Saturday, July 12, 2008


Of pressing importance to those of us who identify as feminist and are planning to attend the Netroots Nation event this week here in Austin: The online agenda has the Feminist Caucus placed opposite the Latino and African American Caucuses at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday. Given how race and sex have been pitted against one another under the patriarchy and particularly in this election, this is either very, very stupid planning or a perpetuation of the attempt to paint all feminists as white middle-class women.

My sisters and brothers, we cannot allow this to keep us apart. Earlier sessions that day include Moms, Youth, and GLBTQ Caucuses at 1:30, and Women's, Dads Caucuses at 3:00, neither of which should compete with Feminists or POC either. Therefore -- I propose we meet as the Feminist Caucus (all genders, races, classes) at the 12:00 lunch session. Let's order sandwiches from Thundercloud Subs (I'll give them a heads-up if I see agreement here) and start the conference off in solidarity.

Please pass the word, to any blog you can. They cannot take away our power if we don't allow them.



(Early Meg Christian photo, copied from Queer Music Heritage.)

Yet another flash from the past for my novel-in-progress Ginny Bates. This takes place a few months after my post of yesterday, in early 1998. If you are not yet a Ginny Bates reader, you can catch up by going to the right hand column, finding the Ginny Bates section, reading background and starting through the chapters in numerical order [within the brackets] in the Labels section.

Mid January 1998 -- Margie is 9, Gillam is 7

Myra was listening to Teresa Trull sing "Woman-Loving Women" when the children burst in the front door from school. They hit her study two seconds later, Margie shouting about winning a spitting contest at recess against some boy named Brett and Gillam sidling up to Myra for a peek at everything on her desktop. Myra called out to Hannah "I've got 'em, you can leave early for your class or whatever."

"'Kay, thanks" came Hannah's voice from the kitchen. Gillam had picked up the album insert, with its large photo of the Olivia Records collective, and was scanning the faces, saying "Which one is Mama?"

"What?" said Myra. "Neither of us were in Olivia, honey. We weren't in any women's music group, we just went to all the concerts."

"But it says 'Ginny' at the bottom" argued Gillam.

"Oh, yeah, different Ginny. Although her name was Ginny B, too, come to think of it. It's Ginny Berson, that's her right there, in the helmet and leather jacket. She's a brilliant, powerful woman, at whatever she put her hand to, seems like. Though she doesn't hold a candle to OUR Ginny, the real Ginny B." said Myra.

Margie was now looking at the photo as well. "How come they all look mad?" she asked.

"That's not anger. They're serious, is all. Being a lesbian-feminist in those days was serious work. And often dangerous" said Myra.

"But not anymore?" asked Gillam, looking at Myra with a worried crease between his eyes.

"Not so much dangerous. Often still serious" she said.

"You and Mama don't look like this" pointed out Margie.

"Nope. We're mostly happy, happy campers. And can you guess why we're so happy?" said Myra in her riddle voice.

"Because you found each other" said Margie in a bored tone.

"Well, that goes without saying. But that's not the answer I was looking for" said Myra. She saw Ginny appear at the doorway to her studio, leaning against the facing with a grin.

"Because you won the lottery?" ventured Gillam. Lately he had been asking a lot of questions about the lottery, how it worked and what it had meant to Myra to win it.

"Well, again, extraordinary luck like that cannot be overlooked. But -- the answer I meant is -- do you want one more guess?"

"No, tell us" said Margie impatiently.

"Because we have you as children. You've made us out of our minds happy ever since you arrived in our lives" said Myra, her tone sounding overdone even to her ears. Gillam grinned but Margie looked away, seeking relief from the tedium of her mothers' love. When Myra hugged Gillam, however, Margie saw a window for possible exploitation.

"Could we maybe watch TV after dinner tonight?" she asked, plastering on a fake smile.

Myra didn't look in Ginny's direction. "It's a possibility, but we'll have to see what's on. Go get today's paper from the recycling bin, the section headed Entertainment" she suggested. The two thundered away in a race which involved ugly shoving. Myra ventured to meet Ginny's eyes. Her face was serious, and Myra didn't know what was up until Ginny began singing in her lovely clear voice:

"And I loved you at first for your wicked eyes
And the laughter that loosens your bones
And your soft curls
And the passions that I'd never known"

Myra was capsized with emotion. Her gazed remained locked on Ginny's even after the children returned, Margie holding a roll of newspaper over her head beyond Gillam's reach. Finally, as the shoving resumed, Myra tore herself away from Ginny and said "Hey! Knock it off." She took the paper from Margie and found the TV listings, Margie crowding in so close she almost blocked Myra's view.

"The Simpsons!" yelled Margie.

"Never in this world will I let you observe Bart Simpson" said Ginny. "Napalm meet match, nuh-uh."

The expression on Margie's face made Myra sure that Margie would now move heaven and earth to check out Bart. She pointed to the PBS channel and said "Look, 'Nature' has on a special about the snow monkeys of South Texas."

"Monkeys, in Texas?" asked Gillam quizzically.

"Well, that's the thing -- there are no monkeys in Texas. If I remember correctly, snow monkeys are from Japan. But this says different. I think it's worth seeing what the mystery is" said Myra. Margie nodded her head grudgingly. "Starts at what, 8:00? Which means baths and PJs after dinner, before the show."

Margie was taking the paper back from Myra, saying "Hey, there's funnies on this side."

"Let me see, too!" demanded Gillam. They lay down on the floor beside the daybed, resting on their elbows across from each other, to read the comics. When Myra looked back up, Ginny had vanished. Myra felt disappointed. She began putting away the album and clearing her desk.

After several minutes, Gillam said "Mama, what word is this? F-E-L-A-T..."

Ginny reappeared at the doorway as Myra dropped to the floor, reading over Gillam's shoulder. "Oh, honey, that's the jumble puzzle. That's not a real word, it's the letters of a real word which have been rearranged so you can try to guess what it is."

