Our 2019-2020 Staff!

As we enter into the 2019-2020 school year, we are excited to introduce you to the brilliant, creative, and driven UMBC students working in the Women’s Center! Please take a minute or two to read through some short bios below, and hopefully, you’ll be able to meet and make friends with each one of these lovely folks working with us over the school year. group photo of the Women's Center staff membersKaitlyn Kylus, Social Work, she/her

Headshot of KaitlynHello! My name is Kaitlyn and I’m a junior this year. I’m majoring in Social Work with a minor in Psychology, and I’m super excited to be working at the Women’s Center this year. I can’t wait to meet you all!

I’m also the Secretary of We Believe You and the Vice President of UMBC Debate Club.In my spare time you can catch me painting, watching cat videos, or taking a nap. Feel free to come say hi, and if you have pictures of your cat, please show me!

 

Kay Hinderlie, Psychology, they/them

Hi folks! I’m Kay, and I’m a senior at UMBC. I am pursuing a BA in Psychology with a minor in Gender and Women’s Studies. When I’m not in the Women’s Center or in classes, you would probably find me watching cartoons or taking napping. I love trying new things! I’ve taken up playing video games and listening to podcasts less than a year ago. If you see me around, please feel free to say hi!

Morgan Mullings, Media and Communication Studies, she/her and they/them

Hi! My name is Morgan and I’m a senior here at UMBC pursuing a BA in Media and Communications major with minors in English and Cinematic Arts. I am a poet, photographer, and aspiring filmmaker and most of my work stems from my own identity and experiences as a woman of color. If I’m not working at the Women’s Center you can find me watching Ghost Shark (2013) with my friends. I am also a huge stationary nerd and I worked at commonvision so ask me any question about a piece of paper.

If I could be any mythical creature it would be a unicorn that only speaks in quotes about intersectional feminism.

Sam Hertl, Social Work, they/them

Hello! My name is Sam and I’m a Social Work major with a Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies minor at UMBC. I’ll be working in the Women’s Center this year to fulfill my senior year Social Work Field Placement. I’ll be helping facilitate the discussion groups Between Women and We Believe You. I am passionate about advancing gender equity especially with a focus on the trans and genderqueer community. I’m looking forward to the connections I will be making and the knowledge that I’ll gain while a part of the Women’s Center community!

Additionally, I’m a big animal person (please show me pictures of your pets)! I’m an RA on campus, an aries, an artist, and an activist. Feel free to chat with me anytime!

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Inclusive Excellence Means Inclusive Access: A Treatise on All-Gender Restrooms at UMBC (and Beyond)

Written by Women’s Center Coordinator Amelia Meman, ’15.

A pink toilet on a rainbow gradient. Text reads

With the recent opening of UMBC’s first ever multi-user/stall all-gender restroom, I have become incensed to finally publish this very argumentative blog on all-gender restrooms. In this piece, I’m trying to deconstruct all of the myths, misgivings, and misinformation surrounding all-gender restrooms, and offer some ways of seeing (and potentially peeing) differently.

The MYTH of All-Gender Restrooms: Creating all-gender restrooms is dangerous because it provides an opportunity for sexual predators to attack vulnerable populations (women and children).

The REALITY of All-Gender Restrooms: They exist and have existed for a while through anti-discrimination protections and there is literally no evidence that these policies and the creation of all-gender restrooms lead to more attacks on anyone.

The REALITY of All-Gender Restrooms, Pt. 2: In creating and actualizing discriminatory policies that relegate particular people to particular bathrooms, we increase the likelihood of violence against vulnerable populations–in this case, trans and gender non-conforming folks.

We’re a STEM-heavy school, so let me put it this way: there is absolutely no empirical evidence that would support the hypothesis that increasing access to all-gender restrooms also increases violence against vulnerable populations like women and children.

Fine, done, end of blog.

Just kidding.

I want to continue deconstructing this myth and how damaging it is to the transgender folks in our world—and subsequently, how the perpetuation of this myth is totally antithetical to UMBC’s values of inclusive excellence, diversity, and social justice. So let’s dive in:

The myth of all-gender bathroom bills promoting violence against women and children implies two other dangerous notions that need be dispelled:

  1. Trans people = sexual predators
  2. Transgender people do not have the “correct genitalia” to use with their respective gender’s restroom (“if you have a penis, you need to use the men’s restroom”)

First: Who are the “sexual predators” we keep referring to?

