PREVIEW: 16th Annual Women’s History Conference

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Hello ReVisionist Readers and fellow Women’s Historians,

As spring approaches and Women’s History month right around the corner, we wanted to invite you the annual Women’s History Conference at Sarah Lawrence College on Saturday, March 1st.

The 16th Annual Women’s History Conference, The Newer Normal: Global Perspectives on Sexuality and Gender, seeks to bring together scholars and activists to address historical representations and contemporary issues in order to move the discussion and knowledge of global gender issues forward. The conference comes at a critical time when even though progress has been made, discrimination, oppression, and violence persist and erupts anew.

This issue includes the papers and panels that will be featured at the conference! The conference is open to the public. You can register online at http://www.slc.edu/WHconference2014/register. We look forward to seeing you on Saturday, March 1st.

Cheers and Feminism!

The ReVisionist Team

Welcome to the Feminism and Mental Health Issue!

Dear Readers,

Feminism is an essential aspect to many realms of women’s mental health–validating the taxing experiences of all women (and all others who are oppressed by patriarchy), pushing back against the the assumptions that women are ruled by their emotions, encouraging the pursuit of fulfilling lives, and in countless other ways.

Our January issue features discussions of diverse intersections of mental health and feminism, including interviews with health-care providers in various fields, portraits of what mental health looked like in other historical eras, and art inspired by a feminist search for inner peace.

Our first submission is a discussion of mental health care with a feminist-identified social worker in California, who uses her feminism to assist families through challenging times in their lives.

We then move on to discuss mental-health maintenance when common resources aren’t available. Maria Vallejo-Nguyen provides a portrait of historic patriot Manuela Saenz and how she maintained her sanity during years of exile and being considered outside of what it meant to be a woman. Vallejo’s portrait shows the strategies her subject used to survive such a trying time.

Editor Tiffany Williams submitted a personal journal entry. She also evokes raw emotion in a poem that reflects on her past in a effort to move towards self-acceptance and growth.

Carly Fox addresses what spirituality can bring to both feminism and mental health through her discussion of Pema Chodron’s work on working through self-hatred and jealousy both personally and inter-personally.

Taylor Russell  discusses the treatment of eating disorders.

Guest contributor Jessica Williams writes a piece about why medicine is important and how it has the power to heal.

Finally, Carly Fox provides a list of national mental-health resources as well as a list of book recommendations.

Please enjoy the stories, art, and resources included in this issue. We hope they inspire you to find the ways in which feminism contributes to your own emotional well-being and that of everyone in your lives.

As always, we welcome your thoughts, comments, and submissions.

Sincerely,

Tiffany, Emilie, and Carly

Mental Health Resources and Links

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Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave.
Rainer Maria Rilke

The Trevor Project
Trevor Lifeline: 866.488.7386
From their site: The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth.
They offer a variety of resources for those in the US, including: a Lifeline, a chat/messaging service, and a social networking community for LGBTQ youth (13-24 years old) + allies.


Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN)
Hotline: 1.800.656.HOPE
RAINN is the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the US and is full of resources for those who have endured sexual violence and/or their loved ones.


National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call them at 1.800.273.TALK. (Their web site also has Lifeline options for those who are deaf or hard of hearing.)


National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
Information HelpLine: 1.800.950.NAMI (6264) Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.- 6 p.m., EST or by email at info@nami.org
From their site: NAMI State Organizations and local NAMI Affiliates offer an array of free education and support programs for individuals, family members, providers and the general public. Find a local chapter here.


Kate Bornstein – AKA – transgender trailblazer, activist extraordinaire, and suicide-prevention heroine. We love her and she helps us love (ourselves and others) more.


It Gets Better Project
This project has helped/helps many people stay alive (and is a great place to find video after video of encouragement and support)!


The Body is Not an Apology
An award winning poet, activist, and transformational leader, Sonya Renee Taylor  founded The Body is Not an Apology in 2011 and it has since grown into an international movement encouraging unapologetic self-love.


