Sojourner Truth: A Timeless Women’s Rights Activist

By Skye VanLanduyt

Sojourner Truth escaped from slavery and became a powerful civil and women’s rights activist during the nineteenth century. Truth’s famous speech, “Ain’t I A Woman?” will always be one of my favorite woman authored pieces in multi-ethnic literature. Her language is controversial, provocative, and unforgettable. She delivered the speech in 1851 at a Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio.

Truth’s “Ain’t I A Woman” speech is meant to be controversial. Her speech criticizes white privilege while calling attention to gender and racial disparity in America. In the second paragraph, Truth exclaims “That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted into ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman?” Her critique of men’s treatment toward women runs deeper than the issue of men seeing women as submissive. White women may not be treated fairly but black women are not seen by men as women at all. Truth’s writing reveals why it is important to take a step back and realize women’s experience is not entirely universal.

At the end of the same paragraph, Truth compares her worth to a man’s. She boldly exclaims, “I could work as much and eat as much as a man-when I could get it-and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman?” I love this line because Truth is challenging her role as a woman comparably with a man. She declares women do not “need to be helped” and should be seen as equal to men because they are able to do the same work. But she also calls attention to racial disparity in a new way. Her assertion, “I could work as much and eat as much as a man” is a powerful punch against the barriers white men put up against her.

As powerful as Truth’s “Ain’t I A Woman” speech is, there is a shroud of mystery behind the piece’s publication. Her original speech was transcribed by journalist and audience member, Marius Robinson. Truth and Robinson were “good friends” and reportedly “went over his transcription of her speech before he published it.” A second transcription was published by writer, Frances Gage in 1863 in the New York Independent, a women’s suffrage magazine. Some speculate discrepancies in Gage’s transcription. The phrase, “Ain’t I A Woman” is not found in Robinson’s earlier version of Truth’s speech, nor is there any southern dialect. Although Gage was a feminist, her choice to falsify Truth’s dialect and word choice is counterproductive to the purpose of Truth’s speech. The piece loses its powerful flare and provocative language because Gage’s intended audience is not black. New York’s readership in the 1800’s was predominately white. A powerful black woman’s voice speaking out against white privilege and supremacy would not have received praise before the abolition of slavery.

Despite controversy, Sojourner Truth’s speech, “Ain’t I A Woman?” continues to reflect America’s history, present, and future. It is a reminder that while so much progress has been made in the fight for women’s equality, so much more still needs to be done.

A Semester in Reflection from the Women’s Center’s Caitlin Easter

By Caitlin Easter

As the semester draws to a close, inevitably so does my time here at the Women’s Center. As sad as this is, it provides a perfect opportunity to reflect on what I have done and the things I have learned from working here.

While I have always had a passion for the helping the advancement of women, I never thought I would one day be lucky enough to work at a place devoted to advocating for the equity of women. Coming to Kansas City from a small town, I never realized the opportunities and experiences that would be afforded to me in college just because I was in a space with more people and ideas.

When I first saw the “hiring” poster last semester in Haag Hall, I expected all the positions to be filled at that point in the semester, and was incredibly surprised when there was room for me on staff. That interview was one of the most nerve-wracking things I’d ever done. What if they told me I wasn’t a good enough feminist? More than just being turned down for a job, the fear of being told that I wasn’t fitting the feminist side of myself as much as I had always believed was terrifying for me; the possibility of not being what I had always labeled myself as was such an odd thought. What if I didn’t fit into position and environment because I was a fake feminist? Being accepted for that position helped me to achieve some of the most defining moments of my life through this job.

Getting to wear so many hats in the Women’s Center was also very beneficial! I got to play different roles such as secretary, event organizer, and blog writer! Never being stuck doing the same thing every day was such a change from traditional jobs, and was a nice experience in multitasking for me.

My favorite experiences during my time at the Women’s Center were the Vagina Monologues production and the Healing Arts Corners. The Vagina Monologues was very similar in theme to a production I had done in high school, and was something I was very much looking forward to. Watching other women perform and display our experiences in an open and raw way really deeply touched me. The Healing Arts corners were something I took over near the beginning of this semester, and they have been such a satisfying thing to manage. Beyond just the satisfaction of getting to play with sculpey clay at work, it was also a incredible to see that impact that something so small could make on someone’s day and life.

