Holly can be found at Menstrual Poetry sharing her no holds barred truth. If you need to hear it straight up without any bullshit, this is the blog for you.
- What would you say was your feminist click moment, and how does feminism play a role in your daily lived experience?
My “feminist click moment” happened in Borders Books & Music, of all places.
Like probably the majority of feminists out there, feminism is not something that was taught to me. Unfortunately, there are no women's studies courses available to you in high school, although there should be, so the opinions and world views I have had all of my life, just happened to be this thing called feminism that I saw books about in the women's studies and sexuality section in Borders Books & Music.
Growing up, I was raised by a single father and despite only having one parent who is male, I had very strong, female role models in my life. Me and my younger sister lived with my father and next door to my aunt and grandmother. For years, my grandmother and I would frequently go shopping at Wal-Mart in the middle of the night. When we got home, she would make a pot of coffee and we would spend the early morning hours talking about pretty much anything and everything, including women's rights. I remember one morning in particular I brought up the subject of abortion and she said something to the effect that there shouldn't be such a huge debate about abortion, it should be and stay legal and those who have a problem with it should merely not have one. My family has always encouraged me to be myself and I firmly believe that all people should have that support from their families and have the time and space to figure out who they are and how they feel about the world they live in and world issues. It was that time spent with my grandmother in the often early mornings just talking openly about the issues our world have that solidified my opinions that just so happened to be feminist principles.
Being a complete bookworm all my life, I used to go to book stores very frequently, Borders in particular because they just let you sit in the aisles and read without badgering you to buy something. I stumbled into the women's studies section and saw shelves upon shelves of books about women, reproductive rights, race, queer theory, and sexuality and while reading through these books I found myself agreeing with what was being said and once that started happening continually, I just knew that I had found myself, for lack of a better description. I then knew who I was and knew I was home, as cliché as that sounds.
- As a blogger how do you hope to use this new format to advance feminist principles and educate?
I have always been one of those people who has no problems starting conversations about the two topics you are not supposed to start casual conversations about—Politics and religion. For far too long, once the fact that I'm a feminist comes out, I find that people are either confused or scared. They start asking questions, which is fine and I encourage when it comes to something you may not be particularly familiar with, but feminism is still directly linked to hating men, hairy armpits, and burning bras, which is just not where feminism is right now. A great deal of people also believe that there is no need for feminism now and that feminists are complaining for the sake of complaining about something, which is so far from the truth. As we have seen most recently (in the United States) with the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, women are still facing pay discrimination based solely on their gender in some positions. There is still a lot of work to be done and the first step to achieving anything is ensuring that people actually know what feminism is and what it is to be a feminist. I frequently receive comments on my blog from women as well as men about how they share my political views, but they aren't feminists because... And the reason is that feminism is still linked to archaic cliches that are embedded so deeply into the brains of the average person that they are not willing to look beyond that particular label. By blogging, I hope to do away with feminist-cliches that people are still carrying around and hopefully when people read my blog, they see first hand what feminism is, what feminists are doing in the world right now, and they can engage in conversation about what it is to be a feminist.
- Your blog is named Menstrual Poetry. What do you believe is the reason that women’s normal biological functions have been constructed as foul and what steps can we take to reclaim this as normal and natural?
Menstrual Poetry has received an extraordinary amount of negativity because of its name. I have had people say “Oh, you blog? What's your domain name?” and when I tell them, they actually say that they will not go to the site because of its name. I have even had a woman tell me that no one will read what I have to say because of my website's name. Of course after getting so much negative feedback, even from other women, I realized that the problem is not the name of my website, it is the fact that people are actually afraid of menstruation; even just the word itself bothers people to the point that they must immediately act out and degrade me for what I named my website and it is all because of woman-shaming.
Women have been trained to feel ashamed about something that is natural and it is so unfortunate that women continue to feel that way about their body and natural, normal occurrences in their bodies. As soon as a girl gets her first period, she is immediately thrown into the woman-shaming world that is carried on by men and even other women. We are told that menstruation makes us dirty and undesirable and if that wasn't bad enough, we have to also be quiet about how insane that frame of mind is.
What keeps this line of thinking alive is advertising companies and the marketing of "feminine hygiene products." Even that description--”Feminine hygiene products” is shameful to women because it is automatically making us believe that yes, we are dirty and our vaginas are disgusting and must be cleaned by using products thought up by and manufactured by men and no, I do not believe that is a coincidence. There are companies trying to sell a myriad of different products that we are brainwashed into thinking that we need such as douches and soap specifically made for the vagina and there are so many women blindly buying into the fact that they are dirty when what's really dirty is the fact that there are people profiting off of the shame women have when it comes to their bodies and bodily functions. Companies that are selling pads and tampons are running commercials about how discreet their products are so that no one knows you have your period because I guess in the made-up world these companies live in, if someone knows you're menstruating they immediately start screaming, flailing their arms about, and running away from you because there's something very wrong with you.
