Feminism and Womanism

International Women’s Day: “Women’s Rights are Human Rights”

In 1995, then First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing China.

Today, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, it is a good time to reflect on her words:

Hillary Clinton:

Those of us who have the opportunity to be here have the responsibility to speak for those who could not. As an American, I want to speak for those women in my own country, women who are raising children on the minimum wage, women who can’t afford health care or child care, women whose lives are threatened by violence, including violence in their own homes.

I want to speak up for mothers who are fighting for good schools, safe neighborhoods, clean air, and clean airwaves; for older women, some of them widows, who find that, after raising their families, their skills and life experiences are not valued in the marketplace; for women who are working all night as nurses, hotel clerks, or fast food chefs so that they can be at home during the day with their children; and for women everywhere who simply don’t have time to do everything they are called upon to do each and every day.

Speaking to you today, I speak for them, just as each of us speaks for women around the world who are denied the chance to go to school, or see a doctor, or own property, or have a say about the direction of their lives, simply because they are women. The truth is that most women around the world work both inside and outside the home, usually by necessity. […]

We need to understand there is no one formula for how women should lead our lives. That is why we must respect the choices that each woman makes for herself and her family. Every woman deserves the chance to realize her own God-given potential. But we must recognize that women will never gain full dignity until their human rights are respected and protected. […]

It is time for us to say here in Beijing, and for the world to hear, that it is no longer acceptable to discuss women’s rights as separate from human rights. […]

Let this conference be our — and the world’s — call to action. Let us heed that call so we can create a world in which every woman is treated with respect and dignity, every boy and girl is loved and cared for equally, and every family has the hope of a strong and stable future. That is the work before you. That is the work before all of us who have a vision of the world we want to see — for our children and our grandchildren.

(Full text of speech below)

Women’s History Month Is Marching In

March is an excellent choice to designate as Women’s History Month because marching for our rights is a big part of women’s history.

Demonstrating for women’s rights has a long storied past, probably because “just asking politely”, while more pleasing to some people, was not a very effective strategy.

Here is what National Organization for Women President Patricia Ireland said about marching and demonstrating:

“When women work to mobilize and fund a group of local participants for a big event like our March for Women’s Lives, they are often transformed from enthusiastic but inexperienced activists into community leaders.”

“I’ve seen it happen over and over again. We count on it. The other transformation I have seen hits everyone from the most seasoned pioneer activist to the college sophomore. Standing side by side with a sea of kindred spirits, each of us finds renewed strength to wage the struggle for women’s equality.”

Women have been marching for their causes for a long time.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: “We Should All Be Feminists”

Sometimes a newsfeed story leads to an Internet search and an unexpected gem.

That happened this morning.

NPR linked to a story in The Guardian about a group in Sweden which is passing out a book to every 16 year old in the country:

Less than a month after it was revealed that the UK is planning to drop feminism from the politics A-level, every 16-year-old in Sweden is being given a copy of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s call to arms, We Should All Be Feminists.

The essay, adapted from Adichie’s award-winning TED talk of the same name, is being distributed in Swedish to high-school students by the Swedish Women’s Lobby and publisher Albert Bonniers. Launching the project at Norra Real high school in Stockholm this week, they said they hoped the book would “work as a stepping stone for a discussion about gender equality and feminism”.

Here is the TED talk.

“Some people ask: ‘Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?’ Because that would be dishonest,” Adichie continues. “Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general – but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded.”

Twenty women danced around the fire that night but only one would be…



It was late summer again, time for the yearly gathering on Serafina’s property. This year the gathering would fall on Celine’s birthday, the first of August. As she packed her large beach bag she shivered in anticipatory delight—she looked forward to this occasion all year.

Into the bag went a flashlight, sunscreen, a beach towel, flip-flops, and a sun visor. No book would be necessary for the sunbathing part of the day, because the company would be so congenial she’d spend her time chatting. She added a pashmina—the evening was always chilly with the breeze coming off the water—and filled her water bottle. She was ready.

The large cooler filled with ice and soft drinks was already in the trunk of her car, as were the fruit and crackers she was bringing for snacks. Serafina, of course, would be cooking up a storm of both Puerto Rican and African-American specialties. Celine smiled as she thought of the arroz con gandules, rice with pigeon peas, that was her friend’s signature dish. She was planning to eat lightly all day so she could give the evening feast the attention it deserved.