Gillam's face was confused. Ginny was cackling. Myra said "Okay, so if I said rearrange these letters to make a real word: M-A-L-G-I-L, what would that be?"

Margie showed urgent concentration, but of course Gillam was the first to cry out "Gillam!"

"Bingo. Each of these words is like that, would you like to try to solve it?"

Ginny said "Why don't you bring it to the art table in here, we can all do it together." Myra handed a pencil to each child, reminded them not to run with it, and followed them into Ginny's studio. Ginny took Myra by her arm and pulled her down to her daybed, fitting herself sideways into Myra's arc as they both faced the art table. Myra slid her hands under Ginny's shirt, cupping her belly but allowing her thumbs to rest just below the curve of her breasts. Ginny sighed a little raggedly and put her hands over Myra's.

"Mom, is 'dogly' a word?" asked Margie. "Like if Juju walked dogly across the yard?"

"Nope. But you're very close" said Ginny. "Try switching that first D with another letter in the word."

They listened to Margie muttering possibilities out loud. Gillam said "I got this one! Fealty means something about kings, right?"

"Way to go, honey boy" said Ginny. "It means an oath of loyalty, yes. All that reading of T.H. White is paying off."

Myra whispered in Ginny's ear "It's because he's a GB, born of a GB, exalted beings all" and kissed her lobe gently. Ginny rolled over and began kissing Myra in earnest. Myra said "I feel like our movement was invented just in time for us, the sisterhood that would give us freedom and connection like no women had ever known before."

"Meg Christian's voice always makes me want to jump you" Ginny whispered back, "Is that perverted or what?"

"I'm D-O-N-E!" Gillam sang out. He climbed on top of them both and said "When we go over to Carly and Truitt's house, their moms don't kiss on each other like you guys do."

"First of all" said Myra, grinning at him, "We're not guys. And secondly, that's too bad, because kissing on the love of your life is a daily blessing."

"Why do you kiss with your mouths open?" asked Gillam, staring at Myra's lips.

"Because it feels good" she said. Margie had come to stand beside Ginny's shoulder, fiddling with the buttons on Ginny's sleeve. Margie said to Ginny, "Can I kiss you with my mouth open?"

"No" said Ginny firmly. "It's for grown-ups to do with each other, never between a grown-up and a child."

"Why not?" asked Gillam. Margie piggybacked with "How come we never get to do stuff that feels good?"

"It's not appropriate" began Ginny. Margie really hated that term "appropriate", Myra knew. "And it wouldn't feel good to you in the same way, you don't have the developmental level yet." Margie hated "developmental" about as much as "appropriate".

Myra jumped in to help. "You know how your mom and I order Thai food that we like sometimes, and you think it tastes awful?"

"It burns my tongue" said Gillam.

"Well, eventually you'll be old enough that you'll like that level of spiciness. But you simply don't have the taste buds for it yet" said Myra. Gillam was staring at her mouth again. She continued hastily "Not that kissing is about taste buds, it's not. It has nothing to do with taste."

"Grown-up kisses make your body release chemicals into your bloodstream that causes pleasure" said Ginny. "Your bodies won't start manufacturing those chemicals until you're a teenager, at least."

"But what does it feel like?" persisted Margie.

"For one thing, it makes me think about having a baby" said Ginny. That stopped both kids in their tracks, and gave Myra a jolt as well. After a long silence, Gillam said hoarsely "So are you thinking about having another baby?" Margie's face was furious; she already thought they'd overbred. She was looking at Myra now, always able to sense where the weak spot was.

"Absolutely not" said Ginny. "We wanted two, we got two way beyond our expectations, we're D-O-N-E." Gillam began giggling, and Margie joined him in relief. Ginny said "Listen, have I ever shown you how to make hats from newspaper sheets?"

"Lots of times" said Gillam. "And boats" said Margie in a warning tone.

"How about cootie catchers?" asked Ginny. Both small faces perked up: A word they'd not heard before, with an intriguing sound. Gillam pushed himself upright, forcing the air from Myra's chest momentarily. Ginny sat up as well, saying "We're going to need a different kind of paper."

Myra put her arm around Ginny's waist and pulled her back for one last hug, murmuring "My boiler is still stoked." Ginny half-turned to kiss her and said "Raincheck." As she and the kids headed for her paper cupboard, Myra looked at the clock and said "I guess I could get an early start on dinner."

Gillam said over his shoulder "Could we have something cheesy tonight?"

Myra thought. "How about migas, in honor of South Texas?" Both Margie and Gillam said "Yay!" Migas would take no time at all. She could start a giant pot of pintos for a side, use the remainder as refrieds tomorrow. Braise some cabbage. And maybe come up with some sort of Ginny-approved agua fresca.

As she walked to the kitchen, she felt a sudden ache at the absence of Alice, who would be joining her at this moment. She swallowed the catch in her windpipe and began singing "Little Fur Person" as she went to the freezer for chorizo.

[NOTE: To listen to a 30-second clip of Meg Christian singing the lines from "The Valentine Song" that Ginny sings to Myra in the above story, click here. This is from the first LP put out by Olivia Records, I Know You Know.]

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.


Friday, July 11, 2008


I've written a little snippet of my novel-in-progress Ginny Bates that occurs back in 1997, a treat for you all from the children's past. If you are not yet a reader of Ginny Bates, you can begin by going to the right column and finding the heading which will give you background and instructions on how to read the novel in order.

Early October 1997 -- Margie is eight, Gillam is six, Truitt is nine, Carly is six

As Myra ate her granola, Ginny sipped tea and said "I've had an idea." Myra's pulse accelerated instantly.

"I was looking through one of those obscene yuppie kids catalogues that keep coming to our door, despite the fact that we never order anything from them, just to see what passes for upscale these days" said Ginny, "and they have Halloween costumes of the Teletubbies! I thought maybe our two plus Carly and Truitt could all dress up for the Lowell Elementary carnival, they're the perfect size range."

