anna brones

writer + artist + producer

Posts Tagged ‘women’s history

Maria Mitchell

leave a comment »

“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.

Advertisements

Written by Anna Brones

September 6, 2019 at 09:52

Gloria Anzaldúa

leave a comment »

“…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

Marianne Martin

leave a comment »

 

“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

Clara Lemlich Shavelson

leave a comment »

“I had fire in my mouth.”

-Clara Lemlich Shavelson (1886-1982)

Fire sparks revolution, and while the fiery anger of women is so often suppressed, scoffed at, and used against them, it is that fire that has created longlasting change. As Rebecca Traister writes in her book Good and Mad, “… in the fury of women lies the power to change the world.”

Clara Lemlich Shavelson is a prime example of that fire, a women who at the age of 23, sparked an entire labor movement. In 1909 Shavelson stood before a crowd of garment workers, announcing in Yiddish, “I am tired of listening to speakers who talk in general terms. I move that we go on a general strike!” Her call ignited the many women, who just like her, were suffering under terrible conditions; eleven-hour workdays, six days a week, for starting wages of $3 a week.

The call led to the Uprising of the 20,000, an extensive strike by mostly immigrant women garment workers which eventually led to safer workplaces, shorter workdays and higher wages. It also caused factories to recognize the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. But not everyone heeded the womens’ calls; at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory male union negotiators refused to listen to the striking women’s concerns, nor put them into practice. A year later, a fire in the factory killed 146 workers.

Of that day, Shavelson later shared this account:

We were all gathered at Cooper Union, you know there on Lafayette and 8th street. And all the workers from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory and Leiserson Company were there. We all listened to leading figures of the American Labor Movement and Socialist leaders of the Lower East Side speak to us. You know, they just made me so mad because they talked in such general terms about the need for solidarity and preparedness and all that. well, you know, just then I asked for the opportunity to speak and I demanded action. I remember I said that I had been listening to all the speakers, and I had no further patience for talk. I am a working girl, I said, and one of those striking against intolerable conditions. I am tired of listening to speakers who talk in generalities. What we are here for is to decide whether or not to strike. And finally I offered a resolution that a general strike be declared. I was just saying what all the workers were thinking, but they were just too afraid to say. And so we all walked out of the factories two days later.

Born Clara Lemlich in Gorodok, Ukraine in 1886, Shavelson had come to the United States at the age of 16, her family fleeing poverty and the Russian government’s anti-Semitism. While her parents had forbidden her to speak Russian or bring Russian books into the household, the headstrong girl studied the language in secret and dove into the world of letters. By the time she landed in the U.S. she was already a committed revolutionary. Like many other immigrants, she found work in textile-manufacturing, but kept fueling her revolutionary roots: after long workdays, she would go to the local library to read Russian classics and study Marxist theory.

Her fiery spirit is documented in Triangle: The Fire That Changed America:

“A men’s-only strike was doomed to fail, she insisted. A walkout must include the female workers. “Ah—then I had fire in my mouth!” Lemlich remembered years later. She moved people by sheer passion. “What did I know about trade unionism? Audacity—that was all I had. Audacity!”

While blacklisted from garment shops after the 1909 strike, Shavelson continued her work, shifting her focus to the suffrage movement. This led to a long life of activism and organizing, eventually marrying Joe Shavelson, a printer’s union activist. The couple had three children, and Shavelson was known for bringing the children with her to Socialist  meetings.

Her work and passion for a better world continued to the end of her life. Shavelson was profiled last year in The New York Times‘ ongoing series of overlooked obituaries, and it held this anecdote, which I think sums up a lifelong fiery spirit:

Near the end of her life, she moved into the Jewish Home for the Aged in Los Angeles, where she organized the nurses and orderlies, according to “Common Sense.”“How much worse could these conditions get?” Shavelson, then 83, asked hesitant staffers before they successfully unionized. “You’d be crazy not to join a union.”.”

