Beauty is…everywhere.

I like to think my sense of the beautiful only grows as I come to recognize more forms of caring and resilience and to appreciate a wider range of shapes and sizes and colors and textures. On my best days, I see it everywhere, and the more I see it, the more space it takes up, which is wonderful.

Advertisements

In celebration of Women’s History Month, I chatted with Dr Penny Weiss, the Director of Women’s Studies at St Louis University.


 

Can you give me just a little bit of background. Where are you from? Where did you go to school? What brought you to St Louis?

I am a native of Miami, Florida and a graduate of the University of South Florida. I went toslu_vert_blue university-of-south-florida-logograd school in the Midwest and have since spent most of my adult life here. I came to STL in 2008 because I had the chance to move from a position in a political science department to one in a women’s studies program, and from a rural setting outside a small city to the big city. It was a phenomenal switch!

 

What drew you to Women’s Studies? Was there one turning point or “ah ha!” moment?

I came of age when WS programs were starting and the women’s movement was hitting another peak. What drew me? Everything: the questions, the people, the politics, the passion, the purpose, the activism, the festivals. Women’s Studies, like feminism itself, made (and continues to make) sense of my life.

What is a common misconception you encounter when you are discussing feminism?

I think, unfortunately, that people know more about what anti-feminists say feminism is than what feminists say. Among the most persistent misconceptions: reproductive justice only means a right to abortion; most religions are incompatible with feminism; feminism means whatever any individual chooses to say it means (and feminism means you can’t criticize any choice anyone makes); and then there are the oldies but goodies…feminists hate men, are all lesbians, are selfish, are (too) aggressive and demanding, are unreasonable in their demands, etc.

It’s Women’s History Month; who are some women from history you have loved learning about?

Emma Goldman, Anna Julia Cooper, Christine de Pizan, Mary Astell, Mary Wollstonecraft, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Jane Addams, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and many more. Just as important, I loved learning about the work women together did to bring about change, in organizations from anti-slavery associations and women’s labor groups to peace leagues and suffrage associations. And all that work is still being carried on around the world!

 

I recently came across this image and the idea it reflects online:

What are your thoughts on this? Can we fairly say that general history courses are to men what women’s studies courses are to women?

The cartoon is still all-too-true. We know that we still do not know about women’s lives to the extent we know about men’s. It is the accomplishments of men (especially in politics and economics, narrowly defined) that have been deemed historically important, the deeds of men (especially in war, industry, and government) that have determined the ways we distinguish one historical period from another (such as pre-Civil War or post-industrial), and the arenas in which men acted (military, legal, etc.) that important things worth recording were said to happen. This leaves out three things: the impact of all of these deeds and events on various groups of women, the stories of women’s lives both within these boundaries (at work, in political office) and beyond them (in the community, participating in street riots, as victims of gender-based violence, as caregivers, raising crops and children, as activists, etc.), and how we might reconceive historical eras (and philosophical schools of thought, etc.) once we read women into them. I’d say that “general history courses are to men what women’s history courses are to women,” rather than “what women’s studies courses are to women,” because we teach much more than women’s history (including the study of masculinity).

Who are some women in your life that have inspired you?

My two daughters amaze me. My colleagues and students in Women’s and Gender Studies amaze me. The women in my neighborhood who keep on keeping on amaze me.

What is your definition of beauty?

That it evolves (I’m not attracted to the same things or people I was 20 years ago, nor do I aspire to the same ideals I did then) and mostly involves appreciation. I like to think my sense of the beautiful only grows as I come to recognize more forms of caring and resilience and to appreciate a wider range of shapes and sizes and colors and textures. On my best days, I see it everywhere, and the more I see it, the more space it takes up, which is wonderful.

Beauty is everywhere (1)

Who should we be talking about for Women’s History month?

This list is far from complete and our conversation is far from over. Let’s come together to educate and lift up. Who would you add to the list?

Women's History Month

I recently happened upon this article by Yale grad student Barbara Sostaita. If you were not among the thousands of people who read and shared the article, let me sum up. The picture at the beginning of the post is of a young Latina flipping off the camera– that sets the tone for the entire article. Sostaita writes passionately about her refusal to celebrate “your feminism,” which she (correctly) understands as being overwhelmingly white.

Maybe it was the tone of her writing, or maybe it was the intensity of her passion, but after reading the article I felt deeply ashamed, embarrassed, and left out. I am white. I thought it was a good idea to celebrate the suffragettes. I thought Hillary Clinton was ok to talk about. And Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In is on my “to-read” list. I did not recognize a lot of the names that Sostaita brought up. I am not familiar with Toni Morrison’s work; I don’t know who Gloria Anzaldua is; I was unaware that female asylum seekers in a Texas detention centers went on a hunger strike for immediate freedom. I  didn’t know who these women were, and that embarrassed me.

I felt deliberately left out of this conversation because of the color of my skin. It wasn’t until the next day that it hit me. Maybe I was feeling just a small bit of what my sisters around the country and the world feel every. frickin. day. I was feeling sorry for myself because I felt left out. But how many women are left out of conversations not only because they were born with the ‘wrong’ anatomy, but the ‘wrong’ amount of melanin in their skin as well.

