Gender Matters offers feminist approaches to a diverse range of discussions on intersectional, transnational, and community issues. Contributors include UB students, faculty, and staff, as well as greater Buffalo community members, whose perspectives enrich our collective feminist engagement with education, research, and lived realities.
The Gender Institute welcomes new potential authors. Those interested should contact the blog manager, Hilary Vandenbark at email@example.com.
March 30, 2020: Are You a Modern Day Typhoid Mary? by Sarah M. Glann
May 18, 2020
At the beginning of each summer, the Gender Institute invites faculty, staff, and graduate students to share their summer reading selections with us! Ranging from cutting edge scholarship to comforting classics to works that resonate with current events, this year's lists are sure to pique your interest!
The Gender Institute would like to thank those who contributed their selections this year, including Glenna Bett Sharonah Fredrick, Stacy Hubbard, Carine Mardorossian, Kathleen Parks Marsh, Cody Mejeur, Randy Schiff, David Schmid, Kari Winter, and Victoria Wolcott.
My summer quarantine reading list includes Mary Beard’s Laughter in Ancient Rome (2015). Anything by Dame Mary Beard, Professor of Classics at Cambridge, is worth reading, listening to, or viewing. She has transformed our access to history, bringing a tangible sense of what life was actually like for the people. This looks to be a great book, as the first snippet I read was about a Senator who wanted to laugh out loud in response to the foolish behavior of his pompous leader, and had to chew vigorously on laurel leaves to hide his laugh. Laughing in the face of “Leaders”! That is what we need.
The second book on the list is Gaston Dorren’s Babel: Around the World in Twenty Languages. Tracing the connectedness of people through the languages of the world is always fun. How similar we are, how different we are. Of course, the roots of “English” are an incredible fusion, reflecting all those who conquered the British Isles. The English language continues to be reshaped, reformed, and redefined for use around the world. The evolution of languages is interesting. This book was positively reviewed, but the few pages I have read center on Dorren, rather than on the evolution of language, which is disappointing. Babel has been abandoned in my car since quarantine began. Will I summon sufficient interest to retrieve the book before the lockdown ends?
At the top of my stack of summer reading is Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s long awaited Stop Telling Women to Smile: Stories of Street Harassment and How We’re Taking Back Our Power (Seal Press 2020). A classically trained oil painter based in Brooklyn, Fazlalizadeh started a street art series a number of years ago featuring portraits of women with a single sentence describing how they feel about being harassed in public places. “My name is not baby, sweetie, sweetheart, shorty, sexy, honey, pretty.” There is a short documentary about this project that I show my first-year students in Creative Nonfiction, and I hope to have them read this book when I teach this course again in the Fall.
The second book is Harvard historian Walter Johnson’s latest The Broken Heart of America: St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States (Hachette 2020). Beginning with Lewis and Clark’s 1804 expedition to the Ferguson uprising in 2014, St Louis represents “a crucible of American history,” where empire intersects with anti-Blackness. This book has already been deemed a masterpiece, in the vein of W. E. B. Du Bois’s essay “The Souls of White Folk,” written in the aftermath of the 1917 massacre in East St. Louis.
I am looking forward to diving into the Spanish-language novel by the great Catalan writer, Ildefonso Falcones, La catedral del mar. The book tells a powerful story of love, hate, religious intolerance, and female and male survival in the dark world of late medieval Barcelona. Its story focuses on women of the serf class and the men who loved or hated them, and the ways in which the stranglehold of the early Iberian Inquisition forced women into marginalized and victimized positions, which included having to marry their rapist if the rapist so desired. (Yes folks, the Inquisition started long before Muslims and Jews were expelled from Spain in the late 15th century). La catedral del mar is by a male author who has a magnificent power of empathy with his female heroines, and I find it uplifting to know that it IS thoroughly possible for men to comprehend, and support, women's struggles in any epoch. I've seen the impressive television series based on La catedral del mar which Spain's RTVE network produced a few years ago; and now I can't wait to dive into that mar (sea for you all who don't yet know Spanish) with a cup of nice thick Mexican cocoa on a sunny soft day.
I've been enjoying front door delivery from Talking Leaves Books in recent weeks. In my latest bag are Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (a former UB undergraduate now teaching at Princeton); Ha Jin's A Map of Betrayal (the story of a woman's search for the history of her father, a Chinese spy captured in the U.S.); and Maxine Hong Kingston's China Men (the partner text to The Woman Warrior, based on her father's experience as a Chinese immigrant in the U.S.). I'm also in the middle of reading Elizabeth Outka's Viral Modernism: The Influenza Pandemic and Interwar Literature, which I actually bought just before our current pandemic hit--the historical resonances between our present moment and the 1918-19 flu season are quite illuminating (though bleak).
I needed to read something funny and light to help me bear the chaos that has been surrounding us in so many dimensions of our lives since the pandemic. So I picked up again A.J. Jacobs’s The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World, which is simply hilarious and was endorsed by none other than Jon Stewart. It is as funny the second time as the first, and speaks to every academic’s obsession with the nature of knowledge.
#Hashtag Activism by Sarah J. Jackson, Moya Bailey, & Brooke Foucault Welles
After hearing these women speak about their book I am fascinated to read more about how marginalized and disenfranchised groups have used this social media platform to effectively and often times powerfully advocate for themselves and their causes.
