I grew up in an arid climate, where people wasted water to maintain grass in their yards. Because a well-manicured lawn is the hallmark of the middle class—as American as pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.
As someone who grew up in a working class family in a working class neighborhood, I know how important it is to avoid being accused of “letting my yard go”.
Now, I own a house in a city where it rains so much that I find myself empathizing with the wicked witch of the west. Maybe she wasn’t evil. Maybe she just couldn’t take
Now, I find myself defining grass as a weed. According to Good Weed, Bad Weed, a weed is merely a plant out of place. Grass is growing out of control in my vegetable garden.
But, I am having a terrible time digging it up. How can I uproot and discard (in this case, compost) a plant that was coveted during my childhood? Also, I would like to eat the sweet peas that I planted in that garden bed, whose stalks are currently being choked out.
I realized that it is time to shift my entire perspective about my garden. Instead of blindly pulling up the plants I had decided didn’t belong, I looked for a way to balance out the grass and the sweet peas. I am trying to cultivate a different relationship to the land. One in contrast to the American dream of ownership and control; and white picket fences and perfect lawns.
I sometimes joke that I am going to write a book called “The Lazy Gardener.” At my previous house, I built garden plots in my front yard because the backyard was shaded by a large beautiful tree. When it came time to plant, I was often surrounded by neighbor children, begging to help. It seemed way more important to encourage their involvement than to ensure that seeds were planted in neat rows. It was a fantastic opportunity to practice valuing relationships over perfection.
And the plants grew just fine. Because nature knows how to do her thing without us. Which is really the whole point. The less I try to control things, the better.
Despite the increasingly common and severe weather events related to global climate change, many of us are stubbornly clinging to the belief that we can—and should—own and control the land.
That belief and the accompanying behaviors is killing the planet.
This spring, I had one of my classes read the article “Decolonization is not a metaphor.” It was a tough read, but my students engaged with it deeply and openly. The authors challenge the readers to consider what it truly means to decolonize North America. To question the whole system of land ownership.
For anyone raised in a settler colonial nation, it requires us to expand the bounds of our imagination. To consider new ways of being with ourselves, others, and the land.
Perhaps avoiding weeding the garden can be the ultimate act of resistance.
Resistance against the system of capitalism that creates poverty and shames those who live in it.
Resistance against a system of capitalism that encourages us to buy, consume, control, throw away.
Resistance against a system of colonization that says some people get to “own” the land and other people are “illegal.”
Resistance against a system of colonization that encourages people to become disconnected from the land, from each other, from their own bodies.
Adrienne Maree Brown’s book Emergent Strategy teaches us to explore methods of social change informed my processes in nature.
It is poetic and brilliant and inspirational.
One of the principles of emergent strategy is that small is good—small is all. The large scale is a reflection of the small scale. How I treat one blade of grass reflects how I treat all beings in the world.
Imagine what could happen if we all stop weeding our gardens?
Britney G Brinkman, PhD
I have never been a patriotic person.
In high school, my homeroom teacher ignored the fact that I refused to stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance, although I am fairly certain there was an explicit rule stating that I should. He knew me well enough to realize I was genuinely protesting mandated nationalism, not being a teenage rebel.
Times haven’t changed much.
Recently, a Latina high school student in one of my research studies shared a story of her decision to protest anti-immigrant sentiment when she led the school-wide Pledge of Allegiance by ending it with:
Liberty and justice for some
On this 4th of July, many of my friends are asking themselves what to do with the day. They balk at the idea of celebrating a nation that seems so far from their ideals. In Pittsburgh, there are ongoing protests about the shooting--murder--of an unarmed Black 17-year-old boy by a White police officer. We are asking ourselves what we can do to end the separation of families at our borders and how to return thousands of detained children to their families. We fear the erosion of voting rights, reproductive rights, rights for LGBTQ people, the continued destruction of the environment, and so much more with the seemingly inevitable changes to the Supreme Court.
What can we possibly celebrate?
