Filed under: Announcements, Nonfiction, Opinion, Post by: Sheryl R, Starring Local Feminists
We’re pleased to share the line up put together by poet Sheila McMullin, past So to Speak editor and current VIDA web assistant. Check out her fantastic list of exactly which AWP panels next week in Seattle fall under the feminism umbrella!
“For your feminist appetite I have complied a savory dish of 2014 AWP Seattle feminist panels. How, you ask, do I know these are feminist panels, when few of them self-identify as feminist? Well, identify, rather, identity is going to be the key term here.”
Looking forward to seeing some of you at the events. Don’t forget to stop by the So to Speak table for custom buttons and to say hi!
Filed under: Nonfiction, Opinion, Politics, Starring Local Feminists, Women's Health
photo by Stephen Morton for The New York Times
As a feminist, I was interested in the Marine Corps’s January decision to delay the implementation of its testing standards when 55 percent of women failed to complete at least three pull-ups, a required component of the combat fitness test. This issue stirred up a lot of attention in military and feminist circles alike, as both groups wrestled–and continue to wrestle–with what it means that so many women failed in this endeavor.
The figure that is still on my mind, though, is the 45 percent of women who did accomplish the pull-up requirements. By focusing our attention on the women who failed, we have failed the women who succeeded in rising to the standard. Literally, by pulling themselves up to where they needed to be the required number of times, they thereby demonstrated their capability to serve alongside men in a war zone, where “scaling a wall, climbing up a rope, or lifting and carrying heavy munitions” are life-dependent tasks. That’s something to celebrate, but instead, the Marine Corps will deny them the chance to be considered equals to the men with whom they have in fact demonstrated physical equality.
I’m a feminist in the most basic sense: I believe in equal rights and equal opportunities for men and women alike. In short, I believe in equality for all people, period. As such, I support the presence of qualified women in the military, and I think barring women from service in combat zones is to ignore the long history of women who have always done so, with or without formal recognition of their contributions.
However, I do not support the idea that we should have women in a combat zone simply for the sake of having women in a combat zone. Just as the military screens for the strongest and most physically capable men, so also do I expect the military to screen for the strongest and most physically capable women. Actually, scratch that: What I expect is for the military to screen for the strongest and most physically capable people. Period.
The Marine Corps is in a particularly awkward position regarding the social and political push for a certain quota of women to be maintained in its ranks, because the Marine Corps is unique among military branches in its requirement that all Marines meet core infantry standards, not just those assigned to serve in the infantry. The Corps seems to hope it can achieve this socially and politically demanded quota by “equalizing physical standards to integrate women into combat jobs.”
But I worry that the quest for equality in the military is becoming more about achieving the appearance of equality, through socially and politically imposed quotas, than about upholding true equality of opportunity for everyone—male or female—to serve his or her country if he or she is qualified to do so. I think it is a mistake to hold back the women who have demonstrated their ability to meet the physical standards for serving in the Marine Corps simply because there aren’t enough of them (yet) to meet these superficial quotas.
Lowering the physical standards for women in a euphemistic effort to “equalize” the Corps’ gender distribution is no more equitable than banning women from combat zones. All infantry training programs in the military have a long history of high attrition rates; in fact, many would argue that, for the Marine Corps especially, these high attrition rates are a point of pride, a bragging right, a means of establishing the Corps’ image as physical and mental elites. They’re not known as the Few and the Proud for nothing.
Military service is not something men or women are entitled to. Even in times of conscription, physical requirements still limited eligibility to serve. For example, we did not let blind men fly airplanes in World War II, and I hope we would not have let blind women do so, either. Upper body strength is as important to infantry service as vision is to flight, and we do no one, male or female, any favors by diminishing the importance of physical standards for military service.
The issue, then, is not whether or not we have an appropriately equitable number of women serving in the military, but whether we are granting women equality in the opportunity to prove their qualifications for military service. And prove it many did. As 45 percent of recruits demonstrated in their successful execution of the combat fitness test, and as has been pointed out in reportage of this issue, it’s not impossible for women to do several pull ups.
By fixating on men and women as separate categories, we’re forgetting that first and foremost we are all people. Gender is just one of many factors that plays into an individual’s ability to serve successfully in the military. If sticking to its guns means the Marine Corps can’t attain whatever socially and politically desirable quota of women society would prefer, well, tough nuggets. As for those 45 percent of women who did achieve the physical standard, who can do three or more pull-ups, to those women I say: Ooh-rah. Get some, ladies. Get some.
