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Intersectionality

Sex Positive Language

A rape crisis center focuses primarily on supporting survivors of sexual assault, but we also strive to further systemic change around sexual violence through prevention and education. What does a culture without sexual violence look like? It values consensual sex; it honors the joy and pleasure that humans find in their sexuality. As we work to end sexual violence in our culture, part of that work is to promote sex positive narratives. For the month of May, the ZCenter blog is looking at sex positive culture and our role in it. We start here by exploring language (American English) and how language and sexuality shape each other. 

Language is constantly changing; it evolves with the living community. Just within the last week, an Alabama bill was signed that removes anti-gay language from sex education. We know that language changes as our understanding of sexuality becomes more complex and we also know that our choices in language help to shape the changes that we want to see in society. We offer a brief overview of sexuality and language by looking into semantics, morphology, and discourse analysis.

Semantics

 

“‘Vagina’ is itself an insult. In Latin the word means ‘scabbard’, that is, ‘sword sheath’” (Greer, 2020, p.2); a female’s sexual anatomy is defined only by what a man can store there. A puritanical view of sex has been built into our language, ingrained into our very vocabulary. Our own bodies are turned against us as insults. “By refusing to use words like slut and pussy as terms of abuse, you’re rejecting the imbalanced standards that have been set for women’s sexuality and men’s machismo. It’s a form of protest against the condemnation of women’s sexual independence and men’s refusal to act like chauvinist bruisers” (Montell, 2020, p.48). Montell adds other terms that are too often used as abuse: bitch, old maid, spinster, queer, dyke, nasty woman, cunt, and ho. Some folks are reclaiming these words, as a way to reject old standards of femininity (p.39). Do we want to reclaim all of these insults? Do we want slut, a word that punishes women for enjoying sex, to be used at all? Modern women grapple with this issue and still find no clear answer.

We need to recognize that intermingling gendered and sexual language into verbal abuse is a harm the cuts deeply: “(H)aving someone accuse you of doing your gender badly often feels like the worst insult of all, because it tells you that you’ve failed at a fundamental part of who you are” (p. 38). Also, as children grow up and hear sexual terms used as insults, it automatically places sexuality into a negative light, particularly women’s sexuality. When we see that a man being called a women’s sexuality term (pussy, e.g.) as one of the lowest insults in the culture, we know something is wrong. It’s time to intervene when we hear our own body parts used as insults.

Cursing is too often a contributing factor in a sex negative culture. In fact it is one of three categories of cursing: sex, scatology, and religion. Cursing in the sex category includes terms like fuck, dick, and cunt (Montell, 2020, p. 196). Any sexual act or descriptor can become a curse word in the right context. Once again, we relegate sexual acts to that which is insulting and/or intending to cause harm. However, Montell reminds us that “you can curse without insulting” (p.196). Is there a difference between Fuck the patriarchy and Uhg, the fucking patriarchy? In a world where we want to end sexual violence, we need to be more conscious of our word choice, particularly of how our language perpetuates a rape culture. But we also want to be sex positive and affirm healthy, consensual sex in our language. Similarly, with the word gay, we as a culture are moving away from using the word as an insult and honoring the word as a self-identifier that promotes a healthy sexual identity. Gone are the days when Michael Scott can get away with calling coworkers gay as an insult.

Morphology

 

Morphology is the study of parts of words, including how affixes, conjugations, and other word parts function. For example, a linguist notices that angriness is a misuse of morphemes; we already have a noun, anger, that expresses the same meaning. Adding -ness to angry is unnecessary. 

We can be conscious of how morphemes help or hinder a sex positive culture. We know that suffixes -ette and -ess distinguish words to describe women, and usually in a way that delineated an insult or an assumption that this new word is less than the original. Suffragette was first coined as a way to delegitimize female suffragists; similarly, actress, waitress, and stewardess all refer to women only, distinguishing them from the norm (Eckert & McConnell-Ginet, 2013, pp. 85-86). We have a flood of terminology emerging, words that take away the male normalization: waitstaff/server, actors, folks, service worker, postal worker, flight attendant, etc.

We can also be more conscious of the suffix –y. Crazy, slutty, dirty, and bitchy are all terms that anyone can use to insult a woman, specifically if she shows an interest in sexual pleasure and/or assertiveness. Do we use these words often? Do we intervene when we hear them? Do we talk within our social circles about how or if we want to reclaim these terms?

