On our 1st day of cam all of us ladies met Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards (authors and founders of Soapbox) for a picnic in Central Park. The purpose of this picnic was to allow for all of us to become acquainted and to share our “click” moments with feminism. There were about twenty of us in the group all together and I immediately felt comfortable knowing that I would be surrounded by a bunch of strong women with the same ideas and beliefs as myself. even from such a short introduction, I could sense that both Amy and Jennifer were very smart and friendly women that I couldn’t wait to spend the rest of the week with.
From Central Park, we split into group and began our day that was themed “Sex workers and trafficking.” Our first stop was the Urban Justice Center in which we spoke with the director of The Sex Workers Project. We learned that the Urban Justice Center provided free legal services to all types of people in which they live by the idea that the three reasons behind sex-work are “Choice, Circumstance, Coercion.” They use the approaches of harm reduction and human rights which includes helping people with their issues and identifying what their problems are without criminalizing and judging them. Their goal is advocating for the rights of those who perform sex-work. After lunch that day we visited a sex shop named Babeland. The reason behind this was to expose us to business that promotes both consensual and gender equal sex toys for both participants’ pleasure. They are very open about discussing pleasurable sex and promoting gender equality.
To wrap the day up, the group visited the International Women’s Health Coalition and met with Audacia Ray. Audacia is a media maker and activist who seemed to be very passionate about sexual rights. She is the co-founder of the advocacy project called Sex Work Awareness which makes light of the realities of the many women who work in the sex industry- either by choice, force or coercion. This first day, I left with a feeling of hope. It was so amazing to have the opportunity to meet with such educated and open-minded people who had taken it upon themselves to help the lives of women and marginalized people. Each organization was so welcoming and excited to talk about the work they were involved with to young people who actually want to listen.
The second day of camp was one of my favorites- the theme being “reproductive justice.” My group began the day at Choices Medical Center. Choices is both an abortion clinic as well as a medical center for female, reproductive health. Choices appeals to lower-income women who have chosen to abort their child. What I found most fascinating about Choices and all other abortion clinics in the state of New York is that a woman can come into the clinic and apply for emergency welfare, receive it in the same day, and then get the procedure in the same day as well. Once they leave the office, they are then off the welfare. Even a girl under the age of 18 can apply without a parent (If she feels as though she can not tell her parents), as long as she has someone over the age of 18 with her to drive her hope and monitor her after the procedure is finished. This made me so happy, because this is how I believe the procedure should be everywhere. Money should be of no issue if a woman finds herself in a position unfit for bringing a child into this world. The clinic also sets women up with free birth control as to prevent them from having to go such a traumatic experience in the future. They are required to receive counseling both before and after the procedure just to make sure that they are ready and truly make their own decision- not someone else's. The counseling after is to ensure their emotional stability and the after feelings of sorrow that are likely to occur. The nurse who gave us the tour at Choices was very thorough and gave us a step by step walk through of the exact procedure that the girls go through from when they enter the door to when they return back home. Towards the end of the tour we were given the option of seeing what exactly is removed from the women during an abortion. I was sort of shocked at first because I was afraid that I was going to see a dead baby, but luckily we were just shown one that was only a few weeks into the pregnancy that looked like a few ounces of bloody water and gelatin. It was definitely an experience though- that’s something I never though I would see.
After lunch we headed to the Third Wave Foundation. This organization is a feminist, activist foundation that works to support young women and transgender youth ages 15 to 30. Through strategic grant-making, leadership development, and philanthropic advocacy, they support groups and individuals working towards gender, racial, economic, and social justice. We previewed a film that gave some background on their foundation and then they wanted to hear more about us. What I found to be most interesting is that they asked us to share whether we preferred to be called “he” or “she” so as not to assume that they know “what” we are.
From Third Wave, my group headed to Spence-Chapin Adoption Agency. This agency not only connects mothers with parents for their child and parents for children, but they educate the public on what exactly the adoption process is. They in know way advocate adoption over abortion to mothers who are undecided or interested in giving their child up. They understand that some women would rather abort the baby in order to prevent the emotional issues associated with carrying a child for 9 months, giving birth to it, and then having to give it up. It is also very strenuous on the body to give birth to a child. They offer counseling to the women and let them come to their own decisions without any coercion and persuasion towards one side or the other. Visiting the agency made me realize just how hard it would be to have to give up your baby to people you don’t really know after you carried it and loved it and gave birth to it. I can’t imagine ever being able to do that, so I really admire those women who have found the courage to do so.
