Vix Jensen on the United State of Women Summit #USOW2018
By Vix Jensen
I've always loved collective nouns. I’ve made it my business to amass them, like rings on my fingers, ever since I was a little girl — my misbelief of painters, my murder of crows. They’re strong, creative, beautiful words of description — a credit to language and to the things they describe. And yet, we are only “a gaggle of women”, somehow squawking, squealing still. Doing it together, yes, but robbed of the poetry afforded to other animals in their collective.
I write this in part to put to you that we are, in fact, a force of women. That if you had been by my side on the Saturday at the beginning of May as I took my seat in the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, you would accept only the most glorious, majestic, wonderful words of the English language to describe a group of women. An opening ceremony so overwhelming to my senses that it was more than I could do to even take adequate notes for this article, because taking my eyes off the stage for more than one second felt like missing entire worlds in front of me.
Occurring for the second time, the United State of Women Summit aims to center women and their ideas, with a view to building just that — a united state of us. It encourages an active approach in constructing a world in which we have a say, finally. A world in which we create our own systems, rather than just living by ones we had no part in establishing, and a world in which we hold others accountable for their actions. After all, in the words of Dolores Huerta who stood up on the day: “Defending democracy and expanding justice is women’s work.”
There is, of course, no feminist work — no work of women — without a heart of intersectionality and inclusion. Jane Fonda reminded us all of this when, during her introduction of Patrisse Cullors, founder of Black Lives Matter, she described how asleep she’d been for so many years with regard to how race intersects with womanhood.
“White people should dare to inhabit the lives of women of color”, she said slowly, to an enraptured audience who clicked their fingers and hadn’t sat in their seats in the ten minutes since they came on stage.
Fonda’s feminism, her action, her decisions had changed drastically when she made the active choice to remember that we are all made of intersections which all affect our womanhood, and that we all have a responsibility to uplift those who are in minorities that change the narrative.
To that end, during USOW 2018, we heard from a real patchwork of women — women of color like Patrisse and former First Lady Michelle Obama, LGBTQ+ women including the badass Andrea Jenkins, the first trans woman of color elected to public office in the USA. We heard the stories of Native American women and the work that is being done to make sure their voices are heard. We joined them all in song as we cried and clapped until our hands stung and our hearts felt like they may break our ribs. Space, respect, support and sometimes silence was given to those who so bravely spearhead the #MeToo movement, by sharing their stories of assault through poetry, music and speeches. So many personal and courageous moments to which we were all privy and in which we all existed together, encouraged not just to feel united, but also aware of how our struggles and battles differ. Every single woman who spoke, and all the women who listened too, was a thread in that patchwork. The air was static with an electricity which I maintain only women can generate; it’s still buzzing in my ears.
But, nothing is ever uncomplicated. No feeling, even one of empowerment and strength exists in a vacuum. We, and this world we’ve made, are complex and messy and imperfect. That’s why I can’t write this article in true honest form, without telling you that there is something missing. Because on that day, I sat and listened, but I also waited. I waited to hear myself and others like me mentioned. Two hours and ten minutes into the opening ceremony, there I was. At the end of a list. “...and disabled women, too”. I felt dizzy. How in anything’s name was it possible to feel so many things at once? So alive and so excited and so fortunate, yet so completely and utterly absent? Around lunchtime, as I asked one, then a second, and finally a third attendant where the elevator was, and he too didn’t know, I realized something.
I was standing on the doorstep of a huge party. I could hear what was going on inside, and somehow I did feel a part of it, because it was right there, and that electricity was in my air too. People came outside sometimes and stood with me for a while. We clinked glasses maybe, said hi, held hands even, in a haze of girl power. But then I was on my own again, and the party carried on. Until someone invited me in, I’d be crashing.
There is something missing.
The voices of disabled women, the stories and lived experiences they can contribute to this active United State of Women. Each time I wait to hear us mentioned, I am reminded that disabled women in the USA are the most likely to experience sexual, physical and emotional violence in intimate relationships.* I am reminded that, as Lillibeth Navarro, the only disabled speaker in the ceremony said, women with disabilities were at the center of the fight to push through the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. We, as women with disabilities, deserve and require as big of a platform as any other intersection. Organizations like USOW who are doing the great work to help promote inclusion and promote diverse voices should adequately represent those of us with disabilities and our specific struggles. Put us on panels, and a lot of them, give us room to speak in ceremonies — more than one of us — and join hands with us.
We are not just one of a list or an afterthought.
So, open the door. Invite us in. I know that that force of women that we are can get even stronger. I know that we can be an even more United State of Women.
* Breiding, M.J., Armour, B.S. (2015). The association between disability and intimate partner violence in the United States. Annals of Epidemiology; 25(6): 455-457. doi: 10.1016/j.annepidem.2015.03.017.
Embedded image descriptions:
1. Three women stand on stage at USOW with screens behind them. One woman standing in front of a microphone is projected on the screens.
2. Two women stand by a blue podium on stage. One woman stands close to the podium and speaks while the other stands back; their images are projected on a screen behind them.
3. A woman stands alone in the middle of the stage. Behind her, screens project her image as she speaks in her wheelchair.