V-Day
Kelsey: I LOVE V-Day, the brainchild of the incredible Eve Ensler sparked by the reception of The Vagina Monologues. From their site: V-Day is a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls…V-Day generates broader attention for the fight to stop violence against women and girls, including rape, battery, incest, female genital mutilation (FGM), and sex slavery. V-Day has raised over $90 million to end violence against women and girls since it was founded 15 years ago.


PostSecret
PostSecret is a place where people anonymously send in a secret on a homemade postcard. The thought behind it is that sharing one’s secret can be healing for those with the secret, those who identify the secret, and those who come together to form a community of anonymous acceptance.


Leslie Feinberg
The author of such important books as Stone Butch Blues, Transgender Warriors, and Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue. Feinberg is also a fierce activist outside of the page, working for a variety of grass-root movements for over 30 years.

This list was borrowed from the Stay Here With Me project. Please visit their website for more information.

Chained to the White Man

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By Tiffany Williams

Fuck the white man who told me
Dyslexia was an incurable disease
That being left-handed was worse than
Being Right

Momma told me to be silent when the white man was talking
Told me to listen to the white man
Act like the white man
Dye my hair blond
Get blue contacts
Don’t tan, you’re already dark
Go to the beauty supply store
Buy European hair and forget your roots
Momma said, Don’t dream… It’s too dangerous

Too afraid of saying the wrong thing
When the wrong thing was the right thing to say

Fuck you Soddy Daisy Elementary
made me afraid to be myself at 8
Mrs. Smith, my second grade teacher
never called on me
thought I didn’t know the answer
didn’t get picked for the spelling bee
no praise for the perfect scores
no smiley face sticker, no “good job”

Fuck the white kids
called me a Nigger at recess
Ate alone at lunchtime
An apple, cold turkey and cheese sandwich, my companions
5 feet of space between me and the table full of whispers
and wide open eyes
I heard them call me monster
Said my hair looked like weeds
Nothing you kept in your yard
I hung my head low
Eyes never met my enemies
I thought we were kids
and hatred couldn’t exist

Fuck the month of February
During black history month
teacher told me, Speak
Tell the story of your people
Couldn’t they see
That I didn’t know a Damn thing?
That I was learning too?

At home momma told me
“you can’t eat, until your homework is done”
I worked for hours
Math, more Math
Math
English, More English
English
Science, more Science
Science
Gotta get ahead if you wanna survive in this world
But would I ever get ahead?
Was it even possible?

Nighttime
Heard momma yellin
Daddy cussin
Hid in my closet
Prayin
Momma bleedin on the kitchen floor.
Knew I was never gonna get married.

Momma was right
I listened to the white man
Held my tongue for the white man
Relaxed my hair for the white man
Wore baggy clothes to hide my curves
Didn’t sit outside, too afraid to get too dark
Forgot what it was like to walk proud, head held high
Wait…
I was never taught that

Medicine Has the Power to Heal

By Jessica Williams

There is power in medicine. Not just because medicine serves to heal, but also because it strengthens the human connection. Think about it. You have to discuss very personal, and at times, embarrassing details about your body with a person that you have just met. You have to trust that this person can solve these health concerns. Although this may seem terrifying, there is something beautiful that can be produced from these “awkward” moments. A unique bond can be formed, one that transcends cultural barriers and ultimately eliminates disparities in healthcare. This all happens within 30 minutes. The fascinating role that physicians play in the aforementioned is what drew me to medicine.

In January 2010, I volunteered as a Spanish Interpreter to help set up health clinics in twelve rural towns in Fusimana, Dominican Republic. stock-photo-10949142-dominican-republic-and-haitiThere, I observed first-hand the effects of disparities in healthcare. Due to the remote location, lack of education and income, the people did know how to receive proper medical care. This constant lack of knowledge only perpetuated a standard for poor quality of care. These medical mission trips served as the community’s only source for receiving adequate health services. As a Spanish Interpreter, my role was more of a cultural broker, a conduit that helped to address the health concerns of the patients and make sure they understood their plan of care. Also, I was able to educate each town on health topics ranging from hygiene to management of chronic illnesses, like hypertension. By simply informing the communities on ways to maintain a healthier lifestyle, I was able to help prevent their health problems from transforming into more dire ones.

