Favorite Feminist Heroes Part 4: Linda Nochlin

Our final installment in our Women’s History Month mini-series on Favorite Feminist Heroes comes to us from SIUE Art & Design Professor Katie Poole-Jones.  

Poole-Jones selfie

Prof. Katie Poole-Jones at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in front of Adelaide Labille-Guiard’s “Self-Portrait with Two Pupils” ca. 1785 (the painting, not the selfie)

It is not a stretch to say that I am art historian, not to mention a feminist art historian, in large part thanks to Linda Nochlin. Although I never had the privilege of meeting her in person, her groundbreaking 1971 essay, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?,” left an indelible mark on a then impressionable college sophomore and forever changed the way that I would engage with (and later teach) art history. Stressing the institutional over the individual, Nochlin called attention to the implicit bias of the question posed in the title of her essay, imploring us to curb our knee-jerk reaction to offer up the names of the “greats” – Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida Kahlo, Artemisia Gentileschi – in response, as doing so would validate its misguided premise. Her challenging of the patriarchal value system of Western art and her insistence on exposing the educational and cultural barriers that kept women from greatness was an eye-opening and thrilling way to engage with the discipline that would become my life’s work.

Nochlin image

Linda Nochlin

I always look forward to assigning Nochlin’s essay to my Women in Art students as it routinely produces some of the most engaged and passionate discussion that I see in my classroom. When I taught it once again this past January, a few months after her death, it was with a bittersweet tinge, but also with an increased desire to carry on the legacy of this amazing and inspiring feminist.

To learn more about Nochlin, check out these links:

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Favorite Feminist Heroes, Part 3: Rachel Held Evans

Part 3 of our Women’s History Month series on Favorite Feminist Heroes comes to us from Instructor Darci Schmidgall of Sociology, also a SIUE graduate.

Darci Schmidgall

Darci Schmidgall doing her favorite activity, crossfit.

I am a self-identified Jesus freak sociologist, and Rachel Held Evans is one of my favorite feminists because she is taking on the white evangelical patriarchy. Her writings debunk the popular use of colorblindness by contemporary Christian leaders, acknowledging the institutionalization of racism both inside and outside of western Christianity, and calling for a concerted effort by those who identify as Christians to engage in racial justice activism.

Rachel Held Evans.jpg

Rachel Held Evans

She has been very vocal in the Trump era that the need to stay true to Christ’s teachings supersedes the desire of the Religious Right to seize political power by following a particular candidate whose words she points out are not only overtly racist and sexist, but clearly anti-Christian. Rachel has also been willing to openly deconstruct the engrained sexism behind the predominant Christian ideology of gender complementarianism, and constructive of gender egalitarianism as an accurate rendering of Christ’s prescriptions for gender relationships. This is her homepage: https://rachelheldevans.com

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Favorite Feminist Heroes, Part 2: Gloria Anzaldúa

Our second installment in our Women’s History Month miniseries on Favorite Feminist Heroes comes to us from SIUE Director of Women’s Studies and Associate Professor of Philosophy Alison Reiheld. Don’t miss Part 1 from Sociology Prof Kiana Cox, and keep reading for more!

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Alison Reiheld

My favorite feminist hero is Gloria Anzaldúa, who has been a big influence on me as a as my thinking has developed. Her identity as a queer Chicana feminist born and raised in the Rio Grand Valley on the US side of the border is reflected in her writing. Perhaps her most famous work, and certainly the one that most deeply affected me, is Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. Another one not to miss is the anthology she co-edited called This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of ColorNot long ago, she even got her own Google doodle.   Anzaldúa considered the impact of crushing heteronormativity, of being perceived in America as Other, and the ongoing impact of colonialism on the lives of Mestiza women whose heritage includes both native peoples and European colonizers. She also worked from her experience of growing up with a chronic medical condition and provides food for thought for folks working in disability studies. As a result of these many intersecting identities, she felt that she lived in many worlds at once.  Rather than seeing this as a source of a fractured self, Anzaldúa developed the concept of border-crossing and bridge-building as metaphors for a productive way of existing in a diverse world with people from other groups and also across multiple group memberships. Border-crossing means being in deliberate contact with people who are different from oneself and working to understand their lives and needs, being able to live and be in community with many people.  Of course, there is a lot more to it than this, but we could all use a little mental border-crossing and bridge-building skill in this world of ours.

If you’re interested in how Anzaldúa’s work continues to live on after her death, check out the cool Podcast “Anzaldúing It” (“2 best friends + queer Latinx woes. Powered by echale ganas, tacos, cochinita pibil and Selena. Episodes come out every other Week!”) or this sweet half-hour long NPR show commemorating her work.  