Wednesday morning we met at the Ms. Foundation and began with a meeting about feminists in the workplace and graduate school. They gave us some very helpful tips about business cards, different masters and phd programs in Women’s Studies and gender studies, resumes, cover letters, and relationship building with employers/professors. Since that meeting, I have been very interested in the Women’s Studies program in Rutgers (top in the country) and the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at NYU in which you build your own masters degree on whatever topics you choose. Something I would love to focus on is the use of feminism and women’s empowerment in therapy with licensed psychologists. I feel as though so many women could benefit so much from the use of feminist theory and ideologies within therapy. After this meeting we met with writers from the New York Times and Feministing, as well as the editor of Glamour Magazine. Each had very unique stories as well as careers. I had a hard time believing that Glamour Magazine was in anyway feminist, because as I flipped through through it, all I saw were pictures of anorexic looking girls selling make-up, wrinkle cream, and the hottest new bikini. Not sure how empowering that is for one’s body image, but the editor herself seemed very nice and hard working.
After leaving the Ms. Foundation, we traveled to the Feminist Press. This publishing company is the oldest feminist publisher in the world, and we were given the privilege of meeting with the entire staff including the editor, Gloria Jacobs. The Feminist Press had published many of Jennifer and Amy’s books that they wrote both together and separately. They explained to us what goes into publishing a book, and how they go about choosing the ones they want and the ones they don’t. We met the three interns that were working there at the time, which sparked my interest in possibly applying for an internship there for next summer. Besides this possibility, I am now also interested in blogging for BUST Magazine which was our next stop on the list. The editor of BUST was by far one of my most favorite people from the whole experience. She was so down to earth and confident enough in herself to speak freely about empowering women’s sexuality and the ways feminist perspectives have been incorporated in the production of the magazine. She even offered us the opportunity to write blogs for them if we could come up with some creative ideas. She also had many interns in the office who actually get to write for the magazine. This internship is one of my top choices right now for next summer.
Later that night we attended a Soapbox Happy Hour at a place called Gallery Bar. We enjoyed great art, drinks, and conversations with people sharing the same ideas and open-mindedness. At this point in the experience, we had all become friends and were having a blast with each other!
On this day we met with Guerrilla Girls On Tour, Arts Effect and STREB Lab for Action Mechanics (SLAM). Geurrilla Girls first off have a motto that I love: “Changing the World, One Sexist City at a Time.” Geurrilla Girls is basically a touring theatre company that puts on original productions that cleebrate women’s history. Their type of theatre engages, interacts, educates, inspires, and proves that feminists are actually really funny. They especially address violence against women and the problems facing college women, i.e. date rape. The Arts Effect was the most inspiring experience I had during the whole camp. This organization was started by two young girls who recently graduated from NYU in Women’s Studies. They created theatre classes for young girls (4th-6th grade) that deal with issues young girls go through in regards to their period, puberty, boys, self esteem, and the meaning of feminism and women’s empowerment. They told us so many stories of young girls who now identify themselves as feminists who are able to stand up to the boys at school who either grab their butts, or make sexist comments to them (yes, they do it even in 4th grade!). It has always been my belief that if we can get to the very roots of the issue (which starts when start becoming socialized as children), then we can begin to controls some of the injustices that are becoming overwhelming obvious. Children are just taking in information all day- from their peers, from their parents, from their teachers; It’s up to us to to feed them the right information and set the right examples. When young boys are being driven to play with guns, and engage in violent video games that are supposedly “manly” and girls are being directed towards pretty pink colors and anorexic barbie dolls, they’re being given the wrong messages from as early as 1 and 2 years old. It would definitely be one of my dreams to work with an organization like the Arts Effect that reaches out to children when they are at their most vulnerable stages in life and let them know that they can be empowered and confident to stand up for what they believe to be right and just.