Crazy Love by Leslie Morgan Steiner
In teaching Psychology of Aggression and Violence this Spring, I came across the Ted Talk by Leslie and subsequently purchased her book. She chronicles her experience as a young 22 year old woman whose seemingly perfect boyfriend/fiancé became the husband who pushed her down stairs and threatened her with a gun, and why it took so long to leave him.
When We Believed in Mermaids: A Novel by Barbara O’Neal
I have read the first two chapters on-line and am hooked….this novel describes a woman who lost her sister in a terrorist attack 15 years ago and now believes she has seen her in a news broadcast half-way around the world.
It has all the elements I love, sisters, mystery, and a search for truth.
I look forward to using the summer months to catch up on some publishing projects at a relaxed pace with plenty of breaks, and to that end I’ll be reading two recent books by colleagues in queer and feminist media studies. The first is Video Games Have Always Been Queer by Bonnie Ruberg. Ruberg argues that queer representation, narratives, and experiences are not something new just being added to games, but rather that video games have always had queer elements to them. For example, she argues in the first chapter that Pong can be read as a queer experience, and opens space for considering how other games without explicit queer content could further projects in queer world-building. I especially appreciate this sort of argument because it reminds me that queerness is everywhere, not just cordoned off in particular approved areas of society and
The second book is Gamer Trouble: Feminist Confrontations in Digital Culture by Amanda Phillips. Informed by queer and women of color feminisms, Phillips’ book tackles how issues (troubles) of difference, diversity, and online violence are not just issues of representation––they’re inherent to every part of digital technologies from the logics of computation and control to optimization of gameplay to hardware and software industry practices. Phillips’ work is also situated within digital humanities discourses and practices, and I’m looking forward to seeing how she traces the links between games and the many industries and technologies related to them. As I often tell my students, games are a microcosm of larger societal and cultural trends, and an especially important one given the ties between hate movements like GamerGate and the Alt-Right.
Summer 2020 seems like a great time to finally read Ice, by Anna Kavan. I have been eyeing this icy post-apocalypse narrative for a long time. Perhaps the confluence of environmental deterioration and political dysfunction will offer some strangely comforting escapism during these difficult times: it could, after all, be much worse. A second item that I plan to read this summer is The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu. I’ve never gotten very far into what is regarded by many as one of the finest works of premodern world literature—and perhaps this will be the summer where I finally read it all the way through. My translated edition comes complete with wonderful woodcuts from a seventeenth-century edition of Lady Murasaki’s novel.
Summer is the time I reserve for big books I don't have enough time to read during the academic year. This summer I'm planning to read two massive tomes by veteran and prolific Marxist theorists. First up is geographer David Harvey's A Companion to Marx's Capital, the written version of the famous annual lectures Harvey has been giving on this subject for decades (and which are available on YouTube). I plan to read this alongside Capital itself, just as one might read Freud alongside Ernest Jones' The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud. I'll then turn to Mike Davis' and Jon Wiener's Set the Night on Fire, the first comprehensive history of social and political movements in Los Angeles in the Sixties. Together, I hope these books will help me figure out how to configure the 'new normal' in a post-COVID world by combining local activism on the part of sexual, racial, and political minorities with global anti-capitalist struggle.
This summer, I'm looking forward to exploring new conceptualizations of masculinity and catching up on some of the great scholarship being produced here at UB. Starting with Dr. Ndubueze Mbah's Emergent Masculinities: Gendered Power and Social Change in the Biafran Atlantic Age. Next, I'm going to read Peggy Orenstein's new book Boys and Sex: Young Men on Hookups, Love, Porn, Consent, and Navigating the New Masculinity. I am also currently revisiting Deborah Gould's Moving Politics: Emotion and ACT UP's Fight Against AIDS because it feels particularly timely and insightful for how emotions are being mobilized for good or ill during COVID-19. Finally, I will do my annual summer tradition of reading a Harry Potter book because we can't be scholars all the time.
I hope you also get a chance to read Lisa Downing's new book Selfish Women in anticipation of her webinar lecture with us on September 17, 2020. You can register here: https://bit.ly/LisaDowningWebinar
Having just completed Rebecca Solnit’s memoir, Recollections of My Nonexistence, which articulates brilliant insights into how women are silenced through being denied credibility, I am now beginning her essay collection-cum-cultural- phenomenon, Men Explain Things to Me.
I am re-reading Barbara Goldsmith’s Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism, and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull, which I highly recommend to anyone who wants to understand nineteenth-century America, the horrific underside of women’s oppression, the reasons women turned to spiritualism for empowerment, and the genealogy of evangelical misogyny. I’m planning to finish W.E.B. DuBois’s monumental Black Reconstruction, a masterpiece of historiography wrenched from unwilling archives and hostile institutions. To lighten the mood, I plan to spend hours every day reading the nature in my garden.
This summer I’m reading two dynamic works of American religious history that place gender at their center: Benjamin E. Park’s Kingdom of Nauvoo: The Rise and Fall of a Religious Empire on an American Frontier uses recently available Mormon archival records to excavate a remarkable religious utopia. Jacob S. Dorman’s The Princess and the Prophet: The Secret History of Magic, Race, and Moorish Muslims in America tells the story of Prophet Noble Drew Ali who founded the Moorish Science Temple of America. I am also eager to read Buffalo-native Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s multiple-prize winning book, Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership. And when I need a break I’ll be finishing Martha Wells’s Murderbot series, hilarious short science fiction novels about a robot designed to kill who would prefer to binge his favorite shows.
