i·den·ti·ty īˈden(t)ədē/

Durham Magazine released its 6thannual Women’s Issue, spotlighting thirteen remarkable Bull City women (including Areli Barrera de Grodski!) with very diverse careers and backgrounds.Similar to the mentors, I noticed that despite having different occupations, these women are all nevertheless working towards the common goal of “shaping our future.”  While reading this feature, an observation about identity shared by visual artist and Githens Middle School teacher, Saba Taj, particularly resonated with me, “coming up with a term to describe a group of people can give them agency…but that identity and word can have boundaries, too. It creates a new kind of confine.”  I thought about Taj’s insight in relation to a photograph exhibition, The Wonder of You: Photos & Words by Black Girls & Women, I recently viewed at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, and also to the zine project the eighth-graders at Brogden started this week.

The Wonder of You is comprised of eleven different photographs taken by black women and girls of all ages, and is “curated with love” by The Beautiful Project (TBP) founder and executive director, Jamaica Gilmer, along with the support of several other women.  Described as a “collective of image makers using photography, writing and care to create space for Black women and girls to confront the mass misunderstanding, misrepresentation and misuse of their likeness in the media and the world at large”, TBP solicits work from women throughout the United States. While visiting the exhibition, I thought about the prominence of gender and racial identity in the work.  As Gilmer explains, “we created a space where girls could see reflections of themselves in both the beloved people in the images and the girls and women behind the lens.”Indeed, every entry features a black woman or girl, and almost all of the titles include such identifying labels as “black”, “girl” or “woman.”  Under her photograph, Black Girl Holding A Watermelon, Self-Portrait, Danielle Nolan writes, “I did a re-enactment of this photo in my neighborhood on the west side of Chicago to express both the racial and gender stereotypes black girls face.”

I also thought about how identity has been construed as both a limiting and liberating construct during the zine-making session this week.  As a concluding activity, designed to provide the participants with an opportunity to reflect upon their experiences this year, each girl has been asked to create a page of a collective zine in response to the question, “What have you taken away from your participation in this group?” I believe that through the examples set by the mentors, the mentees have realized that they can also achieve goals that may be beyond traditional gender boundaries.  Due to the brevity of the meeting period, we were unable to complete the zine; however, I noticed that several young women were illustrating, collaging, and writing positive messages embracing characteristics of their identities.

Boy vs. Girl Scouts

Two weeks ago, Boy Scouts of America (BSA), announced that it would officially drop the “Boy” from the name of the scouting division it runs for boys ages 10 to 17. Chief Scout Executive Mike Surbaugh stated, “as we enter a new era for our organization, it is important that all youth can see themselves in Scouting in every way possible.”  This change follows an earlier decision made in October to extend Cub Scout membership to 3,000 girls under an early adopter program.  Over the summer, Cub Scouts is expected to formally welcome and accept girls ages 6 to 10.  Next year, young women will also have the opportunity to earn the much-coveted Eagle Scout rank, which, unlike the Girl Scouts “equivalent”, the Gold Award, is widely recognized as an extremely prestigious honor.  The decision to include young women in all scouting divisions, and to change program titles to be gender-neutral, seems to follow a trend of increasing inclusivity.  Indeed, in 2014, BSA began accepting openly gay members and in 2017, transgender members.

Many Girl Scouts leaders and the Mormon Church have been critical of BSA’s decision to accept young women.  In October, Girl Scouts stated, “The need for female leadership has never been clearer or more urgent than it is today – and only Girl Scouts has the expertise to give girls and young women the tools they need for success. The benefit of the single-gender environment has been well-documented.” Moreover, the Mormon Church, once one of BSA’s largest sponsors, severed ties with the organization this past Wednesday.   Indeed, one out of every five Boy Scouts is Mormon. While the church had been moving in the direction of renouncing its endorsement for the past couple of years, it seems as if the opening of BSA divisions to young women has caused the church to initiate its own organization for youth, maintaining separation of the sexes.

In addition to the mentorship group for young women at Brogden Middle School, I have been helping to lead a Girl Scouts troop that meets at Families Moving Forward. Thus far, our meetings have included such activities as a community-service project in which we decorated and delivered Easter baskets to residents of a retirement home, a trip to a community arts festival, and a Mother’s Day craft making session.  While these activities may be culturally coded as feminine, I think that the troop achieves the mission of Girl Scouts by building confidence, leadership skills, and a sense of comradery. Reading about the membership politics of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and also overseeing a Girl Scouts troop, has reminded me of my previous post regarding the value of women-only spaces, and has made me contemplate the more general understanding of gender in our society.  Why has Boy Scouts allowed young women to join, but Girl Scouts has not opened its doors to young men?

