Which is pretty strange when I am a character in it, and then present for folks to ask me very personal questions. When I shared the film with the staff at CONNECT, they were supportive, but grilled me on it.  That probably happened because the film can be triggering, even to an audience that is trained in these issues, and they wanted to know if I’m on point or not.

I had similar experiences with the Men’s Roundtable at CONNECT.  And it was shown without me to a group called Hombres Dialogando (Men Dialoging), also a project of CONNECT. I was told by the group’s leader, Marlon Walker, that the film helped the men talk about how hard it is as a survivor to confront your abuser, especially when it’s a family member, and the painful feelings that happen when abusers do not admit what they did was abusive. Certainly older generations in our society do not have a conception of abuse as being beyond physical, so that adds to the process of reconciliation.

On another note, I am super excited that fellow filmmaker Sam Feder is going to work on House Devil, Street Angel in an Associate Producer or Co-producer. We’re still working on the details, but we just agreed to that this week. Sam Co-Directed Boy I Am and is now directing a documentary about Kate Bornstein called Make Me a Star.

You say in the trailer that changing our perceptions of masculinity is at the heart of the effort to prevent abuse. Can you elaborate on that?

It’s not so much changing the perception of masculinity, so much as changing and challenging the dominant form of masculinity itself– what some term “hegemonic masculinity.”

For most of my life, I was very unaware of my entitlement as a male. Just as white people are less aware of their “whiteness,” I was not conscious of my masculinity, even as it played a pivotal role in my existence. Further, as an anarchist I had this mind set that I was beyond or above all that. I’d thought about my class and race – but really didn’t consider that I could be sexist, patriarchal or abusive. Partially, that had to do with the fact that I’m an introvert at heart who has struggled since childhood with depression, self-hate and sustaining long-term friendships. In tandem, because my abuser was male I’ve had a very hard time reaching out to other men and trusting men. Those are both things that I think could have helped me be more accountable and change as a man. On top of that there’s the basic fact that as men we are not socialized to speak about these issues nor hold each other accountable. I know I’m still figuring it out. I think in the anarchist or activist community there could have been a better support network for accountability. I found a few people to connect with, who were knowledgeable about abuse, but I was utterly frightened about being castigated by the community and didn’t out myself.  And there really wasn’t a men’s group or something similar to turn to.

That said, in the broader culture of the U.S., we are socialized to do the exact opposite – suck it up, be a “man” and drink a beer if you’re upset. Or maybe share your most intimate feelings with a female friend or partner. Just make sure you don’t try that with another guy. If an average man sought out other men to talk about their fucked up behavior, what do you think they’d say? They would probably excuse it.

That’s where changing masculinity comes in. Feminism is all about freedom for all of humanity, not just women – as readers of this blog well know.  And building a feminist masculinity can be, and will be, liberatory for all genders. My film is a deeply inspired by the feminist tenet “the personal is political,” as it’s an intimate documentary with broader intentions.  I would not have the chuzpah to make House Devil, Street Angel if it were not for personal filmmakers like Marlon Riggs, Doug Block, Jonathan Caouette, Lourdes Portillo and Alan Berliner and feminist / personal / activist filmmakers like Barbara Hammer, Michelle Citron and of course The Line Campaign’s own Nancy Schwartzman. My aunt’s work in the personal and political documentary world contributed to my trajectory as well.

The kickstarter campaign for the movie is just taking off. What can we do to help you?

The best way to help immediately would be to check out the Kickstarter campaign (http://kck.st/nhmFsO), contribute and / or share it with your friends, family and colleagues.  I appreciate any kind of support folks can provide.

For the long run, please get in touch via the project’s website, join the mailing list, and look out for the final film. If you or someone you know runs a men’s group, feminist group or parent’s group for instance, on or off a college campus, please consider hosting a screening.  And thanks!

 

You are welcome!  Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, and good luck with the project!

Anita Hill 20 Years Later: Sex, Power and Speaking the Truth

Every woman has a sexual harassment story.

All of us have been harassed on the street. Most of us have rolled our eyes at an unsolicited comment relating to our appearance or sexuality. Some of us have been groped by our bosses or coworkers in an elevator. Many of us laughed at the time, too stunned to process what was happening and press the emergency button, much less press charges. We cried when we got home. Often alone, sometimes with our girlfriends, sisters, and mothers—as much about the shock of our experience as in our helplessness doing anything about it.

In most cases, we feel that if we speak up outside of our communities of shared experience, the power dynamics will be stacked against us. We will be blamed, shamed, and for some reason those who perpetrated us who are more powerful than us—based on institutionalized hierarchies of race, gender, class, and status—will emerge unscathed as our reputations are forever colored—if not shattered.

Anita Hill—began—to change this.

Though the Supreme Court labeled sexual harassment as illegal in 1968, it wasn’t until Anita Hill testified about her experiences with sexual harassment while working under Clarence Thomas at the Department of Education and EEOC that the country was forced to face how sexual harassment cases must be taken seriously and treated with accountability.

Anita Hill—a black woman—testified an unpopular, and risk-laden testimony to a panel of fourteen powerful, white male judges.

Twenty years later, Anita Hill’s legacy finds itself at an interesting nexus in our feminist present. Although we are at an exciting time of progressive change, as movements such as SlutWalk and Occupy Wall Street mobilize a feeling of global activism that hasn’t been witnessed in decades, these movements have been criticized as excluding people and women of color. As feminists and progressives, we are at a point where we must either work through our contentions across race lines and make our movements stronger, or use our privilege to further justify our actions, alienating and dividing the masses that make us strong.

On Saturday, Anita Hill—and many other amazing women and men who have devoted their careers and minds towards fighting against harassment and assault and for justice and equality—addressed a packed audience at Anita Hill 20 Years Later: Sex, Power and Speaking the Truth. The speakers, among them Melissa Harris Perry, Jamia Wilson, Rha Goddess, Emily May, Patricia Williams, and Anita Hill herself lead a powerful discussion on sexual harassment, the intersections of race, gender, and power, and where these discussions and testimonies leave us today.

As Jamia Wilson said, “I am not Anita Hill—but I could be and that scares the crap out of me.”

Moving forwards, as we reposition our fights against once seemingly insurmountable battles such as street harassment and acquaintance, we must remember the importance of our personal testimonies—and share experiences—as our power to fight for progressive change. In the same way that female members of Congress and law professors pushed Anita Hill to testify, and convinced the court to hear the testimony, we too must listen to and support our sisters giving them the power they need to tell their story to create a better world for all of us. Anita Hill showed us that the personal is political, and it is our duty to speak out and support those who speak out, not dismiss their experiences and contentions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Pixel Project wants you to Paint it Purple!

Want to help stop violence against women worldwide? You can. The Pixel Project is starting the Paint it Purple Campaign, and you can participate by contributing to their quest to paint the Internet purple through social media networks. Check it out:

Paint it Purple Campaign.

All Posts from October, 2011