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Bright Eyed and Bushy Tailed: Reflections on Being the Easter Bunny

Bright Eyed and Bushy Tailed: Reflections on Being the Easter Bunny

H. Bradford

4/3/18


This spring, I saw an interesting opportunity posted on Facebook.  The post was a call-out for anyone interested in becoming the Easter Bunny at the mall.  Despite the fact that I already have two jobs, or three if you count subbing, I posted my interest and was interviewed later that week.  The interview was pretty informal, mostly consisting of questioning why I was interested in the job and trying on a giant Easter Bunny head.  With little effort, I was hired on for a two week stint as a costumed Easter Bunny at a mall kiosk for seasonal photos.  I thought the whole thing seemed silly and certainly would provide the raw materials for a good story.


The Costume:

The costume itself was hot and claustrophobic.  When I first tried the whole thing on, I felt a little overwhelmed by the sense of being trapped.  The trapped feeling came from the general heaviness and stuffiness of the head, which provided a dim and limited view of the world.  The head does not allow for adequate peripheral vision or the ability to look down.  The rest of the body is less challenging.  It consisted of oversized rabbit feet, baggy fur pants, a velcro velvety blue jacket, and furry gloves.  One thing that I appreciated about the costume was that the bunny looked intellectual, with round glasses and gold trimmed velvet clothes.   This was not a rowdy Peter Rabbit, but perhaps his pedantic uncle who is allergic to carrots (unless they are boiled) and whose favorite painting is Gainsborough’s Blue Boy.

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(My first time wearing the costume)

In any event, the costume could become hot.  Thankfully, there was a fan aimed at the bunny.  The only downside was that sometimes the fan upset children or messed up their hair, so it was turned away or tilted up, resulting in a sweltering rabbit.  On the upside, I tried to think what skills wearing the suit might translate to.  Paul (a fellow rabbit) said that maybe I would be more comfortable in a gas mask, since those are also claustrophobic.  I thought perhaps I would do better underwater (with a lessened sense of the space around me or a sense of confinement in a wetsuit or scuba/snorkel mask).  Yes, I want to believe that being the bunny better prepares me for revolution, apocalypse, or underwater adventures.


 

Gender:

The Easter Bunny was usually gendered as male by parents and children.  The bunny doesn’t have any specific gender markers, but might be viewed as male due to the blue velvet vest and jacket.  In a Twitter Poll, 80% of respondents believed the Easter Bunny to be male.  Though, velvetty anything seems pretty gender ambiguous in my opinion.  Only Paul suggested that the bunny could use they, them pronouns.  Otherwise, parents almost universally used masculine pronouns with the rabbit.  A few people inquired about the gender of the person inside of the costume.  For instance, a girl asked me if I was a girl bunny or a boy bunny.  An older woman asked one of the cashier/photography workers if the person inside was male or female.  I don’t expect that most customers would have the knowledge or experiences to envision the bunny outside of the binary of male or female.  I myself tended to gender the bunny as male, hence my Peter Rabbit’s uncle story.  I often wondered how parents felt about setting their child on the lap of the Easter Bunny.  Did the parents envision the person inside as male?  If so, how did this make them feel?  Male gender and sexuality is always viewed as more potentially threatening to children.  This is because we are socialized to view women as more “naturally” disposed for caretaking, more nurturing, and more invested in children.  Statistically, men are more likely to be perpetrators of child sexual abuse, though females make up 14% of the abusers of male children and 6% of female children.  With this in mind, I wondered how parents might react differently based upon their perceptions of the gender of the person in the costume.  As far as I could tell, most parents were extremely comfortable putting their child into the lap or company of a stranger in a rabbit costume.  This leads me to my next point…


Consent:

I was not able to speak as the Easter Bunny.  This made negotiating consent difficult.  As I mentioned, parents were pretty comfortable with placing their child in the temporary care of the Easter Bunny.  However, many children were not at all comfortable meeting the bunny.  It seemed that children over the age of two and under the age of five were often quite terrified of the bunny.  From a distance, they seemed excited.  As they grew nearer, the magnitude of meeting the bunny struck them- as well as the general weirdness of having to sit on this character’s lap or beside them.  This resulted in reactions ranging from shyness to terror.  Parents addressed this a number of ways.  A common tactic was to bribe the children.  Children were promised that they could ride the train, have candy, go to Build a Bear, or get a toy if they endured a photo with the bunny.  Parents also assured their children that the bunny was safe and nice.  This was done by approaching the bunny, touching its paw, high fives, sitting next to the bunny with the child in arms, and other tactics to increase the child’s exposure to the bunny and demonstrate that it was no threat at all.  Some parents threatened their kids, telling them there would be no candy or that they would go straight home.  A final tactic was to simply place the child on the bunny’s lap or on the bench, then run, hoping that the photographer would grab a few shots before the child inevitably ran away.


