Tuesday, April 01, 2008

WAM! session thoughts...

Ahhh. I'm back in lovely, windy, cold, wet Michigan.

I'm feeling a little more rested and recovered, and still extremely excited and invigorated by my experiences at WAM!. I just wanted to share a few of my favorite sessions and moments at the conference. It all seems like such a blur in a way. I might be experiencing an information overload, in fact. There was so much energy packed into three short days- between attending sessions and meeting all of these amazing feminists and listening to the killer key notes... it was a lot to take in.

Let me start off by reiterating just how completely awesome "Breaking the Frame" was. I get a little giddy just thinking about it. Emily Douglas was the session moderator, and introduced the other three members of the session. I knew that I was in for a treat when Aimee Thorne-Thomsen, of the Pro-Choice Public Education Project started talking. I wish I could have recorded the session, because her words were like lightning- sharp and hot. She pointed out how far we, in the pro-choice movement, miss the mark when we focus almost exclusively on reproductive justice as abortion rights. The maintstream media has us convinced that The most important issue in reproductive rights and justice is the right to have an abortion. But, for many, many women that's just not the case. Current campaigns use the language of rights to talk about ending pregnancy, but those campaigns often fail to connect with the minds and realities of many young women and/or women of color.

And that's due, in part, to the framing we've allowed to happen. We've let the right convince us that the most important discussion is whether a woman has a right to end her pregnancy, but for a lot of women, the real questions are about having the ability to make all kinds of choices. Thorne-Thomsen talked about the concept of justice for women as being the economic, social, and political power to make healthy choices for themselves and their communities.

In other words, it's not just about having the choice to get an abortion should you desire one. It's about having access to preventative measures. It's about having access to sex-education and contraception. It's about having access to healthy food and medical care should you want to have a baby. It's about reproductive rights of all kinds and about the socio-economic and political barriers to making informed and healthy choices for yourselves.

The discussion about justice as intersectional versus rights as more individualistic was important as well. In the interest of actual justice, one has to dedicate time and energy towards the people who are most impacted by the issues. We have to work on engaging with and working with the women from all backgrounds to find out what kinds of issues they're actually dealing with, and to find out how their lives can be improved by working together on the issues that are most impacting their lives.

Cristina Page, the author of How the Pro-choice Movement Saved America, was a great compliment to Thorne-Thomsen. Where Thorne-Thomsen was focused a lot on how we, as feminists, need to work on embracing the diversity of experiences and concerns within women of color communities and younger women, Page discussed the anti-choice movement and some of the ways that we've let them control the discussion. One of her major focuses was debunking the myth about the concern for reducing abortion rates. The anti-choice movement's most vocal and political supporters often talk about there being a right to life, and being a movement concerned with reducing the number of abortions and wanting to protect the sanctity of life, but, as Page points out, they've consistantly taken steps that actually contribute to abortion rates.

It's no coincidence, she says, that abortion rates are lowest in places with strong pro-choice movements, but high in places with strong pro-life/anti-choice movements. The reality is that many of the most vocal supporters of the movement aren't pro-life, they're anti-women. This is one of the major reasons, Page claims, that so many politicians who claim to be "pro-life" do things like oppose comprehensive sex education, oppose funding to programs designed to provide support to children and working mothers, attempt to redefine contraception as abortion, etc. Anti-choice politicians routinely strip out the very tools that would otherwise contribute to women's abilities to raise children, making it harder to have and raise them.

The connection, of course, is that often times pro-choice advocates don't do enough to retarget the debate onto those issues. Often times, we're so focused on Roe v. Wade that we lose sight of the fact that, for example, a woman getting an abortion because she can't afford to raise a child isn't actually making a free choice- she's essentially being coerced. It's only when we've created an environment where women are truly able to make the choice to abort or carry the fetus without fear of social damnation or economic ruin that the choice is really free. If the choice is between aborting or losing your home, it's not much of a choice.

I thought a particularly awesome moment in the session came when it was pointed out that the so-called "pro-life" movement, which typically bills itself as the part of family values, is, in point of fact, opposed to traditional family values. The opposition to contraception, to enjoying sex, to abortion, to providing support for children... all of those things seem to run against many of our lived experiences... and yet, few of us call them out on this.

Amanda Marcotte, of Pandagon, was the final speaker, and her focus was on the strategy aspects of discussing reproductive justice. Her advice was not to be afraid of engaging critics- challanging the misinformation and lies that they spread are an important part of our work. It's important to be able to call bullshit when you see it. She also advocated moving away from overly academic language and discussions of reproductive justice in the abstract, and forcing anti-choicers to take the discussion to a real level. That is, to start talking about the women who are really effected by these issues and to talk to people in the ways that people really do communicate.

When the mainstream media ignores discussions about reproductive justice and the very real women who have experienced abortions in favor of the six second soundbite and the political message, it hurts the movement. It erases the lived experiences of women in favor of political talking heads- typically male.

