Women in Writing Roundup

Last week on Wednesday, November 8th, the Women’s Center held our final roundtable discussion of our fall series. The theme: Women in Writing. Panelists, moderator, and participants generated a fascinating discussion on the valuation of women as writers, artists, and creators in greater society. Although much of the criticism that was voiced made for a bleak outlook, our panelists passed on enlightening advice for all artists struggling to make a life with their work.

The roundtable began with the moderator (in this case, myself!) presenting some statistics to ground the conversation. Student staff members had done research to discover the representation of women as both content makers and content matter. Some highlights in these statistics include that women have made gains in more bylines from 2011 to 2014, but they still don’t make up even half of the men’s bylines; half of the National Book Award recipients from 2000 to 2014 have been by men and about men; and similarly, more than half of the Pulitzer Prize recipients from 2000 to 2015 have been by men and about men. In adding an intersectional lens to this data, we also find that women’s publications (when they actually happen) are dominated by white women–women of color, as you may have guessed, make up only a small fraction of the women published in both Poetry and The New Yorker. Check out VIDA for even more numbers on this topic.

Panelists (from left to right): Johanna Alonso, Missy Smith, and Tanya Olson

These numbers stressed the need for this conversation, and our panelists delivered many times over. Tanya Olson (poet and faculty in the English Department), Missy Smith AKA QueenEarth (singer/songwriter and coordinator in the Women’s Center), and Johanna Alonso (writer and UMBC student) started strong in their introductions teasing out themes that we would continue unraveling throughout the panel discussion. Some of the major points from the discussion included:

  • There is a double standard in today’s literary canon. Women are constantly reading about men and books by men, but men reading books about women/by women is not emphasized in the same way. Johanna brought up, for example, that despite the Hunger Games series popularity, many men in her life refused to read the books because the main character was female (and written by a woman).
  • The wealthy heterosexual white male gatekeeper has the power to set mainstream agendas. Many of the panelists agreed that the mainstream art society was a typically masculine space defined by male gatekeepers. When we have those gatekeepers in the form of editors, publishers, producers, etc. they control the agenda, which more often than not does not place value with marginalized creators and their content.
  • Despite the harsh landscape, progress is being made. Both Tanya and Missy spoke to the idea that there is plenty in the world that motivates them to continue what they do, and that comes in the form of the other folks like them–people of color, LGBTQ folks, etc.–who are being published, performing, and making careers for themselves. This visibility, to both Tanya and Missy, is crucial not only for them, but for all of the other writers and artists who aspire to grow in their fields. Missy specifically noted that she writes music and performs to empower others to do the same.
  • You must value you yourself. In order to do this work, you must value yourself. You must continue to believe in your work and the process of honing your craft. This is the driving factor for all of our panelists. Sparked by a question in the crowd about the devaluation of spoken word poetry versus musicians as art, Missy brought up that you have to stick up for yourself. If, for example, you are the only poet in a lineup of musicians, you need to ask to get the same payout as the musicians, because your art is worth that much.
  • The reality is that you are not alone. Although it can feel lonely and exhausting to be one of the only “different” people (women of color, LGBTQ people, immigrants, etc.) in your field, you are not alone. Tanya made this point and noted, as well, that even though it may feel isolating, there is a path for everyone–you just have to find it. For her, this meant finding the person who was one step ahead of her, and looking to them as a model and/or a mentor. Johanna noted that her ambivalence transitioned to enthusiasm in a writing class when she found that she was not the only person writing stories about queer people. Just so, when we find the people who make space for us, we need to take it and make more space for all those who follow.

This rich conversation made clear that although there are many barriers that make women writers and artists journeys more difficult, these also create the richness and depth in their stories. The struggle, in some ways, necessitates the story/song/play/etc. in our world, and that success in writing is the sustained progress we make as we take up space and demand equity in the valuation of our art.

In final words of advice, Johanna encouraged us to venture into the nether regions of the Twitter-verse for obscure literary magazines and to read from those sources. Finding art in the most un-obvious places is a way to constantly learn more. Tanya again noted that mentorship can be key, and to find the person who you want to be–and start there. Finally, Missy took us home: “Failure is stopping. We have to keep moving and focusing on the long-game. It’s okay to be different–in fact it’s better

Further reading:

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Me too. And now what?