Zines: Making a Comeback at Brogden Middle School

This week, Kelly Wooten, the research services and development coordinator librarian for the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture at the David M. Rubenstein Library, led a workshop for the girls at Brogden about feminist zines.  When Wooten first asked if anyone knew what a zine was, the room was silent.   Pointing to the classroom door, which is decorated with photographs of smiling students and positive messages, Wooten explained that a zine can take many forms. Ultimately, however, zines are characterized by their homemade construction and ability to spread messages outside of the mainstream media.  In the diverse collection of contemporary and historic zines that Wooten shared, including one that she had authored, the girls recognized that feminism, identity, and storytelling were all predominant themes.  In addition to introducing the girls to an engaging form for expression, I think that this meeting was particularly valuable because it brought greater visibility to “zinesters” and spread their ideas, thoughts, and opinions to a younger generation of women.

In the 1990’s, the riot grrrl movement, a punk, do-it-yourself, subculture that developed amidst the third-wave feminist movement, popularized zines as a method for woman-identifying individuals to find solidarity through art and creation.  Thus, zines became tools to enhance the visibility of women’s issues, establish a space for women’s voices, and connect women in different social circles.  In the fall of 1992, Sarah Dyer, a comic book artist and avid zine reader, decided to start Action Girl Newsletter, a review-style zine, in order to “network all the girl zine and mini-comic creators [she] could find.” Eventually with the rise of the internet and the popularity of blogging, the distribution of physical zines began to fade.  Dyer, however, had carefully stored hundreds of zines, some which may have been the only copies left in existence, and donated her collection to the Sallie Bingham Center.  Indeed, Dyer explained that if “[she] really wanted to see these zines preserved, [she] needed to find a safer place for them.”Since her initial donation, the Sallie Bingham Center’s zine collection has flourished to become one of the largest in the United States.  Due to the tremendous care and effort of the librarians at the Center, the girls and women of the riot grrrl movement and beyond can continue to be heard.

Next week, the girls will begin making their own zines. I think that by creating zines, or perhaps creating one collective zine, the girls will have an appropriate forum in which to share and document their experience participating in the mentorship group. Perhaps our tour this weekend to the Scrap Exchange, a woman-founded, creative reuse arts center,

Cocoa Cinnamon: More than a Coffee Shop

What would you do if you had $75 left in your bank account? For Areli Barrera de Grodski, the answer was to start a business – Cocoa Cinnamon.  In just a few years, together with her husband Leon Grodski de Barrera, Barrera de Grodski managed to expand Cocoa Cinnamon/Cacao Canela from a coffee-bike to a “three-location (semi-bilingual) coffee shop business.”  This week, while interviewing Barrera de Grodski, I particularly noticed how factors other than profit, such as her desire to create an authentic, inclusive, gathering space, to promote the work of local artists, and to share her passion for coffee with the Durham community, fueled Barrera de Grodski’s hard work.  Explaining that while Cocoa Cinnamon is a business, she and her husband ascribe to practices, such as paying their employees a living wage, and donating a portion of their profits to local organizations, that seemingly contradict the profit motive.  When Barrera de Grodski claimed that Cocoa Cinnamon endeavors to be a “business with a conscious”, I was reminded of insights into our work ethic shared by behavioral economist Dan Ariely in a TED RadioHour podcast, “What Pushes Us To Work Hard – Even When We Don’t Have To.”

Ariely ultimately concludes that in today’s post-industrial economy, “money is just one of the [many factors that motivate us to work] and maybe not even the most important one.”  During the podcast, Ariely recounts his findings of a social experiment in which a group of people were given instructions regarding how to produce a piece of origami.  Although the resulting origami were “ugly”, the origami makers believed them to be worth much more money than did a group of external evaluators.  Next, the same group of origami makers were asked to craft again, but this time without the instructions.  The origami turned out to be even “uglier” than the first creations and received an even lower appraisal from the external evaluators; however, the origami makers believed them to be more valuable than their first ones.  Calling this phenomenon the “IKEA effect”, Ariely deduced that similar to his greater affinity for self-assembled furniture purchased from IKEA, the origami makers derived a greater value for their own creations due to the care and effort of their labor.  Indeed, Ariely claims that if we value all of the things that go into work, such as “meaning, creation, identity, pride…we may also be happier as a result.” Here, I thought about what factors may have motivated all of the wonderful guest speakers to graciously take the time to become mentors for the girls at Brogden.

Even though her weekly grind (no pun intended) typically exceeds 60 hours, Barrera de Grodski explained that “getting rich” is not her intention.  Although she has received offers to franchise Cocoa Cinnamon, she is worried that the mission behind her business will deteriorate without her care and supervision.  I am looking forward to our group field trip on Cinco de Mayo to the Lakewood location of Cocoa Cinnamon not only to see the fruit of Barrera de Grodski’s labor, but also to eat some delicious churros!

Women-Only Spaces: A Help or a Hindrance?

