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Now Accepting Submissions for (re)defining Feminism 2017

We are thrilled to announce that we are now accepting submissions for (re)defining Feminism 2017. This will be our third year launching this project and we are excited about the opportunity to engage new contributors in telling stories about their experiences with living life as a woman. We want to hear about your challenges, your successes, your frustrations; this is your forum to tell your story. All submissions are welcome. Contributors must self-identify as a woman.

Submission Guidelines can be found below the submission box.

Submission deadline September 30, 2017.

All video/photoblog submissions should be emailed to info@womenrevamped.org.

Submission Guidelines for (re)defining Feminism 2017:

About the Campaign

(re)defining FEMINISM is a yearly campaign by women reVamped aimed at highlighting the exploration and acceptance of identity amongst women.  The goal is to begin the dialogue around how women identify themselves by answering the question of “how women are defining what feminism means in their lives everyday.”  We want women to showcase their ownership and understanding of feminism as a way of promoting the idea that feminism is to each its own experience.

You, the participant, are being asked to do the following:

  • Answer the question of “how you define feminism” by choosing one of the following mediums:
    • Photoblog (5 pictures max)
    • Videoblog (5 min max)
    • Essay (500-800 words)
  • Submissions are due September 30, 2017
  • For examples of previous submissions, check out https://womenrevamped.org/category/redefining-feminism-2015

All material will be published via www.womenrevamped.org

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In Defense of the Indefensible

If you follow current events, you have probably heard a lot about the recent sentencing of the convicted rapist, Brock Turner. Hopefully you also took the time to read the letter the Victim read to Turner at his sentencing.

This letter is a prime example of why it is essential that we elevate the stories of women. If not for her letter, the chances are good that we would have never learned most of the harrowing details of the rape and subsequent trial has affected her. Furthermore, it offers a glimpse into what a rape victim has to endure in pursuit of justice. Her letter is articulate, disturbing, beautiful, and brutally honest.

Other letters from this case have also garnered attention this week; specifically, letters from Turner’s father, Dan Turner, and his friend, Leslie Rasmussen, to Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky. Regrettably, both authors refuse to acknowledge that Turner is guilty. Even worse, however, is the fact that they either try to justify his actions or blatantly blame the Victim for what transpired.

As an organization dedicated to promoting the stories of women and girls, we feel it is our obligation to encourage everyone to read the Victim’s letter. If you have sons or daughters, please encourage them to read it as well. We also want to take this opportunity to respond to Turner’s friend’s letter below in hopes that we can offer some perspective to her words.

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Bolded words indicate commentary provided by women reVamped Board Chair Karen Lindstrom, the author of this post, in evaluation of the narrative of this letter written by a friend of the convicted rapist Brock Turner from Stanford University.

It was with great sadness that I read the news about Brock Turner, and the horrible situation that he was involved in. It came as a huge shock to me. If by “the horrible situation that he was involved in” you mean being convicted of assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated or unconscious person, sexual penetration of an intoxicated person, and sexual penetration of unconscious person, then you are correct. It is understandable that what happened would come as a shock; however, he got himself into this “situation”.

Brock has been a peer of mine since elementary school, and was a very close friend of mine for a few years in high school. He dated one of my very good friends, [name removed], around the same time. In those years, he was always very respectful of everyone. Teachers, classmates, friends, and girls, all alike. He is one of those people that no one has a problem with, and is pretty much good at everything. We all knew he’s swim in the olympics one day. None of this changes the fact that he committed the crimes of which he was convicted.

His family is a very respectable family in town. I also know his older sister, Caroline. They all seem like such good kids brought up by two very cool and grounded parents. In all honestly, if I ha to choose one kid I graduated with to be in the position Brock is, it would have never been him. I could name off 5 others that I wouldn’t be surprised about. Brock is such a sweetheart and a very smart kid. I never once caught him harassing anyone, verbally of physically. That would have been out of his character. The respectability and coolness of an individual’s relatives are irrelevant when discussing said individual’s guilt in a crime.

It’s pretty frustrating to see the light that people are putting him in now. It used to be “swim star” and now it’s like he is the face of rape on campuses. It’s such a false way to put it. I cannot believe it. I’ve thought a lot about it, and from different angles. I tried to accept that maybe he did intend to harm this girl, but I just couldn’t imagine that was the case. It may be frustrating for you to see your friend scrutinized; however, the “light” you speak of is being a convicted rapist. That is simply reality. It is unfortunate that in all of your thinking from different angles you never thought about it from that of the victim’s. It is the kind of thinking displayed in your letter that reinforces “rape culture”.

I know rape is a very sensitive subject, for everyone, and especially women. I am not backing it up or making excuses, but there is absolutely no way Brock went out that night with rape on his mind. I think he went to a party and was drinking, like almost every student at a university does, and was flirting with this girl, like he said. The woman recalls how much alcohol she drank, which was a lot. She was no doubt about to black out if not already. I’m sure she and Brock has been flirting at this party and decided to leave together. You do not know whether Brock went out that night with rape on his mind so there is absolutely a way he did. That being said, he may not have thought he would rape someone when he went out that night. But he did. He may not have thought he would ever rape someone. But he did. He may not believe to this day that he raped someone. But he did.