Liz is fiction editor at So to Speak and a third-year fiction candidate in the MFA program at George Mason University, where she also teaches in the English department and serves as the assistant director in the Writing Center. Liz lives and writes in Annapolis, Maryland.
Filed under: Fiction, Interview, Opinion, Politics, Starring Local Feminists, Uncategorized
Fairy tales—a term that might not be considered “literary” in some circles, but So to Speak’s assistant editor Christina Elaine Collins will argue with you for days on end about the artistic, social, and various other values of fairy tales and of the importance of retelling them. In particular, she has a weakness—no, a strength!—for feminist fairy tale retellings, both reading and writing them. And with her publication of one such retelling in a new anthology from Tenebris Books—Willow, Weep No More—she offered to share her thoughts on what feminist fairy tale retellings should do and why she writes them.
Sheryl: It sounds like you’ve been interested in fairy tales for a long time. Can you tell us what your favorite fairy tale is, and your personal experience with fairy tales?
Christina: I can’t decide between The Twelve Brothers from the Brothers Grimm and The Little Mermaid from Hans Christian Andersen. These two tales have something in common: a mute heroine. That is, a heroine who must be silent to succeed. This fascinates me, and also bothers me. One could interpret her silence both literally and figuratively—and where there is silence, there is potential for feminist revision.
My experience with fairytales started off like many people’s. As a child I was exposed to the Disney animated classics (the sanitized versions of fairy tales). But I was also exposed to Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre TV series and the Grimm’s Fairy Tale Classics anime series from Nippon Animation, both from the 1980s, and these gave me a better taste of the original tales. And then in adolescence I had quite the obsession with reading fairytale retellings. When I studied abroad at the University of Oxford years later, I wrote several of my own retellings for a creative writing tutorial. Before I knew it, I was writing my senior thesis on mute women in folk tales, fairytales, and feminist revisions, as well as a novel that would retell one such tale. It’s safe to say that fairytales, along with feminism, have always been on my mind.
Sheryl: Tell us about your story “Glint of Gold,” which is included in Willow, Weep No More. Where did you draw your inspiration from, and what were you trying to achieve in your retelling?
Christina: “Glint of Gold” draws on two lesser-known tales: “The Twelve Huntsmen” and “The Golden Goose.” I was first inspired to write “Glint of Gold” when I discovered “The Twelve Huntsmen,” a tale from the Brothers Grimm that I’d never heard of before. Many people are familiar with the “femininity test” motif in fairy tales—The Princess and the Pea, for instance—and The Twelve Huntsmen includes this motif. But I was fascinated by all the feminist potential the tale holds. It is progressive—or at least it was in the nineteenth century when the Grimms published it—in that it shows women successfully behaving like men, proving they can be just like men, and acting in a role (hunter) that was traditionally considered inappropriate for women. Unfortunately, the tale fails to reach that feminist potential; the women are presented as though they would have fallen into the feminine stereotype if they had not been warned about the femininity tests in advance. Plus, the ending, in which the protagonist marries the king despite his ridiculous tests, negates much of the female empowerment that the tale initially offers. In my revision, I changed these two plot points. And my aim was not to portray the king as bad or evil—trading one gender bias for another solves nothing, in my opinion—but I wanted the protagonist to recognize how unreasonable and restricting his tests are. In the end, my goal is to offer liberating alternatives, following in the vein of admirable feminist fairy tale revisionists such as Emma Donoghue and Angela Carter. I hope that “Glint of Gold” can contribute to that crucial literary canon.
Sheryl: Speaking of Donoghue and Carter, what works would you recommend to StS readers looking to read literary feminist retellings?
Christina: Indeed, Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue and The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter are excellent places to start in terms of fiction. That is where I started. As for poetry, Anne Sexton’s Transformations is a must-read. I would also recommend Don’t Bet on the Prince: Contemporary Feminist Fairy Tales in North America and England, an excellent collection edited by Jack Zipes. And, of course, the other stories in Willow, Weep No More from Tenebris Books!
Christina Elaine Collins is a Pushcart Prize-nominated fiction writer, an MFA candidate at George Mason University, and So to Speak’s assistant editor. In addition to “Glint of Gold,” she has published other feminist fairy tale retellings in literary journals such as Jabberwock Review, Rose Red Review, Poiesis Review, and Cliterature Journal. She has been a writer-in-residence at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts as well as the Art Commune program in Armenia, and is represented by Kristin Nelson of the Nelson Literary Agency. You can find her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/CElaineCollins.