Let’s take this first one apart, “trans people = sexual predators.” This line of thinking stems from the (not so distant) historical pathologization of people who don’t conform to socially constructed gender roles; AKA “trans people are crazy and dangerous.”

Not to totally historicize this issue because it is still a present challenge, but in the past, any and all people with non-heterosexual, non-traditional gender conforming identities were considered sexual deviants. In the early 20th century, a sexual revolution in Europe was pushing the boundaries of the way these “sexual deviants” were understood, especially through a medicalized and scientific lens. A cure to deviancy was no longer about keeping problematic individuals away from the public, but around diagnosis and treatment.  

Time rolls on and we move through many sexual revolutions, progress, trans and LGB icons, marches, revolutions, etc.. If you were transgender in this time, then you had “gender identity disorder,” a mental illness through all of the American Psychological Association’s (APA) editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders through the Fourth Edition (DSM-IV; AKA the Bible of psychiatry and other mental health practitioners). Thus, the idea of transgender people as those who are mentally ill is cemented by The Experts.

Fast forward to 2013: the DSM-V (the fifth edition of the DSM published by the APA in 2013) now uses the term “gender dysphoria” to describe the distress associated with not being able to be the gender we are. The difference here is very nuanced but important. To quote the APA, “gender nonconformity is not in itself a mental disorder. The critical element of gender dysphoria is the presence of clinically significant distress associated with the condition.” In other words, it’s not that being trans or non-binary is crazy. It’s that not being able to be the gender you are (and the barriers society constantly throws up) results in gender dysphoria.

We need to dislodge the synonymity between “transgender” and “problem,” because people are not problems; gender is not a problem. The barriers that we have put up between people accessing (or even just experimenting with being) our truest selves, is the problem.

A group of people hold signs at a protest against military ban on transgender people. Two signs in focus read

Second: “But what if a man in a dress uses a women’s restroom”

This is the token visual that opponents of all-gender restrooms look towards. We’ve all seen and experienced this joke: a big burly masculine man is in a hyper-feminine outfit. We’re made to laugh at how these two things don’t go together—but this “joke” is founded on the idea that people who look particular ways have to also act and present themselves in a way that matches our assumptions. This is what we like to call “gender essentialism.”

Gender essentialism/biological essentialism is the idea that there is a particular set of female or male genitalia that indicates your gender (e.g. penis = man; vagina = woman), and therefore should be the criteria by which people act, dress, use a bathroom, etc. The insistence that people with certain biological criteria or physical characteristics are particular genders is an essentialist way of thinking–and it’s also a restrictive way of thinking.

Most of us grow up learning to think as biological essentialists. We’re often taught about sex/gender binaries in our health class or with our parents, right? We’re taught that women, girls, females have vaginas, breasts, hips, higher voices, XX chromosomes; men, boys, males have penises, testes, facial hair, lower voices, XY chromosomes.

Biological essentialism rules the rhetorical roost of how we think about gender and sex; however, a different way of seeing gender and sex is to understand both as “socially constructed.” This is not to say that gender or sex is something we, as a society, have made up; rather, the meanings we ascribe to each of these things has been made through social patterns, behavior, etc. that are continually repeated until they read as fact. Fact becomes synonymous with objectivity and truth. I’m not trying to get into a philosophical discussion of what social constructionism is and how we should unlearn the meanings we learned about in school (if you want to get into that, see my office hours), but what I’m trying to get to is that biological essentialism is not the only way of seeing the world. We can see through a lens of social constructionism which enables us to do more questioning about the conclusions that we come to.

A line of 8 people icons, each a different color with different male, female, transgender symbols overlaid on their faces.A conclusion you could (should) question (always) is how we police gender and sex by creating rules around what each of these is defined as. Not every woman has a vagina. Not every person with a penis is male. People with XY chromosomes can be any gender in their lifetime. People can have a variety of different biological sex characteristics that do not align with the sex or gender they were prescribed at birth.

