Tag Archives: gender

Nontraditional References (Part II)

By: Timothy Shiner, Senior Associate Dean, Student Support Services

My kitchen table, Pawtucket, RI

Back in 2005, I was asked to write a brief informal reflection as part of a journal published for students and alums of my graduate school program. At the time, I was working at the University of Vermont Women’s Center, focusing largely on sexual violence prevention and response, and my self-care skills were not very good. While I had been out for many years, I was struggling with my identity as a queer man and where I fit in the LGBTQ community. I was burnt out and carrying a lot of personal and vicarious trauma. There was so much inequity and injustice in the world and having finished my graduate degree and worked a few years in the “real world”, I was disappointed to learn that “adulthood” didn’t mean inherent stability, peace of mind, or an ability to control my circumstances and prevent bad things from happening to me or others.

I didn’t really know how to write such a reflection at that moment. Being aware of even a fraction of the struggle which happens in the world, I had never really been able to believe that “everything happens for a reason.” But I had become deeply impacted by feminist and womanist thinkers like bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Ursula LeGuin, and Gloria Anzaldúa and I had come to believe that whether things happen for a reason or not, we can make meaning out of the most difficult circumstances. And while I had been looking to these and other sources (some of them accepted as “scholarship” by the academy) for comfort during that difficult time, it wasn’t until a series of moments outside the traditional academy; an art show, a performance art piece, reading a series of children’s novels; that I started being able to make a little meaning of my own. The reflection I had been asked to write became an outline of my process at that moment; an exploration of Nontraditional References and how they can help us make meaning.

Fifteen years later, like many of us, I find myself catching up on shows I’ve been meaning to watch, returning to old favorite works, and spending a lot of time in the kitchen. One of the shows was the first season of the adaptation of those same children’s novels from 15 years ago; HBO’s His Dark Materials. The adaptation of Phillip Pullman’s books is very good, I think, but it is a later point in the novels that the viewing reminded me of and that I have returned to again and again over time to reground myself in difficult moments (so minor spoiler alert…).

In my piece from 2005, I wrote, “In Pullman’s fantasy world, children are being severed from their spirit. A force called Dust fights for consciousness, for the end of oppression, and for balance and harmony with other humans and with the world itself” (Shiner, 2005, p. 137). As the novels progress, this force of Dust is endangered and is being siphoned away but near the end of the story, a wise character tells the protagonists:

Conscious beings make Dust – they renew it all the time, by thinking and feeling and reflecting, by gaining wisdom and passing it on. And if you help everyone else in your world to do that, by helping them learn and understand about themselves and each other and the way everything works, and by showing them how to be kind instead of cruel, and patient instead of hasty, and cheerful instead of surly, and above all how to keep their minds open and free and curious…Then you will renew enough to replace what is lost…” (Pullman, 2000, p. 491-492)

This moment in a fantasy novel, this charge, continues to bring me purpose and hope in difficult moments and to remind me of the simple goals of why I work in education. Whether in novel or television format, this work of fiction has helped me make meaning for almost two decades.

The worlds of science fiction and fantasy have always been a lens of meaning making for me and no one has shaped my worldview with this tool more than Octavia Butler. She wrote words and captured ways of thinking I return to again and again. “All that you touch, You Change. All that you Change, Changes you. The only lasting truth is Change” (Butler, p. 81). In this world that seems changed beyond recognition, how do we make meaning? Butler reminds me that change is constant, and that I need to accept that. I need to accept that I cannot control change. But I also need to bring intentionality about the way I impact every person I interact with as everything that you touch, you change.

One of the things that has changed dramatically for me in the past 15 years is that I no longer view my life in terms of work only. The simple things of life that restore me have become just as important as the meaningful work which I do each day on campus. And nowhere does this practice feel more salient than in my kitchen. For me, cooking and baking ground me. It is an opportunity to be creative, to feel the satisfaction of working with my hands, and to engage in a practice that nourishes my body and my soul. And, it is a deep connection to my mother.

Mushroom lasagna with bechamel sauce, a variation on how mom taught me to make it.

As a child, I was often in the kitchen while my mother (and on many occasions, my grandmother and aunt) cooked. Whether it was a nightly meal or the once annual two-day process of canning grape jelly from the vines in my great aunt’s yard, the warmth, aromas, and conversation were “home.” The recipes she taught me are still part of my rotation: oatmeal scotchie cookies, cornbread and chili, and my all-time favorite meal, homemade baked mac and cheese. But now it is an exchange of recipes and conversation, we are mother and son, but also friends. She calls me from 2000 miles away when I’ve had a rough day even if I didn’t tell her I was having one. She just knows. During this time of isolation, we are speaking every day. Our conversations range but we always talk about what we are cooking. The food and the relationships nourish us both.