Parents played an important role in mediating the child’s consent.  However, most parents wanted a photo for their own collection of memories or to send to relatives.  They had a vested interest in forcing their child to endure a photo.  This put me in an awkward position.  When one parent placed a child on my lap, the child immediately thrust themselves off my legs and flopped onto the floor.  This resulted in more crying.  Since I did not want more children to fall over, I would hold them securely on my lap- a violation of their consent.  Parents encouraged this, even telling me to hold on tight to their child.  When I finally released one child, the crying boy wailed that he would never return to the Easter Bunny again.  I felt bad that many kids did not consent to being photographed with the bunny.  While I think that with time and patience, many frightened children would warm up to the bunny, the length of the line or impatience of the parents did not allow for this to happen in some cases.  In other cases, children naturally became more comfortable with the giant rabbit and ended up having a positive experience.  Thus, I can conclude that I think it is alright for parents to challenge their children to overcome their fears in a patient and supportive manner.  But, I do think it sends the wrong message for parents to threaten or force the encounter.


As for my own strategies for trying to make children comfortable, I would sometimes grab an egg for the children to hold.  This seemed to distract them from the frightening, giant rabbit.   I would also try to make the children comfortable with high fives and thumbs ups.  If kids rushed towards me (without showing fear) I might gesture for a hug.  I didn’t want to be a cold Easter Bunny with walls of boundaries, but I also didn’t want to make children uncomfortable.  I found that this was a little challenging to balance, as I naturally am more reserved when it comes to showing warmth and affection.


 

Working with Kids:

While I work with children at Safe Haven Shelter, I enjoyed my interactions as the Easter Bunny far more.  Within the context of the shelter, I am just me.  If a child is placed in my care, it is usually in the office, where there are computers, office supplies, and phone calls.  Thus, I always feel pretty stressed out about childcare at the shelter because 1.) I have nothing to entertain them with.  2.) I am in a room full of expensive or breakable things- i.e. computers.  3.) I often don’t know how long the encounter will last.  4.) I may have other work to attend to.  5.) I am not actually all that fun or interesting to children.  As the Easter Bunny, I was immediately fun and likeable.  Afterall, I am the one who brings candy and hides eggs.  On several occasions, I was able to ride on the mall train which was a grand entry and an opportunity for sort-of dancing.  While I could not speak, I could wave, gesture, high five, and pretend to hop.  In all, it was great to NOT be boring old Heather, who has nothing to offer children.  Really, being the Easter Bunny is the closest I will ever be to being a celebrity or God. Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, sitting and child

(a photo of a photo- of my friend Jenny’s niece)

 

Labor:

From a Marxist perspective, all workers sell their labor power in exchange for a wage.  Labor power is not only labor (i.e. selling shoes, making shirts, paving roads, or other examples of the act of working).  It is time, work, along with the whole human being.  In short, every worker sells their work and time, but also their personality, body, and the sustenance the person (physical health, mental health, caloric use, bodily wear and tear, etc.).  My temporary gig as the rabbit was a “hobby” job or one that I did more on a whim than for my actual survival.  Therefore, I didn’t feel particularly exploited.  At the same time, I think it would be very hard to be the bunny all year long or as a professional job.  There are some people (such as Disneyland workers) who do not have the luxury of a two week gig.  Thus, I think it is useful to illustrate the way in which this form of work is exploitive (as all work is).


When a worker sells their labor power, they are selling themselves.  In the bunny example, the worker is invisible, hidden inside a stuffy, hot suit.  The sweat of the worker, the inability to scratch an itchy nose, immediately use the toilet, easily ingest water, move hair that has flopped into the face, to speak, to see beyond the periphery of the eye holes, etc. are all ways in which the body is subjugated in the sale of labor.  Playing the character is how the personality of the worker is subjected in the interest of the emotional labor of entertaining children.   The way in which work subjugates the body and personality of a worker is pretty obvious inside the confines of a costume.  Even other workers tended to ignore the bunny, sometimes neglecting to turn on or move of the fan.  The bunny can’t easily communicate needs.  Another hardship as the rabbit was a lack of a sense of time.  There was no nearby clock, so time could move quickly or slowly depending upon how many customers were visiting.  At the same time, the bunny was paid better than other workers.  Workers who were not the bunny were pretty adamant that they did not want to end up in the costume.  I believe that at some level they realized that the bunny produced more “value” in terms of labor output (i.e. had a harder job but also contributed more to overall profits).


But, a person does not have to be in a bunny suit to realize the bodily oppression of labor.  A waitress who has to smile and look pretty for more tips, a social worker whose stress or compassion is a strain on their mental health, and a janitor whose heavy routine deteriorates physical health are all examples of how labor is more than just our work and time, but our whole being.