Ginny was wild about the Teletubbies and actually taped shows to watch over and over. The kids watched them with her -- any TV was a treat -- although Margie frequently said it was dumb. Ginny loved to explain, at length, why certain motifs were used, how brilliantly the producers were reproducing the world-view of infants and toddlers. Myra had watched them once and decided it wasn't her thing, although it didn't creep her out like Mr. Rogers or make her homicidal like Barney.

Myra said carefully "How much are the costumes?"

"Oh, they're ridiculous, no way I'm going to buy them. But I found a place in town that has them for rent, even in Truitt's size" said Ginny. "Won't they be adorable? I already mentioned it to Patty, she loves the idea."

"Are you sure Margie doesn't have another costume in mind?" asked Myra.

"Tank Girl? Not a chance" said Ginny. "We could get bunny ears for all us adults to go as the rabbits, and I could make a sunburst for Juju to wear as the solar baby."

"Well, run it by the peanut gallery" said Myra. She couldn't imagine Truitt agreeing to be Tinky Winky.

But Patty and Ginny coordinated their pressure, and Truitt's request to go as Vanilla Ice this year was soundly vetoed by Pat, so the costumes were held by a deposit. Ginny's ruff for Juju, made of gold foil in pleats, was truly beautiful and wrapped around Juju's head with a concealed band. However, either the shimmer in her peripheral vision or the sound of the metal freaked out Juju utterly. When it was put on her, she would not move an inch, breathing shallowly and trembling enough to make the ruff vibrate. Finally, exasperated, Ginny placed it around her own head where it was rather tight, giving her a post-facelift visage. She chose an outfit of bronze brocade, and instructed the other adults, including the aunties, to wear a solid color ensemble matching their particular set of bunny ears.

The night of the carnival, Myra emerged in white velour which she was certain made her look gigantic, a fear confirmed by Allie's muffled giggle. Chris had pearl grey ears, but arrived in her black leather jacket, jeans and boots, one ear bent rakishly. Myra said she looked like a character from Slaughtership Down, and everyone laughed except Ginny.

Gillam as Laa-Laa was cute enough to eat, Myra thought, but it was short little Carly as red-cheeked Po who stole the show. Once everyone was assembled, Truitt suddenly rebelled, saying "The boys in my class are going to laugh at me, I'm too old for this." He had already succeeded in getting Pat's backing to ditch the purse, and he looked to her now for help.

Pat got a glance from Patty, however, and she said, without conviction, "It's too late to change your mind. At least you're the king of the Teletubbies, the biggest and smartest. Act like their leader. And this is way trendy, you'll be cool and the center of attention, I promise."

Ginny's face was solar disgust. Margie immediately said "I should be Tinky Winky, I'm the smartest, I hate Dipsy, I have the stupidest head!" She began trying to rip off her cowl. Gillam and Carly stood at a safe distance, holding hands, their exaggerated bottoms almost touching.

Myra expected all-out confrontation between Ginny and Margie, with a wretched evening no matter who won. However, Allie grabbed Margie's hand and pulled her into the alcove by the carport door, bending over to whisper in Margie's ear. After only a minute, they returned, Margie grinning and saying "It's okay, I want to be Dipsy, after all."

Pat's cynical prediction turned out to be correct: The Teletubbies were the hit of the Carnival, winning best group costume and having countless photos taken of them. Ginny made two toddlers weep when she burst into maniacal baby laughter at odd moments, shaking her unearthly head and sending reflected light flashing in all directions. Gillam got chocolate frosting rubbed into his yellow fur, and Myra predicted it might never wash out, they could kiss that deposit goodbye. Margie ate so many orange candy pumpkins that she vomited on the lineoleum floor of the school entryway, a vile persimmony mess which sent Myra into full flight.

Once they were home and the children were finally in bed -- although Margie had declared her intention to stay awake all night and Ginny remarked she certainly had the chemicals on board to accomplish it -- the grown women, minus Pat and Patty, settled down in the living room with tea. Allie was still wearing her bunny ears as she leaned back and closed her eyes.

Myra nudged Allie's knee and said "All right, give it up. What is it that you say to our crazed daughter which turns her docile?"

Allie grinned before opening her eyes. "Different thing each time. Tonight, I just pointed out that Dipsy was the Teletubby of Cullah. Which of course made her the most important one, the one who the rest would follow into the future. That why her fur green, the symbol of growth."

They all burst into laughter.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.



A few more. Ten after the fold.


Thursday, July 10, 2008


(Furies office in basement of 221 llth St. SE, mailing out the newspaper, L-R Ginny Berson, Susan Baker, Coletta Reid [standing], Rita Mae Brown, and Lee Schwing. All were members of the collective except Susan Baker. © JEB Joan E. Biren)

In January 1972, a collective of 12 lesbian-feminists in Washington, DD who had named themselves The FURIES began publishing a monthly newsletter, also named The FURIES. This single periodical played a role in the development of lesbian-feminist theory that cannot be overestimated. A year later, ten of these women would begin planning a women's record company that would eventually become Olivia Records, one of the flagships of Women's Music.

Due to the efforts of the Rainbow History Project, all but one of the issues of The FURIES is available online, along with a good herstory and some of JEB's photographs. However, the newsletters are saved as PDF files, which preserves the integrity of the publication but does not allow for online searches of terms. Therefore, I intend to periodically transcribe one of these pivotal essays and post it here for further preservation of our community history (so rapidly being revised and distorted).

I'm starting with the first essay of the first issue, an article by Ginny Berson about The Furies, past and present, and their statement of purpose. It appears after the fold.

Members of The Furies Collective have been identified by Dr. Annie Valk as Ginny Berson, Joan Biren (JEB), Rita Mae Brown, Charlotte Bunch, Sharon Deevey, Susan Hathaway, Helaine Harris, Nancy Myron, Tasha Peterson, Coletta Reid, Lee Schwing, and Jennifer Woodhul.

