On Caster Semenya And The Sin of Womanly Exceptionalism

By Kimberly Congdon, PhD

The International Association of Athletics Federations are going after Caster Semenya again. Subjecting her to what I can only imagine was a gruesome and demeaning “sex verification test” wasn’t enough for them, they’ve now instituted some new rules on testosterone levels and competition. WHY? Oh, for so many reasons. Because we can’t allow women to be exceptional. Because gender exists to categorize people, and when people defy those categories, we punish them. And just as we punish men for failing to be manly enough, we punish women for failing to be womanly enough. Caster Semenya doesn’t fit the IAAF’s definition of  “woman”,  and so she must be punished for her sin. Here’s the thing, though: gender is a social construct. I know this, because people ask if my dog is male or female (sex), not if she’s a man or a woman (gender). It’s about how you feel, and what category society decides to force you in based on the way you choose to express how you feel. The list of items that designate a category have changed over time. In other words, the way we define “man” and “woman” have changed over the course of history. They also vary from culture to culture. But those changes are gradual, and rarely does a society recognize a non-binary definition of gender. So regardless of the nuance of an individual’s identity, society forces them to pick a box and conform to it as best they can. And when they do, they are stuck with ALL the other conditions in that box. Which, for women, means “don’t ever be too good at anything.”

We punish women for their exceptionalism all the time, and when we do, we tend to do it in terms that questions their “woman” credentials – we use language to either imply, or directly declare, that she’s not womanly enough. Women who are too smart, too ambitious, too accomplished – all of them are criticized for those traits. Women are denied the right to be exceptional at anything, because exceptionalism is for men alone. And now, with Caster Semenya, the partriarchy has found a whole new way to apply this form of oppression. Ms. Semenya runs too fast, she improved her own records too quickly, so she can’t possibly be a woman. That’s not an exaggeration of what happened – when her times in the 1500 and 800 meter races improved, the IAAF ordered she undergo a “sex verification test”, because 1. They equate sex and gender, and 2. A woman can’t be that good, so if she is that good, she must not be a woman. While, at the time, the tests failed to confirm she is not a woman, the IAAF attempted to suppress her exceptionalism by forcing her to take hormone suppressants. A legal challenge ultimately ended that, but they’re at it again. They have instituted revised restrictions on testosterone levels for specific races – the races she participates in (what a coincidence!). The idea of exceptional women offends these people SO MUCH that they will force an exceptional woman to deny her own exceptionalism to be allowed to be a woman. She must now take testosterone-suppressing drugs to compete, because the IAAF has decided her exceptionalism is linked to her testosterone levels, and that those levels are too high.

Consider the circular logic these people will accommodate to stop womanly exceptionalism. Ms. Semenya identifies as a woman, and based off whatever humiliating “sex verification test” she was forced to endure, can’t be identified as something other than female, but her testosterone levels are high. Both males and females have testosterone, and the amount varies within the sexes, but males typically have more, and testosterone is a big part of the male stereotype. But testosterone level is not a definition of sex (or gender, fyi). Caster runs like the WIND (good for her). She ran so fast, someone decided she can’t be a woman (because women can’t run that fast). So they tested her womanness by testing her sex (not the same thing). And they decided that her testosterone level (their definition of MANNESS as well as MALENESS) was too high, so even though they can’t prove she’s not a woman, she isn’t enough of a woman by their standards, so they’re forcing her to suppress her own biology, to fit their definition of womanness, which requires her be less great than she is. She can’t be a woman, because she’s too exceptional, but they can’t prove she isn’t a woman using the (already flawed) ways of equating sex and gender, so they pick something about her that they feel is anomalous, and use that to determine she’s not a woman – because she’s too good to be a woman, so she must not be.

So now, Caster Semenya has a choice – be a mediocre woman, or a mediocre man (because her times, while great for women runners, would put her near the bottom of the pack of men runners). There is a deep-seated hatred of women at the root of this treatment of Ms. Semenya. If you want to be a woman, you can’t be exceptional. That’s the statement the IAAF is making with this rule – women are not that good at anything, so if you are that good, you aren’t a woman, and if you want to be a woman, you have to stop being that good. This is what sexism looks like.