The following is a guest post from UMBC alumna Juliette Seymour, MCS and GWST ’14, who was both inspired and incensed by the recent “Me Too” campaign. Although this widespread social media initiative has shed light on the pervasiveness of sexual violence and assault in our communities, Juliette writes about follow-through and next steps. 

Content note: Sexual abuse, rape, trauma

Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too. Me too.

Me too.

It’s endless. I cannot count the number of the “Me too” Facebook status I have seen since Sunday night. If you are not on Facebook, to provide some backstory, actress Alyssa Milano tweeted (a co-opted message from activist, Tarana Burke):

Screen shot from Alyssa Milano’s twitter: “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” Inset text reads: “Me too. Suggested by a friend: ‘If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too.’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

Since then, my Facebook feed (and everyone else’s) has been nothing but “Me too’s.”

I posted one, deleted it. Then sat with a rock in my stomach. I’m used to this rock. It’s been with me since I was a child. This rock varies in size and weight, sometimes it’s small and manageable. Other times it’s large, growing past my stomach into my chest and throat making it nearly impossible for me to take deep breaths or speak. It’s grown as I have; the seemingly constant sexual abuse and rape that has happened throughout my life adding weight to this rock. You know this rock if you’ve experienced any sort of abuse/trauma. It sucks.

Quilt square from The Monument Quilt.

I sat with this rock in my stomach for a while. My overactive mind weighing the pros and cons of this campaign (I don’t know if that is the proper term, but honestly, I’m not here to overanalyze that aspect). Should I repost? Why did I delete it? Why did I hesitate to post in the first place? Why did it feel wrong?

Then it clicked.

We’ve already stood up. We’ve already put a mark on our backs. We’ve already gone to the police to be dismissed. We’ve already sat through questioning from everyone, and I mean, everyone – how long was your skirt, did you drink, have you had sex before, why were you out at night, why did you let them, why didn’t you say no, have you had sex with them before, aren’t you married, why didn’t you fight back, didn’t you want it at first, why didn’t you say something sooner – to be told it was our fault. Even though it is never EVER our fault.

We’ve been through this motion before.

Think of all the people who have stood up and said “Hey, Bill Cosby/Woody Allen/Donald Trump/Harvey Weinstein/Sean Penn/Dr. Luke/My friend/My family/Your friend/Your family/etc., has raped/sexually abused me.”

What happened to the survivor? Now, what happened to the abuser in these situations? If you don’t already know the answer, take a moment, think about it. What happened to Trump? Cosby?

The answer is nothing. Nothing happened to them. Hell, one of them is sitting in the oval office.

Where are the Facebook statuses of abusers/rapist saying “I did it” so we can understand the severity of this? Where are my supposed ‘allied’ cis men standing up to their friends when they make rape jokes, or catcall? Or rape. When are we going to start holding abusers accountable? When are we going to refer to our brothers and fathers as rapists, instead of our sisters and mothers as victims? When are we going to ask why did you rape instead of why were you raped? When are we going to teach how not to rape instead of how not to get raped?

Quilt square from The Monument Quilt.

When are we going to actually listen to survivors? And then when are we going to do more than just…listen?

I don’t have all the answers. I wish I did.

But what I do have is this:

First, and most importantly –  If you posted a Me Too status, if you didn’t, if you don’t believe that your story is “real” enough, if you are not safe or comfortable enough to post; I see you. I hear you. I believe you. You are not alone. And I love you.

Second, and almost as important – Now what?

I’m not going to post a Facebook status, sit back, and pretend it did something. I’m not going to do that, and I’m asking you to do the same. And I know it hurts, it’s painful, uncomfortable, and seems impossible. Trust me. I know what it feels like to not be able to speak the things that happened to you (and very slowly getting to a point where you can kind of talk about it in therapy). I know what it feels like to be retraumatized with panic attacks and sleepless nights following. I know what it feels like to have to live with your abuser. I know what it feels like to question, “Was it rape? Was it my fault?” (and accepting that yes, it was rape, and no, it’s not my fault).

I know.

But, we have to be uncomfortable, we have to work through the pain, we have to support each other in our respective journeys to healing.

Quilt square from The Monument Quilt.