Below is the table of contents for Issue #1. You may go to the link above to read more on your own.

The Furies, by Ginny Berson
Such a Nice Girl ..., by Sharon Deevey
Women: Weak or Strong, by Lee Schwing
The Dentist, by Ginny Berson
Roxanne Dunbar: how a female heterosexual serves the interests of male supremacy, by Rita Mae Brown
Edward the Dyke and other poems, by Judy Grahn [NOTE: This is not the poem "Edward the Dyke" but instead work from that collection, including two I have published here at my blog, "Detroit Annie Hitchhiking" and "A History of Lesbianism"
Lesbians in Revolt: Male Supremacy Quakes and Quivers, by Charlotte Bunch for the Furies Collective
Queen Christina: Lesbian Ruler of Sweden, by Helaine Harris
Gossip, by Rita Mae Brown
The Price is Wrong, by Susan Hathaway
What's Going On (lesbian news)

(The Anger of Achilles, painted 1819 by Jacques-Louis David; Achilles has just been told by Agamemnon that he will not be allowed to marry Iphigenia because Agamemnon intends to murder he as sacrifice in hopes of changing the winds so he can sail to battle at Troy; Iphigenia is behind her arrogant father, and behind her is her devastated mother, Clytemnestra, who has one brief moment of hope that Achilles will slay her husband and save her daughter's life. This massive painting hangs in the Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth, Texas; the first time I saw it, I broke down in tears.)

THE FURIES by Ginny Berson, in The Furies #1, January 1972, p. 1

The story of the Furies is the story of strong, powerful women, the "Angry Ones, the avengers of matricide, the protectors of women. Three Greek Goddesses, they were described (by men) as having snakes for hair, blood-shot eyes, and bats' wings; like Lesbians today, they were cursed and feared. They were born when Heaven (the male symbol) was castrated by his son at the urging of Earth (the female symbol). The blood from the wound fell on Earth and fertilized her, and the Furies were born. Their names were Alecto (Never-ceasing), Tisiphone (Avenger of Blood), and Magaera (Grudger). Once extremely powerful, they represented the supremacy of women and the primacy of mother right.

Their most famous exploit (famous because in it they lost much of their power) involved Orestes in the last episode connected with the cycle of the Trojan War. Orestes, acting on the orders of the Sun God Apollo, killed his mother Clytemnestra, because she had killed his father. Clytemnestra had killed the father because he had sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia, in order to get favorable winds so his fleet could sail to Troy. The Furies tormented Orestes; they literally drove him crazy, putting him under a spell where for days he could not eat or wash his blood-stained hands. He bit off his finger to try to appease them, but to no avail. Finally, in desperation, Orestes went before the court of Athena to plead his case.

The point at issue was whether matricide was justifiable to avenge your father's murder, or in other words, whether men or women were to dominate. Apollo defended Orestes and totally denied the importance of motherhood, claiming that women were no more than passive sperm receptacles for men, and that the father was the only parent worthy of the name. One might have thought that Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, would have condemned Orestes, but Athena was the creation of the male God, Zeus, sprung full-grown from his head, the first token woman. Athena decided for Orestes. Some mythologists say that Zeus, Athena, and Apollo had conspired from the beginning, ordering Orestes to kill his mother in order to put an end, once and for all, to the religious belief that motherhood was more divine than fatherhood. In any case, that was the result.

The Furies were, of course, furious, and threatened to lay waste to the city of Athens. But Athena had a direct line to Zeus, King of the Gods; she told the Furies to accept the new male supremacist order or lose everything. Some of the Furies and followers relented, the rest pursued Orestes until his death.

We call our paper The FURIES because we are also angry. We are angry because we are oppressed by male supremacy. We have been fucked over all our lives by a system which is based on the domination of men over women, which defines male as good and female as only as good as the man you are with. It is a system in which heterosexuality is rigidly enforced and Lesbianism rigidly suppressed. It is a system which has further divided us by class, race, and nationality.

We are working to change this system which has kept us separate and powerless for so long. We are a collective of twelve Lesbians living and working in Washington, D.C. We are rural and urban; from the Southwest, Midwest, South and Northeast. Our ages range from 18 to 28. We are high school drop-outs and Ph.D. candidates. We are lower class, middle class and upper-middle class. We are white. Some of us have been Lesbians for twelve years, others for ten months. We are committed to ending all oppressions by attacking their roots -- male supremacy.

We believe The FURIES will make important contributions to the growing movement to destroy sexism. As a collective, in addition to outside projects, we are spending much time building an ideology which is the basis for action. For too long, women in the Movement have fallen prey to the very male propaganda they seek to refute. They have rejected thought, building an ideology, and all intellectual activity as the realm of men, and tried to build a politics based only on feelings -- the area traditionally left to women. The philosophy has been, "if it feels good, it's O.K. If not, forget it." But that is like saying that strength, which is a "male" characteristic, should be left to men, and women should embrace weakness. Most straight women, to say nothing of men, feel afraid or contemptuous of Lesbians. That fear and contempt is similar to the feelings middle class whites have toward Blacks or lower class people. These feelings are the result of our socialization and are hardly worth glorifying. This is not to say that feelings are irrelevant, only that they are derived from our experience which is limited by our class, race, etc. Furthermore, feelings are too often used to excuse inaction and inability to change.

A political movement cannot advance without systematic thought and practical organization. The haphazard, non-strategic, zig-zag tactics of the straight women's movement, the male left, and many other so-called revolutionary groups have led only to frustration and dissolution. We do not want to make those same mistakes; our ideology forms the basis for developing long-range strategies and short-term tactics, projects, and actions.

