My Gender Non-conforming Kid

By Brooke Davidoff

When Chelsea came home from Target with us, my son said from the back seat that he wanted to be a mommy. 

We had gotten into an deep conversation in the isles—other parents and kids were looking on as we weighed the options. I made sure he knew that if he chose a baby doll and opened the box, he couldn’t change his mind, it was non-refundable. But he articulated that he needed to buy this doll.

Chelsea had big brown eyes and pigtails, a flowery summer dress, and a pacifier. Chelsea was my son’s first Baby Alive doll, and she slept beside his bed in a painted shoebox with pillows and blankets.

My kid was 7.

Dr. Theresa Tanenbaum is an Associate Professor of Informatics at UCI, a trans woman, and a friend of mine who said, “I’ve been a girl my whole life, but I didn’t always know it. As a result, many of my childhood experiences were defined by cognitive dissonance. Growing up as a trans girl is like being gaslit by the whole world and still finding the strength and confidence to say ‘No! This is who I am.’”

She is a wealth of knowledge about the kind of trauma and pain trans women experience living in a male body most of their lives. I’ve know her since she was in 10th grade and she helped me understand that it’s not my place to guide my son to masculinity. As a single mother, I thought I needed to get him into Boy Scouts or sports, but she helped me stand back and allow him to lead his own journey. Part of the trauma trans people face is the internal struggle of living a double life.

One day my kid decided he needed a dress. I had never imagined I would have this conversation with my son, but he was crying saying he didn’t feel like he fit his own skin. So, we went into the little girl’s section and he happily picked out a pile of glittery rainbow sundresses to try on. He fell in love with one and we took it home. He wore it almost every day after school until it didn’t fit anymore.

Theresa also said, “As a kid, I yearned for ‘normal’ girl experiences, but wasn’t allowed to have them. I suffered in terror from ‘boy’ experiences. Not knowing I was trans, all of it was so confusing. My socialization wasn’t the same as a cis girl, but it wasn’t anything like a boy’s” 

I can’t imagine what it feels like not to fit into my skin. But I do have empathy for those who live that way. I am trying my best to help my child feel at home in his body. It isn’t easy to understand what a kid needs when showing gender non-conforming behavior, but parents and guardians must be prepared to support transgender and non-binary youth. At the moment, I call my kid non-binary. Some days he calls himself a boy, some days he wants to be a girl more than anything. He might be a woman one day, or a man, or maybe he is neither, but it will be his decision. He still has to figure out what gender means to him, how pronouns make him feel, how he wants to present and be perceived. Gender identity is a huge part of our lives and kids need to be allowed to take their time figuring it out.

We need to work better to educate ourselves and others: kids are just kids. No one fits into a neat box. In the end, we should all just be kind and respect other’s lifestyles, decisions, and privacy.

 

Women in Agriculture

By Lara Castillo

This month’s influential figure in agriculture is Momee Pegu from India, who started RIGBO from a local tribe meaning, community volunteering for a cause. Pegu created a sustainable practice that converts 11,000 kg of water hyacinth into organic compost to address sustainability concerns. Pegu was able to observe the issues that this invasive plant was causing such, as water pollution, irrigation blockage for farming, oxygen reduction for aquatic species. She also started an initiative that fosters a safe and expressive place for young women in the village. In 2016, she collaborated with 32 other women in the community to empower and engage them in creating a shift in farming.

Pegu connected with these women by creating organic pesticides, sustainable activity, and organic farming that gives them the freedom to make decisions. The women in this committee turned the invasive plant of the community into an organic compost that helps. The income from this compost was distributed equally among the women, Pegu taking none herself. Interestingly according to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), women make 82% of what men earn, and nothing has changed. Pegu is a figure empowering women in her community striving for equality. Overall, these women have changed the perception of farming.

The message of this initiative is to spread awareness of sustainable farming. In this instance, women experienced engaging with other women in a safe space while practicing agriculture sustainably. The community also produced a positive response which created employment for villagers and creating a better livelihood for the future. Momee Pegu was able to produce something out of nothing. One thing to think about is our future generation of women having the equality that Momee displays and changes we can make ourselves to make that possible.