 

Discourse Analysis

 

Analyzing larger chunks of language and how we make choices about language is discourse analysis. Sexuality is discursively constructed, meaning our sexual identity is closely tied to the language we use. In fact, one’s ideology can support feminist values but their discourse might reveal more traditional roles (Kendall & Tannen, 2018). 

What are some ways that discourse analysis helps us recognize more sex positive language?

1.Politeness. We don’t talk about sex in polite company, not even with our children. Also, the “kinds of ‘politeness’ used by and of and to women do not arise by accident; that they are, indeed, stifling, exclusive, and oppressive” (Lakoff, 2004, p. 102). In the workplace, women often “assume a warm manner; use humor, and allow themselves to be the objects of humor; and otherwise attend to the face needs of subordinates by using ‘mitigated commands, forms of politeness, and indirect engagement’” (Kendall & Tannen, 2018, p. 652). Sex positive language means that we stop valuing politeness above justice and equity. Our children deserve to learn about sex properly and our society deserves to talk openly about something we all do.

2. Euphemisms. We use euphemisms to talk about sex positively, because our society still does not accept overt talk of sex in polite conversation. We can say hooking up, Netflix and chill, or gettin’ some; but to openly discuss our happiness about our own sex lives is still considered taboo. Even on one of television’s most openly sexual series, Sex and the City, Charlotte still preferred See You Next Tuesday to cunt (IMDB, 2021).

3. Hedging. We soften our language with phrases like “kind of, sort of, maybe, I think and others” (Parker & Mahlstedt, 2010, p. 144). “I kind of feel horny” communicates that the speaker’s sexuality is not very important. In a sex positive culture, we would openly and directly communicate our needs and desires, because they matter.

4. Normalizing Heterosexuality. “The purpose of a man is to love a woman, and the purpose of a woman is to love a man” (Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, 1965). The lyrics to the song The Game of Love illustrate just how pervasive the heterosexual norm was many years ago. Has the narrative changed since 1965? We certainly see more representation of the LGBTQIA community in pop culture, but we also have the same normalization of heterosexuality in our language. Consider the following interactions that are commonplace:

A: “My junior bought their prom outfit.”

B: “Oh, tell me all about her dress! Which boy asked her?” 

In this example, we see speaker B immediately jump into heteronormative assumptions about clothing, dating, and pronoun usage, and this is a very typical interaction among many parents. 

A: “My boss invited us to a company lunch this weekend.”

B: “Oh, and is his wife the hostess? I wonder if she is catering or cooking it all herself?”

Again, we see speaker B slip into heteronormative language with assumptions about the gender of a boss, their spouse being a woman, and the woman’s significant contribution being a domestic task.

As we go about our day-to-day lives, we can be more conscious of how we use language to either support the heteronormative language around us, or to support the sexuality and identity of all.

5. Online language. In terms of language used online, men use more crude language, including insults, profanity, and adversarial stances toward others (Kendall & Tannen, 2018, p. 652-3). We know that cyber aggression enforces social norms and also establishes social hierarchies (Felmlee et al, 2020). Women are insulted and harassed online if they ever step outside of the social norm for female behavior; women are told to be submissive, quiet, polite, and caring. When we assert ourselves, even worse, our sexuality, we are harassed and bullied (See more at Felmlee et al, 2020).  But we can create safe online spaces and we can be active bystanders who intervene when we see this language behavior online. 

 

Societal Change

 

Can changing our language change societal norms? This was a question Robin Tolmach Lakoff asked in 1975. She found that word choice, tone, politeness, even cursing are approached differently by men and women (Lakoff, 2004). As we look into next steps for sex positive language, let’s keep these thoughts in mind:

  • Use your words. “If there’s no name for it, it’s as if the phenomenon does not exist” (Parker & Mahlstedt, 2010, p. 142). Just as we have added terms like date rape, acquaintance rape, and affirmative consent to our lexicon, we can add more ways to describe sex in a positive light. We can continue to move toward a more sex positive discourse with terms like consent, kink, and body acceptance.
  • Keep the euphemisms flourishing. We need to start with small steps toward positive sex talk, even if it’s just Netflix and chill. In situations where it feels inappropriate to use overt sexual language, let’s at least keep the euphemisms alive!
  • Stop hedging. Stop being polite. Let’s be direct in our communication when it comes to our own sexuality. Let’s not be afraid to assert our needs and desires.
  • Family talk when children are young is how we are socialized into how we view sex (Kiesling, 2019, p.115). Check back in next week as explore this topic of parent and caregiver language on the topic of sex positivity.

 

References

Eckert, P. & S. McConnell-Ginet. (2013). Language and Gender, Second Edition. Cambridge University Press.