This morning my yoga teacher (a woman of color and immigrant to the US) asked our class, “What does it mean to celebrate Independence and Freedom? Who are you and who do you want to become?”
And I pose the question to all of us,
Who are we as a nation, and who do we want to become?
The problems with the United Stated did not start with the Trump administration, although certainly we must remain vigilant against racist, sexist, homophobic, and classist policies and values that appear to be core to his administration.
But if we genuinely ask ourselves who we are, we must acknowledge that we are a nation founded on state sanctioned violence against black and brown bodies. That the promises of liberty and justice have only ever been available to some.
The United States of America would not exist without slavery.
The United State of America would not exist without genocide of Indigenous peoples.
We are a nation defined by white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism.
It is easy to be disillusioned and discouraged.
But perhaps, celebrating Independence can mean asking ourselves, as a nation, who do we want to become?
Can we become a nation that truly manifests the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for ALL people? Can we become a nation where we celebrate freedom from the prison industrial complex, and the military industrial complex, and state sponsored wealth inequality, and gender inequity, and homophobia, and transphobia, and so much more?
Today, I will spend time with friends and family. Not celebrating a lie, but building community. Fostering the genuine relationships with people who encourage me to work for change, challenge me to do better, and support me when I want to give up. I will spend the day breathing, and resting, and making time to reflect on who I am and who I want to become.
And I will get up tomorrow and continue to fight to build a nation we can believe in. A nation we can celebrate.
Britney G Brinkman, PhD.
Ensuring that schools are safe spaces is essential to enable all students to learn and thrive. We appreciate that school safety and creating a positive and supportive school culture are priorities for Pittsburgh Public Schools. Safety is a top priority for us as well, which led us to engage in listening sessions with girls to hear about their experiences of feeling safe (or not) within school. During these sessions conducted with students from Planned Parenthood and Gwen’s Girls, students shared that they are not safe at school, that sexual and other forms of harassment from classmates, teachers, and staff is a daily occurrence, that this experience is pervasive and severe, and that it is interfering with their ability to thrive. This conduct is common and often unchallenged. Additionally, students involved in the Women and Girls Foundation’s GirlGov program talked with teachers in schools who said they lack sufficient information on how to effectively respond to or report sexual harassment.
Numerous national studies have shown that students, especially girls, experience sexual harassment frequently within their schools. The American Association of University Women study found that of 1,965 students surveyed, 48% of experienced sexual harassment during the 2010-2011 school year. We believe that all schools in Allegheny county can and MUST do better to prevent and respond to sexual harassment. As the #MeToo movement continues to garner national and international attention, we feel this is a crucial time to address sexual harassment and other forms of harassment within Pittsburgh Public Schools.
As the Black Girls Equity Alliance (BGEA)—a coalition comprised of individuals, community-based organizations, universities, and government entities that work with Black girls and acknowledge that their lives and experiences are unique within existing societal constructs—our mission is to eradicate inequities affecting Black girls in Allegheny County. Members working on this topic include representatives from Gwen’s Girls, Planned Parenthood of Western PA, the Women’s Law Project, FISA Foundation, GirlGov, PAAR, YUIR Pittsburgh, other organizations, universities, and government entities. We invite the Pittsburgh Board of Public Education to collaborate with us to eradicate sexual and other forms of harassment within schools that impacts all students, regardless of gender identity.
In particular, we ask that the Pittsburgh Board of Public Education:
Britney G Brinkman, PhD
Amanda Cross, PhD
Elizabeth Miller, MD, PhD
Planned Parenthood of Western PA
Women and Girls Foundation
Pittsburgh Action Against Rape (PAAR)
Women’s Law Project
Sara Goodkind, PhD
American Friends Service Committee PGH
Pittsburgh for CEDAW Coalition
Betty Braxter, PhD
M. Shernell Smith
Azadeh Masalehdan Block, PhD
Education Law Center
Melissa Swauger, PhD
Today I spent about an hour on the phone explaining to my dad why the recent event in the Starbucks in Philadelphia was racist.
