10 revolutionary women you need to know
Today is International Women’s Day! Though its origins are hazy, many trace today’s beginnings to March 1908 when 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding voting rights, better pay, and shorter hours. Over a century later, full gender equality for women across the world has still not been realised. IWD is an opportunity to discuss current manifestations of these inequalities, and to celebrate women who have overcome odds and barriers.
In America, the faces and names that fill our middle school and high school textbooks are overwhelming white and male. It is no coincidence that it is mostly called history not herstory because so many tales of the past are selective and silencing. IWD is about listening carefully to the stories of the past and the present in order to find the stories that might otherwise be erased or silenced. I believe in the importance of representation and naming. Girls today need to see themselves in the stories and textbooks they read and in the media they consume.
Visibility throughout history is not just determined by gender. Women’s experiences of systematic oppression vary by race, class, nationality, ability, sexuality, among other facets of identity. I believe that a failure to take this into account can result in a kind of feminism that lifts up certain women at the expense of other women.
Today, I want to share with you the stories of just a few of the women I am in awe of; women who are revolutionary and brilliant and bright and maybe you haven’t heard of.
To the billions of women who deserve to be tributed today; to the writers and fighters and builders and mothers who are so loved; to the women I cannot name because their work is intensely private as well as political, because they are busy surviving, because they were killed, because they did not have access to education or water: the fight goes on, we fight on. All of our love and respect.
Oakland-based artist, agitator, printmaker, teacher, public speaker and intellectual Favianna Rodriguez teamed up with Pharrell Williams’ I Am Other YouTube Channel in 2013 to create a moving documentary series titled “Migration is Beautiful.” Addressing the debate surrounding immigration policy in the United States and the overall perception of immigrants, the three-episode project focuses on the growing influence of artists in the political realm.
Art can spark the imagination like nothing else can, and yet I think that progressives do not fully understand the powerful role that artists can play in social change. The anti-immigrant movement has successfully been able to dominate the immigration debate by pushing out messages about migrants that are inhumane, racist, xenophobic and hateful. But those of us who fight for migrant rights are not only fighting back, we want to reframe the way migrants are viewed, artists especially. We want to expose the tragic losses that have resulted from unjust immigration laws, and we want to inspire and challenge people to reimagine migration as something beautiful and natural — something we all do. -Favianna Rodriguez
Honduran indigenous and environmental organizer Berta Cáceres was one of the leading organizers for indigenous land rights in Honduras. She was assassinated last week in her home. According to Global Witness, Honduras has become the deadliest country in the world for environmentalists.
In 2015 she won the Goldman Environmental Prize, the world’s leading environmental award. In awarding the prize, the Goldman Prize committee said, “In a country with growing socioeconomic inequality and human rights violations, Berta Cáceres rallied the indigenous Lenca people of Honduras and waged a grassroots campaign that successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder to pull out of the Agua Zarca Dam.” In her acceptance speech, Berta said:
Let us wake up! Let us wake up, humankind! We are out of time. We must shake our conscience free of the rapacious capitalism, racism, and patriarchy that will assure our own self-destruction… Our Mother Earth — militarized, fenced-in, poisoned, a place where systematic rights are systematically violated — demands that we take action. Let us build societies that are able to coexist in a systemized way in a way that protects life. Let us come together and remain hopeful as we defend and care for the blood of this earth and of its spirits.
At nineteen years old, Tavi Gevinson has already accomplished so much. She’s an actress, fashionista, writer and editor of the powerfully feminist Rookie Mag, an online media outlet she created and edits, that is by and for teenage girls (she launched Rookie when she was 15.) Offering an alternative to 99% of media targeted at teenage girls that denies girls care about anything other than their looks and boys, Rookie Mag is described by Vanity Fair as “The advice you needed from your closest friends, instead of the ones who suggested you shave your forearms, or wear perfume while running, or even the school counselor who told you not to apply to that college because ‘it’s so hard to get into.'” Check out her TED Talk from 2012. She says:
I think the question of what makes a strong female character often goes misinterpreted, and instead we get these two-dimensional superwomen who maybe have one quality that’s played up a lot, like a Catwoman type, or she plays her sexuality up a lot, and it’s seen as power. But they’re not strong characters who happen to be female. They’re completely flat, and they’re basically cardboard characters. The problem with this is that then people expect women to be that easy to understand, and women are mad at themselves for not being that simple, when, in actuality, women are complicated, women are multifaceted — not because women are crazy, but because people are crazy, and women happen to be people. -Tavi Gevinson
Lila Abu-Lughod is an American anthropologist of Palestinian and Jewish ancestry, who wrote the transformative essay, “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving?” In 2002, she criticizes of a mindset that has justified military invasion in the name of rescuing women from Islam, and offers a moving portrait of women’s actual experiences.