Felmlee,D., P.I. Rodis, & A. Zhang. (2020). Sexist Slurs: Reinforcing Feminine Sterotypes Online. Sex Roles. 83:16–28 https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s11199-019-01095-z.pdf

Greer, G. (2020). On Rape. Hachette Australia.

Internet Movie Database (IMDB). (2021). Sex and the City Quotes. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0159206/quotes/?tab=qt&ref_=tt_trv_qu

Kendall, S. & D. Tannen. (2018). Discourse and Gender, in The Handbook of Discourse Analysis, 2nd Ed. (Ed. D. Tannen, H. Hamilton, D. Schiffrin). Willey Blackwell.

Kiesling, S.F. (2019). Language, Gender, and Sexuality: An Introduction. Routledge. 

Lakoff, R.T. (2004). Language and Woman’s Place: Text and Commentaires, Revised and Expanded Edition. Mary Bucholtz (Ed.). Oxford University Press.

Montell, A. (2020). Wordslut: A feminist guide to taking back the English language. Harper Wave.

Parker, J.A. & D. Mahlstedt. (2010).Language, Power, ane Sexual Assault: Women’s Voices on Rape and Social Change. Language in the real world. Behrens, S. J., & Parker, J. A. (Eds.). Routledge. 139-163.

Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders. (1965). The Game of Love. https://www.oldielyrics.com/lyrics/wayne_fontana_and_the_mindbenders/game_of_love.html (accessed 2021).


Written by Kristin D. Jones, Ph.D., Ed.M., Outreach Supervisor

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

SAAM Spotlight: Sexual Assault among Indigenous Communities

Throughout history, people have faced oppression in multiple forms. People of color, and more specifically women of color, have dealt with sexual assault at a higher rate than others. Today I want to talk about women with Indigenous backgrounds and their experiences with sexual assault and the legal system.

To start, here is a bit of background information on Native American history. At the beginning of European colonization, Native tribes were forced off of their lands and given unfair trades without a full, clear explanation of those trades. Large bursts of European immigrants arrived in the 1400s and again in the 1600s. Meanwhile, Spaniards were colonizing Mexico and South American land. Often times the Native people were forced to leave, either with threats or violence. They continued to be massacred and enslaved while immigrants took over the land (Mark, 2020). In a different stage of history, many Indigenous people were forced into American boarding schools to assimilate to EuroAmerican culture. In more recent years, mascots have started to be rebranded from depictions of Native Americans to other logos. The original goal was to eradicate Native American culture so there would be no threat or competition. Ultimately, this attempt by the government failed. 

Poverty is widespread throughout Native American communities. “In 2017, more than 90% of Lakota residents on the Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation—the second largest Native reservation in South Dakota, run by the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council—were living below the federal poverty level” (Bruce, 2019). Initially, in the 1800s, the government had a ‘welfare’ program, but it was not welfare. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) did not include tribe members in decisions and held a lot of control over these Native communities. Over time, the plan was to eradicate and assimilate these ‘foreign’ cultures. 

There is a highway in Canada called ‘The Highway of Tears’. Many women, especially Native American women, go missing along this road. Hitchhiking is quite common because there is a lack of resources. That hitchhiking can lead to terrible things, but for some, it is the only way to get to where they need to be. One article explained the language found on billboards. The billboards depict Native American women and have phrases that go against the idea of hitchhiking. However, many of these people do not have a choice. 

There are also staggering statistics that show people of Indigenous origin are assaulted at higher rates than others. For example, 4 out of 5 Alaskan Indigenous have experienced violence, and 1 in 2 have experienced sexual violence (Clairmont, 2021). While statistics are always changing and sexual assault is an underreported issue, it shows how big of a problem it is in Native communities. 

Another aspect to consider is how the laws differ between reservations and the United States. According to RAINN, “Non-indigenous perpetrators cannot be prosecuted for rape by tribal courts for crimes committed on tribal land and against indigenous people”. Someone who is assaulted on a Native American reservation by someone from a State will have a long, difficult journey in court- if they get that journey at all. In turn, this can prevent people from reporting if they feel nothing will be done. “By their own account, between 2005 and 2009, U.S. attorneys declined to prosecute 67% of the Indian country matters referred to them involving sexual abuse and related matters” (Indian Law, 2021). This goes to show how much work must be done to bring more awareness to sexual assault cases. Rather than focusing on the struggles of Indigenous people, we can work on bringing social justice and support.