These tasks may seem simple, but they were far from it. Imagine a long line of 200 people waiting to be seen in a dimly lit church, where the physician can only see the person for a maximum of 20 minutes. Here, bridging the cultural gap is critical to ensure that the patients receive optimal medical care. By interpreting for the physician and the patient, I was able to help foster a strong bond between both parties. Because I was able to dismantle the language barrier, the physician could effectively treat the patient.

Through my role as an interpreter, I was able to help plan a treatment for a young, diabetic mother with three children. Due to a lack of stable income, the mother could not afford her medication or food tailored to stabilize her glucose levels. I worked with the physician to educate the mother on cost-effective ways to cook and grow certain food in the Dominican Republic that both she and her children could enjoy. We also gave the mother a six month supply of diabetic medications, explained to her how to use them effectively, and connected her to a local social worker to help with employment. Within fifteen minutes, we we were able to tackle the patient’s health concerns. We centered her plan of care around her cultural preferences because we were able to understand her lifestyle.

This experience not only showed me what it takes to become a great physician, but alsowhat it means to be a good human being. One simply has to show compassion, a willingness to help. That is what medicine is about, and that is what makes us all humane.

I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love. -Mother Teresa

I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.
-Mother Teresa

Darkness Is Just a Sign that Sunshine Is on It’s Way

Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift. - Mary Oliver

Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift. – Mary Oliver

Sometimes we are bitch slapped by life. Often times overworked and underpaid, constantly running against time and not with it. Hard pressed for the 8:10am train to only be depressed as we see it pull away, wishing that if only you had not pushed the snooze button that one extra time, or took two extra minutes to apply mascara. My mornings are always filled with “what ifs” or “if only this” or “why didn’t I” or “I should have.” My body and mind are always anxious, my shoulders tense, my hands numb, and my eyes cold. I  entered this year more anxious than ever. I wondered why I have anxiety because I am a 25 year old black woman living in the greatest city in the world, going to a highly regarded graduate school, and working at one of the best media companies in the entertainment industry. Why am I so anxious when I should be on top of the world? I am surrounded by opportunity, intellectual stimulation, and access. My material world is perfect, my pockets a third full, but my mental world is empty. I am running but running without a stable mind. It has only been 11 days into this new year and I have already cried more than half of those days.

As a result, I have questioned myself and my capabilities. In the end, I realized that in order to capture the beauty around me and restore my energy to build an even stronger foundation to enable maturity, growth and acceptance, I have to have a stable mind and stable heart. Last night, I reflected on what it would take me to achieve this without the influence of others or the longing for others to fill those voids. Below is my healing plan. It is not perfect. But hopefully it will serve as a roadmap for me to build upon and for you to create your own.

  1. IDENTITY. Sometimes we are stressed, depressed, insecure, and unhappy simply because we do not know who we are. Identity is not some ethereal word that leaves a void in your stomach. Identity is tangible in a sense that you can touch and feel when you take time to know yourself. Like reading books by bell hooks or Rachel Maddow or Audre Lorde. Their books for example provoke the mind, body and spirit so much that you will start to ask yourself personal questions. When discovering your identity, it’s ok to talk to yourself. Hash out your cultural, political, social, gender, sexual issues. I promise it’s healthy. If you are too afraid of talking out loud, too afraid that your neighbor may hear, then take out a pen and let your mind go.

  1. ACCEPTANCE. Sometimes we think that our imperfections are what make us flawed and at a disadvantage. In actuality, your imperfections are what make you more interesting and different from the next person.???????????????????????????????So what if you have one more booty dimple than Beyonce, occasionally get a pimple during that dreaded time of the month, have your weight fluctuate that you may go up one pants size, or your hair doesn’t look like that girl from the pantene commercial. Find value and acceptance in your body. Once you accept your body, other people will as well. There’s is honesty and love in self-acceptance.