It is believed that women must always present themselves as pristine and in most cases, it is because we need to find and keep a man and men cannot know that women even have a vagina, unless they are in it. In order to reclaim menstruation as something that is normal and natural, I believe that we need discussion. We need to speak openly and honestly about our periods and about our bodies and we need to discard the shame that we have been brainwashed into believing. I have always been very open about my body and when you think about it, a woman's body is miraculous. First of all, we represent and give life—That is extraordinary! We really are goddesses and we have to not only know that, but truly believe in it because we have so much power and our bodies represent so much. It is unfortunate that women have been put in the closet of shame for so long and it is even more unfortunate that women are okay with passing along this line of thinking. We need open and honest discussions and we need to stop waiting for the permission to speak about it because the longer we keep silent about the shame of women, the longer it is going to go on and the more companies are going to continue putting out ads that brainwash even more women into believing that they are dirty.
- Like any strong willed woman I have noticed that you often face a lot of social discipline in terms of the language that you use, as well as the ideas that you express. What positive steps do you believe that women can take to reduce the degree that social construction affects the way ‘woman’ is understood?
There is the timeless saying that women should be seen and not heard and there are far too many people out there who believe it to be true. I believe that when people are threatened by something, someone, or a group of people, the first thing that they do is attack it because they are simply scared. I think that is what is happening not only on my blog, but throughout the feminist, womanist, humanist blogosphere. People see a group voicing their opinions and fighting for rights they want as human beings and they are immediately threatened and feel the need to act out on those people and put them down or critique them to no end. One of the things that I continuously laugh at when reading comments on blogs is that there are people who will not attack what is being said, but the person who wrote it while not knowing anything about them and this is true to an astronomical degree on blogs written by women and the people who are making these comments are mostly men. It's as if they are completely beside themselves when they stumble upon a woman-written blog as if they're thinking 'the audacity this woman must have to say these things!' and they leave comments like 'get back in the kitchen' or call you 'dyke.' It is easier to insult a woman just because she's a woman instead of even listening to what she has to say.
Woman-shaming exists and will continue to exist simply because men still believe that they are above women or are entitled to more than woman are simply because they have a penis. To me, women are strong, intelligent, resilient individuals but still to many, 'woman' still means kitchen, baking, Donna Reed, and Leave It To Beaver. In order to reduce the negativity that women are dealt on a daily basis simply because of their viewpoints, it is important to hold onto your opinions and voice them loudly and clearly. When you're with your friends out someplace and someone makes a negative comment towards you because you're a woman or makes a negative comment about women, don't just smile, nod, and walk away, tell them that they're wrong and tell them why. People never got anywhere by simply smiling, nodding, and walking away, leaving people to play in their negativity and pass it on to the next woman that comes along.
- How do you deal with areas of privilege that you are not intimately familiar with i.e. doing ally work on behalf of WOC? Do you find that not having an intimate relationship with the ism in question hampers your ability to produce a nuanced critique and if so what steps have you taken to deal areas of privilege that still need to be addressed on a deeper more substantive level?
In many cases you don't have to be intimately familiar with something to know it's wrong and if you know it's wrong, you know why and can get your point across. However, in any case where I am not intimately familiar with an “ism” I engage in conversation with people who are intimately familiar with the subject. There is always room to be educated and learn about something you have no personal experience with and through speaking with people who do, you gain not only a better understanding of the subject at hand, but also compassion which leads to the ability to do more on behalf of that particular “ism.”
- Intersectionality has become the “buzz word” of third wave feminism. What degree does intersectionality play in your work and how do you feel that we can encourage others to make intersectionality more than a word that they use, but a theme to live by?
I think that there are a few blogs out there, mostly mainstream and mainstream-accepted blogs that throw the word intersectionality around a few times, but never really divulge anything else. They can bring up race and class, but never really write more than a paragraph or so on the topic. They do this because if they didn't, they would be called out on it and they wouldn't want that, so they take the low road and instead of really making it a point to speak openly about it, they put the fact that it's a part of feminism out there but never elaborate. They have also been known to use the words of others to again, make it look like they are doing ally work when they may not even really have an opinion on the subject because they have not directly lived it. In order to make intersectionality more than a word and more of something that is lived, we need discussions. We need to start conversations so that its true meaning reaches people and its importance starts to seep in a little more because simply throwing the word around with nothing behind it is not helping feminism nor is it helping the issue of race and class.
- As feminists we constantly have to make small compromises to be able to negotiate the patriarchal world in which we live. What compromises have you made and which specifically have been the most difficult and why?