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(A little house of capitalist horrors)

Conclusion:

I would say that the job was certainly novel.  Towards the end, I was happy that the season was over since my coworkers seemed worn out and the hours in addition to my regular work hours was making me weary and eager for free time.  It was a fun side job and more insightful than one might imagine.  While hidden in my costume, I had plenty to think about in terms of gender, consent, and labor itself.  There were fun moments.  I liked to make children happy.  I liked to play a character.  I liked the opportunity to be something other than the more serious and quiet version of myself that I sometimes am as an activist and worker at my other jobs.  I enjoyed eating at Noodles and Company at the mall and visiting the mall at all!  It was something different from my normal routine.  I was also happy to have stories to share with my friends, coworkers, and family.  I even had a several people visit me as the bunny.  If the opportunity arises, I may be the bunny again next year.  Being the Easter bunny made me feel more inclined to celebrate Easter.  I visited my family and even purchased myself an Easter basket full of candy I don’t need.  But, even the Easter bunny needs a little treat!   Anyway, we’ll see what next Easter brings.  And who knows, maybe I will be one of Santa’s helpers…

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https://www.quora.com/Is-the-Easter-bunny-male-or-female

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How to Be a Sneaky Secret Santa

How to be a Sneaky Secret Santa

12/31/17

H. Bradford

The internet is full of tips of how to figure out what gifts to buy for a workplace Secret Santa gift exchange, but there are not a lot of pages with advice on how to be a sneaky Secret Santa.  That is, what if you want to put extra effort into hiding your identity as a Secret Santa or want to make the gift exchange itself more mysterious?  This holiday season I felt like being a little extra sneaky in our Secret Santa gift exchange at my job.  Here are some ideas of how to add a little ho, ho, ho to the average ho hum gift exchange:

The False Flag:

I did not set out to do anything special this year for our annual Secret Santa gift exchange.  However, I became aware that one of my co-workers was disappointed that she had not yet received a gift from her secret Santa.  Worse, she believed that I was the negligent party!  I didn’t want her to believe that I had forgotten to give her a gift (over a week into the exchange), so I concocted the idea that I would give her a secret Santa gift- even though I was not her actual secret Santa.  This spiraled into the idea that I should give a gift to another co-worker who had been pretty vocal about having been forgotten in the secret Santa exchange.  From there, the idea grew even bigger…


The first rogue secret Santa gift to my coworker “S”  was designed to be a false flag.   Well, not in the very literal sense.  A false flag is a an operation that is designed to appear that another group, organization, nation, etc. has carried out the action.  In this case, I wanted to make it obvious that I was the person behind this Secret Santa gift.  The idea is that by doing so, I would mask my other actions and confuse my ACTUAL secret Santa recipient  into believing that I was “S”‘s secret Santa.   I wanted S and my other coworkers to think that I was her Secret Santa even though I was not her actual secret Santa.   It was false evidence meant to distract from my actual activities.  While it does not quite fit the military or cyber definition of a false flag, I will use that term since I used my identity in one context to conceal or distract from my identity in the other context.


My first false gift involved a Scavenger Hunt to find two gifts hidden in my work place.  This Scavenger Hunt comprised of a message left on her desk, a second clue with a gift, and a final gift hidden in a hard to find location.  The clues in the Scavenger Hunt were written in three foreign languages and also provided GPS coordinates to the final gift.  Since my coworkers know that I like to travel and that I also do geocaching as a hobby, the Scavenger Hunt was purposefully made to make them believe that I was the Secret Santa behind “S” ‘s gift.   I think that this worked out pretty well since “S” sent a group email thanking the Secret Santa for the scavenger hunt and gift- which was helpful in making everyone aware of the ruse.   My only regret was that the Scavenger Hunt may have been a little too difficult.  It took two days to find the final gift (since reasonably most of my coworkers would not be able to use GPS to find a location in the workplace).

Big Idea: Pick someone to be your fake secret Santa gift recipient and provide obvious clues that you are the one behind this false gift.  Better yet, provide clues that lead everyone to believe that another one of your co-workers is behind the gift!

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The Informant:

Early on in my Secret Santa schemes, I enlisted a co-worker who works on the night shift with me to provide me with information and collaborate.   I don’t often speak to all of my coworkers, but “C” the informant, is much more social and closer with them.  She had a lot of great information that I would never have had access to.  For instance, many of my coworkers had confided in her who they had been paired with in the Secret Santa gift exchange.  I took notes based on her information (which helped me to plan my own actions).   Aside from providing me with information, “C” helped me by writing notes for me.  Obviously, I didn’t want to use my own handwriting when writing messages to the recipients of my gifts.  Therefore, I had her write some of the notes for me.   This was also useful as it might have led coworkers to believe that SHE was their Secret Santa (a distraction that benefited us both). Big Idea:  Enlist a trusted coworker in the schemes.  However, be careful, as they could spill the beans to your other coworkers!


