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"Review of Mithu Sanyal’s Rape: From Lucretia to #MeToo: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis (Verso 2019)"

Forthcoming in Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy.

by Carine Mardorossian

January 26, 2022

Mithy Sanyal did not embark on writing Rape: From Lucretia to #MeToo so as to provide a historical account of the development of sexual violence. Rather, this is a book, the author explains, “about what we talk about when we talk about rape” (2). By “we,” she first means all of us, whose inherited narratives of femininity and masculinity have normalized sexual violence for much of its history, but also, secondly, feminists, who, in challenging the “rape myths” through which rape appeared on the public agenda, went on to allegedly create myths of their own making. Rape, she concludes, is “a topic where nothing is self-evident” (2), and she sets out to show us why.

This book seeks to turn on its head much of what we thought we knew about rape, mostly in relation to the role gender plays in its perpetuation. As such, Sanyal’s approach evokes Michel Foucault’s controversial call for the decriminalization of rape as a sexual crime. Foucault was concerned that defining rape as a sexual crime would maintain sexuality as a core feature of people’s identities in a context where the social was already unduly saturated with the sexual. According to the philosopher, since the nineteenth century, people had been so preoccupied with checking, controlling, confessing, and managing sex and sexuality that all kinds of other inequities had gone unaddressed as a result of this obsession. He saw the singling out of rape as a sexual crime as a “ruse of power.

For Sanyal, the same potentially detrimental outcome is true of many responses to rape today, including feminist ones. The author seems primarily invested in highlighting the contradictions that have arisen from feminist anti-rape discourse’s determination to expose sexual violence and the responses to it. For instance, she points out that discussing sexual violence in relation to a violated femininity itself ironically reproduces stereotypes of gender, namely of men as aggressors and women as victims. According to world statistics, men are 150 percent more likely to become victims of violent crimes than women. So why aren’t men then warned, Sanyal asks, about being potential victims of violence? Why isn’t manhood associated with vulnerability in the same way rape statistics associate victimization with women? Her (implicit) answer to these questions: because anti-rape discourse is a seamless and unaware extension of the stereotype of women as weak and powerless rather than a genuinely oppositional movement.

Sometimes, contradictions are less contradictory than they first appear. One of the reasons why male violence has not led to a discussion of masculinity as vulnerable may simply be because violence aimed at men is predominantly perpetuated by men, not women. Therefore, it would be difficult to see vulnerability as a defining aspect of the experience of hegemonic masculinity since it cuts across the gender line. That social commentators may want to be careful not to reproduce stereotypes of femininity or masculinity in their responses to sexual violence should not come to mean that the power relations those stereotypes and constructions continue to enact can be evacuated through a wishful denial of their effectivity.

According to Sanyal, feminist representations of the crime of rape inevitably reproduce the idea that women are its passive victims and men the inevitable aggressors: “Rape is the most gendered of all crimes. It’s also the crime that genders us the most” (8)… the discourse around rape still genders us by teaching us how many genders there are, (namely) two—victims and perpetrators—as well as how to act according to our gender and how the genders interact. Rape is by no means the only source of gender information, but nowhere else do we gender so relentlessly” (129). It is unclear why she identifies “victims” and “perpetrators” as “genders” here, since those are neither gendered identities nor character traits but outcomes of actions and events. To Sanyal, and it is again unclear why, rape in anti-rape discourse is “always something only men do to only women” (132). This is confusing all the more so since the vulnerability of children including boys to sexual violence has been part and parcel of feminist and anti-rape discourse for much longer than the absence of its mention in this book suggests.

Sanyal’s account of “how we talk about rape” (2) spans from Lucretia—whose legendary rape and suicide was said to be the downfall of the last Roman king—to Tarzan, the Roman Polanski case, Title IX and its impact on American campuses, and finally second-wave feminism and #metoo (which, she observes, did not lead to male victims coming forward, a gap for which she seems to fault feminism’s monopoly of anti-rape discourse rather than statistics or the stereotypes of masculinity that would discourage men from speaking out). Sanyal further traces the persistence of stereotypes of femininity as devoid of sexual agency and of masculinity as “fueled by phallic fire” (11) in Ovid and Aristotle, Byron, Darwin and the Victorian sexologist treatises by Kraft-Ebbing and Ellis. She finally concludes by placing feminist anti-rape discourse in the same lineage as these problematic and canonical representations. In other words, that would mean that the women’s movement that set out to resist “rape culture” has somehow ironically, inadvertently, and repeatedly fallen into the trap of reproducing the very same assumptions of female passivity and male aggression it originally set out to contest.

For Sanyal, the statistics that show that 90% of incidences of rape are perpetuated by men and 90% of victims are women are, remarkably, part of this same problem of reification. She then works to debunk the numbers by citing anecdotal evidence and relies on anecdotes and specific studies in which women are shown to be the aggressors (of other women), and men the victims (of other men). For instance, she argues that the statistics of male victimization increase exponentially, going from 10% to 38% depending on definitions of rape as penetrative or not (125). But that women can be aggressors too (as per Laura Stemple’s study of prison inmates) or that men are the victims of violent crime including sexual crimes (perpetuated mostly by men) does not undo or cancel out the previous statistics under scrutiny: the awareness that male-on-male rape exists in addition to male-on-female rapes only reinforces the reality of an aggressive form of hegemonic masculinity; it certainly does not debunk it. Similarly, that female-on-female assault does occur (Sanyal’s example here is of incidences of rape in women’s prison) does not diminish but rather adds to the rate of female victims; nor does it absolve hegemonic masculinity of accountability or cancel out the number of rapes perpetuated by men. It does show, however, that some women too—although not as often and presumably not the same women as those who are victimized—can and do internalize hierarchical assumptions about masculinity and femininity, that in turn make some of them identify with and support a sexist or racist structure at the expense of a subordinated form of otherness. To give another parallel example, that there are women holding governmental offices does not undermine the fact that leadership in politics remains predominantly a male affair, nor does it mean that in bemoaning the statistical imbalance, we would be implying that women are weak or to blame for the prevailing and continuing inequity.

It is not a pre-existing vulnerability (of femininity) that sets the stage for women’s or men’s rape. It is rape and “rape culture,” the entitlement of a particular form of toxic and normative masculinity that is sometimes ventriloquized across sexual difference that creates the condition of vulnerability that may or may not be felt at a psychological level by the actors involved. In other words, the vulnerability that derives from the act of rape needs to be distinguished from any form of psychological vulnerability that may or may not precede it and that may or may not result from it. It is the act of rape itself, not how women or individuals react to it or fail to do so that defines the form of finite vulnerability rape produces, one not to be confused with passivity. To refrain from discussing the statistical reality of women as victims of rape in fear of reproducing stereotypes of femininity as passive assumes an inherent acquiescence to a stereotypical understanding of femininity to begin with, not to mention that it subordinates a legal understanding of victimization to a psychologized one. The fudging of different instances of vulnerabilities itself is what defines anti-feminist arguments that seek to make feminism more accountable for rape culture than patriarchal legacies themselves. Similarly, that women can be aggressive may be, to some, the revelation Sanyal wants it to be, but it will surprise no feminist who has long taken the lessons of gender as construction to heart.

Some time spent volunteering at a rape crisis center would have reassured Sanyal that male victims of rape have long been recognized, supported and provided services in the feminist movement. Their existence neither undermines the reality of a structural and subordinate femininity nor the reality of a hegemonic, white, normative, structural masculinity from which men and women both suffer. The awareness that men are victims of rape has led to alliance, not division. It is striking to note that Sanyal discusses men as victims to defend “men, masculinity, and myths” as if masculinity had not long been broken down into its different manifestations and permutations (as toxic masculinity, hegemonic, nonhegemonic, black, normative, nonnormative, trans or queer masculinity, etc.). Sanyal’s triumphant assertion that “If femininity isn’t a biological constant, neither is masculinity” will leave any feminist reading her book deeply puzzled: we would think that by now, the confusion of either masculinity or femininity with the biological had long been debunked and settled.

There is, in Sanyal’s approach, a slippage between rape and the response to it (however flawed the latter may be), as if the two were communicative vessels. Representation and its effects have indeed to be weighed carefully in terms of the inadvertent messages they may carry and reinforce. But to promote such careful consideration is a far cry from claiming that those representations create the reality they set out to address. Why doesn’t masculinity get associated with vulnerability when men are 150 percent more likely to become victims of violent crimes than women? Again, because in cases of vulnerable masculinity, the culprit is predominantly the same aggressive masculinity whose existence Sanyal’s question aims to challenge, a form of masculinity that is ironically often violent precisely due to its own perceived and resented sense of vulnerability. The problem is not one of feminists declining to view men as vulnerable but of an assumed superiority or resentful vulnerability being played out through the act of rape.

In other words, despite Sanyal’s formulation, vulnerability is not the opposite of aggression, far from it; it sometimes causes the latter. The role gender difference plays in the rape script is true of the sexual violence women experience but also of the forms of violence and vulnerability men encounter, predominantly in the hands of other men. In other words, instead of trying to undo the workings of the gendered binary in relation to rape by reframing its effectivity as a function of discourse rather than of its actual workings, it would behoove her to undo it in relation to a potential imagined futurity rather than a backward-looking and revisionist finger-pointing.

