My Maternal Grandma

By Sierra Voorhies

(Hackers, her name is not the answer to any security questions. Go away.)

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about my Grandma Rios, but I would also like to share a little bit about my Grandma Carol. She’s amazing, she’s a Virgo, and she’s incredibly smart; she likes to clean, and red lipstick is a part of her signature look. Unfortunately, my grandma has directly faced many women’s issues in her life. One of her stories goes like this:

Carol worked at the Bell Telephone Company, and over her career she held a bunch of different job duties there. She worked switch boards, installed telephones, fixed telephone wires on high poles, put up satellite dishes, and more. One Friday night at 5 pm, when Carol was in her 30’s, she was installing a dish on an apartment building roof. Carol was three stories up on a huge ladder, when a man from a third-floor apartment opened his window underneath her and said, “Can I ask a question? Are you a boy or a girl?” 

My grandma laughs at this today, but at the time this was incredibly irritating. She was wearing steel-toe boots, a button-up work shirt, and a hat—I don’t think she minded looking androgynous, but having her gender brought up and questioned was one of the things she had to deal with on the job, despite her gender being irrelevant and her being busy. In this case, her womanhood was being questioned because of her presentation and her profession in a field largely dominated by cis men.

Grandma Carol also took a lot of flak from cis men coworkers and customers. They would give her difficult assignments in rough neighborhoods, send her under houses (literally underneath them) without backup, and not tell her about safety guidelines—all to “test” her, to see what she would do, or to pass off assignments that others had declined to do. Carol says that they were wanting her to say no, hoping to prove that a woman couldn’t do the job. She did every single job they sent her way.

Today, my grandma tells these experiences like funny stories, but at the time they were offensive and often dangerous incidents of workplace discrimination. Equalrights.org has a comprehensive definition of gender discrimination and lists this as an example: “being held to different or higher standards, or being evaluated more harshly, because of your gender identity, or because you don’t act or present yourself in a way that conforms to traditional ideas of femininity or masculinity.” If that doesn’t hit the nail on the head, I don’t know what does. Even though this was 30–50 years ago, gender discrimination at work is still a problem. The Pew Research Center says roughly 4 out of 10 women have experienced gender discrimination, whether that be by earning less money, receiving little jabs, or being passed over for opportunities and promotions. My grandma doesn’t like to consider herself a victim of gender discrimination, probably because she’s a very fortunate and generous woman, but she should not have had to experience what she did, and I think it’s important to talk about the past and present, and contextualize issues women and gender minorities continue to experience. 

 

Grandma Rios

By Sierra Voorhies

My grandma Paula Rios died a couple years ago. She and I were pretty close and she had a few core tenets that she instilled in me.

One was the importance of a higher education. Paula got married and moved out of her home when she was about 18, and then she had kids, moved to California with her husband, and they raised my dad and aunt together. It turns out my grandpa wasn’t faithful to my grandma. She was sticking by him “for the kids” as people say, but when he started taking advantage of her financially, and his girlfriend reached out to her, my grandma finally called it quits. 

At this point, they had moved back to Missouri, and my grandma decided to go to UMKC to get a degree and a teaching license. She specialized in special education and taught for over 20 years before she retired to a home she paid for by herself. She didn’t get married again. She chose to remain unmarried even though she had a long term live-in partner—maybe because she had been burned by my grandpa.

She is the person who taught me how to write my name—on a dry erase board in her living room, leaning up against the ledge of the fireplace. One thing she said to me then, which I probably didn’t understand, was that I was going to go to college straight out of high school. “No breaks,” she always said. When I was older she was proud of me: I went to college just like she wanted. 

One day when we were hanging out, I told her I was spending a lot of money fixing up my old car. The next week, or maybe two weeks later she gave me a call right after class and said she was going to buy me a new car. 

That happened during the school year. We stayed close that school year, and that summer I studied abroad in Seville, in Spain. I got a call in the middle of my program—she was in the hospital. I didn’t think anything could ever happen to her.  She didn’t want me to know, but I later learned that she was struggling with brain cancer. 

When I came home from Europe, I remember she asked me for a drive to the hospital. Towards the end of her life, I took her to get meds, and hung around the house with her, and tried to help her partner manage all of their finances, which she had been the main organizer of. 

Her dying was the first major grief I had ever been through. She lives on in me and my brother and her children, my father and my aunt, in her siblings and in all the people she impacted as a teacher. Education and higher education were the most important things to her, because she saw them as a key to independence. If I had ever been reluctant to get a higher education, she would have thrown a fit, because she never wanted me to be vulnerable to financial abuse, or be dependent on someone else, like she once was. 