ICYMI:

http://bit.ly/2sdBbVF_LipstickRepublic

http://bit.ly/2s4vlGB_LipstickRepublic

http://bit.ly/2x79JhH_LipstickRepublic

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Dr. Congdon is an anthropologist, anatomist, scientist, feminist, activist, conservationist. When those things collide, she writes about it here. She wants you to vote, and stop littering.

A Letter To Barnard

By Rachael Severino

Dear Dean Hinkson,

I am writing to you today to explain why I will not be applying to Barnard College for my Bachelor’s degree this fall.

I would like to start by introducing myself. My name is Rachael. I am a sixteen-year-old Jewish young woman. I have been on the Dean’s List every year and I deeply care about school. My life-long passion lies in writing, and, had I attended your school, I would have majored in English with a concentration in Creative Writing.

Recently, your students voted to take an incredibly anti-Israel stance, which I am sure you are well aware, as there has been quite a bit of backlash. Your school has remarkably strong ties to the Jewish community, evidenced by the fact that roughly 33% of the student population identifies as such. However, more than half the students have turned their back on their peers by campaigning, and subsequently voting, to sever ties with businesses which are pro-Israel.

I have read nothing but heartbroken responses from your students. Holding this vote on the eve of Israel’s Independence Day proves how tremendously disrespectful a portion of your students have become towards their Jewish peers. Students at your school seem to have tunnel vision with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as exhibited by setting up an anti-Israel booth only feet from the Holocaust Remembrance Day booth. Palestinian terrorist groups have a poor habit of abducting, torturing, and murdering Israelis and Jewish tourists, along with stoning anyone in reach of the border. Yet, your students remain blind.

Israel has created a powerful army, and an even more powerful intelligence and counter-terrorism agency, Mossad, to combat being sandwiched between states that hate Jews, who happen to be the indigenous people of Israel. Not becoming martyrs [like other native populations] doesn’t make Jews the villains in this story.

When is one Jewish life important? When stonings, bombings, and beheadings are a staple in everyday life, the Israeli government has the right to defend their people.

The Palestinians are not to blame, but the terrorists who reside among them are.

Those of the Muslim religion have suffered in America for a great deal of time. Having young people come to their aid and rally for a hate-free world is fantastic, but defending Palestinian terrorist groups is not the way to go.

Jewish women have stood arm in arm with their Muslim counterparts in the on-going civil rights battle. Both groups fully understand what it means to long for a safe place to worship, and America, despite being the self-proclaimed land of the free, has not been kind to those who wish to be free when their faith is not Christianity.

Jews know what it means to be without a safe place. They have had a single homeland for only seventy years, preceded by thousands of years displaced and homeless.

Neither the Muslim nor Jewish communities are to blame for this conflict; ignorant groups fueled by hate are.

Your students do not seem to understand the situation at hand and have let centuries of both latent and overt anti-Semitism blind them.

College is meant to be a safe environment – one where students gather information and take steps into their future. How can a Jewish student feel safe when more than half the other attendees are rallying against them and their faith?

Barnard has been hailed as a place of learning that creative, talented, and bright young women of all backgrounds can attend, to both join together and change the world. The women currently at your school are changing things, but not for the better.

Jewish women have suffered since their religion first came to be more than 5,000 years ago. Barnard has spent it’s one hundred and twenty-nine-year long history drawing these women in, providing them with a safe place to flourish; now, it is just another place that stands against them.

Liberal colleges have never been kind to the Jewish people, leaving them out of their activist revolutions and renaming them as the scapegoat. The ignorant who forget history are inclined to repeat it, as your students have so clearly done; yet your history department is renowned. How can this be? How can they be so blinded by hate, even now? It begs the question, what are they learning at your school?

How can the women of your school turn around and hate the most marginalized group to have ever been?

Barnard has taken the horrific role of leading the charge against Jewish-American students.

Your Jewish students have so much to offer your college and the world. Brilliant and talented Jewish women want to go to your school. There are, however, other colleges, with similar opportunities that offer a safer environment. As evidenced in Twitter posts and comments following the vote, many of the 33% of your school are considering their options, including transferring to schools that will not only protect them, but respect them. They are exhausted from constantly defending [out of necessity] who they are, particularly in a space that is supposed to accept and celebrate them as part of the diverse culture at Barnard.