Let us remember, for instance, and before proclaiming that the vulnerability of masculinity has been obscured by feminists eager to cause rather than solve the rape problem, that to black feminists, as well as black mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, black masculinity has never not been a vulnerable form of masculinity. Sanyal’s questioning of a monolithic masculinity’s association with aggression (in the name of some putative sense of fairness) amounts to a denial of white masculinity’s violent and murderous history in relation to blackness. Indeed, any mention of an unspecified form of masculinity inevitably evokes its white and heteronormative configuration in history. Neither does the fact that white femininity was called upon to be complicitous with the criminalization of blackness absolve white masculinity of the aggression it has carried out in white women’s name. As Angela Davis explains in her masterful Women, Race & Class, the first wave of lynchings after the Civil War did not follow from accusations of rape perpetuated by black men against white women (there were simply none!) but rather, from made-up stories about black male rapists that were used to make lynching more acceptable after the murders of black men were met with outrage and horror by white neighbors. Yes, while it is true that white women often failed to stand up to the atrocities that would be committed in their name throughout the history of the imbrication or race and rape, it is nonetheless white masculinity that needs to be held accountable first and foremost. The assumption that the feminist association of masculinity with aggression is based on a mere rhetorical sleight of hand designed to put female victimization over that of its male victims is simply beyond the pale. So is the assumption that the effects of feminist anti-rape discourse could be as detrimental if not more so than those of white masculinist aggression.

It is also a logical fallacy to claim that when feminists speak against the victimization of women, their consciousness raising necessarily implies women’s passivity or lack of sexual agency. In fact, the very same feminists that Sanyal (like her source, Katie Roiphe) is blaming for (inadvertently or emphatically) reproducing stereotypes of femininity very openly defended and upheld women’s sexual agency by fighting for the establishment of a “rape shield law.” The law ensured that women’s prior sexual history could no longer be used in court as evidence that a rape did not occur. Feminists wanted to make sure that the victim’s sexual activity with one or more men could not be cited as a reason to dismiss the crime, that “yes to one did not mean yes to all.” For Sanyal to conclude that in exposing the gendered nature of rape, feminists necessarily reproduce stereotypes of female vulnerability is as absurd as claiming that disallowing any mention of the victim’s previous sexual history in court detracts from women’s sexual agency. Not everything means what Sanyal and so-called feminists like Roiphe want their statistics to mean, and in this case in particular, the book’s critique of feminist anti-rape struggles as complicit with--and duplicative of--the very mindset that has supported “rape culture” throughout history is wrong-headed at best and misogynistic at worst.

Sanyal seems to assume that any attack on the paternalism and self-entitlement of toxic masculinity or of its role in perpetuating the subordination of otherness perpetuates a restrictive view of what women can do. Instead, I argue that such a claim amounts to reproducing a form of binary thinking: it assumes that a critique of toxic masculinity cannot take place without reproducing a finite set of psychologized assumptions about the women who are subjected to forms of violence. As for Sanyal’s protracted need to defend masculinity as potentially vulnerable, its rationale simply escapes this reviewer. Men as vulnerable, yes, of course, but “masculinity” as a monolithic category that requires our understanding, no, just no. The form of normative masculinity that grounds rape culture is necessarily aggressive, via the enactment of the act of rape itself, whether there is a pre-existing sense of power or belligerence, or an absence thereof. In fact, a debilitating or internalized sense of vulnerability rather than an aggressive temperament may itself be a motivator for the form of aggression the rape act stages. A form of masculinity that requires the repeated re-enactment of rape in culture is necessarily one that is vulnerable, in a terrorized form that cannot think of its existence outside of the subordination of otherness through which it defines itself. This is the norm of masculinity that far from needing a defense would have to be supplanted by nonnormative forms of masculine interdependency and selfhood. So why spend such inordinate amounts of energy and fact-twisting insights to reframe normative masculinity as less toxic than it truly is?

Sanyal’s discussion of Title IX on campuses is particularly telling in this respect. Following Laura Kipnis, she argues that the accused are often treated unfairly because the standard of proof demanded by the Department of Education in Title IX cases is very low, the accusation itself often functioning as the only evidence required to prove an offense. As a result, she argues that Title IX legislation and its implementation have actually increased a sense of insecurity on campus, not the opposite. But perhaps most importantly, she emphasizes that “the premise on which most Title IX investigations are conducted doesn’t break at all with the gender scripts of women as passive recipients of men’s violent desires. As a result, they are paternalistic toward women in the name of “protecting them” (105).

Different statistics will necessarily throw a different light on Kipnis’s assessment of Title IX as unfair to the accused. Indeed, the 2014 Senate report released by Senator Claire McCaskill showed that more than 40 percent of U.S colleges and universities had not conducted a single sexual assault investigation in the past five years and more than 20% of schools had not investigated all of the sexual assault incidents they had reported to the Department of Education. In 22 percent of schools, the athletic department was given oversight for sexual violence cases involving student athletes—something that in Senator McCaskill’s words identified as “borderline outrageous.” What is more, a Huffington Post investigation found that fewer than one third of campus sexual assault cases ended in expulsion for the perpetrators. According to the Rape and Incest National Network (RAINN), factoring in unreported rapes, only about 3% of rapists ever serve a day in prison. Certainly, these statistics do not disprove the point that Title IX may indeed have been misused in the ways Kipnis relates in her book (as are bullying and academic freedom policies sometimes), but they are meant to question the assumption that such misappropriation is necessarily due to the strict adherence to--rather than dismissal of--the feminist principles that led to the establishment of Title IX.

Here are some truths that could maybe stop the endless feminist bashing that has stalled the anti-rape movement since the 1990s (and which I see Sanyal’s book as partly reproducing): Not all men are rapists, but all rapists have a sense of entitlement that relies on the subordination of otherness and that is most prominently represented and modeled (consciously or unconsciously) by the “ideal,” white, normative masculinity in relation to which other identities define themselves; this is a form of entitlement and subjugation that ideologies of (white, able-bodied) masculinity vs femininity have historically and relentlessly produced, reproduced, normalized and modeled through action as well as representation. Whether the victim is a woman, a child, or another man, closeness and familiarity to them only seem to increase this sense of entitlement. What is more, such entitlement is often overlaid with a form of displacement whereby people process their insecurities through, sometimes, the re-enactment of the rape script as a conscious or unconscious answer to their shaken or terrorized sense of self. Yes, women can be violent too, no doubt in an attempt to appropriate the same model of social domination and belonging that has been normalized by masculinity’s unreachable “ideal.” And absolutely, women rape victims are not weak or passive any more than are the American soldiers whose heroism President Trump once questioned on account of the fact that they had died rather than conquered. Similarly, women should not be expected to be strong so as to deserve not to get raped. Last but not least, male rapists can and often do act out of a vulnerability they resent so much that they try and rape, beat, and insult their way out of it (consciously or unconsciously).

It is one thing to argue, as Foucault did, that our anti-violent, rhetorical, and legal response to a gendered crime should not perpetuate the association of sex with identity which has saturated all discourses of the social in modernity. It is quite another to accuse feminists of shooting themselves in the foot by calling rape “rape” (whether it is by adopting legal or moral definitions of it). Foucault is right that the recognition of violence should ideally not reify sex as our core identity, but as controversial as his 1977 intervention became, it did not argue for the withdrawal of a legal response to rape tout court; rather, he called for the criminalization of violence outside of its link to sex (because to Foucault, treating sexual identity as an essence was a debilitating feature of modernity). Today, we should know better than to assume that his theoretical and therefore speculative point about the evacuation of sex from legal sentencing would remove sex from court proceedings altogether, or guarantee that the awareness of its presence through testimony would not attenuate the recognition of the severity of the harm or damage inflicted. Unfortunately, the sexual nature of the crime is exactly why rape often fails to be recognized as an offense in culture, let along in the legal arena, especially in the absence of a feminist or legal recognition that the presence of sex does not and should not evacuate the evidence of violence.

Maybe, just maybe, social commentators could stop trying to locate in feminist discourse the key to the societal woes it has been trying to address. Yes, some white feminists have used language infelicitously, and others have been downright racist. But no, feminism as a movement cannot be folded into the long lineage of sexist and racist thought that has accompanied the history of rape in this country, simply because doing so sells books.

Works Cited:

Davis, Angela. Women, Race & Class. Vintage Books, 1983.

Kingkade, Tyler. “Fewer than One-third of Campus Sexual Assault Cases Result in Expulsion.” Huffington Post, 29 September 2014. Updated 6 December 2017, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/campus-sexual-assault_n_5888742.

Sanyal, Mithu. Rape: From Lucretia to #MeToo: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis. Verso, 2019.

 

Prof. Carine M Mardorossian has short hair, is looking to their left and smililing and the background is a wood burning stove.

Carine M Mardorossian is professor of Global Gender and Sexuality Studies and English, and she specializes in feminist studies, Caribbean and postcolonial studies, and creative nonfiction. She is the author of Framing the Rape Victim: Gender and Agency Reconsidered (2014) and her most recent co-authored book Death is but a Dream: Finding Hope and Meaning at Life’s End (with Christopher Kerr, MD, Penguin 2020), shows the centrality of the humanities to fields of specialized knowledge like medicine. She is completing a manuscript on Caribbean literature and the environment entitled Creolized Ecologies, and is writing a feminist treatise on Toxic Femininity.

