An Interview with Field Museum Scientist, Danny Balete: The Male Basket Weavers of Barling, Philippines

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copyright DSBalete/Field Museum

My research at the Field Museum and working with the 10,000 Kwentos project got me invited to an event at the Philippine Consulate last week, where the director of the new Natural History Museum in Manila came to collaborate with Field researchers and scientists. My friends from the anthropology department, Jamie Kelly and Michael Armand Canilao were in attendance. I also had the opportunity to meet Field Museum scientist, Danny Balete there, too.

Balete is a distinguished Field Survey Leader for the Field Museum. (Here is a wonderful video introducing his work.) He spends much of his year cataloging the biodiversity of the Luzon region in the Philippines, where he grew up on a farm (and coincidentally, where my mother-in-law is from—I have been there twice.) His work has been pivotal in new research and preservation efforts for the country. The Philippines is one of the most bio-diverse places on the planet, and it also—like all modern, industrializing societies—faces an urgent need to protect its endangered natural world.

It is in this region that Balete collaborated with locals on his research, and discovered their basket weaving tradition. In Barling, the basket weavers are men. Here he describes some of his experiences, which include commissioning them to make a cell phone and laptop case in their traditional weaving styles. What does the future hold for these artisans and their distinctive culture?

copyright DSBalete/Field Museum

What region and town are the basket weavers you’ve visited and collaborated with in the Philippines from?

These weavers were from Barling, an upland municipality on the slope of Mt. Amuyao, Mountain Province, in the Central Cordillera mountain of Luzon. Barlig is especially famous for its basket weaving.

What has your experience been living with these people while you are on research?

They stayed with us in camp as guides, camp cook, or porters. Back in their villages they were farmers, hunters, and ironsmiths. While in camp with us, after things have settled down for the day, the men would sometime weave something- handle for tin cups, woven design on a walking stick or bolo handle-from rattan they’ve gathered while we were in the nearby forest.

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copyright DSBalete/Field Museum

You told me due to the tough nature of the rattan fiber, the men are the basket weavers. Have you seen this any place else?


Yes, mainly in the Cordilleras (Kalinga and Benguet, for instance), where basket weaving (rattan, bamboos, and forest vines) is still prevalent and somehow closely tied to planting, harvest, storage and transport of agricultural products. Though basket weaving is still widespread all over the Philippines, especially among the indigenous peoples in Mindanao and Palawan, I don’t know how much participation there is among the men in those societies.

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copyright DSBalete/Field Museum

What are the implications for other gendered labor in this region? Do women do anything that isn’t gender predictable?  Are there other surprising aspects to their interactions?


Barlig still retains a very egalitarian traditional society common in the Crodilleras and women have prominent roles in society in general. Overall, I do sense some level of division of labor along gender lines, but otherwise there’s much shared labor on their main livelihood, which is rice agriculture. For instance textile weaving (backstrap and loom) is primarily a female activity in the Cordilleras, hunting and basket weaving are predominantly male domain, but most of the activities associated with rice agriculture-planting and harvesting rice- are participated in by both sexes largely equally.

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copyright DSBalete/Field Museum

How did you decide to ask them to make some items for you?  Did they describe the meaning of the lizards they chose for the pattern?


During my first visit to the area in 2006, to negotiate a permit from the tribe to allow us to survey small mammals on the mountain near their village, Mt. Amuyao, our guide was sporting a small, finely woven rectangular rattan basket that turned out to be his cellphone case. I was struck the quality of the workmanship and its very elegant but very subtle geometric design. You have to look at it very closely to actually see the design. Clearly a work of a master weaver. It turned out our guide himself wove the cellphone case, and he told me that mostly men do the basket weaving. When he told me that he can weave me a case for my cellphone, we struck a deal.   When we returned to do the survey the following year, the men who stayed with us were weavers and we placed an order for several items, including a couple of backpacks and a laptop case, from several of the men. On my next visit a couple of year later to finish the survey, I have a case made for my cellphone that I showed you. The lizard is a common animal motif in their weaving, basketry and tattoing. Apparently it is a good luck symbol (traditionally associated with head-hunting, when the practice was prevalent prior to the arrival of the Spaniards in the Philippines during the 16th century).

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copyright DSBalete/Field Museum

I really liked what you had to say about these items being created on an as-needed basis for the local culture.  Of course, this is exactly how village life works, and it really helps me understand that micro-industry initiatives try to overlay a capitalist economic system on an agrarian, traditional society—with mixed results in my experience.  Do you think these handicrafts will be preserved in this community? What opportunities do these cultures have to preserve their traditions? What do you think the future holds for them?

Clearly, basket weaving is a very specialized craft – accumulated knowledge over time of the type and quality of materials needed, seasonality and availability of the various materials, the shape and types of weaves, various design elements, symbolism of designs, etc.  Having the men with us in camp enabled me to see the willingness and readiness of the older men or more experienced weavers to teach the younger men the tips and techniques of certain weaves, for instance. I am hopeful that at least in Barlig, there’s a second and third generations of weavers learning from their elders. Hopefully, the booming local tourism will provide the continuing demand for certain traditional products, like back packs and baskets, aside from the village-level demand for local use related to the harvest and storage of agricultural products, that would ensure that the knowledge and technology remain actively practiced. After initially witnessing that some of them have already adopted the craft to non-traditional uses (cellphone case) which I encouraged them to do and told them of various other uses of their basket weaving (laptop case, card holder, etc.), I am encouraged to think we’ll continue to enjoy and admire their woven products for years to come.