How can we support these communities? Several organizations work with Native American and Indigenous populations in the United States and on reservations and independent creators linked below! It is important that we support Native American businesses and advocate, as well as educating ourselves. See our other blog post about Elizabeth Peratrovich, who made waves in the political system for Indigenous rights. 

How to Support

Organizations:

National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center

First Nations Women’s Alliance

Businesses:

She Native

Trickster Company

Bedre Chocolates

 

References

Bruce, A. (2019). When Your Colonizers Are Hypocrites: Federal Poverty “Solutions” and Indigenous Survival of Sex Trafficking in Indian Country. National Lawyers Guild Review, 76(3), 140–182.

CBS News. (2016). Highway of Tears. https://www.cbsnews.com/video/highway-of-tears-3/

Clairmont, B. (2021, accessed). Culturally Appropriate Responses for Native American Victims of Sexual Assaulthttp://www.tribal-institute.org/download/NativeVictimsSexualAssault.pdf

Daily Motion. (2015). Highway of Tears: Documentary on the Unsolved Murders on Highway 16. https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2h7la5.

Indian Law Resource Center. (2021, accessed). Ending Violence Against Native Women.  https://indianlaw.org/issue/ending-violence-against-native-women

Mark, J. (2020). European Colonization of the Americas. https://www.ancient.eu/European_Colonization_of_the_Americas/

Morton, K. (2016). Hitchhiking and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women: A critical discourse analysis of billboards on the Highway of tears. The Canadian Journal of Sociology / Cahiers canadiens de sociologie. Vol. 41, No. 3, Special Issue: Canadian Mobilities/Contentious Mobilities (2016), pp. 299-326.

 


Written by Olivia Stueben, Outreach Intern

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

Awareness Raising of Vulnerable Communities

On March 16th, 2021, there was a mass shooting in Atlanta. Eight people were killed and of those, six were Asian women. Soon after this event the media and the public spoke louder about fears of Asian hate crimes, racial injustice, and more. As an Asian woman, this news struck close to my heart. There was definite anger and bitterness stemming from fear and horror. 

For more information about the event, see this NY Times article.  

I find myself wrestling with questions like “How do we fight this hate? How do we protect people against hate?” These questions swirl through my mind with a feeling of wanting to do something about the helplessness that seems just around the corner. After such ponderings for an answer, I am often brought to a place of wondering what is within my realm of influence for myself and those around me. What can I do for those around me to protect them and provide safety? How do I advocate for those who are in such vulnerable positions? I find myself wanting to provide a safe space to process their thoughts, emotions, and personal stories. I find myself wanting to build a community. In Korea, there is this saying that if we share our joy, it doubles and if we share our sorrows they are halved. 

When the topic of race and racial injustice is usually brought up in social gatherings, it often seems to create an awkward silence, division, frustration, confusion, and discomfort. It is difficult to feel safe and become vulnerable about the topic of race and racial injustice freely and openly. This difficulty leads people to avoid engaging which creates further assumptions and division. It is a cyclical pattern that keeps us stagnant and stuck. In the end, such deepening assumptions and division only inspire further isolation and increase risk of vulnerability to the minorities. 

Yet people need a safe space to talk about hard topics like this. The politeness given to one another to avoid conflict or the angry outbursts have only led to further divide, prejudice, and misconceptions. In order for us to create a safe space for one another, we need to not assume our own cultural perspective as “the correct one,” but to increase self-awareness of one’s own beliefs and values and to hold an attitude of humility towards the other. 

The attitude of humility starts not with exclamation points (assumptions and judgment) but with question marks (curiosity and compassion). The hope of cultural humility is to help people feel safer to talk about differences and accept differences. Different cultures are not lesser, wrong, or weird. They are just different. Let us all have an approach of question marks to ourselves (bias and assumptions) and question marks to others (curiosity and compassion) to create a safer space for difficult topics and difficult times. Let us create shelter for one another and for the vulnerable communities.

For more information on communities who are more vulnerable and at the highest risk for sexual violence, see Rainn.org. For more information on risk factors for sexual violence, see CDC.gov.


Written by Gloria Lee, Counselor

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

Staff Picks: Books and Films

 Reading has been shown to put our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, and it brings the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm.

-Ceridwen Dovey

Can Reading Make You Happier? 

 

With titles that support survivors like Maximize Your Super Powers, Nothing Is Louder than Silence, Living for Today, and Find Your Voice, it’s hard to believe that reading is anything but empowering. Why are books critical for survivors? What do they bring to those seeking a secret formula about how and why we’re feeling the way we do? 

