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Archive for the ‘Women’s Wisdom Project’ Category

Amelia Bloomer

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“When you find a burden in belief or apparel, cast it off.”

Amelia Bloomer (1819-1894)

Born Amelia Jenks, Bloomer was a writer, editor, abolitionist, and active member of the women’s suffrage movement. Her progressive views helped to shift not only how American women viewed what they wore, but also themselves and their role in society.

After attending the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention in 1848, Bloomer launched The Lily. The newspaper was entirely for women, and dedicated to covering the topics of the day. A publication by and for women was not only novel, but controversial. While it began as a temperance journal, it quickly evolved, and within its pages, Bloomer and her team not only advocated for women’s right to vote, but also to end slavery.

Bloomer later wrote, “The Lily was the first paper published devoted to the interests of woman and, so far as I know, the first one owned, edited and published by a woman. It was a novel thing for me to do in those days and I was little fitted for it, but the force of circumstances led me into it and strength was given me to carry it through. It was a needed instrumentality to spread abroad the truth of the new gospel to woman, and I could not withhold my hand to stay the work I had begun.”

But it was articles on fashion that would spike the interest in The Lily, as Bloomer advocated for dress reform. Long dresses of the day were heavy, impractical, and often, an impediment to health. As Lorraine Boissoneault writes for Smithsonian:

“… middle- and upper-class American women squeezed themselves into corsets and six to eight petticoats to fill out the shape of their skirts. The result weighed up to 15 pounds, placed enormous pressure on their hips, and made movement a struggle.

“Women complained of overheating and impaired breathing, sweeping along filthy streets and tripping over stairs, crushed organs from whalebone stays and laced corsets, and getting caught in factory machinery,” writes historian Annemarie Strassel.

Doctors worried the outfits might cause health problems for pregnant mothers, and the press regularly lampooned the style of the day, with cartoons showing assorted garbage getting caught in women’s sweeping skirts. But what could be done?”

Bloomer found an answer in a liberating new style of outfit: a short skirt with billowy pantaloons underneath. She published photos of herself wearing it, and advocated for the style change in the pages of The Lily.

This physical manifestation of women’s liberation of course caused an uproar, one that Bloomer hadn’t expected. “At the outset, I had no idea of fully adopting the style no thought of setting a fashion; no thought that my action would create an excitement throughout the civilized world, and give to the style my name and the credit due Mrs. [Elizabeth Smith] Miller. This was all the work of the press. I stood amazed at the furor I had unwittingly caused,” wrote Bloomer.

She hadn’t planned on starting a fashion revolution, but Bloomer became the outfit’s namesake, and in turn the face of the movement for dress reform. Women wrote to Bloomer asking about the dress, and if there were patterns available, and the interest was so great that The Lily‘s monthly circulation went from 500 to 4,000.

Imagine: a woman in pants! To the public of the day, the thought was not just unconventional, but unsightly. During the American Civil War, nurses were even banned from wearing them, but the freedom of movement that they allowed causes many nurses to ignore the ban and don them anyway.

Bloomer later went back to her full-length dress, and the suffragettes moved away from dress reform as one of their causes, but the connection between pants and women’s right’s remained—our wardrobes and our politics forever changed.

This papercut and profile are a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

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Written by Anna Brones

October 17, 2019 at 10:57

Soleil Ho

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“…you can choose to continue learning about perspectives that aren’t your own: “I don’t know” isn’t an end, but a beginning.”

-Soleil Ho

Food can be a unifying force. It can also be a divisive one. Through food we carry memories, experiences, people. What we eat and what we make often tells a story of who we are. Food is also a lens and a bridge to so many other topics, an entry point to tackling the critical issues of our time–like gender, class, and race.

Soleil Ho is doing just that. You may know her from her podcast Racist Sandwich, or now in her position as the restaurant critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. She’s a self-described “ethno food warrior,” and she’s using this platform of food as a way to challenge people to rethink their perceptions, their assumptions, and their judgements about people, food and in turn, culture.