The [photo below] shows one of our guides.  Notice also his backpack of a different design and a cellphone case hanging from his belt, both woven of rattan.

copyright DSBalete/Field Museum

Post-Partum Document

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Mary Kelly, Post-Partum Document. Fecal stains, feeding chart

I have volumes of writing in me since the adoption of a child. And I don’t feel it is safe to write them yet. Adoptive parents do not have full legal rights until approximately 6 months after placement.  For us, that is November.  I can’t wait, I itch with ideas.

I often say “I’ve learned more in x amount of time than at any other time” about a variety of amazing experiences I’ve had, from teaching, to traveling, and working with people.  I can say that in triplicate now.  Adoption is a profound exercise in love for humanity, thinking of family beyond the boundaries of blood, both with a child, and a large web of people who are connected to that child.  It is a renegotiation with every person in my life.  Rather like my experience during illness, I would say it is for the best, as most have opened their hearts and minds to what adoption means for us, and for them. Those that haven’t help me refine my thoughts on what this means to every aspect of my life.

What is family? In the culture I was raised in, we say what we mean. We are not for platitudes, or words we can’t follow through on. You finish what you start, you live by your word. “Family” is serious business. (This was hugely stressful as a child, but a great lesson for adult life.) Perhaps this is why the Balkans appeal to me so much: it is a team of loyal-to-the-end types, who say what’s on their mind just like my colleagues in the NYC not for profit sector! My “nuclear family” is at its best inside a huge extended family held together by friendship, not blood. We want those intense ties to protect us from so many things: being hurt, left alone, betrayed. We want them to be certain. Nothing is, of course—what is certain is that the more you open yourself to the world, the more love, loyalty and affection you open yourself to. In my life, it has been worth the risk and failure at times. And yes, I’ve failed miserably.

At our well-baby visit, the doctor (female) asked me to fill out a post-partum depression survey. It opened up some interesting conversations with her—I’m an adoptive parent. Though she was still concerned (after all, parenting isn’t just about hormones,) I replied that I thought they should reconsider this test for any primary caregiver, regardless of gender (which in our case, would mean both my partner and I should get the test.)  She liked that idea, it was clearly a first anyone had brought it up.

Here is the test. I’ll play with it in November. Suffice it to say for now I don’t have anything that looks like post-partum depression. Thank you, Kitty Hubbard, for always helping me think through the most profound things with humor.

Biology, of course, is not the only thing that binds us.

There are a wide range of emotional reactions following the birth of a baby, including “baby blues” and “postpartum depression.” Your answers to these assessments will help us assess your risk for postpartum depression and find out if you need additional help.

To determine your risk for postpartum depression, answer yes or no to the following questions, then discuss with your health care provider.

  1. My parents or siblings have a history of depression, anxiety or mental health issues.
  2. During the past year, I have experienced a lot of negative stress and change (example: loss of job, loss of loved one, undesired move, etc.)
  3. This was a very difficult pregnancy for me emotionally and/or physically.
  4. This was a very difficult birth for me emotionally and/or physically.
  5. I have a history of an emotional problem (depression, anxiety, abuse, eating disorder, etc.) that was not related to childbirth that may have been treated with counseling or medicine.
  6. I had depression or anxiety in the weeks/months following the birth of another child or pregnancy loss.
  7. I have taken medication for depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder during the past year.
  8. I often feel emotionally unsupported by those around me.
  9. I had depression and/or anxiety during this pregnancy.
  10. I am currently having difficulty with depression, anxiety, anger or frightening thoughts. I look happier on the outside than I feel on the inside.
  11. I have thoughts of hurting myself and/or my baby, and am afraid that if I tell someone how I feel they will not understand.
  12. My baby is in the Neonatal ICU.
  13. I have delivered a multiple birth.

Are You Experiencing Postpartum Depression?

Using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) below, please circle the answer that best describes how you have felt over the past seven days.

  1. I have been able to laugh and see the funny side of things
    0 = As much as I always could
    1 = Not quite so much now
    2 = Definitely not so much now
    3 = Not at all
  2. I have looked forward with enjoyment to things
    0 = As much as I ever did
    1 = Rather less than I used to
    2 = Definitely less than I used to
    3 = Hardly at all
  3. I have blamed myself unnecessarily when things went wrong.
    3 = Yes, most of the time
    2 = Yes, some of the time
    1 = Not very often
    0 = No, never
  4. I have been anxious or worried for no good reason.
    0 = No, not at all
    1 = Hardly ever
    2 = Yes, sometimes
    3 = Yes, very often
  5. I have felt scared or panicky for no very good reason.
    3 = Yes, quite a lot
    2 = Yes, sometimes
    1 = No, not much
    0 = No, not at all
  6. Things have been getting on top of me.
    3 = Yes, most of the time I have not been able to cope at all
    2 = Yes, sometimes I haven’t been coping as well as usual
    1 = No, most of the time I have coped quite well
    0 = No, I have been coping as well as ever
  7. I have been so unhappy that I have had difficulty sleeping.
    3 = Yes, most of the time
    2 = Yes, sometimes
    1 = Not very often
    0 = No, not at all
  8. I have felt sad or miserable.
    3 = Yes, most of the time
    2 = Yes, quite often
    1 = Not very often
    0 = No, not at all
  9. I have been so unhappy that I have been crying.
    3 = Yes, most of the time
    2 = Yes, quite often
    1 = Only occasionally
    0 = No, never
  10. The thought of harming myself has occurred to me.
    3 = Yes, quite often
    2 = Sometimes
    1 = Hardly ever
    0 = Never

If your total score is 12 or higher, contact your health care provider. If less than 12, you may repeat weekly to track your scores.

Feminist Parking Lot: UIC Free School Reading List

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A collaboration with artist, Maggie Puckett exploring the relationship of radical craft and hand papermaking inspired by the legacy of the Jane Addams Hull House. Seeds InService Blog

Adamson, Glenn. The Craft Reader. Oxford: Berg Publishers, 2010. Print.

