Feminist Road Tripping

A reflection written by Women’s Center director, Jess Myers, tag-teamed with friend, Priscilla.

A few weeks ago, my dear friend, Priscilla, and I headed out on a road trip of a lifetime through Colorado, Utah, and Arizona. And, because we both solidly identify as feminists, this, my friends, was a Feminist Road Trip™. We had a blast hiking through four national parks, camping under the stars, and being amazed by the vast beauty of nature.

As the mileage left on our trip got smaller and smaller, in addition to reflecting on our favorite moments, we began to reflect on our journey and what specifically made it feminist. We compiled quite a long list and what we each uniquely brought to our trip as intersectional feminists. For example, I wasn’t as conscientious about ensuring we were making an investment in the local economy when we booked our lodging and Priscilla wasn’t aware about the $5 a day campaign to ensure hotel workers are being fairly compensated for their efforts. We challenged each other along the way to think more critically about our feminist values and what that looks like in practice. For example, getting your truck stuck in the mud doesn’t have to be a women-only experience in getting un-stuck and accepting help from men doesn’t have to be un-feminist (even if you have to “uuuuggggh” it out together when you get back to the safety of your un-stuck truck – which by the way, we affectionately named Carol).

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Here we are in Fort Collins, Colorado on Day 1 of our road trip with Carol!

Most importantly, though, this was a feminist road trip to me because it provided a special opportunity for me to be with my friend. A friend who helped me cultivate my feminist and social justice identities. A friend who marched by my side at Take Back the Nights and took me to my first feminist collective art performance (shout out Vox Feminsta). A friend who helped mend my broken heart and stood by me as my coming out story unfolded. So, how lucky was I to realize that this trip fell during the same month we met ten years ago and became instant friends. Not only was this a Feminist Road Trip but it was our 10 Year Anniversary Feminist Road Trip! The way we remember our first meeting was as if it was love at first sight – and it was! Only, I don’t think the culture we live in always provides the space to talk about friendships in that way. I am thankful that our days of traveling together was our unapologetic way of honoring and celebrating each other and our rad feminist ladies friendship.

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At the Grand Canyon taking our official 10 year anniversary celebration photo complete with a handmade heart.

So, in no particular order, here’s the highlights from our list:

♥ Learn the history of the place and space you’re traveling through… and then dig deeper. Honor who came before you and learn about the native and indigenous people who first called these places home. Where the story of women are not present, ask why, and when their stories are present, pause to read and reflect with each other. We particularly enjoyed the story of Sharlot Hall and the Vermillion Cliffs in AZ.

♥ Support local businesses. Tip your guides and servers generously and leave at least $5 a day for your housekeeper for each day you stay in your hotel/motel.

♥ Encourage other women on the trail and on the road.

♥ Share your growing edges with each other and then keep reflecting and constructing a counter-narrative. For example, a theme throughout our trip as women traveling without our significant others was being mindful of saying “I” instead of “we” when recounting personal stories, goals, and hopes and the importance we hold in maintaining our individuality in a long-term relationship.

♥ Gracefully accept help as needed.

♥ Be body positive and affirming. Don’t judge other women for taking selfies. You never know what it may have taken for another woman to get to that summit.

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Four Corners selfie with a selfie stick!

♥ Travel! It was amazing how many people were surprised before we set on our trip that we were traveling “alone” or with “just the two of you??” That was followed by a sense of fear that two women shouldn’t be out on the road alone *gasp* without a man. Prove them wrong. Make space for your experiences.

♥ Play excellent women-empowered playlists and sing your hearts out (for some great ideas, check out NPR’s Turning Tables: 150 Greatest Albums Made by Women)

♥ Honor your friendships with women and celebrate your milestones. Friendships can be just as valid and important as our romantic and/or blood-family relationships.

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Here we are at Lower Antelope Canyon in Arizona. We had the best the guide who took this awesome photo of us.

What would you add to our list? Leave your comments below or on the Women’s Center social media pages where you find the link to this blog.

For those planning your next feminist road trip, here’s some of our favorite travel blogs and hashtags (links do not represent endorsements) we used to prepare for our road trip state of mind:

  • On She Goes: Travel Stories for All Women of Color
  • Bearfoot Theory: Outdoor Adventure for the Everyday Adventurer
  • #brownpeoplecamping
  • #FatGirlsHiking
  • Field Tripping – a bi-weekly column in Baltimore’s City Paper written by UMBC’s very own Dr. Kate Drabinski

Happy traveling to all our feminist wanderlusts out there!

“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

Dear Survivor

This guest post was written by a UMBC community member who has asked to remain anonymous to allow for privacy while sharing this important experience. 

