Thursday, September 27, 2012

Musings on the NOW Conference: Faith and Feminism - Can a Religious or Spiritual Woman be Feminist…and an Activist for Reproductive Rights?

This post is part of a series discussing the 2012 National Organization for Women (NOW) Conference: Energize! Organize! Stop the War on Women. You can read my notes on this session here.

The third breakout session I attended at the NOW conference was titled Faith and Feminism - Can a Religious or Spiritual Woman be Feminist…and an Activist for Reproductive Rights? It was moderated by Allendra Letsome, NOW Membership Vice President. She spoke for Protestants at large, but practices as a Methodist. Representing Catholicism was Marissa Valeri, the Catholics for Choice Outreach Coordinator. Mona Lisa Wallace, San Francisco NOW President, is spiritual and “believe[s] in the Goddess as a pre-Abrahamic religion.” Jacqueline Steingold, a National NOW Board Member, was the Jewish emissary. She is specifically a member of the Reform movement. Jerin Arifa, a NOW National Board Member and Chair of the NOW National and NYS Young Feminist Task Forces, spoke for Islam. The atheist representative was Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

When I saw that there was a session about the intersection of religion and women’s rights, I was really excited. I hadn’t expected there to be a space for religious feminists at the conference, so it was a cool surprise that such a session was being offered. It was the last session before Shabbat (Sabbath) began, so I felt it was a relevant topic to hear about.

I really appreciated that there was a representative from every major religion. It was nice to hear about all these different faiths, which I am largely ignorant of, and how they can be very much feminist.

I learned a lot in this session, especially about Catholicism and feminism. The Catholic emissary, Valeri, explained how a lot of what is accepted as Catholic teaching, especially about reproductive issues, is not as simple as it seems. I had never known any of that. There’s a car that I often see parked in my neighborhood with a bumper sticker that says “Catholics and choice: you can’t be both.” I’m happy to know that the owner of this SUV isn’t as correct as he or she thinks. (While I’m discussing this bumper sticker, I’m complaining about it from a design standpoint. It says “Catholics and Choice” in really big letters, and the “u can’t b both” in small letters. As a result, from far away, it looks pro-choice. As a graphic design geek, this bothers me to no end.)

I also learned a lot about Islamophobia. Arifa, the Muslim representative, spoke about her experiences with Islamophobia within feminist spaces, which really made me sad. I had always thought that it’s accepted within liberal spaces that terrorism does not define Islam. It shocks me that women who call themselves feminists can act so blatantly discriminatory towards Muslims. How can someone who is dedicated to empowering women discriminate against a portion of the global community, which obviously contains women? Islamophobia is a step away from anti-Semitism and every other ism out there. It’s imperative that we fight every ism with the same intensity, since they all lead to the same end.

I think that everybody in attendance, regardless of religious affiliation, couldn’t stand the atheist representative, Gaylor. This was not because of her beliefs, but because she was extremely militant about them and alienated the religious people in the room. When she said “The Bible…[is] very misogynist,” steam was coming out of my ears. How dare she call my holy book sexist? What right does she have to say that the Bible is anti-woman? As someone who believes the Tanakh (Jewish Bible) is God’s word as recorded by Moses, I feel that it is impossible for it to be discriminatory towards women; God loves all people, regardless of sex or gender, so God would not give us rules that are unfair to women. While it may seem misogynist on the surface, or may be twisted to seem sexist, at its core the Tanakh is a feminist chronicle. And for an atheist to tell me that my holy book is misogynist? That does not fly AT ALL. Who the heck does Gaylor think she is to tell me the Bible is sexist? Just because she doesn’t believe in its validity doesn’t mean she has any right to criticize it and judge it.

One thing that really surprised me about this session was how many women felt uncomfortable being religious within feminist spaces. Several women in the audience talked about when they came out as religious to their feminist friends, and a couple of the panelists expressed empathy, having gone through the same thing. The idea that so many women are struggling with reconciling their religion with their feminism is so foreign to me. While it took me a while to realize that Judaism and feminism totally mesh, it did happen within a relatively short amount of time. I’m really glad that it did, and it’s not something I struggle with.