Addams, Jane. Twenty Years at Hull House, with Autobiographical Notes. Champaign, Ill: Project Gutenberg, 1990. Internet resource.

Addams, Jane. A New Conscience and an Ancient Evil. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002. Internet resource.

Addams, Jane. The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1909. Print.

Koplos, Janet, and Bruce Metcalf. Makers: A History of American Studio Craft. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010. Print.

Levine, Faythe, and Cortney Heimerl. Handmade Nation: The Rise of Diy, Art, Craft, and Design. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2008. Print.

Linton, Meg, Sue Maberry, and Elizabeth Pulsinelli. Doin’itin Public: Feminism and Art at the Woman’s Building. Los Angeles, CA: Ben Maltz Gallery, Otis College of Art and Design, 2011. Print.

Starr, Ellen G, Mary J. Deegan, and Ana-Maria Wahl. On Art, Labor, and Religion. New Brunswick, USA: Transaction Publishers, 2003. Print.

The story of The Dinner Party acquisition at the Sackler Center, Brooklyn Museum: http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/eascfa/dinner_party/womens_work.php

Dorothy Iannone

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Dorothy Iannone, On And On (1979) © Dorothy Iannone


In the new issue of Flash Art: “For Iannone…so respectfully counter to the normal authoritative, self–aggrandizing and pseudo–cerebral voice that still dominates artistic discourse today, is also that which probably sidelined the artist for so many decades.” —Karen Archey

Oh, groan…I look forward to the day that women can be totally authoritative, “self-aggrandizing,” and “pseudo-cerebral,” just like their male counterparts.  Until then, I’ll tolerate the gender-qualified discourse around her work to say that you need to know this woman. She’s daring, original, and fresh, and interprets the pornographic perception of women in a gender-bending, woman-positive way.

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Dorothy Iannone, She Didn’t Look Back, 1972

Born in Massachussetts in 1933, her erotic images, which are based on Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian ecstatic traditions, have been censored throughout the decades. Iannone said her art was ridiculed by the art world. Of course it was, it turned the male-dominated pornographic gaze evident in all power dynamics—from the boardroom, to the bedroom—on its head (pun intended.)

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Dorothy Iannone, Look at Me, 1970–1971

Unfortunately, her wiki page has a whole section on her love affair with Dieter Roth. Just for some classic sexist comparison, Jackson Pollock's doesn't have a Lee Krasner section heading. Such is the life of a woman making blatant work about sexual fulfillment. Tell me, what would the new fuckable fleshlight ipad case look like with a fresh focus?

Craft and Custom House: Sex and Hand Labor

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Burden basket in the Field Museum collection, Ilongot people of the Philippines Luzon area

What do handicrafts and sex work have to do with one another? In Jane Addams’ social reform theories, they are intimately connected, even if not stated so directly.

At the turn of the 20th Century Chicago, immigrants and small towners left their traditional societies in droves for the big cities, the new main hubs for employment. (Today, traditional societies are experiencing the same tug of war, as more than 50% of the human population relocates to overflowing urban centers.) The confluence of Chicago World’s Fair and large-scale industries like slaughterhouses seeded a sin city to rival New York’s Five Points running miles north to south along Dearborn and State Streets.

Jane Addams spoke in Labor Museum at Hull House about these new workers: “…they are delayed by long hours of work or by “overtime” which may make attendance on a given evening utterly out of the question, by family cares, a delayed supper, a sick child, the necessity for shopping in the evening; and last, they are often waylaid by an irresistible desire for recreation and distraction which is almost the inevitable reaction from the long hours of dull factory work.” A hundred years later, contemporary theories echo this sentiment.

Even though it was often miserable, women sought work, too. Just as men did, they came to the city to make earnings that weren’t possible in their hometowns and villages.  Failing farms and family illness drove them to work on behalf of their families. When the arrived to the cities, their options, of course, were limited. They could do domestic work—always undervalued in a capitalist society—like dressmaking, and cleaning. They could also do factory work, but at a much reduced rate, and they were attacked for taking limited jobs from men. 

They were susceptible to people like Madam Mary Hastings, a famous Custom House Place brothel owner, who promised high paying jobs for girls 13 - 17 from neighboring cities. These girls ended up in brothels against their will, both physically detained in establishments with names like Bucket of Blood, and by circumstance, as there was little chance to change paths after a career in prostitution.

Even the Everleigh sisters, who revolutionized brothels with a club that offered health care and exotic language training to their “butterflies” understood their workers came to them from less-than-ideal scenarios. “Pragmatism, not adventure” was how they described the choices of their girls.

In White Slave Crusades: Race, Gender and Anti-Vice Activism, Jane Addams offers unique and radical perspective on the anti-vice movement. Unlike her contemporaries in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and writers like Samuel Paynter Wilson, she was steadfastly against the racial designation of “white slavery” perpetrators. She instead focused on individual women’s stories who had gone or fallen into sex work. Coercion was a social reality, perpetrated by an entire system, not just letches at Dearborn Station (though it should be noted, again, there is ample documentation that women were forced and coerced into the sex trade, especially in the lower-end vice districts of Chicago.)

It was in the same vice district—up and down Polk Street—that Addams inventoried handicrafts of the new Americans, from Bohemian textiles, to Italian leather crafts. She wrote about them in Twenty Years at Hull House. The denial of hand work and of pride in production and nationality, she believed, led to social alienation and even violence. It is in this document she mentions the Filipino baskets from the Field Museum on display in her Hull House Labor Museum. Though in 1920, there were only 154 counted Filipino immigrants to Chicago, Addams opposed the occupation of the Philippines by the U.S. Perhaps this explains her interest in Filipino handicrafts. Though the Field Museum does not have further information on this possibility, the 10,000 Kwentos community co-curation project perhaps one day will reveal these mysteries.

