Category Archives: feminism

Women Whose Statues Should be in the Town Squares

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Laurie and Debbie say:

For those of us who are in agreement that the world needs fewer (or no) statues of Confederate “heroes” and slave owners, what do we want in their place?

For starters, how about some statues of women who are being honored for what they did, not how they looked?

We got the idea from Transgriot, who lives in Houston. She suggests three Houston politicians. They are all excellent choices; the one we’ll focus on here is Barbara Jordan.

Here’s Transgriot’s reasoning:

She became in 1967 the first (and sadly so far) only Black woman elected to the Texas Senate and the first Black Texan to be elected to the Texas Legislature since Reconstruction.  

She then made history again by getting elected to the US House of Representatives in the newly created 18th Congressional District in 1972.   She … made two historic keynote speeches to Democratic national conventions in 1976 and 1992 and was the ethics advisor for Gov Ann Richards.

She made history even when she died in 1996.   She became the first Black Texan to be interred in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.

A staunch warrior for civil rights throughout her lifetime, Jordan spoke in favor of impeaching Richard Nixon.

 

Far too few people remember Barbara Jordan at all, or could tell you anything specific she did or said. Even fewer people remember–or ever knew–that she was a Lesbian, though she chose to keep that fairly quiet. Here’s Corinne Werder, writing about Jordan as a queer woman history forgot:

Though Jordan wasn’t out as a lesbian, she made no secret of her life companion Nancy Earl, an educational psychologist. The couple met in the most lesbian of ways: on a camping trip in the late 60s. According to the Jordan Rustin Coalition, “Jordan never publicly acknowledged her sexual orientation, but in her obituary, the Houston Chronicle mentioned her longtime relationship with Earl. After Jordan’s initial unsuccessful statewide races, advisers warned her to become more discreet and not bring any female companions on the campaign trail.” 

The “Jordan Rustin Coalition” also honors Bayard Rustin, who deserves a whole post (and a lot of statues) of his own.

(The University of Texas does have a statue of Barbara Jordan, which they’ve displayed since 2009. However, universities are very different from public squares, and the woman certainly deserves more than one statue.)

In this week’s reading, we came across another woman whose statue we’d like to see. We don’t know if Portland has any “racist hero” statues it needs to take down, but in the unlikely event that it doesn’t, the city can still put up a memorial to Marie Equi.

Stephanie Buck tells Equi’s story at Timeline.

She carried a banner. “Prepare to die, workingmen,” it warned. “J.P. Morgan & Co. want preparedness for profit. Thou shalt not kill.” It was June of 1916, and the country was headed for war. The town of Portland, Oregon, was holding a preparedness parade, a show of patriotic unity and an effort to drum up support. Then Marie Equi, a lesbian anarchist and abortionist, showed up with her banner.

“The lawyers attacked me first, then the Knights of Columbus,” she recounted later that night at the police station. A group of men marching in the parade approached her car and tore the sign to pieces. One struck her with a staff and a scuffle ensued. Equi was bruised and her hand bloodied. Then another man offered her an American flag. “I was perfectly calm. I said, ‘Very well, brave American gentlemen, your flag is no protection to me,’” and she tore it up.

Equi got her medical degree around the turn of the last century. She was an open Lesbian, in a relationship with a brewing heiress whose family kept trying to disinherit her. Around 1915, the couple adopted a daughter (that must be an interesting story in itself!).

In 1913, she attended a Portland cannery strike where female laborers (and some of her patients) argued for better wages, with some making only five cents per hour. Especially during summer, conditions in the factory were dangerous: Despite the heat, floor bosses locked the doors to keep workers productive and union organizers outside.

One day, the strike turned violent and Equi clashed with counter-protesters. Then she watched as a police officer struck and forcibly dragged a pregnant woman to jail. It was the last straw. She declared herself an anarchist and a socialist, and publicly supported the radical labor union Industrial Workers of the World. Days after the strike, she climbed onto a chair in the middle of Portland’s city hall and threatened to “shed blood” if anyone stood in the way of the cause. Her weapon, she snarled, would be a poisoned hat pin to cause a “slow and lingering death.”

She was friends (and perhaps lovers) with Margaret Sanger, and also a close ally of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. And yet, her name is even further from being a household word than Jordan’s is. Between us, we know a lot of women’s history — and queer women’s history — and neither of us had heard of Equi until we found Buck’s article.