I have wanted to attend your college since I was twelve years old; since I learned about Columbia, but then found Barnard and wanted to attend there even more. Barnard, the school Jewish women raved about and beamed at me for when I said it was my dream school. Barnard, the school my friends oohed and ahhed at. Barnard, the school I would have been proud to mention in my author’s letter on my first book. Barnard, the school I looked at online nearly every night. Barnard, the school that helped mold Sheila Abdus-Salaam, the first African- American women on New York’s highest court, Ann Bernays, a novelist, Katherine Boo, a journalist and recipient of the Pulitzer, Ann Brashaes, an author, Elise Clews Parsons, the “founding mother of anthropology”, Edwidge Danticat, an author, Helen Gahagan Douglas, the first Democrat women elected to the USA Congress, Delia Ephron, an author, playwright, and screenwriter, Muriel Fox, founder of NOW, Cristiana Garcia, a journalist and novelist, Greta Gerwig, an actress, screenwriter, and director, Mary Gordon, an author, and countless others.

Barnard, the school that I have removed from my college list.

Barnard, the school that has become yet another unsafe space.

Barnard, the school that could have been.

With great sadness,
Rachael

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Rachael Severino is a quirky eleventh grader, aspiring author, tiny feminist, and cat enthusiast.

Privilege Part 2: Internal vs External Effects

By Kimberly Congdon, PhD

Previously, I wrote a piece explaining privilege and intersectionality. This is just a brief follow-up. If you missed it, check here. From that, it should be clear the trouble that is created by privilege in modern western society. The focus of much of today’s activism is in dismantling the effect of privilege, through enacting protections for groups lacking those privileges, and through making us all aware of how privilege affects us. This has led to disagreement over the impact of privilege, who really has it, and how much it matters. In order to get past this argument, we have to understand how privilege impacts our lives. The truth is that privilege has TWO effects – an internal effect, and an external effect. Often when people disagree on the role of privilege, it’s because they aren’t talking about the same effect.

Let’s start with the external effect of privilege. This is when people, or a system, treat you differently because of your identity. It results in things like white people having an easier time getting mortgages than black people, wealthy kids being able to access educational support not available to poor kids, and cisgender people having an easier time getting hired than transgender people. These, ultimately, are examples of discrimination, which in some cases is illegal already, in other cases is not but should be, and in yet other cases, not reasonably dictated by law, but in need of changing through policy measures nonetheless. This differential access to resources, based off aspects of identity, is the core of the inherent inequality in our society. It’s what racism/sexism/homophobia/insert-bigotry-of-your-choice-here looks like. When people say things like “The system is racist!” this is what they’re talking about. So, the external effect of privilege is really important, because it helps to maintain the power imbalance, by giving more advantages to the people already benefitting the most from inequality.

With that said, the internal effect of privilege may actually be more insidious, and harder to eradicate. Because the internal effect is the belief that you actually deserve the benefits of privilege. It’s the internalization of a lifetime of advantage and deference that is actually just the result of your identity, incorporated instead as a sense of merit. You didn’t get that job because you’re white, you got it because you earned it. You didn’t get into Harvard because your parents went to Harvard, you got in because you deserved to. You didn’t ace the SAT because your parents could afford a tutor, you aced it because you’re just that smart. And so on. Dangerously, the internal effects of privilege are very good at blinding people to the external effects of privilege. Because in order to get people to recognize their privilege, they have to be willing to believe that, perhaps, they DIDN’T earn that promotion, they aren’t that smart, they aren’t that talented, they’re just privileged. That’s a very hard pill for almost anyone to swallow, so there’s no wonder they resist it. Especially in the US, where we’ve done such a great job selling the American Dream, convincing people that they’ve succeeded not on their merits, but on their race, gender, sexual identity or orientation, family status, etc, is bound to be an uphill battle. It can even be so insidious that people will fully recognize the existence of privilege IN GENERAL while refusing to recognize that they themselves benefitted from it. When people are resistant to recognizing their own privilege, they will be unable to ally with others and fight for their equality. Instead, they will interpret their sphere as one that’s unique in being merit-based, and disbelieve that others are disadvantaged because of their identity. These are people who will vote liberally, donate to charities, spend their time registering voters, and in their own workplace, not speak up when time and again, POC are passed over for promotion, gay co-workers face microaggressions not lobbed at straight co-workers, and disabled co-workers are seen as lazy, instead of lacking necessary accommodations. And just like all politics are local, so is all activism. If you aren’t an ally in your own backyard, you’re not really an ally anywhere.