 

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Favorite Feminist Heroes, Part 1: Maria Miller Stewart

It is Women’s History Month, and so time for a miniseries here on the SIUE Women’s Studies Blog!  In previous years, we have had a miniseries on gender and media and of course our most successful miniseries: our 15-day series on Feminist Songs with individual entries written by feminists from all over North America about songs from all over the world. It began with Loretta Lynn’s “The Pill”, included Peggy Seeger and Nancy Sinatra and Laura Mvula and Ani DiFranco and Beyonce and Palestinian rap group DAM, and ended with a SNL comedy song-sketch . Today, we kick off this year’s Women’s History Month miniseries on Favorite Feminist Heroes with an entry by SIUE Assistant Professor of Sociology Kiana Cox.

Kiana Cox

Dr. Kiana Cox

My favorite feminist is Maria Miller Stewart.  She is important to me for several reasons.  Often, feminism is viewed within various aspects of black nationalist ideology as a white invention; as something that is foreign and inconsistent with black freedom movements.  Likewise, popular stories of women’s political history in the U.S. often start with the “first wave” at the end of the 19th century.  However, Maria Miller Stewart was a free black woman living in Boston in the 1830s and the first American woman to give a public lecture on social justice issues to mixed race and mixed gender audiences.  This is important, given that elite black women of her day were consigned to literary or temperance societies if they wanted to do political work.  Stewart is important because she becomes a forerunner of the black feminist tradition that we usually locate in the 1960s and 70s.  In 1831, she published “Pure Principles of Morality” in the ladies section of William Lloyd Garrison’s abolitionist newspaper “The Liberator”.  (Note that Stewart knew and worked with Garrison in the abolitionist movement a full decade before Frederick Douglass met him).  In “Pure Principles”, Miller speaks directly to black women of her day, imploring them about the need for them to be leaders. She stated, 

Maria Stewart Miller

Maria Miller Stewart

Possess the spirit of independence. The Americans do, and why should not you? Possess the spirit of men, bold and enterprising, fearless and undaunted…   Continue reading

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Walk a mile in our shoes ….by learning about our actual experiences

Recently (yesterday), SIUE participated in the national event known as “Walk A Mile in Her Shoes.” As is typical of such programs across the nation, and as described in a press release from SIUE earlier today, “Men crammed their feet into red high heels and walked on the campus of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville on Tuesday,  Feb.13 to support women and to bring attention to gender-based violence.” While a post-event session offered by SIUE’s Prevention and Education Advocacy Center (PEACe) offered much more depth and a chance to really learn about being active bystanders and preventing violence, the event is often reduced in the public perception to being about the red shoes walk, itself. Our own Prof. Saba Fatima (SIUE Philosophy Department) reflects on this  public perception of these kinds of events–not necessarily the SIUE event itself–in a blog entry authored before the event took place. Note that this public perception is reflected in the way that the University’s press release covered the event even though the event itself contained a much richer opportunity to explore issues of gender, sexual harassment, and other aspects of sexism.

Walk a mile in her shoes 02-13-18 high heals

Men in pants stand on one foot and stick out the other, linking arms in a semicircle in front of the Cougar statue outside of SIUE’s Morris University Center. They are wearing bright red high heels. This is the public perception of what the event is about. This is also the image taken from the SIUE press release about the event. The picture was taken February 13, 2018. Shown in the center is Jeffrey Waple, vice chancellor for student affairs at SIUE, who led the march.

Across US campuses, men get involved in “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event an effort to raise awareness for violence against women. So on Feb. 13th SIUE men walked in high heels to literally experience what it feels like to walk in a woman’s shoes. The idea is an event that is a “playful opportunity for men to raise awareness in their community about the serious causes, effects and remediations to men’s sexualized violence against women.”

The whole point of ‘Walk a Mile Her Shoes’ is to get a glimpse of what women experience. The walk is generally followed by providing productive information that focuses on raising awareness about sexual violence. I think everyone that organizes & participates in it has their heart in the right place, but perhaps we need to rethink specifically the ‘high heels’ activity that accompanies this intent. I cannot help but think that there is something off about men walking in high heels to experience women’s experiences. Here are a few thoughts on it:

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Cool Video: The year feminism fought back

Pretty cool retrospective of 2017. What’s missing? Whose missing? Whose issues are missing?  Say up in the comments!