May we all embrace our fire and channel it into good.

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.

Charlotte Brontë

leave a comment »


“Cheerfulness, it would appear, is a matter which depends fully as much on the state of things within, as on the state of things without and around us.”

-Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855)

This quote is from Charlotte Brontë’s novel Shirley, her second novel published after Jane Eyre, originally published under Brontë’s male pseudonym, Currer Bell.

Brontë, as well as her sisters, are often seen as feminist icons, revolutionaries who questioned the social norms of their time. “…in 1847, Brontë was a gateway to the future (as the fact that we are reading her today so neatly proves). She lived in a sophisticated and complicated world, one whose codes and unwritten rules, whose morality and intellectual structure, would baffle even the most learned among us,” writes Sam Jordison in the Guardian.

Constance Grady, in an article for Vox, puts it this way: “What animates the Brontë sisters’ work is a specifically feminine anger in response to their patriarchal society, a feeling of being hunted and trapped and confined and degraded that is peculiar to women of great intelligence and few opportunities and resources.”

It’s an interesting thing to take quotes out of context, which is basically what we do every time we write down a quote, share a quote, illustrate a quote, say a quote out loud. By identifying just a few sentences, we focus deeply on the meaning of the chosen words, not necessarily the entirety of where they came from. We take the words and give them our own meaning. I think about this every time I work upon a Women’s Wisdom Project piece, conscious of my own role in perpetuating this obsession with simplifying complex ideas, thoughts and identities into just a few sentences.

I think I happened upon this quote of Brontë’s at the library when I had briefly picked up one of those books about positive thinking and cultivating a more balanced life to flip through briefly. The book did not speak to me but the quote did, and I noted it down for later, perhaps because the reminder of the necessity to cultivate inner contentment is always needed.

But of course, I have no knowledge of what the line would have meant to a reader in Brontë’s time, or even what her intention was in writing it. After all, Shirley is a social chronicle, focused on life in industrial England. This was not the day and age of Marie Kondo, mindfulness or minimalism, it was a time of survival.

And yet, I believe that these words of Brontë’s hold true for a variety of contexts. If we define ourselves simply by the situation around us, we might never question that situation, or work to change it. An external situation may fuel our rage, but it is how we deal with that situation that matters.

In that sense, for me the wisdom in Brontë’s words is this: to come to terms with our inner selves is not only our source of cheerfulness, it is our source of power.

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

February 15, 2019 at 10:02

Eileen Gray

with one comment

“To create, one must first question everything.”

-Eileen Gray (1878-1976)

I didn’t know of designer and architect Eileen Gray until I saw a retrospective of her work at Centre Pompidou in Paris a few years ago, and I fell in love with her pieces and was inspired by her story.

Born in Ireland, Gray moved to Paris in 1902. There, she studied lacquerwork, designed furniture (her designs are still produced today) and became a major figure of the French Art Deco movement. “She dared to do things that no one did at that time,” Cloé Pitiot, curator of of the exhibition told the Wall Street Journal

It’s interesting to look at her work with that perspective, understanding that her furniture and designs were revolutionary at the time that she made them. And while such designs feel very modern today, think of how bold it was to create them in her day.

In 1929 when she was 51, Gray completed her first architectural work, the E.1027 house. The house is now considered a masterwork of modernist architecture, her furniture designs within it carrying equal importance.

The organisation of the house as a whole is then based on her studies of wind and sun, and on its position on a steep slope descending to the sea. The building is mostly white outside, its interior modulated with planes of slight pink or eau-de-nil, or a nocturnal blue or black. These colours are maritime, but subtly so, such as you might see in deep water, inside a seashell or after sunset. There is an acute awareness of surfaces, both inside and out, and their degrees of shine or roughness. On the back wall of the main living space, playfulness being part of her armoury, she placed a large nautical chart. This, she said, “evokes distant voyages and gives rise to reverie”. The Guardian

Of course, I was horrified when I learned how renowned architect Le Corbusier had defaced the interior of the house with erotic murals, stark contradictions to Gray’s subtle style. The reason for such destruction? Le Corbusier was reportedly shocked that such a beautiful building could have been designed by a woman, saying, “I admit the mural is not to enhance the wall, but on the contrary, a means to violently destroy [it].”

