Who is your feminist hero?
I don’t know how or if to is possible to “get into” feminism. Feminism is a set of politics and praxises. It's something that I became interested in because I saw gender based violence in so many arenas of my life. There are countless variations of feminism, the majority of which I do not align myself with. I believe that feminisms that perpetrate racist, imperialist, trans-exclusionary, and /or pro-capitalist politics are just bad as patriarchy itself. Sometimes, they can be even worse because they operate under the guise of supposed equality and social justice and are therefore more difficult to critique.
My feminist politics have dramatically morphed over the decade and a half that I’ve strongly identified with the “f” word. Whereas in the past I was drawn towards unequal cultural representations of women in media and beyond (Bust Magazine was my high school favorite), today I am primarily considered about access to healthcare, welfare reform, prison abolition, and trans exclusion as a specific form of gender-based violence. I volunteer approximately 15 hours per week at Bluestockings Bookstore in New York City because I believe it is essential to maintain feminism community spaces in which individuals of various ages and backgrounds can meet to share information and host discussions. This is especially essential in the era of Amazon and blogging.
I can point to music and art that directed me towards feminism as a cultural aesthetic. I was hugely influenced by alternative girl rock that was prominent in the late 90’s. The summer before eighth grade, I discovered Live Through This by Hole on a sale rack at a CD store in a Connecticut strip mall. I was completely blown away. After conducting extensive online searches for similar albums (this was an era before the proliferation of Google, and these searches required some digging), I was soon introduced to more politicized and anthemic riot grrrl bands such as Bikini Kill and Heavens to Betsy. Kathleen Hanna and Corin Tucker’s lyrics taught me that I didn’t need to apologize for my thoughts, feelings, body, and sexuality. They vested me to feel confident creating my own space in the world, and taught me that I didn’t have to feel guilty about making mistakes along the way.
Although this feminist musical aesthetic was definitely a political one, it does not represent the feminist politics I strive to live out today. I am hugely aware of the problematic aspects of riot grrrl – insular cliquey “consciousness raising” circles, lackluster race politics, Michfest performances etc - and I empathize with the frustration many of my peers feel towards this movement. I am extremely glad that my current feminist punk community actively critiques the politics of riot grrrl, and I no longer associate myself as being a part of the movement. I was drawn towards riot grrrl as a young girl because I saw myself as being reflected in the movement. I know that a lot of this had to do with my privilege as a white and cis woman. Regardless, I continue to think the legacy of riot grrrl is important. In my professional life, I am a social worker who conducts leadership development trainings with teenage girls. Riot grrrl as a network consisted primarily of teenagers, and the legacy of teenage girls across the world bonding together to discuss and create art about gender violence – however problematic - is incredibly inspiring to me. Teenage girls are rarely taken seriously and tend to be the target of extremely harsh criticism when they mess up, and I think a lot of this has to do with deeply instilled ageist misogyny. The teenagers who were at the forefront of riot grrrl were launching discussions largely without the mentorship of older and more seasoned feminists, and I believe that the lack of guidance and intergenerational dialogue was a primary reason riot grrrl as a movement made so many critical and unforgivable mistakes. Most of my peers today gravitate towards a dismissive “kill your idols” brand of feminism. On the other hand, believe it’s essential to engage with and learn from feminist movements on the past. You can’t learn from the mistakes of history unless you take the time to engage with your elders.
1. Tell me about For the Birds. How did the collective form and were your part of that?
(It should be noted that for the past two years I have been a "migratory bird," if you will. I am no longer a key organizer, but I keep involved when I can because I can't imagine my life without this collective.)
In 2003, a group of women who were involved with punk and activism started the Long Island Womyn's Collective. Long Island, where I am originally from, had a really creative and active scene back then. I'm very grateful to have been apart of that community, but like any subculture it also had it's share of problems and exclusions. We began meeting here and there to discuss our experiences with sexism in punk and organizing. We had skill shares and idea shares in parks and bedrooms. It was refreshing and illuminating to meet with these women and to have collective "me too" moments. We no longer felt individually alone in this scene we loved but that often rejected us. When we gave ourselves a name and a mission, it was not received well by many of the men we associated with and we heard about it often. It didn't stop us. We met weekly at the Long Island Freespace, a really important resource for Long Island radical organizers that is now defunct. In 2004 we held the first Big She-Bang, an event focused on creative women. There was music, art, and panels. By 2005, the event grew so big that it was held over two days with a focus on historical and contemporary feminism on Long Island.