Filed under: Nonfiction, Opinion, Poetry, Starring Local Feminists, Uncategorized
The following is a guest post by writer and HIV nurse, Melissa Schuppe:
Last week, I attended an evening writing workshop with a local college professor. I went out of a desire to get out of the house, to be with others who enjoy writing, and hopefully to jumpstart my own lagging efforts at getting words on the page. One of the themes of the class that caught my attention in particular was that of “literary silencing.” As women, what keeps us from writing our hearts out and feeling valued as writers by the rest of the world? We did an exercise where we figured out who would have been the last generation of women in our families to have lived without the right to vote. We then wrote a letter to that person. In my case, it would have been my great –grandmother. However, I observed, though my grandmother had the right to vote, she probably didn’t. She had seven children at home and couldn’t drive.
I wish I could have sat down with my instructor that night after the class ended. I would have poured another plastic cup of wine and told her about how I had inactivated my entire blog this past year, which I had been keeping since 2008. It was a sad and frustrated reaction to the negativity I was dealing with from my family regarding my writing. My children complained that they didn’t like being written about. My husband would read it and get thrown into a funk thinking that I didn’t love him anymore. All this from my attempts to capture the stuff of my life and make sense of it. I decided at that moment that it just wasn’t worth it. I retreated to my bedroom with my purple speckled composition book, and I wrote these words:
“I am growing more and more hesitant about putting my words out to people- in print or verbally. They always come out wrong, or they are misunderstood, or they hurt someone. As I grow older and I fight my ego down, my self-esteem kind of gets trampled along the way. I am afraid. Apologetic. Regretful- yes, very regretful.”
I have since restored a few of my blog posts, and occasionally add one (in fact, the last one I wrote touched on this exact subject), but it feels different now. I cannot write without thinking of others. And I realize now that I am being silenced.
I grew up in the early 70’s, with a working mother who managed to maintain the traditional female role but never forced it upon me. I have been very fortunate to have grown up in an environment filled with the unconditional love and support of my parents. I married a man who has always respected and supported my dreams and goals completely. I know that I am strong and that I have a voice. And yet- still I am silenced. I am silenced by the lack of approval of those around me. I am afraid to write about the man I fell for while married, and why. About the fact that I wish I had slept with a woman, just once, before settling down. About watching a baby die, or wishing my own child would die. These are deeply personal things, and it makes me feel so vulnerable to put them out there. Too vulnerable. Even if they might enrich the lives of those who read them – is it worth it?
I am also silenced by the clock. I work full time, in a job that requires me to be mentally alert and make decisions that affect peoples’ health. I cannot write at work, although I am known to take occasional notes. And then I come home and there are teenagers to look after and supper to make and a baseball game to get to. Or maybe I am drained from a day of working out of town, and I just want to crawl in bed with a book and a glass of wine.
I am silenced by my lack of privacy. I am rarely alone, and I must have privacy to write. I live in a busy household of five people. When my children were younger and I was at home with them, it was easy to put a movie on for them or dump out the Legos, and then retreat into my own world of writing for an hour. It is surprising to find my life so different now that my children are older and independent. Not only do I work outside the home, but when I am home with my children I find myself wanting to spend time connecting with them and hearing about their day. I know now how fleeting these last couple of years with them is. So I must make a choice and I make it. I close my journal. Yes, that one is worth it.
So I see two kinds of silencing at work in my life. The kind that comes from my circumstances and the kind that is a product of my own fear and insecurity. Some days, I wonder if can control either of them. For now, I vow to keep on writing, in whatever way I can. My life might look completely different in 5 years and the time to overcome these obstacles might present itself. The woman I took the class from is starting a 7 week class in her home. It’s on a terrible night for me. But I think maybe it will help me start the process of looking more closely at the issue of silencing and how it affects me as a woman, and as a writer. I think I’m going to take it.
Melissa Schuppe is an LPN specializing in HIV care. She was formerly a childbirth educator and student midwife. A self-taught, lifelong writer, her chapbook Wild, But Not Lost was published last summer by Finishing Line Press. What remains of her blog can be found a www.mfschuppe.blogspot.com.