May 14, 2020
In March 2020, Professor Lillian Williams (African and African-American Studies/Transnational Studies) received one of the inaugural Trailblazing Women of Western New York Award for her dedication to ensuring Women of Color's contributions to WNY are not forgotten. Williams serves on the steering committee of the Trailblazing Women of Western New York Monuments Project. Below is a transcript of her acceptance speech which she has graciously allowed us to share as well as some photos from this and past Trailblazing Women events.
I am pleased to accept the Trailblazing Women’s Award.
I want to thank the Trailblazers for bestowing this honor upon me and congratulations to the other recipients.
Oberlin College Alumna and Educator Anna Julia Cooper wrote “it is not the intelligent woman v. the ignorant woman; nor the white woman v. the black, the brown, and the red, --it is not even the cause of woman v. man. Nay ‘tis woman’s strongest vindication for speaking that the world needs to hear her voice.” What a gift it has been to work with such women of courage, commitment and compassion and to hear their diverse voices.
My journey as an historian probably began in first grade when my teacher Mrs. Fisher encouraged students to bring books to school to share. I was fascinated by my father’s book collection and I chose to share Historian J. A. Rogers’ 100 Little Known Facts about the Negro. Rogers wrote about African kings and queens, warriors and scientists. Much to my surprise Mrs. Fisher told me that my father’s books were a pack of lies and I should not bring them to school. She informed the class that Africans had not contributed anything to civilization and that they were only slaves. But the clincher for me was that she said Africa was the dark continent. I was on the verge of tears at that point because I thought the sun didn’t shine in Africa. This experience posed a conflict for me—my Dad, my hero v. the establishment educator. Nevertheless, I secretly continued my clandestine studies
and shared my findings only with trusted classmates.
My secret pursuits continued and were encouraged by my eight grade English teacher Miss Kelly who urged me to learn about the experiences of African Americans, especially women like Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth. She assigned me to teach what I had learned to the class, for she said she would be penalized, if she taught those texts. But she contended that I could because her students had to do oral presentations and could select their own topics.
These experiences taught me to dig deeply, to conduct research and to persist in my pursuit of the truth. They also taught me what an important tool history is. There was no doubt that I would major in history when I went to college. But they also imbued in me the desire to make the knowledge that I was acquiring available to a broader community of lay and academic populations. Service was a critical component in making this happen. My parents were active in their communities. They took me to lectures, introduced me to civil rights organizations and provided role models and road maps for civic engagement which later produced lectures, museum exhibitions, publications, etc.
The Trailblazing Monuments project is a culmination of the work of many individuals to honor women who battled racism, gender inequity and classism. As Buffalo suffragist and human rights activist Mary Burnett Talbert observed, it is important that our children know that these women dedicated their lives to transforming their world; thus, they prove that persistent struggle yields progress and they, too, can thrive and make a difference.
I thank you for this award and I accept it in memory of my mother, Ada Lucille Williams.
Lillian Serece Williams
April 13, 2020
Women’s Collegiate Sports in the Nineties
If you are a college athlete, you might have heard this one: “You aren’t going to the Olympics, so why are you still competing?” If you are a female athlete, you have heard that line a few times. If you were a female athlete competing in the late nineties, it was a refrain. Collegiate women’s sports did not make sense to outsiders then. But for those of us who were the early beneficiaries of Title IX, sports mattered.
I swam at the University at Buffalo from 1989-1995, competing for four years—two at Division II under Head Coach Emily Ward and two at Division I under Head Coach Dorsi Raynolds. Both women established a path for their athletes to follow, challenging us to see beyond the gender boundaries that permeated American culture in the early nineties.
On a smaller scale, swimming provided me with a stable platform on which to ride out the turbulent currents of my adolescence. I relished and, in retrospect, needed the twice-daily dose of endorphins to balance my emotions. My swim teams had always been my surrogate families, providing a safe space, a routine, an opportunity to excel, and teammates more like sisters than friends. Not swimming in college simply was not an option for me. I did not always consciously make decisions as a young woman; my instincts led me toward the experiences necessary for my own survival and growth. Swimming at UB under Emily Ward and then under Dorsi Raynolds was no exception.
Transformational Women Coaches
The story I share today is about Dorsi Raynolds, and this chapter of Dorsi’s story is an intersection of stories: in particular those of Emily Ward, Kelly P. Sahner, the women athletes who swam for her, and others at UB whose lives she impacted on her journey. Dorsi’s passion for swimming, for the empowerment of women, and the positive energy she brought to every aspect of her life transformed all of us. Dorsi’s belief in the young women she coached challenged us to see beyond the boundaries we set for ourselves. Her energy and passion pushed us through grueling workouts, giving us the chance to surpass the limitations we placed upon ourselves.
Twenty-five years later, the experience of swimming under Dorsi’s leadership motivated me to volunteer my time, money, and energy for the Friends of Dorsi Raynold’s Swimming & Diving Campaign, a $100,000 fundraising campaign to name the competition pool at UB’s Alumni Area after Dorsi Raynolds. We succeeded. On Saturday, February 29, 2020, the finals of the Mid-Atlantic Conference Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships began with a ceremony honoring Dorsi’s legacy in women’s swimming and representing a new vanguard of women athletes coming into their own.