The Wing, an exclusive, women-only club, with many celebrity clientele, such as transgender actress Hari Nef, expanded beyond its two New York City locations and opened its first branch in the nation’s capital last week.  Founded by the chic, thirty-something-year-olds,Audrey Gelman and Lauren Kassan, The Wing is “a network of co-working and community spaces designed for women to promote their professional, civic, social, and economic advancement.” Although the all-access annual membership fee is roughly $3,000, The Wing includes a library only stocked with female-authored books, a healthy snack bar, a lactation room, and a hair salon. Ironically, while The Wing seems to help remedy the historical exclusion of women from men-only spaces, such as country clubs, cigar bars, and not to mention Congress, it violates New York and D.C.’s anti-discrimination laws since it is a for-profit company that excludes those who are not “living as a woman.” Indeed, criticism, particularly from the ACLU, regarding The Wing’s exclusionary membership policy contributes to the larger debate concerning the best manner in which to advance women’s rights.

Although Gelman has stated that women are more effective in an environment absent of men, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a self-described “flaming feminist litigator”, has long advocated for men and women to work together in order to resolve issues of gender discrimination. In the landmark case, Craig v. Boren (1976), the all-male Court examined an Oklahoma statute that required men, but not women, to be over the age of eighteen in order to purchase a low-alcohol concentration beer.  Finding the Oklahoma law unconstitutional, the Court heightened the level of review applied to gender discrimination cases.  Ironically, although it concerned a male plaintiff, Craig forced the Court to realize the extent to which gender stereotypes pervade the law. Ginsburg, then an attorney for the Women’s Project at the ACLU, deeply favored this tactful strategy for examining discriminatory laws from a perspective of gender-neutrality.  Indeed, just a few weeks ago during a talk at Georgetown Law, Justice Ginsburg reiterated this belief and alluded to her opinion of The Wing stating, “I think that the people who wanted to keep things the way they were would’ve been happy if the women had gathered in their own groups with no men.”

As Gelman and Justice Ginsburg’s opinions concerning the effectiveness of women-only spaces seem to be at odds with each other, I thought about how this debate relates to the eighth-grade girls group at Brogden Middle School.  During her interview, Alice Cheung, founder of Bull City escape, shared that her membership to a women-only group for business owners in Durham has provided her with an invaluable network of support. Furthermore, Bibi Gnagno, the Student Development Coordinator at the Duke Women’s Center, noted that she finds working in a women-only space to be particularly comfortable.  While I agree with Gelman that “women deserve spaces of their own”, I am also wondering if including young men in the group, providing them with an opportunity to also meet and learn from strong women leaders in their community, may have helped to further dismantle detrimental gender stereotypes and promote gender equality.

Paving the Way for Women in STEM

Dr. Victoria Smith and Dr. Moyo Tillery, two Duke Doctor in Physical Therapy Program alums, came and spoke with the eighth-grade girls at Brogden Middle School this week about their careers as physical therapists.  Dr. Smith both practices pediatric physical therapy and serves as a clinical instructor at Duke Hospital, and Dr. Tillery owns a private practice in Durham, Triangle Family Physical Therapy.  Since many of the young women in the group are interested in pursuing careers in medicine, and one young woman expressed a particular interest in physical therapy, I think that they were excited to meet the doctors and learn about their careers.  Similar to many of the other guest speakers, such as the founder of Bull City Escape, Alice Cheung, and Assistant District Attorneys, Ameshia Cooper and Patricia Flood, Dr. Smith and Dr. Tillery not only answered questions specific to their profession, but also served as mentors, sharing their advice for achieving a successful and fulfilling career. Moreover, as physical therapists, Dr. Smith and Dr. Tillery also provided critical representation for women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, STEM, areas in which women are often inadequately represented.

While the representation of women in STEM is overall lower than that of men, interestingly, physical therapy is a field that was founded by and is still predominantly comprised of women.  Following World War I and the polio epidemic, the most modern practices of physical therapy began in the United States.  Reconstruction Aides, who were exclusively women, provided exercise-based treatment to wounded soldiers and disabled children.  In 1921, just one year after women across the nation were granted the right to vote, reconstruction aides founded what is now known as the American Physical Therapy Association; thus, institutionalizing the practice of physical therapy.  Men, however, did not enter the profession until more than a decade later.  Today, although women comprise about seventy percent of the profession, men own private practices, typically a more lucrative sector of physical therapy, at approximately twice the rate of female practitioners.  Furthermore, men are disproportionately represented in director positions in physical therapy education programs. I wondered why women are disproportionately underrepresented in what some may consider to be the more superior positions of the profession.

I thought that having Dr. Smith and Dr. Tillery speak with the girls about the beneficial and life-changing treatment they provide every day for their patients was extremely inspirational.  Furthermore, as an educator and as a private practitioner, Dr. Smith and Dr. Tillery are both leaders in areas of the profession in which women are typically underrepresented.  During the meeting, Dr. Smith and Dr. Tillery graciously provided their mentorship and guidance, encouraging a younger generation of women to achieve their goals in STEM or whichever field they may eventually choose to pursue.