If you have not seen the video of two Black men being handcuffed and taken out of a Starbucks because they were waiting for their friend before they bought their drinks—go watch it now. And watch it again.
This has become a bit of a regular occurrence with my dad since he retired. He’ll call me up or we’ll be checking in on life in general when he brings up a current event.
Maybe I should start a blog series called “Conversations with My Father…”
These conversations sometimes end with us agreeing to disagree (although we always try to come back to something positive and an affirmation of our relationship); I frequently find myself flabbergasted and frustrated; we often need to differentiate between “opinions” and “facts.”
Nevertheless, I value these conversations immensely. I know my father cares deeply about what is going on in the world. He is intelligent, and curious, and compassionate. And he is trying to make sense of his own experiences as a working class White man in a country talking about racism. With a wife and daughter whose entire work (and frankly personal) lives revolve around social justice.
What my father wanted to know was why the men didn’t either 1) buy something or 2) leave when asked.
And the thing is, my dad wasn’t asking this in a hypothetical “I can’t imagine ever being asked to leave somewhere” kind of way. In some ways, he can relate to this experience. My father worked for over 40 years for the gas company in Utah, driving a truck around the city to fix people’s furnaces, or shut off the gas in a building on fire, or check on a reported gas leak. He often needed to visit public places to use the restroom or get coffee and warm up between jobs. He and his friends had a few places where they became regulars, because it was easier. Because they got fewer questions. Because they felt welcome.
My dad has been asked to “buy something or leave.” There were places he was not welcome as a customer when he was in his work uniform. His uniform marked his as a blue collar worker and he often got dirty; crawling behind furnaces to make sure families had heat in the winter, and climbing ladders to the top of burning buildings to get to gas valves and prevent an explosion. As a kid, when my dad would meet us somewhere for dinner coming directly from work in his truck he always brought a change of clothes—usually a button up shirt.
To my dad, this is a story about social class. And his take on it was that the men should have done what he often did when questioned. Buy something or leave.
And my dad is not wrong. This is a story about social class. Would this have played out in the same way if the two Black men had been wearing business suits?? Maybe. Maybe not.
While I absolutely REFUSE to play oppression Olympics, I tried to explain to my father that he cannot compare his social context as a working class White man to the context of these two Black men. My father’s White privilege (and mine, and every other White person’s privilege) grants him access to a world where if you follow the rules (e.g. purchase something) then things will generally be pretty fair. At the very least, you are not going to be handcuffed and removed from a Starbucks.
Or arrested for having a broken taillight
Or suspended from school for being “defiant.”
Or followed around a store.
Or stopped and frisked.
Or shot and killed by a police officer during a traffic stop.
It’s not just Starbucks. It’s everywhere.
These United States of America are built on a system that is DESIGNED to give White people access to power and resources. Certainly those resources and power are not evenly distributed amongst White people—women, LGBTQ individuals, people with disabilities, the homeless and working class—are all acutely aware of this.
And yet, so many White people believe that this system is fair. That if you just “follow the rules” things will generally go ok. So many White people do not believe Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) when they talk about their experiences of discrimination.
Half a dozen police officers showed up to remove two Black men in handcuffs. According to their attorney they were held for NINE HOURS before being released. Because they asked to use the bathroom. In a Starbucks.
THIS WOULD NEVER HAPPEN TO MY WHITE FATHER.
Sure. There are rules. And laws. And it is probably a good idea to follow them much of the time. But the fact is that BIPOC are systematically subjected to these rules in ways that White people are not. And punished when they don’t follow them. And accused of breaking the rules, even when they are not.
Yes, I am angry at Starbucks and hope they do follow up with implicit bias training for their managers as promised by the Starbucks CEO. But I refuse to make this about that Starbucks, or that manager. I refuse to play the “a few bad seeds” game.
All White people are responsible for the system of White supremacy in this country and it is on all of us to do the work to dismantle it.
We need to listen to and believe BIPOC.
We need to talk to White people about White privilege.