If we do a sufficient job of eradicating the external effects of privilege, eventually the internal effects disappear. However, it’s unlikely we’ll have the power to do that without the support of people who have been brainwashed by the internal effects of privilege. Therefore, our first goal has to be developing techniques for making people aware of not just privilege in general, but the role of privilege in their own lives.

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Dr. Congdon is an anthropologist, anatomist, scientist, feminist, activist, conservationist. When those things collide, she writes about it here. She wants you to vote, and stop littering.

Understanding Privilege and Intersectionality: A Primer

By Kimberly Congdon, PhD

 

Privilege and intersectionality are two concepts that get tossed around a lot these days. “Privilege” can be a very contentious idea, and there has been a lot of pushback and denial that it even exists, let alone that it’s an important sociocultural force. “Intersectionality” on the other hand is the newest buzzword among allies. The problem is that a lot of so-called allies touting intersectionality are the same people arguing against the existence and power of privilege, and that’s a problem because – privilege and intersectionality are linked concepts. You can’t really understand one if you don’t understand the other. That also means you can’t be truly intersectional unless you understand and acknowledge privilege. So, here’s a primer, breaking the two down, and explaining how they link.

Intersectionality is the idea that each person’s identity is made up of multiple components. No one is just one thing. I am a woman, and white, and a liberal, and a scientist, and an academic, and single, and middle class, and an American citizen, and a native English speaker, and and and … If we think of life as made up of adjacent and overlapping spheres, then each element composing our identity affects our ability to move in those spheres. Spheres come in all types. Your work environment is a sphere. The bar you go to for Friday Happy Hour is a sphere. The subway car is a sphere. The Internet is a sphere. Each sphere has a power structure, and where you fit in that power structure dictates the ease with which you move through that sphere. The various aspects of your identity determine where you fit into each power structure controlling each sphere. Access to that power structure is a privilege.

Privilege is the positive consequence inherently associated with specific elements of an identity. Depending on the sphere, certain privileges may be worth more than they are in other spheres. If a privilege is associated with a certain identity, and you have that identity, you have that privilege. It doesn’t matter if you feel it, or if you’ve ever recognized the effect, because privilege comes from how others treat you, and that relies on how THEY see you, not how you see yourself (more on this another day). Privilege comes in two types – those that are innate, and those you can acquire. For innate privilege, we’re talking about issues like race, sex, gender, sexual orientation and citizenship. Acquired privileges are things like education, wealth and residency (although you can be born into some of those, too). Having innate privileges can make it easier to get acquired privileges. Changing circumstances can eliminate acquired privileges, but never innate privileges. And lacking one type of privilege does not necessarily eliminate the effects of the other kinds. For example, growing up in poverty doesn’t eliminate any racial privilege you may have, it just means you lack economic/class privilege. Since some spheres are controlled by a power structure based on race, and others are controlled by a power structure based on class or wealth, you still have privilege in the race-based spheres, regardless of how you’re treated in the wealth-based spheres.

Who has the most privilege? Rich, straight, cis, white men will always have the most power, in any sphere. After that, generally speaking, white people have more privilege than non-white people. But the problem is that people think this is an adding game. It isn’t. It’s about spheres of influence, unfair power differentials, and using our privilege to elevate those who lack it. Spheres overlap more often than they stack. A white woman will have more privilege than a black man in spheres where race is more important, and less privilege in spheres where gender is more important. (This may seem complicated, but it’s still a simplified view. The idea of spheres I’ve presented is much more discrete than the reality. In reality, no matter the sphere – race ALWAYS matters, gender ALWAYS matters, sexual orientation ALWAYS matters – it’s really more about proportions than absolutes. And because of the variable nature of humans, things can vary. Not all work spheres are created equal. In some jobs, gender carries more power than race, and in others, it’s the opposite. So you can’t really ever take your personal experience and judge the validity of the claims of others based on whether or not it matches yours. Keep that in mind when you encounter people who state they’ve experienced biases you’re unfamiliar with.)

