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:

Advertisements

What You Need to Know About Take Back The Night & Craftivism

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and the Women’s Center is hosting its fifth consecutive Take Back The Night (TBTN) on Thursday, April 13th. Over the years, we’ve had a lot of questions about what Take Back the Night exactly is, why it looks the way it does, and how students can get involved. To help get those questions answered this year, we’ve doing a “What You Need to Know” series focused on TBTN so stay tuned for more posts over the next couple of weeks. This is the fifth post in the series and it focuses on the last part of Take Back the Night which is craftivism and community building.

Hearing and sharing survivors’ stories of sexual violence can be empowering, challenging, and emotional. We know that people process their feelings in different ways, and so following survivor speak out and march, the event continues with Craftivism on Main Street. This portion of the program is intended to provide space for reflection, creative expression, and community building.

When the marchers return to Main Street, there will be tables set up with art supplies for anyone wishing to contribute to one of the community craft projects we’ll have available: the FORCE Monument Quilt, the Clothesline Project, and the Dear Survivor scrapbook. We also encourage attendees to check out the resource tables to learn more about various campus and community organizations and services.

A volunteer from FORCE will be present to assist anyone interested in making a quilt square for the Monument Quilt. The Monument Quilt is a crowd-sourced collection of testimonials from survivors of sexual violence, as well as their allies. This national project will eventually blanket the National Mall with the phrase Not Alone. The quilt is a way to demand public space to heal, and create a new culture where survivors are publicly supported, rather than publicly shamed.

IMG_1550

A community member works on a Monument Quilt square.

All are welcome to add a page to our Dear Survivor scrapbook, which features messages of hope, healing, and solidarity from survivors and allies who have attended TBTN in past years. The scrapbook can be found in the Women’s Center lounge.

20170412_110026.jpg

The Dear Survivor scrapbook offers messages of healing and solidarity.

Materials for the Clothesline Project will be available for survivors who would like to give voice to their experience by decorating a shirt that will be displayed during Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Every April, these shirts are hung shoulder-to-shoulder on a clothesline on Main Street to give public testimony to the problems of sexual and gender-based violence. Please note that while allies are invited to participate in the Monument Quilt and Dear Survivor scrapbook, the Clothesline Project is intended for those who identify as survivors.

IMG_1546.jpg

TBTN attendees decorate T-shirts for the Clothesline Project.

For those who prefer a quieter space for reflection, there will be a self-care station set up in the commuter lounge available during the survivor speak out and the rest of the evening. There will be tissues, stress balls, coloring supplies, and other resources for self-care. The station also provides a more private space where attendees can speak with one of the counselors on call, if needed.

img_9483.jpg

Tissues, coloring, and other self-care resources will be available in the self-care station during and after the speak out.

For more information about UMBC’s TBTN (check out Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter too by searching the hashtag #UMBCTBTN):

Slaying on the Weekly: Prison Reform and other Cool Things

A weekly round-up curated by Women’s Center staff member, Michael Jalloh Jamboria

In the spirit of my friend, who gave us the glorious name ‘Slaying on the Weekly’, every week I will be bringing you some interesting, funny or thought-provoking content from the internet! Be sure to join us next week for more and continue to slay!

This week I watched Do I Sound Gay? on Netflix. It’s an interesting documentary which explores the origin of the ‘gay voice’. It’s also available on Youtube.

doisoundgay

As we prepare for the October Roundtable, Queer (De)coded, some of the Women’s Center staff are re-reading Women’s Center staff member, Daniel Wiley’s post on ‘Gay Hair‘. Check it out!

queer-decoded-flyer

Finally, in worldly news, President Obama shortened the sentences of 102 inmates who committed non-violent crimes. This makes 774 commuted sentences in the entirety of his presidency! We applaud Pres. Obama’s commitment to prison reform!

Continue to slay! See you next week!

 

What does the overlap of art and activism look like?