We need to speak up and intervene when we witness racism.
We need to acknowledge, apologize, and work to make reparations when we engage in racism.
Because it's not just Starbucks. It's everywhere. It's all of us. And we need to do better.
Britney G Brinkman, Ph.D.
If you find yourself at the movie theater only to discover that ALL of the showings of Black Panther are already sold out (as happened to me this weekend), I encourage you to take in a viewing of the film “I, Tonya”.
I like Aziz Ansari. Parks and Recreation was one of my all time favorite TV-shows. I have a photo and quote of Ansari on my office door. It reads:
“If you believe that men and women have equal rights, and then someone asks if you’re a feminist. You have to say yes. Because that’s how words work. You can’t be like, “Yeah, I’m a doctor who primarily does diseases of the skin.” “
I love it. And yesterday I asked myself if I have to take the picture down.
A recent story posted on babe describes a woman (called Grace—not her real name) and her experience of a date with Ansari last fall during which he repeatedly pressured her for sex and engaged in numerous coercive sexual behaviors. She left the evening feeling violated and shocked.
As always happens when a woman recounts an experience of sexual violence from a beloved man (or frankly any man), people are claiming that her story is not true.
I believe her story, in all the disturbing (and somewhat graphic) detail.
And I also believe him.
Ansari has responded to the story, saying in part:
“It was true that everything did seem okay to me, so when I heard that it was not the case for her, I was surprised and concerned.”
Now, I don’t know Ansari personally. Maybe he is a terrible guy. Maybe this incident is just one in a long pattern of sexual violence. Maybe all of his feminist talk is just a super savvy marketing scheme. Certainly some people will decide to believe all of these things based on this story alone.
But, what if he is NOT a terrible person? If he truly means his feminist rhetoric? If he is genuinely committed to supporting women’s rights?
Whatever the truth is about Ansari—which I will never really know—this is the fundamental question our culture needs to deal with.
What if good men are committing sexual violence?
I hope that the #MeToo campaign and the new Time’s Up fund continue to work to expose and disempower men who have abused their power to repeatedly sexually harass and assault women. We need that work to happen. We also need college campuses to stop turning a blind eye to repeat offenders. We need a criminal justice system that prosecutes sexual offenders. We need an intersectional anti-rape movement that awknowledges the reality that women of color and trans women face the highest rates of sexual violence.
If we want this to become more than a moment; if we want a movement to end sexual violence, we need to expand our focus beyond exposing the worst of the worst. We need to deal with the reality that good men are committing sexual violence.
In addition to challenging the truth of Grace’s story—many of the responses (including a ridiculous piece by Caitlin Flanagan for the Atlantic) have argued that the encounter wasn’t serious enough to warrant attention for a myriad of reasons. Most of the responses convey an angry tone, claiming that:
Sexual violence is not harmful because it is illegal.
It is illegal because it is harmful.
Jessica Valenti tweeted in response to the story:
“A lot of men will read that post about Aziz Ansari and see an everyday, reasonable sexual interaction. But part of what women are saying right now is that what the culture considers ‘normal’ sexual encounters are not working for us, and oftentimes harmful.”
This is not about ruining Ansari’s career. This story is an opportunity for us to have real conversations about the harm that is caused by rape culture. That people are hurt by the sexual scripts that make Ansari’s experience of the night and Grace’s experience of the night so fundamentally different.
We have to address the sexual culture we have created in the United States. A rape culture.
But, I believe in the potential of men. I believe that there are lots of heterosexual men who want to do better, who want to have respectful, consensual interactions with women. Who are uncomfortable with rape culture. I believe that men can learn to recognize the sexual scripts they have adopted, can learn to seek affirmative and enthusiastic consent, can pay attention to a sexual partner’s verbal and non-verbal cues.
I believe that if we stop teaching boys to participate in rape culture, we can raise men who don’t participate in rape culture.