You say you know rape is a sensitive subject and perhaps you do. However, you are absolutely backing it up and making excuses with every word of this letter. By saying he went to a party and “was drinking” is making an excuse. By saying he was flirting with the victim “like he said” is an attempt to justify the rape. By saying the victim drank “a lot” and “was no doubt black out” is victim-blaming. It is saddening that you do not seem to be able to recognize rape even when it has been proven, with evidence and eye witnesses.

As a young woman, please know that flirting with someone does not justify them raping you later. Nor does being in a relationship with them, marrying them, or having sex with them previously. Simply put, there is no action that ever justifies rape. Do not ever let someone tell you differently.

Just as they did she passes out, which after that many drinks, anyone would. At the same time, Brock, having a few too many drinks himself, is not completely in control of his emotions. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that alcohol increases emotions and feelings. I think this is all a huge misunderstanding. I think that the bikers who found him did the right thing by keeping him there in case he was attempting rape, but that after the investigation, it should have found Brock to be innocent. I am glad you can at least acknowledge the fact that she was, in fact, unconscious at the time of the rape. However, you are once again attempting to justify it by saying he was not in control of his emotions. That being said, if you can acknowledge she was unconscious then you know it was impossible for her to have given consent. Therefore, emotional or not, your friend is guilty.

Brock is not a monster. He is the furthest thing from anything like that, and I have known him much longer than the people involved in his case. I don’t think it’s fair to base the fate of the next ten+ years of his life on the decision of a girl who doesn’t remember anything but the amount she drank to press charges against him. You may have known him longer than the people involved in his case but this just means you are biased and more likely not to believe the facts. However, the fate of your friend’s life is based on his decision to rape someone. It is absolutely fair for his life to be impacted by his own actions.

I am not blaming her directly for this, because that isn’t right. But where do we draw the line and stop worrying about being politically correct every second of the day and see that rape on campuses isn’t always because people are rapists. It is because these universities market themselves as the biggest party schools in the country. They encourage drinking. I think it is disgusting and I am so sick of hearing that these young men are monsters when really, you are throwing barely 20-somethings into these camp-like university environments, supporting partying, and then your mind is blown when things get out of hand. This is completely different from a woman getting kidnapped and raped as she is walking to her car in a parking lot. That is a rapist. These are not rapists. You are blaming her directly. But you are correct; that is not right. Furthermore, when a person gets convicted of a crime they committed it’s not political correctness; it’s justice. Finally, someone who rapes a person on a college campus is just as much of a rapist as someone who rapes a person in any other location. That said, if you believe the party culture on college campuses is also a major issue, then by all means get involved.

These are idiot boys and girls having too much to drink and not being aware of their surroundings and having clouded judgment. I’m not saying that is every case because I know there are young men that take advantage of young women and vice versa, but I know for a fact that Brock is not one of those people. He is respectful and caring, talented, and smart enough to know better. Your friend is one of those people. Two grad students witnessed him being one of those people and running away when he got caught. A young woman has to live with the knowledge that she was raped because he is one of those people. A jury of eight men and four women found him guilty of being one of those people.

Attached is a photo of Brock I took in high school. He has always had that huge, loving smile on his face. The caption is even “d’awwww” because he was always the sweetest to everyone. Not everyone.

I appreciate you taking your time to hear about my past with Brock and my opinion on the matter, and I hope you consider what I’ve said when looking into the sentencing. I would not be writing this letter if I had any doubt in my mind that he is innocent.

Thank you again,

Leslie Rasmussen

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The Importance of Telling Her(story)

It was November 2008. I was a freshman at Grand Valley State University majoring in Criminal Justice. I volunteered my time to various causes and had multiple jobs to support my living expenses at the time. I was also in a relationship – my first ever relationship to be exact. I was on track to complete my education in 3 years, apply to law school and if everything went smoothly I’d be engaged by the time I graduated. This was the plan; a plan rooted in perceptions I had around a path that I perceived to be required to be successful. And this plan was nothing more than a lie that required other lies to exist for it to be feasible. The lies at the time were required though, because who would respect a young girl being beaten by her boyfriend? More importantly, How could this 18 year old gain respect, and by extension power, in spaces where people who looked like her did not exist if the truth around her existence was exposed?

You see at the time I had a misplaced understanding of the spaces I was occupying. I hid myself, and my pain, from people because I was ashamed. I was embarrassed that I allowed myself to be disrespected by another person. I was hurt that no one could see my despair. I hated that I was so good at maintaining the lie, but in my mind the lie was a means to an end. To be clear, the end that I thought was expected of me not the end that my heart desired. In fairness, at 18, I had no idea what my heart desired and with that being my first relationship I had no idea what my heart deserved.