Filed under: Announcements, Fiction, Interview, Monthly News Round-Up, Nonfiction, Opinion, Poetry, Politics, Post by: Paula B, Starring Local Feminists, Uncategorized
The past few weeks So to Speak has devoted the blog to “Hispanic Heritage Month,” the official national recognition and celebration of the contributions made by generations of Latino/Hispanic Americans in the United States.
With a population totaling over 50 million, we at StS are aware that unique political, economic, educational, cultural, and linguistic dynamics are at play in each individual community within this broad classification. In our series we featured the voices of three Americans we felt represented significant segments of the Hispanic/Latino population in the nation.
The Exiled American
George Mason’s very own Women Studies professor and professor of English at Montgomery College, Cuban American Dr. Elizabeth Huergo, entered the United States with her parents a political refugee as a young child in the 1960’s. Huergo talked to StS’s blog editor, Sheryl Rivett, about how exile negates choice.
“Immigration can be very difficult, but at least there is some degree, however small, of choice. Exile obliterates choice. We are separated from everything we know (family, friends, homeland, language, culture), elements of our lives that deeply shape our identity. And exile also does great damage to our sense of agency in the world. The regaining, the reconstruction of identity and agency becomes the work of a lifetime, and that is not the easiest sort of work. Though if you can manage to endure, to persevere, there is a certain degree of joy to be experienced in that process of reconstruction—if you can come out on the other side.”
U.S.-born Frances E. Valdez, a Houston-based immigration attorney and activist, reflected on how she seems to frustrate people who ask her where she’s “from” and why she “cares” about immigrants when she hasn’t had relatives in Mexico “since the Mexican revolution around 1910.”
“Where were you born? Houston, Texas. Where were your parents born? El Paso, Texas. Where were your grandparents born? El Paso, Texas, Balmorhea, Texas and Ft. Davis, Texas. That is when people usually start to get frustrated and ask, Well, where is your family from originally? The actual meaning behind this statement is, you are a brown-skinned woman and brown-skinned women are not native to the U.S.” As to why she cares about immigrants: “Anyone who has ever experienced the feeling that you will never truly belong because of your gender, sexuality, skin color, ancestry, disability or a myriad of categories that differ from mainstream society, can develop sympathy for the immigrant struggle. When we recognize the similarities amongst oppressed communities, we realize that by fighting for justice for immigrants we fight for equality for all oppressed groups.”
The American Son of Undocumented Immigration
Poet Javier O. Huerta, a doctoral candidate in English at UC- Berkeley, identifies as a “Chicano poet from Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas [Mexico] who lived as an undocumented immigrant in Houston, Tejas from 1981 to 1981.” We asked Huerta what it meant to him to be a 21st century feminist male and he told us of his work on a collection of poems inspired by the actress Lupe Ontiveros who told the New York Times that she played the role of maid 150 times.
“At the center of the poem is the problem of a double translation: “aspirar” as “to aspire” or as “to vacuum.” This is not really a choice for many poor women of color who for generations have had to turn to domestic work to support their families. Ontiveros claims she portrayed every maid she ever played with dignity and respect, so the 150 verses are my way of thanking her. The diversity of roles available to Latina actresses is definitely an important issue but one that should be tied with the more crucial issue of real life roles available to young Latinas. To be a 21st century feminist man means to support efforts that offer women more freedom of choice in their careers and in their lives and to oppose efforts that attempt to limit that freedom.”
Although the terms “Latino” and “Hispanic” are used interchangeably by media and interest groups, the decision to self-identify as one or the other is less a point of debate within the community (who tends to default to country of origin), and more a challenge for those outside who attempt to homogenize multi-ethnic, multiracial, astoundingly diverse millions. Since the surge of popularity of “Latino” in mainstream media especially, however, the umbrella terms are lately perceived as less contentious, and as such their use is now on the rise over what some feel are the more alienating “Mexican/Cuban/Dominican/Salvodorean American” labels.
“I think we should be cautious about the use of “Latino” because it is being used to target us, as voters, as shoppers, and as readers,” said Huerta when asked about the rising popularity of the umbrella terms. “The more specific the better is what we teach our students.”
You don’t need to be a feminist to know the risks of engaging in sweeping, simplified generalizations, even and especially if, these are deemed the norm or “official.” We are proud to have introduced these three stories of feminism in action to the So to Speak community. As American feminists and world citizens, it is imperative that we learn to recognize and value the myriad of experiences lived in Latino/Hispanic America.