I won’t speak for Grace, but I don’t want to see Ansari punished. I don’t want his career to be ruined, and him to be vilified and silenced. I want him to learn from this experience and become a role model for other men. I want him to reflect on why and how his actions made another person feel uncomfortable and violated. I want him to hear that SO MANY other women (including this writer) have had similar experiences and that they are harmful. I want him to speak out about how he is going to learn to dismantle his internalized rape myths, address any personal issues that may make it hard for him to hear “no”, learn how to read his partner’s cues and look for affirmative consent. I want to post a quote of his on my door about how he is working to end his own participation in rape culture.
And I’d really like it if other men took that journey, too.
Britney G Brinkman, Ph.D.
That’s right. It is January 3rd. Which means some of you have made (and maybe already broken) your New Years’ Resolutions.
According to the Marist Poll, the two resolutions tied for most popular are:
While there are certainly some health related reasons to consider losing weight, I am going to take this time to caution those resolutioners to avoid promoting beauty sickness in their quest for self-betterment.
In her recent book Beauty Sick: How the Cultural Obsession with Appearance Hurts Girls and Women Renee Engeln, Ph.D. examines the ways in which a culture that focuses on women’s appearance above all else contributes to numerous negative emotional and physical outcomes. Most girls in the US (and other beauty sick countries) are taught that their physical appearance is the most important quality they possess and that they should strive to achieve an unrealistic (arguably unattainable) beauty ideal.
Girls and women are taught that they are objects that exist for the pleasure of others.
Is it really a surprise that we are dealing with epidemic levels of sexual harassment? Boys and men are often given this same message—that girls and women are objects that exist for their pleasure.
Many arguments that promote beauty sickness are couched in terms of “promoting health.” Especially those related to weight loss. Since weight is a poor measure of one’s physical health (to say nothing of their emotional or spiritual health) intense focus on weight loss is often truly about appearances.
Even if you, the diligent resolutioner, think that you are making weight loss goals for health related reasons, be careful about how you approach these goals and how you talk to others—especially girls and young women—about them.
Engeln describes studies she has conducted that demonstrate girls often learn body dissatisfaction from observing others. In fact, in one study, women who believed their mothers were body dissatisfied were dissatisfied with their own weight, regardless of their actual body composition.
There are so many examples of girls and women criticizing their own bodies and discussing their methods of trying to change their appearance that many girls learn that this is “acceptable and normal” female behavior.
I have seen this in my own research with adolescent girls. In one study I am currently conducting with adolescent girls, we ask the participants to describe things they like about themselves and things they wish they could change. The study is a follow up to a longitudinal study I conducted in the mid-2000’s. Both then and now, girls often talk about an aspect of their physical appearance when asked what they would change.
Perhaps even more disturbing is what happened when we asked what they think most girls/young women wish they could change about themselves. Almost without exception the answer is “their appearance.” Even when girls report other aspects as being more important for self-improvement (things like, increased patience, or organization skills), they have an awareness that identifying as female more-often-than-not means being unhappy with one’s appearance.
So, what to do differently?
Well. If you really want a resolution about health—make resolutions about health. Focus on eating more fruits and vegetables or exercising more. Seek out metrics that are more reflective of health than simple weight.
And, talk differently about weight and appearance, especially around girls and women.
Engeln suggests that focusing on what one’s body can DO may help take some of the pressure off of focusing on how one’s body LOOKS. Encourage girls to track how fast they run, or how much weight they can lift, or what a better soccer player they become, or how many mountains they climb this year.
Try to avoid engaging in “fat talk” around girls and women—or really any conversation that is focused on critiquing your own or another person’s appearance. Minimize exposure to media that promotes unattainable beauty ideals. Knowing those images are photo shopped may not be enough to inoculate against them.
And, maybe most importantly, be sure to compliment girls on aspects of their selves other than their appearance. Talk about how good they are at math, or how you value their generosity, humor, curiosity, and bravery.
Ask them how they want to make an impact on the world. Ask them what they value in their friendships with others. Ask them what kind of person they want to be.
Maybe, just maybe, focus instead on the resolution to be a better person.
Britney G Brinkman, Ph.D.