Ramifications of Title IX
This story began with Title IX, an educational amendment granting women athletes the same Federal funding opportunities as their male counterparts that was signed into law on June 23, 1972. Dorsi Raynolds was eight years old. As an early beneficiary of this law, she would go on to a storied career as a collegiate swimmer at Ithaca College, earning sixteen Division III All-American honors among others. She was inducted into the Ithaca College Athletics Hall of Fame in 1996.
Dorsi started coaching college swimming right after she graduated, and in doing so pushed back against a disturbing trend occurring in collegiate women’s sports. Prior to 1972, ninety percent of collegiate women athletes were coached by women. Following the enactment of Title IX, that number dropped by fifty percent. A study done by the NCAA found that as more money and higher coaching salaries became associated with women’s sports, more men became interested in the opportunity.
Dorsi held the position of Head Coach of Women’s Swimming & Diving at UB for thirteen years from 1992-2005, racking up dozens of victories and three Mid-Continent Coach of the Year awards. Subsequently, she coached age-grouper Hannah Cox (Upper Valley Aquatic Center) to an eighth place finish in the 400-free at the 2016 Olympic Trials. Coaching an Olympic athlete was a long-term goal of Dorsi’s, but one that would remain unrealized. She passed away in the spring of 2018, following a lengthy bout with cancer.
The Playing Field Shifts
A year prior, the University at Buffalo eliminated the Men’s Swimming & Diving Team from its complement of Division I teams. Unlike football or basketball, collegiate swimming seldom generates revenue for the university. After the men’s team was disbanded, Emily Ward approached a number of her former swimmers to form a core alumni group. Our goals were simple, to support and strengthen the current Women’s Swimming & Diving Team.
We purchased personalized deck towels for the freshmen. We wrote inspirational cards for each athlete before the championship meet. We formed a multi-platform social media presence to promote the team, started a database of swimming and diving alumni, and established professional ties between alumnae and current athletes. Swimming, always so central to our lives, generates few waves outside of its community. Through our small acts, we hoped our presence would be felt and the future of the team assured.
Enter Kelly P. Sahner, former UB Basketball player, UB SA President, and close friend of Dorsi Raynolds. Looking for a way to memorialize Dorsi and the team that had been so central to Dorsi’s coaching career, Kelly approached UB Director of Athletics Mark Alnutt about naming the pool in her honor. The figure provided was $100,000. All funds raised would go directly to UB Women’s Swimming & Diving. When Kelly floated the idea of naming the pool for Dorsi, we realized the tribute aligned perfectly with what we hoped to accomplish as alumnae of Women’s Swimming & Diving. Dorsi represented everything that we believed in—the continued opportunity for women athletes to pursue swimming and diving at the collegiate level.
Our path was set.
Recognizing Dorsi Raynolds
You already know the end of this story. In two years, we reached our goal of $100,000 raised and pledged to the Friends of Dorsi Raynolds Campaign. All money received will support the current UB Women’s Swimming & Diving Team, and the competition pool at Alumni Arena will henceforth be known as the Dorsi Raynolds Competition Pool.
Our mission was personal: we wanted to memorialize a coach who would have relished our leadership more than the limelight. And, knowing Dorsi, she would have expected that we reach our goal, having taught us to aim high, work hard, push through the inevitable setbacks, and succeed. We did not know that women raising money for woman-centered campaigns was rare. We did not know that so few university buildings and spaces have been named for women that no one has bothered to document them, nationally or locally.
The University at Buffalo fares no better. There exist just four external spaces named for women by women: a softball field named in honor of former UB Softball Coach Nan Harvey, Talbert Hall in honor of Mary Burnett Talbert, Townsend Hall named in honor of Harriet Townsend, and Knox Hall named in honor Grace Knox who wished to memorialize her husband, Seymour Knox. The University does not have centralized library archives on the naming of internal spaces.
In pursuing this goal, we acted on our own desires. We are, to borrow a line from Chaka Khan, every woman. We are directors, a small business owner and coach, an FBI agent, teachers, a chief commercial officer, and a business manager. We are single, married, divorced. Heterosexual and gay. Mothers and childless by choice. Which is to say, we are no different than the thousands of other women athletes. We anticipate that they too will find reason to honor the women who came before them.
What were the keys to our success? Decentralized authority. Shared passion. Regularly scheduled videoconferences that took into consideration the challenges unique to professional mothers. Valuing and utilizing unique skill sets. Setting examples for our peers, and finding insider support in the Athletic Department at UB.
There is a strand of feminist literary theory that believes in the importance of uncovering our literary foremothers. Those women who were the first, who created a path for other women writers to follow. Dorsi is one of our athletic foremothers. She was a leader in women’s sports, both as an athlete and as a coach. She cut a trail that led us to where we find ourselves today, empowered to celebrate and honor her memory. Dorsi Raynolds deserves to be remembered here at UB because her path will lead the way for all who have the opportunity to study, swim, and compete here.
Research assistance contributed by UB Research Archivist William Offhaus.