So here is my action plan. To hold myself accountable, and to provide a possible road map for you. I do not know what your story is, how your healing will come, or what will happen. Hell, I don’t even know if my plan will work. But for right now, it’s all that I got:

  1. Go to therapy
  2. Delete Facebook off my phone (at least for a few days)
  3. Check-in with myself (you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself first) and then friends
  4. Start volunteering with the Monument Quilt again (the studio is close to my house, and I made myself email them before finishing this post to ensure I followed through)
  5. Look into support groups for survivors

IMPORTANT NOTES:

I cannot stress this enough to my fellow survivors: This is in no way to shame or put down those who have found comfort/strength/healing through this hashtag Facebook thing (I still don’t know what to call it). I hope with all of my heart that this creates a sense of community, love, healing, and will do the thing it’s supposed to do. This is not directed towards those who find healing through these means, I’m happy you have that. I am SO happy you have that.

This is me wanting more from society. Not you.

And, it goes without saying, but I’m going to say it: ABUSE/RAPE HAPPENS ACROSS ALL GENDER LINES. WOMAN, MAN, TRANS, GENDERQUEER, NO GENDER, ALL GENDER. IT HAPPENS TO EVERYONE.

And, an important note on race: I am white. This is my white perspective. Race obviously plays a role in this. I do not feel adept to write about that. I do not want to assume/overpower or write for POC because their voices should be raised.

Quilt square from The Monument Quilt.

 


  • For more information and resources related to sexual assault and gender-based violence, visit our website or contact the Women’s Center at 410.455.2714.
  • For more information about reporting at UMBC, the sexual misconduct policy, or Title IX, visit UMBC’s Human Relations website
  • The photos above are from the Monument Quilt. For more information, visit their website.

 

Women are Funny, TOO or “Why do we have to keep writing these posts?”

A team effort by some of the Women’s Center staff!

So in 2015, UMBC brought Hannibal Buress to campus as our homecoming comedian. We rejoiced. We love him as Lincoln in Broad City, we appreciate his stalwart bend toward social justice, and he’s hella funny.

We were ALSO frustrated. For every UMBC Homecoming comedy event, we have invited men. Nick Offerman. B.J. Novak. Bo Burnham. Donald Glover. Lewis Black.  Hannibal Burress. All funny folk, but also male folk. And we’re not trying to pretend this is an issue isolated to UMBC. The general global representation of women in comedy is dismal. So at the time, we wrote it out and we compiled a list of awesome women in comedy with the hopes that someone at UMBC would say, “Oh wow. Sexism. It exists here, too. You know what would exemplify our campus values of inclusive excellence and commitment to diversity? A lady!”

Unfortunately, our naive hopes were dashed again this year. Trevor Noah is coming.

Don’t get us wrong, Trevor Noah is a cool dude. But he’s a cis male dude.

A dude who is critical of oppression and injustice, but also one who has a past that includes some disturbing episodes of sexism.

So again, the Women’s Center is dusting off its trusty soapbox and presents our dear readers with a humble compilation of awesome comedians who also just so happen to be women. ❤


Aparna Nancherla – Amelia’s Pick

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Maybe she’s born with it, maybe she’s born into a societal prison of impossible standards.

– Aparna Nancherla,  “Just Putting It Out There”

Aparna is a comic that has been all up in my social media feeds, podcasts, and Netflix-ing, so I decided to check her out—and now I love her and am a huge fan.

Aparna is a stand-up comedian. She recently released her debut album, “Just Putting It Out There” (the first release on Tig Notaro’s new comedy label Bentzen Ball Records), which I can’t recommend enough. Her subject matter is dry, observational stuff, but she’s also just goofy and off-kilter. She talks a lot about being a woman, a woman of color, a woman with anxiety and depression, and all of these things at once (that’s called intersectional humor, friends). At one point she describes her anxiety as a really bad, but enthusiastic improv group who keep taking suggestions from a sadistic audience—and that description is the closest anyone has ever come to defining what my anxiety is.

Aparna is a writer and performer on Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, has done work on Master of None and Bojack Horseman, can be heard on a whole bunch of big popular podcasts, has features in really notable papers and magazines, and has opened for numerous big names like John Oliver, Tig Notaro, Maria Bamford, Kristen Schaal, and Hari Kondabolu (just to name some of my favorite folks).