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Perspectives on the use of a classroom blackboard to disseminate racist claims from American history

On Thursday November 30, 2017, in Peck Hall on our own SIUE campus, a message was written on the chalkboard during a several hour gap between classes. That message read as follows:

“NO PERSON OF AFRICAN Descent Shall be Citizen of The U.S…. NOR were they ever Intended to be”

Dred Scott Decision  <— GOOGLE IT

What’s YOUR NATIONALITY? <—Million Dollar Q

For context on the SIUE administration’s quick response, see this article. For some background on the 1857 Dred Scott Supreme Court decision, which held that two former slaves were not citizens according to the U.S. constitution because of its original form and was long ago overturned by constitutional amendment, see this short article or this longer one

This is but one of many messages on campus over the years that seem intended to mark non-white students, faculty, and staff out as not belonging here, in this case Black students, faculty, and staff in particular. The SIUE Women’s Studies Program Statement on White Supremacy and Racism on Campus was our reply to an incident in September of this year. There have been others. Many faculty have spent the day offering comfort and a listening ear to each other and to our students. For this incident, we compiled several Women’s Studies Faculty responses to give a few different perspectives.

 

Connie Frey Spurlock, Associate Professor, Sociology and Criminal Justice Studies, Faculty Director SIUE Successful Communities Collaborative: “Ecosystems thrive and flourish because they are rich with diversity. The same is true for human communities. Universities offer us opportunities to learn about and engage in authentic diversity and to realize the value of it in our work, our play, our art, and our struggles.  White supremacy has no home at SIUE.”

Saba Fatima, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Religious Studies Advisor: “This is not just about one particular interest, but about the larger patterns of anti-black racism, homophobia, misogyny, xenophobia, hatred …. we must resist this hatred! For the vulnerable and marginalized amongst us who are at the frontlines of receiving hate in virtue of our identities and are burnt out, I say: engage in self-care. And for the rest, especially those who carry any mount of privilege, I say: use your privilege wisely and resist!”

Anushiya Ramaswamy, Professor, English Language and Literature: “We need to remember that the presidency of Obama was plagued by similar sentiments about his citizenship,  and in the months leading to the 2012 election, the so-called Birther movement promoted the fake news that he had been born a Kenyan Muslim.”

Linda Markowitz, Professor, Chair of the Sociology Department: “Universities are places to shed our prejudices, not places to dive into them more.  We are failing at SIUE if students are confused about our mission.”

Darci Schmidgall, Lecturer, Sociology:We the people have long since decided that the original intent of the Constitution, which defined slaves as 3/5 of a person, should be amended, and that all persons born in the United States, regardless of what socially constructed racial category those persons are defined as being a part of, are citizens of the United States. The nationality of African Americans is American; we the people now rightfully includes people of diverse global descent, and we the people are stronger because of this beautiful diversity. When will white supremacy cease to vex the American spirit? That’s the million dollar question.”

Alison Reiheld, Associate Professor, Philosophy, Director of Women’s Studies: “When I saw this, I had three thoughts. First, this idea is common in American white nationalism which currently goes by the name ‘alt-right’ and is on the rise. The whiteness of this nationalism is part and parcel of the rhetorical question this message asks: ‘what is your nationality?’ It is unlikely to have been innocently left; whoever left it must have known–or ought to have known–how it would make members of our community feel yet they deliberately left it where it would be seen. They should have known that this would intimidate, and likely did since this rhetoric is such a key part of American white supremacist propaganda. Second, we must be able to talk about the history of racism in our nation, a history that is nowhere more explicit than in historical judgments like Dred Scott v. Sandford. Universities talk about ideas.  But to discuss that history is not to advance it. Advancing it would cut out members of our community of learning. That’s not how universities work. That’s not how any of this works.  Third, how do those of us who disagree profoundly with this kind of claim show our solidarity with those who are, and for generations have been, targeted by it?  How best do we counter it?”

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Who needs Feminism? YOU DO!

SIUE Women’s Studies stalwart Christy Ferguson, SIUE English, has taught our introductory WMST 200: Issues in Feminism course several times. Most recently, she conceived a project to get her WMST 200 students involved in spreading the word about their own developing convictions. With a box of chalk and an evening class, the students went out onto the quad. Here, Ferguson writes about this activity and society’s, and the students’, need for feminism.

Understanding why feminism is still an important aspect of our culture, has become a continuous area of contention within our culture. For many years, the feminist community has been bombarded with naysayers claiming that feminism is no longer a necessity. This has become problematic in terms of enacting change within our sociological and political systems. One way feminists are attempting to continue to endorse and explain feminism’s necessity, is through social media platforms. One such action, is posting a picture of oneself holding a hand-written sign that explains the sometimes simple, and oftentimes complex, reasons why feminism is in fact, still an integral part of our ever-changing cultural climate.

who needs feminism

A young, African-American woman holds a whiteboard with the statement “I need feminism because I want to be strong without being ‘angry’.” IMAGE CREDIT: Google Image Search

My WMST 200 course took to the Stratton Quadrangle on Halloween day to express their individually chosen reasons for needing feminism. Everyone’s statement was not just valid, but unique to their own experiences. Their statements ranged from cat-calling to health to body shaming to rape. These students bravely expressed their need for feminism in a public forum to show the community how important it is.

