It’s the 60th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s space flight today!
In honor of Women’s Day, check out my latest essay on Medium, “Controlling the Narrative: Gatekeeping, Secret Societies, and the Good Ol’ Boys Network.” This work, adapted from my 2019 presentation for Portland’s Drunken Discourse, explores the inherent sexism and racism of the fraternal order Knights of Pythias. This organization’s history, current structure, and practices are too often glossed over, despite receiving taxpayer funds from the City of Tacoma to make archival materials available to the public. I share some of my own personal experiences with the Tacoma chapter which led me to research this topic, as well as a bibliography for further reading.
If, like me, you think this kind of work is important, then please follow me on Medium (@suzanneskaar) and share this article with friends. I am also available to give the full presentation. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
I appreciate your support.
This weekend I traveled to Portland to participate in a monthly panel discussion, Drunken Discourse. I was invited by the host, Kyle Curtis, who read some of my work and gave me the opportunity to present my newest research project entitled: “Controlling the Narrative: Gatekeepers, Secret Societies, and Good Ol’ Boys Networks.” My best friend since high school accompanied me on the train ride down, and one of my first and favorite friends, my cousin, met us at the venue just as the event was starting.
I was able to take a brief break and join them at their table in between participating in the on-stage “get to know your panelists” conversation and actually giving my presentation. This is how the off-stage conversation started:
Cousin: Is she drunk yet?
Cousin: Should we fix this?
As I stated in my presentation, I have done editing and design work for a Tacoma based Drunk History presentation in the past (uncredited) – obviously this is the type of work I didn’t do while inebriated or in public.
Leading up to the event, I announced on several occasions that I was bringing my friend as my designated drinker.
I was honestly not going to have even one drink.
I failed in this endeavor.
I reportedly still rocked my presentation — even with not getting the clicker thingy, aka “slide navigator,” to work initially, and then later accidentally killing the entire slide show. Thank goodness for producers like Megan Taylor of Manic Esoteric Productions for straightening that out without me having to interrupt my presentation to ask. Those present had the great fortune to listen to Juan Coronell’s, Narendran Muralidharan’s, and Bill Hernandez’s talks ranging from sweet (“Embrace Change”) to hysterical. Narendran’s “Conservative Immigrant” had us dying; his timing was dead on.
Saturday night (and Sunday morning) did reconfirm the following for me: there are consequences to giving into peer pressure. Something about trying to be a responsible adult, the chronic sleep deprivation that accompanies parenthood (I had two hours of sleep Friday night), and missing a gallbladder has weakened my tolerance for vodka. But this weekend also reminded me of the power of hanging out with strong, intelligent, positive, and supportive women. I am extremely lucky in this regard.
I am looking to publish the longer written version as soon as possible, and I can also be available to repeat this presentation sober (the audience doesn’t have to be). Feel free to contact me at email@example.com.
Edited February 2020: The producers regretfully informed me that a lot of footage from the Fall was damaged and unrecoverable. Unfortunately, this did not just impact footage of my presentation. My liver declined the invitation to do this particular Portland event again, but I am still more than happy to present this topic at other forums.
In response to support from others to this idea, I am initiating an incubator to provide the kind of institutional support that women, people of color, and LGBTQIA+ independent researchers and artists currently lack in our community. Join me in getting this off the ground.
Writers, artists, researchers, and historians from underrepresented populations are losing out on opportunities in terms of access, money, and more. Much of this is due to not being welcomed and/ or feeling comfortable participating in the established institutions that officials first look to for experts. When individuals from underrepresented populations do show up, we find events led by white men, who primarily talk about other white men (dead or alive). When women are discussed, all too often we find it’s in the context of being wives of either the presenter or the subject, victims, or visual aids (women greeting returning soldiers on docks). Queer and people of color are often entirely erased from our city’s historical narratives. Women, queer, and non-white narratives are often presented as one-off or special events, and not interwoven into the larger historical context. Research has shown that in order to be considered for professional opportunities, women are often expected to have much higher levels of education than men for similar roles. Despite various agencies’ calls for equality in funding, we face sexual harassment, gender discrimination, ageism, and more before we can even get to the point to apply for funding. Without the support of established networks, we don’t have the same reach for resources that come with membership in these older institutions. When women are left with the added duty of childcare, we don’t have the resources to attend networking events, particularly those in the evening, which further separates us from those in decision making roles.