Growing up in New York, she spent over a decade working in restaurants. Her grandparents came to the United States as refugees from Vietnam, and that family history has informed her work. She has been diligent about showcasing how embedded racism and oppression is in food, writing pieces on food assimilation, how white chefs win most food awards, a restaurant chain that tried to ban Hawaiian businesses from using the word “aloha,” how to avoid cultural appropriation, and the outdated concept of colonial food. As she wrote in her review of Le Colonial, a French-Vietnamese restaurant, “nostalgia is a blurry lens through which we can view history. We often rewrite it so that the hard, inconvenient parts are pushed to the sidelines in favor of what makes us feel good.”

Food criticism has always been a mostly white and male dominated profession, and her position as the restaurant critic for the San Francisco Chronicle offers the opportunity to bring an entirely different lens to looking at restaurants, one that’s more holistic and honest about what making and serving food means. As The Washington Post wrote in a profile of Ho, “Having traversed both sides, she’s uniquely positioned to tackle some of the most pressing issues in the food world, some of which were themes in her first reviews: What’s the difference between appreciation and appropriation? What’s the true cost of food and the labor to produce it? How do we make the restaurant industry more equitable, more accessible, more just?”

These are essential questions, because they are not just questions about what we eat, they are also questions about who we are as a culture, where we have put our values, and how we might challenge ourselves to not avoid the inconvenient parts of history (as well as those of modern day) but to acknowledge harsh realities and build a better system moving forward.

I am so glad that Ho took time to answer some questions for the Women’s Wisdom Project, and I hope that perhaps she might challenge you to start thinking a little differently about what’s on your plate, and your own connections to food.

What does wisdom mean to you?

The way I try to act out wisdom is through silence: really considering my words before I speak so that I can stand by everything that I say. To me, it’s also accepting that I don’t know everything and making sure that, to the best of my ability, I consult with others and do my research before talking about things that are new to me.

Is there an influential woman in your life who passed along a piece of wisdom to you? Who and what?

After the trial that let George Zimmerman off for the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2017, filmmaker Tanya Steele wrote an incisive and real essay about the constant work that Black people need to do to look harmless to white strangers. There’s a line from the piece that I keep going back to: “I will stop contorting my being to accommodate white neuroses. That’s my new civil rights movement.”

Your work includes being a chef, podcaster, writer, and restaurant critic. What would you say is the driving force behind what you do? Is there a common thread that ties all of those things together? 

Each of those roles was motivated by the acknowledgement that food — like many cultural productions — is an easy way for us to talk about bigger things. A chef knows this because food (and by extension music, decor, language) is part of how they tell their own story. I see my role as a writer and critic as respecting the thought put into that by interpreting and analyzing what those values mean in our social contexts. There is so much that lies beneath the surface of our most minute actions and interactions; revealing the breadth of what everything means is the point of my job, in my mind.

You’re currently working as the SF Chronicle food critic. The Washington Post has referred to you as the “third wave” of food critics. Does working in an industry with such a long history that you are consciously working to change feel like a lot of pressure? And along those lines, how do you see the food media landscape shifting and how would you like to see it continue to evolve?

It does feel like a lot of pressure! If you’ve been working to diversify your field and then become that diversity, the pressure to perform excellently is enormous. I think that thought about food has become more rigorous and serious — no longer an escape from politics — thanks in part to the burgeoning interdisciplinary Food Studies work in academia, and that excites me. With that in mind, it’s also really important to not just discount the work that’s been done in the field prior to that professionalization: people outside of academia and the professional critic class have understood how food could serve as an apt metaphor for social issues for a very long time. So many indigenous and marginalized organizations around the world have historically focused on food sovereignty as a way to galvanize their communities.

Through your podcast Racist Sandwich and your writing you have focused on food as a lens for tackling important issues like race and gender. Why do you think food is a good vehicle for doing this?