What this all means is that no two people who share one identity have experienced that identity in the same way. It means that what my experience of womanhood has been is not the same as the experience of womanhood of a black woman because my experience of womanhood has been modified by my whiteness, while hers has been modified by her blackness. However, her experience is not necessarily identical to that of another black woman, either, because one may be an American citizen and the other may not be, or one my straight while the other is gay ….. see how it starts to get complicated? This complexity matters, and treating it like it matters is called “being intersectional”. The REASON it matters is that those individuals who lack power in a sphere also lack visibility. When we identify figureheads for identities, we tend to choose those who are visible. Therefore, when we talk about “feminism”, we’re probably talking about white feminism, when we talk about what women need to be equal, we’re probably talking about what WHITE women need – because they’re the ones we see. They’re the ones with the visibility, and they get inserted into the default setting. But when we do that, and we address the issues of white women under the false notion that we are in fact helping ALL women, all we do is increase the gap between white women and non-white women (or cis women and trans women, or straight women and gay women, etc). We have to recognize the least visible and acknowledge that their needs, while different, are just as important. And THAT is being “intersectional” – it’s recognizing the diverse needs of people who share one identity that is the result of the fact that they have other identities that they don’t share with you.

I also want to take a minute to be clear – this is not just about race. Too often, people dissolve “intersectionality” down to an issue of race. That is specifically problematic in intersectional feminism, when it gets treated as meaning “women of color have it worse than white women”. That’s true, but that’s not the be-all, end-all of intersectionality. Intersectionality isn’t just about race. It’s about gender, gender identity, sex, sexual orientation, economic status, citizenship…ALL identities can be served by an intersectional approach to activism, not just racial ones.

So, recognize what privileges you have, recognize what spheres in which you have power, and start using that power to elevate the voices of those trying to exist in that sphere without the advantage of the privilege. That’s really the only way we save everyone – by elevating those with the least power – by being intersectional.

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Dr. Congdon is an anthropologist, anatomist, scientist, feminist, activist, conservationist. When those things collide, she writes about it here. She wants you to vote, and stop littering.

Save The Children

In its persistent quest for justice and to champion ALL women everywhere, Lipstick Republic is proud to announce a new contributor to our site. Rachael Severino is a sixteen-year-old high school student who will lend her voice to our mission. We hope you enjoy this first of many Op-ed pieces by her below.
By Rachael Severino

Continue reading “Save The Children”

Violations and Vocabulary: How Policing Language Silences Victims

**TRIGGER WARNING: The following article may contain graphic depictions of sexual abuse**

By Kimberly Congdon, PhD

At this point, you’ve probably already heard of Larry Nassar. If not, see HERE. And HERE. And HERE.  There is no question that what this man did was wrong. There is no question it was criminal. There is no question it was sexual abuse, and that he deserves to be punished for unbelievably heinous crimes against children and young women. We can recognize the incredible wrongness of his actions even without delving into the fact that his position as a doctor added another element of psychological trauma for his victims. Larry Nassar is done – quite literally. His victims have proven themselves to be remarkable, brave women who will foster a new generation of remarkable, brave women. The judge who oversaw his case has become a figurehead for women’s rights. His trial was a watershed moment for feminism and equality. The questions still loom. How was something like this able to happen? How could something so obviously wrong persist for so long? How do we stop it from happening again?

There are a lot of factors that specifically enabled Nassar to abuse women for decades. Those specific issues must be addressed, and specific individuals must face consequences. But ultimately, Nassar is a symptom of a larger problem. First, we have to acknowledge that Nassar is not nearly as rare as we would wish him to be. An investigation by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found more than 2,400 cases of doctors sexually abusing patients since 1999, occurring across all 50 states. At least half of those physicians still had their medical licenses as of 2016. And these numbers are guaranteed to be low, as sex abuse in all forms is chronically underreported. So Nassar is a monster, but he has a lot of company. What’s going on here?