“I am from Guadeloupe”: On Pronouns and Pedagogy

By Cheryl Emerson

December 1, 2021

Le Petit Robert dictionary’s formal inclusion of the gender-neutral, French pronoun “iel”, along with the political/linguistic controversy the recent lexical recognition has provoked, has brought vividly to mind my first day of English language teaching at the Université Paris Diderot in the 2018-19 academic term. Representing the University at Buffalo as part of the Department of Romance Languages’ Paris teaching exchange, I worried over my first welcome to students. Bound to an “English only” rule for advanced English oral labs, I opened with the same invitation I extend here at UB: “Please introduce yourself with your preferred name of address and, if you wish, your preferred pronouns.”

The awkward silence wasn’t just awkward, it was prolonged. I mistook their silence for lack of proficiency and broke the “English only” rule in advanced labs to sketch on the board the equivalent English/French gendered pronouns, along with the gender-neutral English “they”, inviting again, “Please let me know, if you wish, by which pronouns do you wish to be addressed?” The awkward silence I had caused reverberated across three sections of advanced English oral practicum, both semesters, with students exchanging glances until one of them spoke (in English) on behalf of the group, “We understand what you’re asking, but no professor has asked us this.”

“Oh,” I said, “then we have much to discuss.” I didn’t mean to declare a political position on day one, I just wanted to open a welcome across languages. I wished to establish a rapport.

My oral labs became more than language learning. After that first awkward silence I had caused, my English labs opened into discussions about English terminology for sexual identity (“what is LGBTQA?”), global gender politics, and difficult conversations on racial and cultural oppression. The required English oral lab presentations became testimonies and challenges, for example an Armenian student asking us all (in English), “Why will you not call this a genocide?” Or a Kurdistani student asking, “We have a language, we have a beautiful language, why do we not have a country?” Or Algerian students describing in English how French is not their language, along with students offering their #MeToo stories, perhaps easier to tell in English, for them a less embodied language?

On that first day, given the stretch of silence, I could not have predicted that asking about preferred pronouns would translate into a welcoming for students to speak freely, yet it did. Because the Language Institute at Paris Diderot attracts students from all over the world, I was moderating conversations in English across international boundaries. With the emphasis on “conversations,” the “English” I think became secondary, or at least forgotten as the star of the show.

When I think back to my students at the Language Institute, I especially remember a student from Guadeloupe who could not bring themself to speak English in front of the class. Each day they would linger until everyone else was gone, then offer their story to me in Caribbean French/English, to which I would respond in my woefully inadequate American English/university French.

After class they would whisper (in English), “I am from Guadeloupe.” I whispered back (in French), “I am from California.” It became our joke, as I was permitted to practice my French only after class. Only when we were no longer restricted to English could they begin to tell their story, their family’s coming to be in Guadeloupe, how they miss their family’s cooking, how long it’s been since they’ve been home.

Looking back, I’m certain those mixed language conversations after class would never have happened had I not asked that first awkward question about preferred pronouns. Nor would the conversations have happened if I had upheld the strict “English only” mandate after class. After class I considered myself free to stumble along in French, to be as equally confused and fumbling for words as my students.

Painting Description: Two elephants walking one after the other on grass with a few bird on the left side of the sky and on the right is a hot air balloon. This is an evening setting.

Painter: Zeynep Sethin

Returning to UB, I see my international students in a new light. I was simultaneously an international student while teaching abroad, enrolled in French courses at Paris Diderot and required to give oral presentations in French. I was not asked my preferred pronouns, nor did “iel” formally exist in Paris then.

On my last day of teaching, I was presented a basket of gifts, chocolates, and notes from students, along with the painting attached with this post. My favorite note was from my student from Guadeloupe, “I knew I was safe in your class when you asked my pronouns.”

 

Cheryl A. Emerson (cherylem@buffalo.edu) is a PhD candidate in Comparative Literature at UB, with interests in phenomenology, feminist poetics, and critical race and gender theory. Her dissertation in progress, entitled “The Flesh of Forgetting: Contemporary Women’s Poetry at the Intersections of Language, History, and Embodiment,” engages philosophy and literature to explore possibilities of an embodied feminist poetics. Her publications include journal articles on American poet Claudia Rankine, Canadian poet and translator Erín Moure, and a book chapter on William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying from a feminist phenomenological perspective.

Bob Uplinger: Marking LGBTQ History in Western New York

By Ana Grujić

October 21, 2021

Unveiling (by Ruth Goldman) of the marker in WNY, where bob Uplinger was arrested. The marker is blue in color and the engravings and border is in yellow. On the side of the marker is a man wearing a blue colored shirt and grey shorts holding the green blanket which was unveiled from the marker.

Photo Credit : Ruth Goldman

This August, the Buffalo-Niagara LGBTQ History Project installed Western New York’s first queer-themed historic marker at the site where in 1981 Bob Uplinger, a local gay man and a teacher, was entrapped and arrested by a Buffalo’s vice squad officer. He was charged and found guilty of “loitering for the purpose of soliciting deviate sex,” a section of the state’s loitering laws, which police relied on heavily to harass and intimidate queer communities. Uplinger and the attorney William Gardner undertook a three-year-long court battle which resulted in the statute being struck down as unconstitutional, effectively decriminalizing being gay in public. The unveiling ceremony took place on North Street on the afternoon of August 7, the exact 40th anniversary of the arrest. Community members, friends, activists and allies gathered to honor Uplinger and Gardner’s legacy and reflect on its significance to remaining struggles for queer liberation. This piece briefly explores the historic cultural context which motivated Uplinger, Gardner, and other actors in this story. 

Attorney Bill Gardner, wearing a white half shirt and black pant with a blue tie is standing next to the historic marker (blue base and yellow engravings) honoring his pioneering court battles. .

Attorney Bill Gardner next to the historic marker honoring his pioneering court battles.

Photo Credit: Ruth Goldman

In the summer of 2019, people and organizations across the world were in the throes of celebrating the 50th anniversary of the few famous days at the end of June 1969, when queers at the Stonewall Inn rioted in response to the prolonged chokehold of Governor Rockefeller’s anti-vice campaign (launched in 1959). On July 27, 2019, attorney Bill Gardner teared while he addressed a full auditorium in Buffalo NY. He was speaking about a long legal battle against the police and courts, which for him culminated between 1981 and 1984 in the victorious case People vs. Robert Uplinger. But the Uplinger case didn’t take place in New York City. All the actors came from Buffalo, a scenario at odds with how we collectively continue to imagine and historicize our own liberation. Appeal after appeal, the Uplinger case went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court – another shocking development. Before he and Bob Uplinger were to take their historic trip to Washington D.C., Gardner received a phone call from a big-name attorney: “How dare you!” castigated the panicked big-city voice, explaining that for cases of such magnitude, they had “much better lawyers here.” To this day, this optic marks the relationship of large city queers to the activism of their counterparts in smaller cities and towns.
Of course, the historic events at Stonewall Inn and those in Buffalo were also more than a whole decade apart. Still, they mark the two ends of what might be called the first wave of the gay liberation movement in the U.S. Gardner, who behind him has a lengthy career as a courtroom pioneer of gay rights, was invited as a guest speaker to the Reunion Panel at “Gay Liberation NOW!: Buffalo Mattachine and the Myth of Stonewall,” an event series by the Buffalo-Niagara LGBTQ History Project, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the founding of Western New York’s first gay rights organization, the Mattachine Society of the Niagara Frontier (MSNF). The Stonewall riots and the founding of MSNF nearly coincided – one taking place about five months before the other. Gay Liberation NOW! explored this transformative period of local queer history and honored its agents, while it also interrogated its relationship to other national events and the iconicity of Stonewall. Two important legal victories with Gardner as legal counsel (the Uplinger case being the second) were part of the culmination of this stage of gay liberation, ushered by Stonewall and the founding of MSNF. Gardner and MSNF worked on creating a legal defense fund for queer victims of police harassment – one of many facets of MSNF’s vigorous activity of movement building through education, advocacy, support networks, consciousness-raising, and picketing. Together, they spread the word that if anyone decided to challenge the charges, Gardner would defend them for free. The personal risks of taking this step were such that it took nearly a decade to find this person.