The other piece to this equation was this: I didn’t understand the situation I found myself in. I was not personally aware of other women who were abused by intimate partners. What I knew to be true, at the time, was that “this shouldn’t have happened to me.” This was not me saying that there are people this should happen to, as much as it was me associating certain things with certain understandings. I didn’t come out of a home where domestic violence was displayed. I had never seen a man put his hands on a woman, outside of a movie that is. The experience of domestic violence was not relatable. By all accounts, this smart do-gooder practicing christian virgin girl should have been protected by this bubble of sacredness – I’m talking about me. At the time that was me. I experienced a lot of things in this situation that I was not familiar with and it allowed for things to happen that shouldn’t have. What saved me, was the very thing that allowed for the situation to last as long as it did, the lie. The lie, of coarse, being that I was this smart black girl who could do it all and had all of her shit together. No problems. No limitations. No kryptonite.

It took that one person noticing that something was off for me to change directions. Her genuine interest in my well being saw right through the lie. She had no idea what she was saving me from, but her observation of the person I was being and the person she knew I was, undoubtedly saved my life. While the abuse escalated before it ended, that single recognition caused me to construct my exit plan. It also subsequently caused me to go into deep reflection about my own personal desires while reconstructing my expectations of people and life.

My first time truly sharing the depth of the abuse I encountered was a few years ago. I realized that facing my experience and sharing it might help others in similar situations understand they are not alone while forcing loved ones of folks in similar circumstances to pay attention and ask more questions. The idea that domestic violence looks a certain way or has a specific victim is a concept that leads to the demise of far too many women. I told my story in hopes that my face would assist in chipping away at that misconception. I also wanted to provide hope to those whose pain seems insurmountable. Working through the trauma is a daunting task but ultimately the only way to find peace is to face the monsters of one’s past.

I tell my story so perhaps a girl that follows will not have to write a chapter about trauma. I tell my story so perhaps the woman that has been traumatized can begin to process it. I tell my story so that survivor knows there’s hope.

The power of storytelling is why we do (re)defining Feminism. Not every story is about abuse. Not every story is painful. Some of the stories are about happiness. Some of the stories are about love. However, all the stories are inspiring and all of them will have you rethinking (and hopefully broadening) your perception of what it means to be a woman. At women reVamped we believe every woman has a story to tell and capturing those stories are important. Every woman has a lesson to teach through their story and we hope that this second year of the project furthers that cause. Last year, the stories of empowerment were incredible and this year we look forward to sharing the stories of thirty more women.

If you identify as a woman consider sharing your story – there’s a girl out there who needs to hear your voice. Find out more about making a submission for (re)defining Feminism 2015 here.

Join us in elevating the voices of women this November and follow (re)defining Feminism 2015!

Breannah

Founder, women reVamped

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Submissions Open for (re)defining Feminism 2015

We are thrilled to announce that we are now accepting submissions for (re)defining Feminism 2015. This will be our second year launching this project and we are excited about the opportunity to engage new contributors in telling stories about their experiences with living life as a woman. We want to hear about your challenges, your successes, your frustrations; this is your forum to tell your story. All submissions are welcome. Contributors must self-identify as a woman.

Please check out the (re)defining FEMINISM 2015 Campaign Outline for submission guidelines.

Submissions are due October 30, 2015.

All submissions should be emailed to balexander@womenrevamped.org.

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Fem-tastic Read: Feminism is for Everybody by Bell Hooks

Suggested read from women reVamped contributor.

Suggested audience: 15 yrs or older

Summary via Amazon Books:

A genuine feminist politics always brings us from bondage to freedom, from lovelessness to loving….There can be no love without justice.—from the chapter “To Love Again: The Heart of Feminism”

In this engaging and provocative volume, bell hooks introduces a popular theory of feminism rooted in common sense and the wisdom of experience. Hers is a vision of a beloved community that appeals to all those committed to equality, mutual respect, and justice.

hooks applies her critical analysis to the most contentious and challenging issues facing feminists today, including reproductive rights, violence, race, class, and work. With her customary insight and unsparing honesty, hooks calls for a feminism free from divisive barriers but rich with rigorous debate. In language both eye-opening and optimistic, hooks encourages us to demand alternatives to patriarchal, racist, and homophobic culture, and to imagine a different future.

hooks speaks to all those in search of true liberation, asking readers to take look at feminism in a new light, to see that it touches all lives. Issuing an invitation to participate fully in feminist movement and to benefit fully from it, hooks shows that feminism—far from being an outdated concept or one limited to an intellectual elite–is indeed for everybody.

bell hooks is the author of numerous critically acclaimed books on the politics of race, gender, class, and culture. A frequent lecturer in the United States and abroad, she is Distinguished Professor of English at City College, City University of New York.

