History, Bias, and the Good Ol’ Boys Network

In our local community, as is common in many historical circles, women are typically relegated to three major historical roles:

 

  1. Property of men.
  2. Victims – be it of crimes, accidents, circumstances, etc.
  3. 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.

Tacoma Needs Love (Blatant Political Post + Portraits)

Meet my friend, Courtney Love. This brilliant activist/ single mother resides in South Tacoma and is running for City Council Position 7. Since day one, I’ve been impressed by her passionate advocacy for social and economic justice in our community and beyond. Our city needs a leader who listens and knows how to collaborate.

 

I did a quick walk about with her through downtown Tacoma last week to help get her Voter’s Pamphlet headshot prepared. She agreed to let me share a few outtakes from our shoot that didn’t make it into the pamphlet. You can find the one that did here. I hope you’ll take the time to get to know her and learn about her platform. And donate – money, time, money…! She is a grassroots candidate and needs all our support.

 

Courtney 2 72
One of my favorite pictures of Courtney Love. I’m not sure why this wasn’t selected for the Voter’s Pamphlet. 😉
Courtney 1 72
Courtney’s got the one raised eyebrow down.
Courtney 3 72
This didn’t make it in the Voter’s Pamphlet, either.

Tacoma Protests the Abortion Bans

On Tuesday, May 21, several Tacoma residents gathered in front of the Federal Courthouse to speak out for women’s rights and to protect access to abortion.  I was incredibly proud to see such a strong turnout and meet some great people. Here are some photos from the event.

It is great to see so many young people involved in this fight.
But, the fact that this fight is still going on today is infuriating. Women deserve bodily autonomy.
Mothers understand the importance of protecting the right of autonomy for our daughters.
It’s our duty to ensure the next generation understands their rights and how to fight for them.
We can’t keep letting history repeat itself.
When abortion is illegal, women die.
The Raging Grannies were on hand to encourage us to speak up and sing out.
Here’s a closeup of some of the lyrics.
We can’t sit back and watch our rights be stolen.
When one group is attacked, it paves the way for other vulnerable populations to be attacked. The abortion bans are not about protecting life. The bans are about taking power away from women — just as other conservative policies are doing to immigrants, people of color, LGBTQIA individuals, low-income populations, and more.
If we want change, we must stand together.
We need to fight for human rights.

 

For more pictures from this event, please visit my photo gallery.

Georgia’s Anti-Abortion Law is an Attack on Women Everywhere

Under Georgia’s new abortion law, I would very likely be in prison.

I miscarried in 2011 after being exposed to tear gas while working abroad for a major local university; my student employee insurance (in our very own progressive Washington State) wouldn’t cover me fully. At first, I was told they didn’t cover “elective abortions”, and then that my D&C for contractions, bleeding, and preventing potentially deadly complications wasn’t an emergency. I was told I should have flown back to Seattle from Athens, Greece (my assigned worksite), to get help in network. I spent years dealing with the fallout of not having my reproductive health care fully protected: paperwork that went nowhere, getting letters from licensed doctors in Greece AND the US that still weren’t considered enough evidence, doing independent reviews of research in a field where men’s bodies are considered the standard and women’s bodies deviations to the accepted model, testifying at the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals, attending lobbying events at every chance with Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice Washington. I never got full resolution. I was left with medical bills and the impact on my career with my employer of more than 3 years. I couldn’t imagine having to prove to law enforcement that I failed to carry to term because of law enforcement’s abusive crowd control tactics.

This is a direct quote from Mark Joseph Stern’s May 7, 2019 Slate article:

“Prosecutors may interrogate women who miscarry to determine whether they can be held responsible; if they find evidence of culpability, they may charge, detain, and try these women for the death of their fetuses. Even women who seek lawful abortions out of state may not escape punishment. If a Georgia resident plans to travel elsewhere to obtain an abortion, she may be charged with conspiracy to commit murder, punishable by 10 years’ imprisonment. An individual who helps a woman plan her trip to get an out-of-state abortion, or transports her to the clinic, may also be charged with conspiracy. These individuals, after all, are ‘conspiring’ to end of the life of a ‘person’ with ‘full legal recognition’ under Georgia law.”

One half of the population of one state has now been put in a position where their fertility and ability/ willingness to carry a baby to term determines their status as free individuals. One fucking half of the population. I shouldn’t even have to address anything further, but that impacts children, spouses, elderly parents depending on women (daughters/ daughters-in-law) for caregiving, employers whose workers will now be expected to take time off work to get reproductive care outside the state and/or spend time in court defending themselves for what should be a personal decision.

This can and will be used as a precedent for other states. If you weren’t political before, get political. Call your representatives today and tell them reproductive health care is a human right. Donate to Planned Parenthood, Cedar Rivers Clinic, NARAL Pro-Choice, and abortion funds in your community. Volunteer as a clinic escort. And contact the Governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp (here is his Facebook page), to tell him the abortion ban is a vile and blatant violation of the US Constitution.

Las Vegas Women’s Rally 2018

On Sunday, January 21, I was in Las Vegas to attend the 2018 Women’s Rally with my high school principal, who I hadn’t seen in 20 years. Here are just a few photos of the several thousand who came from across the country to speak out against sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, inequality, hate, and the intersection of all these: Trump.

 

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Thank you to everyone who marched, rallied, or provided child care so others could do so. And thank you to everyone who keeps standing up for social justice, even when there are no cameras around to document it. Your hard work matters, your passion matters, and you matter.

 

To see these and other photos, click here.

When You Love Somebody…

… Sometimes you have to call them out.

It’s February, so I should be devoting time to my Valentine, Isobel. She just turned 4 this last week. Every day she does something else to remind me how quickly she’s growing, and how soon this magical time will be gone.

But the time I could be spending with my little one has been spent actively fighting a new danger to my Northwest community. It’s not bad enough that our local government has proven to be nothing more than a way for rich residents to play dynasty. Our Port has leased land to a Chinese LLC which aims to build the world’s largest methanol refinery to date using fracked gas in Tacoma. Methanol is a highly combustible compound, and the refinery will be placed next to a new natural gas facility, amplifying the potential for worst case scenarios (leaks, explosions, irreversible damage to water and soil, worsening of air quality, increasing health disparity, etc.).

I have been attending Environmental Impact Scoping meetings every chance I get. The most recent meeting I attended saw 1200+ residents against and three paid representatives for the project. The plant will use up to 20,000 gallons of water a minute despite the world wide shortage of clean water and a global rallying cry to convert to green energy. The purpose of the methanol refinery? Making plastics in China.

As an appointed member of the City of Tacoma Human Rights Commission, I was particularly troubled by the Tacoma Fire Department’s plan for detainees in the Northwest Immigration Detention Center that in case of catastrophe, there will not be an evacuation, instead they are to “shelter in place.”

So Tacoma, I love you, but I’m calling you out.

And for those who come to this page looking for cute drawings, not politics, I leave you the first in a series of illustrated responses to the proposed Tacoma Methanol Refinery. so as not to disappoint.

 

Otter_Destruction_Draft
Draft: Otter Destruction. 2016. S. Skaar

I’ll post the finished illustration when it’s complete. If you want to learn more about the methanol refinery and how you can help protect our environment, please check out Red Line Tacoma.