The collective eventually fizzled out due to members busying themselves in college or moving to Brooklyn. In 2007, one of our organizers, Jodi Tilton, an amazing human and wonderful friend, passed away. The LIWC reconvened and decided we should hold another Big She-Bang in honor of her life. It took place at ABC No Rio in the Lower East Side and we realized we not only missed working together, but that this work is never-ending. We continued meeting and eventually started a new collective in NYC, which is what hatched For the Birds Collective. We kept our punk ideals but began to move beyond into the much more immense world.
2. What are your collective goals and what methods do you use to achieve them?
As mentioned in our mission statement, the collective "works to combat social inequality and all forms of oppression through an intersectional feminist analysis of power both within our collective and in our larger society. We value collaboration, shared knowledge, self-expression, and meaningful conversation. We seek to combat transphobia, sexism, racism, classism, heterosexism, ableism, capitalism and other forms of oppression, and to reflect on our own privileges. Our activism emphasizes the need for accessibility, safer spaces, and support within our communities."
The collectively meets weekly with check-ins, check-outs, a moderator and note-taker, an agenda that is passed around, a safe word, and snacks. We organize inclusive events based around the creative endeavors of women-identified folks in safer and supportive spaces. We aim to be allies and to collaborate with local groups and organizations. We want to listen, learn, and support in any way we can. In the past we've partnered with groups including POC Zine Project, Mama's Hip Hop Kitchen, and Support New York. We've also given workshops on our organizing processes at events including Ladyfest, ClitFest, and Visions in Feminism. We've written a zine called So You Want to Start a Feminist Collective based on our personal experience as a collective. We table with our feminist distro at local zine fests and events in and around NYC. The collective has since taken a hiatus from organizing the Big She-Bang, which took place yearly at venues such as Judson Memorial Church and other locations in NYC, in order to focus on other goals.
3. How do you feel like being part of a feminist collective informs the way you relate to the rest of the world? To other women? Or to your community in general?
Working with this collective has taught me so much about being a compassionate human being. Never in my life have I met with a group of such respectful and thoughtful women who are willing to have the really hard conversations regarding our own privileges. I've learned how to truly listen and I recognize the importance of valuing the work we do while also understanding our privilege and taking a step back. Or taking a step forward when someone is treading on me. Each woman in the collective brings something completely unique and important to meetings and I've learned so much from them. Sometimes the work we all do feels draining and unheard, but holding onto our values is crucial even when the other half of the world doesn't care. It's what gets me through another catcall, another blow to reproductive health, another Trayvon Martin. It's a comfort knowing there's a whole lot of women and allies out there - within and way beyond our collective - who share the same core beliefs of staying alive, recognizing privilege, and resisting psychic death. This may sound bleak, but to me it's full of hope.
Was there someone who was super influential in your life?
The person who was super influential in my life has been Nicole Capizzi. I did not know much about what being a feminist meant or represented until I met Nicole. She is a bold and wonderful feminist that speaks strongly on how we as a society must fight and advocate equality for all people. That in order to succeed in the battle against a patriarchal society, we have an obligation to create awareness on the oppression women face (and men) and also act in solidarity with fellow feminists and people who have faced such abuse.
Who is your feminist hero?
My feminist hero has to be my mother. My mom (Belinda Crespo) is independent and strong willed. My mother has always told me that respect comes from with in and that as a woman, I am meant to do great things in this world. Despite the oppression and challenges my mother has endured, she has always believed in herself and refuses to bow down to anyone or anything that belittles or disrespects who she is. I love and admire her fierce attitude and integrity.
Answering the question of how I became a feminist isn’t really that easy. I don’t think there was a precise moment of realization, or a sentence I read in the work of a feminist writer that hit me over the head. My process was gradual; at times isolating and, at other times, wholly welcoming. At the risk of sounding—I don’t know—uninformed, I’m actually not very well-versed in feminist theory. Although, I’ve always been drawn to artists who aren’t afraid to throw the tough shit in your face and make you consider it—Eileen Myles, Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Patti Smith, Lorrie Moore, etc. My feelings about feminism formed thanks to the infinite awful experiences that I and others in my life have gone through: the critiques and catcalls; the double standards; the body image issues; the unequal wages; the gendered expectations. The list goes on and on. And I know that some of it sounds vague, but that is only because we live within a patriarchy so pervasive and fundamentally flawed that it’s sort of just everywhere all the time. So, more than anything else, I can say honestly that my feminist heroes are my friends. In the last few years, I have met more outstanding people, especially women, than I ever could’ve asked for and it feels so, so good to say that that I almost can’t even stand it. They are the people who encourage each other to stay angry because there’s still a fight going on, to love and support each other because otherwise the world is hopeless, and to express themselves through art/music/writing/productive dialogue because their ideas and actions can help push these arbitrary boundaries until they finally fucking break.