The base of our ideological thought is: Sexism is the root of all other oppressions, and Lesbian and woman oppression will not end by smashing capitalism, racism, and imperialism. Lesbianism is not a matter of sexual preference, but rather one of political choice which every woman must make if she is to become woman-identified and thereby end male supremacy. Lesbians, as outcasts from every culture but their own, have the most to gain by ending race, class, and national supremacy within their own ranks. Lesbians must get out of the straight women's movement and form their own movement in order to be taken seriously, to stop straight women from oppressing us, and to force straight women to deal with their own Lesbianism. Lesbians cannot develop a common politics with women who do not accept Lesbianism as a political issue.

In this (see page 8) and following issues of The FURIES we will share our thoughts with you. We welcome your comments, letters, articles, fiction, poetry, news, graphics, and support. We want to build a movement in this country and in the world which can effectively stop the violent, sick, oppressive acts of male supremacy. We want to build a movement which makes all people free.

For the Chinese women whose feet were bound and crippled; for the Ibibos of Africa whose clitori were mutilated; for every woman who has ever been raped, physically, economically, psychologically, we take the name of the FURIES, Goddesses of Vengeance and protectors of women.


Wednesday, July 9, 2008


(Gratuitous LOLCats after the fold)


Tuesday, July 8, 2008


(poster by Ricardo Levins Morales at Northland Poster Collective)

I have copied an important article to share with you, which was published in Sinister Wisdom #52, Spring/Summer 1994. It was written by by Myke Johnson, a white working-class lesbian activist and theologian, whose ancestors are German, Frisian, Austrian, Canadian French, Scottish, and Innu. She holds a Doctor of Ministry degree in Feminist Liberation Theology from the Episcopal Divinity School. She is currently reverend at the Allen Avenue Unitarian Universalist Church of Portland, Maine.

I discovered that a later, differently written version of this essay exists online at a website by Hawk. In all instances, the copyright for this essay remains with Myke Johnson.

Past copies of this volume of Sinister Wisdom, known as the Allies Issue, are available from them via their website at Sinister Wisdom. SW is a multicultural journal by and for lesbians which has been publishing for 30 years, a unique women's voice which very much deserves our support.

Jump to after the fold for the article.


(Chrystos, Menominee poet and activist, photo by Jean Weisinger)

You can't hear the grass breathe
because you're too busy talking
about being an Indian holy woman two hundred years ago
You sure must stink if you didn't let go --- Chrystos

How has racism affected white women's search for spiritual empowerment? How has white women's spiritual search adversely affected people of color? How can we work toward a woman-valuing spirituality which is deeply anti-racist?

When white woman began to be hungry for a woman-valuing spirituality, it was easy to look to other cultures and be excited about rituals and stories we saw there. Encouraged by the new age movement, many white feminists began exploring Native American and African spiritualities. We gravitated toward their greater emphasis on female deities and positive roles for women. We found a resonance with their greater focus on the earth, their grounding in the interconnectedness of all being. Because of our misunderstanding of feminism as uniting women across race and culture, it was easy to jump in and claim these treasures as our own lost histories.

Many Native and African American women have since informed us that is not how they see it. They have introduced the concept of "cultural appropriation", naming as theft the misuse of Native and African cultural symbols and practices by white people. These women of color have asked white women who truly want to be sisters, to be allie, to join them in condeming the new age appropriation of the cultural heritage of people of color. This has been a difficult challenge for white women to understand and take to heart. {See Amoja Three Rivers, Cultural Etiquette: A Guide for the Well-Intentioned, 1990, distributed by Market Wimmin, Box 28, Indian Valley, CA 24105}

This challenge has been a source of deep transformation for me. I stand in a peculiar relation to the question of cultural appropriation because I am a woman of mixed racial ancestry, with both European and Native heritage. I gew up in white patriarchal christian culture, with fair skin and red hair, and only a reminder that we were "part-Indian" to link me to any other culture. It was when I began to reclaim the power of the mothers, that I found my matrilineal descent was from the Innu, who were called Montagnais by the French. My mother line led me to these women who were not white, who were made white by the racist and sexist practice of the assimilation of Native women into white culture through marriage.

Part of my attempt to reconnect with my female Innu roots drew me into exploring "Native spirituality". Luckily, it also drew me into political activity with Native people, for sovereignty, land rights, and religious freedom. It has been my engagement with these real issues and realities of Indian life that has brought me into connection with a me who is Indian. It also brings into sharper relief the me who is white, gives me a deeper insight into what whiteness is in this society. It undercuts that feature of whiteness which is about not having to look at itself, because it is the dominant norm, the "way things are".

This dual identity creates a grammatical problem when I write about cultural appropriation. How do I use "we" and "they" when I am included in both categories? In this article, I want to speak as a white woman especially to other white women. I have heard many Indian people speak out about these issues. It seems to me that it is white women in the women's spirituality movement who especially need to wrestle with these issues, if we are to be true to our commitment to the survival and liberation of all people.

White racism works in many ways. For example, many cultures have maintained a more spirit-including world view than Euro-American cultures. White racism has called these views "primitive" while considering white perspectives as "advanced". To study the cultures of people of color with new awareness and appreciation can be a positive way to undermine that form of cultural imperialism. To glorify or romanticize the stereotypes of these cultures is just another form of racism: for example, to consider all Indians as mystical and close to nature, all Africans as rhythmic and possessing powerful magic. This form of racism is currently rampant in the new age movement, as well as other contexts of mainstream life.