To go all the way back to that initial worry that a “man in a dress” will pee next to your daughter or your grandma or you, we can use a more inclusive lens for thinking about this scenario: three people have to pee. There are three private stalls in which they can do their business. These three people pee however it is they do so, and they simultaneously respect each other’s privacy. These three people might look all different sorts of ways, but it doesn’t matter because they came into the bathroom with the same goals–and having completed those goals, wash their hands, and exit in peace and respect.

My final word on this (as if I haven’t had enough already): If you dream of world peace, consider also dreaming of world where all people pee in peace. 

Fact Sharing

Okay, so I hope my mythbusting was validating, revelatory, or rote for you. Either way, here’s a fact that I want to share to displace the ugliness above that many opponents like to spread.

FACT: All-gender restrooms are an issue of discrimination and access.

Let’s break this down the same way we did the myth:

First: All gender-restrooms undoing discrimination

When we tell particular people that they are too different to use the bathroom they feel comfortable using, we are ultimately telling people that they are not, in some way, worthy of being in the space they deserve. This is discrimination.

Some folks in this world believe that by pressing for progress in trans rights, we are, among other misguided notions, setting a bad example for our children. But here’s the thing—the more we repress gender fluidity and multiple ways of being, the more undue violence we are perpetrating against children as they understand themselves as individuals. The tangible effects of discrimination do not come in the form of less trans people; rather, trans people will always exist, have always existed, but they will continue to meet a negative message that causes mental, psychological, and social distress. Not allowing transgender children to live their gender identity is harmful and potentially deadly. When you’re constantly met with the message that you’re too different to belong, you begin to face the alternative of belonging… which is shame and isolation.

We combat discrimination and its effects through inclusive access and affirming care. Hence, the importance of all-gender restrooms and ensuring their creation.

Second: All-gender restrooms as practical solutions to access issues

I want to bring this back to UMBC for a second with a little test: Do you know where the closest all gender restroom is?

If you do, congratulations. If you don’t, you’re not alone.

In total, there are almost 60 all-gender restrooms on our campus.

In the Commons? Two.

In the University Center? One.

And these are all just single-use restrooms.

Regardless of what you think in terms of trans rights or issues of identity, it’s a fact that UMBC is home to folks who live outside of the binary and those who are not cisgender. Whether they identify as trans, nonbinary, genderqueer, etc., they should be able to use a bathroom without having to search an entire building for the one restroom that exists.

The Williams Institute performed research on how transgender students with limited public restroom access were impacted by these restrictions. In their study, they found that those who experience problems accessing restrooms consistent with their gender identity report greater absenteeism, poorer school performance, withdrawing from public spaces and events, physical and mental health impacts (such as bladder infections, discomfort, and anxiety), having to change schools, or dropping out.

Wrapping Up

Did you read Everyone Poops? Truly a seminal piece of children’s literature, the message rings true even in today’s modern world. Everyone poops. Everyone needs bathrooms. As teachers, workers, students, people living in this world in the soft fleshy body we call Homo sapien—we need to have an efficient, clean, accessible method for disposing of our waste. We have actually found the key in publicly available toilets and bathrooms. As a frequent user, I endorse that they’re pretty fantastic in a pinch, even if they’re stinky or crowded or awkward.

The cover of the book Everyone Poops by Taro Gomi.

If I’m dreaming, I believe that one day, maybe we will find the technology that allows all people on this earth to shirk public restrooms, but until that day… please just let people use the toilet in peace—and if you’re feeling fired up about ensuring other people’s access, see the resources below for ways you can help out.

Finally, if you don’t like all-gender restrooms, you don’t have to use them. But as our campus and many other places progress in ensuring broader access to all-gender restrooms, it might be a nice experiment in perspective building to go in search for that rare one gender bathroom all the way across campus that affirms your identity, that you feel totally safe in, and in which you can use the bathroom however you need to.

See what I did there?

Student leader, Autumn, standing with a balloon arch we made to celebrate the opening of UMBC's first multi-user all-gender restroom.

Student leader, Autumn, standing with a balloon arch we made to celebrate the opening of UMBC’s first multi-user all-gender restroom.