Learn more here: https://www.thebetterindia.com/250121/momee-pegu-organic-farmer-majuli-assam-brahmaputra-river-rigbo-ngo-water-hyacinth-organic-compost-women-empowerment-him16/ 

Brief Analysis of Chapter VI of A Vindication of the Rights of Women

By Emma Gilham

Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women, written in 1791, questions societal norms placed on women in that time from a philosophical perspective. Chapter VI “The Effect Which an Early Association of Ideas Has on Character” focuses on the concept that women would never be able to experience true love and intimacy unless they were educated equally as men. She claims, as things were, that women had false ideas of what love would be as they couldn’t connect on an intellectual level with their potential partner, hence chasing charming but undesirable “rakes”. Wollstonecraft asks, “And how can they [men] expect women, who are only taught to observe behavior, and acquire manners rather than morals, to despise what they have been all their lives laboring to attain?” (126). In the 18th century, young, middle-class, white women’s education consisted mostly of learning manners, politeness and creating a demure, inoffensive persona. Therefore, that aspect of a partner was inherently valued more heavily Wollstonecraft argues. In the end, this hindered the ability of these women to experience real love and adequately navigate suitors. She laments, “…women are captivated by easy manners; a gentlemen-like man seldom fails to please them and their thirsty ears eagerly drink the insinuating nothings of politeness…” (127).

In the beginning of Wollstonecraft’s work, the reader may assume most of her points are outdated, as education systems have drastically changed and been standardized. Yet, her observations are still applicable to issues many of us encounter when seeking a relationship today. Consistently, people are charmed by someone only to later realize this person is not who they had thought. Are these simply mistakes that anyone would make or are womxn still conditioned to value surface level traits more in a partner? This chapter brings up many feminist ideological and philosophical questions. I recognize that Wollstonecraft’s work is probably the furthest thing from intersectional. However, it is important to ponder how the societal norms and constructs we grow up in influence our preferences in a partner, views on romanticism, or even our ability to love. For instance, many of the movies I watched as a child revolved around a marriage or a romantic relationship. Did this give me the impression that romantic love is more important or valuable than familial or platonic? We may never know, but asking these questions can help us better understand the things we do and the people we choose.

 

Works Cited

                    Reed, Ross. The Liberating Art of Philosophy: An Introduction. Cognella, Inc., 2020

Looking Deeper at Our Phenomenal Feminist: Betty Dodson

By Morgan Clark

When you hear the phrase “sex-positive” do you ever think of who coined the phrase? I know I haven’t. Not until one of my team members sent me her pick for our social media campaign Phenomenal Feminist Friday. Betty Dodson was a pioneer of her time, a feminist who was a sexologist that taught women (and men) the worth of self-pleasure, as well as to embrace sex as something that is natural and healing.

Betty first started as an artist at the Art Students League of New York. There, Dodson was making erotic paintings and freelancing as an illustrator for lingerie ads. She then married an advertising executive but was soon divorced because she did not believe they were sexually compatible. At that time her artwork was not doing well in the industry. That’s when she began hosting workshops for women where she showed and told them how to please oneself.

BodySex was the name of the workshops she hosted. In these workshops’ women learned that vaginas came in different sizes, shapes and colors. Dodson believed that teaching women about their bodies, and how to navigate them, was her form of activism. Dodson said “If women could learn to pleasure themselves properly, they could end their sexual dependence on men, which would make everybody happy.”(New York Times, 2020). During this time Betty was vilified by conservative feminists. When teaching a class in Syracuse she was greeted with hissing after showing big displays of the vagina. But she continued to teach women about their bodies for several years.

In 1987 she published “Sex for One: The Joy of Self-Loving” which eventually became a best seller and was translated into 25 different languages. In this book she speaks about masturbation and how women should learn to view it. That it is a way to love oneself and a possible a way to heal oneself. She also writes in the book about techniques for masturbation using the instructions that she usually used in her workshops. Betty passed on Halloween this year but her works still continue to empower and educate women. BodySex will continue to be hosted several times a year via Zoom by Betty’s work partner Carlin.