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Pay no attention to the Man behind the curtain: when faculty abuse other faculty, or enable abusers

Dr. Jill Schreiber, SIUE Department of Social Work, brings us this reflection on a hot-off-the-presses article about the ways in which faculty abuse other faculty, or enable abusers. What does this look like? What should faculty do differently to protect each other from abuse? And lastly, a question that won’t be answered here but should be asked, how can faculty protect students on campus when they cannot trust their own colleagues? For more on this issue, see also the superb book Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia.

SIUE view Nov 2017

“In the humanities, our approach to bullying, manipulation, coercion, and control is made worse by the fact that we spend our days critiquing gender norms, power structures, and injustice — convinced that we will speak truth to that power if we ever run across it in real life. We are all good liberals, we think. Abuse couldn’t happen here….And yet it does.”

–K.A. Amienne, “Abusers and Enablers in Faculty Culture”, ChronicleVitae, November 3 2017

As a pre-tenure female faculty member, I have been painfully aware of the privileges I have received as a white person, while at the same time, noticing the challenges of being a woman in all too traditional an institution.  I joined the Women’s Studies listserv this fall and have been grateful for the advocacy on issues of both race and gender for our students.  However, I am aware that institutional issues of oppression are present for faculty too.  I have seen it and  it has happened to “Me too.”

A colleague recently sent me the link to an article from the ChronicleVitae, which markets itself as “the only online career hub that makes it easier and more rewarding for faculty and administrators to do their jobs each day.”   The article,  Abusers and Enablers in Faculty Culture, is the one from which I pulled  the quote, above. It spoke truth for me.  It addressed the ‘long-term effects of systemic, sexist dysfunction in academe’.   It helped put into words my experiences and validated my feelings.  I share it with you in the hopes that we together can continue to notice and respond to instances of abuse on our campus, for our faculty as well as our students.

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SIUE Women’s Studies Program Statement on White Supremacy and Racism on Campus

The following statement was developed as a group with input from many members of the SIUE Women’s Studies Program, both faculty and students. We join in solidarity with students who have already been working to draw attention to such incidents and to push back against them. If you want to get involved, check out the Solidarity and Activism Starter Kit we developed last year.  

We have chosen not to keep an image of the note mentioned in this Statement as part of the Statement itself, so as to avoid recapitulating the harm it does. There are times when quoting terrible speech only slightly lessens its force. If you want to see that note, you can find it here, but we cannot well support black students, faculty, and staff if we force them to encounter it in the course of reading a message of support.

Monday, September 18, 2017

On Wednesday night, September 13 of 2017, a Black student at SIUE returned to their housing in Cougar Village to find a note on their door reading “filthy (plural n-word).”

For a long time now, Black members of SIUE’s community have suffered racist incidents directed against students, staff, and faculty. Some have been overt, as in the incident several years ago in which a pickup truck driving through campus slowed down next to a group of Black male students so that its occupants could lean out to call them the n-word before it sped away. These overt acts express a belief in the inferiority of Black persons and show that they are actively unwanted.

Other racist incidents are more covert, small acts of disrespect related to race which pile up over time. These include classroom behavior from students and professors such as assumptions about a student’s family status based on their race, assuming that a Black faculty member in her office must be the department secretary, and continual unconcerned mispronunciation of student names that requires the student, faculty or staff member to adjust rather than the speaker.  These acts make it clear that whiteness is seen as the norm, and blackness is seen as outside the norm.

Both overt and covert acts reinforce power structures that maintain white supremacy, and paint Black students, staff, and faculty as at best atypical or foreign and more often as actively unwanted.

The incident of the note on the student’s door is overt and aggressively racist.  Part of its power comes from the fact that this student cannot know which of the many people around them hates them so much. It could be anyone or, rather, it could be anyone who doesn’t speak out against it.

As you can see from the student’s response, they did not believe that SIUE was responding appropriately. Indeed, the initial response was lacking. When the student checked their e-mail Friday morning, their first formal response to racism was an e-mail from the Chancellor about the impending verdict on former police officer Jason Stockley who fatally shot a Black man in St. Louis in 2011. That e-mail, below, urged “peace and understanding” and referred vaguely to the Stockley verdict’s racial implications (“We understand that emotions run deep”) while referencing SIUE’s admirable principles. But who is being urged to be peaceful, and who is supposed to be working to understand whom?