The hour-long drive passed pleasantly as Celine, always analytical, contemplated why this yearly celebration meant so much to her. For one thing, no men would be present. There would be no need to appear deferential to male sensibilities, no need for the women present to refrain from speaking their truths around the fire circle: everyone could say whatever she damn well pleased. The best part of being with other women, Celine thought, was that one didn’t have to explain anything. Women already knew.

She smiled again as she drove on and the miles ticked away on the odometer.

Tashkent Auset was also looking forward to the gathering. Awakened as usual by cockrow, she had risen with the dawn, gone out to feed the roosters, hens, and goats, and prepared breakfast for herself and the children. Later she dropped off six-year-old Nico and three-year-old Yana at her mother’s house before setting out on her journey to Serafina’s beach property.

Jannah, previously her divorce lawyer and now her friend, had told her a great deal about the gatherings of previous years. “Only women of color attend,” Jannah said. “No white people, no men. We can be ourselves.”

It sounded wonderful to Tashkent Auset. Ordinarily shy in company because she lacked money, social position, and advanced degrees, she knew she’d feel comfortable even though most of the women present would be strangers to her. Among other women of color there would be no one to disparage her dark skin, her homemade clothes, her lack of cosmetics. There would be no need to be careful of what she said for fear of offending white people’s feelings or disturbing their comfortable stereotypes.

Driving the rattletrap car she’d acquired after the divorce,Tashkent Auset sang as she drove to the gathering place. She hoped the other women would like the brownies she was bringing to the feast.

An hour earlier Jannah, too, had set off in her sleek little Morris Minor to Serafina’s place. In the trunk of her car was a cooler full of fried chicken—a cliché, Jannah thought dispassionately, but nonetheless delicious for all that—and a blueberry cake she’d made because it traveled well and required no messy frosting that would melt in the heat. She was looking forward to seeing the people she knew would be there—Celine, Serafina, and Tashkent Auset, for instance—and women she didn’t even know yet. It had been a tiring year so far, with one difficult case after another, but this weekend would be her time to swim, eat, dance, and thoroughly enjoy herself.


Viola Davis: “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else … is opportunity”

I don’t watch television so I did not follow the Emmy Award Ceremony last night. But I do follow the news and when this video showed up in my newsfeed this morning, it begged to be shared.

Viola Davis plays a law professor in the TV show “How to Get Away With Murder”. On Sunday night, she won an Emmy, the first black woman to win an Emmy for best actress in a dramatic series.


‘In my mind, I see a line. And over that line, I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me over that line. But I can’t seem to get there no how. I can’t seem to get over that line.’

“That was Harriet Tubman in the 1800s. And let me tell you something: The only thing that separates women of colour from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.

“So, here’s to all the writers, the awesome people that are Ben Sherwood, Paul Lee, Peter Nowalk, Shonda Rhimes. People who have redefined what it means to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be a leading woman, to be black.

“And to the Taraji P Hensons and Kerry Washingtons, the Halle Berrys, the Nicole Beharies, the Meagan Goodes, to Gabrielle Union. Thank you for taking us over that line. Thank you for the Television Academy. Thank you.”

Some people were not happy about this … because racism is not a thing in America, and what about white women????

Trending on Twitter: Viola Davis’ Emmy Speech


On oppressing people of color while appropriating our cultures.

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Blackface. An example of cultural appropriation from a 1900 William H. West minstrel show poster.

Over the years I have had the opportunity to study oppression, and to participate in movements that fight against it, in many forms. I am not speaking simply of oppression along white-black lines, since my own life has led me to supporting struggles of people of color in the broader sense—Native Americans and other indigenous peoples, Asian-Americans and Latinos along with issues around gender and sexual identity.

Not all these issues are focused on the direct violence of genocide, slavery, lynching, rape and police violence. We are no longer limited to simple discussions of racism, or sexism after several decades developing critical race and gender theory. We have moved into exploring “intersectionality” as a way to bring race, class, ethnicity and gender together. Our dialogues now include thoughts on “privilege”, but also on “microaggressions“, and examinations of “cultural appropriation.” The push-back, both academic and popular (as always) has been swift, and loud. We are labelled “PC” as an insult and to shut-down discussion, as if there is something wrong with pointing out inequity and exploitation.

Deal me in!

Friday night, Hillary Clinton, along with the other 2016 Democratic Party presidential candidates, spoke at the Wing Ding Dinner, an Iowa Democratic Party fundraiser in Clear Lake, IA.

