Closing the Gender Gap in Foreign Policy—One Byline at a Time


A review of foreign policy op-eds by Foreign Policy Interrupted (FPI), an organization dedicated to combating the gender disparity in the field, found that women’s voices remain largely absent in major media conversations about critical issues of peace and security. According to their analysis, only 15 percent of 3,758 articles in the largest newspapers in the U.S. about foreign policy from the last three years had women’s names in the bylines.

“The FPI review shows that the share of women’s bylines has increased by as much as seven percentage points per decade,” report authors Elmira Bayrasli and Elizabeth Radin wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review. “At that rate, we won’t approach parity until 2056, a full professional generation from now.” Without major changes, an echo chamber in the realm of foreign policy will persist until then, with the same men serving as both sources and authors.

This echo chamber doesn’t just reverberate within the world of media. It plagues the entire foreign policy field—and holds women back at every level. Women hold only 29 percent of leadership positions in D.C.’s foreign policy think tanks and only 21 percent of policy-related positions.

Noor Mir at a rally against Trump’s Muslim Ban sponsored by Freedom Muslim American Women’s Policy. (Lorie Shaull / Creative Commons)

“In the foreign policy world, who you know can trump what you know,” foreign policy expert Isobel Coleman explained in The Atlantic, calling out the ‘old boy network’ in her own field. “Getting invited to speak on this panel, or attend that meeting, or serve on that committee—these decisions reflect one’s network as much as anything, and they are self-reinforcing.”

In foreign policy matters, having a diversity of voices at the table is critical. Aside from a matter of principle, closing the gender gap in foreign policy media and leadership is also a pivotal part of ensuring continued success. “Due to a preponderance of men in senior positions at think tanks, they engage in an unconscious cronyism in hiring other men as research fellows or selecting them as participants at workshops,” foreign policy veteran Micah Zenko explained in Foreign Policy. “This imbalance, which deprives the foreign-policy community of much-needed expertise, is detrimental to the U.S. role in world affairs.”

How do we reckon with a field that has become so entrenched in patriarchal values? To start, those in positions of power must recognize the reach they have and their ability to broaden the scope of the discussions within foreign policy. Representation within the field will inspire more women and people of color to take the reins in a historically white, male-dominated space.

Men, in the meantime, must make space for them—and do all they can to equip them for success. “The key to continuing this upward trend is mentoring and training,” Lisa Curtis told The Atlantic. “With an increasingly globalized and complex world demanding creative and varied solutions, there will be more and more opportunities and indeed—requirements—for women to sit at the foreign policy decision-making table.

Rosalind Jones is a writer and global feminist thinker with a focus on international women’s liberation. Her goal is to use her writing and language skills to elevate the voices of gender equality advocates in all corners of the world. She is an Occidental College graduate with a degree Diplomacy and World Affairs and a contributor at Ms.

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Women Ambassadors, Mediocre White Men and the Iran Deal


“God, grant me the confidence of a mediocre white dude.” Sarah Hagi’s quote came to mind as I watched a bombastic, overconfident President Trump cause the demise of a truly historic nuclear deal.

Confident in his personal assessment that the Iran deal was “very bad” and that he could do better, President Trump violated the Iran deal and broke the United States’ commitment to the international agreement. If only he had the ability to question his own confidence. If only he could comprehend that his decision to violate the Iran deal is catastrophic—and that he cannot fulfill his promise to secure a “better one.”

If only the president would draw on the expertise of someone who helped craft the Iran deal—someone like Ambassador Wendy Sherman, who was the lead negotiator for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, or the Iran deal) while serving as the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs from 2011 to 2015 and has had more contact with Iranian representatives than almost any other American diplomat.

Over several years, Sherman carefully negotiated and crafted the strongest deal possible—one that verifiably reduced the risk of a nuclear Iran and was championed not just by the United States and Iran, but by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany. In the end, the deal blocked Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon and implemented an expansive monitoring system designed to alert the world if Iran resumed its banned nuclear activities, and the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) has certified Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA time and time again since.

The U.S. is not “withdrawing from” the deal. It is violating the deal—and compromising the continued ability to monitor Iran’s nuclear activities in the process.

Ambassador Sherman knows as well as anyone what works when negotiating with Iran. She argues that two years of sanctions were not what stopped Iran from pursuing a nuclear bomb and brought them to the negotiating table. Instead, it was a change in the political climate in Iran, exemplified by the election of moderate President Hassan Rouhani, that favored greater involvement in the international community.

But President Trump has declared the he knows better—and that this time, sanctions will work. Subsequent to his announcement last week, the U.S. Treasury has issued guidance for reinforcing all of the sanctions relieved by the Iran deal. Reimposing these sanctions will do exactly the opposite of what President Trump thinks they will do; they will turn the political climate in Iran against further cooperation with the United States and harm Iran’s most vulnerable citizens.

President Trump is attempting to create conditions that will force Iran to come back to the United States and negotiate a new deal that will meet his criteria for a strong deal, but this outcome is highly unlikely. Iranians will blame the suffering caused by the new sanctions on the United States, stoking feelings of mistrust and hostility toward further engagement with the United States.

But suppose for a moment the Iranians do decide to re-engage in talks with the United States. What would that look like? Sherman has characterized the Iranian diplomats she engaged with as, “tough, smart and legalistic negotiators.” There is no reason to believe that President Trump and his team would find future negotiators to be anything less. As for Trump’s team? Adept negotiators like Ambassador Wendy Sherman have long since left the State Department, as have career diplomats that understand the Iranians’ pressure points and tactics.