Books allow us to see ourselves in stories, normalize our feelings, and not feel alone. We resonate with characters and appreciate the stories that show hope and healing. We receive insight into moving forward or hearing that being stuck right where we are is okay. Books can be a portal to connection with others, sharing their suffering as well as joys. These stories and poems help us experience multiple realities and give language to thoughts and feelings some of us cannot put into words. Books like Grief Day by Day can expand our understanding; it can feel as though someone is walking hand in hand with us as the book taps into the hidden places where we may not want to look.

Reading makes us laugh, get angry, or cry. It is a personal and visceral experience and it can be incredibly uncomfortable to see yourself in black and white, for everyone to see. At the same time, books dare us to grow and help guide and solidify the goals we have around healing and who we want to be. Books remind us that words like transcending, allies, and courage need to be part of our lexicon; these are powerful terms that we aspire to have and to emulate. Reading also can reduce stress, be soothing, and cause one’s mind to shift gears to a positive or more open state. Let’s be patient with ourselves as we move through pages and remember the books were not written about us but for us. Soak it all in and remember wherever you are on your journey; you deserve this healing process, however that may look for you.

Some people who have experienced sexual assault and abuse have found ways to collect their memories and compile these soul-searching experiences, so others can benefit from their strength and courage. They’re willing to allow others to actually see their story in black and white. We appreciate them and their courage. Although we can highlight some of those books here, maybe it’s not only about the books themselves, but the importance they play as life preservers, an escape from where we are, and finding the truth, your truth.  – Wendy Ivy, Associate Executive Director

 

Staff Picks

  • Christine Berry, Director of Services, suggests Mean by Myriam Gurba. The reason this book is so important is because it highlights how intersectionality plays a role in trauma. In addition, it really shows how added trauma negatively impacts those who are already marginalized. 
  • Anna Lehner, Director of Development, recommends watching Allen v. Farrow, on HBO. This documentary highlights some of the systems, wealth, Hollywood culture, and misogyny, that often protect perpetrators and influence the public views on sexual violence. 
  • Kristin Jones, our Outreach Supervisor, urges viewers to watch the documentary Rewind, directed by Sasha Neulinger. Viewers learn about how a survivor of childhood sexual abuse continues to move forward in the healing journey and how he started a Child Advocacy Center that sparked a movement of more centers like it opening nationwide.
  • Sarah Brennan, our Activism and Volunteer Coordinator, suggests reading Chanel Miller’s Know My Name. Chanel shares her journey to healing and uses her voice to take back ownership of her body and of the narrative. Readers learn more about the process of medical advocacy, the legal process, and what survivors can expect emotionally when going through similar situations. 
  • Haley Olson, a ZCenter BSW Intern, recommends the documentary The Hunting Ground, directed by Kirby Dick. Viewers of this documentary learn about the high prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses by following survivors’ stories and recoveries as they chase justice. The film also deep dives into the academic bureaucracy that seems to prioritize protecting institutions over working towards justice.

 


 

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

Forgotten Voices in STEM: Rosalind Franklin

The month of March is Women’s History Month and so we are focusing on forgotten voices of women throughout history. This week, we’re highlighting the work of an incredibly influential woman who is only spoken of briefly in biology courses despite her huge accomplishments. Seventy years ago, a young Rosalind Franklin looked over an X-Ray photograph and discovered something that would go on to change how we understand life. This discovery eventually led to a university here in Lake County, IL being named after her. Unfortunately, even though her legacy lives on locally, she also got the very raw end of the deal when it comes to her own discovery.

Franklin was born in Notting Hill, London in 1920. At the beginning of her life, her family noticed how quickly she had picked up a love and understanding of maths and sciences, her intelligence even surpassing those subjects and eventually mastering the French, Italian, and German languages. It was only at the age of 16 that Franklin began to dedicate her time to science entirely. Majoring in physical chemistry at one of the only women’s colleges, Newnham College at Cambridge University, Franklin immediately went on to work as a research assistant with the British Coal Utilisation Research Association (BCURA) after her bachelor’s degree. At BCURA, she studied the absorption of coal and the research she did eventually led her into her dissertation for her doctorate degree in 1945.

After earning her doctorate, Franklin was accepted into a position at Paris’ Laboratoire Central des Services Chimiques de l’Etat, where she worked on X-Ray imagery, leading her to her primal discovery just a short few years later in 1951. While studying DNA structure with assistant Raymond Gosling, Franklin discovered that DNA had a double helix structure in a photo now branded Photograph 51, serving as the evidence for the new understanding of DNA. Unfortunately, a colleague showed this photograph to James Watson, who took the evidence to further prove his and Francis Crick’s own research on the structure without Franklin’s permission. They went on to publish a paper on the structure of DNA with no credit given to Franklin, despite her photograph being a prominent factor of evidence.