Addams believed equality could be achieved with a more human approach to labor and community, whether for factory workers separated from their homelands, or women who ended up in sex work. Generations later, she would be invoked in the “equal pay for equal work,” “sex work is work,” and “housework is work” feminist debates, all of which continue to oppose the capitalist patriarchy and its devaluation of non-industrial labors. 

Bread and Feminism

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Temple Stream Bakery in Maine, where interviewee, Jabari Jones is now the head baker. Looks like paradise to me.

One of the joys of getting older is thinking back through the people you knew at pivotal moments in your life. Recently, an old colleague and student from Rutgers, Jabari Jones wrote some very smart feedback about class, capital and feminism on my Facebook page in response to a Gender Assignment post. Both of us have a long time interest in art and its intersection with politics. After we graduated from Mason Gross School of the Arts, I left for New York, and he fell in love with Bread and Puppet Theater.  This summer, he moved to Maine to take a job at a bakery—which looks a bit like heaven on earth.  Just like homemade bread and a great political discussion.

Regarding your comments on my blog post about sex work as work, how did you find out about the Wages for Housework movement?  How does it fit into your personal politics?
I found out about Wages for Housework (WfH) when I heard Selma James speak on KPFA, a radio station in the SF bay area and part of the Pacifica Network, on my favorite program called Letters and Politics.  I picked up her book, Sex, Race, and Class, to read about this movement and theory more in-depth.  I also met James in person in Oakland at the Free School and listened to her talk about many things, including intersectionality and sustainable activism (I think she’s in her 70s or 80s, and still fighting!)  I heard Silvia Federici speak separately on the same program.  Besides wanting an end to white capitalist imperialist patriarchy in general, I align with the revolutionary perspective of WfH because I want to confront those gender roles that capital has assigned to me, and make conscious the unconscious consent that I give to capital.  To make oppression conscious and vulnerable to critique through the lens of feminism, one of many lenses.  To determine for myself who I am and my role in the world and in relations with other people.  To unveil, address, analyse and attack the devaluation of my/our work and my/our lives.

I understand Federici’s groundbreaking essay, Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle was taken from the book title, Woman at Point Zero, by Nawal El Saadawi.  This is a complicated story of female oppression, labor, and freedom.  What do you see as the connection between these two important texts?
I haven’t read Woman at Point Zero, yet.  From the description, and what little I’ve read so far of Revolution at Point Zero, I see common attack on the official definition of work and the wage that legitimizes it, the connection between money-power and oppression, the gendered violence of capitalism, and the power of radical refusal to play by the rules of a system in which one cannot possibly win.  This last point reminds me of a text which I have read thoroughly, the graphic novel V for Vendetta by Alan Moore (way better than the movie, by the way.)  

In V for Vendetta, the character named Evey, a young woman in post-nuclear war England under a fascist dictatorship, turns to prostitution to make ends meet.  On her first night out, she propositions an undercover agent of the secret police and is busted.  The agent’s cohorts come from the shadows and let her know that she’s going to be gang raped and made to disappear, and that they’ll get away with it.  She is rescued by V, the anti-hero protagonist, who kills several agents in the process.  Later on, because she abhors V’s violent tactics, she decides to leave his hideout and try to survive in the world again.  She finds a flat with a sympathetic male friend, they fall in love.  He is killed by criminals and she’s on the run for her life when she’s seemingly arrested by the police and blacks out.  When she regains consciousness, she’s in what appears to be a prison.  The authorities tell her she’s being charged with crimes and must sign a confession.  Her head is shaved, she is dressed in rags, interrogated again and again, made to sleep on the bare concrete floor, barely fed enough to live, head dunked in a bucket of water, everything to break her spirit.  A prisoner who used to be in her cell hid notes written on toilet paper in a secret crevice, a woman who was arrested by the fascists for being a lesbian. 

Evey discovers the note, reading it when the guards aren’t watching.  The note tells the woman’s life story, a story of resistance, of saying ‘no’ even if it means certain death and facing death with dignity.  This memoir touches Evey’s heart in the depths of despair.  After what seems like months of solitary confinement, Evey’s given one last chance to sign the confession, and her answer is ‘no’.  She’s told she will be executed, and is led out of the room.  Then she’s suddenly alone, the guard has disappeared.  The door to the prison is open and she walks through it.  To her astonishment, she’s back in V’s hideout.  It was all a ruse.  V leads her to the roof.  She’s overwhelmed with emotions of relief, rage, shame, betrayal… and something else that feels like a part of her (the slave) is dying.  She has an epiphany in the open air and cool rain, her social conditioning has been irrevocably broken.  She is free.  When faced with what she thought was certain death, she found something more important than survival, something that her oppressors had no power to take from her or make her give up against her will.