Food makes for an excellent starting point for a Socratic way of getting to the politics of everything. Why are you eating this? Who made it? Why do you call it X? Where did it come from? Who harvested this?

How do we work to better amplify marginalized voices, whether that’s in food or elsewhere?

A good thing to always remember is that you can choose to continue learning about perspectives that aren’t your own: “I don’t know” isn’t an end, but a beginning.

What wisdom would you share with your younger self?

You’re gay!

You can also sign up for Ho’s weekly San Francisco Chronicle newsletter, Bite Curious

This papercut and profile are a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

Written by Anna Brones

October 9, 2019 at 08:16

Georgia O’Keeffe

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“You get whatever accomplishment you are willing to declare.”

Georgia O’Keeffe (1887 – 1986)

This papercut is a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

Written by Anna Brones

September 13, 2019 at 07:00

Maria Mitchell

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“When we are chafed and fretted by small cares, a look at the stars will show us the littleness of our own interests.”

Maria Mitchell (1818 – 1889)

America’s first female professional astronomer, Maria Mitchell was consumed by the night sky. Growing up in a Quaker family, her parents believed in equal education for boys and girls. Her father helped to inspire her love of navigation and astronomy, and at the age of 12, she helped him calculate the position of their home thanks to watching a solar eclipse.

Just a couple of months after her 29th birthday, Mitchell discovered a comet, earning her a gold medal from King Frederick VI of Denmark as well as becoming the first woman to be named to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Curious about the world, she traveled in the U.S. and Europe and eventually became a professor at Vassar Collage. Education was a tool not to be squandered. To her students, she declared, “I cannot expect to make astronomers, but I do expect that you will invigorate your minds by the effort at healthy modes of thinking… when we are chafed and fretted by small cares, a look at the stars will show us the littleness of our own interests.”

Mitchell advocated for women’s rights, involved in the suffrage movement, and brought that advocacy work into her classroom as well. According to the National Women’s History Museum, “she defied social conventions by having her female students come out at night for class work and celestial observations, and she brought noted feminists to her observatory to speak on political issues, among them Julia Ward Howe. Mitchell’s research and that of her students was frequently published in academic journals that traditionally only featured men. Three of her female protégés were later included in the first list of Academic Men of Science in 1906.”

For Mitchell, the night sky and the education about it had much to offer, beyond just the field of astronomy. As she once stated, “we especially need imagination in science. It is not all mathematics, nor all logic, but it is somewhat beauty and poetry.”

So tonight, go outside, look up. Find the beauty and poetry written across the sky.

This papercut and profile are a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

Written by Anna Brones

September 6, 2019 at 09:52

Gloria Anzaldúa

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“…a woman who writes has power. And a woman with power is feared.”

Gloria Anzaldúa (1942 -2004)

This quote is from Gloria Anzaldúa’s essay “Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to 3rd World Women Writers,” a call to action to women of color to bring writing into their lives, to share their voices and their stories, to engage in a form of literary activism. The essay was originally published in the anthology This Bridge Called My Back, that Anzaldúa co-edited with Cherrie Moraga.

As Alexandra Barraza writes in Fem, UCLA’s feminist magazine, “The novelty of this work was its direct confrontation of the intersectional oppression faced by queer womxn of color, and the prevalence of such oppression within feminist and Chicano activist movements of the time. This book was the first of Anzaldúa’s many works, culminating in a life of critical theory analyzing race, feminism and queer and Xicanx experiences.”

Anzaldúa begins the essay:

…the dangers we face as women writers of color are not the same as those of white women though we have many in common. We don’t have as much to lose – we never had any privileges. I wanted to call the dangers “obstacles” but that would be a kind of lying. We can’t transcend the dangers, can’t rise above them. We must go through them and hope we won’t have to repeat the performance.

Growing up in the border state of Texas, living a multitude of identities, Anzaldúa advocated for “a consciousness of the Borderlands,” as she wrote in her seminal book Borderlands/La Frontera. Anzaldúa understood that words, and writing, carried power.