Resources and further reading:

UMBC All-Gender Restroom Map (2019)

UMBC Community News Message on All-Gender Restrooms from President Hrabowski and Provost Rous

GLAAD Report: Debunking the Bathroom Bill Myth (2017) 

Williams Institute Study – Gender Identity Nondiscrimination Laws in Public Accommodations: a Review of Evidence Regarding Safety and Privacy in Public Restrooms, Locker Rooms, and Changing Rooms

Transgender Rights: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Breakdown of Transgender bathroom laws in the United States

Honoring stories/Consuming tragedy: Covering Take Back The Night as a photographer

Amelia

Amelia Meman, ’15, is the program coordinator in the Women’s Center. She has worked in the Women’s Center as an intern, a student staff member, a volunteer, a part-time coordinator, and now as a full-time staff member. Throughout this tenure, Amelia has attended every Take Back the Night (and is looking forward to attending many more).

Among the fraught ethical tensions that anyone negotiates in their lives, there is one that the Women’s Center constantly must work through:

Are we honoring stories of trauma or are we passively consuming tragedy?

This is a conflict that comes up most often when we begin planning and setting up for our sexual violence-related events. We have to ask ourselves during Take Back the Night (TBTN): is this an event that is empowering for survivors and victims? Or is it spotlighting stories that are shocking and uncomfortable for an eager audience? Are we listeners observing moments of healing or are we spectators in awe of what trauma can be?

Credit Jaedon Huie26

Now, we realize that we can’t control how participants are taking in the material we offer, but we can try like hell to build a context to our event that encourages folks to act as witnesses to a difficult and powerful process. Hence this blogpost.

Take Back the Night is an emotional and incredible event. As a staff member and an alumna, I have been to every TBTN since it was renewed in 2014, and every year, I am aware of the way the survivor speak out shifts the gravity in the room. I know there are tears and tense muscles and people holding one another–partially because I’ve been in that same position. I know that in the march that follows the speak out, I yell so so loud with this big chorus of powerful people and it is the closest I come to righteousness. The catharsis of shifting the emotional weight in my heart to my lungs and into the night air, it’s a feeling that you don’t soon forget.

That said, I’ve also been behind the camera for many of my TBTN’s and I know, as an artist, what lengths we can go to in order to get that shot that distills the moment as if the chant could echo through whatever gelatin or pixel displaying utility you’re using. Get that shot. Capture that moment. Frame it. Click. Shutter. Stop.

I get it.

But just as the Women’s Center frets about building a moment of witnessing rather than consumption, we must also ask our photographers and our artists to consider how they’re documenting this world.

As we get ready for another Take Back the Night, we meet and Jess is beleaguered: “Just please don’t be that guy running and hanging off of light posts with a camera in my face,” referring to the antics of some eager photojournalists who took the 2018 Take Back the Night march by storm. People with cameras ran in and out and through and about the march, and it led us as organizers to question whether or not this was the sort of event we wanted to organize.

Were we getting people together simply for the right Instagram grid?

Were those who were brave enough to tell their stories being minimized to the portrait of tears and traumatization?

Did these folks weaving and mending their way through the march even know what it was that brought us all together and why our voices were high with urgency?

Are we staging tragedy for people to consume? Are survivor stories a tragic movie montage–to feel things that we aren’t typically used to feeling?

There’s a responsibility here, as a narrator or a creator, to honor the folks whose stories we are trying to enliven. We teeter on that tension I spoke of earlier, between exploitation and empowerment. So as we move into another TBTN and another year of difficult publicly told truths, I hope that we can learn how to honor and respect the stories that are shared among us.

 

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Some simple questions for all of the photographers out there, looking to document things like Take Back the Night and other important movements in our world:

Why are you taking pictures?

Where are you posting them?

If you had to write a caption, what would it say?

Who are you taking a picture of? Are they in a state you would want to be captured in?

Do you understand what this event is about and the goals?

How can you ensure that your creative work builds off of organizer goals?

Did you ask to take the picture? If you didn’t, should you?

Ultimately, this issue is one of exploitative objectification versus humanizing empowerment/embodiment. Viewing real human conflict, sadness, trauma does things to us. It might help us through our own shit. It might provoke a piece of ourselves we’ve never been in touch with. Either way, let’s make sure that in our reception, we are viewing, listening, etc. from a place of equal footing, rather than from the top down. Reach out, not down to the folks who have different experiences from you, and if you plan on taking their picture–hold up your mirror first.