Franklin continued on to new areas of research, publishing a number of papers on viruses in the five years after her discovery. The impact of her work helped build many foundations of understanding viral structure, which was incredibly important to physiological research. Still, Watson and Crick went on to receive a Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine years after Franklin’s death from ovarian cancer in 1958, giving no credit to Franklin.

Rosalind Franklin is only one account of women’s voices being lost within the larger influence of men, having not been acknowledged for this contribution until after her death, and while it may not be the last, there is power in recognizing those lost voices. This month we have highlighted multiple women that paved the way for so many others in history. Join ZCenter as we strive to keep these voices alive while raising up the voices of women today. 

Works Referenced:

Maisel, M., & Smart, L. (1997). Rosalind Elsie Franklin: Pioneer molecular biologist. Retrieved 

March 22, 2021, from https://www.sdsc.edu/ScienceWomen/franklin.html

Rosalind Franklin: A Crucial Contribution. (2014). Retrieved March 22, 2021, from 

https://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/rosalind-franklin-a-crucial-contribution-6538012/

Rosalind Franklin: Biographical Overview. (n.d.). Retrieved March 19, 2021, from 

https://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/spotlight/kr/feature/biographical


Written by Haley Olson, Outreach Intern

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

Stormé DeLarverie: Stonewall and Beyond

It was a rebellion, it was an uprising, it was a civil rights disobedience – it wasn’t no damn riot.

— Stormé DeLarverie

This Women’s History Month, we celebrate the life of Stormé DeLarverie, and although recounts of Stonewall are uncertain of whether Stormé threw the first punch, she was extremely influential in fighting for LGBTQIA+ rights throughout her life. Stormé was born in the 1920s; at the time, her mother was a Black servant in the home of her white father; the two eventually married and moved to California.

Stormé was the Master of Ceremonies for Jewel Box Revenue, a group of 25 men and Stormé which entailed a gender-bending performance where Stormé presented as a cisgender man in the first integrated drag show in the U.S. in the 1940s. Stormé was a butch lesbian who fought fiercely for the rights of all individuals. While living in New York City, Stormé became a motherly figure within the LGBTQIA+ community, being sure to handle any “ugly” she saw. She used the term ugly to define bullying, abuse, or intolerance of people within the LGBTQIA+ community. This fearlessness afforded Stormé the nickname of being the “Rosa Parks of the gay community” (Windy City Times, 2014). Throughout her life, Stormé was also a bouncer at Cubby Hole’s bar in New York, where she worked until she was 85. For Stormé, this was not a movement but fighting for a lifestyle where everyone could live their life freely as they wanted to.

In the New York Times obituary remembering Stormé, one of her legal guardians, Mrs. Cannistraci exclaimed, “She literally walked the streets of downtown Manhattan like a gay superhero; she was not to be messed with by any stretch of the imagination.” We hope to emulate the same fierceness that Stormé had throughout her lifetime in our work supporting survivors and ending sexual violence against all individuals.

 

Works Referenced: 

Brownworth, V. (2015). The Herstory Pride Archives: why recording our lesbian history is important. Curve (San Francisco, Calif.), 25(3), 16–.

HELLER, M. (2020). The “First Punch” at Stonewall: Counteridentification Butch Acts. In Queering Drag: Redefining the Discourse of Gender-Bending (pp. 115-151). Bloomington, Indiana, USA: Indiana University Press. doi:10.2307/j.ctvtv93wm.8

Iconic activist storme DeLaverie passes away. (2014, Jun 04). Windy City Times Retrieved from http://flagship.luc.edu/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/newspapers/iconic-activist-storme-delaverie-passes-away/docview/1538315297/se-2?accountid=12163

https://theriveter.co/voice/it-wasnt-no-damn-riot-celebrating-stonewall-uprising-activist-storme-delarverie/


Written by Sarah Brennan, Activism and Volunteer Coordinator

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

Forgotten Voices: Women Writers throughout History

*We at ZCenter recognize and celebrate Women’s History Month, but we do offer all of our services to all individuals regardless of how they identify. We acknowledge the use of womxn as an inclusive term, but choose to maintain the use of women, as many do not feel included in the use of womxn. We believe transgender women are women, which is why choose to continue the use of women.