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In Their Own Words: Sierra McKissick

820838_10200421160272572_1022640454_oHometown:  Saginaw, Michigan

Background:  I have always sought to be a positive influence in whatever community I reside within. In 2006, I co-founded an organization, Agape Love Explosion, that seeks to provide prevention, intervention and spiritual development to at-risk youth in the city of Saginaw and surrounding areas. The Explosion holds a three-day conference every year during which youth are able to participate in various programming. During my undergraduate education, I serviced several Nashville, TN organization such as Soles for Souls and the Second Harvest Food Bank and as I continue graduate studies I am a volunteer at Hope Clinic for Women in Nashville,TN. Service is not a past time for me but a calling.
Fun Fact:  I am definitely a dreamer within reality. I enjoy coming up with random things to do (even though I don’t always get to do them). I enjoy writing poetry, listening to music (I haven’t quite figured out the guitar yet), and I am a jokester.
Passion:  I am passionate about public service and I believe it comes in many forms. Specifically, I find myself being devoted to the mental, emotional and spiritual services to the public, typically outlined in the pastoral care and counseling or psychological field. I have devoted my years of education to studying the field and I am without a doubt deliberately connected. In future years, I hope to devote most of my time servicing those in need of guidance within in a safe space to help heal the wounds of society.

Why women reVamped:  women ReVamped is an organization destine to empower and cultivate the minds of youth and specifically young women, which pulls at my heart strings. Generating positive programming for our community by bringing together a range of intellectuals to formulate results, women reVamped is an organization that anyone dedicated to service would want to be a part of. I am present in hopes of offering another perspective and a particular set of  experiences in hopes that they will aid the organization in meeting all goals. There is no limit on what this organization can and will do, and I believe that all programming created will reconstruct for the better.

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Meet Our Board of Directors

women reVamped is proud to welcome our first Board of Directors to the organization.  This incredible group of individuals bring a diverse set of experiences to the table ranging from mental health expertise to business/organizational savvy.  We are thrilled that they have agreed to serve in this capacity to assist the organization in reaching its full potential.

Check out the women reVamped Board of Directors here!

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women reVamped officially launches following CGI U

Imagewomen reVamped was formulated following the recognition of a need to provide young girls facing pivotal moments in their life with empowering support systems and in-depth programming.  Our focus on girls, age 13-17, who are first time probationer’s is reflective of our recognition that, for this age group in this particular circumstance, access to quality programming is vital in the prevention of recidivism and nurturing of productive lifestyles.

In partnership with Grand Valley State University’s Criminal Justice Department, we are developing an innovative program that engages the community in creating a sustainable intervention program for young girls.  Through mentoring and programming that seeks to empower girls to take ownership of their lives and make contributions to their community, women reVamped believes that we can curb the rise of women in the correctional system.

Our mantra of “Empowering Women by Empowering Girls” speaks to the power we see in uplifting young girls to make a positive impact in their communities.  We are thankful to Clinton Global Initiative University for recognizing the importance of the work we are spearheading in Michigan around girls in juvenile corrections.  We look forward to sharing our experiences and creating dialogues surrounding our work, its implications and how we can create more positive change for young people entangled in the web of juvenile corrections.

Listening is my Superpower

Listening is my superpower. Like every superhero when they first discover their power, I fly above the atmosphere in my exuberance and then wonder where the oxygen went.

This too is my superpower, the fall fall fall into good green Earth, my love, who catches me with a splat. She knits me back together then pushes me from her grove to do as she asked, which is to listen and break again.

I am nearly 50. Years have been devoted to grinding this power on whetstone until it is thin and flexible enough to fit the in-between. Growing up around pale tall stones who talked like paper, I learned to find the spaces among them that would open up another dimension.

I raise boys, am married to a man, and I find that in this house that seems to grow its color, its walls, its safe curving spaces, its soft cushions out of my body, I do love to listen to these males.

They each identify their own feminine side, wear it in their long hair, sing it with their gay friends in chorus, speak it in their feelings, use their long slim fingers to coax it through their electronics and into the world.

This may be because of the portals, the female dimensions, that I have lit into being in this house. This may be because the boys born to me took it with them when they slid out of my body.

This may be because the Earth lives in them and through them, in the alchemical reactions that occur in the vessels of their brains that coordinate their walk on tall legs through the forest-fed air with the tumble of thoughts and images and sounds that emerge like electricity and are contained within the feminine spaces of these males.

When listening is your superpower, you must constantly be catching it by the edge and pulling it out to stretch it. I have forgotten to do this many times.

When I was twenty, I listened to black women speak of how feminism failed them, how it failed to represent the intersections in their lives. I heard them.

Over the years, I have benefitted greatly from feminism. As a space it has opened me, and I have opened it. I forgot that our patriarchal and white-supremacist culture would keep sawing away on its phallic violin outside of my space, within earshot. Somehow my thoughts started to line up with this static noise.

I forgot the whole people I had known who were people of color. I didn’t look for things of worth in black singers. I stopped reading black writers. In my own hidden spaces, I started categorizing people as likely poor, likely loud, likely not informed. Floating along with this part of mainstream culture turned out to be my Kryptonite. I almost lost my powers forever.

Which means I almost died, though you still would have seen me around town.

So I am back, and I am listening to the educated mid-career black woman who told me, with passion, that the people she loves are dying, and what I could really do to help is just believe her.