In any case, these experts would be useful only if President Trump put aside his confidence in himself long enough to ask for, or even agree to incorporate, outside expertise. President Trump’s violation of the deal insults senior State Department officials, baffles national security experts and even defies his own military officials. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was asked by Senator Angus King if he thought remaining in the nuclear deal was in the national Security Interest of the United States. (His response? “Yes, Senator, I do.”)

President Trump’s decision to violate the Iran deal counters expert advice, careful analysis, and America’s interest in preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. The world is now at the mercy of President Trump’s misguided confidence that he can do better than the experts. Hopefully Sarah Hagi won’t mind if I modify her quote to fit our current times: “Lord, save us from the overconfidence of a less-than mediocre white man.”

Cassandra Varanka is the Nuclear Weapons Policy Coordinator at Women’s Action for New Directions.

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Don’t Ask Us to be Civil in the Face of Violence


Last week, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked to leave Virginia restaurant The Red Hen by the owner. A few days prior, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was confronted by protesters at a Mexican restaurant in Washington, D.C., eventually prompting her to leave.

Some commentators have called these small acts of protest against Trump administration officials as marking “a decline in civility.” These critics miss a major point. Civil discourse is not always comfortable discourse, and dissent is not always polite. As the Trump administration rolls back the progress of the last century—leaving women, people of color and other marginalized group at risk of losing their basic rights—our moral obligation is to fight back.

They don’t get to define the terms of our fight. We don’t need to be civil in the face of abuse. We need to be strong and strategic.

Following mass arrests of 150+ immigrants in northern California, hundreds surrounded the San Francisco Immigration and Customs Enforcement Headquarters, blocking intersections and forming blockades at entry and exit gates. (Peg Hunter / Creative Commons)

Trump’s rhetoric, and his administration’s policies, are dangerous. He stirs up and perpetuates nativism, bigotry and prejudice, which has in part fueled a rise in white supremacist violence and hate crimes. He gaslights and scapegoats to justify policies that leave families torn apart and violence victims without recourse. Headlines throughout his presidency, and especially in the last few weeks, have largely centered around the destruction of American values and democracy happening under his watch.

Donald Trump has never been civil. His entire campaign was a firestorm of toxic masculinity, xenophobia and explicit racism. Thus far, his entire presidency has been, too. Within days of assuming the Oval Office, Donald Trump re-instated policies that left women around the world at risk of death and a loss of their own destinies. Within months, he had called white nationalists “fine people.” Most recently, he put in place border policies that the UN itself called a violation of migrants’ human rights—and then attempted to leverage their lives for a border wall. Now, he plans to oversee modern-day internment camps for entire families seeking asylum.

All of Trump’s major actions in office have been objectively violent. The Muslim ban, separating families at the border, ending DACA and pathways to asylum for women experiencing domestic violence, the ban on transgender soldiers serving in the military, numerous attacks on Planned Parenthood—these are assaults on the livelihoods of Americans. The actions of the Trump administration have serious and sometimes fatal consequences.

Some argue that incivility must not be met with incivility, for then this implies that we have stooped to Trump’s level and that we have been roped into the game of insults and vulgarities. I’ll concede that personal attacks, targeted bigotry and a commitment to narcissism are no way to respond to criticism. But to suggest that calling out and confronting violence, injustice and oppression is “uncivil” is to demand that we ignore the many people and communities that have suffered and will continue to suffer the most under Trump’s policies.

Recently, Representative Maxine Waters spoke to the need to continue resisting Trump and his affiliates by calling them out in public and making them know they are not welcome as a result of their inhumane practices. She stated that people committing inhumane acts should expect confrontation.  “I believe in peaceful protest,” she told Chris Hayes on MSNBC. “I believe that protest is at the centerpiece of our democracy. I believe that the Constitution guarantees us freedom of speech. And I believe that protest is civil.”

One of the first lessons you are taught when you learn about bullying, harassment, abuse or other unjust behavior is to be an upstander, not a bystander—to call it out, to intervene and to use the social power you may have to protect those who do not. The lesson is not to be gentle and respectful of abuser—it is to address abuses and demand that they end.

Being the “bigger person” does not imply surrendering. It is unreasonable to suggest that any resistance to abuses of power is uncivil. Dissent is a patriotic act, and conflating civility with morality allows for Trump’s predominantly white and male administration to manipulate the narrative of resistance and shield itself from accountability and the demands of this democracy. Outrage at the indecency of this behavior should be encouraged. If inhumane treatment is Trump’s idea of power, then we need disobedience.

Of all the things deemed appropriate in response to these political times, the Trump administration’s idea of civility isn’t what comes to mind. Our actions as citizens have the potential to form a critical mass. We live in an era where individuals are finding their voice in order to stand up to bigotry and injustice, in a time where it is imperative now more than ever to speak truth to power.

I refuse to believe that rolling over or giving up or staying silent is the way to address the hateful statements and practices of this administration. I refuse to believe that anger is not a valid response to actions that actively demean and violate people’s basic dignity. We have the power to demand better—and we not only deserve to utilize it, but are called on to do so by our moral obligation to ensure that equality and justice are never lost.

Rosalind Jones is a writer and global feminist thinker with a focus on international women’s liberation. Her goal is to use her writing and language skills to elevate the voices of gender equality advocates in all corners of the world. She is an Occidental College graduate with a degree Diplomacy and World Affairs and is currently an editorial intern at Ms.