When I first created Star of Davida and corresponded with some of the major Jewish feminist bloggers, Shira Salamone of On the Fringe advised me not to throw out the baby with the bathwater when it comes to Jewish feminism. I thought it was interesting the same concept was shared by Wallace, who identifies as spiritual. I guess it applies to every religious affiliation. That’s, in essence, what I took away from this session: we’re all working towards the same goals, regardless of if/where we pray.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Musings on the NOW Conference: Title IX at 40 - Breaking Barriers, Challenging Limitations and Strengthening Advocacy Networks

This post is part of a series discussing the 2012 National Organization for Women (NOW) Conference: Energize! Organize! Stop the War on Women. You can read my notes on this session here.

The second breakout session I attended at the NOW conference was Title IX at 40 - Breaking Barriers, Challenging Limitations and Strengthening Advocacy Networks. The first speaker was Dr. Bunny Sandler, NOW’s Woman of Action honoree who is also known as the Godmother of Title IX. She discussed Title IX’s impact on high school athletics, sexual harassment, and bullying, and how it’s supposed to be enforced. Next was Dr. Christina Vogt, former President of West Virginia NOW and education equality researcher. She read a letter she wrote to the WV school superintendent about how to improve the system from a feminist perspective. The third speaker was Jennifer Martin, former NOW Title IX Task Force Chair. She talked about how Title IX has to do with bullying and the importance of Title IX coordinators. Afterwards came Sue Klein, the Feminist Majority Foundation’s Education Equity Director. She talked about the rise of single-sex schools and classes during the Bush administration and how to stop the trend. Next was Stephanie Ortoleva, an advocate for the inclusion of women and girls with disabilities in education programs. She discussed the barriers that women and girls with disabilities face, especially the obstacles that stand in their way of receiving an education. The final speaker was Eleanor Smeal, former NOW President and Advisor to the NOW National Board. She talked about the harm that single-sex schools perpetuate, and how it’s important to protect not only girls’ rights, but those of boys too.

It’s unfortunate that Title IX is usually only associated with women’s athletics, since it really does so much more. The reason it may not be widely known that Title IX protects women and girls from sexual harassment and bullying is because, as Sandler said, it originally didn’t. The term sexual harassment didn’t exist when Title IX was passed in 1972, so it would have been difficult for Title IX to prohibit something that there was no language for.

It really broke my heart when Martin talked about a Michigan anti-bullying law that couldn’t pass because it contained LGBT+ language. I understand that some people feel uncomfortable with LGBT+ individuals and the concept of homosexuality at large; it’s their prerogative to feel that way, as much as I disagree. However, it’s beyond my comprehension for anyone to support the persecution of the LGBT+ community, especially kids and teens who are gay. While Title IX protects victims of LGBT+ bullying/harassment, it’s not usually very well-enforced. I find this situation absolutely unacceptable, and I’m glad that there are activists like Martin out there doing something to remedy it.

Another thing that got my interest was the rise of single-sex public schools and classes. Klein explained that there are only about 1,000 sex-segregated classes and 100 completely segregated schools in the entire country, but it’s an issue that must be nipped in the bud or it will spread. Having separate classes or schools for boys and girls is a Title IX issue because separate usually means unequal, so each gender gets a different quality education (you can guess who gets the short end of the stick). Personally, I’ve spent more time in single-sex classrooms than I have in mixed environments. I went to a K-8 Modern Orthodox school, and when I was there the classes were coed K-4 and separated from 5-8, except for tracked classes (Hebrew language from 4-8 and math in 8). My ultra-Orthodox Bais Yaakov high school is all-girls. I see no problem with single-sex education, and I am extremely happy that I am in an all-girls environment. However, there is no place for sex segregation in public schools, and it’s shocking to me that people are trying to bring the idea to life.

I really appreciated hearing what Ortoleva had to say. I’ve got some health issues, although I am far from being disabled, so hearing about the plight of girls with disabilities across the world really makes me feel blessed. The double discrimination that girls with disabilities face is really heartbreaking, especially in developing countries.

I have always been relatively ignorant about Title IX, the landmark legislation that outlaws sex discrimination in federally-sponsored programs, so this session taught me a lot. I’m really glad that I attended.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Musings on the NOW Conference: Political Roundtable

This post is part of a series discussing the 2012 National Organization for Women (NOW) Conference: Energize! Organize! Stop the War on Women. You can read my notes on this session here.