I am listening to the young black woman who believes in money, not power, because money is something that she and her peers can have. It breaks me open. I am listening.

I am checking myself when I think that the police “must have had some reason.” I am realizing that is those pale tall stones talking in paper-white justifications. It is my job to listen to the spaces between them, to what they’re not saying, to the racism and sexism that I have helped hand to them with my silence, and those spaces sing.

When I am listening, it’s not about me, my ears, my heart, my thoughts, my growth. It is the texture of others that lays against me. I imprint to their texture while holding my own, the most magical part of relationship.

People think that listening is passive or silent. They don’t know that it grows. Listening takes root and pushes itself to water beneath the surface. Listening grows stems, leaves, flowers, fruit. Like morning glory, it climbs and spills into new places. Like the smells of good curry cooking on the stove, it infiltrates everything.

My listening comes out in my writing, my voice, my choices that happen moment by moment. My choice to turn to the person next to me and support them. My choice to spend money, which is energy, which is valuing, on a person and their work.

My choice to reach out through my computer and write my goddamn heart out for these other women I love, love, love.

Let it be enough.

amy-pictureLocation: Michigan

Amy Carpenter Leugs has written poems and nonfiction appearing in Voices, Peninsula Poets, The 3288 Review, and Parabola magazines.   She is the author of two children’s books dealing with issues of poverty and difference, both published by UCOM Open Door Press.  Amy resides Grand Rapids, MI with her husband, their three sons, and the wildlife of Plaster Creek.

Finding my Power as a Black Feminist

For a very long time I was hiding. I was stuck in this stereotypical cavern that society had tried to place upon me, telling me that I should be quiet about my pain or silent about my beliefs. I allowed abuse, I allowed maltreatment, I became a full participator in the destruction of my temple simply because I refused to acknowledge my own power. I searched for answers to my problems in other humans and came up dry. I knew I had a voice but I didn’t know how to access it. I felt different then my friends and associates: I became angry at patriarchy, I advocated for women’s equality and economic sustainability I knew that my answer would only come if I searched for the answers myself.

The doors of my mind began to open. I picked up “Jesus Feminist” and recognized that God had fought for my liberation first (unlike the lies I had heard in some circles). I recognized that feminism meant that I was liberated from oppressive mindsets and destructive mindsets. Feminism began to mean that I was within my right to demand respect. Pause. Am I a feminist? I began to think to myself. I became nervous because my “friends” had deemed feminism as a dirty word. They told me that I could not be both a woman of God and a feminist/womanist. Then I picked up “In Search of our Mother’s Garden” and discovered that yes I was both spiritual and feminist, and that was okay. Shoot, it was more than okay. It was then that I had a mental picnic and invited June Jordan, Sojourner Truth (whom I did my final project report on in 4th grade on so I began to come full circle), Sonia Sanchez, Angela Davis, Patricia Collins, Claudia Tate, Toni Bambara and so much more. This is the place. I discovered that I was finding my voice.

I have always been a spiritual woman. I began to ponder their words while meditating on what this meant for me. As the world we are living in has revealed that black women are being targeted and attacked, I sensed a shift in me. How could I not be a feminist? How could I not advocate for my rights? I came across a quote by Patricia Collins, “The power of a free mind consists of trusting your own mind to ask the questions that need to be asked and your own capacity to figure out the strategies you need to get those questions answered. Over time, this requires building communities that make this kind of intellectual and political work possible.”

This shift was bigger than just me. Feminism is liberation, true liberation. It was through my research that I conducted a framework of what I believed feminism to be.

Black Feminism means that I am powerful and self-defining. Black Feminism means I am a temple for black girl magic and resilience. Black Feminism means that my life does not revolve around a man or trying to fit in to society’s standards. Black Feminism means that only I have the authority to dictate my life. Black Feminism means that I refuse to be dominated by racism, sexism, classism, ageism, or any other oppressive domain of irresponsible power. Feminism states that I have the power to worship Whom I desire to worship (shout out to the Most High). Feminism means that I do not stand around while my sisters are being abused and attacked every day. Feminism means that I acknowledge that I am more powerful than I ever realized. Feminism gave me my voice, and for that I say, Thank You.

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Location: Pennsylvania

Curtissa Odi is an anthropologist, educator, and writer. Her research spans the areas of literature, the Africana Diaspora, black feminist thought and spirituality. She is currently acquiring her Masters and is looking forward to exploring the various contours of the black women experience.

Raising the Little Women of the World

I am a child care center director. I have been working in this field for almost 12 years, and I have moved my way up the ladder into leadership. While being a care provider often is, in the world’s eyes, a ‘woman’s job,’ the for-profit industry is predominantly run and invested in by men. We, the teachers and leaders at the center level, often feel like bottom-feeders, the lowest rung, doing the most work for the least amount of pay. In reality, I/we are raising many of these children, as they spend sometimes 10, 11, or 12 hours with their caregivers. Our role in their lives, and in their development of self, is critical and necessary.