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How Feminists Should Remember Justice Kennedy


This week, Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Reagan appointee to the U.S. Supreme Court, announced his retirement. The announcement punctuated a devastating week from the Court. An alarming slate of 5-4 rulings—that will surely define the Roberts’ Court—upheld the Trump administration’s third attempt at a Muslim ban, truncated the rights of public unions, struck down a California law enacted to promote women’s health and protect them from fraud and deception at crisis pregnancy centers and passed the baton back to Texas in a high-profile gerrymandering decision.

For many, Kennedy’s retirement, effective July 31, signals a worrying period ahead for the Supreme Court. They wonder what comes next on important civil liberties and civil rights issues. Pundits and his fellow Justices suggest that there will be a void on the Court; they point to Kennedy’s commitment to the dignity of persons as part of what they believe will be his enduring legacy. Kennedy’s pivotal record on marriage equality in the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges and United States v. Windsor decisions certainly speaks to that.

Others note Kennedy’s record, even recently, on abortion rights as a sign of his judicial independence and objectivity on women’s rights. This, some suggest, will be a robust and lasting legacy. In Whole Woman’s Health, which struck down two Texas laws that unconstitutionally burdened women’s access to abortion, Kennedy joined Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan and Sotomayor in the majority.

Yet Justice Kennedy’s record is far more complicated. This week, he voted with the majority in each of the aforementioned cases; he was less of the “swing” voter that pundits memorialize him to be.

That may be the correct way to remember his tenure.

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy delivering remarks at San Francisco Symphony Hall. (Steve Rhodes / Creative Commons)

According to one study, Kennedy was far more likely to vote with Justice Clarence Thomas, regarded as the most conservative justice on the Court, than Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (84 to 76 percent). He was more likely to find affinity with Chief Justice Roberts than Justice Elena Kagan (88 to 80 percent). And he voted more often with Justice Antonin Scalia than he did with any liberal on the Supreme Court.

Those who care about women’s health and rights should be concerned about Justice Kennedy’s retirement, but not for the reasons offered by pundits who frame his retirement as a grave loss on women’s issues. It would be as much as a mistake to ignore Kennedy’s pivotal vote in Whole Woman’s Health as it would be to conflate or exaggerate his record on women’s rights and health—or to overstate the Supreme Court’s legacy with regard to women.

Despite crucial advancements in the rights of women and girls brought about through legislative and judicial victories, the Supreme Court has historically shown antipathy—or at best, disregard—for the rights and concerns of women. The Court sanctioned forced sterilization and eugenics against poor women in Buck v. Bell, an infamous decision yet to be overturned. It affirmed states’ denial of women’s suffrage, refused to strike down laws denying women opportunities to become lawyers;, deferred to states that denied women the right to serve on juries and more.

In reality, Justice Kennedy failed to demonstrate a consistent and courageous regard for the interest of women or their reproductive rights. Some might argue that it was the failure of his liberal colleagues to persuade him to their interpretation of the Constitution, or that the right cases did not land before the Court during his 30-year tenure to compel or motivate him to move the needle on women’s rights. But what is clear, in a line of defining cases, is that Justice Kennedy has sided with a conservative, all-male majority.

This includes writing for the majority, upholding a Bush-era federal law to ban an abortion procedure in Gonzales v. Carhart. Based on no credible empirical evidence, the otherwise careful Justice claimed that long-term mental health suffering “and loss of esteem can” result from pregnancy terminations. Kennedy disregarded a robust empirical record, including amici briefs, pointing out the fallacy of that argument.

Justice Kennedy also cast crucial votes, just to name some recent examples, limiting women’s rights to file suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act for gender pay claims in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co, denying women plaintiffs class action status to sue Walmart based on gender discrimination in Wal-Mart v. Dukes and finding “that commercial enterprises, including corporations, along with partnerships and sole proprietorships, can opt out of any law…they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs” in a case denying female employees contraceptive coverage—Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.

Justice Kennedy’s significant regard for the dignity of marriage equality must be acknowledged—for it moved the Court out of a shameful past. But Justice Kennedy’s record must also be measured by his concerns for the dignity of women—and we should remember his lack of vision for a Constitution that could embrace their highest ideals.

Michele Goodwin holds the Chancellor’s Professorship at the University of California, Irvine. She is the founder and director the Center for Biotechnology and Global Health Policy and its Reproductive Justice Initiative. She has published with Forbes, Salon, L.A. Times, Politico, Chicago Sun Times, Houston Chronicle, Christian Science Monitor and the New York Times, among others.

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I Won’t Stop Fighting for Title X—Because it Transformed My Mother’s Life


My mother can recall in vivid detail the day she went with her friends to buy birth control in 1970. She planned the excursion meticulously: Her high school nurse wrote notes excusing her and her friends from class that day, and she secretly borrowed the family car while her parents were out of town. Soon, they were on the road to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Newark, New Jersey.

Before her trip, pregnancy was, in my mother’s words, her “greatest fear.” The stigma associated with teenage pregnancy was suffocating. Roe v. Wade was still a few years away. Two of her closest friends had become pregnant, but New Jersey laws strictly prohibited abortion.

Luckily, they had the means to travel across state lines to New York, which had just become the first state to legalize abortion, to access these services—and President Nixon had just enacted the Title X Family Planning Program, the only federal grant program dedicated solely to providing individuals with contraception and related preventative health services.

Congress created Title X  to “prevent unwanted pregnancies among sexually active adolescents.” Sure enough, its funding enabled clinics around the country to provide young people like my mother with the confidential services they needed to make responsible choices about their sexual and reproductive health.