I can’t pinpoint a specific incident or a-ha moment that turned me into the feminist I am today, but I can credit part of my transformation to my favorite feminist: my mom. While her brashness and vocality used to embarrass me (like, did it really matter if the cashier at Shop Rite accidentally stiffed us five cents?), she also acclimated me to the idea that a woman is allowed to take up space and assert herself until her thoughts are heard.
In elementary school, I insisted that people refer to her as "Dr. Rita" because she held a P.H.D., understanding even at a young age the rarity of women in positions of power, and wanting her accomplishments to be recognized. In appreciating her position, I realized it was possible for me to garner achievements of my own.
My mom taught me that taking care of my body and soul through yoga and healthy eating is empowering. My sister and I used to tease her for making deserts “healthy” by using whole-wheat flour, applesauce, and flax seeds (years before they became trendy), but now when I feel energized after eating my own whole-food creations, I tip my fork to her.
And she introduced me to the “food” that would nourish me most throughout my life: music and poetry. Pouring through her CD collection when I was twelve, discovering female musicians such as Alanis Morissette, Bjork, Eva Cassidy, and Dolores O’Riordan from The Cranberries, gifted me with endless opportunities for inspiration and liberation through listening their songs, as did the lyricism of Anne Sexton, Margaret Atwood, and Virginia Woolf, whose words beat through me always.
Christine Stoddard, editor of Quail Bell Magazine: I became a feminist because my mother is a feminist. Coming of age during El Salvador's bloody civil war, she became independent very young. When my mother was growing up, Salvadorian culture suffered from a serious case of machismo, but she rebelled against it and made sure that my sisters and I felt we had the power of choice. That's what makes my mother my feminist heroine.
Kristen Rebelo, art director of Quail Bell Magazine: If I think about my childhood, I've always been a feminist. My earliest memory of gender inequality was around age four and I never looked back. Although feminist influences include many authors, theorists and artists, my real heroes are my mother and any person whose small everyday acts of resistance have the potential to affect social change.
Ok, so how did I come to be a feminist? I wonder the same thing myself. Maybe it started when I was a little tyke and I wanted to do things for myself instead of being told what I could/couldn't do. Maybe it started at summer camp where I realized "the boys" were allowed to behave in ways "the girls" weren't, and when I would do the things they would do, I got scolded. Maybe it started when I got really sick a few years ago and realized I wanted/needed to re-connect with my body. The latter was the closest thing to a "Feminist Awakening", but the more I explore my own feminism the more I realize it's not just about "moving forward" but also a remembering.
Reading "Conquest" by Andrea Smith was a game-changer for me and exposed me to some ideas I really needed to hear, particularly as a white settler supposedly concerned with social and ecological justice.
I'm in my 20s but I still look up to Pippi Longstocking.
Speaking of stockings, the first picture of myself I was able to find on the internet features my socks while I peruse through the infamous "Is This a Zine? Y/N" bin during a librarian meeting at the Papercut Zine Library, where I volunteered for 3 years, alongside a crew of amazing, inspiring, fierce feminists.
(Ess Elle is a Philly-based zine-maker and farmer who makes zines about sexual health, cities (and her love/hate relationship with them), and moments of magic or fate.)
Mark your calendars! Philly Feminist Zine Fest will be held on June 28-29, 2014. The fest is split up into two days this year for tabling and workshops. On June 28, from 1PM-5PM. On the 29th, various workshops, skill shares, and discussion groups will happen in cooperation with radical spaces and organizations in Philly. (More details on that as they become available.)
Registration for Philly Feminist Zine Fest will open on 4/28 and close on 5/17. Half tables (4') will be $10. (You can request more than one half space, but we can't guarantee it. Space will depend on registrants available.) As always, PFZF is a juried event to make sure that female identified folks, queer/trans/genderqueer people, POC, and people with disabilities have priority access.
If you can't wait for PFZF, the following events will take place prior to the fest. (Kind of a pre-fest fest, without any real tabling.)
5/16 (5PM-9PM) Book Swap at A-Space! (4722 Baltimore Ave) Trade what you got for what you want. Meet cool new friends and get your read on, you foxy bookworm.
5/17 (7PM) Feminist Comic Reading (Wooden Shoe Books)
5/18 (3PM) PFZF Fundraiser Zine Reading (Vice Coffee, 1031 Spring Garden Street) $3 suggested donation, but no one will be turned away for lack of funds.
The speakers at both the comic and zine readings will be chosen by lotto. Please let us know if you're interested in reading/exhibiting.
All venues for PFZF are wheelchair accessible. Please let us know if you require other accommodations.