Feminist Camp Day 3: Feminism and Sexuality

Dipeeka is a 2010 LEADer who recently participated in Feminist Camp. Feminist Camp includes five immersive days of meetings and workshops across New York City highlighting diverse forms of feminism in action. Each day centers around a theme. Her blog posts about her time there originally appeared on the Soapbox Blog.

How often do we think of gender and sexuality as a broad spectrum rather than limiting labels of male and female? How often do we ask a new person we encounter what their preferred gender pronoun is? These were some of the many questions that came into mind as we sat through the third day’s sessions focused on feminism and sexuality.

The session was held at a very special location: Ms. Foundation for Women, an organization that in its early days was a pioneer in providing access and growth to women philanthropy. The foundation till date focuses on women’s issues that do not get mainstream attention. After a quick recap of yesterday’s gala organized by Sanctuary of Families, we started with the sessions with our first speaker Kristin Russo. Kristin is the co-founder of the website and organization ‘Everyone is Gay’, that works to improve lives of LGBTQ youth using humorous yet informative videos, school tours and working with parents of LGBTQ. She firstly told us about her journey as a theatre undergrad, graduate student gender studies, and the co-founder of the website ‘Everyone is Gay’. She also relayed to us the importance of diversity training as it relates to sexuality and the lack of such model among teachers. She said social media has helped her activism greatly, and shared with us some tips about the various times when specific media might be used more, e.g. Instagram during evenings, etc. She also highlighted the importance of donating, not just in monetary term, but skill sets to the non profit world. Another important take away for me from the session was asking people their preferred gender pronoun, instead of assuming their gender identity.

Amy and Jennifer then shared to us more about their personal moments of realization in feminism, and importance of identifying needs in workplace and initiating change to bridge that gap. Our second panel of speakers was from Choices in Childbirth, a non-profit that works to improve the maternity care and experiences by providing access to range of choices regarding procedure and place of birth to mothers. We started the session with quick introductions of two staff and two interns in the panel. We then watched a half an hour-abridged documentary titled ‘The Business of Being Born’. The documentary focused on the increasing rates of Cesarean sections during delivery, the high usage of drugs and lack of proper knowledge or consent of women during childbirth. The idea of gynecologists intervening, and eventually performing cesarean sections on mothers take away women’s agency or power over her body and choices of childbirth. The documentary proposes and illustrates examples of low risk pregnant women opting for midwifery for delivering their children at their own homes. Our discussion following was focused on the gap of information regarding ways of delivering children, and places. The discussion also focused on the health insurance, and how prevalent class systems affect access and choices in maternity for women. It was interesting to see the statistics of how the US ranked second last among the top 50 most industrialized nations in terms of high maternal mortality rate. Another interesting data was to observe was the rate of delivery done by midwives compared to OB/GYNs in the US and Europe. While midwives in European countries deliver 60-80% children, midwives in the US deliver only about 8%. The idea that mid wives and doulas are generally there for pre and post delivery for mother’s care, and enable women to make educated choices about their pregnancy and childbirth was important. After the session, Amy shared with us her ideas of motherhood, and how motherhood is considered as a validity of women’s identity. She said validating and entitling women just for their motherhood is disempowering.

Next we had speakers from the Sex Workers Project (SWP), which provides client centered legal and social services to individuals who engage in sex work, whether by choice, circumstance or coercion. It was said that SWP was the first organization in New York to work against sex trafficking. There was a discussion on how there is a divide in feminism when it relates to voluntary sex workers. The organization has a great record in helping individuals vacate their prostitution convictions in New York, and lobby for ending employment discrimination issues that arise. The speakers from SWP approved of the Switzerland model, where voluntary sex work is not legalized but is decriminalized. They believe this reduces the stigma around sex work, and empower sex workers by giving them a freedom of occupational choice.

After the interesting sessions, we watched a documentary: Valentine Road. Based on the shooting of Lawrence “Larry” King in a high school California, the very compelling and emotionally moving documentary raises a lot of issues about sexuality, social perceptions and abuse. The documentary helped wrap up the complicated topic of today: feminism and sexuality, while leaving our minds stirred with million questions!

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