Reading about Betty I know that she was very important during those times. To be that sexually liberated and free at those times took courage. I know that women were not as open about sex back in the day. Not knowing about orgasm and even about their own vaginas. I am glad that Betty was able to teach women that it’s okay to learn your own body. I think me and Betty would agree that self-pleasure should not be shameful but embraced, everyone should know what pleases them, even and especially sexually.

Goodbye to a Feminist Icon: Betty Dodson

By Brianna Green

On October 31st of this year, we lost an amazing woman and feminist icon. Her website, with business partner Carlin Ross says Dodson was an, “artist, author, and PhD sexologist (who) has been one of the principal voices for women’s sexual pleasure and health for over four decades.” She’s received rewards from the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality
(SSSS) and Society for Sex Therapy and Research (SSTAR). Playboy even named her in the top 100 most important people in sex along with Cosmopolitan who named her in the top 10 sexual revolutionaries.

Her incredible work started in the late 60’s after her divorce from husband. Her first book, Liberating Masturbation, was self-published in 1974 and was later republished as Sex for One: The Joy of Self-loving in 1986 (thedailybeast). Although more conservative feminists weren’t on board with her message, this best-selling book has a “simple but powerful message that shame-free masturbation is the foundation of every woman’s sexuality” (thedailybeast). However, Dodson didn’t just write books, she also ran “BodySex” masturbation workshops that taught women how to explore themselves and climax. Although these workshops started in the 1970’s, they got revamped in 2013 because, according to the icon herself, “In the 1970s there was no information for women. With the internet, there is misinformation” (thedailybeast).

I cannot express how important Dodson’s work is in my eyes. In my own blogs I try to spread a similar kind of message she did: de-taboo and normalize female sexuality and pleasure. As sad as it is that we lost such a significant figure, we still have her books (listed below) and videos of her spreading her knowledge and message.

Rest in Peace, Betty Dodson. Thank you for your decades of work and incredible knowledge.

 

Books:

Sex for One: The Joy of Selfloving (1978)

Orgasms for Two: The Joy of Partnersex (2002)

My Romantic Love Wars: A Sexual Memoir (2010)

Sex by Design: The Betty Dodson Story (2016)

BodySex Basics (2017)

Raising a Child Gender Neutral

By Adriana Suarez

This semester, I am emerging into my minor by taking an introduction to sociology. The class has been everything I imagined, filled with much discussion and information about social structures and more. It has taught me so much about everyone’s place in society and our differing perspectives of the world in such a few short class periods.

One of the most fascinating stories I heard was on a podcast about a family who decided to raise their children gender neutral. I feel that raising a child this way really changes the way that you see the world and it shows how gender is simply a structure that society has placed on everybody. From the moment that we are conceived, many people ask, “What is it?” expecting the answer to be a boy or a girl. This tells them which adjectives to call the baby by and which gift to buy for them.

Before discussing this podcast in class, I didn’t realize how big of a deal gender is as a social institution in our society. There are obvious things placed in our day to day lives that separate gender, like appearance, restrooms, and clothes. Gender defines how people pick out clothes; girls tend to be gifted the color pink while boys are gifted the color blue. Even the material that clothes are made of reflects on gender, as girls’ clothes tend to be made from soft materials such as silk and boys’ are made from cotton. Boys are expected to play rough, so their clothes need to be able to withstand such destruction, while girls aren’t necessarily supposed to be involved in such activities. This goes to show how clothes tend to restrict girls into what they can and can’t do.

That’s just a little insight to the discussion we had in class, but if you would like to listen to the podcast in its entirety and hear more in-depth about the family and the outcomes, the link is as follows.

https://n.pr/2UXXWN3

Additionally, I want to acknowledge this as my last post for the UMKC Women’s Center. I appreciate all that I have learned here and hope to use it as I move forward. Thank you all!