The Q&A part of the session was equally mind blowing. There were so many great questions and comments made from women all around the room. I wish I had the names of the people asking, but, alas, I wasn't able to get them in time. There was a point made about how one of the ways that more academic feminists miss the boat in the discussion is by conflating anti-choice with religious. The commenter pointed out that there are strong women of color communities for whom faith is an important part of their pro-choice work and their identities as women of color and feminists, but, when we talk about the anti-choice right, we end up treating faith as something to be mocked or something that only our enemies have, and we end up silencing our allies because of this.

I'm still thinking about all of the great things that came out of the session. It really was a profoundly moving and inspiring session. It also set the bar really high for the rest of the conference. The speakers were so powerful and packed so much into such a short time, that, I have to admit, I couldn't help but be nervous about my own session. I don't know if I was lucky or not- Naomi and I presented our session in the final slot of the conference. We were the last presentation slot on the last day. Which, of course, meant that everyone who came had already attended, potentially, four other really amazing sessions.

No pressure.

Really, though, the session was amazing. I have to give serious thanks to Naomi- she put together a spectacular PowerPoint presentation for our session. I also want to give a huge shout-out to Latoya Peterson, who can be found over at Racialicious (and as their new editor! Huzzah!), too. She was practically a third presenter once the Q&A started. She had a lot of really great information to share, and, I'm not gonna lie, it made me go "Squee!" inside when she told everyone who she was.

Like I was saying, the session itself went really well, I think. I was originally worried that we wouldn't have enough to present or that we wouldn't have much of an audience, but both fears turned out to be completely unfounded. There were people from all kinds of gaming backgrounds- from a board gaming enthusiasts (Hello Anna! Again, very excited to have a contact for gaming!) to people who infrequently game, to a half dozen or so people who actively describe themselves as gamers. Naomi and I launched into our session, and it quickly became apparent that we weren't going to get through all of the information we had prepared, which was both sad and exciting. Sad, because a lot of work went into preparing the information and a lot of it was really good, but exciting because it just further illustrates how important the conversation is, and how much people are interested. In the end, we did almost an hour of Q&A, and only stopped because we'd run a half hour over our allotted time, and the conference was, you know... over!

We mentioned some sites in the presentation, and I just wanted to make sure to put up some of the links we talked about- for people who are interested, there are some really great feminist communities forming around gaming. One of my favorites and pretty much a daily read for me is Mighty Ponygirl's site, Feminist Gamers. There's also Andrea Rubenstein's blog Official Shrub.com, the online gaming magazine Cerise (which covers a variety of gaming types, from tabletop to video), and, of course, The Iris Network, which is an amazing project. There are tons of great links at all of those sites, too, and the community of feminist gamers is growing all the time. And, of course, please share any links in the comments section, too.

I'll have one more post on my experience at WAM! later, because not only were the sessions really great, but I had an opportunity to meet some really terrific and inspiring people, too.

Oh, right... I actually attended three other sessions, too- they were great, and I may still talk about them later, but I attended a session on Strategies for Making Change which focused on some of the ways that progressives can work with independent media and DIY culture as well as leverage more mainstream outlets to help get the message out and improve the lives of women and make sure that women's voices are silenced in the media. I attended a session called "Stereotypes and Typecasting in Reality Television", too. That one was a great look at the ways that pop culture influences and impacts our perceptions of women in society, and how the narratives that are being created on shows like The Swan or Beauty and the Geek play into and reinforce harmful stereotypes about women. Also a great session. I can talk about them more later, if people are interested, but, for now, it's back to work with me.


FeministGal said...

Thanks for the recap, the pro-choice stuff you talked about is crucial... i wish i was there to hear all this first hand :(

Roy said...

I'm pretty sure that a number of the sessions were recorded, so you might be able to find video clips of some of the sessions and the key notes (which were great). I'm going to search for them when I get home from work (can't look at streaming media here, sadly).

Mighty Ponygirl said...

Thanks for the shout-out! Just fyi, the link to Feminist Gamers has been updated, it's now on its proper domain and out of the subdirectory of my vanity site: http://www.feministgamers.com/

It sounds like you had a great time ... I'm jealous!

Roy said...

Whoops! The link is corrected now, MP. I must not have changed the link here at work. I'll fix that now, too. =D

Yeah, I had a blast at the conference. It's crazy to see so many people from so many different backgrounds all coming together to talk about the importance of feminism and discussing how to improve things. You can totally feel the energy in the air, and you're watching such a diverse group of people getting shit done... It's pure awesome.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your feedback on the panel. I thought it was amazing and wished we could have had the whole day to keep talking.

All the best,
Aimee Thorne-Thomsen
Pro-Choice Public Education Project (PEP)

Patti Binder said...


I attended your session at WAM! and thought it was amazing. I've been raving about it ever since (thanks to Jacyln for telling me to go!!!). I was sad too that you and Naomi weren't able to get through all of your material as you clearly had done so much research and had so much good stuff to say. I posted a bit about my experience at my blog--

Hope you get a chance to reprise your workshop!