Within the third plenary session at the NOW conference was the Political Roundtable, moderated by Bonnie Grabenhofer, NOW Executive Vice President. She briefly discussed the context of today’s American politics and how the War on Women is in full swing. The first speaker was Sarah Reece, director of the Academy for Leadership and Action at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. She discussed the Task Force’s efforts to lobby for pro-LGBT legislation and to change people’s minds in favor of LGBT issues. Afterwards came Linda Hallman, CEO of the American Association of University Women (AAUW). She discussed the NOW-AAUW campaign It’s My Vote, I Will Be Heard to encourage young women to vote. Eleanor Smeal, a former NOW President and Advisor to the NOW National Board, spoke next. She listed the Republicans’ sins and underscored the importance of making sure the GOP does not succeed. Representative Carolyn Maloney was the final speaker. She too mourned the current anti-woman political climate, celebrated feminist victories, discussed her work in Congress to lobby for pro-woman measures, and urged the public to “go out and demand” equal rights.

I was afraid that this session was going to be irritating, since I figured it would solely consist of Republican-bashing and Obama-worship. While a lot of that did go on, I was happy that it was kept to a relative minimum, and speakers spent more time focusing on pertinent issues and how to fix them rather than whining about what’s happening and pointing fingers. My whole philosophy towards life is if you don’t like something, change it; shut up, stop complaining, and get to getting yourself out of situation you’re stuck in. When fellow progressives start blaming Republicans for all the world’s evils, it really gets on my nerves, since it doesn’t accomplish anything. Yes, it’s important to understand who is threatening our rights and why they are doing it, but it’s much more worthwhile to spend our precious time actively working against these people and trying to thwart their goals. As a result, I was glad that this session mostly focused on current efforts to stop the rollback of women’s rights and how people can get involved.

One particular campaign that I found absolutely fascinating is the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s attempt to have real, sit-down conversations with people who aren’t on board with the LGBT+ advocacy cause yet. It’s such a good idea, and I can’t believe it’s not used more often as an advocacy tool. Conversation and connection is an integral part of any viable relationship, and if we want people to think the way that we do on the issues, we need to establish a relationship based off of mutual respect. Going back to what I said before, if we constantly bash Republicans, we’ll never get into a conversation with one, and never be able to learn from each other and broaden each others' horizons. (Yes, believe it or not, there’s something to be learned even from - gasp - Republicans.) So in summation, I think this idea is brilliant and should be used more often as part of advocacy.

I also really appreciated the emphasis of how much one person can have an impact. Hallman’s entire address was about the magnitude of voting - the campaign is called It’s My Vote, I Will Be Heard, after all - and the extreme importance of getting women to the polls in November. Smeal also discussed how we have to show our feelings at the ballot box. Throughout her speech, Maloney urged every individual to call his or her representatives and let them know how he or she feels on the issues. I’m a big fan of the concept that one person can leave a mark on the world, by doing simple actions or going for the big time, so I was happy to hear that these awesomely amazing women agree with me. Over the summer, I was discussing my feminist activities with someone I met, and mentioned how important it is to vote. The person I was speaking with was dismissive of the idea. One vote seems very insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but if everyone says, “Oh, my ballot doesn’t count for much,” nobody would go to the voting booth. Seriously, every vote counts. All of our voices are equally important.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Musings on the NOW Conference: Woman of Action Award

This post is part of a series discussing the 2012 National Organization for Women (NOW) Conference: Energize! Organize! Stop the War on Women. You can read my notes on this session here.

The fourth session I attended at the 2012 NOW conference was Plenary III. During this plenary session, the Woman of Action Awards were awarded, followed by a Political Roundtable. The all-around amazing Allendra Letsome, NOW Membership Vice President, introduced the Woman of Action honorees: Dr. Carroll Estes and Dr. Bernice “Bunny” Sandler.

Dr. Estes is a pioneer and esteemed researcher in aging policy research, and has served in several leadership positions within that field. In her acceptance speech, she talked about the three women who she feels most impacted her life: her mother, who showed her that women can write; Maggie Kuhn, the Gray Panthers founder, who taught her about the intersection between ageism and social justice as well as advocacy; and Tisch Summers, who taught her the adage “don’t agonize, organize.” She also lamented the War on Women and urged everyone to fight back.