A television adaptation of my favorite books…returning to writings that have shaped my worldview…a recipe and a conversation…nontraditional references continue to help me make meaning out of difficult moments in life. They help me to find peace of mind, to let go of things I cannot control, to feel grounded and connected. They help me to hope.

I closed my 2005 piece reflecting on a performance art piece I had seen by Arab-Canadian feminist author Joanna Kadi entitled Hope is a Four-Letter Word. As I try to make meaning in this moment, to find peace of mind, and to reground myself, her words seem more important than ever.

We are plunked down at the crossroads of past, present, and present. Not past, present, and future. A crossroad is comprised of two places, not three. We need to let go of the future. We need to let go of the 8,741 negative, scary, awful futures we have been composing in our minds night after night. We need to look at the ground under our feet…touch Mother Earth, touch healing soil, seek prairie remnant. Understand our past, understand our present, understand that we are not present in the future. Make our choice about whether to include hope in our present. In the actions we take to change the world, to create the world, in the personal movement we make and the larger movement we make, let us bring hope with us, let us insist on her presence. Above the door write, “Seize hope all who enter here.” (Kadi, 2004)

Image credits: Banner image by maradon 333/Shutterstock.com; lasagna image by Timothy Shiner

References

Butler, O. (2012). Parable of the Sower. Open Road Media.

Kadi, J. (April 20, 2004). Hope is a four-letter word. Live performance at the University of Vermont, Burlington, VT.

Pullman, P. (2000). His dark materials: The amber spyglass. Alfred A. Knopf.

Shiner, T. (2005). Nontraditional References. The Vermont Connection, 26, 136-141.

Lessons from Octavia Butler

By: Matthew Guterl, Professor of Africana Studies and American Studies

Providence, RI

I have been teaching a small undergraduate seminar on Black speculative fiction. It has been, for me, an extraordinary honor to work with this small group of dedicated young people towards a better understanding of this genre, and to do so, from the start of the semester, in light of the nation’s racial retrenchment under the current President, and now, just as tragically, in the midst of a global pandemic. I won’t speak for the students, but for me this class has been a gift – a weekly reminder of the power of imagination to draw up futures that center Black life, and to disrupt what seems possible or pre-determined.

As much as I have felt anything over these past few weeks, I have missed these people and our conversations.

In hindsight, everything we read and watched seems like a parable for the present, but one novel – Octavia Butler’s Kindred – stands out. The book, originally published in 1979, is the story of a Black woman named Dana who is inexplicably and repeatedly transported back to the antebellum South to save her ancestor, a white slaveowner named Rufus. Whenever Rufus’s life is threatened, Dana is yanked backwards in time without warning. She appears out of thin air, dressed in modern clothing, embodying modern Blackness, and causing quite a stir. She rather pointedly refuses to pretend that she is an enslaved person. She won’t stay in her “place” as determined by the slaveholding regime or accept that she “belongs” in antebellum South. Calmly and soberly, and against the grain of her surroundings, she insists on both her Blackness and her humanity. Over time, her reappearances keep Rufus alive and by extension ensure her very existence. By the novel’s conclusion, both Dana and Rufus are fundamentally changed by this recursive experience, leaving us to wonder about causality and inevitability.

Binding the past to her present, Butler’s text was meant to answer a simple question: what would you have done if you have been forced to confront slavery? She had heard many Black men and women of her generation insist that they would rise up and rebel, that they would die fighting against their enslavement. And she wanted to dramatize what she saw as the overwhelming totality of slavery, the impossibility of simple, straightforward resistance. Along with the importance – the deep and foundational importance – of knowing your history.

When we met as a class, we talked a lot about Dana, who is nonplussed by her time travelling. Practical and level-headed, she routinely confronts what would be horrific with thoughtful planning. In her California home in the present, she has the forethought to wisely assemble a bag of necessary supplies and ties them to her waist, so that they might travel back in time with her. When that bag gets lost, she quickly makes another. She brings maps and history books from the present into the past, destabilizing the certainties of slavery’s expansion. She brings knives and painkillers, soap and toothpaste and clothing. Like the author who created her, Dana is a woman of lists, a champion of organized thinking in the face of what should be overwhelming crises. This faith in relentless practicality saves her life. In the end, the knife she brings back in time – the kind of weapon denied to any enslaved person, the kind of weapon she knew she might need – is what she uses to kill Rufus in the novel’s final pages, when he loses sight of her humanity, moves beyond redemption, and comes to see her only as a slave.