Disinformation:

There is always the chance that “C” would tell others about my Secret Santa shenanigans.   To avoid that, I told her that I was “S”‘s Secret Santa.  Since she had already told me the gift exchange pairs that she knew, I knew that she did not know who “S” ‘s real secret Santa was.  So, I pretended to be “S” ‘s secret Santa when talking with “C” so that she would spread disinformation if she happened to tell others who I was paired with.

Big Idea:  Strategically plant false information.

Image result for secret santa


 

Dead Drop:

One of the challenges to being a secretive Santa is that workers have set schedules.   I have a very predictable and repetitive schedule wherein I work for eight days on and six days off.  Anyone with deductive reasoning can start to figure out who their secret Santa is or is not if they pay attention to work schedules.  For instance, if a gift always appears in the morning or afternoon, there is a good chance that it is from someone working one of those shifts.  If a gift only appears on weekdays after 10 am, it is easy to start to narrow down potential secret Santas.  Because I have six days off, I had to be a little bit creative about what to do about the long stretch of days that I am not at work.  I had two solutions to this, but I will only share one of them, which was the Dead Drop.   Basically, on the last night of my stretch of shifts, I hid gifts within my work place.  These had to be good hiding spots, as they would have to remain hidden for several days.


My first Dead Drop a hidden a gift card behind a poster in our office.     The other hiding spot was in an empty metal dresser in the maintenance room.  Finally, a third gift was hidden within our staff conference room.   With the gifts hidden in the shelter, I could choose the time and day that the secret Santa gift recipients would learn of their gifts.  This liberated me from relying on my work schedule.   However, this meant that I had to create secret communication channels to let my co-workers know about their gifts.

Big Idea:  Hide gifts to avoid reliance on a schedule or in-person exchanges.

 


 

Create Secret Communication Channels:

To inform the gift recipients of their hidden gifts, I had to create secret communication channels.  The first one that I created was a fake email account.   I used the fake email account to email “L” about the hidden gift card.   I did this at noon on a day that I did not work.   I figured that noon would be a good time, since as a night shift worker, she might conclude that I would be sleeping at that hour.   Using the fake email account, I sent an email to her which provided the following clue:

She is the one with the cheerless eyes,

 

She is cloaked in porpoises,

 

But what is her purpose or plan?

 

There are many things that start with the letter P

 

Look beyond the painting,

 

Hiding behind Patricia Wyatt

 

You will find a surprise or a disappointment.

The clue was meant to lead her to the framed poster in the office, behind which the gift card was hidden. Image result for patricia wyatt art she dreams in the rhythm of the waves

This is a copy of the poster that we have hanging in the office.

Several days later, I used a friend’s phone to inform another gift recipient (N) that she would find the gift in the maintenance room.   I felt that N would not be offended by getting a text from a mysterious number, since she seems like a pretty good sport.  I would not advise this method for a coworker that you don’t know well or who is not as into the gift exchange, since they may feel violated by a mysterious text message from an unfamiliar phone number.  In my case, N seemed pretty happy to be informed about the gift and intrigued rather than threatened.   My friend has a phone number from out of the area, which added to the mystery.  I made sure the friend immediately deleted the number from the phone and that it was someone that I could trust not to misuse the phone number.


Finally, I used my secret email to email my supervisor to make an announcement at the beginning of our staff meeting.  The supervisor was told to announce that an anonymous source had informed her that there was a gift hidden in the conference room.  Staff searched for the gift at the beginning of the staff meeting, which was turned over to the gift recipient, who also happened to be “N.”   Again, using a fake email to email a supervisor is only advisable if the supervisor is a good sport and on board with the Secret Santa gift exchange.  My supervisor happens to love the holidays and likes to coordinate the gift exchange, so I wasn’t too worried.  The only downside was that my coworkers had a hard time finding the gift, so I had to pretend to help them find it (to avoid taking up too much meeting time).

Big Idea:  Use a fake email, alternative phone, posted message, or other employees to create secret channels of communication.


 

Data Smog:

As my Secret Santa operation evolved, I eventually decided that I would give gifts to all of my coworkers.  Some would be elaborate, such as the scavenger hunt, hidden gifts, poems, anonymous letters, thoughtful cards, etc.  Some would be low-key, such as small gifts that randomly appeared in staff mailboxes with nothing more than a note that it was from Secret Santa.   I decided that I would try to give everyone a gift as a matter of fairness but also Data Smog.   Data Smog is the idea that it is hard to determine what is true or false when there is too much information to sift through.  By providing a lot of information and gifts to everyone, it would be hard for anyone to know which gifts were from a Secret Santa and which were from me, Rogue Secret Santa.   In the last two weeks of my Secret Santa operation, I mostly gave out subtle, anonymous gifts.   On Wednesdays, when all of the staff were gathered for a meeting, I chose to do a more elaborate gift exchange. Big Idea:  A variety of information, including obvious clues that it was Rogue Secret Santa as well as subtle, anonymous gifts given without fanfare was meant to obscure my actions.


