By Judith Ortiz Cofer | On a bus trip to London from Oxford University where I was earning some graduate credits one summer, a young man, obviously fresh from a pub, spotted me and as if struck by inspiration went down on his knees in the aisle. With both hands over his heart he broke into an Irish tenor’s rendition of “Maria” from West Side Story. My politely amused fellow passengers gave his lovely voice the round of gentle applause it deserved. Though I was not quite as amused, I managed my version of an English smile: no show of teeth, no extreme contortions of the facial muscles—I was at this time of my life practicing reserve and cool. Oh, that British control, how I coveted it.
We were hoping Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg would hold out through November. After serving twenty-seven years on the nation’s highest court, she passed away on September 18. She was eighty-seven. A legal, cultural, and feminist icon and champion of gender equality, she was an inspiration, a bastion of strength and courage. We asked some of our authors to reflect on her legacy and share their remembrances here.
A Q&A with Angela Chen | A world without compulsory sexuality doesn’t mean desexualizing everything. It means removing the “compulsory” part. It means removing pressures and presenting more ways of how to live. It means more choice. People will be able to choose what they want—a lot of sex, no sex, and so on—without pressure or shame or judgment and without feeling like they need to explain themselves to doubters.
By Pamela D. Toler | The Chinese heroine Hua Mulan is one of the oldest and most enduring examples of a woman who becomes a warrior because of her role as a daughter. Scholars have argued for centuries over whether or not Mulan was a historical figure. At some level, it doesn’t matter as far as piecing together her story is concerned. The available information about her life is scarce to nonexistent, even by the often-shaky standard of what we know about other women warriors of the ancient world.
A Q&A with Hilary Levey Friedman | I have never competed in a beauty pageant, but my mother was Miss America 1970, so pageants have always been a part of my life. My mom and I are different and we our own people—for example, I am a bookworm and she was not the best of students—but studying pageants has been a way for me to think how our lives and generations are similar, yet different. The way I got started studying beauty pageants was when I did a paper in a sociology class about why mothers enroll their young daughters in beauty pageants after the murder of JonBenét Ramsey.
There is no other way to put it. The start of this year’s Pride Month was painful. We can’t stop thinking of the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and of too many before and after them. Witnessing modern-day lynch mobs during a pandemic is soul-crushing. Do not be tempted to say the upheaval happening now is “unique” or “unprecedented.” Because it is not. The US has centuries of history inflicting violence and death on Black bodies. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said in his “The Other America” speech, “the riot is the language of the unheard.” And the US has not listened since the days of slavery and settler colonialism. So the protests and riots rage on.
By Rosemarie Day | As Mother’s Day approaches, this year feels different. In a time of coronavirus, we need more than flowers and a day off. We need more than traditional self-care. We need recognition, deep and lasting recognition, that the work we do as caregivers is invaluable. We need recognition from society as a whole, not just our families. The pandemic has shown everyone that we are essential—women make up over half of the workforce deemed “essential,” including 77% of healthcare workers.
She led a sit-in to ensure protections for people with disabilities and laid the groundwork for the Americans with Disabilities Act. She’s calling on all of us to act radically to build a different kind of future for cinema—not only for the women being actively hurt inside the industry but for those outside it, whose lives, purchasing decisions, and sense of selves are shaped by the stories told. She’s proving how a groundswell of activism, led by everyday women, could create the incentives our political leaders need to change course and make affordable healthcare accessible for everybody.
By Dina Gilio-Whitaker | Long before there was ever a concept called “feminism” in the US settler State, there was the knowledge of women’s power in Indigenous communities. The imposition of foreign cultures, and Christianity in particular, was corrosive to societies that were typically matrilineal or matrifocal, were foundationally equitable in the distribution of power between the genders, and often respected the existence of a third gender and non-hetero relationships. As Christianity swept over the continent, it instilled Indigenous societies with patriarchal values that sought not only to diminish women’s inherent cultural power but also to pathologize alternative gender identities, relationships, and marriage practices outside the bounds of monogamy, establishing a general pattern of gender and relationship suppression that constructs modern American society and reordered Native societies.