With the passage of Title X, my mother and her friends witnessed firsthand how the law could be used as a tool for women’s liberation. Their lives were transformed. But 48 years later, we’re witnessing a devastating attack on Title X—and the ability of teenagers to access confidential reproductive health services.

BACORR clinic defenders outside of a Planned Parenthood clinic. (Steve Rhodes / Creative Commons)

In February, the Trump administration announced that it aims to radically shift Title X family planning services grants to reflect socially conservative priorities—prioritizing abstinence-only programs over comprehensive care.

Abstinence-only approaches withhold facts and potentially life-saving information and, quite simply, fail to convince most adolescents to abstain from sexual activity. Ironically, the government’s own teen pregnancy data shows that urging health care providers to communicate abstinence-until-marriage messages to adolescents simply does not work.

Trump’s attacks on Title X come amidst historically low teen pregnancy and abortion rates in the U.S. According to HHS, teen pregnancy rates in 2016 are down 67 percent from 1991, when they were at a record high in large part because of Ronald Reagan’s own approaches to the policy—which were similar to Trump’s.

The administration has also imposed a Domestic Gag Rule barring organizations that receive Title X funding from providing information, counseling and referrals about safe abortion services. Like the Global Gag Rule reinstated and expanded by Trump last year, new Title X policies coerce doctors into staying silent about evidence-based family planning methods, including abortion, under threat of losing their government funding.

These proposed Title X changes will disproportionately affect low-income women, further building a system in which reproductive rights are unnecessarily restricted and only accessible to those who can afford them. They violate teens’ right to confidential care. They violate international human rights laws. They flout international protections of the freedom of speech and association.

My mother and her friends witnessed their rights to family planning and contraception come into being. Nearly a half-century later, we must all remain committed to resisting attempts to take them away.

Danielle Stouck is the Grants and Development Manager at the Global Justice Center. She holds a Master’s Degree in international affairs from Columbia University and a Bachelor’s Degree in middle eastern studies and human rights from Barnard College. With expertise in forced displacement, gender equality and refugee rights, Danielle has worked with organizations including the Human Rights Funders Network, Women’s Refugee Commission, the World Food Programme, and the Near East Foundation and Public Agenda. 

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Representation Matters—Even When It’s Not of Happy Families


Sometimes, the thing society most objects to about your family isn’t what’s “wrong” with it.

In my house, mental illness hid in the shadow of the showier word—lesbian—where it festered and grew. I loved my parents, but I wanted the yelling to stop. Still, I told no one—not my favorite teachers or even my counselor. Even as a child, I knew it was a forbidden topic.

Adult queerspawn whisper to me: “I can’t tell my story, because my childhood wasn’t happy.” We all worry about the neighbors who view our families as inferior, unnatural abominations. We keep our secrets and still our pens. We let the shiny people be the poster children for our movement.

But I have never been good at silence. My mom is gay and my family wasn’t okay.

LGBTQ activists and allies attend a vigil for those lost in the PULSE shootings in Orlando in 2016. (Fibonacci Blue / Creative Commons)

There is deep love in there, composting with resentment and fear and laughter. Like most families—dare I say all? Yet we are not allowed the luxury of dysfunction—that’s for straight people, rich people, white people, all of the above and some of the below. But the problem with only turning our good sides to the light goes beyond its dishonesty. It makes us one-dimensional cardboard cutouts.

When I write about having lesbian parents who were also trying to reign in mental illness, I am often gently reminded that it is imperative that I make sure people know that most lesbian families are great, happy, sparkly, well-adjusted. I needed to qualify that my experience isn’t how it is for all lesbian families. If gayness was my ethnicity, they might tell me that I needed to be a credit to my race.

Certainly, I’m not the poster child they wanted. We must be smiley, happy people to appear nonthreatening.

Taking a survey of my objectors, the majority are straight, white women indignant on behalf of queer people—my people. Queer people, however, by and large, understand. “The problem is that the world is so incredibly hard on queer people,” one lesbian woman confided in me, “yet we aren’t allowed to let it break us or even wound us. We are expected to be paradigms of mental health—mentally stronger than straight people to prove our worth.”

I don’t write for well-adjusted people who had happy childhoods. Of course, I love when they can relate to my writing, don’t get me wrong—but I want to reach everyone who didn’t have a family that cherished them and protected them from the terrors of the world. I write for my queer community who isn’t allowed to speak about mental illness.

I can’t totally own the queer label, because the parts that make me queer are easily hidden. But that small distance creates space for me to tell my story. As long as queer people are being beaten and murdered, fired or denied housing based on their sexuality or gender identity, we won’t be able to hear everyone’s voices—but it is safe for me to write, and so I write for those who can’t.

What we need is more space on bookshelves for queer writers. We need happy stories and tragic stories. We need books by asexual, intersex, gay, lesbian and bisexual writers as well as other queerspawn like me. We need stories about people who refuse categorization, and we need more than just coming out stories. We need queer main characters and bit parts in novels and movies—mainstream stories where characters just happen to be queer. Only then will we have a three-dimensional view of a very diverse group of people.

I remember my drag queen roommate who moved in with me after his boyfriend hit him one too many times, how he said that the cops laughed and didn’t intervene because it was “a fair fight.” I remember the whispers of my lesbian friend: “No one wants to talk about abuse in the lesbian community, but I was abused.” And another: “She told me no one would believe me, because I’m butch.” And still another: “She took our children away and married a man. She wants to erase the fact that she was ever a lesbian.”