In order to begin to address some of the long-standing problems, the incubator will be designed to:
- Engage in thorough analyses of cultural activities and funding based on gender, race, and other factors.
- Provide quarterly platforms for presentations of research and creative projects across a broad spectrum of fields, including but not limited to: social justice, environmental science, math and technology, art, film, media, history, and more.
- Host working salons for those seeking feedback on works-in-progress with experts in the related fields.
- Provide assistance in form of grant writing workshops, partnerships with city and other large organizations, and more.
- Provide training to local institutions/ arts communities regarding removing barriers for women getting into the STEAM fields.
- Help secure partnerships with larger institutions for incubator participants by speaking to quality of participants’ work.
- Help secure childcare, transportation, equipment, and necessary membership/ association fees for participants who want to engage field research.
- Provide professional workshops for women, transgender, and non-binary individuals at no-cost.
- Encourage and provide the support necessary to mother researchers to stay engaged in work across a wide spectrum of fields.
- Provide a printing press for anthologies and solo works by selected incubator participants.
- Provide child friendly networking events so that parent researchers can engage with peers.
- Engage in fundraising activities as necessary to secure the longevity of the organization.
(*The above list is a starting point and is open to revision.)
If you want to help with this project (volunteer, host organization, sponsor, etc.), please email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Incubator.”
Our initial meeting with be Saturday, June 22, at 11 a.m. Location to be determined based on number of attendees. A Facebook event will also be created for RSVP purposes.
Feel free to share.
In our local community, as is common in many historical circles, women are typically relegated to three major historical roles:
- Property of men.
- Victims – be it of crimes, accidents, circumstances, etc.
- Visual aids.
I have studied a great deal of international history, much while living and working abroad. I wear my nerd badge with pride. When I was growing up, American history bored me. In school, female historical figures or civil rights leaders were never more than a week long project or chapter at most, and teachers combined all the women or civil rights activists in one go. Weeks could be spent on each dead white man. In undergraduate Russian history classes at The Evergreen State College, we learned about the impact of authors’ biases on historical narratives. We studied the history that was always a mystery to me growing up on US military bases in the Cold War: what was on the other side of the Iron Curtain. We learned about poets Anna Akhmatova and Marina Tsvetaeva, closeted composers (which would have been great to learn about in the classroom, that there was a term for what I am, bisexual, and that there were others like me), and black poets leaving the “land of the free” for ironically greater creative freedom (to a point) in the totalitarian USSR. While enrolled in a class about Western Writers’ Perspectives on Central Asia at the UW Seattle campus in grad school, that’s when I learned about Anna Louise Strong, a radical journalist who lived in Seattle and traveled to the Soviet Union shortly after the Revolution. I didn’t learn about her when studying journalism under male professors or in Pacific Northwest History classes: a professor from Uzbekistan brought her to my attention. In my international studies classes, we had syllabi that included women authors, books with women as the main characters. This inclusion mattered, and it made other cultures seem more accessible than my own. These were historical and cultural classes taught by women, experts who understood complete historical and cultural narratives don’t exclude more than half the population.
Unfortunately, that is exactly what many local historical events and organizations do. There are several writers and historians from underrepresented populations in our community that city staff should be actively taking steps to connect with, but many of us don’t feel comfortable participating in the historical societies that city officials look to first for experts. When individuals from underrepresented populations do show up, we find events led by white men, who primarily talk about dead white men. When women are discussed, it’s in the context of being the wives of the dead white men, or women greeting returning soldiers on docks. One local “historian,” who hosts Drunk History talks, only references women in his history talks when they’re prostitutes or victims of horrific crimes/ accidents. While the City of Tacoma’s Historic Preservation staff states they cannot support alcohol themed events, they are sponsoring this speaker’s upcoming “Happy Hour” at a bar as a fundraiser for the Knights of Pythias (a predominately white male organization that only allows male members who are voted in). The very definition of Happy Hour is the time of day during which bars reduce the price of alcoholic drinks. What is more problematic is giving the spotlight to someone with a history of disregarding women’s contributions: both those of historical figures, and when we work with him on projects.