She was one of the strongest, softest, smartest people I knew, and I love her. I hope you all can think of your elders and see some of the lessons they taught you, even if their history or your relationship isn’t perfect.

This story is part of Her Life as Art: Coming Together Through Grandmother Stories, a unique, multi-dimensional, week-long series of events celebrating the wisdom and legacy of the grandmother figures in our lives, taking place Nov. 6 – 12, 2021 at the Kansas City United Church of Christ, 205 W. 65th St. KCMO, 64113. We invite you to view the art exhibit and attend other related events. For details, please visit www.kcucc.org.

Review of “Maid” on Netflix (Spoilers!)

By Sierra Voorhies

Content warnings: abuse and homelessness

I recently watched Maid, a new series on Netflix. The series is based on the book Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land, which is Land’s memoir exploring her experience working below the poverty line to provide for herself and her daughter. 

Not only were the performances of Margaret Qualley, Nick Robinson, and Andie MacDowell amazing, the show also brought women’s issues and poverty to center stage. As Brooke explained last week, domestic violence is often a gendered issue affecting cis women and their children. 

In Maid, we see Margaret Qualley’s character, Alex, leave her partner Sean while he is sleeping in order to avoid a violent encounter. We then witness the ups and downs of Alex trying to provide for herself and her daughter, Maddy. 

When she leaves Sean, Alex becomes homeless. She and Maddy get kicked out of a parking lot that they were sleeping in, and they even spend a night on the floor of a ferry station. Unfortunately, this reflects how many women who’ve escaped an abusive relationship become homeless.

Alex reaches out to everyone she can. She can’t stay with her mom long-term due to her mother’s untreated Bipolar Disorder putting her and her daughter in danger. Alex tries to rely on her friends and family with no luck. When she tries to utilize government assistance, she runs into an unescapable loop: she can’t find a place to live or daycare for Maddy without a job, but she can’t get a job if she has her daughter with her. The expenses of childcare affects many Americans, and is especially hard on those with low incomes and single parents. With nowhere else to turn, Alex eventually moves back in with her ex, Sean. Sean picks up where he left off, emotionally abusing Alex by getting rid of her car, refusing to let her have access to a telephone, and neglecting to bring home food or money from his work. 

Eventually Alex pulls herself out of Sean’s orbit again and this time has the resources and support in order for them to start a new life in Michigan, where she goes to college for creative writing. 

This show was so impactful, and if you’ve ever experienced this kind of situation, you will surely find it hard to watch. But I am so glad it’s on Netflix so we can all practice compassion and gain a greater understanding for people experiencing homelessness, especially women escaping domestic violence. Great mothers can be homeless and unable to provide for their children sometimes, and it’s powerful to fall in love with characters who represent this very human struggle, that could affect any of us.

 

“It’s a straight! It’s a gay! Wait—it’s a bisexual!”

By Sierra Voorhies

As a bisexual, I have encountered bisexual erasure first hand, but bisexual erasure also affects other identities under the Bi+ umbrella (encompassing anyone who is attracted to two or more different genders). Bisexual erasure or invisibility is when “the existence or legitimacy of bisexuality (either in general or in regard to an individual) is questioned or denied outright.”

In the media GLAAD says that “Bi+ characters make up 25 percent of regular and recurring LGBTQ characters [on broadcast television]” despite the fact that “more than half of all non-heterosexual people in the United States identify as bisexual.” If there are more bisexuals than gays or lesbians, why are bisexuals less represented? 

This is tricky because, like the wage gap, there are a lot of factors contributing to bi erasure. First, bisexuals have a list of hurtful stereotypes that are commonly portrayed in media. These include portraying bisexuals as attention-seeking (they are willing to take attention wherever they can get it) or as confused (they just haven’t figured out who they’re attracted to yet, they will have to choose one day). Another is the belief that someone’s bisexuality is revoked as soon as they are in a relationship. As soon as a pansexual woman starts dating a man, for example, the fact that she is still attracted to other genders is ignored and she is seen as straight. This is invalidating and can make bi+ people feel isolated, unseen, or pushed out of the queer community—people are still bi+ no matter who they happen to be with. 

Bisexual erasure is especially destructive to women and foc people because, as you know if you caught Ace’s most recent blog post, feminine relationships are already invalidated, and hypersexualized. Some people still reference Freud in relation to feminine relationships: there must be some masculine centered trauma that would make a FOC person turn to a woman besides a man for a relationship. Discrimination of women compounds with bisexual erasure in order to oppress bisexual foc people. 