So-called "Native American spirituality" has been a particular commodity on the new age market.* A look at any new age magazine, center for workshops, or even the bulletin board of your favorite women's bookstore, will reveal some white person claiming to have studied "Native American beliefs, traditions, and rituals for many years." They will then offer a course or workshop, for a prise, which will use Native spiritual practices to help us to "experience our wholeness" and "our primal female energies". {Quotes from a random flyer found a women's bookstore bulletin board.}

{*I am focusing on the appropriation of Native American cultures because I am most familiar with and engaged in this particular battleground, and because this is perhaps themost popular culture for such an assault. However, the principles of which I am speaking apply also tothe appropriation of African, Asian, and Middle Eastern spiritual and cultural heritage.}

Andrea Smith, Cherokee activist and member of Women of All Red Nations, points out that actual Native religions are diverse community based religions, and reflect the particular need of each community. "The 'Indian ways' that these white, new-age 'feminists' are practicing have very little basis in reality… they do not understand Indian people, or our struggles for survival, and thus they can have no genuine understanding of Indian spiritual practices." {Andy Smith, "For All those Who Were Indian in a Former Life", Sojourner, Vol. 15 # 3, November 1990, p.8. Now in the anthology Ecofeminism and the Sacred, edited by Carol J. Adams, NY:Continuum, pp. 168-71.}

Janet McCloud, Tulalip elder and fishing rights activist reflects,
"First they came to take our land and water, then our fish and game …Now they want our religions as well. All of a sudden, we have a lot of unscrupulous idiots running around saying they're medicine people. And they'll sell you a sweat lodge ceremony for fifty bucks. It's not only wrong, it's obscene. Indians don't sell their spirituality to anybody, for any price. This is just another in the very long series of thefts from Indian people and, in some ways, this is the worst one yet. {From "Spiritual Hucksterism: The Rise of the Plastic Medicine Men," in Ward Churchill, Fantasies of the Master Race: Literature, Cinema and the Colonization of American Indians, Monroe, ME Common Courage Press, 1992, p. 217. Originally published in Z Magazine, Dec 1990}

Paula Gunn Allen, Laguna Pueblo author and teacher, sums it up by saying, "You cannot do Indian spirituality without an Indian community,… it's physical and social and spiritual and they're fused together." {Jane Caputi, "Interview with Paula Gunn Allen", Trivia 16/17, Fall 1990, p. 50.}

There are also Indian individuals who are marketing these practices. Some Indian people who become "teachers" of white people defend the practice by saying it is time to share these wisdoms. They put forth the idea of a "rainbow tribe", composed of people of all races and nations living together in harmony. I have noticed, however, that the context of this sharing is in white dominated new age circles, not in Indian communities. McCloud comments "They're thieves and sell-outs, and they know that, too. That's why you never see them around Indian people anymore." In 1980, a resolution was passed by the Circle of Elders of the Indigenous Nations of North America against Indians "who use spiritual ceremonies with non-Indian people for profit." In 1984, the American Indian Movement passed a resolution supporting the Elders. {AIM Resolution, May 11, 1984, at Sovereign Dine Nation, Window Rock, ASTHMA. Full text is in Churchill, op.cit., pp 226-28.}

When I am in Native political and community contexts, among those who are struggling against oppression, I hear these sentiments echoed over and over again. Yet when I am in white and multicultural feminist contexts, women seem to have a really hard time understanding cultural appropriation. "I cannot see the harm to worshipping the Goddess in whatever cultural form you can relate to" writes one woman in a letter in a women's spirituality magazine. Another echoes in a more disgusted tone, speaking against "politically correct" wiccans/pagans saying I can't worship the Goddess(es) that I want to (that speak to me) because I'm of 'European descent' and am therefore committing 'Cultural Genocide' no matter what I do." {Sage Woman #17, 1991, pp. 45-46}

By denying the spiritual and political autonomy of Indian people, the New Age "rainbow" people subvert whatever good intentions they may have about multi-cultural community. What gets created is multi-cultural white middle class dominance in yet another form.

An even more ominous excuse I have heard, also from both new age white people and Indian "teachers", is that native peoples are dying out, and therefore these treasures much be passed on to whites so they are not lost. White Americans, at least in the United States, like to believe that Indians are a phenomenon of the past. This creates a climate in which denial can be maintained about current day assaults on Indian land and livelihood. Indians are not "dying out" but they are being killed even today, by radioactive mining, environmental waste, and FBI bullets, among other things. They are also fighting back and surviving.

I don't mean to discount the fact that there are Indian people on all sides of this issue. Like all groups of people, Native people have many different opinions and political leanings. But if we are concerned about fighting oppression, I believe it makes sense to pay attention to those Native people who are fighting against the oppression of their people. At some point, we have to choose those with whom we are going to make alliance.

To better understand cultural appropriation/theft and its deadliness, and to distinguish it from appropriate cultural sharing, I think an example from European history might be helpful. Cultural appropriation is one of the ancient tools of domination and colonization. It has been going on throughout history, whenever one culture has attempted to conquer another. Battles are not fought only by the force of arms, but also by images and ideas. Any context of domination will include such cultural imperialism. This is not unique to U.S./Native relations.

Many feminist scholars have pointed to evidence suggesting that there were early female images of divinity throughout "pre-historic Europe". The Catholic church took the image of the great mother goddess, and incorporated it as the virgin Mary, Mother of God. It used her early sacred sites for building its shrines to Mary. The church absorbed many such pagan symbols, yet distorted and transformed their meaning and their impact on the lives of the people.

The shift of context, control, and usage created important shifts of meaning and power. The conquerors took what had been an image of empowerment and valuing of women and turned it into an image promoting female acquiescence to male pre-eminence. They were able then to redefine female goodness as obedience, humility, and renunciation of sexual energy. To capture and transform the image of goddess in this way served to further solidify the subjugation of women and undermine ideas fostering resistance.

How is this similar to the cultural appropriation of Native images and practices by the new age movement? I will use the example of one practice, the "vision quest," a ritual found in Lakota culture (with variations in many other Native nations), which is now offered for a price in many new age contexts. In traditional Lakota culture, the vision quest was a time of fasting and prayer in the mountains, and fit into the unfolding of a person's role within their community. The elders of the community sent the individual forth with prayers, and received them back offering interpretation of their visions and guidance for living out their implications. The context was belief that the person's individual life and calling was a gift for the whole group, and their connection to the spirit world would bring them into deeper connection with the community, bringing life to the community. Each existed in balance with the other. {One account of the vision quest is given in Black Elk, The Sacred Pipe, New York Penguin Books, 1971, pp 44-66}

When this ritual is brought into a new age context, its meaning and power are altered. The focus shifts to white people's needs and visions. There is no accountability to a community, particularly any Native community. Secondly, the form and structure of the ritual itself have been changed. The focus of spirituality in the new age is much more on individual growth and prosperity. The giving and receiving of the Native way is transformed into buying and selling, a sacrilege in Native contexts. What is called "Indian spirituality" has actually become a distortion. It cannot be relied on. It has been warped to fit another agenda.