March 30, 2020
Mary Mallon never believed she was sick. In spite of the recommendations of health authorities that she self-quarantine or put others at risk, she continued to reenter society, mainly to work in order to support herself. Eventually, Mary Mallon was forced into quarantine, but not after infecting dozens of people, many of whom died. History remembers Mary Mallon as the first documented case of a “healthy carrier” of infectious disease, someone who can exhibit no symptoms of illness but who sheds highly contagious germs wherever they go.
The case of Mary Mallon, aka “Typhoid Mary,” strikes an eerily familiar chord in the midst of COVID-19. In fact, devoid of historical details, it could be a story out of today’s news, a cautionary tale for why we should all do our parts to “Flatten the Curve. How many countless people are walking around in public right now, flouting the warnings of health officials, because they “don't feel sick”? In spite of warnings from the CDC that symptoms may not present for up to a week after infection, many people are attempting to go along with business as usual.
Mary Mallon, a poor Irish immigrant living in Manhattan at the turn of the twentieth century, can be forgiven in retrospect for lacking an appreciation for the nuances of germ theory. Although she was demonized at the time, feminist authors and historians have shed a more forgiving light on Mallon as a victim of circumstance. Mallon’s status as an Irish immigrant, and a woman, as well as a member of the working class who served primarily rich families, made her an intersectional triple threat and easy target for blame for the spread of the typhoid virus.
But how will history remember those of us who unwittingly spread the coronavirus to others because we didn’t stay at home? The college students who headed for the beach during Spring Break while the virus closed restaurants and cancelled flights? The Saint Patrick's Day revellers who crowded bars against the advice of public health officials? The people who still insist that this is “overblown” or a hoax as they go about their day, regardless of the knowledge that at this very moment bodies are piling up in NYC morgues? How will history remember them? Over one hundred years after the discovery of germ theory, we can do better.
Sarah M. Glann holds a Master's degree in Sociology from the University at Buffalo. After teaching for nearly a decade, with an impressive course catalog including sociology of gender, medical sociology, and environmental sociology, she transitioned to working in the public sphere.
February 10, 2020
My internship with the Erie County Commission on the Status of Women, in collaboration with UB’s Global Gender and Sexualities Studies (GGSS), was one of the most amazing and rewarding experiences I have had in my time at the University at Buffalo so far. Through this internship, I was able to work alongside many amazing people and it gave me the opportunity to take what I had learned in my various classes and apply that information to my immediate community. More specifically, it allowed me to use feminist thought, theory and policy to begin a process that could potentially help the women of Erie County. After some research, I chose to focus on the issues that Home Health Aides face at work. This job field was relevant to the internship because statistically more women work as Home Health Aides than men. While I found the internship to be an amazing experience, I initially struggled a lot with changing my writing style. I had to move away from jargonistic academic writing and to write more succinctly and in such a way that is easier to read. I learned how to create policy briefs that are succinct and more accessible than some academic writing can be. This skill is very important because it makes our writing more accessible to the general community by allowing a writer to present information in a clear way that is easily understandable to people of different educational backgrounds.
The biggest struggle that I faced was finding an issue within Erie County that could be addressed through policy since the goal of the internship was for students to create a public policy brief that addressed an issue that women face in the workforce. It is no secret that women face a lot of adversity in the workforce but finding a specific issue proved to be a difficult task. I initially found myself going from issue to issue, but when I read an article in class and spoke to a family member who works as a home health aide (HHA), and I learned about the issue of abuse that HHAs face at work. Finding recent, relevant information on issues of HHAs proved to be challenging which motivated me to keep looking and to learn as much as I could about the situation. I interviewed two amazing women who worked as HHAs, to learn about their experiences at work, as well as a union expert, to try to determine why there are few HHA unions and why few HHAs seem to be able to unionize. Using their stories and my research, I created a policy brief that addressed the most basic issues that they faced at work and offered recommended resolutions to them. I found it very strange that a field with as much projected growth as this one seemed to be collectively ignored. I also found it strange that while we have many laws and policies that protect the people under their care, policy makers seemed not to think it is important to protect the people whom we trust to care for our loved ones.
One issue that became very clear to me from my extensive research and interviews is that HHAs disproportionally affect women, especially women of color (WOC). This was no surprise to me because gendered issues that affect WOC tend to be underreported and under investigated. This is why it is crucial to have underrepresented people be part of legislative bodies and have safe spaces where they can voice their ideas and discuss their experiences constructively. These safe spaces could be town hall meetings run by advocacy groups or local government offices created specifically to reach out to people in underserved populations. It is also important that there is an active recruitment of people of color, especially women of color to serve in government positions. If my internship, years as a student, and lifelong status as a WOC has taught me anything, it is that it is hard to help people who are suffering when you either cannot relate to their suffering or are simply unaware of it. There are so many issues that we are insulated from because we never have to face them ourselves. It is our job to work to create dialogue with those living with those issues so that we can be of service to them. This internship experience ignited a passion for public policy in me and it taught me that public policy can be used as a means of social justice. I plan to continue working on this project because I think that it is relevant and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future.
Ebehitale Imobhio is currently a senior at UB majoring in Global Gender Studies. She is very passionate about advocacy and helping people.
Want to learn more about the Erie County Commission on the Status of Women and GGSS internship collaboration? Click here to listen to the podcast with the internship's founders.
New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence.