This year, for Take Back the Night, the Women’s Center is assigning press passes to photographers. We hope this is a way to hold artists and journalists accountable to our mission, and create a firmer understanding of the context that brings us all together. If you’re interested in acquiring a press pass, email us at womenscenter@umbc.edu.

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Further reading/viewing/listening:

7 with VII: Ethics in Photojournalism, Q&A with photojournalists Ron Haviv, Maciek Nabrdalik, Stefano De Luigi, Davide Monteleone, Ashley Gilbertson, Ed Kashi and Arthur Bondar

A Thousand Stakes: Photojournalism and Exploitation, Teresa Mathew

The Colonialism of Photojournalism, Clary Estes

Inspiration porn and the objectification of disability, Stella Young at TEDxSydney 2014

Our 2018-19 Women’s Center Student Staff

Another school year, and another group of fantastic, creative, passionate UMBC students lending their talents, strengths, and energy to the Women’s Center! Please take a minute or two to read through some short bios below, and hopefully, you’ll be able to meet and make friends with each one of these lovely folks working with us over the school year.

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Alexia Petasis (she/her), Interdisciplinary Studies intern

Hey! My name is Alexia Petasis and I am a senior at UMBC. I’m pursuing a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies with a minor in Dance.

In my free time I like to go on hikes, watch French movies, or choreograph. I’m looking forward to an exciting year at The Women’s Center!

Briscoe Turner (she/her)

Briscoe

Hello Everyone! My name is Briscoe Turner, and I am a sophomore here at UMBC. I am majoring in Psychology and minoring in Writing. I am passionate about promoting social justice and hope to use Community Psychology to address the needs of underrepresented populations in the future. I am also a Sondheim Scholar and a member of the Black Lives Matter club, so service and impacting social change through policy and other means of political action are also very important to me.

This is my first semester working at the Women’s Center, and I’m excited to build community and have good discussions. I love that the Women’s center allows me to explore my identity through an intersectional lens, and I looking forward to exploring it further this year!

Dua Raja (she/her)

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Hi! My name is Dua Raja. I was born in Pakistan, and moved to the US at a young age. Now a transfer student from CCBC at UMBC, I am on track to achieve my Bachelor’s in Business Technology Administration (BTA), all while working at the Women’s Center surrounded by wonderful people. I plan to use my degree to become an entrepreneur looking to start her own business and work on a technical management program.

I love to hike, dance and travel. Most importantly, I love dogs. Especially German Shepherds.

This is my first year as a Women’s Center staff member. I look forward to meeting new people.

My personal mantra: Inhale confidence, exhale doubt.

My favorite quote: The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all.

Hannah Wilcove (she/her), Honors College & Gender + Women’s Studies intern

Hannah

Hi! My name is Hannah Wilcove and I’m a senior with a major in Gender & Women’s Studies and a double minor in Sociology and Statistics. I’m super excited to be returning to the Women’s Center this year. While I love studying any and all issues pertaining to feminism and social justice, I’m most passionate about reproductive justice, representation, and increasing political participation.

When I’m not at the Women’s Center, you can probably find me doing work for various student theater groups on campus, be it in rehearsal or as an executive board member of AF Theatre Company. If that’s not the case, then I’m probably in my bed watching Parks and Recreation and wondering how I can become Leslie Knope.

Harini Narayan (she/her)

My name is Harini Narayan and I’m a sophomore here at UMBC.It’s my second semester working at the Women’s Center and I couldn’t be happier to return! This year, I’ll be co-facilitating our discussion group for LGBTQ+ women, Between Women. When I’m not at the Women’s Center, you can find me running around campus because I love staying busy! I’m an MLLI major and am very passionate about learning new languages, which I hope to continue doing professionally.

I’m looking forward to seeing both new and familiar faces around the Women’s Center this year!

Marie Pessagno (she/her), Returning Women Students leader

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Hi everyone!  My name is Marie and I am a recent graduate from UMBC!  I am super fortunate to be returning to work (super part-time) at the Women’s Center with the Returning Women’s Students of which I am also an extremely proud alumni! While at UMBC, I was a Social Work and Gender + Women’s Studies double major, and am now beginning my first, and last year, as an advanced standing student at the UMB School of Social Work.