But Sostaita didn’t stop there. She goes on to say:

This Women’s History Month, I refuse to celebrate a white feminism that keeps women of color on the margins. This Women’s History Month, I refuse to celebrate a white feminism that alienates, subjugates and oppresses women of color. I don’t want to be hear about the first Latina [insert public office title] or the first Asian [insert professional sports title]. I’m sick of women of color only being mentioned and deemed worthy when we are the “first,” when we fit neatly into a box crafted by white women’s version of history. We have been, are, and will always be “exceptional” and “important.”

Ms Sostaita got me thinking– who else am I missing this Women’s History Month? Who  should we really be talking about? I asked around, and it seems the majority of the women we generally think of when we think of important women in history are indeed white. There are obviously a few exceptions, as some amazing African American women are consistently lauded (I’m looking at you Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth).But I was disappointed to see not one Asian, Hispanic, Indian, or Native American woman on my list.

Here are some of the ladies I heard mentioned when I asked, “Who are some of your favorite women from history?”

themostbeautifulcurveMy mom: for real though, big ups to our mommas!

 

 

 

“If you’re not living on the edge, you are taking up too much space!”

 


(image from Wikimedia)  Harriet Tubman: abolitionist, activist, nurse, underground railroad conductor, military hero;  buried with military honors at Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn.
“I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.”

mte5ntu2mze2mzc5mdu1nji3Lucy Stone: suffragette, abolitionist; convened the first national Women’s Rights Convention in 1850.
 “I think, with never-ending gratitude, that the young women of today do not and can never know at what price their right to free speech and to speak at all in public has been earned.”

emma_goldman_21Emma Goldman: fiery speaker and advocate for peace, free love, and birth control; she was deported to the Soviet Union in 1919.
“The demand for equal rights in every vocation of life is just and fair; but, after all, the most vital right is the right to love and be loved.”

annajuliacooper-1884-oberlincollegeAnna Julia Cooper: born into slavery, Cooper went on to become an author, speaker, and one of the most prominent African American scholars in US history.
“...not till race, color, sex, and condition are seen as the accidents, and not the substance of life; not till the universal title of humanity to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is conceded to be inalienable to all; not till then is woman’s lesson taught and woman’s cause won–not the white woman’s, nor the black woman’s, nor the red woman’s, but the cause of every man and of every woman who has writhed silently under a mighty wrong…”

christineChristine de Pizan: born in Italy in 1364, she is considered a pioneering feminist writer and one of the most notable women writers of medieval times.
“[I]f you seek in every way to minimise my firm beliefs by your anti-feminist attacks, please recall that a small dagger or knife point can pierce a great, bulging sack and that a small fly can attack a great lion and speedily put him to flight.”

sojourner_truth_01Sojourner Truth: a leading civil rights and women’s rights activist, Truth was born into slavery, but escaped with her baby girl and went on to successfully win her son’s freedom in court.

“If women want any rights more than they’s got, why don’t they just take them, and not be talking about it.”

ida1Ida B. Wells-Barnettdaughter of slaves, she became a journalist and led an anti-lynching campaign in the 1890s; she formed the National Association of Colored Women in 1896 and is considered a founding member of what would become known as the NAACP.
“The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.”

ap69010102601_custom-e1a28a7b5adcce275aa3e0d232b671b0f786bad9-s6-c30Elizabeth Cady Stanton: early leader of woman’s rights movement; wrote the Declaration of Sentiments  (a call to arms for equality).
 “I would have girls regard themselves not as adjectives but as nouns.”

img_9703-e1362439761550Ashley Rhodes-Courter: a former foster child herself, Ashley advocates for children in foster care

“Your mother is a hard act to follow. She will always be the love of your life.”

 


 

margaretchasesmith1960Margaret Chase Smith:  politician, U.S. congresswoman, presidential candidate, author; she cosponsored the Equal Rights Amendment with Congresswoman Winifred Stanley in the mid-1940s and worked on improving the status of women in the military.

 

“When people keep telling you that you can’t do a thing, you kind of like to try it.”

 


 

20160202012946shirley_chisholmShirley Chisholm: first African-American congresswoman, and first major-party black candidate to make a bid for US presidency

 

“Tremendous amounts of talent are lost to our society just because that talent wears a skirt.”

 


 

800px-marywollstonecraftMary Wollstonecraft: English writer, educator, journalist, and women’s rights advocate who argued for equality and educational reforms.
“Taught from infancy that beauty is woman’s sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison.”

jane-addamsJane Addams: pioneer for social work, advocate for peace, and social activist; founder of Hull House.

“Action indeed is the sole medium of expression for ethics.”

222px-astellproposal1Mary Astell: English philosopher best known for her theories on the education of women and her critiques of John Norris and John Locke.
 “If all men are born free, how is it that all women are born slaves?

This list is far from complete and our conversation is far from over. Let’s come together to educate and lift up. Who would you add to the list?

Let me know in the comments below!

2.jpg