October 17, 2019
Diversity and inclusion are at the center of current workplace policies and practice nationwide. Such terms guide recruitment and retention efforts, hiring decisions and promotional opportunities. Over the past several decades, we have experienced a gradual shift from a predominantly white, male workforce to one that includes women, minorities, LGBTQ+ individuals, people with different abilities, and multiple generations working side by side. This shift pushed organizations, not only to focus on remaining competitive and profitable but also to provide all employees with fair, equitable, and safe working conditions.
The challenges involved in finding a balance that fosters employee growth, job satisfaction, and workplace safety while also complying with legal roles and responsibilities must look at what employers must do as well as how they must do it.
With the ever-increasing level of violence that has become our new norm in schools, churches, synagogues, mosques, movie theaters, fairs, and other public places, employers are more eager than ever to prioritize workplace safety. Even so, only about 28 percent of private industry companies have a general workplace violence program or policy, while approximately 21 percent have a written policy. Even more concerning than these low numbers is that employers report lacking the resources and information they need to adequately and consistently support the safety and well-being of all their employees.
When Domestic Violence Comes to Work
Once considered a private matter between a victim and an abuser, domestic violence is now seen as a public health and safety epidemic. Most recently, domestic violence has emerged as a common denominator in mass shootings nationwide. FBI data indicates that “from 2009 to 2015 … 57 percent of [mass shootings] included a spouse, former spouse or other family member among the victims — and that 16 percent of the attackers had previously been charged with domestic violence.”
While policies and procedures must necessarily prioritize the protection of victims of domestic violence, they must also clearly inform all staff that violent behavior of any kind will not be tolerated, and that strict accountability will be enforced for any employee who uses company resources, status or location to abuse a current or former intimate partner. One study found that 78 percent of abusers reported using employer resources in connection with an abusive relationship. The same study found that 48 percent of perpetrators reported difficulty concentrating at work and 42 percent reported being late to work. In many cases, supervisors were aware of the perpetrator’s behavior but failed to respond or approach the employee, further reinforcing the need for written policies and protocols that require swift, consistent consequences for any and all violations.
The Cost of Domestic Violence
According to Department of Labor, victims of domestic violence lose 8 million hours of work per year in the U.S., resulting in a $1.8 billion loss in productivity alone for employers. When factoring in absenteeism, healthcare costs, and turnover, the Bureau of National Affairs estimates these losses totaling up to $3 billion to $5 billion annually. These results harm the workplace itself, requiring additional resources to recruit, hire and train new staff. Given this reality, it is critical that workplaces prioritize domestic violence as a serious health and safety risk to all employees. Policies and procedures must be equipped to address the perpetrators of domestic violence.
New York State Addresses Domestic Violence and the Workplace
On October 22, 2015, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed Executive Order #19 (EO #19), requiring all new York State agencies to adopt a Domestic Violence and the Workplace Policy. Since then, the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence has been providing training and technical assistance to state agencies by customizing their model workplace policies and by equipping managers and employees with the necessary resources and skills to effectively identify and respond to domestic violence within their agencies.
This year, OPDV is partnering with the Department of State in creating a new informational video that empowers appearance enhancement professionals, including hair stylists, estheticians, and others who work in salons and spas, to offer support and to share the State’s Domestic and Sexual Violence Hotline number (800-942-6906) when they are concerned that a client or coworker may be a victim of domestic violence.
The negative impacts on the entire workforce coupled with the annual costs to organizations that do not address this issue through a holistic, preventive lens can be devastating. OPDV encourages all employers to create policies that address domestic violence in their workplaces and to frequently evaluate and update their approach.
For more information, contact the OPDV Domestic Violence and the Workplace project.
About the Author
As program administrator at the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, Rushka Tcholakova is responsible for the creation and execution of the agency’s housing and economic stability project and oversees the Domestic Violence and the Workplace project. She has over a decade of leadership experience in the non-profit sector, leading coalitions toward collective impact, coaching organizations to create meaningful financial stability for their clients, participating in field-building research and national pilots, and creating systems of financial access and inclusion.
August 15, 2019
“Break me off a piece of that.” The caption accompanied an Instagram post of seven young white men pretending to grope, choke, and digitally penetrate a life-sized cardboard cutout of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The now-infamous photo was taken at a Sen. Mitch McConnell campaign event on August 5. Each of the men sported “Team Mitch” shirts.
On July 1, ProPublica published an investigative report on a private Facebook group for current and former Customs and Border Patrol officers. In this group, members mocked the deaths of asylum seekers, wistfully proposed raping Ocasio-Cortez and other members of The Squad in anticipation of their visit to a detention facility. One post met with glee depicted Donald Trump orally raping Ocasio-Cortez.
In March, a GOP-sponsored event featured a poster linking Rep. Ilhan Omar to September 11th in a xenophobic and Islamophobic attack.
On July 17, supporters at a Trump rally chanted “Send Her Back” as Trump mocked Omar and suggested that she does not love America and should return to her country of origin, Somalia. The chant, which Trump falsely claimed he stopped and discouraged, came on the heels of a racist tweet storm targeting The Squad, telling the U.S. citizens to go back to the “crime-infested places from which they came.”
“Go back where you came from” and language of infestation and invasions are old racist tropes, but applied to The Squad, it also takes on an additional gendered connotation reminiscent of “Go back to the kitchen” – know your place, stay in your lane.