Unpacking the issues that allow abuse of women to persist would take a lifetime.  There is, however, one thing that underlies it all, and it may not be what you think. It’s language. The words we use matter, the words we emphasize and teach matter. This is the principle of linguistic relativity. It tells us that the structure of a language affects the worldview of the people who speak it. The classic example is Benjamin Whorf’s claim that “Eskimos” have 50 words for snow. His point was that snow is very important to Inuit language groups, and that importance is reflected by the fact that they have a lot of words for it. It’s a rather basic, intuitive idea. Your culture will have many ways to discuss what’s important, few ways to discuss what is unimportant, and no words to discuss what it has no conception of at all. So what happens to a culture when we restrict the words that can be used to describe reproductive anatomy? Misogyny has stolen from women the very words they need to comprehend and assert their own bodily autonomy. And when you don’t have the words to describe your experience, when the words you do have teach you shame, when they don’t empower you and reaffirm your own bodily autonomy, how can you ever find your own voice to speak out against these atrocities?

We have allowed the words that describe reproductive anatomy to become stigmatized, under the guise of “polite” behavior. Parents teach their children euphemisms for their own body parts, students are punished for using words like “penis” and “vagina” in school (and sometimes even sex-ed teachers), and often it’s because they use them as expletives, having been taught they are inherently “naughty”. All this works together to teach kids that certain parts of their body can’t be discussed, which serves to build a barrier between our own anatomy and the ownership of it. According to the Guttmacher Institute, only 24 states and D.C. mandate sex education in schools. Only thirteen of those states mandate that the instruction be medically accurate, twenty-six states require that “the information be appropriate for the students’ age”, and ONLY TWO prohibit the program from promoting religion. This combination of factors is a recipe for disaster when it comes to language. If a program is not required to be medically accurate, students are not going to learn technical terms about their own anatomy. When we accept the fallacy that sex education has an “age appropriate” element, we allow for the introduction of shame associated with female bodies. What are we telling young girls who HAVE vaginas that they are too young for the WORD vagina? If we teach girls that they have to mature into the ownership of their own body parts, is it so surprising that men with power so easily assert their own rights to those parts over their actual owners? And if we CORRECT children who use the proper terms, if we insist on euphemisms, is it such a surprise that they’re reluctant to speak out when needed?

Larry Nassar’s victims ranged from girls as young as six to young women in their teens and early 20s. He told them that inserting his fingers into their vaginas and leaning towards them to whisper “How does that feel”, often with an erection, was medical treatment. In their victim statements, many discussed how he abused their trust, how he made them ashamed to discuss what he did, some of them still referenced shame in speaking out, in a courtroom where he had pled guilty – an open admission that what he had done was wrong – and they had no reason to be ashamed. They speak of being touched in private places, the loss of innocence, but above all – confusion. Confusion over whether what he did was wrong, confusion over who to tell. They speak of knowledge that internal pelvic floor therapies exist, and are legitimate – leading to a difficulty to distinguish legitimate treatment from sexual violation. One victim STILL questions her own interpretation of the experience, she is still unable to tell if she was being molested or treated. That kind of confusion can happen when we don’t give girls the tools to tell medicine from abuse, when we don’t teach them about their anatomy, and don’t give them the words to understand what is happening to them. Rachael Denhollander, the first accuser to file a police report and start the ball rolling against Nassar, says one of her earlier complaints was dismissed because “a 15-year-old girl thinks everything between her legs is a vagina”. The assumption that girls don’t know their own bodies was used to dismiss an accusation of forced penetration – and it worked, because so many young girls DON’T know their own bodies. The girls that did come forward in the late 90s were repeatedly told they were confused about what had happened – an easy thing to push when you’ve already robbed people of the language they need to conceptualize the event in the first place.

For years, child psychologists have been emphasizing both the importance and appropriateness of teaching children proper terms for their anatomy from Day One. It will empower them to speak out against inappropriate touching, teach body positivity, and perhaps even protect them from predators who will recognize that a child who knows the words vulva and vagina likely has parents that will discuss these subjects with them, and listen if they report abuse. Body-related shame is a real and persistent problem. We all know adults who won’t use the word penis or vagina or insist on whispering them if they must be said. People who aren’t comfortable discussing their body will struggle to tell health care providers about medical problems. They will struggle to tell sexual partners if something causes them pain or discomfort. They will be more susceptible to those who would manipulate them via that shame. And if we start by teaching kids shame about body parts, we’ll continue with shame about all language that
discusses sex. This will disproportionately hurt girls, who are made to believe that they should not want or enjoy sex, that they should not express sexual desire for fear of being labeled a slut, and that if sexual contact is forced upon them, it was somehow their own fault. In short, sex euphemisms are a tool of female oppression. We de-emphasize the importance of that anatomy and suggest there is inherent shame in those body parts since we won’t use the actual words to discuss them. This is a problem that can be overcome at home, but politicians at the local and state level who advocate for comprehensive sex education also need our support. Too much of what we learn about language happens in school for this to go unaddressed.

