Sunday, October 25, 2009

NOW-NYS Annual Convention: "Beyond Empowerment: Living & Surviving in a Sexist World"

Posted by: Amanda

I was very proud to, along with Jerin and a few other members, represent the Young Feminist Task Force at the NOW-NYS Annual Convention today. The convention's special guest speaker was Ellen Snortland, performer, activist, and author of Beauty Bites Beast: Awakening the Warrior Within Women and Girls.

Snortland's talk focused on self-defense and the need to set boundaries in our everyday lives, even (and especially) as young children. In setting boundaries, children gain jurisdiction over their own body and learn what is and isn't appropriate. This reminded me of an essay included in the anthology Yes Means Yes that recommended asking permission for any and all touch; the exercise is meant to bring to light exactly how much touch we receive daily that is unwanted, and helps to give us back control over what happens to our bodies.

Self-defense training is already a staple at NYC private (though not public) schools, and California even has a mandate that schools teach the physical empowerment of girls (one attendee noted how we are not focusing on the right kind of safety in schools - this at least looks like a start in the right direction). This kind of training prepares the body for the adrenaline rush that happens during an attack, which triggers one of three responses: fight, flight, or freeze. The muscle memory that comes with training, she says, can help women fight for their life. Snortland also spoke about how she has trained just about everybody, from the elderly, to the blind, to the physically disabled. And good news! The Center for Anti-Violence Education in Brooklyn offers such classes. Treat yourself to the gift that just may save your life!

Next, our very own Jerin Alam spoke about how feminism needs a marketing makeover - indeed, "feminism" is still a dirty word for many. So just how do we go about doing this? Raise consciousness from the grassroots level up: Network with both older and younger feminists, and especially feminists of other backgrounds. Make friends with unlikely allies - for example, campus safety, or art galleries, who can offer their services to a feminist purpose and help spread the message that, yes, bell hooks, feminism is for everyone. Jerin also stressed the importance of blogging (!) as a way to spread ideas and demythify negative stereotypes. And with all grassroots movements, she urges never be afraid to ask for help. You just may be surprised who is willing to come to your aid.

This year's convention honored two extraordinary women, Noreen Connell and Marilyn Fitterman. Connell spoke about how we're at a critical point in time (and in our economy) where the women's movement could either fade away or could get stronger. She mentioned that we have been so focused against the right wing that we've completely given democrats a pass, and that we need to urge them to step up and speak up for women's issues. She stressed that economic issues are women's issues, and that we need to make sure the government is creating jobs for women in the economic recovery. Fitterman started her speech by holding up Barbara Berg's new book, Sexism in America, and spoke about the recent Maria Shriver comments that we are now in a "woman's nation," reminding us that there is still a ways to go - especially when it comes to issues like domestic violence.

The convention ended with a one-woman play put on my Snortland. I, unfortunately, could not stick around for this part, but I hope that Jerin and the others fill us in on this (surely spectacular) performance. As for now, I'm already excited for next year's convention, which will be held in Albany! Task Force, mark your calendars.

1 comment:

Ellen said...

It was just really great to be around you and Jerin this past weekend.

Warm regards, Ellen