Dana is prudent, canny, discerning, prepared, and willfully committed to her own survival. She is the hero we need right now, in an age of singular uncertainties. And my deepest hope is that the students who are enrolled in AFRI 1100X, and who are now zooming into our meet-ups from bedrooms, kitchen tables, and patios in almost every conceivable time zone, and who might feel displaced, buffeted, and even scared, can find in Dana’s steely determination to plan and organize her way out of trouble a practical model for their own everyday survival. Don’t hide, she might advise. Make a list. Organize your stuff. Keep it close. Be ready. What you are living through is not normal. Cool-minded preparation will save you.

Image credit: Michael Kraus/Shutterstock.com

Why we ALL need poetry as reflection, survival and stillness especially these days…

By: Sage Morgan-Hubbard, Assistant Director of Student Development at the Swearer Center for Public Service

Currently in quarantine with my mom and family in Hyattsville, MD

Dear all,

Happy poetry month! May your life be filled with poems this month and always! These are the typical words I would be writing around now as a poet and poetry lover however this year they don’t feel as genuine. I mean, we have a global pandemic right now and I can’t even take my children to play at the playground or drive across state lines, how can I be sitting around thinking about and writing poetry? And then again, how could I not? I am working on a project on the great Chinese American Civil Rights activist, author and philosopher Grace Lee Boggs who was born here in Providence, RI and who lived through many other tough times such as the great depression and she is famously quoted as saying “the only way to survive is to take care of one another.” One of my other favorite writers and poets, my Lorde and savior, Audre Lorde writes that “poetry is not a luxury.”

For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest external horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.

And today I believe it more than ever, poetry is not a luxury of the privileged few such as the Brown University educated folks who live and work up on College Hill in the (upper) East Side of Providence but it is an essential communication tool for all of us to celebrate and survive, to help take care of each other. As one of my other favorite poets, the incredible Lucille Clifton writes in her poem “won’t you celebrate with me

come celebrate

with me that everyday

something has tried to kill me

and has failed.

Lucille Clifton is one of those poets who appears to be so simple in her word choice and yet I keep on returning to her profound words again and again. I remember actually being introduced to her work fully in professor Rick Benjamin’s “Poetry in schools and communities” engaged research education class where he came to class and recited the poem that he said he always recites in classes when he teaches on the first day and one that he wanted us to recite and share with our students because it is so short and powerful and can resonate in almost any setting. This white cis heterosexual male professor recited from memory,

why some people be mad at me sometimes

they ask me to remember

but they want me to remember

their memories

and I keep on remembering

mine

And I had to sit with that. And let it digest. And return to it during dinner. And talk to my friends about it. And soon it was part of my curriculums too and shared with me wherever I went as well as I shared with students in prisons, on the southeast sides of Washington, DC or South and West sides of Chicago, etc. everywhere I went with disenfranchised populations especially we spoke Lucille Clifton together and spoke about what are the memories that we hold dear, what are the ones we are told to forget, what are the things that people be mad at us about and how do we resist? This combination of community care, engagement, questioning and survival is why I love poetry so much. It gives voice to so many stories that are seldom told with luscious language and precious moments that make me feel and think in multiple ways. After September 11th, when I was a college freshman at Brown in 2001 and I had just lost my maternal grandmother, two days before the start of TWTP and I was already an emotional mess, I know that I needed a poetry club and poetry friends to hold my sorrows, insecurities, feelings and grief. That is when I started WORD! Spoken Word Poets and Activists because I needed poetry to survive and hold me. Clifton continues,

born…both nonwhite and woman

what did i see to be except myself?

i made it up

See? How poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. It took me four years and an Ethnic Studies degree from Brown to come to the realization that these few lines said so clearly. As a woman of color, I had to be myself and make the path up along the way. This is part of why I was drawn to be an independent concentrator in “Performance Studies: Socially Conscious Art of the Everyday,” my poetic tribute to women of color artists before me. Poetry allowed me the language, space and tools to be political and outspoken and angry as well as be

…amazed by peace

It is this possibility of you

asleep

and breathing in the quiet air

that another one of my poetic sheroes, the great June Jordan, founder of Poetry for the People writes in her tender poem, Poem for My Love. In thinking about these last few weeks in the strange ever shifting times of COVID-19, I need these quiet peaceful poems as well as the mournful and hopeful pieces. This past week, while thinking through everything, I was also drawn to Adrienne Rich and her poem,  What Kind of Times Are These

because in times like these

to have you listen at all, it’s necessary

to talk about trees.