***Content Note: This post contains detailed descriptions of physical threats and sexual violence, and mentions of suicidal ideation. Please practice self-care while reading.*** 

Dear Survivor,

I would like to tell you my story of survival. I think that maybe, just maybe, it could provide you with something that will be helpful. I hope that it will. As a survivor myself, I know that lots of people have reacted to me in ways that minimized my experience, or, in contrast, made my experience into the thing that defined me. Both felt like shit. Both made me feel trapped.

I don’t want to do that to you. Instead, I want to show you a path to a future in which your survival matters, but the specific things you have survived are just a distant footnote in your memory.

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Dear Survivor letters created at UMBC’s Take Back the Night offer messages of solidarity.

I want to tell you some details about my story. It happened 25 years ago.

Continue reading

Why is the Women’s Center Hosting an Overdose Response Training?

Today, the Women’s Center and University Health Services will host an Overdose Response Training. The training is run by the Baltimore City Health Department and it teaches individuals how to respond to opioid overdose and gives them the tools needed to reverse the effects of opioid overdose. Each attendee will be certified to administer Naloxone (or Narcan) and receive a prescription card for a Naloxone kit.

Is opioid overdose really that big of a deal?

2015 Total Overdose Deaths.pngUnfortunately, yes. Opioid use, whether prescription or otherwise, has skyrocketed in the US over the last few years, especially in Baltimore City. In the year 2015, 748 people died of heroin overdose and 351 people died of prescription opioid overdose in Baltimore City. That’s 1,099 deaths, not including overdoses which did not result in death.

Okay so it’s a big deal but like…why is the Women’s Center concerned about it?

Addiction and substance abuse are social justice issues. According to the CDC, LGBTQ populations are significantly more likely to engage in substance use– 20 to 30 percent compared to about 9 percent of the general populations. Women are more likely than men to be addicted to prescription painkillers, and people living in poverty are significantly more likely to be addicted to opiates. Although the rate of opioid use has not dramatically increased for people of color (as opposed to whites), this is not due to lack of use, but due to underprescription of opioid pain medication for people of color. Often, doctors underestimate and undertreat the pain experienced by people of color. This is an issue that disproportionately affects the communities we serve.

Wait, what do you mean when you say addiction and substance abuse are social justice issues?

There are several social and structural factors which contribute to substance use. Populations who lack access to healthcare may turn to illicit substances as a way of managing pain, stress, or mental health issues. These are the same populations which are unable to afford recovery programs or end up in prison instead of treatment.

One of the major factors contributing to the disproportionate rate of substance abuse among LGBTQ populations is the concept of minority stress. Minority stress is the idea that “sexual minority health disparities can be explained in large part by stressors induced by a hostile, homophobic culture, which often results in a lifetime of harassment, maltreatment, discrimination and victimization and may ultimately impact access to care.” This concept can apply to racial issues as well as issues of poverty, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Basically, the stress of experiencing discrimination, harassment, violence, housing and job insecurity, poverty, and a general sense of social stigma and isolation drives people to self-medicate, which, can result in addiction. Addiction and substance use are a direct result of policy and social dynamics.

Whoa, okay, it sounds like this issue is way bigger than training a few people on overdose response.

You’re right, there’s a lot of factors at play here. Ultimately, overdose deaths will only go down when we fix the major issues that cause substance abuse in the first place.

But while we work on all of that, overdose response is part of an approach called harm reduction. Harm reduction is based on the idea that people who use drugs are people and the best way to reduce the harm that comes to those people is to meet them where they’re at and with compassion. According to Harm Reduction International, “Harm Reduction refers to policies, program
s and practices that aim primarily to reduce the adverse health, social and economic consequences of the use of legal and illegal psychoactive drugs without necessarily reducing drug consumption. Harm reduction benefits people who use drugs, their families and the community.” Harm reduction understands all the factors that contribute to substance abuse and rejects the idea that drug users are good or bad. It focuses instead on making sure that people have what they need and are supported as human beings.

Harm reduction focuses on the things people need right now. A person can’t get help if they’re dead, and overdose response can prevent that from happening.

Can’t we just make drugs illegal?

Short answer? Nope.

Most drugs are already illegal, but that obviously doesn’t stop people from using them. In fact, laws are huge barriers which prevent people from seeking or receiving treatment. Many people are afraid of being arrested or institutionalized for seeking help for drug addiction. Many people are arrested for substance use and go to prison instead of rehab, or only receive treatment while in jail. Besides, laws don’t change the social factors that cause people to use drugs in the first place.

Okay, so who should attend an Overdose Response Training?

Well, it’s sort of like CPR. Knowing how to do it and having the tools can save a life, so everyone should do it.

Anyone who is likely to work with opioid users (like people who work with the general public, in medicine, or with homeless and LGBTQ populations) should be trained. That means if you’re a social worker, someone who works in a hospital or medical facility, a campus RA, a health educator, or a volunteer, this training is for you.