I am a proud single mother of two girls, Lily and Lyla, who are my main inspiration on my journey towards furthering my education.  I am continuing to pursue and expand my knowledge of social work, particular in the field of child welfare, while completing my internship with child protective services at the Department of Human Services this upcoming year.

Morgan Mullings (she/her), Media and Communication Studies intern

Morgan

Hi! My name is Morgan and I’m a senior here at UMBC pursuing a BA in Media and Communications major with minors in English and Cinematic Arts. I am a poet, photographer, and aspiring filmmaker and most of my work stems from my own identity and experiences as a woman of color. If I’m not working at the Women’s Center you can find me watching Ghost Shark (2013) with my friends. I am also a huge stationary nerd and I work at commonvision so ask me any question about a piece of paper.

If I could be any mythical creature it would be a unicorn that only speaks in quotes about intersectional feminism.

Samiksha Manjani (she/her)

Samiksha

Hi! My name is Samiksha Manjani and I am a senior here at UMBC. I’m excited to return for another year as a part of the Women’s Center team! I’m a double-major in Political Science  and Sociology, and am currently on the pre-law track. I hope to one day use my law degree to legally combat violence against women and children. During my time at the Women’s Center, I hope to create a diverse, empowering and safe environment for everyone.

On a side note, I love learning about people’s backgrounds, cultures, histories, and politics. I love fitness, soccer, and yoga. I’m all about self-care (i.e. art, journaling, meditation) and being positive! I love baking and cooking. I’m a crime show nut (i.e. Law & Order, Criminal Minds), and I try to keep up with the news. Feel free to stop by for a chat or to say “Hi!” to me if you see me around campus!

Shrijana Khanal (she/her)

Hi friends! My name is Shrijana and I am a sophomore at UMBC. I am an Economics major and minoring in Computer Science and International Relations. When I am not at work, I am reading a thrilling book or watching the sunset.

Ask me about zodiac signs or the latest updates in soccer!

Feminist Friendships

Program coordinator Amelia Meman reminisces about her feminist friendships and analyzes how these relationships foster empowerment and powerful networks.

This Women’s History Month, the Women’s Center was inspired by feminism’s legacy of collective action. While feminism is very much based in the personal and individual, it is also a movement built through the camaraderie, collective consciousness, compassion, and connections between people. That’s why, this March, the Women’s Center is celebrating feminist friendships. That’s also why I’m writing this blog post.

Every time I come to think about this theme, I feel all warm and fuzzy inside, because I immediately think of the bonds I made at UMBC that have continued on. More on this later, but I’ll tell you this much: nothing brings you together, like the hot crucible of simultaneous existential crises via The Patriarchy. Our angst-ridden mental toil aside, describing a friendship as “feminist” might feel weird to some people, but I wonder what it means to those it resonates with.

For me, it’s not about the friends who encourage me to burn my bra and always validate my decision to not shave–although they also do that. It’s also the friends who affirm me and remind me that I am a person with power who deserves good things in the world. My feminist friends go to rallies with me and talk Butler with me, but they also are the first to watch Neighbors 2 and they’re the best at recommending sci-fi and fantasy novels.

The personal is political… and the political is personal

I think that all of my relationships are political. This is probably by virtue of being a feminist and a philosophical thinker, but it’s also because my friends are my political allies. We are constantly thinking about the political power that comes with being women, being queer (AF), being trauma survivors, being white and/or people of color, being (dis)abled, etc. and being radically together. We’re friends who empower each other to live when so many other things in this world act to kill us. We’re constantly navigating privilege and oppression, and we get a lot of things wrong. We teach other, call each other in. We are committed to the process of constantly learning how to be better humans to one another and all of the people we interact with.

Does anything scream friendship more than this group shot of the Great British Baking Show judges?