 

A Theatre Minor’s Thoughts on the Vagina Monologues

By Kyra Charles

Last year, I caved to the advertisements around campus for the Vagina Monologues and went to go see it. I hadn’t a clue what to expect. Two dozen women, most of whom I didn’t know, walked onto the stage and started talking about sex, masturbation, birth, surgery, violence, and most importantly, their vaginas. It was a remarkably intimate space, one that made me laugh, shudder, and ultimately feel more hopeful. I ended up staying for the Q & A and wishing I’d bought a vagina pop before they’d sold out.

This year, I auditioned and was accepted for a role in the show. This is my first time ever performing in the Vagina Monologues. I’m a theatre minor with emphasis in acting, and a relative of mine called it my “first big production” I’m nervous, not from stage fright, but because my parents and possibly more of my family will try to attend, and none (except for my mother) are comfortable with saying the word “vagina” This might be the rawest, most vulnerable show I’ve been in yet.

Being an actor and performing in the monologues seems obvious, and yet doesn’t feel that way. Many of the other performers are locals who identify more as students and business women than actors. Most of my friends in the theatre department are working on other, more extravagant productions. The rehearsals are shorter because of the cast size, the lines aren’t required to be memorized, and the show itself is less of a play and more of a compilation of essays. Sometimes I wonder how it would look professionally on my acting resume.

That isn’t to say I feel any regret about my involvement. What other people say and think is not important to why I’m doing the Vagina Monologues. This show does everything it can to be about everything involving vaginas. It creates a feeling that you aren’t alone. Outside of the monologues, vaginas are often treated as dirty, subpar and submissive to other forms of genitalia, or even monstrous (like the facehuggers in Alien). But in that theatre, among the audience of people who want to talk about vaginas and their inherently controversial existence, there’s a reassurance that you aren’t alone. I adore these stories with my entire heart.

Although I identify as cisgender, I will be part of a monologue that tells the story of a trans woman and her struggle to be comfortable with her identity. I’m not trying to be this woman, but I want to do my best in being an outlet for her story, from her dreams to her darkest moments. Part of being an actor is paying attention to the details of what a character says and gaining a better understanding of them. It’s a psychological assessment that brings that person, fictional or otherwise, to life onstage. There are thousands of trans women around the world that are going through what this unnamed woman does, and the least I can do is relay her story with respect. Her experiences are not mine, but I truly believe she needs to be heard.

Acting in the Vagina Monologues has been a mix of excitement, nerves, and determination. I’m unsure of the reaction from my family or the audience or any future director I’ll be working with, but I want to give this show my all. Maybe I’ll even audition for it again after I graduate. The Vagina Monologues continues to exist for their relevance, brutal honesty, and ultimate beauty. I hope everyone who reads this blog will come see the show, whether they have a vagina or not. I’m ready for whatever this show will bring me (though I really hope it’ll include a vagina pop).

How Wedding Culture Almost Ruined My Wedding

By Elise Wantling

My now-fiancé and I began discussing the possibility of getting engaged in early January of this year, and that was when the problem started. Dreaming of my wedding day was never really my thing until I realized a wedding was in my near future. In an attempt to catch up, I started consuming any wedding-related material I could get my hands on. I created a board on Pinterest, I picked up copies of the national and regional variants of The Knot Magazine, I bought a wedding planning book recommended by my cousin…. And then the trouble started.

My fiancé and his family are very simple, no-nonsense people. Though I tend to be a little more flashy, I’m a pretty humble person myself, this is part of why my fiancé and I get along so well. About a month after our Valentine’s Day engagement my fiancé and I sat down with our parents and drafted a budget. We settled on a modest budget, significantly less than the national average cost of $32,641 (as reported by The Knot). I was perfectly happy with this, and so was my fiancé. We discussed getting married on his family’s property, or at a small lodge on the military base in Fort Leavenworth. We envisioned a simple wedding, perhaps in the early fall, with a rustic theme, and sunflowers as the main motif. It sounded perfect for us!