The fight for LGBTQ equality is far from over—but representation in pop culture can, does and will help society to catch up. The more easily we are seen as everyday people—friends and neighbors, teachers and mechanics, three-dimensional people with problems and struggles not unlike everyone else’s—the more easily we will find acceptance, and maybe even a space to tell these stories.

Or so we hope.

Lara Lillibridge sings off-beat and dances off-key. She is a graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan College’s MFA program in creative nonfiction. In 2016, she won the Slippery Elm Literary Journal’s Prose Contest, American Literary Review’s Creative Nonfiction Contest and was a finalist in both Black Warrior Review’s Nonfiction Contest and Disquiet’s Literary Prize in Creative Nonfiction. You can find her on Twitter.

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Talkin’ About a Revolution: JP Howard on Raising Her Fist—and Queer Women’s Voices


We are living in the midst of an extraordinary renaissance of literary work by lesbian and queer women of color. Some of the most powerful literary productions are by queer women of color and by lesbians of color; they are winning top literary prizes, gaining recognition in and outside of LGBTQ communities and gathering new audiences of all ages, genders and sexual orientations. This current issue of Sinister Wisdom, a multicultural lesbian literary and art journal—expertly curated by JP Howard and Amber Atiya, two extraordinary poets in their own right—reflects and celebrates that reality. This issue lifts up the voices of African-American lesbians for us all to hear, see and know.

Howard is a 2018 featured author in Lambda Literary’s LGBTQ Writers in Schools program, was a 2017 Split this Rock Freedom Plow Award for Poetry & Activism finalist, won a 2016 Lambda Literary Judith A. Markowitz Emerging Writer Award and has received fellowships and grants from Cave Canem, VONA, Lambda, Astraea and Brooklyn Arts Council.  Her debut poetry collection, SAY/MIRROR (The Operating System), was a 2016 Lambda Literary finalist; she is also the author of bury your love poems here (Belladonna*). Howard curates Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon and is an Editor-at-Large at Mom Egg Review online, and her work has been published by Academy of American Poets, Anomaly, Apogee Journal, The Feminist Wire, Split this Rock, Muzzle Magazine and The Best American Poetry Blog.

Sinister Wisdom 107: Black Lesbians—We Are the Revolution! gathers together new writing by an array of emerging and established black lesbian and queer women writers. I spoke with Howard about editing Sinister Wisdom and she provided fascinating insights into the process and intentions of both editors in putting together the issue.

I have been so excited to publish Sinister Wisdom 107: Black Lesbians—We Are the Revolution. How did you come to select this topic as the theme for the issue? And how did you select the title?

I selected the titled based on my favorite black lesbian poet/muse/activist/ and agitator Pat Parker, who once said: “The day all the different parts of me can come along, we would have what I would call a revolution.” The goal of the issue was to create a revolution of words. Black lesbian writers were invited to document their unique, powerful and diverse voices. The theme was inspired directly by Parker’s quote; essentially a call to be our full selves, to show up on the page, to use our words and voices and artistic images to create a revolution.

This issue speaks powerfully to histories of African-American lesbians and also imagines various futures. Can you talk a little bit about why this issue in this particular political moment?

This issue, a call for black queer womyn to share our voices and our art is needed, especially during this current political moment where LGBTQ, POC and marginalized voices are constantly under attack. It is crucial, in fact necessary, to have literary spaces like Sinister Wisdom to raise our voices, lift our symbolic fists and say “We are here! We are not going anywhere. We refuse to be silenced.”

How did you make your selections for inclusion in this issue? What principles operated for you as an editor while working on this issue?

It was urgent to have diverse voices represented in this issue. It was a long collaborative process to make sure that we included a wide spectrum of voices. The most difficult task was narrowing down selections, as we had more submissions than we could accommodate in this issue. As an editor, I was looking for work that fit the call, work that was revolutionary, work that was original and inspirational, work that could agitate, work that was sexy, work that honored our black lesbian ancestors, work that was forward thinking, work that was magical, work that refused to be silenced.

Talk to me about the gorgeous cover art. How did you find the artists? What speaks to each of you about these images?

Akinfe Fatou’s cover art features a striking photo of Amadi Agbomah titled Liberation. Amber and I put out a call to both visual artists and black queer womyn writers for recommendations of black queer womyn artists. Akinfe is an amazing writer and visual artist and actually ended up doing a cover photo shoot with a number of pieces for us to consider for our cover. Amber and I immediately gravitated towards Liberation and knew almost immediately that this was our cover. It is FIYAH! We are forever grateful to Akinfe and Amadi for this powerful and revolutionary cover. Our stunning back cover art piece is by phenomenal artist/photographer Nye’ Lyn Tho. I actually discovered N’ye’s artwork/photos from Sinister Wisdom contributor, poet Arisa White, who curates the Beautiful Things Project. I remember seeing striking work by Nye’ Lyn Tho when she and Arisa collaborated in California and posted photos of their collaborative project. Those visuals stuck with me and I asked Arisa if she could put us in contact with the artist. The rest, as they say, is herstory.

Can you discuss one of the challenges you encountered working together? What was the challenge? How did or did you not resolve it?

I think a big challenge was coordinating our schedules and finding time to actually meet to discuss and narrow down our choices. Sometimes Amber and I literally stayed up until early morning hours collaborating online via shared google documents. If we had a disagreement about a piece we would advocate vigorously for “why” it should or should not be included and then we would organize in order of preference, the pieces that we were each most inclined to accept. Often we were able to come to a joint resolution and sometimes one of us would defer to the other if a persuasive argument was made for accepting or rejecting a piece. Mostly, this process worked for us over time. It was definitely a labor of love on both our parts and I am forever grateful to Amber for accepting my invite to co-edit this issue of Sinister Wisdom with me.