So when I say that the personal is political, I mean that things we like to keep in private (i.e. whether or not we’re having sex, what kind of sex we’re having, birth control, abortions, survivor status, etc.) are personal experiences that are also–with feminism–political. Rather than continue to make the prudish world of vanilla, purely procreative sex comfortable, feminists talk reproductive justice, use the words “vagina,” “penis,” “vulva,” “anus,” etc. Those things that people would rather sweep under the rug? We dig those out and we burn the rug.

Just so, the political is personal. This, for me, is feminist friendship. My unity and belonging with other feminists is tied, not just to our affinity for one another as funny weirdos, but also to our political mindset. As we dance, we move toward liberation. As we laugh, we banish the silence pressed into us as women and femmes. As we eat together, we feed each other the love and power we deserve.

The political is personal, because my liberation is tied to theirs, and we both know that as we watch the latest season of The Great British Baking Show.

Shine theory

So as we move throughout Women’s History Month and think about all of our herstorical sheroes who give us life (often literally), think about those friends that are around you who make you shine brighter. Whether that’s your mom, your professor, Oprah, think about the women who inspire you.

Take a breath, and think about your best memory with that person. How did you become friends? What do you all do best together? How do you feel when you’re around each other?

Seriously take like 15 seconds to meditate on that.

Alright, now you can come back to me.

Didn’t that make you feel shiny?

In the Women’s Center, we like to talk about shine theory. Jess is the one who introduced me to this concept a while ago (see her awesome UMBC Women Who Rock series), but basically, shine theory is a lens through which we can think about friendship. Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow (of Call Your Girlfriend) coined the term “shine theory” in an article on powerful women as best friends. Friedman wrote: “when you meet a woman who is intimidatingly witty, stylish, beautiful, and professionally accomplished, befriend her. Surrounding yourself with the best people doesn’t make you look worse by comparison. It makes you better.”

Friedman and Sow add that in its simplest form, shine theory is this: “I don’t shine, if you don’t shine.”

Feminist friends, to me, push you and support you so that you can shine as bright, if not brighter, than them and we all get a little better for it.

GWST-ers 4 Life

I would be remiss to not note that the thing that brought some of my best, most steady feminist friends together was our journey through the UMBC Gender and Women’s Studies Department. We were knit together through a shared affinity for feminist politics, and I know I was able to find myself through them. Not because they showed me a self I wanted to be, but because they allowed me to actually BE the person I always wanted to be.

It wasn’t all hearts and rainbows and radical self-care quotes from Audre Lorde. It was a lot of shit. We went through heartbreak together, we grieved together, we powered through classes like beleaguered Weather-people in a hurricane. In queer theory, we read Michel Foucault’s interview, “Friendship as a Way of Life,” in which he lays out this idea of queer community:

The notion of mode of life seems important to me. Will it require the introduction of a diversification different from the ones due to social class, differences in profession and culture, a diversification that would also be a form of relationship and would be a “way of life”? A way of life can be shared among individuals of different age, status, and social activity. It can yield intense relations not resembling those that are institutionalized. It seems to me that way of life can yield a culture and an ethics. To be “gay,” I think, is not to identify with the psychological traits and the bisible masks of the homosexual but to try to define and develop a way of life. (p. 137-138)

Being “gay” or “queer” or, in our case, “feminists,” is not about defining who we are, but about creating a way of life that suits our needs and that is, potentially, radical. When the institution is so often your oppressor, molding new culture and ethics through friendship becomes a way of also creating new futures and pathways that the institution did not initially have open to you. For example, I don’t know where my self-confidence would be without my therapist and the power of my friends, but I know that the impacts of sexism, racism, ableism, etc. were limiting my self-confidence, and when I learned about myself as someone who was strong and capable of loosing that sort of weight, I was able to achieve more and better. I have a job, I’m pursuing my (very high) educational goals, I’m publishing this blogpost; this is all enabled through this alternative way of life that teaches me that I have power, I am power, and that my friends and I disrupt oppression.

Feminist friendship, shine theory, all that glorious glowing goodness that brought us together–it created power.

So the next time you think about your friends, your shiny people, your feminist sheroes, think about the power you all cultivate and bring forth by being your badass selves together. Think about how that power can grow with you and the friendships you share. Think about what your perfect world would look like for you and your feminist friends–and then make it. 