Writing is dangerous because we are afraid of what the writing reveals: the fears, the angers, the strengths of a woman under a triple or quadruple oppression. Yet in that very act lies our survival because a woman who writes has power. And a woman with power is feared.

She understood the link between language and identity, arguing strongly against linguistic terrorism. “So, if you really want to hurt me, talk badly about my language. I am my language,” she wrote in the essay “How to Tame a Wild Tongue.”

Language, and in turn the words that shape them, are a source of power, and Anzaldúa’s challenge to her fellow women of color around the globe was this:

Write with your eyes like painters, with your ears like musicians, with your feet like dancers. You are the truthsayer with quill and torch. Write with your tongues of fire. Don’t let the pen banish you from yourself. Don’t let the ink coagulate in your pens. Don’t let the censor snuff out the spark, nor the gags muffle your voice. Put your shit on the paper. We are not reconciled to the oppressors who whet their howl.

This papercut and profile are a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

Written by Anna Brones

August 16, 2019 at 08:48

Phyllis Johnson

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“Walking down a pathway of doing something you have no earthly idea of what it will bring–that’s called faith.”

-Phyllis Johnson

Phyllis Johnson is a powerhouse in the coffee industry. The founder of BD Imports, she sits on the board of the National Coffee Association and for two years served as the Vice President of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance.

Johnson works tirelessly to advocate for women in coffee as well as on diversity issues, which is essential in an industry that is predominantly white and male. Coffee comes with a complex, and often dark history, and the industry that keeps us caffeinated daily is still fraught with those complexities. Johnson believes in facing them head on. As she wrote in an article about diversity and representation in the coffee industry, “when we continue to ignore and normalize the effects of racism and inequality within the industry, we cannot expect positive outcomes.”

Through her work, Phyllis ensures that the people producing coffee are respected, paid and honored for their work and that women and minority communities have a seat at the table. A couple of years ago, I interviewed Johnson about race and coffee, which ended up being one of my favorite interviews that I have ever conducted, mostly because the conversation challenged my own thinking. So of course I wanted to include her in the Women’s Wisdom Project.

Johnson and I discussed her work by phone, and the interview has been edited for clarity.

Who is Phyllis Johnson?

I’m someone who cares deeply about a lot of things, I’m someone who is extremely optimistic. I’ve been blessed to be around people who were always encouraging, from the time I was a young child. So even now, there’s always that shadow of someone, either physically or no longer there, that kind of sits over me and says “you can do this, keep going.” I think that I’m very optimistic and one of the things that I always try to do is to be optimistic to other people. As I have gotten older, I can see the optimism in things but I can also see the other side of the things. I’m trying to understand even the simplest thing as a whole instead of coming to a quick decision on how you believe, or what you think about something.

When I think about who I am and I think about my, my past and my present, I’ve always tried to align myself with individuals who are not thought of as being the ones to have the answers. For most of my life, there are places that I walk in where I think people look at me as a positive figure. So I’m often trying see the other side of it and see what it’s like to not be heard. There are situations where I am totally not heard at all, don’t get me wrong. I know those moments in those times in my life when I have an invisible being, so I’m always thinking about that invisible being because it is who I am as well.

When we’re fighting the fight and we have our issues, we can lose sight of the humanity in each other. That’s something that I’ve always hoped to hold onto; even though we might disagree, there’s some message that you have for me and I have for you.

What does the word wisdom mean to you?