What are some of the effects of this warped agenda on Native people? The actual realities of Native communities are erased. Native communities have been under assault for 500 years, and are facing issues of dislocation, poverty, suicide, unemployment, addiction. In Native communities, the recovery of traditional practices such as the vision quest helps build identity and community pride, helps empower Native communities for life struggles against a racist mainstream.

"The process is ultimately intended to supplant Indians, even in areas of their own customs and spirituality. In the end, non-Indians will have complete power to define what is and is not Indian, even for Indians. We are talking here about an absolute ideological/conceptual subordination of Indian people in addition to the total physical subordination [we] already experience. When this happens, the last vestiges of real Indian society and Indian rights will disappear. Non-Indians will then 'own' our heritage and ideas as thoroughly as they now claim to own our land and resources." {Pam Colorado, Oneida activist, quoted in Wendy Rose, "The Great Pretenders: Further Reflections on Whiteshamanism," in M. Annette Jaimes, The State of Native America: Genocide, Colonization, and Resistance, Boston, South End Press, 1992, p. 405. Original quote in Ward Churchill, "A Little Matter of Genocide: Native American Spirituality and New Age Hucksterism," Bloomsbury Review, Vol. 8 #5, Sept/Oct 1988, pp. 23-24}

It is important to notice that Indian people are not saying, "Don't learn about Indian culture." Rather they are asking that white people learn more deeply and accurately about Indian cultures and in a context which does not foster their destruction. "...for those of you who want to know what Aboriginal peple are like, let us tell you. Participate in our writings, feel our visual art, move with our music, hear in your heart our stories." {Joy Asham Fedorick, "Fencepost Sitting And How I Fell Off To One Side,", in Give Back: First Nations Perspectives on Cultural Practice, North Vancouver, BC, Canada, Gallerie: Women's Artists' Monographs, Issue 11, 1992, p. 42}

There are many community rooted Indian writers, scholars, and cultural workers we can support, for example by buying their books instead of the new age impostor books, and helping to break down the barriers which stand in [their] way to full creative and cultural expression." {Joy Asham Fedorik, ibid}

Cultural sharing involves interaction with the whole of a person and community, reciprocal giving and receiving, sharing of struggle as well as joy, receiving what the community wants to give, not what you want to take. Cultural sharing begins in respect, with patience not to make assumptions but to risk stepping outside of our own frame of reference. {For those who would like to learn more about the experience of Indian people and support Native women writers, I would recommend the books of the following Native writers, as a start: Paula Gunn Allen, Beth Brant, Maria Campbell, Chrystos, Louis Eldrich, Janice Gould, Janet Campbell Hale, Joy Harjo, Linda Hogan, M. Annette Jaimes, Lee Maracle, Leslie Marmon Silko, Anna Lee Walters.}

What are some of the ways we can work toward a woman-valuing spirituality which is culturally located and deeply anti-racist? Part of what feeds cultural appropriation is a deep spiritual hunger in White people. This sense of starvation is very real, but we must realize: Native people are not keeping us from spirit. White culture has broken and disrupted its own spiritual heritage. If we believe there is such a thing as spirit, we can recreate a path to it, we can hope that it will help us in that process.

We need to explore the links of spirit to community. Ask ourselves, Who is my community? How do we negotiate the world together? Where do we find our power: What gives us meaning? What is our relationship to the world around us?

The concept "Indian" is stereotypically linked to a connection to the earth and other species. In reality, we all live here on this earth, our lives equally enmeshed with the fate of countless other beings. These beings can teach us if we are quiet with them. We need to trust that we can begin where we are, who we are, in our own lives. What are the animals and plants we rely on? What feeds us? How can we honor that gift? How can we give back?

We can also look more closely at the deep desires underlying the phenomenon of white people "wanting to be Indian." White culture has attached those desires to a fantasy creation it called "Indian", which is not accurate to the real realities of Indians. But the fantasy can teach us about our own realities. We may find that we recover some lost shadow of ourselves which was projected onto the "other".

Many Native people have encouraged us to explore the traditions of our own ancestors. Whiteness in the U.S. has served to homogenize distinct European (and some part-European) peoples into one entity, generally from the very racist intention of solidifying the Anglo-Saxon base of power against people of color. We can counter that manifestation of racism by reconstructing ethnic cultural identity. People in the mainstream U.S. have been pressured to dishonor our ancestors, to honor individuality and rebellion against our cultural traditions, as well as conformity to dominant patterns. To honor cultural location is a profound transformation of a way of thinking.

I think it is important for white women to acknowledge the risks involved in exploring a woman-valuing white spirituality. While the fantasy image of the "Indian" has been romanticized and spiritualized, the fantasy image of the "witch" is as sinister and belittling as ever, despite occasional "good witch of the North." Women accused of being witches were burned and tortured. We carry in our collective European psyche the memory of this gynocide.

When we face ourselves as white women, we face this loss, this tremendous assault on female power and value, perpetrated upon us by our own people. To embrace woman-valuing spirituality that is Euro-based implies a rebellion against the dominant "spirit-world" of Euro-Christianity. For white women to reclaim the word witch is to bring this rebellious aspect of our search into the open. There is a risk in this and tremendous power.