Dr. Sandler was an integral part of getting Title IX, as well as one of the first people to bring attention to campus sexual harassment. She credited the award to all of the women who gathered data on their campuses. Sandler went on to discuss the importance and impact of Title IX and how nobody expected it to be landmark legislation. She also said that the biggest impact Title IX has had on her grandchildren is that allows them to have friends of the opposite sex.

I found both Estes’ and Sandler’s speeches really enlightening. What stood out to me from Estes’ speech was that she found inspiration everywhere, from major players like Maggie Kuhn and Tisch Summers to a regular person like her mother. As someone who tries to draw inspiration (feminist, religious, and philosophical) from everyone and everything I happen upon, I really appreciate Estes’ dedication to learning from her surroundings.

I found it really interesting that Sandler believes that Title IX’s biggest impact on her grandchildren is allowing for friendships with the opposite sex. Sandler feels that it just shows that Title IX facilitated a social revolution, one that is still happening, and she can’t be more right. Despite the fact that my school is all-girls, I’ve maintained and made friendships with guys throughout the past few years. These relationships have really broadened my horizons, just because the guys are cool individuals who I like in the same way that I like my female friends. I am so glad that I was born in this generation rather than 50 years ago, when such friendships wouldn’t have been possible.

When talking about her mother, Estes said that she had been a burgeoning mystery novelist when her father told her to stop writing; her success scared him. It’s so sad that her mother’s talent was quashed the way it was. Sandler also mentioned that in the 1960s, 21,000 women were rejected from Virginia state colleges, while not a single male applicant was turned away. She wondered aloud if the cure for cancer was in that 21,000. While writing mystery books is clearly not on the same level as possibly discovering some amazing scientific cure, it’s still the same concept of women’s abilities not being harnessed to their full potential. I feel grateful that women like Estes and Sandler didn’t just moan and groan about the unfairness of the situation, and did something about it. As Tisch Summers said to Estes, “Don’t agonize, organize.”

Monday, September 10, 2012

Musings on the NOW Conference: Eve Ensler

This post is part of a series discussing the 2012 National Organization for Women (NOW) Conference: Energize! Organize! Stop the War on Women. You can read my notes on this session here.

The third session I attended at the NOW conference was a plenary session (officially Plenary II, although I didn’t attend the first one) with Eve Ensler, the keynote speaker. Ensler is the author and playwright who penned The Vagina Monologues, a feminist classic which has been translated into 48 languages and performed in over 140 countries. Ensler is also the creator of V-Day, a global movement to end violence against women and girls. One of V-Day’s projects, One Billion Rising, encourages women to rise up on February 14 to demand an end to the violence.

To say that Eve Ensler is a charismatic orator would truly be the understatement of the millennium. Hearing her speak - no, experiencing her speak - was one of the highlights of my time at the conference. She was just…amazing. I’m beyond words. They cannot even begin to describe Ensler’s awesomeness.

The way Ensler spoke about the issues was just amazing. She presented them with a sense of humor, but still treated them with the respect and gravity they deserve. She celebrated victories, like the reaction to Vaginagate, and rallied the audience to DO something to fix the problems, like the fact that one billion of the world’s women - that’s 1 in 3 women - will experience sexual abuse. “We must misbehave!” she urged the audience. “I can’t say that strongly enough.”

She then discussed V-Day’s amazing work towards empowering African women. Ensler shared the story of Jean, a woman from the Congo, a rape zone whose systematic desecration of women is terrifying. Jean was raped, so she was sent to City of Joy, a V-day establishment for survivors of gender violence “where women turn pain into power.” After Jean returned to her war-torn village, she was regularly raped for two months by soldiers. She came back to City of Joy and truly turned her pain into power, graduating from the center in January and becoming a leader advocating on women’s behalf. It’s absolutely amazing how Ensler has made this sort of transformation possible, how she has truly dived into this cause and accomplished so much.

