Mar 142011
 

Today begins a series of posts documenting some of the significant parts of the Feminist Peace Network’s herstory.  The following is excerpted from an essay written by FPN Founder Lucinda Marshall in 2003 talking about the founding of FPN.  It was published in the now defunct Expository Magazine.

From the Personal to the Political:  Founding the Feminist Peace Network

Flash back just over two years ago:  summer is ending, the kids are back in school and I finally have time to get back to work on The Virago Series, my art about female images as seen by women.  I am working on assemblages on mirrors that talk about the objectification and debasement of women.  The wonderful thing about using mirrors is that when the viewer looks at the work they literally become part of it.  That is enormously helpful since this work tells some ugly truths and I want to literally force the viewer to see themselves as part of the problem.

Venus Alter, mixed media assemblage with mirror, Lucinda Marshall

And then, the mind numbing, soul freezing moments of the eleventh of September and the invasion of Afghanistan; the subject has suddenly become much bigger.  My heart aches as I try to answer my children’s questions.  I take one of my mirrors and drape it in Afghani and American flags covered with children’s toys; jacks and playing cards, and  especially toy soldiers.  The destruction of my children’s innocence, let alone their world, angers me most of all.

Let's Play War, mixed media on mirror, Lucinda Marshall

No one else on my women artist’s listserv  can work either.  We devote a lot of time to our feelings and being supportive of each other.  I am so grateful they are there.

But in my restlessness, I start investigating anti-war listservs.  I join a few and am jolted by the blatant disregard and disrespect of women’s posts.  Depressingly  like the real world.  I realized that if I am to find an anchor, let alone a harbor, I will have to create it.  And so, in December, 2001, I started the Feminist Peace Network (FPN),  to fulfill the need for a forum where women could discuss their thoughts about violence, war and terrorism in a nurturing, supportive atmosphere;  without men and not aligned with any particular organization or viewpoint, or specific to any one country.

As our mission statement says,

“The Feminist Peace Network is dedicated to building an enduring peace, with the ending of violence towards women and children as a first priority. This group is dedicated to the urgent need to immediately work towards providing shelter, food, education, and a safe environment for women and children in all parts of the world, as well as creating economic conditions to ensure these rights in the future. A strong bias towards matriarchal thinking is assumed.”

Several months after starting FPN, I went to Washington, DC and met with one of our members who lives there.  We were leaving a restaurant to go our separate ways on the now dark streets of DC.  My friend looked at me and idly wondered whether it seemed safe to walk alone to our destinations.  We realized immediately that no, of course it wasn’t safe any more than it was ever safe for a woman anywhere to walk alone on a dark deserted street, let alone be alone with her husband or lover.  We were at risk as women everywhere are always at risk.  I realized with a  thud that the ‘terrorism’ that had taken over our global dialog was not the real problem.  The truth of the matter is that with millions of women being sexually assaulted every year, terrorism against women was clearly the critical issue.  It is the premise that has informed the direction of our network and led to our Statement of Conscience, written in the dark days before the U.S. invaded Iraq.

The Statement puts the issue succinctly,

“…in order to effectively address the problems with the current U.S. military policy and the globalization of the so-called war against terror, the global pandemic of violence against women and children must be stopped. It is FPN’s contention that, if we are to truly create peace, we must first recognize the horrific violence endured by the women of this planet every day. And, most importantly, we must vow that ending violence — by definition — includes ending violence that specifically endangers women and children. Until we do that, there will not truly be peace.”

It further goes on to state that women,

“… must be involved as full members of peace negotiation teams. Any “peace” that does not address the worldwide pandemic of violence against women and girls is not Peace.”

Almost from the beginning, FPN has been more than a discussion group.  Most of our members belong to local peace and women’s groups as well as FPN.  Because of this, we have been able to share ideas and coordinate actions between communities, as well as hook up people who live in the same area.  For our members who live outside of urban communities, FPN gives them a chance to network with other feminist peacemakers that they would otherwise not have.  We also have members who are involved in international groups such as WILPF, the Coalition of Women For Peace, Women in Black, etc.  Belonging to FPN has helped them to share and disseminate information.

During our first two years, the Feminist Peace Network has taken on a wide range of actions.  We circulated a petition against stoning, authored a Statement of Conscience as the US was preparing to go to war in Iraq that both reiterated the feminist stance against war and highlighted the effect that war has on the lives of women and children.

Beginning in 2002 and again in 2003, we initiated the Global Women’s Peace Vigil on IWD.  Women in more than 100 locales have participated in the vigil.  We also publish Atrocities, an e-bulletin that documents violence against women around the world.  The information in Atrocities frequently comes from first hand and obscure news sources.  Our goal is to bear witness to these atrocities by making this information as widely available as is possible.  (Note:  Atrocities is no longer published, but the archive can be viewed here.)