Everything was fine until wedding fever set in. The more I read wedding magazines, scrolled through Pinterest, or talked to my other engaged friends, the more insecure I became. While looking at Facebook marketplace and wedding dress resale websites, David’s Bridal was emailing me almost daily encouraging me to look at their newly released lines or check out their sales. Wedding magazines were advertising “how to wedding plan on a budget” with suggestions that were nearly double what we had designated for each area. The Knot was emailing me weekly countdowns to our tentative date, with suggestions of vendors they recommended to check items off my “to-plan list”. It all quickly became overwhelming. While I had started the process with a clear vision of what my fiancé and I wanted (something affordable and simple), suddenly my thoughts were inundated with all these new ideas, themes, and standards of what was a must-have or a must-do.

The wedding I was mentally planning started to become bigger and bigger. I got my fiancé to agree to change our wedding from a $300 venue to a $1,500 venue, then I started working on convincing him we needed to look into an all-inclusive venue that had decorations and catering arrangements as part of the package instead of trying to plan everything ourselves. We started making plans to tour country clubs and mansions, and he tried to figure out how he could save up over the next few months in order to contribute more to our wedding and increase our budget. I was stressed, he was stressed, and still I felt like I needed to keep thinking bigger. After all, your wedding is supposed to be the best day of your life, right?

Then one night, everything came crashing down. I started discussing wedding details with my fiancé, then suddenly broke down crying. I couldn’t handle the stress of it anymore. I didn’t know what I was planning, because it didn’t really feel like my wedding anymore, it felt like I was trying to be someone I wasn’t. I expressed all this to my fiancé and he listened patiently, then gently suggested maybe I needed to scrap everything and start over, but this time without the help of the magazines, the Internet, and my friends. This time I just needed to sit down with him and figure out what we wanted, instead of everyone else.

We went back to square one, and now we are planning our wedding, not a wedding built on unrealistic expectations. Looking back, I realize I got too caught up in the standards of the wedding industry. I became invested in the culture of the wedding and focused on that, instead of the reason for the occasion. Sometimes, as a young person growing up in the age of social media, it becomes so easy to listen to the voices on the Internet, or focus on the pictures in the magazines, that they drown out our own thoughts and feelings. Wedding culture encourages us to think large, go grand… but sometimes that’s not what is needed. We have to remember magazines like The Knot or places like Pinterest aren’t actually our friend, they’re just tools used by businesses to sell their products.

I’m looking forward to my wedding now, and I feel like a lot of the pressure is off. We are doing a low cost event with our families and closest friends, and I couldn’t be more excited. It’s going to be casual and fun, just like us, and I look forward to having the wedding of my dreams and not one built on expectations. I feel like I learned an important lesson applicable to all areas of my life which is this: Don’t allow yourself to become overwhelmed by the expectations of others. Always stay true to you.

Warner Brother’s Dangerous Dame

“My passions were all gathered together like fingers that made a fist. Drive is considered aggression today; I knew it then as purpose.”

By Maggie Pool

Ruth Elizabeth “Bette” Davis was an American actress on film, television, and theater. With a career spanning over 60 years, Davis is known as one of the greatest actresses in Hollywood history, but she didn’t start off that way. Davis’s first few roles flopped at the box office, and the film executives in charge of her were left wondering what to do. Due to what they considered her “unconventional” beauty, Davis was put into a different box compared to most female Hollywood stars. However, her fierceness, boldness, and unwillingness to give in to “the man” led to her victory against the misogynistic moguls running Hollywood. Eventually, Davis’s talent was realized, harnessed, and triumphantly executed.

During her first audition in Hollywood, Davis arrived at Universal Studios with no one waiting to greet her. It was later found out, a studio employee waited for her but left because he didn’t see anyone that “looked like an actress.” Davis was casted in minor roles, all of which didn’t exploit her abilities because she didn’t fit Universal’s beauty standards. After a year, and six unsuccessful movies, Universal chose not to renew her contract.

Davis’s luck changed. Warner Brother’s film maker, George Arliss chose Davis to lead in the Warner Brothers picture, The Man Who Played God (1932). Warner Bros. He signed her to a five-year contract and remained at the studio for the next 18 years. In 1934, Better Davis was loaned out to RKO Pictures to star in Of Human Bondage. Her role garnered so much praise from critics it eventually led to an uproar when she wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award. Due to the circumstances, the Academy president said, “any voter… may write on the ballot his or her personal choice for the winners.”