Her Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are LI-HIT. She is very awesome, and I hope you also check out the video below.

Kristen Becker – Marie’s Pick

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In 2006, I had the privilege of meeting and becoming friends with Kristen Becker while she was performing in Santa Fe, New Mexico on a Dykes of Hazard Tour.  She has been named “One of America’s Funniest Lesbians” by CURVE magazine, and has opened for national comedy acts, and even for Ani DiFranco.

Not only is Becker hilarious, she works extremely hard as an LGBTQ activist and supporter of social justice.  While touring with her current project “Loosen the Bible Belt,” she was able to successfully complete her first “Summer of Sam” endeavor in her hometown of Providence Rhode Island.  If you have a few minutes to check out her comedy…do it..it will be worth your time!

Samantha Bee – Hannah’s Pick

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The first version of this post pointed to a gender disparity in comedy on a level greater than UMBC—there were no female late-night talk show hosts. But even though we are still writing this article, progress is being made; Full Frontal with Samantha Bee broke that glass ceiling in February 2016 with Bee as the creator, writer, executive producer, and host. Before that, she was the longest tenured correspondent for The Daily Show, and was the only woman for five years before being joined by Kristen Schaal (who is another great woman in comedy you should definitely check out).

In addition to her humor, I love the fact that she uses her platform as a woman in a male-dominated field to do good for others. In hiring writers, she and the producers set up a blind process which hid the gender, race, and experience level of the applicants. As a result, the writing staff is about 50% female and 30% non-white. Additionally, proceeds from the show’s merchandise go to organizations like Planned Parenthood, the Karam Foundation, Distributing Dignity, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and the Hispanic Federation

Negin Farsad – Sydney’s Pick

negin20farsad20promo20photoI first came across Negin when researching many, many women for this post. I was instantly intrigued with the short clip I saw in which she made jokes about dating while being Muslim and her mother’s expectations of her as a Muslim woman. Negin considers herself a social justice comedian who uses her platform to discuss pressing issues in a way that makes them easier to talk about and get a dialogue started. She was named one of the Funniest Women of 2015 by the Huffington Post and one of the 10 Best Feminist Comedians by Paper Magazine. Due to her work in social justice through comedy she was also named a TEDFellow (watch her TED talk here), has written for major networks, published a book, and hosts a podcast. She also has a documentary, The Muslims are Coming, which follows comedians across America as they try to combat issues of Islamaphobia while facing backlash from both non-Muslims and Muslims throughout.

 

Leslie Knope (AKA Amy Poehler) – Jess’s Pick

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Okay, I know Leslie Knope isn’t a real person. Amy Poehler is the real person who makes Leslie Knope come alive on a regular basis in my living room via Parks and Rec. This show makes me laugh and rejuvenates my soul after a long work day. Leslie is also present in the Women’s Center, because she makes me giggle in my office when I’m looking for the perfect reaction gif (almost always from Parks and Rec) to send in an email.

Thank you, Leslie Knope/Amy Poehler.

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Ellen DeGeneres – Samiksha’s Pick

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I really struggled to think of female comedians when I was asked to write about them, my mind was blank. That is until I watched an episode of Ellen interviewing Michelle Obama, and it clicked. Ellen is definitely a female comedian, but sometimes we forget because she’s become so ingrained in our lives. She’s the funny best friend we’ve always wanted and the big sister that always makes us feel better when we’re down.

The Ellen show has been airing new episodes since September of 2003 and still going strong. That’s 14 years, and most of my life.  What’s great about her humor, in the words of Barack Obama, is that it “has a way of making you laugh about something, rather than at someone.” Ellen’s humor doesn’t need to put anyone down to get a laugh out of you, and trust me, she will have you laughing till you cry. After watching her show, I guarantee you will have a smile on your face as I always have.

On top of that, Ellen is a prominent humanitarian. Ellen has used her show as a major platform to do humanitarian work; she has given away more than $50 million dollars on her show to various causes. She has been involved with causes like fighting breast cancer, Hurricane Katrina disaster effort, St. Jude’s Children Hospital, and for families struggling economically. It’s hard not to find something to love about Ellen!

This is not an exhaustive list by any means! Who are the funny women you would add to the list? Let us know by commenting on our social media pages.