We’re going two for two—our second author to appear this year on The Daily Show! On March 4, Trevor Noah interviewed disability rights activist Judith Heumann on The Daily Show in honor of Women’s History Month. And we’re squeeing again like the book groupies we are! “Reading this book, I expected to be impressed by it, but I wasn’t quite expecting how much of a badass you would be,” Noah told Heumann. And he’s right: she’s a total badass!
By Kristen Joiner | Judy Heumann isn’t nice. Let me be clear. Judy Heumann, one of the most transformative disability rights leaders of our time, is very friendly. Just take a walk around her Washington, DC, block. You’ll see that she’s on a first-name basis with everyone, from the doorman to the bus driver. But she is not nice. For the past three years, I’ve had the privilege of waking up and imagining myself into Judy Heumann’s shoes.
By Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross | It is true that we [Black women] embody the motto coined by Nannie Helen Burroughs for the school she headed in 1909: “We specialize in the wholly impossible.” The motto, together with Nannie’s own history, stands as evidence that a Black woman could, and did, push past daunting obstacles to live a life decidedly less ordinary.
Announcing the Oscars nominee lineup for best director with John Cho, Issa Rae threw the best shade at the Academy. “Congratulations to those men.” We feel you, Issa! In all the Oscars’ ninety-two years, only five women have ever been nominated for the award, Katheryn Bigelow being the only one to win it for The Hurt Locker. Yet Bigelow’s win was in 2009. Why were no women nominated for best director this year? Or perhaps the better question is how. How does this keep happening? Because it’s symptomatic of a much larger issue.
You won’t find corny-ass statements here proclaiming that the year 2020 will usher a time of clearer vision. Puh-lease. That’s tired. What’s worth saying here, however, is we need to keep our eyes on the issues that matter to us as we begin a new decade. Now that’s wired. We can get a picture of what matters by looking back at some of the top read blog posts on the Broadside in 2019.
A Q&A with Patricia Powell | I was initially an economics major but when I took my first creative writing class, everything changed. All my bottled-up feelings of loss came undone. I was twenty at the time and had only been in the States for four years. Writing had already stirred up so many feelings about home and the people I had left behind, those I had loved with all my heart and would never see again—my great aunt who raised me, for example, and who died shortly after I left.
By Leah Vernon | The identity battle with my hijab continued well into adulthood. As I started to come to terms with it, that it was in fact my choice to wear it or not, others’ disdain for it mounted. I was hyperaware of my surroundings when I wore it, especially around white folks—they were the ones doing the most when it came to assaults and verbal attacks.
By Ruth Behar | If I had to choose one aspect of my life that had the greatest impact on me as a thinker and a writer, it would be that I was born a Jew in Cuba. And after that, it would be that I came to the United States as an immigrant child, carrying this doubled sense of identity which would eventually be articulated in an American context in the English language, but always with a longing for the native Spanish that was spoken in my family. As a girl and a young woman growing up in New York, I struggled to find a way to give voice to the experience of being a Cuban immigrant, while always yearning to know the island that my family remembered nostalgically, but to which I was told we would never again return to live.
By Rakia Clark | Meeting Mona Eltahawy for the first time is like a bolt of lightening. Bold, vibrant, bright red hair, tattoos on both forearms, big, big smile, the works. Sitting down for the first time to discuss what would become The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls, I was captivated by the powerful simplicity of the book’s central questions: What would happen if girls around the world were trained up to embrace the same qualities we encourage in boys? What if women around the world lived their lives with the same freedom men felt?
Lyn Mikel Brown | Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that sixteen-year-old Swedish climate activist, Greta Thunberg made her way to New York City a few weeks ago via an emission-free racing yacht. She’s here to tell us, as she’s been doing since she was eleven, that “our house is on fire.” The climate crisis is urgent. We dismiss it at our own peril.
By Michelle Oberman | None of the laws Oklahoma passed were new. They simply passed every measure enacted by other pro-life states, along with the occasional model bill drafted by Americans United for Life. The laws cover a broad range of issues. Some of the laws, such as a ban on sex-selective abortion, are plainly symbolic. Women seeking abortions in Oklahoma, as in other states, need not provide a reason for terminating their pregnancies. There is no way to enforce this provision.