At the end of the day we met at STREB for an afternoon of gymnastics/aerobics/dance. It was a very interesting place that put a new spin on the capabilities of the human body and what it means to dance and move your body to capacities you never knew possible. I definitely got a work out and some great laughs watching the other girls and cheering everybody on. After the class, Amy Richards and I rode the subway back together because we were heading towards the same place. I asked her where she was going and she explained that she was going to fundraiser for a project she was a part of called The Women 2.0 Media Project. She told me that Gloria Steinem would be there and would speak and that I could join her if I want. Completely shocked that I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and so thankful that she invited me, I could not wait to meet her! We attended and listened to her speak, and then at the end, Amy introduced me to her and we talked a little bit about Feminist Summer Camp and I told her how much I loved her writing. She was very nice and I felt like I had known her forever. After I left, I still couldn’t believe it had happened!
Our last day was just a half day in which we met with a self-defense instructor who educated us on some common tactics to use when you find yourself in an uncomfortable or life-threatening situation. He gave us tips of how to lost the attention of someone who seems to be a predator or watching you in excess. He explained that it is important to remain confident and to state your wants clearly and excessively as many predators prey on those they find to be vulnerable and scared. While we didn’t get to practice much defense, the instructor gave us valuable advice that I always plan on using in the future. At the end, we all met and shared out last thoughts about the experience and then said our goodbyes.
Honestly, this was one of the best experiences I have ever had. I left there feeling totally confident in my ability to pursue a career in women’s studies without having to starve. There were just so many options- writing, publishing, running a non-for-profit, philanthropy, counseling at abortion clinics. Now the only problem is that I have no idea what I want to do because I want do pursue everything! I met so many amazing people that I am going to keep in contact with for future references or job opportunities. I believe that New York City is one of the best places to be for pursuing a feminist career path and for networking with others who want to help and who are fighting for the same causes that you are. My next step is going to be working on bringing Amy Richards and Jennifer Baumgardner here to Rollins as speakers. They are both brilliant and entertaining! Can’t wait to share them with the rest of Rollins.
My second day at Feminist Summer Camp and in New York City was centered on the topic of reproductive justice. In the morning the participants of Feminist Summer Camp were split into four groups to visit various organizations that deal with this issue. I was in the group that attended the Guttmacher Institute. Because I was not staying in the hostile with the majority of the group I had to get to the Guttmacher Institute on my own; I took the subway from the Upper East Side to Lower Manhattan. I was not fully used to the city yet, so I got a little lost on my way, but eventually I found my way.
While at the Guttmacher Institute we met with the Senior Communications Associate, Rebecca Wind. She talked to us about what Guttmacher does; which is, they conduct research and provide reliable and unbiased information on sexual activity, contraception, abortion and childbearing in the United States as well as other countries. The Guttmacher Institute is extremely respected in its field and their research and findings are published and often used by others as a reputable source on information regarding reproductive justice issues. In fact, when I saw that I was going to the Guttmacher Institute I recognized the name, but did not make the connection right away, but I later realized that I had seen the name in various readings I have done at Rollins in my Womens Studies and Sociology courses. It was pretty cool getting to visit a place that I knew about at school. During the Question and Answer session with Rebecca it was asked whether or not the Guttmacher Institute has a position on Reproductive Justice because the information they provide is nonpartisan. Rebecca expressed that the institute does in fact have a position that they stand by – they are pro-choice, and pro-education, but she also explained that they do not let their views influence what they research or how they present the data, what is most important, she said, is to gather the information so that others can be educated and draw their own conclusions. After we finished talking to Rebecca she brought us to the room where they store all of their publications and we were able to take some home with us. I picked one about Africa, one about the United States, and two that looked worldwide.
After leaving the Guttmacher Institute all of the small groups met up at the Third Wave Foundation. We discussed all of the earlier organizations that we went to, and then we were introduced to some of the staff members of the Third Wave Foundation: Melissa, Rye, Sheena, Alex, and Mia. What I really liked about the introductions that the staff members did and what they asked us to do when we introduced ourselves as well, was to say which pronoun we preferred – he, she, etc. – I really liked this because it allowed people state which gender they preferred, and it didn’t point out people who’s gender expression may have been confusing, it allowed everyone to state what they preferred. I thought it was pretty cool.