As today historians insist, none of this occurred in isolation or as a result of the extraordinary inspiration of lonely individuals. But the Uplinger case has been of deep interest to us who study local queer history, not only because of the place we are tied to, but because the study of local histories with all their specificities help us understand how we survived and how we might continue to do so while expanding the horizon of freedom for people in all places. And – it helps us to debunk a few myths, such as that queer people have to move to big cities to realize their potentials.
When on February 23, 1983, the NY State Court of Appeals struck down the deviate sex loitering statute, with its ruling in People vs. Robert Uplinger, the moment was historic! Police Commissioner James B. Cunningham announced bleak times arriving in Buffalo. There would be sex all over the streets and newly absolved homosexuals and emboldened sex workers would break loose harassing respectable people, especially children.
Cunningham’s words were hardly an expression of one man’s fears and fantasies. By the early 1980s, police across the state had been targeting “sexual deviants” such as gays and sex workers for at least half a century. State liquor laws prohibited bars from becoming “disorderly premises,” and any bar with a gay person (or a sex worker) in it was considered inherently disorderly. The attacks grew particularly relentless when in 1959 Governor Nelson Rockefeller introduced his anti-vice campaign, a follow-though to his pre-election promise to uproot corruption in police departments. Once it became difficult for police to receive bribes, raids, revocations of licenses to serve alcohol, and seizure of bar property grew overwhelming. It was barely possible to keep a gay-friendly bar open for more than a few months.
With the official discourse on vice being historically imbricated with the furthering of the economic interest of the ruling classes, this campaign, too, was meant to clear the terrain for urban development and safe movement of its main agents – suburban commuters. So, when the city authorities needed to manufacture public support for covering a large downtown area next to the Central Public Library with a commercial parking lot, a series of orchestrated stories appeared in the local media painting a grim picture of swaths of social undesirables congregating in seedy bars and engaging in morally reprehensible behavior. Only in the 1950s, about seven bars frequented by such undesirables operated in the immediate vicinity, with more of them populating the same general area.
With a whole decade of similar changes and the concurrent rise of the Civil Rights movement, Women’s Rights movement and active labor unions, queers gradually became galvanized, too. Many of them found their way to gay rights movement-building by way of one or multiple of these other, older movements. MSNF began in December 1969, shortly after Buffalo had its “Stonewall moment”: police raided and shuttered the Tiki, a juice bar owned by a local gay man Jim Garrow, located on the corner of Tupper and Franklin Street (today, another commercial parking lot). With the onset of the Mattachine, other organizations such as Gay Rights for Older Women (GROW) and Sisters of Sappho followed. But the police obsession with prosecuting gays remained.
In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association adopted a resolution to remove homosexuality from the list of mental illnesses. Only in 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that aliens  considered to be homosexual could be deported based on being “afflicted with a psychopathic personality.” At the turn of the 1980s, we seemed to be a far cry from any state-wide legislation aspiring to protect LGBTQ rights. As a matter of fact, in many states including New York, homosexuality was effectively made illegal. According to Buffalo Police Commissioner Cunningham and Anti Vice Squad captain Kenneth Kennedy, the downtown areas and Allentown were taken over by sex workers and gays. And where there were these two groups, crime rates shot up, making whole neighborhoods deteriorate. They spun theories about the “known social phenomenon” of the lurking neighborhood homosexual, who befriends you to snatch your children. Yet, they could never produce evidence for such claims.
Throughout the 1970s, the law commonly used to control gay New Yorkers, but also other sexual minorities, was the sodomy law. On the books for one hundred years, the sodomy law criminalized all forms of sex between unmarried consenting adults that didn’t potentially lead to procreation. In 1980, the NY State Court of Appeals finally struck it down in its historic ruling in People vs. Onofre, a case featuring as one of the co-defendants a Buffalo gay man, CJ Peoples III, with his legal counsel, William Gardner. Later, Gardner called “a great legal victory,” declaring that “Gay people would no longer have to consider themselves criminals.” Peoples was the person Gardner had hoped to find – or as Peoples described himself in an interview for the Buffalo-Niagara LGBTQ History Project: young, ballsy, and stupid enough. The case became an important legal precedent. Then in his twenties, a black gay man from Buffalo’s East Side, Peoples also spoke of the emotional toll the decision took. Even as an active member of MSNF, he described the queer community’s support as scarce and Gardner as his only friend at the time. However, the police in Buffalo and across the state were indignant and began to rely heavily on another law – the deviate sex loitering statute. 
Even though homosexuality was now technically legal, the deviate sex loitering law criminalized asking for gay sex and consenting to it in public. While its defenders purported that it had nothing to do with homosexuals and all with a concern for neighborhood residents suffering the nuisance of undesired sexual soliciting, in reality, no straight man had ever been known to be arrested under it for undesired sexual advances, as Gardner pointed out. A police tool complementary to this statute was entrapment: officers would pose as gay men, infiltrate gay haunts, and try to strike up a pleasant conversation (usually passing as nervous suburban husbands) until propositioned. An arrest would ensue, with charges for the solicitation of deviate sex. Bill Gardner assisted dozens of men who quietly accepted the sentence and kept it a secret, in sheer terror of losing their jobs, families, and communities.
Late on August 7, 1981, Bob Uplinger, a thirty-year-old local gay man and a beloved public school teacher for “troubled youth,” a philosophically-minded nature-lover and a practitioner of Eastern spirituality, was on his way home. Passing the Lenox Hotel on North Street, towards his apartment on the corner of Summer Street and Elmwood Avenue, he stopped and spoke to a large group of friends gathered on the hotel stairs, then spotted an awkward, good-looking stranger lingering next to the crowd. The whole area, from Genesee, Washington, and Chippewa streets downtown, towards the broader Allentown, was enduring socio-economic changes. In the past, sex workers and queers, especially those of working-class backgrounds, were thrown together, as they frequented the same neighborhoods. With the consciousness-raising of the 1970s, there emerged a profile of the self-aware gay professional (commonly, white men), with a certain financial independence, who began to demand his piece of American middle-class respectability. This is the social juncture at which we find Uplinger that night when he got handcuffed by the vice-squad agent Stephen Nicosia, whom he mistook for a closeted suburbanite and invited him for consensual sex at his home.

Photo of Bob Uplinger, at one of GLYB's picnics, wearing a grey sweatshirt and sitting on a red swing.

Bob Uplinger at one of GLYB's picnics.

Photo Credit: Donna Harding

Bobby, as he was known in the community, was decidedly different: confident that he had done nothing wrong, he didn’t for a moment hesitate about appealing the unfavorable court decision. Even more, he was hell-bent on putting an end to what he considered to be baseless harassment. In interviews from those days, his remarks appear as an interesting crossover between assuming middle-class prerogatives and offering an incisive critique of gay men’s investment in respectability. In his words, he was a tax-paying American with a responsible job – not a pimp. He was polite and never forceful. But at the same time, he found gay men’s new renouncement of the culture of cruising questionable, with their prompting to remain sexually within the parameters of one’s social class. (This appears somewhat complementary to an article in MSNF’s newsletter Fifth Freedom, around the time, about the professional class of gay men buying dilapidated historic homes, refurbishing them into impressive private residences, and transforming city neighborhoods). 

Uplinger and Gardner lost in Erie County – exactly the outcome they needed, according to Gardner –  and were ready for the NY State Court of Appeals, along with Susan Butler, a sex worker arrested in Buffalo under the same statute, as a co-defendant. Making history once again, but also upholding its decision in the Onofre case, the Court of Appeals pronounced the deviate sex loitering law, as a companion statute to the repealed sodomy law, equally unconstitutional. To this, the Erie County District Attorney Richard Arcara, a great appreciator of both statutes, submitted an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court demanding that it make the Court of Appeals reverse both its decisions. When the Supreme Court accepted to hear the case, the American gay public held its breath and big-city gay lawyers shuddered at the prospect of the Buffalo “bumpkins” lumbering their way to the highest court, inciting a ruling that could make a deep impact on all of their lives. Some of these fears were reasonable: the Supreme Court was conservative-leaning and traditionally reluctant to hear gay rights cases. The last time it did, it ruled unfavorably in the already mentioned immigration case from 1967.
What then happened remains a mixed legacy for the Supreme Court and an unprecedented victory for gays of New York with national ramifications. As the debate unpleasantly circled the issue of the freedom of public speech, no less, in the year of the presidential election, it threatened to bring the court to a position to rule on this historically touchy subject. The justices decided not to rule. With this, they upheld the Appellate Court’s decision that both the sodomy law and the deviate sex loitering law were unconstitutional. Effectively, these decisions confirmed the legal right of New Yorkers to be gay in public, decriminalized gay sexuality in the state and invalidated entrapment as a means of police terror against gays.
While Uplinger was waiting for the pending Supreme Court decision, he went on to co-found Gay and Lesbian Youth of Buffalo (GLYB), an organization that provided safety, resources, and emotional support to queer youth (today’s GLYS), at a time when the concept of gay youth was a hard sell. A few years later, he decided to leave Buffalo and accepted a teaching position in Tampa, Florida. It is not clear if he already knew he was ill. He died of complications with AIDS in May of 1988, a mere couple of months after his 37th birthday, in his home in Tampa. He was buried at Mount Calvary in Southeast Buffalo.
At the unveiling ceremony for the Bob Uplinger Arrest Site historic marker, the guest speakers included the attorney Bill Gardner, Donna Harding, close friend and the first GLYB volunteer; Mark Boser, co-founder and the first executive director of GLYB; M. Benzee, a GLYS youth; Ari Moore, artist, community historian, and trans rights activist; Alexandre Burgos-Gonzalez, community organizer for queers of color rights and the director of marketing and development for Upstate NY Black and Latino Pride; Angelica Gonzalez, an advocate for trans women of color rights; the Upstate New York Sex Workers Coalition (UNYSWC); Filmore District Common Council member Mitch Nowakowski, Buffalo’s first openly gay man elected to public office; and India Walton, community organizer and Democratic nominee for Mayor of Buffalo.
One of the messages that day, sounded in the addresses by Angelica Gonzalez and UNYSC was that the legal outcomes remain fraught for sex workers in NY and across the country, even as the history of queer liberation and sex worker rights are tightly intertwined. Susan Butler, the co-defendant in the Uplinger case left free, too, but as UNYSWC pointed out, her “case wasn’t the victory that Bob’s was because just a couple of statutes away from the overturned law was a law that made it illegal to ‘loiter for the purpose of prostitution.’” This section of the loitering law is known as “Walking While Trans,” for targeting many of the same people criminalized under the sodomy and deviate sex loitering laws: trans women, most often of color, engaged or perceived to be engaged in sex work. It took another twenty years for the state legislature to repeal the statute, after a fierce campaign by a coalition of trans and sex worker rights activists. The UNYSWC statement urged the queer community to work actively on decriminalization of sex work, as another step towards shared liberation, pointing out that the more sex work is pushed underground, the more vulnerable trans people are.