People are who they are no matter who they are dating. Sapphic relationships are beautiful and aren’t formed because of trauma. Bisexuals are still bisexual no matter what gender they are currently dating.

Sexism in the Queer Community: Representation 

By Sierra Voorhies

We have all heard of the LGBTQIA+ acronym representing the queer community (this acronym, the identities it represents, and even more terms are explained here), but you might be surprised to know that sexism affects queer people, those of all genders and sexualities. Sexism in this context is the undermining and devaluing of femininity as well as discrimination against femininity (instead of being narrowed to prejudice and discrimination against cis women from cis men). Unfortunately, sexism affects the queer community in a lot of ways, so this will be the first in a series of posts. The first sexist trend we see through the LGBTQIA+ space is queer feminine of center (foc) people not being nearly as represented in media or stories as masculine of center people are.

Take box office hits “Bohemian Rhapsody” about Freddy Mercury and “Rocketman” about Elton John, for example; are there any movies starring queer feminine of center people being made to the same impact, scale or success? GLADD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) found that in 2019 within LGBT representation in movies, only 32% of LGBT characters in mainstream media were women, where 68% were men. GLAAD also noted that “there were zero transgender or non-binary characters counted in mainstream releases this year.” An example from Cleo-Symone Scott of how sapphic relationships are less valued is in the Academy Awards, where Brokeback Mountain and Milk were given Best Picture, but lesbian films (for example Battle of the Sexes featuring a lesbian’s historic tennis win over a straight cis man) are rejected by judges. It’s important to note that bisexuals and transgender characters lag behind in proportional representation to their gay and lesbian counterparts. 

In the future we will discuss why this imbalance exists and how it’s tied to sexism, but for now let’s address the problem: we need to see queer women as more than the main character’s side kick or the straight man’s eye candy, but how do do that? How do we validate queer foc individuals in their sexualities? Well, of course, we can create and support the representation we want to see. If you are in a story-telling position, advocate and create feminine of center love stories. For us consumers out here, find and engage with queer foc stories by streaming movies, buying books, reviewing or sharing on social media, etc. We can vote with our dollar for the kinds of stories we want to see. 

If you’d like to see some foc queer relationships, there is some representation out there: check out the Legend of Korra comics, listen to Haley Kiyoko’s “Girls like Girls,” watch She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, or read Sappho or the people she inspired like Gertrude Stein. There is also information to find online like this article about critically acclaimed Women who Love Women movies and this website that lists books that represent queer relationships.

Sex, Gender, Pronouns, Oh My!

 

By Sierra Voorhies

When someone uses she/her pronouns, you might assume she’s a woman, but pronouns and gender do not always match. Sharing and asking for someone’s pronouns is becoming more common, so it’s a good time to address the common misconception that gender and pronouns are synonymous. I’ll start with explaining sex versus gender. 

Sex is determined by a combination of all sexual characteristics: chromosomes, hormones, and internal and external sex organs (for example ovaries, penis, vulva). If one were to ask what your sex is, they would be referring to your physical sex makeup, and one would respond female, intersex, or male. Check out Aurora’s last blog to learn about what it means to be intersex!

Sex is connected to gender, but they are not the same. Someone’s gender is how they fit into the socialized perceptions of femininity and masculinity. Genders include but are not limited to:

  • cisgender (or cis): when one’s gender identity aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth (e.g., a woman who was assigned female at birth).
  • transgender (or trans): when one’s gender identity does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth (e.g., a man who was assigned female at birth).
  • non-binary or genderqueer: when one’s gender identity is not only or completely either a woman or a man. Someone who is non-binary or genderqueer may be in between a man and a woman, complete outside of those two genders, or some combination of the two.
  • genderfluid: when one’s gender identity or presentation changes over time. Some genderfluid people flip between genders day to day, others shift gradually from one to another. There are no rules!
  • agender: when one does not identify with any gender.

Many non-binary, genderqueer, and genderfluid people identify themselves as trans (under the trans umbrella) because their gender does not fully align with their sex assigned at birth. The non-binary identity is also considered an umbrella under which other, more specific identities may fall. And keep in mind that gender labels are a tool for people to communicate their own identities: listen to gender non-conforming people, they may deviate from these definitions or labels and that’s okay. 

Finally, why are we all here, pronouns! Pronouns are the gendered terms we use to refer to people when not using their name (e.g., he/him, she/her, they/them). Pronouns are connected to gender, but are also not the same. Most importantly, pronouns don’t dictate gender and vice versa. This means that no matter what someone’s pronouns are, you can’t use them to assume their gender; and you can’t use someone’s gender to assume their pronouns. For example, a non-binary person might use he/him pronouns because they are not ready to come out, because they are comfortable with them, or for many other reasons. A woman I know goes by both she/her and they/them (yes, people can use multiple!) so their pronouns are she/they. 