Why have these Congresswomen (Ayanna Pressley, MA; Ilhan Omar, MN; Rashida Tlaib, MI; and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, NY) found themselves the target of racist, sexist, and violent harassment? Many Congressional freshmen find themselves flying under the radar, yet these women of color find themselves in the spotlight. Why have the attacks on them been so personal, so racist, so violent, and sexist?
Enter political misogyny.
Political misogyny is nothing new. Shirley Chisholm faced it during her presidential bid, as did Hillary Clinton in hers, as Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Kamala Harris are facing now. This is a common experience any woman in politics faces at any level of governance.
The particular invocation of sexually violent imagery against members of Congress is not directed solely at them, it is directed at all of us. Sexual violence keeps us on our toes; it can happen to any of us, any time so we must be careful and limit ourselves. When women do not limit themselves, they are punished with threatened or enacted sexual violence. (Yes, people of all genders experience sexual violence, but it is most broadly used as a patriarchal tool to oppress women.)
The racist and misogynistic vitriol targeted at The Squad reveals something simultaneously sinister and inspiring: Men are scared of powerful women of color.
These women remind them that power is fleeting, that they may not have control over the state for much longer. They remind these men that, as Pressley noted in response to the racist tweet storm, “We are more than four people. We ran on a mandate to advocate for and to represent those ignored, left out, and left behind. Our squad is big. Our squad includes any person committed to creating a more equitable and just world.”
White men are terrified of this squad of more than four so they resort to vilifying, humiliating, and degrading these women. The vast mobilization to preserve and protect democratic ideals and ensure that no one is left out threatens their fragile supremacy. White men have championed democracy when it suited them and when they could control the state enough limit Others’ access to democracy. But what happens when strong women of color start controlling the state?
Their political misogyny game is strong. Our political feminism game must be stronger.
[Please join us for our Lecture Series, On Misogyny, featuring Professor Moya Bailey and her work on misogynoir on October 3, 2019.]
May 13, 2019
The current Institute for Research and Education on Women and Gender, more conveniently referred to as the Gender Institute, has a long history. Here I reflect on its predecessor: The Graduate Group for Feminist Studies, which was established in 1986 and, after several active years sponsoring symposia, film festivals, seminars, and lectures, eventually folded into the Gender Institute in 1997.
The GGFS grew out of still earlier groups dedicated to feminist scholarship, which are worth remembering because of the historical depth of research on women and gender that developed in Buffalo. The Women’s Studies Program, founded in 1971 and spearheaded by Elizabeth Kennedy in the American Studies Program, was one of the first such academic units to be established in the US. Moreover, from the late 1970s until about 1993, a loose group called the Buffalo Women Scholars Network, comprising women from several local institutions, met periodically to read and discuss current feminist theoretical works. Back in the day, UB owned the Darwin Martin House, and the Network often met in the drafty remnants of that building, distributing ourselves across Frank Lloyd Wright’s original, elegant, valuable, and surprisingly uncomfortable chairs and couches. When that group began to dwindle, its UB contingent set about to establish a more formal institutional framework to provide a setting for feminist research, education, and outreach programs.
The opportunity for this was presented by units called Graduate Groups, which were sponsored by UB’s office of the Vice Provost for Graduate Education with the aim of promoting cross-disciplinary research. In 1985, a group of faculty headed by a sociologist (Ben
Agger), a historian (Ellen DuBois), and a professor from the School of Education (Sheila Slaughter), submitted a plan that would formally bring together feminist researchers from across the university. Even with this first application, the seeds of IREWG were being sown, for the stated long-range goal of the proposed Graduate Group for Feminist Studies was “to lay the groundwork for a Center for Advanced Feminist Research which would enable SUNY/Buffalo to become competitive with such research centers as Rutgers, Wellesley, Brown, and Columbia.” The application was approved by the then Vice-Provost, Donald Rennie, and the following year the GGFS launched its activities.
With its first application, the GGFS had the support of three deans—Arts and Letters, Law, and Architecture and Design, later joined by Social Sciences, Nursing, and Education. (At that time, what is now the College of Arts and Sciences was split into the Faculties of Arts and Letters, Social Sciences, and Natural Sciences and Mathematics.) It quickly became far and away the largest and most diverse of all the Graduate Groups, spanning multiple disciplines and Faculties.
The GGFS kept an active mailing list, produced a regular Newsletter, and compiled a Directory of UB feminist scholars. Annual figures for these products vary, but in 1990 the Newsletter (which was distributed on paper, not a list serve) went out to about 300 people. That year, the Directory listed 84 faculty members who classified their research as including feminist scholarship, and by 1997 that number had grown to 123. The Newsletter usually appeared monthly, and sometimes it was co-produced with the Women’s Studies Program. In 1997, Women’s Studies and the GGFS established a shared web home page to distribute information digitally. In 1990, the GGFS was accepted as a member of the National Council for Research on Women.
One of the first things to be established was a series of work-in-progress seminars where both faculty and graduate students could present their research. Lecture series were another obvious activity, and the GGFS sponsored and co-sponsored numerous speakers, some of whom would become luminaries in their fields. Others were already quite well-known, such as art historian Linda Nochlin and artist Faith Ringgold. The latter performed before a large audience at the Albright-Knox Gallery auditorium, and her appearance was co-sponsored by ten academic units. (The amount of co-sponsorship generated by programs of the GGFS is significant, for its own budget was always rather small.) Lecture series in the late 1980s and early 90s explored “Black Feminists and Sexuality”; “Feminist Interpretations of Mass Culture”; and “Around the Lake”—a cooperative venture among feminist scholars in New York and Canada.