To me, feminism is a woman being viewed as having just as much influence in any area as a man, and being treated as though she can create the same amount of change, in the same amount of time, with the same amount of resources. In my eyes, the journey toward the self-actualization of this influence begins in childhood.

One of the greatest areas of discrepancy when it comes to working with different families is the issue of gender. I can’t begin to tell you how many conversations I have had with parents of boys who have aggression issues, and it’s dismissed with the phrase, “Boys will be boys.” I’ve also been confronted with angry fathers, furious that their sons would be exposed to dress-up and housekeeping on a daily basis. “Why aren’t there more trucks and cars and blocks?” they shout at me. Many of the girls in my care are dropped off by parents who guide them to the area of the classroom with the babies and the dress-up clothes, away from the boys who are furiously racing cars through a plastic Little People parking ramp. “You can come play with the other girls,” they quietly reassure their little homemakers. I even have teachers who come to me and ask for more ‘boy toys’ or more ‘girl toys.’

So much of these kids’ lives and identities are shaped here. More often than not, these early years are incredibly pivotal for the development of children’s gender identities and the definitions that the world and all it’s madness attaches to them – especially little girls. Being in a position of leadership in a world run at the corporate level by predominantly men, I feel that I have a responsibility – nay, an obligation – to show these girls that women can set examples for administration at a higher level than is often encouraged. Have I had to shout at the top of my lungs to be heard in an industry managed by men? You bet. Have I been heard? Absolutely, because I refuse not to be. My role, as a guide for these women who are starry-eyed young educators, and as a leader for the little girls in my care, is to prove that my voice as a woman can be just as loud and just as influential as the voices of the suits at the top; the bearded wallets with their ties and their golf clubs and their total lack of understanding of what it means to raise a little girl into a strong woman. That’s why I’m a feminist. That’s what feminism means to me.

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Location: Michigan

My name is Brooke Wilson and I was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I live with my daughter, my boyfriend, and his daughter on the Northeast side. I have my Bachelors in Psychology, I’ve been in the child education field for 12 years, and I run a child care center. Feminism is important to me because I’m raising daughters, and I can’t think of a better reason to build up the cause of women than them and their future.

What’s Important Now

I’ve struggled a lot in life to maintain stable relationships and to launch myself onto a career path. What I didn’t understand was that so many of those struggles were rooted in early childhood trauma that I had suppressed for decades. My inability to finish an elementary teaching degree in my 30s; the emergence of a rare neurological disorder that prevented me from completing a masters in counseling and left me disabled in my 50s; and the fact that I’ve been married and divorced three times are all examples of the impact of incest.

You see, for decades I had hidden something from myself: early childhood sexual abuse. When I began experiencing recovered memories at age 47, I was overwhelmed with contradictory thoughts & emotions. Finally I sought therapy to help me begin the recovery path. I’m still on it.

As the years have gone by, more recent studies have shown the very real impact of sexual trauma on the brain/body connection. Instead of blaming myself for not being good enough, I now have compassion for the struggling child, teen, and adult selves which have constituted my life path. I didn’t know I was dealing with PTSD. I knew I’d grown up in an alcoholic family, but the extent of my injuries were hidden until the recovered memories surfaced, demanding to be dealt with.

Though I missed fulfilling the career of my dreams—my own counseling practice— and grieved what was not to be, something else came along in my mid-life years. As my mind/body healed from the neurological disorder, I discovered hidden artistic talents when working with glass and mosaic arts. I became an artist!

What has become important to me is to use my hard-earned knowledge about sexual trauma to help those who have already been wounded. Now age 62, I invested time in volunteering with The Manasseh Project, a residential program here in Grand Rapids which helps teens age 13-17 who were rescued from human trafficking. I’ve been exposed to how widespread this travesty is in our society, and I know first-hand how debilitating it can be.

During ArtPrize 7 this year, I combined my artistic abilities with my compassion for victims of sexual trauma. My entry was titled “Cutting Edges,” and was dedicated to those who are at the forefront of addressing difficult social issues such as addiction, suicide, and sexual trauma. I sought to inspire both dialog and action.

Even though I missed the traditional career boat, and live on a fixed income, and deal with disabilities, I have value and worth in this world. And I seek to share them with others. That’s what’s important to me now.

This story was written by Mary Helmic out of Grand Rapids,Michigan.

A Question of Strength

Bob and Jeff were a father and son I had the pleasure of sitting next to at Brewery Vivant a few Sunday’s ago. I naturally found myself engaging in conversation, uncovering they had never indulged in the food. I watched as their eyes unravel at the burger and beer cheese they ordered, naturally our conversation unfolded.

I learned that Bob was the father of Jeff, a Vietnam Veteran who raised his son with previously instilled qualities of patriarchal strides. Jeff explained him and his wife bought a home outside of Grand Rapids, had a few kids and his wife decided to stay home to raise them (or so he painted it to be). As they told me more about their life, I picked up on subtle hints of a patriarchal mindset and comfortable way of life. It seemed, although they were nice, that our views on a woman’s role were polar opposite.