Ana Grujić is a scholar and activist based in Buffalo NY. She is a founding member of the Buffalo-Niagara LGBTQ History Project.

The Buffalo-Niagara LGBTQ History Project
is a volunteer-run organization that preserves, archives, curates, and shares local LGBTQIA+ community histories. Through these techniques, we create opportunities for civic education, intergenerational dialogue, and political action. We assert that local and regional activist histories matter as much as those that originate in large cities on the American coasts.

Bibliography:

Brief for the American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, and American Public Health Association as Amici Curiae Supporting Respondents, State of New York v. Robert Uplinger and Susan Butler, 467 U.S. 246 (1984).

Faulring, Jr., J.A. (1981, December). Loitering Statute to be Challenged Again. The Fifth Freedom, December 1981 issue, 1,10. Dr. Madeline Davis LGBTQ Archive of Western New York, Digital Commons, Archives and Special Collections Department, E.H. Butler Library, Buffalo State College, Buffalo, NY.

Gardner, W.H. (1983, March). Living the Gay Life Style...Staying Out of Jail. The Fifth Freedom, March 1983 issue, 7-10. Dr. Madeline Davis LGBTQ Archive of Western New York, Digital Commons, Archives and Special Collections Department, E.H. Butler Library, Buffalo State College, Buffalo, NY.

Gardner, William H. (1983, March 3). Police Show Obsession With Harassing Homosexuals. The Buffalo News. (Box 43, Folder 11), Archives and Special Collections Department, E.H. Butler Library, Buffalo State College, Buffalo, NY.

Gemerek, K., Haynes, J., and Gardner, W. (2004, November 17). [Interview with William Gardner.]  Dr. Madeline Davis LGBTQ Archive of Western New York (Box 74). Archives and Special Collections Department, E.H. Butler Library, Buffalo State College, Buffalo, NY.

Gryta, M. (1983, November 13). Drafts Readied to Fill State Legal Void on Sex-Solicitation Crime. The Buffalo News. The Buffalo News. Dr. Madeline Davis LGBTQ Archive of Western New York, (Box 43, Folder 10), Archives and Special Collections Department, E.H. Butler Library, Buffalo State College, Buffalo, NY.

Gryta, M. (1983, December 27). Buffalo Attorney to Tell Supreme Court Anti-Loitering Law Is Patently sexist. The Buffalo News. Dr. Madeline Davis LGBTQ Archive of Western New York, (Box 43, Folder 10), Archives and Special Collections Department, E.H. Butler Library, Buffalo State College, Buffalo, NY.

Kaufman, S. Remember Our Names. (1989, May). Buffalo Magazine, May 1989 issue, n.p. Dr. Madeline Davis LGBTQ Archive of Western New York (Box 43, Folder 3). Archives and Special Collections Department, E.H. Butler Library, Buffalo State College, Buffalo, NY.

Kennedy, E. L., & Davis, M. D. (1994). Boots of leather, slippers of gold: The history of a lesbian community. New York: Penguin Books.

Law Against Loitering for Deviate Sex Upheld. (1982, May 6). Buffalo Courier-Express, C-8.

Loliger. S.L. (1983, March). Discriminatory State Law Struck Down. The Fifth Freedom, March 1983 issue, 1, 12. Dr. Madeline Davis LGBTQ Archive of Western New York, Digital Commons, Archives and Special Collections Department, E.H. Butler Library, Buffalo State College, Buffalo, NY.

Obituaries: Robert Uplinger. (1988). The Empty Closet, no. 194, July 5, 1988 issue, 5.

People v. Uplinger, 58 N.Y.2d 936 (1983).

Sax, G. (1983, April 11-24). Arguing for Equality: The Man Who Made It Legal To Cruise. New York Native. Dr. Madeline Davis LGBTQ Archive of Western New York, (Box 43, Folder 13), Archives and Special Collections Department, E.H. Butler Library, Buffalo State College, Buffalo, NY.

Searl, Jr., H. (1983, November 9-30). The People vs. Uplinger. Connection, 3(1), 1, 12-13. Dr. Madeline Davis LGBTQ Archive of Western New York (Box 43, Folder 2). Archives and Special Collections Department, E.H. Butler Library, Buffalo State College, Buffalo, NY.

Searl, Jr. H. (1984, February 8-22). We’re Not in Kansas Anymore, Toto. Connections, I, 12. Dr. Madeline Davis LGBTQ Archive of Western New York, (Box 43, Folder 13), Archives and Special Collections Department, E.H. Butler Library, Buffalo State College, Buffalo, NY.

Supreme Court Requested to Legalize Loiter Law. (1984.) The Buffalo News. The Buffalo News. Dr. Madeline Davis LGBTQ Archive of Western New York, (Box 43, Folder 10), Archives and Special Collections Department, E.H. Butler Library, Buffalo State College, Buffalo, NY.

Turner, Douglas. (1984, January 19). 2 Buffalo Attorneys Argue Sodomy Law Before High Court. The Buffalo News. Dr. Madeline Davis LGBTQ Archive of Western New York, (Box 43, Folder 10), Archives and Special Collections Department, E.H. Butler Library, Buffalo State College, Buffalo, NY.

Watson, Judy. (1984.) Our Leaders and Gay Rights: A Very sensitive Issue. The Buffalo News. The Buffalo News. Dr. Madeline Davis LGBTQ Archive of Western New York, (Box 43, Folder 10), Archives and Special Collections Department, E.H. Butler Library, Buffalo State College, Buffalo, NY.

 

Rooted in Love: India Walton's Interview

By Amanda Hart and Hannah Baker, Global Women's Empowerment Magazine (GWEM)

July, 2021

Ms. India Walton is poised to become the next mayor of Buffalo, New York. While the original campaign was not taken seriously by the long-time sitting Mayor, Bryon Brown, the city's politicians are shaking in their boots.
Walton was interviewed by GWEM Magazine Staff Amanda Hart and Hannah Baker.

Welcome, India Walton. Ms. Walton has made it clear that she is ready to spearhead institutional changes. Walton's progressive socialist politics have been on the minds of most Buffalonians these days. Whether you agree or disagree with her political views, there is no debate that her upset against Mayor Byron Brown is historic. As the winner of the Democratic primary, she is likely to become the next, and first, female mayor in Buffalo. During our half-hour interview over zoom we had the opportunity to talk about her political concepts and her plans for the future. The following interview is a transcript from our zoom interview, which has been lightly edited for grammatical clarity.

Amanda: I read that at an early age, you were involved in political activism. Where did that passion come from?

Walton: I think I was involved in political activism at an early age but did not know it. My mother married a man serving a 25 year to life sentence in prison due to a drug charge stemming from the Rockefeller drug laws and mandatory minimums in the early 90s. We went up to Albany to fight for his release, and eventually, he came home. I was so proud of the work that we had done to bring my dad home and I think that was just something that always stuck with me.

Amanda: What philosophy do you borrow your politics from? I love that you have said that your campaign is rooted in love. Have you borrowed any of your political concepts from history?

Walton: I think my political concepts are the opposite of what we believe politics to be in this country. By that, I believe that the people closest to the problem are closest to the solution. The most appropriate legislators and leaders are not those with advanced degrees, but those with experiential expertise. Such as people who work, mothers who raise children, teachers, and just everyday folks who are experiencing the challenges on the ground. They have had lots of time to think about all of the things that we would do different and better if given the opportunity and the resources.

Hannah: Following the mission of GWEM in empowering women, what are some ways you would like to empower women and promote gender equality?

Walton: The most important thing to me when it comes to supporting women is that many times in the movement, we refer to feminizing politics. That means that we take into account that many women need access to childcare in order to participate, not only professionally but civically. There are so many prohibitive things when you are the primary caregiver for a child, parents or even siblings. We are used to men holding positions of leadership. We ignore the fact that it is because of the feminine workforce and the labor of women that they can be in positions of leadership. Someone is working behind the scenes to make sure that person has an ironed shirt, and that their children are cared for and that their lunch is packed. When we enter into those spaces, we are expected to do all of the things we are expected to do and everything else. I think changing the narrative around what it means to work hard and building care for ourselves is okay. Take a break. It is okay to be emotional. It is okay to feel overwhelmed. It is okay to ask for help. It is okay not to have all of the answers. It is just starting there with being recognized as actual people. We need to stop putting these superhuman expectations on ourselves.

Amanda: How do you plan to encourage education for young women?

Walton: I am particularly interested in the demographic of people called A.L.I.C.E.'s (Asset limited income constrained, employed). When you make just enough money to not qualify for any assistance, but you make too little to make a change in your life. I am in the process of building a relationship with an organization called Mayors for a Guaranteed Income. Mayors for a Guaranteed Income targets people in that A.L.I.C.E. demographic. It would give people access to an extra couple hundred dollars a month. It would allow them to have access to childcare, transportation, paying off that last bit of tuition to advance their education, etc. A guaranteed income could enrich the life of that individual, their children, or their family so that they can move up the socio-economic ladder. That is one thing that I am excited about being able to champion once I am in office.

Hannah: Focusing on the same idea of barriers, but turning to your campaign, what is the biggest personal challenge or barrier that you had faced from when you announced your campaign until now?