This story had a big effect on me.  At a younger age, I could feel society press on me from all sides (and from within) like an oppressive air, and even if I couldn’t identify and name that oppression I read this story and felt that my oppression was bound up with the oppression of women.  I’ve also felt that my liberation is largely bound up with the liberation of women.  It’s for this reason that I’ve sought out texts like Revolution at Point Zero and Woman at Point Zero to help me articulate these feelings.  To detonate the internalized heterosexist, racist, classist 

There is an incredible line in Federici’s text, Wages Against Housework that women are “housemaids, prostitutes, muses, shrinks.” What are your thoughts on the way these unpaid labors and the exploitation of female sexuality uphold the capital system?Woman at Point Zero, a “creative non-fiction” novel by Nawal El Saadawi, a native Egyptian and psychiatrist, is the retelling of the life story of Firdaus, a woman imprisoned and condemned to death in Egypt.  Explicitly, Firdaus was found guilty of the crime of murder.  Implicitly, she was condemned to death for the crime of knowing the truth about society and the men who run it, a crime more terrible in its implications than murder.  For it is the power of her self-identification, of her fearlessness, of her unbreaking condemnation of and infernal contempt for men, of her ability to look them in the eye with the full knowledge of the secret of their power, it is this which strikes terror into the hearts of men.  Her whole life, Firdaus was neglected, brutalized, exploited, defined, objectified, and underestimated by men. Finding marriage (at the age of nineteen, as arranged by her uncle) to an old, violent man unbearable, and with jobs difficult to find, she found shelter with a woman who turne her to prostitution, and taught her many things about herself.

As a prostitute, she learned that men would pay a high price if she thought she was worth it.  When she said no, they wanted her more and would pay anything.  After a while she left to escape a man who wanted to take her away and be her pimp.  She became a prostitute on her own, demanding her own price and became very successful and sought after.  She asked herself:  ”How many were the years of my life that went by before my body, and my self became really mine, to do with them as I wished?”  She had her own money and place to live for the first time in her life, and time to read and spend as she wished.  An experience with a client shook her confidence, and she redoubled her efforts to find a ‘respectable’ job.  

Firdaus found a job as a low-level official, earning alot less than she did as a prostitute.  In the company, she confronted another form of prostitution in the way female employees are treated by male executives and higher officials.  She explained:  ”Every time one of the directors made me a proposition, I would say to him, ‘It’s not that I value my honour and my reputation more than the other girls, but my price is much higher than theirs.’… I came to realize that a female employee is more afraid of losing her job than a prostitute is of losing her life… I now knew that all of us were prostitutes who sold themselves at varying prices, and that an expensive prostitute was better than a cheap one.”  She fell in love with a man, a revolutionary workers’ leader, who eventually left her to marry the boss’ daughter.  Her world was shattered, and the last bits of wool were pulled from her eyes, more of the dangerous truth was revealed:  ”The time had come for me to shed the last grain of virtue… Now I was aware of the reality, of the truth…. A successful prostitute was better than a misled saint.  All women are victims of deception.  Men impose deception on women and punish them for being deceived…. Now I realized that the least deluded of all women was the prostitute.  That marriage was the system built on the most cruel suffering for women.”  She has reached a point of full self-realization, of self-empowerment, of self-identification: “I hope for nothing… I want for nothing…. I fear nothing… I am free.”  She had no illusions left to lose, and held her head higher than ever.  She became a woman at point zero.

And she now understood the terrific truth of why men would pay any price for her services:  ”A man cannot stand being rejected by a woman, because deep down inside he feels a rejection of himself.  No one can stand this double rejection.”  And why women undervalued themselves:  ”I knew that my profession had been invented by men… That men force women to sell their bodies at a price, and that the lowest paid body is that of a wife.” Federici, through a feminist Marxist lens, applies this truth to reality through the Wages for Housework campaign which asks houseworkers (who by cultural default are women) and asks women (who by cultural default are houseworkers) to self-identify as houseworkers, even if they’re not married or explicitly performing that function, but rather to recognize that it is the function that patriarchical capitalist society expects and demands of women;  to demystify the wage so that housework can be classified as unwaged work;  to demand wages for unwaged work done largely by women;  then to refuse to work.  In essence, Federici wants women to realize what Firdaus understood about the power of self-identification, self-value, and the refusal to work to reshape how we define and value our own lives, and to challenge the terms of daily life that are dictated by capitalist demands and needs.  Firdaus was of ‘low’ birth, yet she harnessed the power of self-identification and had princes and top officials at her feet.  I think that Federici felt a solidarity with Firdaus, and saw a great lesson for revolutionary struggle in how she chose to live her life on her terms up until the very moment of her death.

I’m haunted that she talks about the relationship between the need for workers and contraception wars.  It’s a bit different today, but I wrote on Gender Assignment http://genderassignment.tumblr.com/post/79762643761/gender-assignment-does-your-homework-the-gender-gap about the Gender Gap World Economic Forum.  It was so obvious to me the study and movement is not about feminism, or female liberation, rather assuring a capital labor force. What are your thoughts on that?
I think there’s no question that it’s about assuring a capital labor force through the control of women’s reproductive capacity.  The World Economic Forum’s Our Members description makes it pretty clear where they’re coming from:  “The World Economic Forum is a membership organization. Our Members comprise 1,000 of the world’s top corporations, global enterprises usually with more than US$ 5 billion in turnover.  These enterprises rank among the top companies within their industry and play a leading role in shaping the future of their industry and region. Some of our Member companies join the Forum’s Strategic and Industry Partnership communities, which are designed to deepen their engagement with the Forum’s events, project and initiatives. The Forum’s Members are at the heart of all our activities.”  The primary objective of these multi-billion dollar corporations is to make more and more money, quarter after quarter.  At the global scale, capitalism isn’t merely concerned with production and consumption, but re-production.  And it’s not just about securing a healthy stock of breeders and caregivers, but also reliable ‘leadership’- meaning, women in elite circles who exercise power.  Federici: “…wages for housework will be much more educational than trying to prove that we can work as well as [men], that we can do the same jobs.  We leave this worthwhile effort to the “career woman,” the woman who escapes from her oppression not through the power of unity and struggle, but through the power of the master, the power to oppress- usually other women.”  ‘Closing the gender gap,’ from the mouth of Capital, isn’t about how to liberate women but how to further naturalize, modernize and systematize their exploitation in the service of bosses and stockholders.  Their social mission is focused on how to bring society more in line with capitalist demands.  Not content to control the education, nutrition and means of exploitation of labor, the world’s top corporations want to control labor at the point of re-production:  women.  On the regional level, this imperative manifests as the war over gender roles, reproductive health rights, voting rights, and even civil rights when it comes to gender-based violence.  This is because the State, unlike Capital, is territorial in nature.  Capital utilizes the State in order to extract what ever resources it needs from territories and to legitimize that extraction.