I don’t remember the dreams of my girlhood.
I think I had them.
I must have. Girls are such dreamers.
We dream and believe and have faith.
Until we don’t.
Until we learn that each dream can be used like a weapon against us.
Until we decide that in order to be “taken seriously” we must put aside our dreams—put aside the dreamer.
We hide our dreams. Or crush them.
Forget that we ever dared to be dreamers.
There is little space for dreams in a world where we are told that we will never be as good as the boys. In a world where we are called sluts or told we are being “too sensitive” when we report sexual violence.
In a world where our bodies are policed, and objectified, and minimized, and always at risk.
There is little room for dreams in a world where we are told to be quiet and to stop taking up so much space.
Because dreams are big and loud. They need space to grow.
The deep irony is that I have forgotten how to dream in my efforts to fights for a world where girls are allowed to dream. In my efforts to be “taken seriously” as a researcher, teacher, writer. I learned early on that I would have to fight for credibility and I couldn’t afford to risk losing any by being seen as a dreamer.
And in doing this work I see how young women continue to engage in this struggle.
My team is currently conducting a research project with adolescent girls in Utah. We asked high school juniors and seniors to talk about their experiences in school, their future aspirations, their challenges and triumphs. As girls talk about their future career plans, many express concerns that they won’t be “taken seriously,” especially if they choose a gender non-traditional path. Throughout the interviews, these bright and articulate young women describe ways their teachers and other adults in their lives minimize their accomplishments. They tell anger inducing stories of boys laughing in their faces and telling them to “chill” when they express their opinions passionately, when they push back against sexism and racism and classism.
These young women are navigating these pressures as they hear story after story of workplaces where men have sexually harassed and sexually assaulted women for years. Workplaces where women are treated as objects rather than human beings, colleagues, equals. Where women are not taken seriously.
Although many women reported these incidents in their workplace, doubts about their credibility contributed to stagnation within systems that should have been responsive. Tuerkheimer (2017) argues that at in regards to sexual violence, there is systematic “credibility discounting” of women--the “unwarranted failure to credit an assertion where this failure stems from prejudice.” In fact, a large body of research demonstrates that questions of victim credibility influence the outcome of sexual violence cases, including impacting whether an arrest is made (e.g. Morabito, Pattavina, & Williams, 2016).
As we talk about how to deal with workplace sexual harassment, we need to acknowledge that sexual harassment is one symptom of the overall problem of distribution of power. Not only are there fewer women in formal leadership positions, but women’s contributions are often viewed differently than men’s. Many studies have examined ways that women and men are judged differently in performance situations; how women’s accomplishments are more likely to be attributed to luck, while men’s are more often attributed to skill. And when women and men work together, women’s contributions are often doubted. Heilman and Haynes (2005) found that women in successful male-female teams were rated as less influential, less competent, and less likely to have played a leadership role than their male counterparts.
It is not surprising that the young women in our study worry about how they will be treated in the workplace. Wonder whether their career goals and aspirations are possible. Hesitate to articulate their deepest desires. Who can dare to be a dreamer when we have to fight for recognition for the work we do? When our careers and lives might be derailed by sexual violence?
It is hard to maintain the energy to dream when we are told it is our fault that we are not taken seriously because we are:
We need a culture shift in which girls and women are taken seriously. In which we are believed, valued, seen, heard, respected. Where we can dream, and be funny, silly, girly, joyful, sexy, ironic, passionate, angry, powerful, imperfect. And still taken seriously.
I will continue to conduct rigorous research and hold myself accountable to deserve credibility in the same ways I expect my male colleagues to be accountable. But I will also challenge the assumptions that lead to credibility discounting of girls and women.
And I will dare to dream.
Britney G Brinkman, Ph.D.
During a meeting last week one of my students commented that she loves Thanksgiving, but feels guilty about it.
She didn’t need to explain—she was in my Culture and Identity class last year which focused on Native Americans and First Nations people. We talked about the problematic nature of Thanksgiving and the many myths surrounding the holiday that are destructive to Native peoples.