What are you most proud of in this issue?

I am most proud of the amazing diversity of voices and black lesbian/queer womyn represented throughout. We have contributors from around the world, with so many parts of the United States represented. Our contributors are intergenerational, with a phenomenal line-up of both emerging and established writers and artists included. It includes black queer womyn whose work I have admired for decades and also work of new writers and artists who I only first discovered through the submission process.

Tell me about your relationship to feminism and lesbian-feminism. Is your relationship to feminism and lesbian-feminism informed by your understand of race? How?

I discovered the powerful words of Pat Parker and Cheryl Clarke, black lesbian feminists, while at Barnard College in the mid-to-latter part of the 1980’s. Cheryl Clarke’s words from “New Notes on Lesbianism” still resonate with me, so many decades later. I think because that is around the same time that I came out of the closet, that the world lesbian still feels most natural to me when I describe myself. Clarke said: “I name myself ‘lesbian’ because this culture oppresses, silences, and destroys lesbians, even lesbians who do don’t call themselves ‘lesbians.’ I name myself ‘lesbian’ because I want to be visible to other black lesbians. I name myself ‘lesbian’ because I do not subscribe to predatory/institutionalized heterosexuality” is definitely something that has influenced how I walk through the world. However, I also am acutely aware that many lesbian-feminist spaces are overwhelmingly white and as a black lesbian/queer womyn in this world, unfortunately those spaces are often not welcoming to me nor do they consistently celebrate how I walk through the world.

What advice would you give to future guest editors?

Future editors should start as early as possible to gather submissions and begin reviewing work on a rolling basis, set clear time deadlines and tasks, perhaps mid-way through the process, they can reassess and chart out new priorities based on earlier deadlines. Also please make sure to celebrate the issue as you are putting it together, it’s a HUGE accomplishment!

Interested in Sinister Wisdom 107: Black Lesbians—We Are the Revolution? Order your copy here.

Julie R. Enszer, PhD, is a scholar and a poet. Her book manuscript, A Fine Bind, is a history of lesbian-feminist presses from 1969 until 2009. Her scholarly work has appeared or is forthcoming in Southern Cultures, Journal of Lesbian Studies, American Periodicals, WSQ and Frontiers. She is the author of four poetry collections—Avowed, Lilith’s Demons, Sisterhood and Handmade Love—and is editor of The Complete Works of Pat Parker, which won the 2017 Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Poetry, and Milk & Honey: A Celebration of Jewish Lesbian Poetry, which was a finalist for the 2012 Lambda Literary Award in Lesbian Poetry. She edits and publishes Sinister Wisdom and is a book reviewer for the The Rumpus and Calyx. 

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The post Talkin’ About a Revolution: JP Howard on Raising Her Fist—and Queer Women’s Voices appeared first on Ms. Magazine Blog.



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Masculinity Is Broken, But It Isn’t Hopeless


I’ve been surprised to see the conversation on how we raise boys taken to the mainstream by Michael Ian Black, care of the New York Times. It’s a critique of masculinity I’m extremely familiar with—and it’s been going on for longer than I’ve been a card-carrying member of the queer community.

I remember, just after coming out, returning to the church I grew up in for my grandfather’s funeral. Smack on the door, as I was grieving and walking into the building, I was treated to a poster advertising a brand new class on teaching boy children to be “real boys” so that they don’t grow up to be gay. That was ten years ago. Just after Elliot Rodger shot students at Isla Vista and his misogynistic manifesto came under public scrutiny, I spent a week on a mountain with about three hundred queer people; women, non binary folks, trans men. (Basically every sort of person except cis men.) We were certainly talking about toxic masculinity then, but it didn’t seem like anyone else was. That was four years ago.

Of our 99 problems, strict adherence to the gender binary is involved in most of them. As many as 43 percent of homeless youth identify as queer and are ejected from their homes because of their rejection of these rules. The average life expectancy of a trans woman of color is said to be 35 years—largely because they live at a precarious, often dangerous intersection of racism, misogyny and bearing the brunt of the toxic masculinity those around them wield, literally, as a weapon.

As a result, queers have been working to provide alternative models of masculinity for as long as I have known queers. And in our current cultural moment, the queer community has attained a level of representation in pop culture that challenges and remakes this toxic outlook in spaces where children are present. Which is why it is shocking that, as the conversation on masculinity moves into the mouths of straight, cis men in the wake of the Parkland shooting, I hear confusion, powerlessness and handwringing. As I read and hear published critique from men outside gender studies departments and queer clubs, there is a profound sense of being oppressed by masculinity, and a deep sadness that men have been required to adhere to it. I also hear the undertones of hopelessness—straight, cis men don’t seem to know what to do about fixing what it means to be masculine in this country.

And that’s frustrating. Because queer folks have not been stingy with examples. We have been, for decades, demonstrating what it is to unmake violent masculinity. And right now, young queers and creators alike are bringing new masculinities to life.

Look at Steven Universe, an animated show created by Rebecca Sugar, a bisexual woman. It features an empathetic pre-teen and teen male protagonist in Steven, and when he uses his powers and “fuses” with his best friend, Connie, they together become a genderless “experience” of a person. This is a show that has an entire episode dedicated to teaching children of all genders how to deal with emotions after trauma; it unmakes the masculinity of emotional repression regularly. Look at Lumberjanes, a comic with the character of Barney who doesn’t want to be a Scouting Lad and jumps ship to the camp for “Hardcore Lady Types.” Look at Moonstruck, which features Chet, a genderqueer centaur who uses neutral pronouns.