Puzzles, Poems, and Messages:

One of my favorite parts of my Secret Santa operation was devising a number of poems and messages for my coworkers.   For instance, prior to our regular Wednesday meeting I baked two dozen cupcakes and set them on the table along with a typed message.  The message told my coworkers to eat the cupcakes and that under some of them, they would find a letter that spelled out the name of the coworker whose gift was on the table.   Everyone helped themselves to the cupcakes, eventually spelling out the letters in the co-worker’s name (which could be found on the bottom of the cupcake wrapper).   The gift itself included a Finnish language Christmas card and a poem by the famous poet, A. Leppanen.   There is no Finnish poet with this name.   I wrote the poem, but attributed it to a fake Finnish poet.  (The recipient of the gift had a Finnish background).   I created several poems or rhymes during the course of my secret Santa operation.   Each used a different style.   For instance, when “L” complained that she had been forgotten by her secret Santa, I provided her a small gift and the following typed Haiku:

Forgotten no more. I was called out for neglect.  Santa is Sorry

Image result for secret santa


 

Miscellaneous:

Aside from the techniques listed above, I tried to remain sneaky by keeping notes of my activities.  This helped me to keep track of what I had done, who I had given gifts to, how they reacted, and plans for the future.  This aided in the timing of my gift giving and make sure that no one was forgotten.   I typically typed my messages to my coworkers, as this disguised my handwriting, but on two occasions I had other people write my messages (one was C-the informant, and the other was my housemate).   I also used pre-made Secret Santa labels that I found on the internet, with one of my Secret Santa gift recipients.  Generally, I tried to be consistent.  For instance, I typically used decorated brown paper bags and printed labels for my gifts to N. Big Idea:  Take notes to keep track of your activities, use a variety of styles of packaging and messaging.  Avoid using your own handwriting.


Conclusion:

My Rogue Santa activities did concern some staff.  A few staff were worried that they had the wrong name in the exchange or were somehow doing the gift exchange wrong after mysterious gifts appeared from the Rogue Secret Santa.   The panic meant that my supervisor had to send an email warning staff not to worry and that there were some pranksters in their midst.  I genuinely enjoyed watching as the staff discovered their gifts, especially if they liked them.   I also enjoyed some conversations with staff.  For instance, one of my coworkers told me about a poem and gift card she had received.  She was convinced that they came from B., our supervisor.   I had to laugh a little to myself.   I also enjoyed doing little things such as hiding bags of candy under the seats of my coworkers before a staff meeting and making them the cupcakes.  My actual Secret Santa recipient did not know that I was her Secret Santa!  So that was also fun.  The main drawback is that I can only be a Rogue Secret Santa once!  Next year, if I do anything tricky, they will all know that it is me!  Another drawback is that because I bought at least a small item for each of my coworkers, it was a costly little operation.   While I won’t be playing the role of a Rogue Secret Santa next year, hopefully this list of ideas inspires someone else to make Christmas a covert operation.

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Travel and My Fears

 

Travel and My Fears

H. Bradford

5/21/17

I am getting ready for another trip and I feel a little afraid.  This time, I am traveling to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan for three weeks.  Like always, I will go alone, though I will meet up with a group of strangers after a few days in Ashgabat.  From there, we will embark on an overland camping trip through the stans.  When I first fantasized about the trip, I imagined the wonder of seeing the dehydrated remains of the Aral Sea.  I imagined myself following the Silk Road through ancient, exotic cities.  I would traverse the rugged formerly Soviet states, admiring mosques, monuments, and a few remaining statues of Lenin.  It seemed very intrepid.  All winter, the trip was abstract.  I read books about the history of the region.  But, now that the trip is less than two weeks away, a new reality is setting in.  I am going to have to bush camp in the desert with scorpions, cobras, and several days without a shower.  I am going to have to navigate Ashgabat alone as a solo female American traveler.  Turkmenistan gets a fraction of the tourists that North Korea gets each year (about 9,000 compared to 35,000).  I am also moderately terrified of contracting dysentery, typhus, or any number of food or waterborne diseases.  (I do have some antibiotics from last year’s trip and was vaccinated last year against a variety of illnesses).   Also, ATM use in those countries is unreliable, so, I will have to carry a lot of cash and hope it is enough for the duration of my trip…and that I don’t lose it or have it stolen.  Internet is somewhat patchy in those countries and my cellphone does not work out of the country.  I have faced that same dilemmas before and fared alright, but, it does make me a little worried.