Walton: I think the biggest challenge for me is the inhumanity. No one cares that you are an actual human in politics, and you have made mistakes; they use that to exploit the fame and make you seem untrustworthy. I know that I am doing the right thing, but it does not make it any less hurtful, especially knowing that I have children who are old enough to see what is on social media and in the news. Having to answer their questions, having to explain things, not only to them but also constantly relive and defend myself against traumas that I have experienced. Like, wow, this is messed up. However, I can set the example. I can not only overcome and survive but also thrive. I take it in stride with grace and poise and say, yeah, it is just something that happened, but it is something that helped to make me into a stronger person. A person who can solve problems, build bridges and be very empathetic and compassionate when it comes to other people's problems.

Amanda: How are you overcoming those challenges to adversity? What are some tips that you would give other women who are struggling with your same struggles?

Walton: You know, I treat myself and others with a whole lot of grace. I try not to take anything personally. I stay out of the comments section. And even sometimes when I venture in there, I say, you know what, this is a small minority I cling to the interactions at the coffee shop or in the grocery store, where folks are excited about what is to come. I try and stay grounded. I do a lot of prayer, meditating, and reading. I try and stay out in nature as much as possible and take nice walks. I go by the water, and treat myself kindly. When I want to splurge on a pedicure, I splurge on a pedicure. If I want to sleep late, I tell my campaign team, Hey, guys, I will be off the radar for a few hours this afternoon because I want to take a nap, then that is okay, too. I constantly remind myself that there is no campaign without an India, and I need to be the best self that I can be. I know that as women, we have learned to de-prioritize ourselves and put everyone else first, especially in politics, but in all aspects of our lives. You can't pour from an empty cup. We have to make sure that we are well-nourished, caring for our mental health, and surrounding ourselves with strong, encouraging people that will keep us motivated. It helps hold us accountable for caring for ourselves. All of those things are what helps me to continue to survive in this very rigorous environment.

Hannah: As a woman aspiring to hold a significant place in office, what are you looking forward to the most when you are finally elected?

Walton: That is a good question. I think I am just looking forward to seeing the very aspirational vision that I have for Buffalo begin to come to life— doing some of the things that we have been planning to do for so long. I know that everything is not going to go as I want it to, but I am confident that there will be significant changes in the way we live our day to day lives. It will be a result of leadership that does lead with love and puts people at the center. That is what I am most excited about.

Amanda: Recently, I heard that that the Hope Center has closed. Do you plan to provide more resources for women and families going through the throes of homelessness and domestic violence in Buffalo?  

Walton: I will definitely do this because it is very near to me as a survivor myself of domestic violence, and also knowing how few services there are, is astonishing. Through the pandemic, we have seen an increase in domestic violence cases. I have a close relationship with April Baskin* Social Services is typically not in the purview of a city government, this is general county work. I think our strong relationship with our county legislators will go a long way to helping that. I also think we have to have good working relationships with a lot of our community-based organizations, like the Matt Urban Center. I still do not quite understand what happened with the Hope Center. I know that the state standards had changed, but the Hope Center was a pretty nice facility. I am like, well, can we renovate it? There must be something that we can do? I think that we just have not had the leadership that would take it that much further to figure out what can be done. Then knowing that many community-based organizations and nonprofits are so under capacity, because again, unity is run in support by women. Due to women's labor being undervalued, those industries are usually under capacity because we are underpaid and overworked. There is not enough room for us to be able to support our organizations at the level that we really could. We need to be resourced at the level that would bring up the capacity and have space to innovate. We need to make sure that there are services for families, for women, for children. I am working with the county to reform our child protective system. We need to learn how we deal with families who need help instead of punishing them. This is also very important to me.

Amanda: What strategy would you propose to get more women involved in community-based work?

Walton: I am a big proponent of organized labor. When we have access to unions and collective bargaining agreements, we have more negotiating power. God bless our nonprofits. Many of our nonprofits have the same issues that large corporations do: the people at the top make three, four, five, sometimes eight times more than the people who are doing most of the work. We have to shift that dynamic. It is important to have people in a position to help shape the narrative and tell the story about why everyone needs to have a living wage. When the least of us does well, we all do better. I use this example frequently. If you give a person that makes a six-figure salary a stimulus check, they usually save it. If you give a person making 30 grands a stimulus check, they go out and spend it. They buy what they have been waiting to buy. We know that low to midincome people tend to be simulators of the economy. Lifting the floor makes more sense to me than continuing to pour into the top and hoping it makes it down to the bottom.

Amanda: What are some words of wisdom that you would give to young girls who are in the same position you were in when you were 14?

Walton: Do not stop; you are enough. I want everyone to know, especially young women, there is nothing remarkable about me. I just kept going. Every time someone told me no, I would not take no for an answer. I always tried to find another way. As long as you are doing what is just and what is right, you will be okay. Keep people around you who will tell you the truth. Be supportive and establish a good network of people so that there is always someone you can call. I do not do anything that I can do alone; I couldn't. Start building your networks. Do not be shy; introduce yourself to people. When you have an area of interest, no matter what it is, there is a club or an association, or somewhere you can go. Just start knocking down doors and making phone calls. A no is not the worst thing in the world. A no is better than not asking.

Amanda: How can people get involved with your campaign? How can they donate or volunteer?

Walton: You can visit my website at www.indiawalton.com. There, you can sign up to volunteer and donate. We love our social media followers, so please follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. The most important thing is to vote. If you are not registered to vote, go ahead and register.  The thing about a grassroots campaign is that the best endorsement is that of the people and word of mouth. People saying, "Hey, I know India," or "I believe in what she stands for.", then to have a conversation with five of your friends. That is how movements are built. If folks have aspirations of their own, I would also say to go ahead and get involved. We welcome everyone, and you do not have to have any particular skill set or experience in political campaigns. We will train you and teach you what you need to know so that you will be ready. You will be a little bit more prepared than I was.

Amanda: I was thinking about your comment when you said that there was nothing remarkable about you. I think you might be wrong about that. I think you are an exceptional woman. We are honored to be able to have this conversation with you today. Thank you for your time. We wish you the best of luck in your upcoming election.

Walton: Thankyou

Logo of the Magazine, GWEM. It has a pink circle, inside which their is a shape of a women and GWEM written in Pink.

 

GWEM (The Global Women’s Empowerment Magazine) is a free publication created by recent UB alum, Amanda Hart 2020, as an ELN project. Amanda Hart is the Chief Editor with Hannah Baker working alongside her as the Assistant Editor and Intern. The overall goal of the magazine is to aid in improving the status of girls and women in society. GWEM gives up-to-date resources for girls and women through our website and social media accounts that we use to promote our stories, allowing education to be more readily accessible. By participating in the platform, students and faculty have the opportunity to showcase their research, essays, creative works and projects, as well as the opportunity to create new connections. They can also share projects, develop ideas to promote gender equality, encourage body positivity, and more.

The End of Roe v. Wade: Texas, Senate Bill 8, and the Fight for Reproductive Justice

By Deanna Buley

September 13, 2021

A note on language: Throughout this post, I will be primarily using gender-neutral terms instead of ‘women’ to refer to people who need/receive abortions. This is because many people who are not women need this type of reproductive care, including but not limited to, trans/nonbinary and gender nonconforming people. However, I am also extremely aware of the ways in which sexism and notions of “womanhood” have shaped abortion repression and rhetoric. Historically speaking, the extensive socio-political discourse and actions on abortion restriction have been rooted in misogyny and, often, with the intent of further marginalizing women and limiting their autonomy.

 

On September 1, 2021, Senate Bill 8 (SB8) went into effect in the state of Texas. The bill bans abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, or, “after detection of [a] … heartbeat” and makes no exceptions for cases of incest or rape. Additionally, SB8 allows citizens to sue both abortion providers, the person receiving the abortion, as well as anyone else who helps an individual obtain an abortion. Later that night, the U.S. Supreme Court voted against blocking the law with a 5-4 vote.

Image of a Black woman holding a pro-choice sign in front of the Supreme Court. The sign says "Keep Abortion Safe, Legal, and Accessible." She is wearing a shirt that says "I had an abortion.".

On August 31, 24-hours before the restrictions, doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals, worked all day and night to provide patients with abortion procedures before the bill took effect. According to one senior director in Fort Worth, the Whole Woman’s Health clinic treated 117 patients that day with the last appointment being completed at 11:56 pm. She described the scene as sheer chaos, with patients waiting in their cars, as the waiting room had full capacity. Anti-abortion activists gathered around the building shouting at those who entered and exited the clinic.

SB8 has been in effect for less than a week and the social and political consequences have already begun. The Planned Parenthood of South Texas has posted on their website that they are currently and indefinitely unable to provide abortion procedures. Abortion fund and travel support networks have been overwhelmed with requests for assistance from individuals seeking abortions out of state. Roe v. Wade has been “functionally overturned.” Mark Joseph Stern, a reporter at Slate writes, “It is simply impossible to say that Roe v. Wade is still the law of the land. The Supreme Court just allowed Texas to enforce a six-week abortion ban--giving other states a roadmap to do the same. Roe is no longer a good law.” States such as Oklahoma, Tennessee, Alabama, Ohio, and many others, have been trying for years to pass near-bans on abortion for decades. Texas lawmakers have created the bill these states will essentially replicate to finally achieve their goal of repressing individuals’ access to abortion services.

Screenshot of Planned Parenthood of South Texas website explaining that it cannot provide abortions due to the new legislation.