I've noticed that there is one thing whose true purpose it is to make women feel bad about themselves and that is the mainstream media. While sure, we can't completely avoid mainstream media because it's everywhere, I've used it to my advantage, I think. I watch very little television; if I watch new television shows I watch them online with limited commercial interruption and if I enjoy a television show that does not currently air, I buy the DVDs so I can watch them without any commercials at all. For the mainstream media that I cannot avoid or have found it truly hard to avoid, I use to my advantage by noticing that sexism is seeping out of every aspect of mainstream media so I often write about it, which calls them out for doing it and makes me feel a lot better about having to be subjected to it at all.
- What are the key areas that you attempt to focus on in your activism, and what was it that made you choose them?
My blog started out as a personal blog as well as a creative writing collective, not as the feminist and political space it is now It evolved quite a bit because I frequently brought up discussions on topics I cared about or saw a need for intellectual conversation about and I started finding so much in the world that I saw problems with or a need for activism to reform and so Menstrual Poetry evolved from just a very small space that hardly anyone knew about to the place for discussion (and frequent trolls) that it is now.
While I do bring up, or at least try to bring up, all feminist issues that are affecting people everywhere, what I focus on a lot are reproductive rights, sexism, and survivor issues. I talk a lot about reproductive rights because as a woman, I would like to feel secure in knowing that no matter what happens in my life, I have a right to be pro-choice and to have control over my own body and the respect from my state and government to be intelligent enough to come to an educated and thought-out decision on my own. I think it insults the intelligence of women to enforce laws that limit their own decision-making, which is also why I tend to bring up matters of sexism quite a bit. Women-shaming has gone on for far too long and the first step to doing away with sexism is to point it out and to ensure that people know what is happening when sexism is happening all around them. I speak out a lot about survivor issues because I am a survivor of child abuse, childhood sexual assault, and rape. For years of my life I had lived in silence believing that the abuse I had endured throughout my life was my fault or that I somehow brought it upon myself, which I know now is certainly not true. However, there are many other survivors out there who are daily thinking the same thing and that is unfortunate. What is even more unfortunate is that there are not enough people out there speaking out about abuse and trauma so I just try to do my part and spread the world of healing around for other survivors out there who may not know what to do, who to go to for help, and so on. In addition to writing about survivor issues on Menstrual Poetry, I also founded a healing site that will soon be a group blog (it's in transition), Healing Yourself Heals the World (http://healingyourselfhealstheworld.com) and also Angela Shelton's Survivor Manual (http://survivormanual.com)
- How would you define feminism, and do you feel this definition should be the standard definition used by all?
I define feminism as a group of people, women as well as men, fighting for equality and the basic rights and respect that they deserve. I believe this definition fits very well because it encompasses the rights we fought for in the past as well as the fight to keep those rights and what we will continue to fight for in the future.
- Since this is for International Womens Day, If you had to make a wish list for you would most like to see women achieve in the near future what would it be, and what strategies do you believe are necessary for them to become realized?
I truly wish that feminism could be the sisterhood that it once was. As the times have changed, feminism has also changed, which is to be expected. However, what also changed was the way feminists were seen. While feminism is still linked to the archaic cliches I've already touched upon, feminists themselves are segregated. There are so many different sections and “waves” of feminism it's mind-boggling and it should not be divided. In the blogosphere if you are a feminist and you start a blog, it is now to be expected that your voice will not be heard if you don't fit into the “mainstream feminist” role. As a low-income white feminist, I have noticed that if you do not have a degree of some sort, either in English and literature or Women's Studies, you automatically have to fight even harder for your right to be acknowledged and taken seriously. When it comes to careers, we already have to deal with oppression because we are subject to not getting a job we may be more qualified for than someone who went through college, but this should not come into play when it comes to the way we view the world and world issues. To drive this point home a little more, there should not be different “types” of feminists. When did we start obsessing over labels to the degree where even your line of thinking is subject to being a certain kind of something? If you're a feminist, you're a feminist and we should not feel so oppressed by our fellow feminists that we struggle to find our own niche; we should have already been accepted by feminism to begin with.
In order to make feminism accepting of all feminists and not just the elite few, we need to cut the shit when it comes to labels. To be a feminist means to believe in equality and the rights we deserve as humans and the more we come to define ourselves as “feminists, but...” we are losing the sisterhood that feminism started out as and we truly need to reclaim that sense of togetherness. There is victory in numbers and the more certain types of feminists cast out others, the less we accomplish. There is a space for all of us and there is a need for our own diverse thoughts, ideas, and opinions. We need to start listening to each other more and be accepting, feminism is something that should not be classified by what “wave” or section you belong to.