We then discussed the term reproductive justice versus reproductive health and reproductive rights. What helped make the differences clearer for myself is that reproductive justice acknowledges and looks to the injustices that women of various groups have suffered in the past – reproductive justice embodies the idea that everyone should have access to the same reproductive health services as well as have the same reproductive rights.
We then watched a video made by the Third Wave Foundation that helped to explain what the foundation does. The video showed many smaller organizations that receive grants from the Third Wave Foundation to help them either start or maintain their organizations. The Foundation receives money from larger organizations and then distributes that money to smaller ones. Part of the reason for this is because they have more knowledge on feminist issues, and thus, are better able to allot funds to organizations that deserve and need it. Along with funding organizations, the Third Wave Foundation also has some money designated for their Emergency Abortion Fund. This money goes to women who are in need of an abortion, but do not have the money to pay for one. In order to understand more in depth what happens we participated in an exercise where there were three stories of three different women all in need of abortions, however there was only enough money to fund either one or two of the abortions, and the money may only cover a portion of the cost. We worked in groups to try and decide who we thought should get the money. My group was divided because all of the women had unique stories and situations. We were later told that the stories came from real women who had those experiences. The exercise showed me that although the Emergency Abortion Fund is a great thing, it can only help some women, and behind all of it, there is a single person who is responsible for deciding who needs the money most. It made me appreciate the work that the people at the Third Wave Foundation do, because a group of five of us couldn’t make a decision.
After the Third Wave Foundation we broke into smaller groups again and my group went to the Lower East Side to meet with the founders of the Doula Project. I had never heard of doulas before this, the founders, Mary and Lauren, explained that doulas are non-medical support persons. There are different types of doulas, the most common being birthing doulas who stay with the mother throughout the birthing process. However, Mary and Lauren along with the other Doula Project volunteers provide abortion and adoption doula services as well. Because I had no knowledge of doula before this, the whole concept was interesting to me, but I particularly enjoyed learning more about the abortion and adoption doula services. I think I found it so interesting because both of these can be very hard decisions to make, and very hard to do by oneself. The doulas provide a support for the women when they may not have anyone else. The doulas are someone that the women can talk to, but they also provide physical support through pressure point massages, belly rubs, back rubs, visualization techniques, and breathing techniques. The doulas go through training so that they know more about abortions and how to act in a professional way in clinics.
With abortions the doulas try to remain the same throughout the entire process, however with adoptions the doulas work in a team of two. Births can last a very long time, and because all of the people involved in the Doula Project are volunteers, they have other jobs that they have to go to, by working in a team, the doulas are better able to provide the women with a familiar face if one of the doulas needs to leave for any reason. Lauren stated that their main job is to be an advocate for the woman who is either having an abortion or “choosing an adoption plan.” She told a story of a young woman who became pregnant and whose parents sent her away while she continued along with her pregnancy and eventually gave the child up for adoption. The young woman spoke very little English, but knew she did not want a cesarean section because she did not want the scars from the surgery – she wanted it to be as if the whole pregnancy had not happened. The doctor’s tried to convince the woman that she needed a c-section, but she was adamant about not having one. Lauren said she didn’t know what was best, she didn’t know if the baby was in distress or in danger or not, but her job was to advocate for the woman giving birth.
The Doula Project partners with a hospital in New York and a Planned Parenthood in New York. They go in and offer their services to any women having an abortion, as well as women who are planning on adoption. They do not get paid for their services; they do it to help women who are in situations that are hard to deal with alone.
On Wednesday the entire group met at the Ms. Foundation. While at the Ms. Foundation we had two groups speak with us. The first group of women to speak to us focused on Graduate School, feminism at work, and provided some career advice. The most interesting and informative part of the discussion for me was about career advice and graduate school. The three women speaking with us, Suzanne Grossman, Kara Elverson, and Melissa Gonzalez had great suggestions for young women entering into the workforce after graduating, such as getting internships – paid or unpaid, because these internships can open many doors – the place one is interning may end up offering a paid position, with internships networks can also be formed which can help in the future. Something else that they talked about a lot was making a good impression, for example, after an interview sending a thank you note to the person who interviewed you. Also, they highly suggested to do some research beforehand and to come prepared with questions for the organization or company that one is looking at. Dressing appropriately is also important, they said it is good to have your own style and be yourself during an interview, but it is also important to dress appropriately and to not stand out too much with the way one dresses. This is because the interview should be about the person and their interest in the job – a bigger impression should be left based on the quality of the interview, not on a memorable wardrobe or accessories, these in fact, may distract the interviewer. In addition, business cards were discussed at a great length. The women encouraged us to get business cards, even while still in college, they stated that this would be a good way to start networking – by exchanging business cards. The stressed that you never know when you will meet someone who may be interested in working with you, it also adds a professional aspect even to current college students, and it helps in leaving a good impression. I’ve always wanted business cards, so this was really exciting for me – being told that it is a good idea to have business cards even if I am not employed and still a student!