I have been surviving by not only talking about trees but walking in the trees, relearning the necessity of the trees feeding my lungs with fresh air and new perspectives not the constant depression news cycle and death tolls. 

In these times, the silence and listening, the spaces between the poems are as important as the poems themselves. In closing like many nonlinear womanist/feminist pieces, I will start again and let my thoughts flow in their natural circular cyclical patterns–Happy poetry month. Please read a poem. While I love prose, poetry can capture beautiful moments in ways nothing else can. As I am trapped in the house with my almost three-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son I know it is not the annoying crying frustrated moments when we need space from each other but those moments that take our breath away when I can see them literally grow before my eyes. I have never had more respect for stay at home moms, homeschool families, single parent households and teachers and as Audre Lorde says the poems I have seen be birthed in the silences, in “these places of possibility within ourselves.” Lorde also writes that poetry is

illumination, for it is through poetry that we give name to those ideas which are, until the poem, nameless and formless-about to be birthed, but already felt.

And in this moment of feeling I want to end with a poem that has moved me. He is not a woman poet but one that all of my lovers (of all genders) have wooed me with and it seems like such a lovely poem to end on in this moment for its introspection and pacing. Reading poetry might be the best thing for us to do in this stillness, in quarantine. This poem is entitled, “Keeping Quiet” by Pablo Neruda.

I look forward to reading your poems online or hearing them recorded soon. For those who want to support a new Brown university student led project, please write and submit poems to Poems from a University Quarantine.

Sincerely, 

Sage

Image credit: Photo of my inquisitive and poetic daughter Samira Xaxua-Bey by Sage Morgan-Hubbard during the long days

Live Through This

By: Mary Murphy, Nancy L. Buc ’65 Pembroke Center Archivist

Home Office, West Side, Providence

My personal feminism comes to me in many ways. At times when I love it and I rely on it and it sustains me to listen more closely and try to do better. Sometimes my feminism comes to me when I don’t want it to, especially when I was younger. I would ask myself, “why can’t I find a way to like what everyone else seems to like?” whether that question pertained to gender specific toys, gender roles, or later to marriage and children. Thinking about it now, that feminism was like a little punk voice that refused to be quiet inside of my head.

I have said that I feel feminism is just part of some people; an innate drive in them for fairness, to be heard, and to help others be heard. Growing up Generation X in an Irish Catholic community in Minnesota, my 1990s feminism was reflected by my location and in the era and embodied in Riot Grrrl and in fellow daughters of “second-wave” feminists and in the form of other musicians like Liz Phair, the B-52s, Tracy Chapman, and Sinead O’Connor. I was schooled by vintage readings like those from Shulamith Firestone and Toni Morrison and by contemporary pieces by bell hooks and Pam Houston.

I think about this now while reflecting on the last day that I spent in the workshop of the Pembroke Center Archives before the campus closed down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Like all of us, I had been cooped up with early warnings to stay at home and inundated by too much news and too much worry.

I was in my office in Alumnae Hall when I heard that feminist voice inside of my head once again. It told me to get some distance from the moment and to work on something creative and DO IT LOUD! Why not? No one else was in Alumnae Hall – a cavernous building that from 1927 to 1971 had been home to social and religious activities of Brown women and Pembroke College events and historic moments. 

Pembroke Center Archives website banner

So I logged on to the Pembroke Center’s website, which is under construction, and I got to work adding my changes and additions to the new pages about the archives (picture above). And then I added sound. I chose Courtney Love’s band Hole and TURNED UP THE VOLUME on her 1994 album, Live Through This

I had not listened to the album in years, but when I heard that iconic opening guitar from the song “Violet” come blasting out, I felt a rush of energy and I immediately recalled the time I saw her play in Minnesota when I was in high school. It was December and Love was contrarian as ever. There was a Christmas tree on stage and I remember that in the middle of one of her songs, she walked over and pulled the whole thing over and dragged it across the stage and then threw it into the audience. She hated what she was supposed to like too… 

I hate COVID-19 but I loved that moment in Alumnae Hall. When feminism served as my buoy. When no one else was there but me and the deafening sounds of feminist punk, women’s history and inspiration. 