As we continue to ask for people’s pronouns, it’s important to note that it’s not appropriate to use that information to assume someone’s gender or sex. It’s always polite and appropriate to ask for pronouns at the beginning of a new conversation with someone, and if you have known someone a long time, it’s good to check in and ask now as well! I hope this blog is helpful, and we can continue to make mistakes, grow, and learn together.

The More You Know… The More You Won’t Misgender Your Friends

By Sierra Voorhies

When I started at UMKC, I had taken Women’s Studies in Junior College, and thought I was at least minorly educated in the gender issues of the day. Boy, was I wrong. (Trigger warning: misgendering.)

In my first semester or two at UMKC, I made a small group of friends that included a non-binary person. We had some classes together, and after one class, they told me they were irritated: a professor had discussed differences in brain and behavior in the brains of men and women, but hadn’t bothered to do any research about where non-binary or transgender brains might differ or how they are affected. Later in the semester, they were having some turmoil about how to tell professors to address them by their pronouns (they/them). I asked them, “how is someone supposed to know someone uses they/them pronouns when they present as masculine or feminine?” They replied that non-binary people don’t all dress one way, there’s no androgynous dress code of monochromatic-oversized-Jaden-Smithian wardrobe for identifying as nonbinary. 

 That friend helped me learn a lot about identifying as non-binary, stuff that we should all know. People who identify as non-binary, women, or men don’t have to dress a certain way to present their gender because you literally cannot tell someone’s gender by looking at them. This is very different than every subliminal message I have received about performing gender for my whole life, like, I thought it was radical for women to have shaved heads, because they weren’t performing their gender. But guess what? No one, no matter their pronouns or gender, has to look any certain way.

So, that was a big wake up call for me; I have been making assumptions about people and misgendering them, and I didn’t even know I was doing anything wrong. Looking at a person with a soft face shape and long hair, I would refer to them using she/her pronouns without asking or thinking. Then I took a Psychology of Gender class and learned that gender, like sexual orientation, is not a binary. And just like there is a spectrum of sexuality (pansexual, gay, asexual, straight, queer, etc.), there is a spectrum of gender. The options aren’t A) Boy or B) Girl; they include non-binary, genderfluid, cisgender, transgender, and more. 

In the future, I hope to share more of my follies in learning about gender and to explore topics like gender congruence, the different sub-categories of non-binary identities, the history of gender, gender dysphoria, pronouns, and more. I have made mistakes in understanding and applying gender and sexuality to myself and the people around me. Even though it’s embarrassing and I am ashamed that I might have hurt some of my friends, it’s ok for people to make mistakes. What’s important is that we are compassionate towards others and try our best to educate ourselves on gender and sexuality. 

Sierra Voorhies Joins Women’s Center Staff

By Sierra Voorhies

Hi y’all, I’m Sierra Voorhies (she/her)—some people call me Barn Owl, Voorhies, and CiCi  (feel free to use those)—and I am a senior here at UMKC. This will be my third year at UMKC, and before that I spent 3 years at JCCC doing my gen eds and associates. Since this is my sixth year in college, “senior” sounds inadequate. What I really am is someone who’s just getting to know myself as an adult and has about 20 hours left to graduate.

I chose UMKC because I wanted to stay at home and focus on school instead of going somewhere like KU or K-State where I would have to work a lot to make rent. Before this job in the Women’s Center I worked in food service as a server at a pizza place, then as a barista at a local coffee shop (being a barista was more fun but serving made more money). The reason I am attracted to the Women’s Center is because I’ve always been interested in Women’s Issues—in high school I was in the Feminist Club, at junior college I took Women’s Studies and while I’ve been at UMKC I’ve taken Psychology of Gender with Dr. Nilsson. The more I learn about gendered issues and theory the more I realize I have to learn, and I hope the Women’s Center will be a good place to do that, especially here in these blogs—I can talk about what I’ve learned and what I think other people might find interesting, too.

I am also really interested in behavior, and thought processes, which is why I am majoring in Psychology. I think I want to be a counselor, or a social worker in primary schools, but grad programs are being put on hold so I can get a job and move out once I finish my Bachelor’s in the spring. For fun I love to go on walks (not runs), do yoga (not hot yoga), drink coffee (always iced), go thrifting (at like, ATC and Savers), and have deep talks with friends (my zodiac sun sign is Cancer).