The second group; Courtney Martin, a feminist blogger and author; Julie Sceflo, a feminist reporter who has worked at both Newsweek and The New York Times; Vinnie Angel, a male feminist and the designer and founder of Vinnie’s Tampon Cases; and Veronica Chambers, an author and a current employee at Glamour magazine focused on feminist approaches to media. It was interesting listening to how Courtney, Julie and Veronica got to the places that they are at, and how they continue to use their feminist values in their current jobs. However, what was most interesting to me was talking with Vinnie Angel. I believe that male feminists are great allies and advocates for women and the fight for equality. Vinnie is a great example of this, and I found his story to be extremely inspiring. Vinnie had a female friend who was kidnapped and raped by some men over a weekend before being let go, after talking to his friend about her experience Vinnie began making art – some of it featured women holding guns pointed at men, the purpose of this was to show the strength of women and women taking power back. His start with tampon cases came from a conversation that he had with two female roommates. He walked into a room that they were talking in and when he came in they both stopped talking, but Vinnie knew that they had been talking about their periods, and he sat down and told them “Tell me everything about periods.” Vinnie felt that a period being a taboo topic was ridiculous because it is something that happens naturally and continues to happen for many years – it is a part of a woman’s life, and he believed that it shouldn’t be a topic that was avoided. So he sat with his roommates and learned everything – the difference between pads and tampons, how awful cramps can be, why his roommates hated tampons – they get lost and squished in purses, etc. From this discussion Vinnie came up with the idea of making tampon cases. If you haven’t seen his tampon cases, they have a picture of Vinnie on them and “Vinnie’s Tampon Case” is written in big letters on the case as well. Vinnie chose to do it this way to help combat two problems: tampons being squished and lost in purses, and to spark conversations about periods. He thought that having his face on a tampon case would cause people, specifically men, to ask what it was. And this, he hopes, can create conversations about periods and help to make it less of a taboo subject. After first coming out with Vinnie’s Tampon Cases, Vinnie began wearing the same shirt everyday “Free Tampon Cases, Ask Me About Vinnie’s Tampon Cases” is what the shirt read. And for that whole year, Vinnie gave away free tampon cases – for him, it was not about profit, but rather about raising awareness - which I truly admire.
From the Ms. Foundation we traveled to the Feminist Press and then to BUST magazine. The Feminist Press was interesting – learning about what makes a book feminist and how they choose which books to publish. There are many steps in publishing a book, and it is first read over by a few people – if they recognize feminist themes and believe the book is well written and has potential they will then continue working with the author in the process of having the book published. The books vary from Children’s Books, novels, non-fiction, etc. But one thing they have in common is that there are feminist themes in the books. We also talked about the steps involved in publishing a book and what the interns at the Feminist Press are doing. Listening to the interns talk about their experiences with the Feminist Press was really interesting. They seem to be given a lot of work that is actually pertinent to the success of the Feminist Press, which compared to some of my friends with internships this summer who are filing and getting coffee. I wonder if it is because it is a feminist organization, or just the way that the Feminist Press is run.
BUST magazine was also very interesting, we met with the Executive Editor, Debbie Stoller, who is also one of the founders of BUST magazine. She spoke of the evolution of the magazine – starting out as a “zine” (a small magazine) without many issues being published, and now a magazine that is subscribed to by many, many people. Debbie’s idea for BUST magazine came from a magazine for older girls that focused on girls empowerment and she wished that there was a magazine like that for women. The goal was to feature powerful women from all different backgrounds. Debbie also gave us some career advice, she encouraged us to write, especially if anyone was interesting in being a reporter or journalist, etc.; she encouraged blogging and looking into getting work published – because this way potential employers will be able to see a type of work that is not for a class, but rather, because it is something that the author is passionate about.