Gas crater

The Darvaza gas crater in the Karakum desert- one of the places where I will be “bush camping” in just over two weeks from now.


Fear is not new.  I’ve always been afraid of travel.  Usually, there is this brave person inside of me, who is full of fantasy and confidence.  That person decides on some adventure, which looks great as a portrait in my imagination, but is not as fun as a lived reality.  Let’s call that person “Brave H.” For instance, when I was 19 years old, I decided that I would go to London and Paris alone.  I came from a town of 250 people and had never been on an airplane or road in a taxi.  Go big or go home, Brave H. says…until I am actually trying to figure out how airports work, on my first plane ride, and going across the ocean.  In retrospect, it is really no big deal.  That sort of travel seems easy.  But, to 19 year old me, that was a pretty big deal.  Over fifty countries later, I am still afraid, but the fear changes with new challenges.


Last year, I went to Southern Africa for an overland camping trip in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe.  As the plane took off, I was pretty terrified.  I was terrified before then.  I had never actually gone camping, but somehow Brave H. signed me up for three weeks of it…in Africa.  I was afraid of being alone.  I was afraid of being the victim of crime- sexual assault in particular.  I was afraid of becoming very ill.  I was afraid that I was not up to the challenge of camping or the long days on bumpy roads.  I was a little afraid of insects, snakes, and animals.  Somehow, it wasn’t as bad as I feared. In fact, it was wonderful, fun, and even much easier than I imagined.  It took a few days of camping to come to the conclusion that I was going to make it.  Any small hardship was more than compensated for in the form of astonishing landscapes and animals.

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(A view of Victoria Falls from a helicopter.  I had a lot of anxiety as I had never been in a helicopter before.  But, overcoming fear and anxiety does have its rewards).

I was afraid the year before when Brave H. decided it was a good idea to visit Belarus and Ukraine, entirely alone.  After all, Brave H. wanted to see Chernobyl.  Brave H. wanted to visit a nature reserve outside of Minsk and partake in the weird splendor of the Cold War remnant.  So, that is where I went.  I don’t regret it.  Kiev was really beautiful and there was so much to see.  Minsk was not really pretty at all, but unique.  Neither place was teeming with tourists, adding a sense of bravery to my adventure.  I only spent a few days in each place.  I think that traveling often has waves of fear.  For instance, there is the anxiety of getting from the airport to the hotel without being ripped off or taken advantage of by a taxi driver.  Upon arriving at the hotel, there is elation after overcoming the first challenge.  After that, there are anxieties around finding a currency exchange, navigating the metro system, walking alone in the park, the other individuals staying in the hostel, the mysterious military parade, getting turned around, trying to find the monument to Baba Yar, etc.  It is like this on every adventure.  The ups and downs of figuring things out and staying safe in unfamiliar places.

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I have felt at least a little afraid during each of my trips.  I don’t particularly like being afraid, but I do like the feeling of accomplishment from figuring something out or successfully completing a task or adventure.  I suppose it makes me feel stronger and braver.  Of course, this only serves to inspire Brave H.to dream up bigger adventures and greater challenges.  I am not a robust, energetic, extroverted adventurer.  I am cowardly.  I like books and birds.  I enjoy museums and botanical gardens. I don’t really care for being dirty, lonely, terrified, tired, or sick.  Brave H. won’t stand for that.  Nope.  Life is too short.  I want to see interesting things and test myself.  Granted, there are people who test themselves far more.  For instance, there was a woman in her 60s on my last trip who went scuba diving with alligators in the Zambezi river.  Brave H. wants to be her.   Normal, nerdy, cowardly H. does not like water or all the pressure from being under water.  The same woman climbed mountains and scuba dived all over the world.  She also traveled to the “Stans” for an overland trip.  I will never be one of those amazing adventurers that I meet when I am out traveling.  The ones who inspire Brave H. to concoct an adventure or dream of new challenges.  I will always be afraid.  As I test myself, the boundaries of the fear extends to the next horizon.  I hope that horizon takes me to interesting places.  Maybe I will trek up mountains (at least smaller ones that don’t require actual climbing gear).  Maybe I will learn to scuba dive.  Maybe I will never do those things.  Maybe there is a limit to how far the boundary can be pushed.  It may be limited by experiencing disease or a discomfort so great that it pushes me back into my comfort zone.  Whatever happens, it is my hope that I can one day be that old lady who inspires others with her fearlessness and zeal for life.

dscf4256Brave H. thinks she is a bad ass.   Well, maybe someday it will be true.