The whole neocolonial program of ‘free trade’ agreements and IMF structural adjustment programs is dedicated to the unfettered freedom of capital to flow where it pleases, like a tsunami, which means vulnerability and disaster for whole populations.  The program depends on the colonization of women’s reproductive power (and politics!) to daily underpin and reproduce the conditions of our collective servitude in a permanent survival economy.  The function of the State is to control and deploy women to do their patriotic duty and produce (or not) children on demand ‘for the Fatherland’.  This is why when the WEF says it wants to promote reproductive freedom, it really means it wants to control reproductive work.  ‘Freedom’ is ‘work’.  “Arbeit macht frei.”  This is why women are under attack globally, to keep them off balance, terrorized, and exhausted lest they realize their revolutionary potential.

I was also haunted by this quote: “We want and have to say that we are all housewives, we are all prostitutes and we are all gay, because until we recognise our slavery we cannot recognise our struggle against it, because as long as we think we are something better, something different than a housewife, we accept the logic of the master, which is a logic of division, and for us the logic of slavery. We are all housewives because no matter where we are they can always count on more work from us, more fear on our side to put forward our demands, and less pressure on them for money, since hopefully our minds are directed elsewhere, to that man in our present or our future who will “take care of us”. What do you think she’s implying about queer culture? About slavery? Are these valuable positions or nomenclatures, or has the debate shifted?
In The Revolution of Everyday Life, Raoul Vaneigem asked, ” What are roles?  Stereotypes are the dominant images of a period, the images of the dominant spectacle….The role is a model form of behavior…. Skill in playing and handling roles determines rank in the spectacular hierarchy… Access to the role occurs by means of identification… The need to identify is more important to Power’s stability than the models identified with.”  I think that Federici is implying that queer culture, prostitutes, housewives are ‘the other’ which ‘the master’ uses to divide women against each other, making it easier to impose roles and exploit women in those roles.  She’s implying that the social safety of acceptance represented by “that man in our present or our future”, as opposed to “the possible price of isolation and exclusion” paid by “gay relations”, and the pressure to have children, are all pressed upon women, particularly single women, who are “afraid of the perspective of wages for housework because they are afraid of identifying even for a second with the housewife… This is precisely our weakness, as our enslavement is maintained and perpetuated through this lack of self-identification.”  When people self-identify, it acts as a buffer against attempts by others to impose identities.  I think that Federici is encouraging women to self-identify with ‘the other’, the housewife, that most powerless of social positions, the position in society that is tied most strongly to femininity and women’s oppression.  One cannot be free if one is a slave yet doesn’t recognize it.  The abolitionist Harriet Tubman once said, “I freed a thousand slaves.  I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.”  To not identify with ‘the other’ is to identify with ‘the master’ or according to roles that are defined by ‘the master’, the definition of slavery.  The slave, the immigrant, the housewife, the queer and the housewife have a common enemy, so it is a key tactic of ‘the master’ to divide and conquer these potential allies.

I think the debate is always shifting, because capital is always shifting and hegemonic.  It all depends on which identities and roles are under capital’s growing influence.  When talk show hosts can be openly gay and sell clothes and cosmetics for major retailers and manufacturers, you know the jig is up.  When NFL football players can be openly gay, and then the NFL threatens to pull business out of states that threaten to pass discriminatory legislation, and the state rescinds its process, you know that “equality” is now big business.  I think when transgender people are glamorized on the cover of TIME, it signifies that the eye of capital has turned toward a new, exploitable market.  This glamorization is meant to turn our attention towards something that is being accepted and brought into the fold of exploitable objects, and away from other things or people that are targeted for demonization.  I think today Federici might say “we are all Mexicans, we are all muslims, we are all Afghanis and Iraqis and Syrians, we are all Brazilians and Ukranians.”  To turn away from these persecuted peoples, these potential allies with a common enemy, our enemy, is to be a slave and a tacit supporter of their persecution, immiseration, and destruction.  We may survive today, but what happens to them today will happen to us tomorrow.

And finally, what do you think are the most pressing issues today for female liberation?
The same issues as yesterday: white capitalist imperialist patriarchy.  Except today it takes the form of and ‘Hillary 2016’ (it also looks like #BringBackOurGirls’, but much has already been said about how public outrage and call for action in Nigeria will only legitimize U.S. military presence already in the region by giving it a ‘feminist’ disguise).  Most people of color, and white liberals/progressives who voted for Obama really wanted him to be something other than what he actually is: a Clintonian neoliberal.  And what has been done for the people who voted for him or hoped for change?  Under his watch, they have been deported and incarcerated in record numbers. They have quietly slipped off of the official unemployment numbers because they’ve given up searching for jobs that don’t exist or don’t provide a living wage.  They have watched him do the bidding of Wall Street while selling out Main Street.  They have watched him sign a new health care insurance system into law, only to leave a public option for universal health care off the table, effectively delivering more people into the greasy hands of powerful insurance companies who will no doubt use their cash to dismantle barriers to future profits.  They have witnessed Bush-era torture, indefinite detention, and extra-judicial killing continue.  They have watched him hunt whistle-blowers and classify government documents on an unprecedented scale.  They’ve pressed their ears to the walls while he has negotiated the TPP behind closed doors with representatives of global capital.  The remnants of the working and middle class have listened to the great sucking sound as jobs, credit, the future have been extracted from the economy by transnational capital and parked off-shore in tax havens.  They’ve watched him accept the Nobel Peace Prize, and then escalate the war in Afghanistan.  And on an on.  Is this what people hoped for in 2008 and 2012?  And what do people, particularly feminists, hope for with a Hillary Clinton presidency?