The whole day Thursday was probably my favorite day at Feminist Summer Camp. We met in Brooklyn at Powder Keg – it is a big loft that is used by and created by female writers. This is a space that they can come and work on their writings, the whole place is filled with desks, tables, couches, chairs, etc. What we were using Powder Keg for however, was to meet with the Guerilla Girls and Arts Effect.
The Guerilla Girls came dressed in their masks and introduced themselves using their Guerilla Girls names – which are the names of dead women who they admire or feel a special bond with. The Guerilla Girls wear masks to conceal their identity and as a way to focus more on the issues of feminism in art. When they are in their masks, their identity changes and they separate themselves from their private lives. The three women who we talked with specifically work with the theatre and raising awareness of the lack of women in theatre. According to the Guerilla Girls women produce less than 17 percent of all plays. The Guerilla Girls go on tour all over the country and the world to speak about and perform about this issue – they have actually performed at Rollins! With their plays they focus on women’s issues and use a feminist style in their performances – such as audience participation. They want to make their plays as relevant to their audience as possible. After talking with the Guerilla Girls they had us break into groups and make our own short movies related to women’s issues that we had brought up and decided on as a group. We broke into groups based on which issue we wanted to work with. I was in the group that focused on the power of language. Our goal was to demonstrate that when people say one thing they aren’t actually saying what they mean, and they don’t think about the actual meanings of the words or the power that some words have. In our short film we had one group member in the middle of a circle, and the rest of the group members surrounding her. We went around the circle and directed strong words at the woman in the middle. Some of the words we said were: bitch, slut, retard, fag, lame, whore, etc. These words are often used in everyday life and in various ways to bring people down. Some of the words are pretty self-explanatory, but one woman in our group brought up the word “lame” which I had never thought about, and actually, I use quite frequently. Lame actually refers to people with physical disabilities, which I had never thought about. This example shows that there are many words that we commonly use that we don’t actually think about the true meaning of. By associating lame with something that I think isn’t cool is inadvertently saying that people who have physical disabilities are not cool. Although this was never my intent, that is what I was doing, which showed me just how important the power of language is. After we filmed our videos we met in the large group and watched all of the videos. The point of this exercise was for us to see how people can use media – videos – as a way to make a statement. We spent about 20 minutes planning the videos and filming them, so making an affective statement can be fast, cheap, and fun. Although the Guerilla Girls showed me this through the activity, what I think that what I learned, or came to realize even more, about the power of language is of equal importance (Which also shows that media, and the process of creating something to make a statement to others can also help the creators understand more deeply the statement that they are making).
After meeting with the Guerilla Girls the founders of The Arts Effect, Meg McInerny and Katie Cappiello. These two women were absolutely amazing, they had so much energy and were so excited about the work that they do with kids. The Arts Effect isn’t solely for girls, but that is where they put a lot of their energy. The Arts Effect is a theatre company and they have special classes just for girls. Meg and Katie talked about these classes with such heart and excitement. At the beginning of the term they just start talking with the girls about issues that they are having; eventually all of the girls are relating to each other on the issues being discussed. Some of these issues involve such things as their changing bodies and even sexual harassment in school (these girls are young – some even 10 years old!). As a group they then create plays revolving around these issues, they also do improv and monologues about the issues, and the girls love expressing their feelings and thoughts on the issues talked about in a creative way. Katie and Meg then played a rap for us that one of their all girl classes wrote and performed, called “F-Word”. The rap is talking about feminism and girl power. Again, these girls are really young, but they identify themselves as feminists and they are embracing that in themselves and as a result they are more confident and comfortable with themselves. I think this is a wonderful program that Katie and Meg started – they are giving young girls a voice and a creative way to express themselves on issues that are relevant to them. I think it is also great that at an age when many girls become self-conscious and because of various influences such as media, peers, etc. may begin to dislike themselves; these girls are embracing themselves, becoming more confident, and becoming more passionate about being a woman and women’s rights. I wish that I had something like this when I was growing up and I think more programs like this around the country would be awesome. These are young girls being vocal about being feminists; even adults sometimes shy away from using “the f-word” because of negative associations with the words. I think that these girls, and girls like them will play a huge part in the feminist movement, which is extremely encouraging. After talking about The Arts Effect Meg and Katie did an exercise with us; they had us share our “click moments” – when we first realized we were feminists or our earliest memory of witnessing gender inequality and realizing it wasn’t right. They then had all of us write down these moments and eventually we picked one sentence from what we had written and then they broke us up into groups. The task was to use each person in the group’s sentence that she had picked out and create a short improv play that incorporated the sentences. The groups then performed for the entire group. Some of the plays were funny, some were intense, and some had both; but all of our voices were heard, and it felt good to share that with other women and create something out of many different experiences.