  1. SEXUALITY. Two words. Own It. I used to feel that I had to fit into a mold when I got into a relationship. That I could not be as sexual or sexy because I was in a committed relationship and I was too afraid of other men commenting on my attire. It’s ok to feel sexy. To have a night to yourself and wear that sexy sparkly dress. Sexuality and confidence in your sexuality, no matter what your gender identity is, means taking the time to invest in yourself and do the things that does not make you feel like you are losing your sexuality.

  1. PASSION: Don’t be afraid to do what you love. I’m a painter, a lover for the smell of oil pants, a sucker for a blank canvas, and the voice of Lianne La Havas to guide my brush strokes. c11056d80473e31b447e2493e4b93850Unfortunately, I do not have the time to paint 24/7 as I would like to. I have to keep a roof over my head and maintain my one bedroom apartment. As a result, I work a full time job. Even though I can not do what I love all the time, does not mean I cannot make time. I lost myself because I stopped painting. Painting is what makes me complete. Now I am dedicating time each week to paint and hopefully it will lead to an beautiful escape.

  1. YOU ARE THE COMPANY YOU KEEP. Surround yourself with beautiful spirits. People that make you better and love you despite your flaws. Friends that are not afraid to tell you when you are wrong and who have their own goals and aspirations. I do not think I would be able to have a piece of mind if I did not have the beautiful, courageous, resilient women behind me to love me.

Hopefully, this short list of 5 pillars to a stable mind will help you and I both have a healthy mind, body, and spirit.  Remember to not give into darkness. Sometimes darkness is just a sign that light is around the corner….

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Life, love, health, and feminism.

Tiffany

Pema Chödrön: Buddhist Insight for Challenging Times

By Carly Fox 

I discovered feminism as a sophomore in college. I was insecure, angry, and to say the least, sad. Feminism gave me an intellectual framework with which to critically understand the world around me and a language to describe the feelings of isolation I had long felt. It gave me the tools to connect my personal experiences with history and politics, and inspired me to lead an engaged life that sought to undue oppression and division. Feminism radically altered my life; yet, as much as I read and studied, I still felt an underlying sense of insecurity, anxiety, and depression. I understood feminism from my mind, but I had yet to connect it with my heart.

The semester before I graduated college I bought a book by the American Buddhist nun, Pema Chödrön.

Pema Chödrön was born Deirdre Blomfield-Brown in 1936, in New York City

Pema Chödrön was born Deirdre Blomfield-Brown in 1936, in New York City

A Buddhist nun since 1972, Pema studied under the well-known teacher Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and is currently the resident teacher at Gampo Abbey, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, the first Tibetan monastery for Westerners. Pema writes extensively about living with an open heart and relating directly to our experiences of suffering, fear, and uncertainty.  Her down-to-earth and accessible teaching style helped me learn how to stop struggling with myself and running from my fear. Her teachings also connected deeply with my understanding and passion for a feminist politics rooted in connectedness, love, and a shared commitment to end sexist oppression.

Cultivating Unconditional Friendship with Oneself

Learning how to befriend ourselves is fundamental to Pema’s teaching. As I read Pema’s work, I began to realize that I in fact knew very little about being a friend to myself; instead, I had spent a great deal of my life judging myself and trying to be “good enough.” I believed if I received A’s, went jogging more often, got into the right graduate school, read more books, had the right partner, ate organic food, and held the correct political beliefs then somehow I would finally be lovable. These things, I thought, would make that uncomfortable feeling of self-doubt disappear. To look honestly at all the parts of myself I didn’t like – my anger, jealousy, resentment, and self-denigration- was painfully frightening. Pema’s teaching, however, encourage us get to know all the parts of ourselves that we try to cover over.

Developing unconditional friendship means taking the very scary step of getting to know yourself. It means being willing to look at yourself clearly and to stay with yourself when you want to shut down. It means keeping your heart open when you feel that what you see in yourself is just too embarrassing, too painful, too unpleasant, too hateful (Pema Chodron).[1]

Rather than judging the parts of ourselves we dislike we could be tender and patient with all the ways we have been taught to self-reject and self-denigrate. Relating to ourselves in this way means creating space and acceptance for everything we experience, not just the parts or ourselves that we believe measure up.