 

In honor of Women’s History Month, the March blogs will focus on forgotten voices of major women figures throughout history. This week, we highlight only a few women writers who too often go unnoticed in a literary world dominated by the cisgender white male voice. 

Enheduanna, two millennia before the Christian messiah, grasps the lapiz lazuli around her neck, takes in the night sky, and writes her soul into poetry as she honors the goddess Inanna. She gazes toward the Gate of Wonder as hymns to the Queen of Heaven and Earth flow onto her clay tablets (De Shong Meador, 2000). A woman, writing praise to a goddess, suspends her own place as one living under the shadow of her father Sargon. In an ancient world dominated by warring men, Enheduanna, the first known female poet and first known author by name, writes her own world.

She is Inanna

Bearer of Happiness

Whose strapping command

Hip-dagger in hand

Spreads radiance over the land

-excerpt from Lady of Largest Heart by Enheduanna (De Shong Meador, 2000)

 

As male Babylonian warriors siege Jerusalem, Sappho centers the 6th Century BCE Mediterranean world on Helen, Hera, Hermione, Hékate, and Aphrodite (Sappho, 2007). Sappho’s poems remind us that we can re-center the narrative; the story becomes what we choose.

But stand before me, if you are my friend, 

and spread the grace that’s in your eyes.

– (Sappho, 2007, p.34)

Hékate, the shining gold attendant of Aphrodite…

Like a child to her mother I have flown to you.

– (Sappho, 2007, p.41-42)

 

In 17th Century Mexico, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz was a prolific writer in her matricentric world, even referred to now as a protofeminist and ecofeminist (Yagar, 2014). Centering her poetry in the Nahua people’s cosmic worldview, Sor Juana challenged the gender inequalities of her time. Of particular interest is her poem Hombres Necios, in which she describes the hypocrisy of men who demand that unmarried women are virgins, when it is the same men who take that virginity.

Hombres necios que acusáis

a la mujer sin razón,

sin ver que sois la ocasión

de lo mismo que culpáis

 

Foolish men who accuse

women without reason,

without seeing that you’re to blame

for the very thing that you accuse

– excerpt from Hombres Necios (Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, 1997)

 

As we work to end sexual violence, we carry a torch that was lit many millennia ago by brave, autonomous women like these three writers. In their poetry, may we find the inspiration to continue to fight oppression for all.

 

Works Referenced:

 

De Shong Meador, B. (2000). Inanna: Lady of Largest Heart. University of Texas Press.

Sappho. (2007). Poetry of Sappho (J. Powell, Trans.). Oxford University Press. http://www.projethomere.com/ressources/Sappho/Poetry-of-Sappho.pdf

Yugar, T.A. (2014). Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: Feminist Reconstruction of Biography and Text. Wipf and Stock Publishers.

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. (1997). Obras completas (México, D.F.: Porrúa, 1997), 109.


Written by Kristin Jones, Outreach Supervisor

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

Rosa Parks: Women’s Rights Activist

Long revered as a civil rights icon, Rosa Parks is best known for sparking the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott. Rosa Parks’s refusal to move on that iconic bus was more than an act of racial justice. She understood that women were unsafe in the back of a bus; she refused to move as an act of resistance, knowing that sexual violence against Black women was pervasive and accepted by the mainstream culture.

Twelve years earlier, Rosa Parks had joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Upon joining the NAACP, she focused on advocacy efforts for the Black community in Alabama, including efforts to make sure Black sexual violence survivors received their rightful day in court. Escaping her own attempted sexual assault by a white neighbor, she was once quoted as saying,

“ I was ready to die but give my consent never. Never, never.” 

Rosa Parks’s passion for justice in sexual violence cases brought her to Abbeville, Alabama in the fall of 1944. Recy Taylor was walking home from church when she was kidnapped and assaulted by a group of men. When the NAACP learned of the incident, they sent Rosa Parks as an investigator. Segregation and white supremacy permeated every area of life in 1940’s Alabama, a milieu not unlike many other parts of our nation. When Rosa Parks found an unfriendly welcome in Abbeville, she drew on her own resilience and co-founded the Committee for Equal Justice for Ms. Recy Taylor. Rosa Parks played a large role in bringing national attention to the case, kindling the fire of civil rights around the nation. We can draw a direct line from Recy Taylor’s case to the Civil Rights Movement and then to the Me Too Movement. We owe a debt of gratitude to Rosa Parks in the role she played in both civil rights and justice for sexual violence survivors.