White men have a very bad habit of acting as gatekeepers. We see it in politics, companies, galleries, museums, and social organizations. Historical societies are no exception. Over the years, I’ve met many white men who do historical research as a hobby, who have not been trained to understand the impact of biases on narratives. I have met guys who think putting on an outfit that resembles soldiers in the 1800s or medieval peasants makes them experts on the eras. As a previously self-proclaimed “cool chick,” I tried to participate. I’ve had my ass grabbed in the SCA and medieval fairs. I’ve let sexist jokes go in the clubroom at the Knights of Pythias Temple because it is a literal boys’ club. (There is a Pythian Sisters auxiliary, which I had joined in order to help with outreach and diversification efforts.) I’ve noticed that women are often only granted harassment free access to these kinds of environments when they’re the “property” of a male in the group. While the drunk historian was romantically pursuing me, I was encouraged to participate in archival activities at Tacoma’s Knights of Pythias Temple. I was asked to edit articles, Drunk History scripts, and help with design work (i.e. do the actual layout on the Powerpoint presentations). But once he had decided to move on, my participation in the Temple’s March 2019 archiving activities was no longer allowed. At first, he stated it was because he asked the two other men in the group if I was wanted there and “they said no”. One of the men cited by the historian confirmed after the fact that he was never asked, and if he had been, I would have been welcomed. Later, the historian changed his story to my participation not being welcomed “because women aren’t allowed to see the Knights’ artifacts.” I was not given credit on presentations I had helped with; this honestly is probably for the best due to all the inappropriate comments he improvised. I stopped attending his presentations after a really insulting one in October, during which a friend privately messaged me she “wanted to but would not throat punch him”, and I last acted as designated driver/ post-presentation “wrangler of the drunk” in January 2019, after he fell off a bar stool at the venue and smashed a full pint glass of beer on his face. (This was witnessed by a member of the Knights.) Privately, I encouraged him to seek help and was willing to try to preserve our friendship or at least our ability to collaborate, but because the historian/ Temple’s keyholder was no longer interested in me romantically, I no longer had value whatsoever. Not as a friend, but more importantly, not as a trained researcher/ writer. The kind of experience that agencies and institutions look at when determining whether to fund future projects was practically erased because it was not credited to begin with, and he cannot be counted on to give an objective answer about my work. Meanwhile, he continues to benefit from this work. His reputation was not impacted by his behavior; he is just a “good guy” trying to get women involved in the organization. As the Knights of Pythias’ May 24, 2019 Facebook post demonstrates, this participation is appreciated most when it comes in the form of Burlesque dancers posing for photo shoots in the club room.
I first wrote about my experience on Facebook. While it was reassuring to know I’m not the only one with these concerns, it is frustrating to know that we’re still dealing with this misogyny in 2019. Some organizations such as the Tacoma Historical Society are trying to address sexism within historical research by hosting a Women of Tacoma exhibit. Given the organization’s overall history of exhibits and presentations, this effort reads like the aforementioned one-off chapter on women in a classroom, but I hope it’s a sign to come of better integration and inclusion of narratives. At the city level, I would love to see an incubator for women, people of color, LGBTQIA+, and immigrant researchers. We also need more Native/ indigenous histories presented by Native/ indigenous researchers. There are enough “Native American histories” written by white males out there already.
Institutional/ governmental leaders and the “good guys” in these organizations need to stop engaging in, rewarding, and ignoring bad behavior. It creates barriers to participation for women when we: don’t feel safe/ are only granted access when someone is interested in us/ are only used as two-dimensional visual props. Organizations which discriminate based on gender have no business receiving public funding.