I cannot give the next part of Ensler’s speech justice by paraphrasing it or giving my thoughts on it, so I’ll just include my transcribed text of it (any mistakes are mine, I apologize) and provide the link to the video accompaniment. I know the video is almost 40 minutes long, but seriously, it’s worth watching. I’m listening to it as I type these words, and I’m getting chills, even though this is my umpteenth viewing it. If you don’t have the time and/or patience to watch all 40 minutes, skip to 24:57 in order to listen to the part I have transcribed here.

So you might ask, why rising and why now? I think you know.

We are rising because the time has come. Because we have waited too long, worked too hard, built and rebuilt and built again, and frankly I don’t want to be doing the same thing over and over like Groundhog Day when I’m 85. We’ve opened shelters and hotlines, campaigned for rights, fought for legislation, and then fought for the same legislation again and again, protected our sisters’ choice and our sisters’ bodies.

We are rising because we are done convincing and cajoling, arguing and arranging, accommodating and acquiescing.

We are rising because the future of the earth is at stake and the world economy is at stake and our right to determine our identities and destinies. The future of the body, of the earth and the bodies of women, are one and the same.

We are rising for and with the native and indigenous women who have suffered multiple violations of culture of land and bodies.

We are rising because we refuse to be pushed back to the Dark Ages where women had no control over their uteruses, vaginas, desires, sexuality, reproduction, or health.

We are rising because we are over a tiny particular group of powerful men who are unable even to say the word vagina having the chutzpah to attempt to regulate and determine our vaginas.

We are rising because we are over transvaginal wands and personhood amendments and being censored and spanked for mentioning our own body parts. [wild cheers]

We are rising because 1 out of 3 women on the planet is raped and beaten, 1 out of 5 women on college campuses is raped, and 1 out of 4 teenage girls are abused.

We are rising because we are over girls being trafficked and sold and reduced and objectified.

We are rising because we are sick and tired of women being on the frontlines of every revolution from Tahrir Square and being pushed to the back at the moment of victory, marginalized and disappeared.

We are rising to stop the War on Women in America, Congo, Sudan, Haiti, Egypt, Guatemala, name a place.

We are rising to tell religious leaders - and I mean this to religious leaders - and governments that the time has come to direct their energy to feeding, healing, housing the people rather than obsessing about our vaginas.

We are rising so the marginalized majority steps into equality, voice, and power.

We are rising because we are over the overregulation of women’s health clinics and women’s bodies and vaginas when those same overregulators do nothing to protect those same women when they get pregnant, when they get raped, unemployed, or sick and need moral and financial support.

We are rising because we are over those who pretend to care about our personhood and then cut funding from Planned Parenthood, which makes the health of our personhood possible.

We are rising because we are over brilliant, passionate remarks by women being called tantrums, and outspoken women being called crazy, slut, inappropriate, and lacking decorum simply because they disagree.

We are over rape culture, rape mentality, and rape jokes.

We are rising because we are over people not understanding rape is not a joke, and over being told we don’t have a sense of humor when most women I know are really fucking funny. [cheers] We just don’t think an uninvited penis up our anus or vagina is a laugh riot.

We are rising because we are over 1 woman out of 3 in the US military who defend this country getting raped by their so-called comrades.

We are rising so women can stop being silent about rape because they are made to believe it’s their fault or they did something to make it happen or it’s really not that bad.

We are rising for the Violence Against Women Act to finally pass and be done once and for all! The destruction…of women is the destruction of life itself. No women, no life. Duh!

We are rising because we are over some powerful men pretending this deep love of fetuses or babies and life when really it’s a guise for their terror of our sexuality and power. If you cared so much about life, you would never ever consider letting a woman die rather than performing an abortion. You would ask the lifegivers, the women themselves, what they need and want, and you would honor their decisions and trust their decisions and believe that they were thought out carefully, with depth, because that’s how women are. And you would maybe even worship their vaginas, you would cherish the word vagina and know there’s nothing dirty or disgusting about the place where all of life comes from.

We are rising because we are over people talking about the weight of our bodies rather than responding to the weight of our ideas.

We are rising and we are calling the good men to rise with us. There are plenty of good men. You live with us, make love with us, father us, befriend us, brother us, get nurtured and nurtured and mothered and eternally supported by us, so why aren’t you standing with us? Why aren’t you driven to the point of madness and action by the rape and humiliation and censoring of us?