Some Basics of Socialist Feminism

Some Basics of Socialist Feminism

H. Bradford

3/11/17

This week, International Women’s Day was marked by an impressive array of feminist mobilizations around the world.  For the first time in a long time in the U.S., the holiday hearkened back to its radical roots.  Women from Lansing to Chattanooga, along with at least fifty other cities in the United States, participated in demonstrations related to “A Day Without a Woman.” Locally, there were numerous events spread across the week which touched upon a wide range of issues including domestic violence, wage parity, reproductive rights, and U.S. foreign policy.  Considering the connection the holiday has to the labor and socialist movements, it is suiting that this month’s Feminist Frolic would include a labor history hike around Superior.  I wanted to end the hike with an equally relevant topic: socialist feminism.


It is hard to know where to begin when explaining socialist feminism.  It is something I take for granted and something that isn’t easily explained.  There is no “one” socialist feminism, since there are many strains of socialist thought.  As such, this is not a theoretically nuanced piece.  Rather, it seeks to lay out some basic principles of socialist feminism.  To this end, in 1976, Barbara Ehrenreich wrote a short, basic piece which sought to explain socialist feminism.  Her beginning point was to break down feminism and socialism.  According to Ehrenreich (1976), both are ways of looking critically at society.  From a socialist, or more specifically, a Marxist perspective, society is unequal because a tiny segment of the population profits from the labor of the majority.  The vast majority of the population are workers, who must work to survive and who do not control their wages, working conditions, or productive outputs.  The tiny minority are capitalists, who profit by underpaying workers.  According to Marxists, these classes are in conflict with one another.  And, it is possible and hopeful, though not inevitable nor easy, that this conflict could lead to the workers emancipating themselves by overthrowing the capitalists and the system that benefits them.  Thus, the main concern of Marxists is class conflict, through, issues of racism, sexism, heterosexism, and all the other “isms” are also important antagonisms which serve a purpose in capitalism and which Marxists seek to resolve through mass movements and the overthrow of capitalism.  Inessa Armand summarized the importance of organizing to end these oppressions as part of the struggle against capitalism in her quote, “if the emancipation of women is unthinkable without communism, then communism is unthinkable without the full emancipation of women.”  Ehrenreich (1976) summed it up by stating that socialist feminism is “socialist, internationalist, antiracist, antiheterosexist feminism.”

Inessa Armand


Feminism, like Marxism, sees inequality as characteristic of capitalist society.  However, the area of special focus of feminists is the oppression of women.  Various kinds of feminists come to different conclusions about how to end oppression.  For instance, liberal feminists often want to elect more women into political office.  They might support businesses owned by women and want to promote women into leadership and business positions.  This position generally wants to work within the framework of capitalism and the confines of our existing political system to enact reforms that benefit women.  To be fair, socialist feminists are not against reforms, but are critical of capitalism and our political system.  From a socialist feminist perspective, capitalist democracies cannot end women’s oppression.  The socialist feminist critique of liberal feminism is that promoting women into power perpetuates the oppression of women by giving them reign over foreign policies, military decisions, and austerity measures that hurt women.  For instance, one of the first events for International Women’s Day was a panel sponsored by Witness for Peace.  The panel focused on Honduras, which experienced U.S. supported coup in 2009.  Berta Caceres, an environmental activist, was killed about a year prior to the panel.  She was a critic of Hillary Clinton and her death resulted the violence and intimidation that has sought to suppress activists since the coup.  From a socialist feminist perspective, it is not a win for women if Hillary Clinton would have been elected as president.  For poor women, working women, and women who suffer from our militarism and violent, business centered foreign policy, this would not have been a gain at all.  Socialist feminist critique liberal feminism because it mainly benefits wealthier or more privileged women.

I want a feminism that stands against U.S. foreign policy.


The critique of liberal feminism is nothing new.  Historically, socialists have not always been perfect on the issue of women’s liberation.  While Karl Marx and Frederick Engels wrote about women’s oppression and socialists organized around issues related to working class women, early socialists were cautious and critical of feminists.  They viewed early feminists as upper to middle class women whose interests were not aligned with those of working women.  These early feminists supported suffrage, but also wanted property rights for women.  These demands seem basic, but to a socialist, who views private property as the basis of patriarchy and who advocates for people who lack property, it is a demand that speaks more to those with means.  Socialists were late to adopt women’s suffrage as a demand for a variety of reasons (e.g. worry about participation in capitalist governments and concern that women could be drafted into imperialist wars) and did so due to the pressure and leadership of women within their own party.  While there is a rich history of socialist women such as Clara Zetkin, Rosa Luxemburg, and Alexandra Kollontai, these women are often overshadowed by their male counterparts in history.  Women played an important role in the Russian revolution by leading a strike on International Women’s Day in 1917, but were relegated to less “powerful” or important roles in the government.  The Russian revolution transformed society.  While it is common for people in our society to view Russia as conservative and repressive today, it was actually the first country to legalize abortion and decriminalize homosexuality.  After the revolution, maternity leave, civil marriage, easier access to divorce, free daycares, free health care, communal kitchens, and equal pay for equal work were introduced.  Women’s jobs were even protected from being taken by returning soldiers.  But, these gains were halted and reversed by Stalin.