Image credits: Photograph of Alumnae Hall by Mary Murphy, Winter 2020; Website photography by Nick Dentamaro, Brown University, 2019

The kitchen table (a.k.a. my new office)

By: Felicia Salinas-Moniz, Senior Assistant Director, Sarah Doyle Center

A kitchen in Riverside, Rhode Island

Yesterday, I showed up to a video conference call with a sticker on my forehead. As I was sitting at the kitchen table (a.k.a. my new makeshift office) my 5-year old came and placed a holiday sticker on my face. She must have grabbed it out of a pile of art supplies that I had strewn on the floor for the day’s “home school” activities. When my spouse came down from a bedroom makeshift office, I ran upstairs to take this conference call and the first thing that was made apparent (of my being a parent working remotely) was the glittery decal.

Like many working parents our household has dramatically shifted in the past few weeks with the lines of work, home, and school explicitly blurred. There are many “parenting in the pandemic” stories out there — a good amount speaking to sexism and the gender/labor divide, with others that highlight the ways in which racism, classism, ableism (among other structural inequalities) are colliding to impact the experience of families during covid-19. Kimberlé Crenshaw’s concept of “intersectionality” as a freeway collision visibly felt in homes (and at kitchen tables) around the globe. 

The kitchen table, as a symbol, has roots in black feminist and other women of color feminist cultural production. Barbara Smith describes the formation of Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press during the early 1980s as follows:

We chose our name because the kitchen is the center of the home, the place where women in particular work and communicate with each other. We also wanted to convey the fact that we are a kitchen table, grass roots operation, begun and kept alive by women who cannot rely on inheritances or other benefits of class privilege to do the work we need to do (1).

Rereading feminist texts like This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (second edition published by Kitchen Table press in 1983) provides helpful perspective in this moment. In this groundbreaking anthology, women of color feminists wrote extensively about navigating life, work, and creativity under often difficult situations. Today, as we close week 2 of social distancing, I am reminded of Gloria Anzaldúa’s advice “Forget the room of one’s own — write in the kitchen….” (2)

Today, I will write, work, and parent — in the kitchen.

Image credit: Marina Andrejchenko/Shutterstock.com

Works Cited

  1. Smith, Barbara. “A Press of Our Own Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, Vol. 10, No. 3. (1989) p. 11-13.
  2. Anzaldúa, Gloria. “Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to 3rd World Women Writers.” In This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color. 2nd edition. Eds. Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa. Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, 1983.

Virtual Sarah Doylies

By: Felicia Salinas-Moniz, Senior Assistant Director, Sarah Doyle Center

Riverside, Rhode Island

Recently, I was reminded of the colorfully crocheted doily pins that we gave our Sarah Doyle Center student staffers five years ago. The students who worked at our center at that time referred to themselves as the “Sarah Doylies” and we thought the hand-made doily pin was a fitting badge to unify our staff. Once a Sarah Doylie, always a Sarah Doylie.

A doily, at first glance, would seem an unlikely image for a feminist community.

A delicate ornamentation that harkens to early Victorian domesticity and handicraft.

However, looking at the structure of the doily you’ll see its complex and intricately woven patterns — individual threads breathing life into its very fiber. The doily can only exist with these threads and their commingling.

The Sarah Doyle Center is housed in an historic house built in 1823, likely no stranger to the doily in its interior design. While not the original location of the Sarah Doyle Center, this house at 26 Benevolent Street in Providence, Rhode Island has been a vibrant feminist space at Brown University since 2001 (the center was established in 1974 and was originally located at 185 Meeting Street). Across time and space, the SDC has been a site for critical dialogue, activism, comraderie, laughter, tears, and nourishing feminist work that explores the beautiful complexities of gender and its many intersections.

What does the Sarah Doyle Center feminist community look like in this moment when we are not able to come together on campus in light of recent global events? How do we maintain connection to this community space and other campus spaces that are meaningful to us? This blog is framed around these questions through the lens of the mission, values, and vision of the Sarah Doyle Center for Women and Gender. While the pale yellow house at 26 Benevolent Street may not currently be bursting with activity, may this virtual “Sarah Doylie” space help keep us woven together in community.

What are you doing to create community connections in this moment of social distancing? Click “Leave a Reply” at the top of this page to respond. The first 2 commentators will receive a “Radical Roots: Nourishing Feminist Work” tote bag.

Image credit: Karina Bakalyan/Shutterstock.com