Mrs. Parks dedicated her life to activism and other social justice causes. On October 25, 2005 Mrs. Parks Passed away at the age of 92. May we honor her memory with each act to end sexual violence and each act to end racial injustice. 


Written by Gwen Fayne, Advocate, and Kristin Jones, Outreach Supervisor

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

Sojourner Truth: Activist and Orator

Sojourner Truth lived as an enslaved Black woman for most of her young adult life until a New York statute declared in 1817 that all enslaved Black people would be free by July 4, 1827. Growing up as an enslaved Black girl, and in a rural town, Sojourner was never given the opportunity to attend missionary school to learn to read and write. It was not illegal to teach enslaved Black people during this time, although it was uncommon and typically occurred in more populated cities like New York City or Albany. Sojourner never did learn to read and write, but was a skilled orator who captivated audiences. Upon legally being granted her freedom, Sojourner was an avid abolitionist whose focus was on issues such as property rights, prison reform, capital punishment, and women’s suffrage. Sojourner teamed together with other activists to help add more power to the abolitionist movement including Frederick Douglass, even though they had differing ideas on how to help newly freed Black people during the time of Reconstruction. Partnerships like this one added even more power to the work of social justice as they continued to give speeches across the United States fighting for equal rights. 

Sojourner Truth gave her now-famous speech, Ain’t I a Woman, in 1851 at the Ohio Rights Convention. In 2021, 170 years later, we see the relevancy of her words as they echo down the streets where we see police violence towards Black bodies. Ain’t I a Woman, cries Breonna Taylor, Ain’t I a Woman, cries Sandra Bland. Ain’t I a Woman, cry the many Black women whose lives have been cut short in recent years.

 

Ain’t I a Woman?

 

“Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that ‘twixt the Negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all this here talking about?

 

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?

 

Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it [member of audience whispers, “intellect”] That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or Negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?

 

Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ‘cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

 

If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it. The men better let them.

 

Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain’t got nothing more to say.

Sojourner Truth’s words speak to women of color today, too. This speech focuses not only on sexism but also racism within the feminist movement. All women should be treated equally to each other, and equally to men. The struggle of Black women finding their place as Black women within feminism and as feminist women within the Black community is an ongoing struggle, as we see in bell hooks’ Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism. Sojourner Truth was a bold, brave woman who was not afraid to speak her mind against the injustices of the time. She overcame many obstacles in her life and made waves with her powerful words that battled patriarchy and racism.


Written by Olivia Stueben, Outreach Intern

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

Frances Thompson: Honoring Black Survivors Who Forged the Path Before Us

During the Memphis Riots in 1866, Frances Thompson and her roommate Lucy Smith were attacked in their home. At the time of the attack, Frances and Lucy were formerly enslaved Black women, now living freely working as seamstresses. Both of these women, along with four other Black women– Mary Walker, Mollie Davis, Ellen Brown, and Lucy Hunt– bravely testified before congress in the aftermath of the Memphis Riots for various reasons. Ms. Thompson’s testimony was thrown out ten years later as, after an arrest and medical examination, it was publicized that Ms. Thompson was a transgender woman in The Pulaski Citizen, the daily newspaper. Unable to pay the fine, Ms. Thompson was thrown in jail and sent out on the chain gang– when prisoners were chained together in order to complete physical tasks. In the testimony provided, Ms. Thompson describes having a cancer in her foot and being unable to walk without crutches. From then on, Ms. Thompson’s identity was used to discredit her testimony of what happened years earlier during the riots.  

Sexual assault survivors too often have their stories doubted. It is not easy for survivors to provide testimony against their perpetrators, still to this day. Survivors are not believed, and it is important to take into account their identities and how this affects their ability to heal, and be believed. Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the feminist term, intersectionality, which references the way in which our identities (race, gender, class, sex, ability, sexuality, etc.) can affect one another and further discrimination or increase privilege. With Frances Thompson, there are many intersections of her identity that lead to further discrimination and we can see that in the wrongful and forced publication in regards to her transgender identity as well as her living with a disability. People no longer believed her and began to use incorrect pronouns among other forms of verbal and physical abuse. Frances Thompson was a brave woman who testified against her perpetrators in 1866, and we look toward her as a woman of strength in this fight against sexual assault. 

If you are interested in reading Ms. Thompson’s testimony, you can find it here on pages 196-197. To read the article clipping from The Pulaski Citizen, click here.


Written by Sarah Brennan, Activism and Volunteer Coordinator

All ZCenter blog posts are written by state certified staff, interns, and volunteers. For questions on authorship or content, please email kjones@zcenter.org.

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