A moral crusade to rescue oppressed Muslim women from their cultures and their religion has swept the public sphere, dissolving distinctions between conservatives and liberals, sexists and feminists. The crusade has justified all manner of intervention from the legal to the military, the humanitarian to the sartorial. But it has also reduced Muslim women to a stereotyped singularity, plastering a handy cultural icon over much more complicated historical and political dynamics. -Lila Abu-Lughod
Sofia Ashraf, a rapper from the South Indian city Chennai, turned a Nicki Minaj song into a political protest song that calls out corporation Unilever for dumping toxic waste into Kodaikanal fourteen years ago. In the video, she raps that Unilever set up thermometer factory in Kodaikanal, and the resultant toxic waste has severely affected the lives of the residents. The powerful video includes people personally affected by the toxic waste left behind. Check out the video below.
Mia McKenzie is a writer from Philadelphia who studied writing at the University of Pittsburgh. She is queer black feminist who founded Black Girl Dangerous, a media outlet focused on social justice from a queer and trans people of color perspective that “Seeks to, in as many ways as possible, amplify the voices, experiences and expressions of queer and trans people of color.”
BGD is a place where we can make our voices heard on the issues that interest us and affect us, where we can showcase our literary and artistic talents, where we can cry it out, and where we can explore and express our “dangerous” sides: our biggest, boldest, craziest, weirdest, wildest selves. -Mia McKenzie
Dominique Christina and Denice Frohman
This award-winning duo makes up spoken word poetry duo Sister Outsider. Their collaboration marks the first time two Women of the World Poetry Slam Champions have paired up. Over the last two years, their national tour has been widely successful, bringing them to over 90 universities, colleges, conferences, schools and community spaces across the country.
Mia Mingus is a writer, public speaker, community educator and organizer working for disability justice and transformative justice responses to child sexual abuse. She is a queer physically disabled korean woman transracial and transnational adoptee, born in Korea, raised in the Caribbean, nurtured in the U.S. South, and now living in Northern California. She works for community, interdependency and home for all of us, not just some of us, and longs for a world where disabled children can live free of violence, with dignity and love. As her work for liberation evolves and deepens, her roots remain firmly planted in ending sexual violence.
We all run from the ugly. And the farther we run from it, the more we stigmatize it and the more power we give beauty. Our communities are obsessed with being beautiful and gorgeous and hot. What would it mean if we were ugly? What would it mean if we didn’t run from our own ugliness or each other’s? How do we take the sting out of “ugly?” What would it mean to acknowledge our ugliness for all it has given us, how it has shaped our brilliance and taught us about how we never want to make anyone else feel? What would it take for us to be able to risk being ugly, in whatever that means for us. What would happen if we stopped apologizing for our ugly, stopped being ashamed of it? What if we let go of being beautiful, stopped chasing “pretty,” stopped sucking in and shrinking and spending enormous amounts of money and time on things that don’t make us magnificent? -Mia Mingus
Reina Gossett is an activist, writer, and artist and the 2014-2016 Activist-In-Residence at Barnard College’s Center for Research on Women. As the membership director at the Sylvia Rivera Law Project from 2010 to 2014, Reina worked to lift the voice and power of trans and gender non conforming people and took part in the successful campaign to end healthcare discrimination to low income trans and gender non conforming New Yorkers. Prior to joining the Sylvia Rivera Law Project Reina worked at Queers for Economic Justice where she directed the Welfare Organizing Projected and produced A Fabulous Attitude, which documents low-income LGBT New Yorkers surviving inequality and thriving despite enormous obstacles. I loved her recent talk at Williams college with Grace Dunham, excerpted here:
The questions I want to ask myself now are: How does a fear of being hated get mixed up with a fear of letting ourselves be loved? When we choose to hide, what are we afraid of showing? What are we afraid will be seen? These feel like the biggest risks.