When I told Bob and Jeff that I never owned a car, that my own two legs carried me everywhere I wanted to be, they were perplexed.

“This world is too dangerous for a pretty young girl to be alone outside, you need a strong man to protect you”. They both notioned to the young, kind man I was drinking with asking if he would protect me. Mind you, this was a young man I had found embracing my independent spirit.

Me, 4 years ago, would have immediately began preaching about women’s rights and told them to bugger off (Yes, even in the middle of a nice conversation). Instead, I continued my interaction with them, grasping my feminist strength.

The thought of having this fellow be my sole protector was, in fact, hilarious. NOT because of how I viewed his ‘manliness’ but simply because I was taught to protect myself. I am continuously uplifted by the perseverance of my young, single, biracial mother who against all odds raised me with a firm sense of self.

I’ve found bridging gaps with those we might not directly align with allow us to gain more from one another. I mean honestly, can you think of a friend or family member in your life you agree on EVERYTHING with? If your answer is yes, you’re trippin’.

My whole point in sharing this, what was a brief encounter of an older generation, is that I want my future daughters to encounter men that encourage them. Men that see no boundaries in their lifestyle choices, simply men who lift them up.

For all you young single men out there, better get it together if you ever plan on dating a feminist, especially me.

I feel that any woman can relate to this type of interaction. An interaction binding to our existence. Existence embedded to a counterpart, stronger than ourselves. Our strength is always questioned.

MariahYou can find Mariah Kennedy riding a bicycle around Eastown or East Hills neighborhoods where she plays an active role in advocacy for vibrant businesses districts, first rate neighborhood schools and year round green spaces. Mariah is invested in DIY-DIT culture and grassroots efforts that empower those within their community to ignite change. As a feminist, she finds a strong connection between women and mother nature – women are the roots that grow and nourish. As a woman, she believes we are powerful and striking. Better watch out!

Building a Better Mousetrap

I love startups… I love everything about them – from the eccentric dreamers willing to gamble, to the emotionally charged conversations that come from an 11th hour pivot. They are chaotic and crude, often starting in a garage or a dorm room, operating out of a coffee shop, and digging up resources from anyone who shows interest.

I go to parties now, and, as my friends talk about getting married, buying homes or expanding their families, I gush about my latest concept or how Opal Labs is doing – they are my babies. By day, I am the Operations Manager for Opal Labs, a marketing technology company that has recently transcended the gap between a startup and growth-stage business. By night, I work on my own concepts. This is not new. It all began when a colleague and I launched a startup during the last year of my MBA and took it to compete for seed money from venture capitalists. It was then that I got the itch that I have spent the last 2 years scratching… and may never stop.

But how does this relate to feminism? Am I just a technology-focused entrepreneur who happens to be a feminist? Or is there a link between entrepreneurship and feminism? I think we can all agree that technology has empowered people across the globe, bringing opportunity to groups that have traditionally been overlooked or undervalued (children in rural areas, the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities, people of color and women). However, I am not sure that we have taken a hard enough look at what entrepreneurship can offer women, or how it is a powerful tool in shaping the future of business to include women and minorities in a traditionally male-dominated (white) business world.

About a year ago I sat in a room of self-identified feminists discussing whether or not women should be expected to “think like a man” to make it in business. Some argued that businesses should change to include a more balanced approach to supporting women in the workplace by creating space for more heart-forward conversations, providing childcare and flexible hours to allow more women to participate. Others argued, that one has to know the rules of the game that they’re playing, play hard, win, and once at the top – affect positive change for future generations of women. What was interesting, in retrospect, was that not one person in the room made mention of entrepreneurship as a solution.

Consider – women make up 14.2% of senior executives at S&P 500 companies[1]. Imagine what that number would be if women had been among the founders, and how that might have impacted the perceptions of what women can do and/or what opportunities should be given to women. We cannot go back in time, but we can lay the groundwork for great institutions of the future that don’t limit potential based on gender. We can also bring to business well recognized characteristics associated with female leaders such as intuition, empathy, ability to multitask and strength. Leaders like Sheryl Sandberg [Facebook], Marissa Mayer [Yahoo] and Indra Nooyi [PepsiCo] set a new course for women, as well as their respective businesses, by modeling those characteristics on a grand scale.

Women, skilled in business as it exists today (be it at the CEO or individual-contributor level), have the opportunity to act as a great mentor or resource to other women, but they can’t do it all. In actuality, they may not be the individuals appropriately positioned to truly change the face of business values. Values need to be built into a business from the ground up, making those willing to create business a necessary and important tool in affecting change. Women who want something different can, and should, be the change they want to see in the world. The short cut to making a better mouse trap is to build your own.

[1] http://money.cnn.com/2015/03/24/investing/female-ceo-pipeline-leadership/

JaceyJacey Marushia-Laurain is an entrepreneur and businesswoman.  She has a background in technology and has worked in a variety of industries and roles.  She is active in the Portland Startup Scene and enjoys challenging traditional assumptions of how businesses should be run. She is passionate about the development of women in business and can be contacted for further discussion on entrepreneurship, feminism or new business ideas.  Access her LinkedIn profile here.