This semester, I have learned that though my time at the Women’s Center may come to an end, my feminist spirit will never, and it is just about finding new ways to advocate and express this feminism. At the center I have learned about women who use their art to advance women, and if art can spur social change, what else could do the same?

One of the biggest things that inspired me was the culture around feminism in the center. Coming from a place where the title feminist was synonymous with “crazy liberal” to a place where people understood that wanting to be equal was NOT too much to ask, was such an important shift for me. It was nice to be in a healthy place where I could grow, away from people telling me that I was asking too much for wanting the same as everyone else.

The biggest think I will take with me, is that we all have a part to play in the advancement of women in our society, and that doubting how good I am of a feminist is not doing anything for me.

The Vanity Myth of Makeup

By Christina Terrell

There should be no shame in doing something that makes you feel comfortable in your own skin. One of the latest trends that has taken the beauty community by storm has been the development of all the possibilities that makeup offers. The only issues are women have started to get backlash for exploring all these makeup possibilities, for instance women are being told that since they wear makeup, that they are trying to wear a mask that hides their true self from the world, rather than this is something women do to empower themselves. Sha’Condria, also known as “i’Con” is a female poetry empowerment speaker and at the 2015 Texas Grand Slam Poetry Festival, Condria presented a poetry piece titled “In My Skin”. In this poetry piece Condria speaks about her personal experience with being shamed for wearing makeup and how it is almost as if people treat the word makeup as if it were a curse word.

From my personal stand point I feel as though a woman should not be told what defines her as beautiful, because beauty should not be what anyone else’s definition of it is but should be whatever your own personal definition is. Self-love is a concept that is already hard to acquire and find in one’s self and when you add the negative opinions of others it can make things much harder on a woman who may deal with insecurities.

There is an issue that stands in the way of women who choose to wear makeup and then the people who disagree with wearing makeup. That issue being that typically someone who says you shouldn’t paint your face to be pretty or that natural beauty is the best beauty. Would be that those individuals do not understand, is that in a harsh world when women find peace and something that aids their happiness then they must do all they can to continue to empower and up lift themselves.

To watch Sha’Condria’s powerful piece, follow this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5_kkbKs9pY4

 

Dorothy Gilliam: Paving the Way for Female Journalists

By Christina Terrell

Have you ever sat back and thought about the woman who produces all the interesting feminist articles, blogs, newspaper and magazine columns that you read? Or have you taken a moment to consider where the journey of feminist’s articles began? It all started with Dorothy B. Gilliam, an African American woman from Memphis, Tennessee who went on to attend Ursuline University in the year of 1952. It was there where her journalism journey began.

Just at the age of seventeen, Gilliam was named Society Editor at her local newspaper, known as the “Louisville Defender”. Gilliam then went on to tap into her niche of journalism, which was writing about the topics that no one wanted to cover due to the time period. This included subjects such as the civil rights and the women’s suffrage movement. In 1957, Gilliam was approached by an editor with “Jet magazine” who offered her a position as an Associate Editor. Gilliam stayed at “Jet Magazine” for two years before wanting to go back to college to further her education in journalism. So, she started at Columbia University, where she received her graduate degree in journalism. Gilliam then went on to work for the “Washington Post”, where she covered a lot of ground breaking stories on the desegregation of colleges and the presidential term of John F. Kennedy and most importantly, the women’s suffrage movement.

Dorothy B. Gilliam is a very influential woman and she was one of the first women to break down barriers and get her foot into the door of some very, what is known today as, prestigious names in journalism. Without the efforts of Gilliam and her bravery, there would not be very many female journalists, let alone someone to tell and create all the feminist articles that we enjoy.

You Can’t Objectify Me or My Leggings

By: Christina Terrell

Over the years women have always been told what they should and should not wear. Even in the current year of 2019 women are still held to a stigma that they should not wear things that show their “curviest” assets or skin. The impression has been that when women are body shamed for what they wear and how their body is built, it is men who are doing the scolding. This is far from the case of Maryann White and how she expressed her feelings about young ladies wearing leggings.

Maryann White is a mother of two boys who one day when she was at Notre Dame’s church for mass service, noticed a group of young ladies dressed in “black painted on leggings”, with short shirts that did not cover their backsides. This was a distraction in Maryann’s eyes, not only for her but also her children. She responded by writing a letter to the Notre Dame student newspaper, expressing her concerns with the wearing of leggings and how young ladies should not be allowed to do so in mass or on campus.