Pembrook response to Lamone incident

The above message is what the student who received that note woke up to Friday morning. It is what the student found as their first formal response from SIUE. Only through the efforts of advocate faculty and staff was the student able to receive a direct response later on Friday to their own issues.

The University has failed to create an atmosphere in which Black students feel safe and welcomed. We have failed to educate the white members of our community on how to be and do better. We have wordsmithed our messages until they are lovely but hollow. SIUE students, staff, and faculty hear that hollowness ringing loud and clear.

We have failed to respond adequately, or at all, to major regional and national incidents that clearly bear on the welfare of our community. This includes the university’s response to white supremacists marching in Charlottesville and at the University of Virginia. The sole response was a single paragraph in SIU President Randy Dunn’s August 23 Message from the President, which is not directed at students. SIUE administration simply did not address the issue for faculty and staff or for students, seeming to see it as irrelevant to our campus despite our own history. Many universities across the nation rightly saw that Charlottesville implicated their own communities and affected their own students. SIUE did not act, nor did Women’s Studies. Silence speaks volumes. SIUE students, staff, and faculty hear that silence loud and clear.

The Women’s Studies Program stands against racism in its covert and overt forms. We stand with this student and the others who have experienced and may continue to experience such treatment. We pledge to be active bystanders when we observe such incidents occurring, and to hold ourselves and each other accountable for our own behaviors.

We call on SIUE to develop clear and compassionate and speedy student-centered responses to incidents of this nature. These responses should trust the testimony of the person who has received such treatment, and should always reach the individual student face to face before any related announcement goes out to the university community. They should be concerned with the student’s welfare rather than the university’s image. This should also be true of university responses to events in our region, the nation, or the world at large. The University should support opportunities for SIUE community members to gather and discuss such events. There is power in naming and the administration should call things what they are, avoiding euphemisms or phrases that will, however unintentionally, minimize what has happened. Racism is racism, not merely intolerance; white supremacy is white supremacy, not merely a failure of respect and dignity for all.

How we conduct ourselves when others do wrong is all that distinguishes us from them. It is our responsibility to respond actively, unambiguously, and compassionately.  When members of our community who are Black are made to feel unsafe or unwelcome, the task before all of us is to create a community that reaches out and that does not push further away.

To make that sheltering and decent community possible, some of us will have to work on ourselves: on our tendency to act in ways that play into the view that whiteness is the norm, and on how we act when we are bystanders to behaviors that reinforce white supremacy. To make that sheltering and decent community possible, the university will have to work on how it responds to these incidents and on the support it provides to Black students, staff, and faculty. To make that sheltering and decent community possible, all members of the SIUE community will have to work to earn the trust of our Black students and colleagues. It is a trust we have not yet earned.

We have work to do. Let’s get to work.

Sincerely,

Alison Reiheld, Philosophy faculty and Director of Women’s Studies

Jill Anderson, English faculty

Kim Carter, Social Work faculty

Matt Sautman, TA, English

Anushiya Ramaswamy, English faculty

Abigail Hall, alumni

Samara Chapple, Sociology graduate student

Megan Arnett, Sociology faculty and SIUE alumni

Kiana Cox, Sociology & Criminal Justice faculty

Michelle Miller, alumni

Katherine Poole-Jones, Art & Design faculty

Mary Sue Love, Department of Managing and Marketing faculty

Justin Yancey, TA, English

Breanne Burton, student

Catherine Seltzer, English faculty

Aimie Pace, alumni

Carole Frick, History faculty

Linda Markowitz, Sociology & Criminal Justice faculty

Cory Willmott, Anthropology faculty

Liz Stygar, Sociology & Criminal Justice faculty

Jill Schreiber, Social Work faculty

Christy Ferguson, English faculty

Emily Truckenbrod, Music faculty

Helena Gurfinkel, English faculty

Jessica Despain, English faculty

Mike Anderson, alumni

Saba Fatima, Philosophy faculty

Jennifer Logue, Educational Leadership faculty

Mariana Solares, Foreign Languages & Literature faculty

Rosalind Evans, Social Work faculty

Laurel Puchner, Educational Leadership faculty

Tricia Oberweis, Sociology & Criminal Justice faculty

Tori Walters, English and Philosophy staff

Valerie Vogrin, English faculty

Nicole Klein, Applied Health faculty

Connie Frey-Spurlock, Sociology & Criminal Justice faculty

Ekaterina Gorislavsky, Sociology & Criminal Justice faculty

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