In an interview with the Buddhist magazine, Shambhala Sun, feminist philosopher and public intellectual bell hooks explains the importance of first befriending ourselves in order for larger social movements to be truly transformational.

I would like to bring the work of mindfulness and awareness to everyday struggles. The most important field of activism, particularly for black people, is mental health. Activism does not need to be some kind of organized ‘against’ protest. When my students say they want to change the world, I espouse an inward to outward movement. If you feel that you can’t do shit about your own reality, how can you really think you could change the world? And guess what? When you’re fucked-up and you lead the revolution, you are probably going to get a pretty fucked-up revolution.[2]

As we create space for all parts of ourselves – the parts we are embarrassed by and the parts we are proud of – we then learn that we can let go of our constant need to be “good enough.” For the approach of unconditional friendship with oneself is not about becoming “better or “good enough,” but about becoming more of our true, authentic selves.

Smiling at Fear

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“Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found.”
― Pema Chödrön

By cultivating unconditional friendship with ourselves we also begin to better understand the nature of fear. How do we stay present and open-heartened when our experience seems frightening and overwhelming? What do we do when we panic? Before reading Pema’s work I had thought very little about fear and how it manifested in my life. As I started to pay attention, however, I realized that fear permeated so much of my experience – fear of failing, fear of things changing, fear of someone leaving, fear of not being good enough. I had no tools for how to relate to this underlying fear, for so much of my life had been about trying to simply not experience fear, uncertainly, or insecurity. Pema teaches, however, that the first step in working with fear is to experience it fully.  By staying with our fear we begin to development confidence. Not a confidence that everything is going to work out the way we want, but a confidence that we can stay with ourselves no matter what the outer circumstances of our lives may be. Staying with our fear also begins to soften our hearts. We learn that instead of running away and arming ourselves we could in fact open genuinely to ourselves and to others. As Pema says,

If you touch the fear instead of running from it, you find tenderness, vulnerability, and sometimes a sense of sadness. This tender-heartedness happens naturally when you start to be brave enough to stay present, because instead of armoring yourself, instead of turning to anger, self-denigration, and iron-heartedness, you keep your eyes open and you begin, as Trungpa Rinpoche said, to see the blueness of an iris, the wetness of water, the movement of the wind.[3]

Suffering: The Path to Freedom

As we learn to relate more openly to fear, we also learn to open to pain and suffering. Pema teaches that we can do two things with suffering. We can let it harden us, and become filled with more anger, resentment and hatred, or we can use it as a means to become more compassionate and loving. Letting suffering soften us, Pema teaches, is critical if we wish to change the world.

Times are difficult globally; awakening is no longer a luxury or an ideal. It’s becoming critical. We don’t need to add more depression, more discouragement, or more anger to what’s already here. It’s becoming essential that we learn how to relate sanely with difficult times. The earth seems to be beseeching us to connect with joy and discover our innermost essence. This is the best way that we can benefit others.[4]

In a conversation with Pema, Alice Walker explained that she once believed suffering had no use.After listening to Pema’s tape set called Awakening Compassion, however, Walker said she discovered that staying with her pain and suffering in fact allowed her to lead a more joyous and open-hearted life.

Pema Chödrön in conversation with Alice Walker.

Pema Chödrön in conversation with Alice Walker.

Learning to relax into pain, rather than pushing it away, Walker says, is” just the right medicine for today.”

As you breathe in what is difficult to bear, there is initial resistance, which is the fear, the constriction. That’s the time when you really have to be brave. But if you keep going and doing the practice, the heart actually relaxes. That is quite amazing to feel.[5]

Pema’s teachings on suffering, fear, and unconditional self-love have been a bridge connecting the personal and political in my life, reminding me that indeed the two are never really separate. In my own experience, to engage in feminism is also to engage in a practice of radical self-love. By cultivating unconditional friendship with ourselves and learning to stay present with our fear and pain we can then begin to transform the world.