When I was younger I would think of wisdom being housed in older people who have struggled, the struggle is on their face, they learned from their experiences, that’s what wisdom kind of meant. After starting a company in my mid 30s, I remember a biblical verse that came to me when I felt that I was trying to do something that I had no idea what I was doing: “wisdom belongs to God.” For me, growing up with a Christian background, that gave me equal footing. It was like, “wow, wisdom doesn’t have to be held inside of me, it’s something that I can ask for and I can look for and gain insight from and it’s not relegated to certain people or race or gender, it’s out there. Then I have a chance at it.” As a younger person that verse resonated with me and even when I’m talking to a younger person who’s trying to find a way that’s something I always say to them because, you know, we always think that someone else knows how to do something better, or that they have the answer. I think that’s part of being a human being; we think that there’s a super human out there, someone who is smarter, brighter. But the ability to gain what they have isn’t impossible for you. There’s an equal opportunity at gaining wisdom and insight through different mechanisms, either experiences, or in conversations with people who share their experiences. It’s available, and it’s available at all ages.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Anna Brones

July 15, 2019 at 08:01

Marianne Martin

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“Achievement is not success if it comes at the cost of goodness.”

-Marianne Martin

In 1984, Marianne Martin secured not only a yellow jersey, but a place in sports and cycling history: the first ever American to win the Tour de France.

But indicative of the gender inequality that still exists in many sports, particularly cycling, you may never have heard of Martin. After all, some of the greatest sporting feats have gone unnoticed simply because they were accomplished by women.

I read about Martin last year in a Peloton article that I came across around the start of the Tour de France. That led to a Guardian article, where I read the following:

“In 1984, one of the Tour de France’s organizers, Felix Levitan, decided to hold the Tour de France Féminin. News of women joining the Tour de France in its 71st year was met with opposition by many in France, according to Christopher Thompson in Tour de France: A Cultural History. The 1983 Tour winner, Laurent Fignon, was blunt in his assessment: ‘I like women, but I prefer to see them doing something else.'”

If that’s irritating, consider the opinion of Jacques Anquetil, the five-time Tour champion, who is quoted as saying: “I have absolutely nothing against women’s sports, but cycling is much too difficult for a woman.” I wonder what Anquetil would have to say about Alexendera Houchin, who just rode the entire Tour Divide on a singlespeed, setting a new record.

Things have changed over the last few decades, and today there is an ongoing growth of women in sports—in part thanks to policy changes—yet women still struggle with many inequities, like pay gaps, making it every more important to highlight some of the changemakers in sports history.

When it comes to one of the most quintessential bicycle races, Bicycling notes, “for the majority of its history, the Tour de France kept women squarely on the sidelines, with the only female roles being played by a loyal wife or fresh-faced girlfriend… Over the years, podium hostesses remain one of the most visible roles for women at the Tour.”  The same went for essentially every big bike race in the early and mid 1900s, although in 1924 Alfonsina Strada managed to fool the organizers into thinking she was a man and rode the Giro d’Italia.

While there was an attempt at a women’s tour in 1955, in 1984 the organizers behind the Tour de France launched the Tour de France Féminin, a notable moment in sports history. A moment of change. The overall race was shorter than the men’s, 18 stages instead of the men’s 23, yet despite the difference in distance, the course followed the men’s, and took the women up all the same climbs, each men’s and women’s stage ending at the same finish line. For their efforts, the men enjoyed ample prize money and an apartment even went to the cyclist claiming first place. The women however, couldn’t even cover their expenses. Martin told Peloton, “I won $1,000 at the Tour and had to share that with my team. I paid for my own flight to New York, to get to Paris. I funded everything myself, bought my own bikes, got into debt to fund my career.”

Many years later, and the Tour de France Féminin is defunct, now replaced by La Course, a daylong race (compared to the men’s 21 days). I was at the inaugural event in 2014 and got to cover it for Bike Portland. I’ll always remember that day, not just because the riding was just as exciting as any men’s race (and it was), but also because of the camaraderie that was displayed during and after the event. The entire thing felt so inherently different than the men’s race, and for me, that’s what made it special. In 2018, a group of women riders took on the entire Tour de France course on their own terms, no podiums, no prize money.

Where does that leave us? The push for equality is essential, but in our interview, Martin notes that for her, equality does not mean “sameness.” That’s a similar sentiment that Sally Jenkins wrote about in regards to the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team during the recent World Cup: “The lame idea of sameness is actually a “profoundly conservative goal” for women. Replicating male sports structures with their baked-in disenfranchisement of athletes in favor of “owners,” with their lousy assumptions and values, has never been what the women in the U.S. soccer program were really interested in.”