People who criticize women inspired to speak out during the resurgence of #metoo discuss female agency, female responsibility – they ask why women don’t say no, don’t speak out against behavior that bothers them. How can we demand women speak out when we deprive them of the language to describe what happened to them and teach them that putting it into words is shameful? We have to reclaim our vulvas and vaginas, our penises and testicles. Before we can assert autonomy over our anatomy, we have to know what to call our anatomical parts and deny that discussing our bodies is shameful or wrong.

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Dr. Congdon is an anthropologist, anatomist, scientist, feminist, activist, conservationist. When those things collide, she writes about it here. She wants you to vote, and stop littering.

The Women’s March welcomes all women – except Feminist Zionists?

Power To The Polls _Womens March Anniversary Event Jan 2018See the Women’s March Host Planning Committee above? I’m in that photo. I thought the Women’s March would be a great opportunity to register Millennials to come out and vote and loved the catchy “Power To The Polls” slogan thought up to entice young people to make their vote count in these midterm elections coming up. The idea of it all was punchy and persuasive.

After the 2017 Women’s March – the largest protest in the history of the United States – I felt like I was part of a sisterhood, a feminist collective voicing their needs while wearing crocheted pink hats and locking arms together across the country (and the world). To me, the only thing missing about that glorious day that we all needed so badly after enduring Trump’s election, was the presence of the real hero for many of us – Hillary Clinton.  Let’s be real. In those one million bodies holding signs and chanting in unison most of them were heartbroken to know DJT was going to be sitting in the Oval and not HRC.

Fast forward to a year later when I got the news that a local group of which I’m a member was asked to be part of a planning committee because the founding members of the Women’s March had decided to hold their anniversary event in Las Vegas, Nevada where I live. Nevada is a key battleground state and is also home to the first female Latina United States Senator (Catherine Cortez Masto), is the state with the second largest number of females in its legislature (second only to Vermont), has the 5th largest school district in the country (Clark County School District in Las Vegas), is the number one tourist destination in the world (Las Vegas), and recently was the site of the worst shooting massacre in modern US history. You can imagine my excitement. As a dedicated feminist, activist, and a staunch supporter of progressive causes, why would I have any reservations at all when it came to this opportunity? Two words.

LINDA SARSOUR. 

Seeing the Women’s March 2017 organizers giving the cold shoulder to Hillary was a bitter pill for me to swallow, I did it knowing that Hillary herself was tweeting that she was proud of the women who were marching, who were raising their voices, who believed in racial/social/economic/political equality and justice for ALL women (the true definition of a Feminist, by the way). I did it because I saw the importance of the larger picture. I understood the strategy. This time around though, that pill is a little harder to swallow. Why? It’s those pesky two words again.

LINDA SARSOUR.

Linda Sarsour QandA Lipstick Republic Blog

Ms. Sarsour makes no secret of her disdain for Feminist Zionists. In fact,  when asked for her response to an op-ed article written by Emily Shire of the NY Times, Linda said it wasn’t possible for a person to be a Feminist AND a Zionist.  Clearly, Linda needs to brush up on her vocabulary because the definition of Zionism is not a bad thing. Zionism is the belief that the Jewish people have a right to self-determination and freedom in their historic homeland. Being a Zionist does not mean that you agree with Israeli politics or that you’re a fan of Bibi or the Likud Party or that you don’t care about Palestinian Arabs. It simply means that you believe in the things stated above and that you believe the Jewish people have a right to liberation (they have, after all, been in existence for 5,777 years without a generation passing since the Babylonians where somewhere in the world some nation or ruler hasn’t tried to lobby for their extinction) and protection. Sarsour’s misdirected and misinformed beliefs she espouses with loud vitriol have rankled me for quite some time. I decided to share some of my concerns with her at a committee planning meeting she and the other three Women’s March co-founders were at with me along with a crowd full of people.

Below is part of the transcribed version of the video/audio that was taken which is still in the process of being uploaded. 