More resources, if you’re interested:

Michel Foucault, “Friendship as a Way of Life”

Dan Willey, “Gay Hair”

Gaby Dunn, “It’s A War Out There: How Queer Female Friendships Can Save Us All”

Cori Wong, “Feminist Friendship” TEDxCSU

Make feminist friends and build up your network at our Women’s History Month celebration on March 28th from 6 pm to 8 pm in the Skylight Room! RSVP via myUMBC!

 

Women’s Center Knowledge Exchanges

In the last few iterations of our roundtable series, we’ve noticed that the classroom is, in many ways, replicated in the Women’s Center. Yes, we have beanbags and we gather together in a big friendly circle to discuss topics one might not cover in class, but structurally, we were learning in the same exact way. Experts are invited to talk, and we listen. Don’t get me wrong. All of our roundtables brought forth amazing conversations and beautiful insights. As much as the Women’s Center likes to be a space where classroom discussions can continue to grow, we also want to offer a new structure for having those conversations. We want to try something that incorporates social justice and brave spaces into how we learn. So this year we’re trying out knowledge exchanges.

Inspired by the tenets of radical pedagogy that are outlined by scholars such as Paulo Freire and bell hooks, we at the Women’s Center want to create space for learning that blurs the power dynamics of a typical teacher-student relationship and posits, instead, a team of “co-investigators.” For example, we envision an opportunity for professors, students, staff, community members, etc. to all come together to learn from each other and work out problems using their unique knowledge bases. This as opposed to a teacher leading a class to the solution of a problem. We hope that knowledge exchanges can be a sort of respite from the classroom for both students and teachers, as well as staff and all the other folks on our campus.

Peda v Andra

Missy introduced me to the concepts of pedagogy and andragogy, which strongly inform our Knowledge Exchanges.

In our knowledge exchanges we aim to do several things:

  • Create a network of lifelong learners and curious co-investigators among all aspects of the UMBC community.
  • Collaborate on dynamic solutions to complex, multi-faceted problems
  • Have fun! No, really. A big goal with these knowledge exchanges is to build relationships across campus and make friends with the folks that are gathered together.

Led by Brave Space guidelines, we hope to have conversations that are led by the following values:

  • We will respect each other as both learners and knowers; experts of our own lives and experiences.
  • We will challenge ourselves as active listeners, community members, and co-investigators to collaborate with those gathered.
  • We will build community by nurturing our relationships, holding each other accountable, and collaborating together in an equitable structure.

Knowledge exchanges will be a little messy at first. We’re all still sorting out what it means to work towards a learning space that’s more equitable to all involved. That’s what’s fun, though. We’re able to get messy, learn from each other, and hopefully use our combined knowledge to find the right questions and perhaps move towards some really good solutions.

Over the spring semester, we have three Knowledge Exchange events planned. Topics are broad and (hopefully) worthy of deep discussion creative problem-solving, and imagination:

  • Thursday, February 22nd 3:30 pm to 5 pm: Super Representation
    • Black Panther is out, and we want to know what you think about all of this superhero kerfuffle. We’re thinking about diversity in superhero movies, comics, toys, video games, etc. and we’re thinking about it more broadly than the tokenized sexy lady assassin or the wheelchair bound sidekick. Let’s talk about the possibilities of superhero diversity!
    • Partners: Dr. Elizabeth Patton, faculty in Media and Communication Studies
  • Wednesday, March 14th, 4:00 pm to 5:30 pm: Consciousness Raising: Past, Present, and Future
    • Consciousness raising is an integral of feminist movements. Simply, consciousness raising is a gathering focused on learning more about experiences different from your own. In this Knowledge Exchange, we want to look back at the history of consciousness raising, how (and if) it happens now, and what it could look like in an ideal future.
    • Partners: Dr. Jodi Kelber-Kaye, Assistant Director of the Honors College
  • Tuesday, April 24th, 4:00 pm to 5:30 pm: Mediating Media Intake
    • Do you ever read or watch or listen to the news and just want to cry? Or flip a table? Or hide? Us too. Let’s discuss strategies for keeping up to date and also keeping our mental and emotional health. In this Knowledge Exchange, we’re going to talk media literacy and conscious consumption.
    • Partners: Dr. Rebecca Adelman, faculty in Media and Communication Studies

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