Queer Eye rebooted on Netflix this month, and the updated Fab Five represent a group of men heading into Georgia to fix masculinity. They don’t even commit to “for the straight guy,” as they did years ago; I wonder if and hope that it is because masculinity needs interrogating no matter where one falls on the Kinsey scale. I watched Queer Eye when I was a kid—it was one of the first family-friendly representations of subversive masculinity that I remember, and it’s even more subversive now. The group tackles race, Christianity, conservatism and what it means to take care of oneself and others as a man. Whether or not this show is intended for the younger set, I can near about guarantee that they are watching. I was.

We can already see the effects of that expansive gender outlook, that work women and queers have been up to for decades. Less than half of teens today identify as straight. Fifty-six percent of them know someone who uses gender neutral pronouns. Seventy percent want to see ubiquitous gender neutral bathrooms.

A rise in queers, women and young folks making media has provided Generation Z with a lot more possibility models than we ever had. We built those possibility models for ourselves, and they exist for generations older to partake in as well—should they choose to look. So why, then, are middle-aged men so ready to throw up their hands and mourn the restrictive childhoods that led to their restrictive genders? Why, when Michael Ian Black’s teenager stomps up the stairs, does he not feel empowered to model different choices about what masculinity can become?

I can only guess it’s because it’s easier. Men have learned helplessness. Blaming masculinity itself seeks to absolve grown men of their agency in actively creating masculinity; it’s not an entity that lives without the decisions of people. Cis men have always had the power to expand the definition of what it means to be masculine. Men can actively make different choices about what masculinity means. I say this as a queer person who creates their own masculinity with active choices every day, who believes in the expansive constellation of masculinity; that there is so much more space in there than cis men believe there to be.

If adult cis men are now chafing in an ill-fitting gender, perhaps instead of sounding the lament and shrugging their shoulders at the insurmountability of a society they created, they can follow the younger generations into new territory. They can engage with the narratives that Millennials and Generation Z are insisting on—and have been for quite some time.

And most importantly, they can legislate gun control in the way the youth are asking them to instead of staring frightened and helpless into the masculinity of their own making.

A.E. Osworth is Part-Time Faculty at The New School, Managing Editor of Scholar & Feminist Online at Barnard College and has spent the last half a decade as Geekery Editor at Autostraddle. Keep in touch @AEOsworth on Twitter and at aeosworth.com.

The post Masculinity Is Broken, But It Isn’t Hopeless appeared first on Ms. Magazine Blog.



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Masculinity Is Broken, But It Isn’t Hopeless


I’ve been surprised to see the conversation on how we raise boys taken to the mainstream by Michael Ian Black, care of the New York Times. It’s a critique of masculinity I’m extremely familiar with—and it’s been going on for longer than I’ve been a card-carrying member of the queer community.

I remember, just after coming out, returning to the church I grew up in for my grandfather’s funeral. Smack on the door, as I was grieving and walking into the building, I was treated to a poster advertising a brand new class on teaching boy children to be “real boys” so that they don’t grow up to be gay. That was ten years ago. Just after Elliot Rodger shot students at Isla Vista and his misogynistic manifesto came under public scrutiny, I spent a week on a mountain with about three hundred queer people; women, non binary folks, trans men. (Basically every sort of person except cis men.) We were certainly talking about toxic masculinity then, but it didn’t seem like anyone else was. That was four years ago.

Of our 99 problems, strict adherence to the gender binary is involved in most of them. As many as 43 percent of homeless youth identify as queer and are ejected from their homes because of their rejection of these rules. The average life expectancy of a trans woman of color is said to be 35 years—largely because they live at a precarious, often dangerous intersection of racism, misogyny and bearing the brunt of the toxic masculinity those around them wield, literally, as a weapon.

As a result, queers have been working to provide alternative models of masculinity for as long as I have known queers. And in our current cultural moment, the queer community has attained a level of representation in pop culture that challenges and remakes this toxic outlook in spaces where children are present. Which is why it is shocking that, as the conversation on masculinity moves into the mouths of straight, cis men in the wake of the Parkland shooting, I hear confusion, powerlessness and handwringing. As I read and hear published critique from men outside gender studies departments and queer clubs, there is a profound sense of being oppressed by masculinity, and a deep sadness that men have been required to adhere to it. I also hear the undertones of hopelessness—straight, cis men don’t seem to know what to do about fixing what it means to be masculine in this country.

And that’s frustrating. Because queer folks have not been stingy with examples. We have been, for decades, demonstrating what it is to unmake violent masculinity. And right now, young queers and creators alike are bringing new masculinities to life.

Look at Steven Universe, an animated show created by Rebecca Sugar, a bisexual woman. It features an empathetic pre-teen and teen male protagonist in Steven, and when he uses his powers and “fuses” with his best friend, Connie, they together become a genderless “experience” of a person. This is a show that has an entire episode dedicated to teaching children of all genders how to deal with emotions after trauma; it unmakes the masculinity of emotional repression regularly. Look at Lumberjanes, a comic with the character of Barney who doesn’t want to be a Scouting Lad and jumps ship to the camp for “Hardcore Lady Types.” Look at Moonstruck, which features Chet, a genderqueer centaur who uses neutral pronouns.