M: It’s no secret that a lot of Jewish women felt unwelcome at the Chicago Dyke March. So my question is, what do I say to women who are hesitant to come to this Women’s March event? Are women who identify as Jewish Americans welcome? Are they going to be turned away for wearing the Star of David? Are they going to be turned away for being Zionists? What should I say to them?

Linda Sarsour: This is a domestic movement meant to bring to attention the tyranny we’re living under. This is not a moment for any community to come and invoke their political position on our campaign. We don’t talk about foreign policy. There’s been conflation by some people. Not all Jewish people are Zionists. In fact, we have included all communities in our movement. In fact, at a recent convention we just had, it was I that organized the Shabbat Friday evening. It was I that paid for the kosher meal. It was I that coordinated groups like Jews for Justice and Jewish Voices for Peace to attend. Everybody has always been included. I think it’s important for people to understand that we don’t have time in groups like this for this conversation. It’s very clear that I’m Palestinian. There’s nothing I can do about that. I’m very proud to be Palestinian. Unfortunately, that in and of itself and my very existence has created controversy just by the virtue of who I am and particular positions that directly impact me and my family.

M: So are you saying that wearing a Star of David or being a Zionist won’t make them unwelcome at the event?

Linda Sarsour: What I want to say to people is that we have a tyrant in the White House and we are being stripped of our rights and if you care about the rights of your fellow Americans then show up to this March.

*This was just one of three questions I asked Ms. Sarsour. I plan to probe more at our next meeting and then blend both video recordings to upload here on the blog. This way, readers can see and hear all the questions and answers in full. 

Her answers did nothing to allay my concerns. In fact, they compounded them for me. She completely deflected my question about the Star of David and responded by basically saying that the political positions of other communities are not meant to be heard or shown at Women’s March events. Since when was the Star of David a political position? Last time I checked it was a religious symbol. Why are attendees allowed to wear Free Palestine t-shirts and hijabs but Feminist Zionists are shut down and told they have to choose between those identities. Also, groups like Jews for Justice or Jewish Voices for Peace are about as relevant and authentic to me as Jews for Jesus or groups like BDS in representing me. For her to try to spin their participation to allyship is laughable.

Sarsour’s social media accounts are rife with her own glaring modus operandi that is illustrated flagrantly. Why is she not held to the same standards she expects of other feminists in their intersectionality? Why can she have an outspoken Muslim voice but Jews with outspoken Zionist beliefs are “invoking their political issues on the WM”?

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It would appear from Ms. Sarsour’s propaganda and behavior that she is intent on using the Women’s March as a platform for her own designs disguised as championing feminism. When author and brave victim of female genital mutilation Ayaan Hirsi Ali spoke out in her book “Infidel: My Life” about crimes committed in the name of Islam, Sarsour had some very supportive (insert sarcasm here) words about the issue.

Linda Sarsour Twitter Rant _Lipstick Republic BlogCompassion and concern for all women really just radiate from Linda.  It’s evident that all views are fine as long as they are Linda’s views. Seriously though, if that’s not enough proof for you, try a quick Google search on Linda and you’ll find that she also endorses Siraj Wahaj, unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing who believes homosexuality is a disease.

Linda doesn’t seem to realize that Jewish women have always been at the forefront of the both the Women’s Rights and the Civil Rights movements. Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem are Jews. In fact,  It was the Women’s Movement that made Betty the proud Zionist she grew to be and spent her lifetime defending.

I know many Feminist Zionists are choosing to boycott the event in Las Vegas because of Ms. Sarsour’s stance on Zionism and interest in competing in what many call Woke Olympics. While I can certainly understand their pain and anger, I will be taking a different approach. On January 21, 2018, in Las Vegas, Nevada I will be at the  Women’s March: Power To The Polls. I will not let Linda Sarsour’s twisted definition of Zionism or Feminism dictate my narrative. I will not take off my Magen David. I will not be silent. Linda Sarsour does not represent me or any of my values with her support of violence or intolerance.

That’s not the sort of sisterhood I want to be a part of or the sort of feminism that I believe in – not today, not ever.

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Mimi Bergman is a business owner, historian, wife, and mom. She’s an ardent feminist, Zionist, and activist. Mimi is a fourth generation Chicago Cubs baseball fan.