Not surprisingly, many of our members are artists and writers.  As creators, our work by definition involves sensitive and emotionally observant of our world.  We tend to be very effected by political events and frequently express our politics in our work.  A member in Canada introduced us to the concept of a Knit-In (try to imagine a knit cap on a missile silo….) and  one of our members spearheaded the Women in Black Art Project which can be seen at . Other work on the web site includes poetry, prose and photography.  All of these efforts are not only effective mediums for exploring change, but also nurturing to our group as well.  We also discuss health issues, motherhood, globalization and many other issues that impact our right to live in real peace.

The essay closed with contact information that is no longer current, so I’ve omitted that here to avoid confusion.  Obviously much has changed and FPN has grown significantly since those early days.  I am particularly grateful to the early participants in FPN who were so instrumental in helping this work get started, many of whom are still here almost 10 years on, and to those who have joined along the way and add to the discussion in so many ways.

In the coming days I will post some other things that I found in the FPN files as part of a celebration of our own story as a part of Her-Story.

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 March 14, 2011  Posted by on March 14, 2011 Comments Off on Reclaiming Her-Story–The Founding Of The Feminist Peace Network
Mar 102011
 

Laura Micham (Photo courtesy of Laura Micham)

As I pointed out last week, our understanding of the past is based in large part on what is, or all too often in the case of the records of women’s lives and work, what isn’t preserved and that what those who come after us will know of our lives will be based on the records that we leave.  The following interview with Laura Micham, Director of the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture at Duke University explores the role that archiving plays in preserving our own stories.

__________

Q:  Laura, as you and I have discussed before, when it comes to history, not only is it important to understand our past, but also to preserve records of our own lives.  This is a particularly important mandate for women because so much of our story was never recorded or has been lost.  Can you explain the role that archives such as the Bingham Center play in preserving women’s history?

A: The Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture describes its mission this way: “We are charged with acquiring, preserving, describing, and making available, to a broad population of users, published and unpublished materials that reflect the public and private lives of women, past and present.” In other words we receive or proactively seek out materials by, for, and about women, from centuries-old letters and diaries to current zines and blogs, carefully preserve and describe the artifactual, informational, and evidential dimensions of these materials, and connect them to students, scholars, artists, activists, and other researchers through our website, reference desk, classrooms, exhibit cases, and public programming spaces.

Q:  Your collection includes a wide variety of work.  Are there particular areas of interest that you try to focus on?  Can you share with us some of the highlights of your collection?

A: While the Bingham Center is a broad-based women’s archives and library with materials in almost every conceivable format created over five centuries, our particular areas of focus include the history of feminist theory and activism, women’s sexuality and gender expression, girl culture, domestic culture, women authors and publishers, lay and ordained church women, and women artists. Some of our most sought out collections include our zines, lesbian pulp fiction, artists’ books, Civil War Women’s papers, and reproductive rights collections. This last category includes not only the papers of activists but also those of abortion providers and the clinics they have established along with an extensive collection of rare print materials from across the political continuum. This is a particularly rare and unusual body of material.

Q:  When you and I first started talking, you were horrified at some of the things that I had tossed out over the years and now that I think about it, I can see historic value in things that I once thought of as trash.  Tell us about some of the things that you find to be of particular archival value and perhaps you can also give us some thoughts about how to determine what things we should consider preserving.

A: We certainly understand that people can rarely save every bit of documentation they create or amass. What we hope is that they will save materials that reveal something about the times in which they lived, struggles or debates in which they participated, and/or some version of the products of their chosen work. These can take many forms but generally include correspondence with family, friends, and colleagues; records generated by groups or organizations they formed and/or lead; writings, published and unpublished, private (e.g. diaries or journals) and public (e.g. articles, speeches, blogs, etc.); research or subject files (materials amassed around topics of interest); project files (anything from travel documents to organizing documents, meeting notes, sketches, lists, plans, recordings, etc.), ephemera (a fancy word for t-shirts, buttons, posters, fliers, and other items containing information about a movement, event, project etc.); and photographs, hopefully with some explanation of people, places, and activities depicted!

Q:  I know that the Bingham Center is relatively new, but are there ways in which the work that you are archiving has already impacted our understanding of women’s history and achievements?

A: The Bingham Center will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2013, just around the corner! We are young but I think we’ve accomplished a lot. Two truly noteworthy areas of strength within the Bingham Center are our commitment to creatively documenting the most recent iterations of the women’s movement as well as the long history of abortion and reproductive rights through our collections of almost 5000 zines by girls and women, artists’ books by working artists that focus on feminist topics including reproductive health, history of sexuality and women’s health materials spanning several centuries, and, as mentioned before, a growing body of materials documenting comprehensive health care clinics for women and the people who establish and run them. Through these collections readers can gain critical perspectives on some of the most thought-provoking and divisive issues in our history and current public conversation. Our founding director, Ginny Daley, used to say that we should inform our activism –and any other work we do- with an historical perspective. This continues to be one of our guiding principles.

Q:  Are there any other thoughts you would like to share about preserving women’s history?