This was the only time in Academy history where a candidate not officially nominated was considered for the award. Davis followed up Of Human Bondage with another next breakout role in the movie, Dangerous (1935). A reviewer from Picture Post wrote, “I think Bette Davis would probably have been burned as a witch if she had lived two or three hundred years ago. She gives the curious feeling of being charged with power which can find no ordinary outlet.” *This wasn’t just an issue with Davis.

All the praise in the world could not sway President of Warner Brothers, Jack Warner. For years, Bette Davis insisted on bigger and better roles, but Warner always rejected her pleas*. Due to her displeasure, Davis filed a lawsuit in 1937 against Warner and sought to move to England after being offered two movie deals better suited to her talents, even though this would be in direct violation of her contract. She later admitted in an interview, “I knew that only directors and good scripts could give me a career, I couldn’t do it with the junk.”

Davis lost the lawsuit, but won the war. She began to get parts she yearned for and what movie lovers will remember forever. For five years in a row, Bette Davis was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her roles in Jezebel (1938)**, Dark Victory (1939), The Letter (1940), The Little Foxes (1941), and Now, Voyager (1942). In a 1988 interview, Davis asserted, “unlike many of her fellow actresses, she had forged a career without the benefit of beauty.” She admitted to being terrified during the beginning of her career, but became tough by necessity. In the end, her unruly toughness won her one of the most memorable performance careers in Hollywood history.

 

Dorothy Arzer : Hollywood’s Most Prominent Woman Director

By Maggie Pool

Director, editor, and screenwriter, Dorothy Arzner is one of the most prolific woman studio directors in the history of American cinema. She was the only woman directing feature-length studio films in Hollywood in the 1930s. Her career spanned from 1919 to 1943. Arzner was one of the few directors to successfully continue their career from the silent era into the era of sound in film.  She worked on a total of 25 films, many of which have received significant attention from feminist film critics and queer theorists. Arzner began her career in the film industry typing scripts for the Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, later known as Paramount. After six months, she became the chief editor in charge of film cutting and editing. This led to Arzner’s first “big picture,” cutting and editing Blood and Sand (1922). This was the first film for which she undertook some of the filming.

Eventually, Arzner was entrusted with directing feature films at Paramount, all of which garnered much success. Some of these silent films include: Fashions for Women (1927), Ten Modern Commandments (1927), Get Your Man (1927), and Manhattan Cocktail (1928). Because of her triumphs, Paramount bestowed upon Arzner the directing role for the studio’s first sound film, The Wild Party (1929) starring Clara Bow.

Arzner left Hollywood in the 1940s and was all but forgotten until the 1970s, when feminist film theorists dug up her work, and she was brought to new recognition. Much of Arzner’s legacy lies in feminist critics analyzing her work such as Christopher Strong (1933) and Dance, Girl, Dance (1940). Christopher Strong is about female aviator, Lady Cynthia Darrington (Katharine Hepburn) and Parliament member, Sir Christopher Strong (Colin Clive). The two characters meet at a party and become instantly attracted to one another. Azrner’s direction leads you to believe Lady Darrington is willing to tie down her free spirit for love, but this dramatically changes. Rather than sacrifice her independence for a man, Lady Darrington broke the world record for height achieved in air, and removed her oxygen mask, causing her to lose consciousness and send the plane into a deathly nosedive.

In Dance, Girl, Dance, Arzner explores female stereotypes, such as women being just a “spectacle” for men and are either wrapped up in sexuality, grace, or innocence. The movie centers around two good friends, Judy and Bubbles who are both dancers. While Bubbles uses her good looks and sassy personality (sexuality) to get jobs, Judy is a dedicated ballerina (grace and innocence) and finds it more difficult to succeed in her chosen profession. Arzner’s Christopher Strong and Dance, Girl, Dance showcase the challenges women face while pursuing their passions and careers.  It is for this reason, that Arzner’s work as a female pioneer in the early ages of Hollywood has become an important area of film.