If you know someone in your personal life who uses opioids, or if you are part of an at-risk community, this training is also for you.

If you don’t have any of these experiences, this training is still for you. Opioid use (and overdose) occurs frequently and everywhere. Frankly, everyone and anyone should receive this free training.

Where can I learn more?

Naloxone and Overdose FAQ

Baltimore City Overdose Response Program

Baltimore City Overdose Prevention and Response Information

Performing Pregnancy As A Black Woman

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A reflection by Women’s center staff member, Kayla Smith.

 

Full disclosure: I’m a Beyonce stan. I support pretty much everything she does. There are very few things Beyonce can do that I wouldn’t damn near worship. Needless to say when she released pictures from her maternity shoot I was ready to bow down.

 

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Beyonce’s pregnancy announcement on Instagram

I scrolled through her website looking at all the maternity pictures in awe. The symbolism of a black woman evoking the Virgin Mary and the goddess Venus was not lost on me as I looked through the pictures feeling overjoyed for her and hopeful for my own future. She looked regal and glowed  with pride. This pregnancy announcement was radically different from her first, and was shrouded in much less mystery. I was reminded that in 2015 Beyonce suffered a miscarriage and I was so happy that she could announce another pregnancy with confidence. I even lamented to my boyfriend hoping that I would be as beautiful as Beyonce whenever I decide to have kids.

 

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Beyonce as the Goddess Venus, pictured with a bust of Nefertiti.

To my surprise, outside of the BeyHive bubble, not everyone responded to the maternity shoot in the same way I did. Comment threads are filled with comments that call the maternity shoot “tacky,” “extra,” and “self absorbed.” Articles were written criticizing not just the image, but Beyonce and the announcement itself. Continue reading

What Happened to the “Working” in International Working Women’s Day?

Daniel Willey A post by staff member Daniel Willey

Wednesday, March 8th marked International Working Women’s Day and the Women’s Strike, or the Day Without Women. On that day, women were encouraged to not work or shop and wear red in solidarity as a way of protesting inequality and showing women’s economic impact.

Protest organizers Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory, and Carmen Perez arrested at New York protest on Wednesday

 

But, International Working Women’s Day has always been a day for striking. The first time this day was observed in 1908, women marched in New York City against poor working conditions and low wages. The observance of International Working Women’s Day (IWWD) spread quickly to other countries as a part of socialist movements and, eventually, as protests against WWI. In 1917, women, joined by female textile workers and eventually working men, gathered in the Russian capital to protest living and working conditions– a day which would spark the Russian revolution.

It is in honor of this history and this tradition that I write this blog.

There have been a lot of critiques of this year’s IWWD Women’s Strike. I’ve read about how only privileged women who can afford time off or have the job stability will participate. Prince George’s county schools closed on Wednesday because so many of their teachers requested the day off, leaving poor kids without school lunch and breakfast and working parents with nowhere to put their kids. Some just plain argue that the strike is a symbolic gesture and that it’s effectively useless as a strategy.

I’d like to make a different critique: when International Working Women’s Day becomes International Women’s Day, we lose the incredible power of the strike and deny the history paved by women in labor movements. Continue reading

Balancing School, Anxiety and Activism in Tumultuous Times

 

shira-spring-headshot a short reflection by Shira Devorah, Women’s Center student staff member

This semester has only just begun, and I’m already feeling pretty anxious. Granted, I’m usually pretty anxious – but this feels different.

If you’ve been following the news recently, you may understand. For many marginalized groups, it’s hard to feel stable right now. While I’m privileged in many ways, integral parts of my identity are under attack right now.  I’m proud of being a queer Jewish woman, but these parts of who I am feel very vulnerable and exposed at the moment. My uncertainty is manifesting as physical sensations. There’s a constant tightness in the pit of my stomach, and it’s hard to focus on things outside of the instability surrounding me. This is a difficult moment in time, and I want to be doing something about it, but my mental illness flare-ups make me question my ability to do so. I want to help, but  I also have to take care of my anxiety.

Amidst the current chaos, it is also my last semester at UMBC. If I know myself at all, this means I may be more susceptible to anxiety attacks during this life change. School work is a balancing act for me, and while I’ve had a few shaky semesters, I care a lot about my education. Most of my anxiety is tied up in how well I do, and this is my last chance to (literally) make the grade. UMBC students are held to a high standard of excellence, and I want my last semester to reflect this. To meet my personal achievement goals, I have to put a lot of energy into my studies. This can be draining and difficult to juggle with clinical anxiety.

I’m sure I’m not alone – Many people, especially women, deal with anxiety.  I’ve talked to a bunch of friends who live with similar anxiety conditions. We’re all struggling to figure out how to contribute, how to be present for people and speak up. It can be really, really difficult- but I know it isn’t impossible. Continue reading