In 2008, I voted for Green Party candidates Cynthia McKinney for President, Rosa Clemente for Vice President.  In 2012, I voted for Green Party candidates Jill Stein for President, Cheri Honkala for VP.  When I could have voted for the first (and possibly last) black President in American history, I voted for women instead.  They stood for things I really wanted to see change in this country, and I knew that, unlike the Democratic and Republican parties, the Greens were not in the pocket of the 1%.  Eugene V. Debs (who once ran as a Socialist party candidate for President, from prison!) once said, “You can vote for what you want and not get it, or vote for what you don’t want and get it.”  Given the history of this country, and given the power of the bankers and Fortune 500, given that our country is governed not by ‘majoritarian electoral democracy’ and ‘majoritarian pluralism’ but rather by ‘economic elite domination’ and ‘biased pluralism’ (see paper “Testing Theories of American Politics” by Gilens and Page), I could not believe that a black man could be endorsed for the top seat of the Executive Branch in America, and NOT be a tool of the 1%.  Only ‘hope’ could convince intelligent people otherwise.  I recognize that there are many reasons why people voted for Obama in either contest, not least of which was to vote someone in who would swing the pendulum back to the left after 8 disasterous years of Bush/Cheney and Co. (preceded by years of Clinton deregulation and pandering to big business.)  But Obama’s 2008 campaign (which won top marketing awards), its “hope” slogan, its iconic almost Socialist Realist imagery, set off red flags for me.  It was Nietzsche who explained that “hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man.”  Barack Obama, firmly back by Wall Street, has prolonged the torments of people of color, the working class, women, the poor.  Hillary Clinton, also firmly backed by the 1%, will prolong the torments further.  The beatings will continue until morale improves, as the old saying goes.  Adjacently, we see the Federal Reserve’s Board of Directors chaired by a woman for the first time, Janet Yellen, who rose through the ranks to do ‘the master’s’ bidding in ‘the master’s’ house.  Is this any surprise?

While I voted against Obama in both elections, I am nevertheless glad that he ran.  Not for the symbolic and historical value of his presence in the White House, but for the way in which his presence has acted as an explosive catalyst or bait for racists and institutionalized racism to come out in the light of day like never before in recent memory.  Before the advent of Obama, the national discourse surrounding race seemed to me to slouch into academic distance or minstrelsy in sensationalized mass media.  Today, race and economic inequality are taken more seriously at the forefront of national consciousness.  Sexism and misogyny are catching up and converging, making a visibility of ‘intersectionality’ almost inevitable.  I will not vote for Hillary Clinton, but I do hope she runs.  It will draw out the misogynists and gynocidal parasites from the woodwork in all their crazy glory.  Master Sun-Tzu says, in The Art of War: “The warrior skilled at stirring the enemy provides a visible form, and the enemy is sure to come.  He proffers the bait, and the enemy is sure to take it.  He causes the enemy to make a move and awaits him with full force.”  Should we feel sorry for Obama, taking the brunt of relentless racist attacks?  No.  He ran for this office.  He was supported by Wall Street, one of the most racist institutions in America.  President Obama represents not the collapse or transcendence of racism, but on the contrary racism in its most advanced form.  A President Hillary Clinton will represent no less than the most advanced and sophisticated attack against women.  The temptation, as it was for progressives with Obama, will be to leave the streets and wait to see what Hillary will do once in office.  Feminists must not wait, they must own the streets and fight on their terms.

I think that feminists must abandon all “hope”, advance revolutionary perspectives such as WfH, attack on all fronts, and fight to win by any means necessary.  We must fight for more than survival, we must win our lives back.  We must seize and use the frameworks of language that define the world, which the Right has been using very effectively, and hit them hard.  We must not cooperate in our own destruction.  We are all the woman at point zero.

I’m going to finish reading Federici’s book, then read Woman at Point Zero.  Other books on my reading list in this vein:

Sex, Race, and Class by Selma James

Women, Race & Class by Angela Y. Davis

The Next American Revolution by Grace Lee Boggs

Feminism Without Borders by Chandra Talpade Mohanty

Caliban and the Witch by Silvia Federici

In Letters of Blood and Fire by George Caffentzis (who happens to be Federici’s partner and collaborator)

The Creation of Patriarchy by Gerda Lerner

King Kong Theory by Virginie Despentes (worth a re-read)

Baise-Moi by Virginie Despentes

The Means of Reproduction by Michelle Goldberg

On Lies, Secrets, and Silence by Adrienne Rich

Pornography and Silence by Susan Griffin

Fatale by Jean-Patrick Manchette

The Art of War by Sun-Tzu

Jabari S. Jones (b. 1975 in New Jersey) is kind of a jack-of-all-trades.  He graduated from Rutgers University, Mason Gross School of the Arts with a BFA in Printmaking.  He’s been a substitute teacher, door-to-door canvasser, art teacher, boy scout camp counselor, barista poet, radical puppeteer, worker-cooperative business owner, massage therapist and letterpress artist.  From 2008-2013, he lived in Oakland, CA, and was a baker and worker-coop owner at Arizmendi Bakery & Pizzeria in Emeryville, CA.  In May of 2014, he moved cross-country to small-town Temple, ME, to be head baker at a yet-to-be-named bakery with a wood-fired oven.  He writes and posts at templestreambakery.blogspot.com.