 

To my feminist mentor, Megan Tagle Adams

A reflection by Amelia Meman on her feminist mentoring relationship with Assistant Director Megan Tagle Adams.

Megan and I in the NWSA photobooth.

Megan (right) and I in the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) photobooth.

With Megan’s departure from UMBC (today!), I feel the Women’s Center is saying goodbye to a real social justice champion on our campus. Someone who was constantly striving for excellence in our institution. More than this, though, I feel I am saying goodbye to someone who has taught me what feminist mentorship—in its best iteration—can be.

Traditional models of mentorship are often paternalistic and hierarchical. Relationships are based on a transactional relationship between a mentor–older, more experienced in a particular professional setting, more “successful”—and their mentee—a younger novice looking for their niche, to expand their professional network, and to build on their skills. Continue reading

“I’m a Water Dancer, Mom!”: On Bodies and Baltimore’s Premier Water Ballet

 

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That’s me! And my body.

 

A reflection on body acceptance and positivity while being a part of a water ballet by Special Projects Coordinator, Amelia Meman.

I tend to not write about my body much. It’s not that I don’t think about it. I’m preoccupied by it, actually. Rather, it’s that I don’t want to continue to bring attention to something that seems, to me, like a glaring error that folks can already pick apart.

It’s not just that I’m sort of fat. I am fat, and that’s something I’ve been able to tease out through years of BMI charts. There’s also everything else: I’m broad shouldered, hairy, weirdly proportioned, and I have a really large tongue. I have weird chubby baby cherub hands and my feet are callused because I use them to climb (read: fall out of) trees.

I could spend many more words on my weirdo body (as I’m sure many others could, too), but this summer I signed up to be in Fluid Movement’s annual water ballet, and now I am actually proud of what my body does. It’s a weird and foreign feeling for me–being proud of my body. After I have somersaulted and tread water for an hour and pin-wheeled and held people’s ankles while floating like perverse otters, I think I’m starting to really love this body.

Continue reading

Honoring our graduating UMBC moms, parents, and returning students

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With Mother’s Day still in the air and with UMBC’s 50th Commencement quickly approaching, the Women’s Center is reflecting with immense pride on all of the UMBC mothers and parents who have passed through our doors, used our services, and who have walked across the stage to receive their diplomas.

Our moms and parents, whether they are a part of the Returning Women Student Scholars Programs, use the lactation room, or just come in to the Center to hang out, exemplify the eponymous “grit” that is so integral to UMBC’s identity. UMBC moms balance an enormous amount of responsibilities as they work to advance their careers. From partners to full time jobs and from children to parents in need, moms returning to UMBC face unique challenges and require unique support.

Being a parent and being a university student are often identities that are invisible. As most traditional students create their schedules and hope to get into a class with their favorite professor, UMBC moms and parents are striving to create a schedule that enables them to balance family, school, work, and their own self-care. The Women’s Center is a place where we strive to honor the complexities of being a parent and a student through supportive and dynamic services. Our moms and parents have access to scholarships, professional development workshops, our lactation room, and 1-1 support services.

This Mother’s Day the Women’s Center is proud to recognize the mothers and parents who are a part of the UMBC community and who we are honored to serve everyday. As this year comes to a close, please consider making a donation to the Women’s Center in honor of our 25th Anniversary. Your gift goes on to support UMBC moms and make our services even better. 

Give today, and help us support our UMBC moms, parents, and returning students.

Check out the stories of two of our graduating Returning Women Scholars on UMBC News:

Erin Callahan and Natacha Ngea.

Supporting survivors past April

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This past April was our most powerful yet. In recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the Women’s Center coordinated the annual Take Back the Night event, which 265 UMBC community members attended (click here for a photo round-up). The Clothesline Project reached another 183 people, and 10 new shirts were created by survivors of interpersonal violence.

 

 

The Women’s Center’s mission to support survivors extends beyond April. This year, the Women’s Center has trained 103 students, faculty, and staff in our supporting survivors workshops. Jess and Megan have also devoted over 25 hours of 1-1 support meetings for survivors and those dedicated to supporting them.

As this school year ends, please help us continue cultivating a survivor-responsive campus. We are only $450 away from making our 25th Anniversary GiveCorps goal for the 2016-2017 school year!
Give today and help a survivor access the support they need.