After The Arts Effect we left Powder Keg and went to STREB Lab for Action Mechanics. At STREB we met with two dancers who perform the extreme action choreography that is developed by Elizabeth Streb, who is the founder. The idea behind STREB is that our bodies can be used in nontraditional ways to create art, part of this includes understanding how strong a person’s body actually is and all that it is capable of. The dancers slam into walls, they take long falls, they use props such as steel beams, and much more; but they know how to use their bodies in a way that keeps them safe. In order to do this, the dancers must know their bodies and how to use them. After getting an introduction to STREB we were given the opportunity to participate in some activities. My favorite activity was “flying”; according to one of the dancers, Elizabeth Streb has the belief that humans can fly, she just hasn’t figured out this gravity thing yet. However, when a person is in the air they are flying, and we got to try this! With this new perspective in mind, jumping from a trampoline onto a mat became an entirely different experience. We landed on the mat in different ways and by tucking our legs in we were able to fly for longer amounts of time, and by jumping a certain way onto the trampoline we were able to fly longer distances. Another activity that I really enjoyed was basically free falling forward. We first did this on a cushiony mat – you stand straight up with your arms bent and hands around your shoulders and you just fall forward – you use your hands to help stop and slow down, but the goal is to have your entire body hit the mat at the same time so that the impact of hitting the mat is spread throughout the body. After doing it on the mat, if we wanted to we could move to the floor, which was still a mat, but a much thinner and less cushiony one. Accomplishing this free falling was exciting – falling in a way in which my face could potentially smack into the floor was a little frightening, but by actually doing it and being okay afterwards was awesome; I used my body in a way that I would have never thought I would, and I did it in a way that I protected myself from injury. The dancers use this free falling method from extreme heights, but if they do it right and distribute the force of the impact through their bodies they can get right up and do it again. I really liked going to STREB because it taught me more about myself and what I am capable of.
Although our self-defense class was two days after the feminism and art day, I think that it goes along with some of the stuff we learned at STREB. On Saturday we met with a self-defense instructor, Michael Robin. He began the session by asking what we were expecting from the short session; one woman raised her hand and said “I want to learn how to throw a really good punch.” That sounded pretty good to me, but Michael said we would get to that later. Michael started the session off with ways to avoid potentially dangerous situations – he did this through role-playing (and continued with this technique throughout the session). These included being aware of your surroundings, expressing confidence, following instincts, etc. We then moved onto how to react in situations that are uncomfortable – because even if something isn’t dangerous it could escalate; thus, knowing how to act in situations could prevent it from escalating. From there we went over ways to react in dangerous situations – things to say, etc. I really liked this self-defense session, because Michael taught us ways to avoid situations instead of strictly what to do while in certain situations. However, my favorite part of the session was when we were taught how to physically defend ourselves from a male attacker by learning the proper technique of kneeing a male attacker in the nether regions. Michael held a blocking pad and let each of us take a turn. We threw our knees three times, while holding him in a grip that would bring him down and throw him off balance, and with each kneeing we shouted: “NO! NO! NO!” This was awesome for all of us, after taking our turns we all started talking about how good it felt to know how to protect ourselves from potential attackers. It wasn’t about causing pain for someone else or taking frustrations out on every man, it was about self-protection, and it felt good to know I had it in me. And for some reason, to me it seemed like the perfect way to end such an intense, educational, and amazing week.