However, after Notre Dame received this letter, it was quickly published in the student newspaper by request of the female students in question. The female students of Notre Dame decided that the best way to respond to this through awareness and peaceful protest. One of the outcomes of their actions included the women of Notre Dame starting a #leggingdayND. During this day, which later turned into a full week, encouraged the women of the Notre Dame campus to wear their leggings and then to post a video or picture to social media, expressing that there is no one or nothing that should be allowed to tell a female what they should and should not be able to wear on their campus and religious spaces.

In my opinion women should not be objectified to having to look a certain way in a place of religion but they should instead be able to freely practice their religion in their own skin or what makes them comfortable. It is important that we engage in the conversation that no one wants to have, women are not the issue, and neither is what we decide to put on our bodies, after all, it is our body!

Celebrating Women’s History Month: Dorothy Cotton

By Caitlin Easter

“I’m tired of people saying, “And now we present her, who marched with Martin Luther King.”
Well, a lot of folk flew down there one weekend and marched, but I worked.”- Dorothy Cotton

Dorothy Cotton was very similar to other women in the fact that she never got the recognition
she deserved. Even today, the name Dorothy Cotton doesn’t ring a bell in the average American’s
imagination, because beyond the fact that she was black, she was also a women. Despite this, she was a
major champion of the civil rights movement and never allowed her gender to stop her from doing what
she wanted to do. She believed in the power of speech, and encouraged others to speak the truth with
her organizations. She was a major advocate for human rights education and leadership. She spoke at
workshops and with her Institute helped people to understand and shape themselves as leaders to
advance human rights. The Dorothy Cotton Institute was founded in 2007, and works to secure human
rights for everybody through education, interactive exhibits, and movements and campaigns. The
Institute works to develop Human Rights leaders, build a community for these leaders, and promote
practices that lead to justice and healing.

According to The Dorothy Cotton Institute, Ms. Dorothy Cotton was the Education Director at
the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the director of The Citizenship Education Program, the
Vice President for Field Operations for the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolence Social Change,
the Southeastern Regional Director of ACTION under the Carter Administration, the director of Student
Activities at Cornell University, a 2010 National Freedom Award Recipient, and the founder and
namesake of the Dorothy Cotton Institute. Ms. Cotton is now being recognized as a 2019 Honoree in the
National Women’s History Alliance following the theme of: “Visionary Women: Champions of Peace &
Nonviolence.”

Before her death on June 10, 2018, she was a strong and influential advocate for violence
reduction and humanitarian issues. She was a speaker, a teacher, a facilitator, a peaceful resister, and a
woman. Her name will always be tied to Dr. Martin Luther’s because of their strong bond and joint work,
but her impact will forever be so much more than that.

More information about Ms. Cotton and her institute can be found at:

https://www.dorothycottoninstitute.org/

Celebrating Women’s History Month: Rosa Parks

By: Brittany Soto

In honor of Women’s History Month, I wanted to focus my attention on Rosa Parks. Most people are familiar with who Rosa Parks is but to those who aren’t, she was a civil rights activist who was best known for courageously refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white person during a time when segregation was legal. She was thrown in jail as a result of this incident, sparking the infamous Montgomery Alabama Bus Boycott. Her vital role in this movement helped bring attention to the mistreatment of colored people and fought against racism and segregation. Her courage and leadership served, not only as an inspiration to people of color, but to ALL women. She was dubbed the second most popular historical figure to be talked about in schools according to a survey by American
students. (Wineburg, 2008).

Rosa Park’s courage and determination to challenge racism and segregation did not start with the bus incident. This is something that has been instilled in her since childhood. She was never afraid to speak up against the mistreatment of colored individuals by standing up against white children who
would try to harass or bully her. She was also the secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and continuously pushed to end segregation in schools and in public places. Despite the challenges she faced as being a fearless colored woman who was determined to fight for what was right, going as far as receiving daily death threats to her and her family, this never stopped her from fighting for peace and the rightful treatment of colored individuals. This just goes to show that doing what’s right isn’t always easy, but is necessary. Rosa Parks is now a legend and an
inspiration to women worldwide.