I can relate to her comment. As a White multi-racial woman, Thanksgiving is a complicated holiday for me. My mother is Irish and Cherokee. My father is English American, and our family narratives are filled with pilgrim origin stories. See. Complicated.
I will offer for my student and others what I try to do instead of attempting to suppress White guilt, or feeling overwhelmed by White guilt, or congratulating myself for experiencing White guilt (none of which are particularly helpful actions). Instead, I suggest these strategies:
1. Expand your knowledge and awareness of Native history, current events, and Native peoples.
This year, I am focusing on Indian removal policies and the implications of living on stolen land.
The National Museum of the American Indian released online curriculum about Indian removal policies. The curriculum is designed to support Social Studies teachers for grades 7-12, but I am gonna go out on a limb and guess that most of my readers were never taught this material in school, so this can be a good place to start.
The Indian Removal Act was signed by President Andrew Jackson in 1830. It was this act that led to the Trail of Tears. In the fall and winter of 1838 and 1839, over 7,000 troops were sent to Cherokee homes, where people were removed at gunpoint and forced to march west. Approximately 4,000 people died along the way. The Indian Removal Act also directly impacted the Choctaw, Creek, and Chickasaw Nation.
Pennsylvania reflects the deep impacts of removal, as there are currently no federally recognized Indian nations within the state today, despite the fact that the area was once home to the Shawnee and Ohio, the Erie, members of the Iroquois nations, the Munsee Delaware and Lenape Delaware and the Susquehannock nations.
One of my friends recently commented that the term “removal” seems to be a way to dismiss the horror of these laws and policies. Which is by design. Tools of state sanctioned genocide are often given fluffy names to avoid calling them what they really are.
The Indian Removal Act was just one piece of legislation among many laws, policies, coerced and broken treaties which moved native peoples from their homes and historic lands. These policies continue to infringe on the rights of Native nations and endanger the health and well-being of Native people today. (Think Standing Rock) They also mean that the United States is a nation built on stolen land.
This week I attended a conference in Minneapolis for the Interdisciplinary Research Fellows, a group collaborating on community engaged research for social change. The conference opened with a Dakota language specialist (Neil T McKay) who asked us to consider what it means to be working toward building equitable communities on stolen land.
I think this topic is especially important to examine at Thanksgiving. This is a time when many people focus on home—going home or welcoming others into their homes. For Americans of all ethnic groups, home is not an uncomplicated place. Homecomings may be fraught with anxieties of past family conflict, different political beliefs, or the impacts of trauma.
For Native peoples, home is often the place that was stolen.
As Thanksgiving approaches, I am struggling with my own family’s history of homelessness and being uprooted through removal, living in poverty on reservations, avoiding Indian boarding schools, and forced assimilation. All of these policies and traumas interrupted the ability for my family to have an embodied experience of home. The loss of my own home last spring makes this particular soul wound especially raw for me this year.
I am thankful that I will spend this year's holiday with dear friends—the people I call my Pittsburgh family. This week I will also be reflecting on what it means to celebrate Thanksgiving on stolen land.
In addition to buying supplies to make a sweet potato casserole and stocking up on white wine, I will be learning more about the people who once called Pittsburgh their home. People like the Shawnee who were pushed into Ohio and forced to sign a treaty in 1831 that removed them to eastern Kansas.
While I drink my morning coffee I will be reading As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom Through Radical Resistance (by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson) and learning about the ways Indigenous communities continue to engage in resistance to protect their land and people.
As I hike the beautiful woods of Western Pennsylvania, I will reflect on those who called this place home before me. I will work to heal my own wounds as I strive to live in a way that honors my ancestors. And I will continue to reflect on the meaning of doing equity work on stolen land, even as I dedicate myself to building a space that I may call home.
Britney G Brinkman, Ph.D.