A: Preserving women’s history is a singular privilege and a sometimes daunting responsibility which brings us into contact with our heroes, long-term and new, famous and little known, revered and misunderstood. These amazing women whose lives and work we are charged to document challenge us, guide us, and remind us all the time of how fortunate we are to live in the world they created.

Thank you and Happy Women’s History Month!

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 March 10, 2011  Posted by on March 10, 2011 Comments Off on Archiving Women’s Her-Story–An Interview With The Bingham Center’s Laura Micham
Mar 092011
 

International Women’s Day is celebrated throughout the world by numerous organizations and women in a large variety of ways.  Sort of like Christmas.  As we’ve noted for the last several years, it is truly objectionable that the corporate-run InternationalWomensDay.com website bills itself as ‘the’ International Women’s Day website.  Yes it provides some good resources, but so do a lot of other sites and because of the decentralized global nature of IWD, there simply is no such thing as an official site and it is misleading to claim to be such.

Yesterday, the site’s founder, Glenda Stone, took the usurpation to new levels with a press release about the website being hacked, referring to the site as “the global hub” for International Women’s Day.  To be very clear, FPN is opposed to anyone’s site being hacked, and if in fact it was done deliberately on IWD (which Ms. Stone asserts but does not back up with facts), it is worrisome.  We’ve been on the receiving end of that and it is expensive, time-consuming and no fun to recover from and not a productive tactic for fostering dialog or change.

But that does not change the fact that it is absolutely wrong to presume that a private site is so central to IWD.  It isn’t and I feel quite sure we would all carry on with our observances without the site, just as we did before the site existed.

Yesterday I also become aware for the first time that there is an InternationalWomensDay.org website, run by the Women’s Information Network, and yes, you guessed it, it is also a private venture organized by motivational speaker Dr Paula Fellingham. The website seems to be geared towards getting participants to attend events that cost $35 per ticket.  And why would you pay that? Because the program included a “Buns of Steel” star talking about “How to Have the Body Your Body Wants to Be” and a soap opera star was on the agenda as well.  And move over Bread and Roses, they have an original IWD theme song.

It is truly unfortunate that a responsible organization, such as  the U.N., did not safeguard these urls, and even more unfortunate that they have been callously taken over by private parties. While wishing Ms. Stone and Dr. Fellingham the best in their personal ventures, FPN urges both of them to do the right thing and quit using these sites in privately directed ways.  Well intentioned though they may, at least in part be, both sites are self-serving and a true disservice to the women of the world.

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 March 9, 2011  Posted by on March 9, 2011 Comments Off on Officially There Is No ‘Official’ International Women’s Day Website
Mar 072011
 

This year marks the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day.  It is a time to celebrate the lives of women and to renew our commitment to women’s human rights throughout the world.

That it is even necessary to have such a day should give us pause.  There is not, after all, an International Men’s Day.  But the truth is that while women may be half of the world’s population, they most assuredly are not equal stakeholders when it comes to human rights and empowerment.

An early International Women's Day event

Here in the U.S., women’s reproductive health rights are under sustained siege as never before.  In the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Sudan women are raped with impunity.  In Mexico and Guatemala, thousands of women have gone missing and been brutally murdered and the perpetrators roam freely.  Honor killings continue to be a huge problem in the Middle East and female genital mutilation is still a common practice in many parts of Africa.  In southeast Asia and eastern Europe, women are trafficked into sexual slavery.  In India there are dowry murders.

Million Women Rise March in London

The above isn’t even close to an exhaustive list of human rights violations perpetrated against women, but merely serves to illustrate that misogyny in its many guises is globally systemic.  There are so many people working to stop these atrocities, but yet they continue unabated, year in and year out for the very simple reason that putting a halt to them challenges the patriarchal power structure that controls our world.

It is easy to get overwhelmed by the enormity of tackling even one of the problems discussed above.  The idea of addressing them in their entirety seems beyond human power. But indeed, for women to be fully empowered, we must insist that the connections between individual misogynies be made and that the problem be addressed in full.  And yes, that implies profound changes for both men and women, but they are changes for the common good and on this 100th anniversary of IWD, we must find the will to make it so.  Anything less imperils us all.

IWD poster from Russia

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 March 7, 2011  Posted by on March 7, 2011 1 Response »
Mar 022011
 

As we begin our celebration of Women’s History Month, here are some wonderful resources to learn more about women’s lives. If you know of other websites, please share them in the comments!

Grandmother Stone, Image courtesy of Max Dashu and the Suppressed History Archives

Radical Women’s History Project

UK Web Archive

Suppressed Histories Archives

Alice Paul Institute

Kentucky Women In The Civil Rights Era

Elizabeth Cady Stanton Trust

National Women’s History Project

Veleda

4000 Years of Women in Science

History of Women’s Media

Many thanks to the fans of the Feminist Peace Network Facebook page for contributing links to this post.

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 March 2, 2011  Posted by on March 2, 2011 1 Response »