Lesbian photographer and activist Tee Corinne always spoke up for Lesbian history, and for remembering the sexual orientation of both women who had to keep their choices quiet to survive or thrive, and women who lived openly in dangerous times and places.

We’re rooting for a statue of Jordan in Houston and a statue of Equi in Portland. And we’re also imagining a whole sculpture garden of women who changed the world for the better–we know many more we can write about in future blogs.  Let’s put up the statues where lots of people can come and appreciate the amazing things these women have done and, for a change, remember them.

Road Tripping: Looking For Sisterhood

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Greenidge sisters and others at Robbins House

Laurie and Debbie say:

We were completely struck by the quality of Kaitlyn Greenidge’s opinion piece in last Sunday’s New York Times,Sisterhood Felt Meaningless. So My Sisters and I Got in the Car.”

Greenidge was feeling (aren’t we all?) the weight of the 2016 election:

What does the rallying cry of sisterhood and the concept of feminism mean when last year, the majority of white, female voters chose whiteness as a political identity over womanhood? What does feminism mean to each of us, as black women, when we had just lived through an election season of hearing candidates and commentators use that old, unexamined phrase, “women and black people,” skipping over our existence as both? How do we understand women’s history as triumphant when we are still smarting from the very public smackdown of a woman attempting to reach the highest seat of power?

My sisters were the perfect people with whom to seek some answers.

Greenidge sets the scene by describing her sisters, Kerri and Kirsten, and their childhood in predominantly white neighborhoods and schools.

Black womanhood was always centered in our home, so I didn’t look at white women with envy because they were white. And I was rarely instinctively suspicious of them. Like most black and brown people in this country, despite what white people may believe, I was not actively looking for the ways whites slighted me because I was black. Especially when you live and work in predominantly white spaces, you have to hold on to the social fiction that white people are responding to you as an individual. If you do not hold on to that lie, or at least use it judiciously, you risk going mad with grief and anger.

This description of the black experience maps onto the (white) female experience in male spaces: there, you have to hold on to the social fiction that men are responding to you as an individual. If you’re black and female, the challenge increases exponentially.

The three Greenidge sisters went traveling. “We wanted to find women who could remind us that another, more tolerant, hopeful way of being is possible. It was possible 150 years ago, during a time when people supposedly didn’t know any better — and we hoped that perspective would help us in this present time, when people supposedly do.”

Their three stops were all at historically obscure places, also generally obscure to black and feminist historians. Read the article to see Greenidge’s careful descriptions and contexts; here’s a very brief synopsis:

  • The Prudence Crandall Museum (Connecticut) commemorates a white schoolteacher (Prudence Crandall) who enrolled Sarah Harris, a black student, in 1831, and successfully fought intense opposition which only made her a stronger defender of access to education for black people.
  • The Royall House & Slave Quarters (Massachusetts) is the only standing slave quarters location north of the Mason-Dixon line, a crucial reminder of Northern slavery, which many of us tend to ignore, forget, or gloss over. Of particular note here is that Isaac Royall Jr. received reparations for the loss of his slave property, while American black people have received nothing for 150 years.
  • The Robbins House (Massachusetts) is the home of a previously enslaved Revolutionary War veteran. One of his descendants, Ellen Garrison Jackson, fought tirelessly for equality and access to public space.

So the Greenidge sisters saw a mixed story: America’s deeply shameful history, black people committing their lives to working towards equality, and the occasional white person who joined the march to justice. What did this tell Kaitlyn Greenidge about the role of sisterhood in troubled times?

After touring the house, my sisters and I sat on the green, while all around us, people paraded, dressed in the costumes of colonists who believed in freedom with conditions — not necessarily for women, not necessarily for black people and certainly not for black women.

I think about the foresight and sheer leaps of intelligence it took for Crandall, for Harris, for Sutton and Garrison, to imagine a world that most around them could not imagine. It is a world I have to keep telling myself we are almost in sight of, if we keep thinking and planning and plotting as they did.

When polarization dominates our discourse, and much racial commentary — from many directions — is correctly about how most white people have failed to uphold even the most minimal standards of respect and decency, Greenidge’s voice rings out with something else. She knows 53% of white women voted for Donald Trump, and she is clear how shameful that is. She knows that her colleagues rarely see her as an individual, and she pulls no punches about what contortions that puts her through. And at the same time, she and her sisters managed to delve into — and she chose to tell — a range of stories which show both racism and heroism, the troughs of human blindness and the heights of human commitment to justice.

We’re grateful to the Greenidge sisters … and we want to take the same trip ourselves.