To be allies in the struggle against cultural appropriation, to find grounded cultural sharing, we need to realize that the answer will not evolve as a set of rules we can follow. Nothing will earn us a certificate of innocence. Cultural appropriation is much bigger than any specific, individual dilemmas. We need to understand it is in the context of structural racism. Racism is a system of oppression in which the structures of society are operated and controlled by white people. Racism combines prejudice against people of color with political, economic, and social power over their lives. Cultural appropriation is the use by a dominating or colonizing people, in this case Euro-Americans, of cultural and religious ceremonies and articles of a people experiencing domination or colonization, in this case Native Americans. On a fundamental level, cultural sharing will not be possible until we end racism. In the meantime, only when we wholeheartedly join the struggle to end racism, and all oppression, can we begin to experience cultural sharing.

I want to close with some advice offered by Chrystos:

Take nothing you cannot return
Give to others
give more
Walk quietly
Do what needs to be done
Give thanks for your life
Respect all beings
& it doesn't cost a penny

{from the poem, "Shame On!" in Dream On, Vancouver Press Gang, 1991, p. 100-101}

For more information about how to be an ally, I recommend reading the work of Ricky Sherover-Marcuse, especially her Working Assumptions and Guidelines for Alliance-Building and Working Assumptions for White Activists on Eliminating Racism: Guidelines for Recruiting Other Whites as Allies.

For more information about Chrystos, you can read her Voices from the Gaps biography.



Here's a very good video profile of Dara Torres which was created by ESPN prior to her recent wins, giving an overview of her regimen. Interestingly, it includes Michael Phelps AGAIN calling her "Mom", so it's a jibe he's doing persistently. From her tone, you can tell she's fed up with it. Aside from that small section, it's a great video.

Yesterday's news included this AP story:

"Dara Torres has dropped the 100-meter freestyle from her Beijing Olympics schedule, choosing to make the 50 free her only individual event in her record fifth games.

"The 41-year-old sprinter's decision was announced Monday by USA Swimming. Torres will be replaced in the 100 free by Lacey Nymeyer, who finished third at the trials.

"Torres had expressed concern that competing in two individual events and possibly two relays during the eight-day competition would be too hard on her body. She won the 50 and 100 freestyles at the trials, and her last Olympic appearance was at the 2000 Sydney Games."

Lacey Nymeyer's opportunity is good for us all, as she's a major competitor. And of course Natalie Coughlin, who's won in this category before, will still be swimming. Leave it to Torres to share her wealth and not try to grab all the slots herself -- something a certain male swimmer probably cannot begin to comprehend.

As promised, here's the video of Dara Torres swimming the 50 meter freestyle on 6 July 2008. It's a seven minute video, but worthy.

And, for all of us becoming Torreadoras™, here's her personal website.



With the loss of my hard drive, my enormous stash of LOLCats bit the dust. I'm starting over, slowly. Here's the best of what I've gleaned (in the past three days) from I Can Has Cheezburger efforts. There are some really creative folks out there. As usual, those from little gator lead the pack.


Sunday, July 6, 2008


Below is one AP news report after Dara Torres blazed through the 100 meter win, which begins okay but then they have to fucking ask Michael Phelps the Moron what he thought about it, and he (piqued that he didn't get all the attention that night) had to take a cheap shot. Which of course gets reported back to her, and she has to deal with it. Folks, we have to protest and STOP this crap kind of reporting. This woman is a phenomenon, leave whiny Michael out of it.

The videos showing her 100 meter and 50 meter swims have not yet made it to YouTube or anywhere else on the web that I can find. When they do, I'll post them here.



I didn't watch any TV on the Fourth of July -- martial music, pretend artillery, and crowds reeling with xenophobic patriotism are not my idea of a holiday.

However, I did notice PBS's promotion for their own offering that evening, "A Capitol Fourth". After turning off the TV, I wondered if my impression of what I'd just seen was accurate. I went to their website and checked. Here's the complete list of performers: (after the fold)

Jimmy Smits
Huey Lewis and the News
Taylor Hicks
Jerry Lee Lewis
Brian Stokes Mitchell
Hayley Westenra
Scott Hamilton
Harolyn Blackwell
Erich Kunzel
The National Symphony Orchestra
Choral Arts Society of Washington
Military District of Washington
U.S. Army Herald Trumpets
United States Army Presidential Salute Battery
"The Commandant's Own" U.S. Marine Drum & Bugle Corps

There's an obvious attempt to represent a sampling of multiple American musical genres (plus the Celtic Woman fembot goop), but no rap or hip-hop, and a heavy emphasis on classical, orchestral, and operatic styles, in addition to the mandatory army band crap. In terms of racial diversity, there's two black folks and one Hispanic, aside from the large musical groups which are likely somewhat mixed, though likely not proportionately. No Asians or Native Americans. And the white are "non-ethnic" whites.

What really drew my attention, though, was probably a result of my spending the last several days researching the herstory of Women's Music in the 1970s, when my generation said "Fuck this crap" to the exclusion of female faces or voices except for a limited few and NO women allowed in the technical end of music production: Out of nine individual performers above, seven were men. And in the military groups, females were also a profound minority.

Honest to g*d, we did better than this kind of representation before our rebellion 30 years ago.

This is the Religious Right's version of America, their idea of a "national" line-up. Grown men who bigamously marry their 13-year-old cousins, that's just fine. But keep the women down to a ratio of one per four or five men.

I notice Pixar has another movie coming out -- about a robot who, of course, has to be male. Can't have a gender-neutral or (heaven forfend) female robot, the boys wouldn't watch it. This is what we mean when we feminists tell you we've LOST GROUND since Reagan entered the scene.

So here's some questions for ya'll:
Do you notice when a group performance doesn't have equal numbers of male and female performers? If you don't, why don't you?
Do you register racial make-up in the same situation?
Do you bring it up at work/among your friends/on your blog? What kind of arguments and defensive reactions are you having to deal with?

And, regarding the photo at the top of this post: Joss Whedon gets "feminist" cred because he has (gasp!) four women out of nine characters. But notice, in the photo, which figures loom large, take up the foreground, and which subside into near profile.