Note: This post is Part One of a series on young feminists or activists below the Mason-Dixon line, since we didn’t allot the South enough time on our original road trip. Feel free to suggest a series on your own part of the country–email nona [at] girl-drive [dot] com
Kate Shapiro: 26, a “queer, anti-zionist whitey Jew, livin’, workin’ and lovin in her hometown of ATL.” Works with LGBTQ youth of color in out-of-school settings doing political education, leadership development and cultural work, is a farmer/food grower in Douglasville, GA.
Do you consider yourself a feminist? If so, why and if no, why not? What does it mean for you?
Sure. Of course, though I have never self-identified as a feminist. I work for and believe in justice for all people, and that female bodied people face an explicit and particular type of oppression. We live in a culture and society based on gender roles and expectations, where violence against women is everywhere. That is, where rape and sexual assault are normalized, where women’s bodies are expected to always be available for consumption, on the street, in the club, in the news, music, media etc. These are based on prejeduce and stereotypes and based on the power structures where the worldviews of white, rich, Christian, straight men reign supreme.
But it [feminism] is not just about gender. i work at a small Reproductive Justice organization and it was founded by women of color reproductive health activists based on the realities of INTERSECTIONALITY — meaning how peoples/communities experiences are shaped not just around gender, or class, or race but that gender and class and race identities overlap. So overall, in the world, I think feminism is a critical part in how we work for justice. And that it is not just an issue or politic that should be taken up by women. That is like saying only people of color should work to fight racism. Or only queer people should fight against homophobia. We are all impacted (and ‘benefiting’ but really being harmed and exploiting and othering people) by the way this society concieves of and enforces gender, race, class.
How would you describe the work you do?
I work at an organization that comes from a reproductive justice framework. This framework was first developed around 10 years ago when a bunch of women of color reproductive rights activists were like ‘Wait a second, this reproductive rights thing isn’t actually reflecting our experiences or meeting our needs’ because the RR movement was largely led by white, straight middle class women who didn’t want babies.
They thought, ‘Our reproduction has been controlled for so long we continue to fight to keep our babies, parent and to be able to raise them with dignity….While women of color are being blamed for ‘the choice’ framework didn’t work for them because its not really a CHOICE if you want to have a child but can’t because you know you wont be able to feed them (because you haven’t been able to go to school, or have a living wage job etc etc.)
So Reproductive justice is based much more in an organizing framework (versus providing services or lobbying) and we work to centralize the experience of those most affected, those most harmed by dangerous legislation, or lack of access to basic resources and excluded from the power structure. So the leadership of our organization reflects that we honor (and work to cultivate) the leadership and experience of people living and loving at the intersections of multiple oppressions. Planned parenthood, back in the day when Margaret Sanger started it in the early 20th century, was going into poor and black neighborhoods and sterilizing women. That ‘some women’ and people were less desirable than others and shouldn’t be reproducing. That it was white, middle class ladies that should be reproducing the nation and that the fertility of women of color, poor women and women with disabilites was something to be controlled and blamed. There is a huge backdrop and historical context that our work comes out of.
What kind of opposition to you bump up against?
There is plenty of opposition [in Atlanta] to our work. And there is much need for our work! The local and state government is highly conservative. We successfully defeated a proposed bill during the last legislative session which was a Personhood Amendment (saying ‘personhood’ started at birth). Summer of 2008 Operation Save America came to town which is this enormous caravan of extremely hateful, racist, bigoted conservatives that come and protest at all the abortion clinics (blocking the entrances and harassing and heckling women that are attemping to enter the clinics) in different towns across the U.S. People come from all over the region to ATL to utilize the abortion and sexual health services.
I work with queer and trans youth of color and we are doing a lot of work around Sex Ed and Sexuality Education, as Georgia is the second most highly funded abstinence-only until marriage state after Texas. Abstinence Only Curriculum essentially says that the only acceptable adult relationship is a heterosexual marriage. And the only place one should be ‘having sex’ is within a marriage and for reproduction purposes only. In GA teachers are ‘allowed’to talk about condoms but not required to. Its deep. And so so harmful. So with the young people we work with we talk about the reality that we gotta ‘make what we need’ ’cause it doesn’t exist! And it certainly doesn’t exist in schools, basic information about sex, sexuality, relationships (thats not shaming, homophobic, sexist. classist etc.). So we gotta make what we need.
How would you describe a Southern feminist? How is your feminism specific to where you live?
I want to be clear that ATL and the ‘South’ are largely different things. We have a dual history here…of the horrors of the slavery and legacies of voilence and exploitation AND incredible continuous popular resistance and RESILIENCE, i.e. our ability to bounce back after being harmed or traumatized or experienceing violence. Atlanta has a whole lot more money and infrastructure than the rest of the South and relative to other parts of the country our infrastrucutre is minimal. We live and love within generations of institutional and governmental neglect, which makes our lives and work look different than other parts of the country, and which people look down on. But to me it shows how strong and powerful and rooted many of our communities are.
Dont be fooled, feminism runs deep here. And it is called by many names. Matriarchy runs deep here. Women have been holding it down in the public (on the front lines) and private sphere here forever. Most of the grassroots justice work that is happening in ATL is led by women, epecially women of color. We might have food at every meeting. The meetings might happen on the porch or in the home, or over pie and tea. But don’t be fooled. We know what we are doing. I know feminists of all shapes, sizes, ages, genders, abilities and colors here in ATL. You better watch out for some Southern Feminists, boy…cause we gonna tell it like it is. It doesn’t mean we won’t feed you first. With most of the ‘feminists’ I know it is built into our worldview….because feminism is a set of basic priniciples, working for justice, making it sustainable, sharing stories and experiences and taking care of each other in the process….and if there is anything that Southern folks know how to do — ’cause we have been doing it for so damn long–that is to take care of each other.