There is a lot at stake in the 2016 presidential election, an election where the contrasts between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party could not be more stark. On the environment, climate change, diplomacy rather than war, women’s rights, income inequality, racial justice, poverty, access to affordable health care, protecting Social Security and Medicare, and more … on issue after issue one party stands firmly on the side of the people and one stands firmly on the side of the special interests and those who do not value the dignity of human life.

One such issue is the full on assault on women’s health. In 2016, all of the the declared Republican candidates have vowed to defund Planned Parenthood and many of them have declared their support for new abortion restrictions: no exceptions for any reason including to save the life of the mother. That restriction is not just ignorant (in an ectopic pregnancy, for example, neither the pregnant woman or the fetus would survive) but so out of the mainstream view on abortion that only 9% of Americans support it. Even their refusal to exempt the cases of rape and incest are at odds with most Americans as a CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll (PDF, pg 15) showed that 83% support keeping abortion legal when the physical health of the mother is at risk or in cases of rape and incest.

In 2012, after losing the presidential election, and women’s votes by 12% (including a whopping 38% of unmarried women), the Republican National Committee conducted a post-mortem. One of the “shocking” discoveries was that people believed that Republicans are completely out of touch with women’s issues including equal pay, family leave, and reproductive rights. The RNC boldly declared that they would change their language (but not their policies) and in 2014, they Etch-a-Sketched away their Senate candidates’ extremist positions on fetal personhood laws and gained a majority in the U.S. Senate and in the 114th Congress.

Fast forward to 2015 where their current crop of candidates make cavemen look like feminists.

Secretary Clinton had this to say about women’s issues Friday night:

“… when it comes to women’s health and women’s rights, Mr. Trump’s words are appalling, but so are the policies of the other candidates. Senator Rubio brags about wanting to deny victims of rape and incest access to an abortion. Governor Bush says $500 million is too much to spend on women’s health. And they all want to defund Planned Parenthood.

“Well, why don’t they try telling that to the mom who caught her breast cancer early because she was able to get a screening. Or the teenager who avoided an unintended pregnancy because she had access to contraception. Or anyone who was protected by an HIV test.

Now, this might work in a Republican primary, but it sure doesn’t work in 21st century America. I am so tired of politicians shaming and blaming women. I am tired of Republicans dismissing the contributions women make to our economy and ignoring the obstacles that hold so many back from contributing even more. We cannot afford to leave talent on the sidelines. Women who want to work should be able to do so without worrying every day about how they’re going to take care of their child or what happens when a family member gets sick. That is not a luxury, it’s a necessity, and it’s also an economic growth strategy.

“This isn’t complicated. When you shortchange women you shortchange families, and when you shortchange families you shortchange America. And I know when I talk about this some people think, “There she goes again with the women’s issues.” Like, Mitch McConnell said recently I’m playing the gender card.

“Well, if calling for equal pay and paid leave is playing the gender card, then deal me in. Let me add, if helping more working parents find quality, affordable childcare is playing the gender card, then I’m ready to ante up.

Hey, deal me in, too! Let’s take this fight to the Republican Party in 2016 and let’s take this fight to them with the strongest candidate on women’s issues that we have: Hillary Clinton.

“Hillary Clinton: If this feels like a full on assault on women’s health, that’s because it is.”
Support and Stand with Planned Parenthood

The workers many activists forget

The workers many activists forget

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As we have moved into a primary cycle and the subject of the working class is on the lips of activists and politicians, I know the images that term evokes in the minds-eye of many who hear it—hard hats, lunch boxes and assembly lines—often male, and often white. Organized labor and unions get mentioned, but rarely when one thinks of unions, other than perhaps SEIU or organized teachers do we think of women.

“She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry” – A Film

“Aren’t the Internets great?”

– me to my Moose peeps this morning

An article in the New York Times yesterday about the “Women of the Young Lords: The Revolution within the Revolution” panel at the Bronx Museum, included the rare link-out to a web site for some biographical information on one of the speakers, our own Denise Oliver Velez.

Much to my delight, that was a sub-page on a larger site about a film entitled “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry”.

The trailer explains what it is about:

With women’s reproductive freedom under attack in the states and in the Republican controlled Congress and in the courts, when one of our major political parties is already loading up the testosterone cannon and aiming it at the woman who is the front-runner for the Democratic Party presidential nomination, when right wing groups are attacking Planned Parenthood … a group that saves women’s lives, it is a great time to remind ourselves of our past, the fights we won, only to lose again, and the battles we will face in 2016 and beyond.