One night in graduate school I found myself leaving a coffee shop later than I had planned to get on my bike and ride home. I had spent hours studying and I was tired and ready to be in bed. A group of guys across the street shouted out to me—some stupid pickup line I don’t remember. I am not sure exactly what I said, but it was something belligerent and sarcastic (not surprising to anyone who knows me).
Suddenly, my exhaustion turned into fear. The guys got angry.
They had felt 100% entitled to say whatever they wanted to me, fully expecting me to just put up with it.
I left the situation quickly and safely.
And then I got angry.
That week I marched myself into my advisor's office and told her I had figured out my project for my master’s thesis. I wanted to document the experiences of harassment that most women dealt with every single day of their lives. It wasn’t that this incident was unique. I was just fed up. Tired of being honked at during my morning runs. Sick of the male grad students in my department making belittling comments about women. And absolutely done with being afraid. Afraid to walk home alone at night. Afraid that rejecting a stranger’s unwanted attention could result in my physical harm.
So, I studied women’s experiences of harassment.
In fact, I conducted multiple studies in which I examined college men’s and women’s everyday experiences of various forms of gender prejudice. In the first study, college students kept daily diaries about their experiences ( College students’ descriptions of everyday gender prejudice ). College women reported experiencing an average of 18 sexually objectifying events over a 14-day period. More than one per day.
You read that right, on average, college women experienced sexual harassment EVERY SINGLE DAY.
And the harassment happened everywhere—on campus (including during class), within dorms, at grocery stores, in the gym, at the gas station, at work, while walking down the street….
So, when the #MeToo campaign recently went viral, I was not surprised to see most of my female friends participating. I also know that I likely have friends who have experienced sexual violence who did not want to disclose that info on their Facebook page.
I am striving to be hopeful that we are seeing a tide change. It is amazing to hear about the number of individuals (predominantly women, but a few men) coming forth to publicly share their stories of sexual violence committed by men in power. It is a brave move, as men in power tend to look for ways to keep that power and to retaliate against anyone who challenges it.
It has been even more amazing, and sometimes surprising, to hear about the number of men who have actually lost their jobs, TV shows, endorsements as a result of these accusations.
Maybe things are changing….
But as reporters dig into these stories, it becomes quite clear that in most of these cases, victims have been reporting their experiences of sexual violence perpetrated by these men FOR YEARS.
While I support the consciousness raising element of the campaign and appreciate that many women (and some men) have felt less alone by sharing their experiences of victimization, it is time to move beyond just awareness raising in order to eradicate sexual harassment (and sexual violence of all degrees).
First of all, men need to take accountability. Accountability for the ways they support, enable, and protect perpetrators. And accountability for the times that they have unwittingly participated in sexual harassment themselves.
And we need more women in positions of power. Because, ultimately, sexual violence is about power.
Feeling powerful enough to treat another person as an object. Using power to keep people from speaking out.
When boys grow up in a society where girls and women consistently have less power than men—where they are paid less, where women make up only about 20% of Congress and 6% of Fortune 500 CEO’s, where the United States has yet to have a female President—they get the message that women have less power than men.
So, how can any of us be surprised that some of those men decide that they are entitled to treat women however they want?
Which also explains why girls and women of color are even more likely to experience sexual violence than white girls and women.
I hope we continue to hear that when victims step forward they are believed, and there are consequences for the perpetrators.
I hope to hear more men stepping forward to talk about the ways they will hold themselves and other men accountable for preventing and stopping sexual violence. And how they intend to support more women (especially women of color) holding positions of power.
I dream of the possibility of a world where my students don't assume they have to endure sexual harassment by male faculty. Where my nieces might get to walk down the street without cringing when men open their mouths. Where girls and women are not expected to view sexual harassment as a daily nuisance they must tolerate.
Until then, I will stay fed up, and angry, and outspoken, and belligerent. And probably sarcastic.
Britney G Brinkman, Ph.D.
EMPOWERTAINMENT aims to take a critical look at media in regards to how gender and women/girls are portrayed. From popular articles, videos, and websites, to original submissions, we want to not only examine the media and its relation to gender, but help shift it.