Kelly Martin Broderick with her Self(ie) Portrait

A year ago, I was working at the Howard County Arts Center when Diana Marta, one of the resident artists,  bought an antique dress form.  While looking at the mannequin in her studio,  she wondered what an ordinary women’s wardrobe would look like through time.”  I remember talking to her after she purchased the form and discussing this topic with her.  Diana decided that she wanted to curate a show exploring the topic of “ordinary women” and the clothing they would wear. Each artist was asked to create a garment that could be worn by the dress form and to also create a self portrait to be displayed along with the dress. It was 2012 when she asked me and 13 other women  to participate in the show and that’s when I started to think about what the phrase “Ordinary Woman” meant to me.

I knew I wanted to do something that challenged our expectations of womanhood and how we’ve constructed being a woman in our society. First, I needed to find a garment.  I don’t sew, so I would have to find a dress.  I wanted something that was the epitome of femininity, to give me a starting point to disrupt that expectation. I found the perfect dress in a thrift shop in Baltimore; it was pink, satin, long, and once upon a time had been a bridesmaids dress.  It said everything I wanted it to say.

20140124_200626

 

Next, I had to figure out what I was going to do with the dress.  At first, I thought I would be gluing or sewing different objects or embellishments onto the dress.  Like a giant collage of objects that defined womanhood to me.  But the longer I thought about the project, I realized how difficult it would be to find these objects, so I started to think about covering the dress with words.

As children we are told that “Sticks and stones will break your bones, but words will never hurt you” but in reality, words DO hurt us.  If they didn’t we wouldn’t have a rash of kids committing suicide because of bullying or the pain of microaggressions that so many people experience daily.  For women, many of the words that define our lived lives are double edged — tell a girl she’s pretty and that’s a good thing, but only as long as she isn’t too pretty.  Almost all of the descriptors written on the dress create a world of expectations that keep women in their “place,” or so distracted as we try to meet every expectation that we don’t have a chance to question the treatment we receive in society. The bottom of my dress is stained black, to symbolize how these expectations drag women down. 

Self(ie) Portrait, 2014 – Kelly Martin Broderick

For my self portrait, I was inspired by the backlash and support of “selfies” that has been unfolding in the online feminist community these last few months.  It seems like every time you turn around there is another article disparaging selfies as vain, objectification,  a cry for help, or singing their praises as political, radicalempowering, as good for girls, or as a revolution. Veronica I. Arreola at Viva La Feminista called for a #365feministselfie project, stating “Women of Color rarely see themselves reflected in media, people over a size 4 are told to hide themselves, transgender persons want to be seen…hell, a lot of people responded to anti-selfie moments by saying, “I do not see myself represented in the media, so I’m making my own!”  This project brings attention and visibility to feminists and helps to garner the political power of the selfie.  I’m participating over on Instagram (follow me! @artsykelly) and I am loving the new community of feminists I’m meeting through it.  I used the selfies I had taken throughout the last year and created a collage of images representing myself.

Ordinary Woman at the Howard County Arts Council through Friday, February 21st.

This is where that overlap of art and activism is created for me.  I knew how I wanted my dress to look and I knew that the visual of a typical bridesmaids dress covered in words that can be positive or negative would be impactful.  I wanted people to walk away from my dress disturbed.  I wanted to jar them and make them think, while also creating something that was visually interesting.  It isn’t art just for art’s sake, it’s art with a message, open to interpretation by the viewer.

monument quilt 2This March, as a part of Critical Social Justice and UMBC’s Art Week 2014, the Women’s Center will be presenting a Feminist Art Show on the Mezzanine Gallery in the Commons.  We will be featuring pieces of the Monument Quilt, an art project being curated by FORCE, an art activist effort to upset the dominant culture of rape and promote a counter-culture of consent.   The Monument Quilt is a crowd-sourced collection of thousands of stories from survivors of rape and abuse. We are also asking for students, staff, and community members to submit feminist art of their own.

Call For Art

To submit art, please email your images to kelly23@umbc.edu