What does the rising look like? This is what it looks like. It looks like 5000 people in Lansing, Michigan screaming “vagina!” on the Capitol steps to protest the banning of Lisa Brown for saying the word vagina. Go Michigan!

It looks like women’s groups across the world uniting and having each others’ backs. And I can’t say this strongly enough, we all have to get over our stuff, we just have to get together now and we have to make this happen. This is our moment. The GOP has given us a gorgeous opportunity. Let’s turn it into our moment where we bust patriarchy once and for all and unite and come together and do it.

And when we talk about solidarity, no one gets marginalized or made to feel less important. Those women who have been traditionally invisible - women of color, native women, LGBTQ women - got to lead the way.

It looks like every color rising and every religion and every sexual orientation and every class.

It looks like one billion. And I’ve been doing all these ways of conceptualizing what one billion looks like. This artist figured it out. If you had a panel and it was 8 feet tall and you had just a tiny little symbol that repeated itself on a panel of 8 feet wide, it would take 143 miles with just those little repeats. It’s a lot of people. We have a lot of power. One billion women and all the men who love us, that’s a lot of power.

It looks like Tahrir Square and Zucotti Park times a billion. So just imagine that and then multiply it times a billion. It looks like the women’s spring and I’m gonna tell you something, deep in my soul, in my heart, in my vagina, I know the women’s spring is here. It is here. Our time is here.

It looks like millions of women taking back their bodies…and wishes and destinies.

It looks like teenage girls breaking free from brothels and pimps and abusive boyfriends.

It looks like an end to cutting and beating and acid burning and stoning and forced marriage and rape.

It looks like women dancing in the streets, in the alleyways, and in the dark or any place where they have not been allowed to walk or travel or feel safe.

It looks like dancing.

It looks like women having energy because fear has lifted and their energy gets directed towards healing and growing and feeding and…leading.

It looks like men grieving and opening and supporting and finding a new way to be men, which looks like freedom.

It looks like an end to shame.

And yes, it looks like a big yes to touch and skin and kissing and sweating.

It looks like leaves shimmering in the sun and wind. It looks like waves rising. It looks like we’ve all been waiting for for most of our lives. It looks like radical love.

We will hear it in the drums, in the two billion feet stomping, in the bodies spinning and writhing and whirling, a weight that breaks the heart of the world open, that shakes the Richter scale and lands us in ripeness.

This is the moment. This is where it all turns around.

This is where we talk back, speak back, this is where we dance and dance and dance and do not stop dancing, this is where we rise up.

This is where we celebrate every brave woman who has stood up before us, we stand up now because of her. This is the moment where we multiply her efforts and our efforts, it’s the billion effect. One woman reaching ten reaching 100 reaching 100,000 and so on and on.

This is where we go the distance and stop apologizing and asking permission. We don’t do this for us, we don’t do this for power. We do it for life, for our children, for the future.

This is the moment we dance and I mean dance, we take up space, we spread our wings, this is the moment of our rising. It begins here and now. Each day until February 14 is part of the rising, each action must be bolder and more determined and more disruptive.

Who can stop one billion of us? Who?

This is the moment of our rising. Will you rise with me?

Holy freaking cow. If that doesn’t stir the hearts of the masses, then I don’t know what will.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

In Memoriam: Shulamith Firestone

Baruch dayan ha’emet (blessed is the true Judge). Shulamith Firestone is nifteret (deceased).

I learned this when I was on the phone with a friend, idly browsing through my Facebook news feed, and saw the update from the Jewish Women’s Archive about Ms. Firestone’s death. After I hung up with my friend, I had a crying session.

It is impossible for me to adequately express my deep admiration for Shulamith Firestone, and certainly not while I am this upset. However, I will try.

I got into women’s rights advocacy when I wrote a paper about Second Wave Feminism. When I did research for the paper and read Second Wave classics, those books really resonated with me, largely because the issues that women fought for then still need to be resolved now. While I credit reading Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique as my official feminist click moment, reading Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution was certainly a close runner-up, part of the overall realization.

Anyone well-versed in feminist literature knows that The Feminine Mystique and The Dialectic of Sex are two very different books; where The Feminine Mystique is very mainstream and complains about white middle class women’s problems more than anything else, The Dialectic of Sex is radical, demanding a scientific method for fetuses to mature outside of the womb in order to totally empower women and an upheaval of the nuclear family and society at large. While I did not understand or agree with everything in The Dialectic of Sex (I was only 14 when I read it), it really resonated with me in ways that most other radical feminist literature did not.