In 1988, the GGFS launched a biennial series of symposia on New Feminist Scholarship. Speakers were chosen from applicants—both graduate students and early-career faculty—who responded to a national call for papers, and there were three highly successful such events. A fourth conference was discussed but never came about because by that time graduate groups in general were being phased out.
Feminist scholarship is never entirely divorced from political activism, and for a time members of the GGFS coordinated with the Erie County Commission on the Status of Women to provide research on women’s situations locally. A good deal of programming spanned UB and the surrounding community, including the 1989 forum on “Communities at Risk” that called attention to issues especially pertinent to the lesbian community.
Some of the most successful programming of the GGFS involved film and art festivals, which drew large audiences. One such program was titled Hi, this is Judy: Women Making and Becoming Art, which extended for two and a half weeks in October, 1987. This diverse set of events included an immensely popular all women reggae band, Casselberry and Dupree, whose performance drew an audience of over 500. The estimated attendance overall for Hi, this is Judy was approximately 1,500.
The GGFS co-sponsored and otherwise supported efforts undertaken by faculty whose work included feminist activities and research, such as a multi-year program for an International Women Playwright’s conference beginning in 1988, organized by Anna Kay France from Theatre and English. Several film festivals highlighted works by women cinema artists that dealt with subjects related to gender and social situations in different countries and historical times. In 1993, the festival Reverse Shot brought distinguished filmmaker Trinh T. Minh Ha to give the keynote address.
Bumps in the Road:
The extraordinary breadth of fields that described members of the GGFS signaled both the diversity and vitality of feminist interests and the difficulties that would beset programs that appealed to participants from such different areas. Although annual renewals were always granted by the Vice Provost’s office, complaints began to surface. A repeated grumble concerned how the GGFS deployed the energies of our Graduate Assistant. The GA, who was almost always from a department from Arts and Letters, was responsible for considerable organizing details, many of which involved tasks such as hotel reservations for visiting speakers, locating venues for programs, and the all-important mustering of co-sponsorships to supplement our limited funds. Most of those GAs—along with faculty—pursued such jobs with enthusiasm, understanding that popular events with a feminist agenda do not happen without such on-the-ground efforts. Nonetheless, our knuckles were rapped twice because these students were not assigned research duties that furthered their own degree programs. I suspect that more than one GA agreed that her own work was being occasionally sidelined.
But how does one identify a research project for a student serving a group with such a broad constituency? One that both enhances the education of a particular student, and at the same time serves the interests of scholars from fields as various as architecture, nursing, history, sociology, biology, philosophy, modern languages, law, and art? The fact is, interdisciplinary scholarship is extremely difficult to accomplish, and the label “feminist” cannot by itself unite any project that tries to combine fields of great diversity.
One of the goals of the GGFS was to foster cross-disciplinary teaching as well as research. Joint teaching, however, must accommodate varying schedules and requirements, and it was not always accomplished smoothly. I myself jointly taught a large graduate seminar on Feminism and Postmodernism (that enrolled students from four or five different departments) with colleagues from Art History (Carol Zemel) and English (Claire Kahane). Both Claire and Carol were members of the Faculty of Arts and Letters, whose Dean approved the course for their on-load teaching. But Philosophy was then in the Faculty of Social Sciences, and that Dean decided I should teach it overload. I did so and learned a great deal in the process, but a course taught by three people does not require a third of the effort for each; one should multiply rather than divide the work required.
Despite those complications and occasional tensions, the administration continued to support the GGFS, not only with funds but also by granting us the GA that other graduate groups were losing. Nonetheless, it was clear that the Provost’s office was beginning to redirect funds away from these groups, few of which had managed to garner grants to support their operations, which the UB administration had hoped would eventually underwrite their activities. A set of inquiry letters from the GGFS to granting agencies inquiring about that possibility are preserved in the archives. Virtually all responders noted that their organizations did not support operating expenses at other institutions—something we already knew, but we felt obliged to petition for outside resources anyhow. Several graduate groups folded; a few others became independent centers.
Members of the GGFS kept hoping that a permanent institute for feminist work would come into being, for that, after all, had been the ultimate goal from the start. In 1993-94 a committee of 20-30 faculty members, chaired by Susan McLeer of Psychiatry, began explicit planning for such an institute. Documents from the next three years indicate perseverance on the part of this committee and worry that the administration was slow to take action. Although it took several years of reminding and petitioning, as well as adjusting details regarding the formation of the institute, that goal was finally achieved: The GGFS/Women’s Studies Newsletter from November, 1997, opened with the triumphant headline: Graduate Group for Feminist Studies Incorporated into the Institute for Research and Education on Women and Gender.
Carolyn Korsmeyer is Research Professor of Philosophy at UB. Her chief areas of research are aesthetics and emotion theory. Her work on feminist aesthetics appears in Gender and Aesthetics (2004). She is also the author of Making Sense of Taste: Food and Philosophy (1999); Savoring Disgust: The Foul and the Fair in Aesthetics (2011); and Things: In Touch with the Past (2019).
Please visit our blog archives to read older entries.