A Free Fall

Falling out of nowhere, a free fall.
A lifeless body racing towards, where? She doesn’t know. She’s not in control of this pull on her body and she is definitely not in control of this pull on her soul.
Was it so long ago that she was grounded? It seems like it was millenia away. She has fleeting memories of a time gone by. However, she can’t quite remember the feelings of those times.
Right now, all she feels is a void. It’s not the kind of void where something is missing, it is a the void of nothing having ever been there, and the feeling that it’s impossible for anything to ever be there.
Falling, falling, falling.
She wonders to herself, how far down will I go? There may be something to cather her fall but she knows there won’t be.
This kind of free fall is not one where you land on a cloud or a into the arms of a protector. It’s almost as if there’s nothing down there at all, the same void that lies within. There is nothing that will ever be there.
Again, another thought. If void means completely empty, perhaps that’s not the right word. Empty implies that something was there once. There was never anything there, and it is not possible for anything to ever be. The entrance to the cavern of her soul is sealed. It is a tomb that shall never be discovered or explored, and it will stay that way.
So, she no longer questions. She lets go. She gives in to the fall; she embraces the pull. There is no reason to fight it because it is who she is.
She has become the fall.
11953605_416853538517821_5366803316615420727_o (1)Stacie Earley is 29 years old and resides in Lansing, MI with her husband and their daughter. She has had a long and very personal battle with mental illness for most of her life. Stacie was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in 2011, although it had been a long time coming. Ending the stigma of mental illness is incredibly important to her as she believes each person battling those demons also happen to be the strongest warriors in the world.

Redefining Feminism

The Feminism movement is imperative because it is one belief that feeds into creating the overarching culture of our country. Feminism means fighting for equality, fighting to erase the stereotypes associated with gender. Feminism means taking the pressure off of women who feel the weight of the world to be everything to everyone. Feminism fights to take away the unrealistic expectations of gender roles. Feeding into the bigger fight of equality for everyone regardless of gender, race, age, etc.

When we reflect on defining feminism, we naturally reflect on our own stories – what situations have formed us into the powerful women that we are today. I want to tell you a little bit about where I got my voice & my power. Like most people, my mom played a huge role in my life, but mine in a different way than many. My mom was diagnosed with cancer when I was in 2nd grade, 7 years old. Her cancer spread & she battled it for 15 years. There were good years and there were bad years with her health. Through all of that she taught me how to be strong & how important knowing your self-worth is. From a young age I watched my mom be stripped of everything that society tells us defines women. She lost all of her beautiful blonde hair, her eyelashes, her eyebrows. She lost her breasts. She lost her uterus. Her bones shrank, she grew physically weak. However,  that did not stop her, she kept rolling with the punches. I know she struggled with it, but she rarely let it show. She held her head high & kept doing what she knew she had to do. She was a teacher & a child care provider her whole life. She knew the importance of teaching and investing in children. She never let cancer define her. She never let her appearance define her. She chose to let her love & her personality out shine the disease that was trying to destroy her.

As a society I know we all struggle with the constant pressure to look good. Be fit, dress well, be on your A game at all times. She encouraged me to not be defined by anyone else’s idea of who I should be or could. She encouraged me to take pride in myself and in everything I do. My mom is the strongest person I’ve ever met & every day I strive to be just as strong as she was.

Today, I work in an industry that’s considered a “boys club”. I work in the booze industry – wine specifically – but none the less at the end of the day I work in the liquor industry. I’m continually put into situations where I’m speaking to a room full of older men in suits who are looking at me like “What does this little girl know about wine?”. Not only do I work in a male dominated industry, but I’m also younger than most of the people that I work with. Everytime I walk into a meeting with an older salesman, I hold my head high, introduce myself and shake his hand. I work really hard and I do feel this pressure to be everything and to be the best at everything I do. In my business I often feel that since I’m a young woman I have to work even harder to prove myself. I’ve also been put into situations where I’ve had to remind the men that I manage that they simply “can’t talk to me like that.” I feel the pressure to look good, to be smarter than my counterpart, to work long hours, but balance a social and family life. I feel pulled in every direction sometimes, just like I’m sure men do but I’m not sure if they feel pressure to prove themselves like we do.

Growing up watching my mom deal with every bad hand that she was dealt with a smile on her face & love in heart made me realize that all of these superficial and material things aren’t what define us. We are defined by the choices that we make, the words that we speak and the company that we keep. We should not be defined by our gender, our age, our race or anything like that. We are defined by who we are. And that’s exactly what Feminism is fighting for.

DSC_0665Born and raised in Saginaw, Michigan, Emily Fjerstad has spent the past 6 years living, working & studying in Chicago, IL. Her passions for culture & travel have cultivated themselves in her wine career. She graduated from Concordia University Chicago with a degree in Communication & International Business.