It also fascinated me that someone with a name as Jewish as Shulamith could be a feminist. I know it sounds a little silly, but when I thought of feminists (especially when I first heard of Firestone and was not yet familiar with most major feminists), I thought of white bread American names like Betty and Gloria, not Shulamith. When I read Firestone’s short bio on the back of the book and saw that she attended Yavneh of Telshe Yeshiva, a clearly Orthodox (possibly bordering on ultra-Orthodox) school, that fascinated me even more. While it wasn’t a conscious thought, it struck me as “if she can be so ethnic and such a classic feminist, why can’t I?”

Ever since I read The Dialectic of Sex, I have done sporadic research on Firestone and her life, trying to learn more about who she was as a person rather than what she accomplished. Knowing about her achievements only takes a quick Google search (although you learn something new every day - I never knew she reintroduced Alice Paul to the world until a I saw Jacqui Ceballos of the Veteran Feminists of America’s email about Firestone’s death). Learning about who she was is a whole different kind of research. I still have a lot of questions about her life. Sadly, I doubt that most of them will ever be answered. I wish that this wasn’t the case.

I just feel so bad that Firestone was alone at the end. I would have been there for her faithfully. She truly changed my life, influenced my views on feminism and the world at large; it would have been the least I could do in return. I’m sure all of the other women and men out there whose lives were impacted by her work feel the same way.

Shulamith, thank you for your contributions to this world. Feminism will not forget you.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Musings on the NOW Conference: Modernizing NOW's Structue (Brief Overview)

This post is part of a series discussing the 2012 National Organization for Women (NOW) Conference: Energize! Organize! Stop the War on Women. You can read my notes on this session here.

The second session that I attended at the NOW conference was titled Modernizing NOW’s Structure (Brief Overview). At the conference, a summit was dedicated to brainstorming ideas about making NOW’s governmental structure more conducive to accomplishing goals. This overview session was intended to give conference attendees a taste of what the summit would be about.

NOW President Terry O’Neill introduced Patricia Ireland, a former NOW President and current Advisor to the NOW National Board, as the person who spearheaded the effort to modernize NOW’s structure. Ireland explained that the purpose of the summit is just to brainstorm what works and what doesn’t, not to come to conclusions.

Ireland then introduced the other members of the working group.

Elisabeth Crum, a National Board Member and Regional Director, wants to get younger women involved in NOW and make the organization more social media-friendly.

Janice Rocco, a National Board Member, discussed her desire to put NOW in the national spotlight.

Linda Berg, a National Board Member, mentioned how often the rules get in the way of progress, and how she wants to fix that.

China Fortson, a Regional Director, expressed her desire to increase the diversity within NOW.

Sonia Ossorio, the NYC NOW President, wants to make NOW’s presence in the 21st century as forceful as it was in the 20th.

Eleanor Smeal, a former NOW President and Advisor to the NOW National Board, wants NOW to be strengthened in order to defeat the War on Women.

Janet Cantebury, Advisor to the NOW National Board, explained how she looks forward to giving local NOW chapters more flexibility.

I appreciate the fact that Crum’s objective is to make NOW an organization that’s friendlier to younger women’s needs. The feminist movement in general is having a hard time transitioning into the Third Wave and giving leadership roles and exposure to younger women, so it’s good to know that NOW is very much aware of the need for young feminists to take the reins. I’m also glad that Fortson mentioned the need for more women of color in NOW, since it is a noticeable dearth.

Another thing I liked about this whole summit is that it shows that NOW leadership isn’t afraid to admit that the organization isn’t perfect and that there’s room for improvement. One often hears of businesses that fail because people at the top didn’t want to hear and do anything about major obstacles, so it’s good to know that NOW’s leaders are aware of the fact that there are problems that need to be resolved.

While I didn’t attend any more sessions of the Modernizing NOW’s Structure summit, this overview was enough to show me that there are existing problems, but some serious stuff is going to be done to fix them. I’m really looking forward to seeing the changes and how they impact NOW’s tireless women’s rights advocacy.