We need to be clear about what other consequences will surely occur in Texas and in other states where abortion access is limited and/or about to be severely limited. The provision in SB8 which allows individuals to sue those who “aid and abet” those seeking abortions, including health professionals, Uber drivers, pro-choice activists, will both deter these individuals from supporting people needing abortions and potentially cause unimaginable economic distress for those who do. Pregnant individuals who miscarry past the six-week mark may be criminally prosecuted (this may sound unbelievable but it has happened, particularly to women of color). Finally, people will die. History shows us that banning or limiting abortion does not decrease the number of abortions (one of, if not the, main goal of anti-abortion lawmakers). Instead, it increases the number of unsafe abortion attempts outside of medical settings which can lead to a variety of medical complications and, at times, death.

In terms of reproductive care more broadly, Texas ranks poorly in many categories when compared to other states in the U.S.: 42nd in teenage pregnancy and sexual health in youth, 46th in adequate prenatal care, 50th in the number of uninsured women and children, 46th in cervical cancer screening, and 49th in the quality of reproductive health care. While the current situation in Texas is regarding abortion, these statistics highlight a larger trend: Texas state institutions have failed their citizens in terms of reproductive access and safety, both historically and presently.

Woman at a protest carrying a sign of the Texas state flag that reads "Don't mess with Texas women.".

Image Credit: Laurie Shaull

The reproductive justice framework, created and developed primarily by Black feminists, shows us that achieving reproductive freedom does not involve abortion alone. It involves a network of issues including contraception, sex education, a variety of reproductive health services (i.e., STI care and prevention, prenatal and pregnancy care, preventative screenings, etc.), domestic violence support, and access to equitable working and housing conditions. All of these things affect a person’s ability to live with full reproductive choice and autonomy, including support for those choices, not just the freedom to make them.

As SB8 comes into action along with a constant stream of disheartening news surrounding abortion access in the United States, many of us are left feeling frustrated and wondering how to possibly help. Because of the highly restrictive nature of the law, carried out by both state institutions and, eventually, its anti-abortion citizens, individuals seeking abortions will need to rely on abortion funding and travel networks more than ever. While organizations like Planned Parenthood and the ACLU will be a large part of the ongoing fight for abortion rights, grassroots, locally-based networks will be providing a substantial amount of direct resources to those seeking abortion outside of Texas, including money for procedures, travel accommodations, and emotional and physical support.

SB8 and the ongoing stream of attempts (and successes) to limit abortion access in the United States are devastating and those who care about and organize for reproductive rights and justice are facing an uphill battle. However, history shows us that the relentlessness and collective strength of these organizers can transform unimaginable realities into opportunities for justice, revolution, and a revitalization of an entire movement.

"You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time." -- Angela Davis

Image of a smiling person looking directly at camera. They are against a solid background and are wearing a green shirt.

Deanna Buley is a PhD Candidate in the Global Gender and Sexuality studies at the University at Buffalo. They are a Teaching Assistant in the department for courses including Feminist Theory and Gender and Popular Culture. Deanna's research focuses on abortion travel networks in highly restrictive regions in the United States and they hope to become a Professor of Gender Studies after completing their doctorate. 

Q/A with Deputy Director Jo Freudenheim

with Surabhi Pant

August 30, 2021

You were part of the original group of women faculty who helped found the Gender Institute, what has changed since it was founded?

Everything has changed! When the institute was started, there were many feminist scholars at UB who networked with each other, but there wasn’t any organized way for them to connect, particularly to include those who worked in disciplines outside the humanities. I was recruited to join the initial group because I was in the sciences. From the inception, there has been a commitment in the Gender Institute to work across disciplines, with important efforts to bring people together across disciplines to develop new ideas and to move research forward on gender and sexuality at UB.

What prompted your research interest in cancer and epidemiology?

My background is in nutrition; I worked for several years in clinical and community nutrition before I went to graduate school. From that experience in the field, I knew that I wanted to do epidemiologic research on nutrition in relation to chronic diseases. I came to UB because there were researchers here doing ground breaking work on cancer and nutrition. It was a great opportunity to work with them.

How does cancer research relate to gender? (I know one of your interests includes breast cancer)

Most of my research is focused on breast cancer which has everything to do with gender—while a small number of men get breast cancer, it predominantly affects women and, as you are probably aware, breast cancer affects a large number of women. There are more than 2 million new cases and about 685,000 breast cancer deaths globally each year. Women have been very influential at every level in moving breast cancer research forward to improve understanding, prevention and treatment,  and in making sure that appropriate funding is available to address this important public health issue. They have been pivotal in advocacy, in funding decisions and in doing the research.

You were recently awarded the American Public Health Association’s Abraham Lilienfeld Award for teaching. What do you love about teaching epidemiology? 

I have been very lucky to have the chance to work with wonderful students who are now in leadership in epidemiology. I think that doing epidemiologic research is a great challenge and also enormous fun. I enjoy sharing that  experience with students both inside the classroom and out. I particularly enjoy mentoring students in their research and seeing them grow and develop.

What are you looking forward to as Deputy Director of the Gender Institute?

I am excited to be in this role in the Gender Institute for a number of reasons. I appreciate the chance to interact more with faculty and students outside of my school. There has been an amazing legacy of outstanding leadership of the GI. I am very honored to join those ranks. The Institute Director, Carrie Bramen, has a thoughtful and impressive vision for the Institute and how it can be part of UB’s move toward the next level. I look forward to working with her and the others involved in the Institute to think about new directions and about how to use the Institute to make UB an even better place, to learn, to work and to make a better world.

The Global Women's Empowerment Movement

By Amanda M. Hart

February 24, 2021

What do you get when you pair; an art-savvy psychology major from the University at Buffalo, a budding researcher in biology at Stonybrook University, and a compassionate health care worker at SUNY Empire State? Three young women looking for a place to shine and showcase their common passion. Women's Empowerment

Pink circle with pink block letters spelling GWEM. A pencil sketch of a woman looking over her shoulder is in the center of the circle with the letters under her.

The original GWEM team came about as a transition arose from a summer program. All three young women, (Daniela Maniscalchi, Jasmine Kumar, and I) had attended the SUNY COIL program for the first Virtual Study Abroad during the height of the 2020 Pandemic. While bars and restaurants were closed, and statewide lockdowns and restrictions were in place, the only place open was the opportunity that awaited at the other end of the Zoom call with their NGO in Nigeria (PriHEMAC). As I led my team, we hurdled over the predictable challenges that come with working abroad or with a global clientele and grappled with the new challenge of working on a virtual platform. As the communication was still struggling with the team, I began to post on the message board about wanting to do a magazine laying out the foundation of what I thought we could offer the NGO, even considering the time. It would allow for individual student work to be showcased, as well as promote the mission of the NGO. With the team supporting my mission, and Professor John Justino's support, the magazine was a great success. The NGO had applauded the efforts of the team and distributed the contents to over 1000 of its stakeholders.

As the project ended, I reached out to my team members and offered to continue the work we had started with the second issue of PriHEMAC magazine. The team agreed to work under my parent organization, Buffalo Custom Art, to produce more content for the NGO. But little did we know that this would soon be flipped upside down.

That week I had signed up for another virtual study abroad class led by Dr. Mara Huber. The class, which was much like the SUNY COIL program, but more in-depth, focused on the country of Tanzania. The class, which comes in the form of an individualized project experience, prompted discussion about Women's Safety during a guest speaker visit. Dr. Huber's class, which didn't necessarily focus on Women's empowerment, slowly began to evolve into female empowerment topics. Speakers would voice concerns about the social, physical, and mental problems associated with women's human rights issues such as rape, FGM, early childhood marriage, and more.

Cover of GWEM magazine. A black and white image of a Black woman looking off to the right. Pink lettered headlines introduce the magazine's Tanzania Edition.

After that class visit, something deep within me stirred and I wasted no time getting to work. That night I pulled out a whiteboard and started mapping out an idea for a Women's Empowerment Fundraiser in which I would paint female empowerment artwork that would be auctioned off for a cause. I approached Dr. Huber the next day and as we percolated over the idea of a fundraiser, we faced two major problems. 1. Most of New York was still under social distancing orders, so hosting an event to auction would be difficult if not impossible. 2. Money is just a drop in the bucket to the bigger problem: a lack of awareness. Coming into Dr. Huber's class why had I not heard of these topics before? It wasn't like they were small social issues. I asked Dr. Huber if she thought making another magazine to highlight the issues would be a good idea, and Dr. Huber supported it.

After the meeting, I sat at the drawing board staring blankly at the paintings debating on what to do next. Then, the idea hit like a ton of bricks. If I wasn't informed on these topics when I thought I had been, who else wasn't? If the idea of a girl being propositioned so they can attend school doesn't turn your stomach or that FGM is now being performed on baby girls as young as a year old doesn't compel you to act, then you need to reexamine the world in a more dynamic point of view. The fact is that these are real social issues, that have complex and nasty implications when they are fought against. Women have died trying to fight for basic human rights, and why should they be fighting alone? And why are these stories and efforts going somewhat unnoticed? That was the night GWEM was born. I worked through the next few days making a website, creating a palatable feminist brand that would promote women's sustainability issues and projects, student collaboration with NGOs, changemakers, educators, and global communities. When it was presented to Dr. Huber as a concept the idea quickly gained traction. The first magazine was a huge success, with many young women appreciating the real and raw content they were reading.

A pink billboard-style advertisement featuring the words "GWEM: Become an Ambassador Today" next to a circular image of three women laughing and throwing confetti.