Concluding Everybody is Beautiful Week

By: Christina Terrell

Everybody is Beautiful Week is a movement that the UMKC Women Center puts on to celebrate body positivity and combat eating disorders. The idea comes from the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA). This nonprofit organization, based out of New York City, has been around since 2001 with a mission of supporting individuals and families affected by eating disorders while serving as a catalyst for prevention, cures and access to quality care. Although this is the main mission of the NEDA they also participate and advocate for many other things that go hand and hand with spreading body positivity and uplifting others and accepting themselves physically, mentally and emotionally.

There are many great ways that the NEDA tries to get involved and supply support to the world and one is through some of the events that they put on. For starters, they host an annual walk called the NEDA Walk, for families and friends to join their loved ones to walk in their own communities to silence eating disorders. Along with the NEDA walk, there are many other events that are put on in order to fulfill their mission.

In honor of Body Positive Week, UMKC Women’s Center decided to put on a project called Operation Beautiful. During this week we hosted several events that supported NEDA’s mission. To Jump start the week we began with doing a movement around the UMKC campus, which included students on campus making colorful sticky notes that had body positive phrases on them, stating things such as “RIOTS BEFORE DIETS” and “I AM STRONG, I AM ENOUGH, I AM BEAUTIFUL”. Throughout the week we, along with other students, posted theses sticky notes on campus to spread the word.

Some other great events that we put on during Operation Beautiful included a Crafty Feminist Session where students could come make shrink art or a body positive sticky note to spread around campus. To close out Operation Beautiful we hosted a tabling event here on campus, which displayed lots of information about the NEDA and other body positive information, the table also included activities that the students could partake in to get their own message about Body Positive Week out on UMKC’s campus!

“Having Daughters is my Punishment..”

By Caitlin Easter

There is a huge discrepancy in our society between the way men and
women are expected to interact with members of the opposite gender. Society
tells us the “correct” way to behave with relational partners, but it is a very
gendered divide in how we understand and view the situations when people
don’t follow these guidelines. Our world is a lot more willing to forgive a man
who mistreats a romantic partner than a woman who should know better than to
treat a romantic partner poorly. It is almost expected of males to behave this way,
and no one blinks when men are accused of these fallacies.

I have often heard from parents in one variation or another “having girls is
my punishment for the way I treated girls when I was younger.” I have, however,
never heard the direct inverse of this statement. Women are expected to know
how to treat men even before they have sons, but society labels it acceptable for
men to have their learning curve so late in life. Given these—clearly—different
approaches to judging the outcome of a situation, why is it so hard for our society
to believe that we are not holding boys to the same standard as girls? Why is it so
hard to believe that we are raising the men in our society wrong, when even they
are haunted by the possibility of their younger selves’ behavior being directed
towards their daughters?

Holding boys to a higher standard for the treatment of others at a young
age will stop the perpetuation of this harmful cycle and help to teach boys to
treat women not just how they want their daughters to be treated in hindsight,
but also how they expect themselves to be treated.

Year of the Unapologetic Woman

By Nina Cherry

As we are now over a month into 2019, I finally found a theme and a personal goal for myself for this
year (a bit late, per usual). The theme? Unapologetic womanhood.

Now, being an unapologetic woman does not mean that you never apologize. It means you apologize
when an apology is actually appropriate. All too often, women (myself included) find themselves
apologizing for a wide range of unnecessary things, which is exactly what we have been conditioned to
do!

I do not have time to apologize for my womanhood. I do not have time to apologize for the
inconveniences and traumas brought about by my gender. I do not have time to apologize for being
“unladylike”, and ladies, neither do you. We apologize for some of the most natural things – especially
for displaying emotion, which is often conceived as being “dramatic”.
It is time we stop apologizing for our presence – whether that be for talking “too much” (which usually means a woman is talking the same amount as a man), crying, not shaving or wearing makeup, not looking “pulled together” enough. Let’s stop being polite because we feel like we have to be. Doing the polite or “ladylike” thing does not equate to doing the nice thing. In addition, politeness does not equate to honesty. We need to do what’s best for us, and stop apologizing for our existence.

I encourage you to follow in this manifesto – be unashamed and proud! Do it for yourself. Do it for other women. So watch out, because 2019 is the year of the unapologetic woman.

Here is a great list of the things we need to stop apologizing for in 2019:

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/bustle/23-things-women-apologize-for-all-the-time_b_5915414.html