…one of his destructive paintings is applied directly to the hallway screen in E.1027. By his symbolic removal of Gray’s obstructions he rendered her complex house transparent, and with the erotic scenes he painted, he supplied the imagined objects of his desire.

Le Corbusier’s fascination did not stop here: he also built a little shack, his ‘cabanon’, perched like a voyeur’s eyrie above the villa. He spent the rest of his summers here, swimming every day below the cliffs, and that is where he died in 1965, overlooked by the house that had so obsessed him. Architectural Review

Le Corbusier of course remains in the architectural vernacular, known to even those outside his domain.

But Gray, like so many other women artists, slid into the shadows. Self-taught and working in a male dominated field didn’t make it easy within her profession; she existed in a domain where success meant being a chest-beating male. Gray herself admitted to the drawbacks of her own quiet nature: “I was not a pusher and maybe that’s the reason I did not get to the place I should have had.”

Fortunately, with the restoration of E.1027, and a renewed interest in her story, her work and spirit will not be lost. As Cathy Giangrande, development lead for Cap Moderne, the nonprofit association behind the restored E.1027, told Dezeen, “Certainly she deserves to be celebrated as one of the great pioneers of her time…”

To follow Gray’s line of thinking, to create we must question everything. We must question our own perceptions, our own assumptions. We must question the world as we know it, the status quo.

And when we question, we become empowered to challenge. After all, isn’t that what creating is all about?

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

January 11, 2019 at 05:00

Lucy Stone

leave a comment »

“I believe that the influence of woman will save the country before every other power.”

Lucy Stone (1818-1893)

The first Massachusetts woman to earn a college degree (from Oberlin College), Lucy Stone is famously known for being the first American woman to keep her last name when she married. It was 1855 and she was a woman ahead of her time; at her wedding ceremony, she read a “marriage protest,” a statement that she and her partner Henry Browne Blackwell had written together, denouncing the legal portions of a marriage in which a woman became subservient to and property of her husband.

But her actions were not just in the private sphere.

Stone was a fighter for both women’s rights and an abolitionist, believing that equality could not be won at the cost of inequality of another. In 1848, a year after her graduation from Oberlin, she began working as a paid lecturer for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society and quickly became known for her voice and strong views. She soon began speaking up for women’s rights too, and became one of the preeminent leaders of the movement. She organized the 1850 Worcester First National Woman’s Rights Convention and was the publisher of the women’s rights periodical Woman’s Journal.

“I believe that the influence of woman will save the country before every other power,” Stone said at a May 12, 1869 anniversary celebration of the Equal Rights Association, as quoted in the book History of Woman Suffrage. But while she stood for women’s rights, she was also an abolitionist and in support of the 15th amendment, which granted African American men the right to vote. Her views led to breaking with suffragists Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and others.

When members of the Equal Rights Association refused to consider an amendment to give women voting rights, Stanton and Anthony left to create the National Woman Suffrage Association. Stone and others formed the American Woman Suffrage Association. The schism in the women’s movement highlights the complex interplay between racism and sexism of that era, an interplay that still continues today.

Stone eventually saw the reunification of the two organizations in 1890, coming together as the National American Woman Suffrage Association. While she had seen the abolition of slavery in her lifetime, her death in 1893 came before the ratification of the 19th amendment , and she never saw women granted the right to vote. But her tireless efforts had laid the groundwork for a different future for her daughter, who also went on to work as a feminist and abolitionist. As Stone lay dying, she said, “I am glad I was born, and that at a time when the world needed the service I could give.”

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 12, 2018 at 08:15