Whether it’s cycling, soccer or any other sport, we need to value women for their contributions, and continue to promote a culture in which women and girls are encouraged to pursue any athletic goal, and provide them the means to do so.

Thank you so much to Martin for saying yes to doing an interview for the Women’s Wisdom Project, it is an honor to feature her.

What does wisdom mean to you?

To me wisdom is the deep knowledge of how things really are, and the ability to see the good in it.

Is there an influential woman in your life who passed along a piece of wisdom to you?

My mom was a really good, good, person. She was mentally ill and that would come and go and made her life very, very challenging for her….but despite all of her challenges, she remained a deeply good, loving person.

When did you start cycling and at what point did you start racing?

I started cycling to race. I was in my early 20s, and I saw the Red Zinger, and a local race that my sister did, and I said “I want to do that!” I always loved sport but have no eye to hand coordination and most sports were ball sports. Bike racing was fast, colorful, and seemed so do-able to me. I loved the excitement of it all. I did ride a bike in elementary school quite a bit to get places—that I wasn’t supposed to go!!

How did riding a bicycle and racing make you feel?

More than powerful, the bicycle made me feel empowered. Even today, without sport or physical activity I feel my soul is less empowered—I cannot be happy and whole without fitness.

Laurent Fignon, who won the Tour the same year you did, is infamously known for saying, “I like women, but I prefer to see them doing something else.” How do you think our culture around women’s sports has changed since then, and in what ways do you feel that we still have work to do?

I think some men (falsely) feel more powerful than women so that helps them feel strong and needed, and therefore powerful. When they are around women who are strongly independent—in sports or career—they feel less so. It is so deeply engrained in some cultures it will take decades to shift… if ever. I meet so many men who feel they are enlightened and above that, but have no idea how deeply they still believe it.

I believe there are differences and men and women can’t always be equals in sport…. I mean we aren’t. The Tour is a great example: the men’s race has a huge history, it is even a tradition. To bring women in to that same tour is unrealistic and wrong. Society these days says women and men need to be equal. Equality, yes, but not the same. Having a men’s race that has been going on for 100 years does not mean that all of a sudden we have to have the same for women. I think it is great to bring women into it and I would LOVE nothing more than to have the women’s tour the way it was when I did it, because then they would grow their own following and create and prove their worth. But to demand it is not the way to go, and to be the same is not the way to go. Women are women and I think we need to embrace that and bring a different element and grace to sport.

What lessons would you say you learned from racing and winning the Tour in 1984? And to add on that, what lessons from cycling do you feel that you have taken on into the rest of your life?

1. That we are capable of way more than we ever believe.

2. That our beliefs are a huge part of what is holding us back.

3. That some people only want to know us because of something we’ve done, not who we are. I won the Tour but that is not who I am. I am (or at least I strive to be) a kind, funny, thoughtful, loving person. Winning the Tour is only something that I did. It might say something about me—my drive, my abilities—but not who I am. For example I really respect Lance Armstrong’s athletic abilities; drugs or no drugs, he is an amazing athlete. But I don’t respect how he treated others and handled himself—he showed himself to not be a good person. When I meet someone and they are aloof… then they find out I won the Tour and then they are friendly, I don’t like that. I lose respect for that person when they only want to get to know me because of something that I accomplished.

From your perspective, what do girls gain from participating in sports?

Empowerment, self confidence, inner strength, maturity.

What wisdom would you share with your younger self?

Even the best of the best have self doubts so just acknowledge that you have them, they have them, and we are all equal. What someone has done does not make them a good person. Kindness, thoughtfulness, honesty, generosity, friendliness: those are the qualities that make a good person. Achievement, in sports or work does not make you a good person, and to me, achievement is not success if it comes at the cost of goodness. Above all be a good person.

This papercut and profile are a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

Written by Anna Brones

July 12, 2019 at 06:51