Queer Eye rebooted on Netflix this month, and the updated Fab Five represent a group of men heading into Georgia to fix masculinity. They don’t even commit to “for the straight guy,” as they did years ago; I wonder if and hope that it is because masculinity needs interrogating no matter where one falls on the Kinsey scale. I watched Queer Eye when I was a kid—it was one of the first family-friendly representations of subversive masculinity that I remember, and it’s even more subversive now. The group tackles race, Christianity, conservatism and what it means to take care of oneself and others as a man. Whether or not this show is intended for the younger set, I can near about guarantee that they are watching. I was.

We can already see the effects of that expansive gender outlook, that work women and queers have been up to for decades. Less than half of teens today identify as straight. Fifty-six percent of them know someone who uses gender neutral pronouns. Seventy percent want to see ubiquitous gender neutral bathrooms.

A rise in queers, women and young folks making media has provided Generation Z with a lot more possibility models than we ever had. We built those possibility models for ourselves, and they exist for generations older to partake in as well—should they choose to look. So why, then, are middle-aged men so ready to throw up their hands and mourn the restrictive childhoods that led to their restrictive genders? Why, when Michael Ian Black’s teenager stomps up the stairs, does he not feel empowered to model different choices about what masculinity can become?

I can only guess it’s because it’s easier. Men have learned helplessness. Blaming masculinity itself seeks to absolve grown men of their agency in actively creating masculinity; it’s not an entity that lives without the decisions of people. Cis men have always had the power to expand the definition of what it means to be masculine. Men can actively make different choices about what masculinity means. I say this as a queer person who creates their own masculinity with active choices every day, who believes in the expansive constellation of masculinity; that there is so much more space in there than cis men believe there to be.

If adult cis men are now chafing in an ill-fitting gender, perhaps instead of sounding the lament and shrugging their shoulders at the insurmountability of a society they created, they can follow the younger generations into new territory. They can engage with the narratives that Millennials and Generation Z are insisting on—and have been for quite some time.

And most importantly, they can legislate gun control in the way the youth are asking them to instead of staring frightened and helpless into the masculinity of their own making.

A.E. Osworth is Part-Time Faculty at The New School, Managing Editor of Scholar & Feminist Online at Barnard College and has spent the last half a decade as Geekery Editor at Autostraddle. Keep in touch @AEOsworth on Twitter and at aeosworth.com.

The post Masculinity Is Broken, But It Isn’t Hopeless appeared first on Ms. Magazine Blog.



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Birth Control Empowered Me to Build the Career and Family Life That I Wanted—On My Own Terms


I was born in Bogota, Colombia to traditional Latino parents who valued family above all else. But when I met my husband in my early twenties, I was making my way in a highly competitive field—so we delayed starting a one of our own.

My father, instead of asking me constantly when I would give him grandchildren, always told me to travel the world, and to live life fully before settling down. Many Latina mothers would have urged their only daughter to have children early; my mother never pushed me. Her support of every life choice was always without judgment and helped to provide the strength I needed to embrace my ambitions, focus on the issues I cared about in politics and make a difference while pursuing the career I wanted. While both my parents encouraged us to follow our dreams, my mother instilled in us the value of an education, taught us to be self-confident, and stressed in me the power of financial independence.

While my parents provided the emotional support I needed, birth control actually allowed me the opportunity to decide if, when and under what circumstances to get pregnant. I was in my late thirties when I decided to start trying, and I was thankful that I was able to get pregnant very quickly. Soon after the birth of my son, we decided to started trying for our daughter. At 40 years old, I found myself with two small children, a loving husband and partner and a demanding career—and it was exactly where I wanted to be.

Birth control provided me with the ability to live my life on my own terms. Every young person, regardless of who they are or where they live or what their circumstances may be, should have the same choices I had. Unfortunately, for too many young Latinas, that is never an option.

National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice activists at a pro-choice rally outside the Supreme Court. (NARAL)

Coming from traditional Latino families, young women are often encouraged to start families early, and they often lack access to the full range of contraceptive methods available. Teen pregnancy rates for Latina and Black women are still more than twice as high as their white counterparts; in addition, women who make less money and have less education are more than five times as likely to have an unplanned pregnancy. To compound these already existing challenges, more than 19 million women in need of publicly funded contraception lack reasonable access in their county to a public clinic that offers the full range of contraceptive methods. These locations are commonly referred to as contraceptive deserts.

Thanks to my mother’s constant support, and the ability to plan out when I would have my family, I have enjoyed an amazing career bringing awareness to the issues that impact the Latino community I love. But it is without question that my professional life would have been different if my children had come earlier in life. I am thankful that my parents never judged my decision to delay having a family. With their support, I was able to build my professional career and guarantee financial independence for myself and my children. But even moreso, I am thankful for birth control—and the ways it empowered me to determine not just my family matters, but my economic life.

Birth control has only been around for 45 years—and in that short time, women’s contributions to the workforce have been significant, and more and more women have exercised their rightful choice to delay pregnancy and focus on school and career. Imagine where we’ll be in the next 45.

I hope that one day my daughter finds herself, in whatever career path she chooses, surrounded by women and men who love and support her—and understand that ultimately only she should have the power to decide if, when and under what circumstances to get pregnant.

Maria Cardona is principal at the Dewey Square Group. She is a CNN and CNN Español Political Commentator.

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The post Birth Control Empowered Me to Build the Career and Family Life That I Wanted—On My Own Terms appeared first on Ms. Magazine Blog.



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