Yes, All Men and Goodnight, Dr. Bem

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The first image that appears on a google search for “male feminist”

"You are pretty cool except for your radical feminist ideas."

This was a quote in my high school yearbook from one of our class clowns, a man, like most in my high school, who was actively not a feminist. It was a daily battle of wills, crushing comments, physical and psychological rejections, sexual affronts. It was having “cunt!” screamed at me by a boyfriend, it was a high school counselor telling me women don’t excel at the sciences, so I should try something else. It was prom, when my date told me he was happy he invited me until I wore glasses the next day, which made me look smart, not sexy. It was the girls who made fun of boys who gave women oral sex, but never considered the double standard. It was illegal pornography with images of young girls in the mattresses of people I knew—how does that even get into print? The constant reminder that a woman was to be acted upon, but only if she was pretty enough. Rape was a woman’s problem: she “asked for it,” “put herself in a bad situation,” “didn’t use her head.” And having anything—anything at all—to say about this meant I was a rabid feminist. 

I wish I’d been more feminist.  But I was good enough for a 15 year old at Pitman High School: I called out the use of the words “cunt,” “whore,” and “bitch.” I confronted a friend of a friend on his misogynistic language, and he “jokingly” threatened to rape me.  Women were most assuredly on their own in this battle for physical and mental safety.

May I be cautiously optimistic? This week offered a flood of fantastic pro-woman columns, written by men. The charge: feminism is men’s work.  A woman can fight abuse. Men can actually stop the abuse.  Such a simple concept. 

A selection of pro-feminist writings by men my dear friends, family and colleagues sent me this week:

Yes, the scene in Sixteen Candles was rape

Men can and should be feminist, too

Maintaining the status quo with mansplaining

But you know how I will know things have really changed? When the feminists who have been saying exactly this for more than 40 years not only get the credit they deserve, but are proudly cited by these male writers as necessary material in the fight against sexism. We need men to step up. As the new mother of a son, I look to men to make this conversation a reality.

In addition, I respectfully request mention of Shulamith Firestone, Angela Davis, Andrea Dworkin, Dr. Sandra Bem, Judith Butler, Alice Walker, Michelle Wallace, or Jill Johnston—just to name a few—all of whom suggest that men are going to have to make this freedom from oppression thing happen. When it is cool to talk about women pioneers beyond their fuckability quotient, we may have liftoff.  I no longer feel shunned like Hester Prynne, but it’s a long way from that to t-shirts of Firestone worn like a proud Che Guevara.

I just received news this morning that the brilliant, classy and pioneering Dr. Sandra Bem committed suicide, by plan and choice, to end her battle with Alzheimers. I hope her work will be lauded for the important contributions it made to our evolving concepts of gender as performance, and as a feminist act.

Feminist Culture in Valparaiso, Indiana

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Merrillville, Indiana. It’s not so bad, until you realize there are no sidewalks and no crosswalks. This is where I’ve been camped out for more than a week due to interstate legal regulations pertaining to the recent adoption of a child. Holiday weekend worker slowdown—which started probably last week here in Indiana—made my partner and I realize we better come up with something more interesting than Bridget Jones’ Diary again. Today, we ventured out for sidewalks, and found some in Valparaiso. After a blissful lunch (well, anything would seem blissful after days of Panera and Olive Garden,) I scoped out a rummage sale on the steps of the Valparaiso Women’s Club.

The call of the bric-a-brac took me back to the yard sales of my youth. I wandered the palatial porch and reveled in all the strangeness including a homemade storage box covered with Centennial wallpaper, and two pink recliners (matching.) Inside, I was met by a large posse of club members.

I inquired about the history of the club, and was told to come back for the Popcorn Festival on September 6th, when their porch would be open to the public as a front-seat viewing location. “Popcorn Fest?” I asked. “She’s from Chicago,” one of the members replied.  And so, nestled in the extraordinary history of this radical place, I also got schooled on Orville Redenbacher’s hometown celebration. “You’d be amazed what a stalk of corn turned over sprayed with glitter can do,” said one of the members.

Originally called “The Harriet Beecher Stowe Reading Circle,” the Valparaiso Women’s Club was founded in the winter of 1895 by twenty five charter members. Over time, the reading group expanded their membership and interests, and Mrs. O. P. Kinsey put down the first $100 for a capital campaign to buy a clubhouse for the women. By 1925, they’d raised $30,000, enough to buy the house seen above from the Elks Club. 

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Ridiculed by men and the press, the radical work of these women’s organizations was often discounted. Even today their legacy is poorly recorded. Today, Valparaiso Women’s Club members report the Porter County Museum has a good collection outlining their history—we plan to go there tomorrow.

The women founded five club “departments”: Literature, Art, American Home, American Citizenship, and Garden. Early on, the focus was largely literary and social (though naming the organization for Harriet Beecher Stowe certainly indicates a radical context for the group,) but over time, they became a powerful force in the community. From starting a public library, to paying for young women to attend Valparaiso University, the club invested in the intellectual and feminist growth of the town. Other engagements included civic cleanup initiatives, and even a rest room for women farm workers in the area. Today, they also offer low-cost housing to needy women in the top floors of the club building.


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Membership in 1945

Though today their membership is elderly, it seems to me they have the answer to the suburban sprawls, the sidewalk free zones that stand for absolutely nothing. Hear the call of the tea sandwiches and baked goods! The ethnographically inspired porch sales to support their radical work and Popcorn Festival floats!  It’s no accident the club opened just six years after the Jane Addams Hull House. Armed with a team of women, they could accomplish anything.