GWEM Magazine, the Global Women's Empowerment Network now consists of over 300 members and is quickly growing its subscriber base. It is a free publication that is looking for student and educator submissions concerning women's empowerment initiatives, sustainability efforts, and more. One goal of our project is to make feminism a palatable experience for all women, as well as highlighting real Women's issues and stories, much unlike other magazines out on the market. The second issue of the magazine ( The Dreamer Edition ), which will discuss the Social Determinants of Health about Women's empowerment, is set to be released in the Summer of 2021.

Currently, GWEM is looking for faculty and students who are willing to promote or support its mission. GWEM Magazine is also open on the ELN's Project portal for interested students looking for a global collaboration experience. For more information, please visit www.gwemag.com or contact Editor in Chief Amanda Hart amhart5@buffalo.edu

It's your time to shine!


Amanda Hart
 is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of GWEM Magazine.

 

 

Linguistic Legacies: Honoring Professor Madeleine Mathiot

By Sydney Jameson-Blowers

February 8, 2021

In September of 2020, I joined the Gender Institute as a work-study student. I was excited to participate in all the good work they do and interested to learn more about how they advocate for the rights of women, people of color, and people in the LGBTQ+ community on UB’s campus. I looked forward to exploring how I could use my background and skills in Linguistics to further these causes. When I joined the Gender Institute team, I was invited to take a look at some linguistic research that had been donated to the Institute by a professor. These turned out to be old projects that had been completed in the 1990s by the students of Dr. Madeleine Mathiot, Professor Emerita of the Linguistics Department at UB. Her students had conducted interviews with their peers to discover what words they used to describe someone of the opposite gender. Altogether, these students had collected over 1,000 gendered descriptive terms!

Word cloud image of words related to gender and linguistics using green and orange fonts.

When I contacted Professor Mathiot to ask her permission to use this data in a study, she was kind, courteous, and incredibly helpful. It had been many years since this project was completed, but she offered to help in any way that she could. She even suggested a further study she had contributed to that could help inform my research. This generosity, and a passion for unique research, seems to have characterized Dr. Mathiot’s entire career. She received her Ph. D in Anthropology from the Catholic University of America after receiving her M. S. in Linguistics from Georgetown University. Her work was rooted in structuralist methods, and she combined ethnographic, semantic, and fieldwork research. Her expertise in indigenous languages of the Southwestern US resulted in several publications, including a Tohono ‘O’odham-English usage dictionary in 1973. Throughout her career, Dr. Mathiot combined the cognitive and cultural aspects of language use, which included producing a large body of work on folk taxonomy and definitions. She creatively and courageously followed her own research path, independent of the popular research trends of the time.

Image of Madeleine Mathiot, a woman with short gray hair wearing a pink linen blouse and a long brown necklace.

Madeleine Mathiot

On December 4, 2020, Dr. Madeleine Mathiot died peacefully. She is honored and remembered fondly by her colleagues in the UB Linguistics Department and the University at Buffalo at large. Though I have known her solely through email correspondence, she provided me with all the tools I needed to launch the largest research project I have conducted so far in my career. Her life and work are an inspiration to all aspiring linguists, myself included. She has had an incredible impact in the fields of language and gender for many years and will continue to influence future researchers for years to come.

As for me, I wish to represent her work well in my own project and build upon her research. I hope that my efforts will be a fitting tribute to her legacy and that my work will honor her own.


Sydney Jameson-Blowers is pursuing her Master's in Linguistics. She is a researcher at the Gender Institute working on a comparative analysis of Dr. Mathiot's work with contemporary gendered language terms. This project will be featured on upcoming episodes of the Gender Matters Podcast. 

From Margin to Center: Reflecting on the Survivors Agenda Summit

By Hilary Vandenbark

October 6, 2020

On September 24-26, I had the honor of virtually attending the Survivors Agenda Summit. The Summit launched an agenda for survivors to form radical communities across difference and assert the power of a movement built by and for survivors of sexual and intimate partner violence. The Summit was very moving and important to me both professionally and personally. My dissertation research investigates government responses to sexual violence and anti-rape social movements. On a personal level, the Summit took place shortly before the 9-year anniversary of my own experience with sexual violence which I’ve written about previously

Orange and yellow cover with "Survivors Agenda" written in bold white font on a black rectangle. A group of people appear at the bottom in black and white photos.

Through my research, advocacy, and teaching experience, I’ve learned how power and structural violence impact people who experience assault very differently. While I’m sad for my 20-year-old self who wouldn’t figure out until years later that what happened that night was violence that she neither invited or deserved, I recognize that my story is more recognizable in our cultural understanding of what sexual violence looks like. The Summit aimed to change that perception by centering those pushed to the side of the sexual violence conversation.

The Summit was organized by women of color: Ai-Jen Poo, Fatima Goss Graves, Tarana Burke, and Monica Ramirez. Throughout the Summit, they brought together experts in their own experiences, queer, trans, and nonbinary people, people with varying disabilities, people living with the aftermath of military sexual violence, Indigenous women facing an epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), people at the intersection of sexual violence and immigration status and many more.

Between panels and opening and closing each day, the Summit featured musicians, poets, performing artists, yoga practitioners, and more. An entire page of the Summit’s website was devoted to virtual healing spaces that folks could access if they had trauma responses during and after events.

What made the Survivors Agenda Summit so powerful was that, for once, the space was not dominated by people who look like me. I am white, able-bodied (and relatively able-minded), cis-heterosexual, well-educated, and middle class-adjacent. My research shows me that women of color, especially Indigenous women, are far more likely to experience sexual and gender-based violence than myself. The data proves that LGBTQ people are disproportionately represented in sexual violence statistics, yet have the hardest time accessing services that were built around the experiences and needs of cis-het women.

The Summit was truly an exercise in moving from margin to center, as bell hooks would say. Those most marginalized in movements took the Summit platform by storm. I learned so much from just listening to these speakers, artists, healers, and warriors. What happens when we center the most vulnerable in our movement spaces? What has been lost when white women have excluded the expertise, needs, and vision of those we have othered? We got a small and powerful glimpse of a revolutionary world free of violence against all people. We can work toward achieving this world when privileged folks like me commit to stepping back and lifting up the work these folks have been doing for a long time. This is just the start. Let’s get to it.

 

Hilary Vandenbark is a PhD Candidate in Global Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University at Buffalo. Vandenbark currently serves as the Graduate Assistant at the Gender Institute and hopes to work in public policy and advocacy upon completing her doctorate. 

Gender Institute's "Summer Reads"

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. 

Enjoy!

Blue text in the center says "Summer Reads" surrounded by a collage of book covers.

A sampling of the selections for this year's Summer Reads.

Glenna Bett

Black and white sketch of a Roman leader in front of a crowd. The title, "Laughter in Ancient Rome," appears in red.

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?

Carrie Bramen

Gray book cover with blue text stating "Stop Telling Women to Smile" below a sketch of an unsmiling young woman.

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.

Sharonah Fredrick

Book cover image depicting a stone cathedral with light coming through a circular window. The text La Catedral Del Mar appears in white letters over the image.

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.

Stacy Hubbard

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).

Sepia tint book cover depicting a young Black child sitting on stone steps in front of a building. The text reads "Race for Profit" over the image.
Red book cover with the text "A Map of Betrayal" written in black.
Plain book cover with the title "China Men" displayed vertically in red. The two words are separated by a depiction of a small Chinese red dragon.

Carine Mardorossian

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.

Kathleen Parks Marsh

Colorful chain of hashtag symbols beneath the title, "Hashtag Activism.".

#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.

Book cover of two women on the beach. A pink sunset sky where the title, "When We Believed in Mermaids" appears.

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.

 

 

Cody Mejeur

Bright blue book cover image with various animated video game controllers underneath white text that states "Video Games Have Always Been Queer.".

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   
                                           popular culture.

White book cover with six black and white icons with the text "Gamer Trouble" in gold lettering.

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.

Randy Schiff

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.

Black book cover with large white letters that says "Ice." Two large snowflakes appear in the upper right corner.
Book cover featuring Japanese-style art depiction of a woman wearing a kimono near the sea. The words "The Tale of Genji" appear in gold letters.

David Schmid

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.

White book cover with two large red spots over which the text "A Companion to Marx's Capital" appears in black.
Blue tinted portrait image of Sigmund Freud. The title "The Life and Works of Sigmund Freud" appear in gold capital letters across his forehead.
Book cover of a black and white image of a protest underneath the title "Set the Night on Fire: LA in the Sixties" in a black and red font.

Hilary Vandenbark

Blue and Purple book cover with the title, "Boys and Sex," in big white letters.

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. 

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

Kari Winter

Black and white image of a woman facing a wall wearing black gloves and a black top with a deep V in the back. The book title, Recollections of My Nonexistence, appears in thin white letters.

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.

Victoria Wolcott

Tinted images of a woman in the top half of the cover and a man in the bottom half. The title of the book, "The Princess and the Prophet" separates the images in a large square.

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.

Lillian Williams: Trailblazing Woman Award

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.

Lillian Williams gives a speech while wearing a red blazer.

Lillian Williams delivers her acceptance speech for the inaugural Trailblazing Women of WNY Award.

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.

Four women post in front of a poster of historical women figures in Western New York.

Trailblazing Women honorees pose with Erie County Commission of Public Advocacy Karen King at the awards ceremony. Left to Right: Kelly Hayes McAlonie, Lori Quigley, Lillian Williams, Karen King.

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.             

Two women pose in front of a poster depicting Mary Burnett Talbert.

Lillian Williams (left) in front of a poster of Mary Burnett Talbert, for whom Williams fought to name Talbert Hall on UB's North Campus.

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

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