Stalinism put the brakes on the development of socialist feminist thought in the Soviet Union, but this did not stop socialists elsewhere in the world from developing socialist feminism.  The flourishing of the feminist movement in the 1960s and 1970s, deepened the interest in questioning the nature of oppression and how to resolve it.  Some feminists were dissatisfied with the solutions offered by radical feminism, which did not examine social class, and liberal feminism, which did not challenge the economic foundation of women’s oppression.  These feminists also rejected understandings of Marxism which gave primacy to class over gender.  They saw the two as intertwined.  Thus, this was the birth of modern socialist feminism.  Personally, while socialist feminism and Marxist feminist are supposedly schematically different, I find that I am both.  I come from a Marxist tradition, but I also view class and other oppressions as intertwined.  It is not possible to organize a worker’s revolution without the support and advancement of oppressed groups.  Thus, I don’t use the term socialist feminist to differentiate myself from a Marxist feminist.  Perhaps if I was around a larger variety of socialists and feminists, or wrote for an academic audience, these distinctions would have more meaning.  It is also important to note that my education in socialist feminism does not come from academia, but rather my experiences as an activist.  Because of this, the theoretical grounding and minutiae of socialist feminist debates is not as sophisticated as it could be.  Nevertheless, from my own experiences, here are some of the key components of modern socialist feminism.


1.Patriarchy arose with the advent of private property.  Private property results in the first class societies, but also required methods of passing property from one generation to the next.  This resulted in a system of primogeniture, or passing property on to the oldest son.  However, this also required that women’s sexually had to be controlled to avoid passing property along to an “illegitimate” heir.  Thus, patriarchy predates capitalism by many thousands of years.  Yet, since property is a cornerstone of capitalism, monogamy and marriage continue to be a means by which individuals manage and pass on property.


2.Capitalism is one of many class based societies.  Each had particular shortcomings and class antagonisms.  The main class antagonism in capitalism pits workers against capitalism.  Workers provide capitalists with profits, which is done by lengthening their work day, increasing production, and underpaying them.  At the same time, women play a few unique roles in capitalism.  For one, any oppressed group can serve as a scapegoat for social problems, which distracts workers from their common oppression.  Secondly, women play a role in the social reproduction of labor.  That is, they produce future generations of workers and maintain the current generation of workers through their unpaid labor.  Since women shoulder more unpaid labor than men, they play a bigger role in maintaining the workforce by making meals, cleaning the home, doing laundry, taking children to doctor’s appointments, raising children in general, caring for elderly and retired workers, etc.  In short, women do an astonishing service for capitalism.  Their unpaid labor means that less profits are diverted to social programs and socialized modes of care.


3.Socialist feminism calls for the overthrow of capitalism, because anything less puts social movements in an endless treadmill of fighting for reforms and fighting against the erosion of previous reforms.  For instance, reproductive rights have been eroded over the last forty years.  Activists may be able to fight some of these rollbacks, but unless capitalism is overthrown, there will always be pressures to reverse the rights won by activists.  There will always be another war, another attack on workers, and another cut to social programs.  This is the nature of capitalism and the role that governments take in ensuring that business can happen as usual.


4. Although socialist feminists want to see the end to capitalism, they support a variety of reforms to capitalism in the meantime- as a way to alleviate the suffering wrought by this system.  These demands include safe, legal, free and accessible abortion and reproductive health services.  Free and accessible are important demands that contrast to some liberal feminists, who have argued that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare.  Abortion should be accessed without coercion and stigma.  It is important to be mindful that minority women, women with disabilities, and women in the third world, have not been given the same autonomy over their reproductive health.  They have been experimented upon and sterilized.  Other demands, which were put forth by the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union in 1969, include pleasant private and collective housing, nutritious and varied food, community control and the disarmament of police, social responsibility for raising children, 24 hour free and client control daycare, free quality, public education for all ages, democratic councils within homes, communities, and workplaces, free competent, prevention focused, quality medical care, social respect for all jobs, an end of housework as private, unpaid labor, etc.  Many of these demands are quite revolutionary and would likely not be accomplished within capitalism, at least not without the pressure of strong and militant feminist and labor movements.  But, they represent the multifaceted nature of socialist feminism.  Social respect for all jobs, including janitors, fast food workers, sex workers, etc. not only benefit those workers, but they benefit women.  Women’s work is not socially respected.  This lack of social respect is used to justify unequal pay.  Respect for all work means rethinking how wages are structured and social inequality is viewed as an outcome of worth or merit.

Work should not be shameful.  It should not be a reflection of a person’s intellect, dreams, talents, personality, potential, or worth.  Even within capitalism, it is the means to survival, yet it is given so much symbolic meaning.


5.Socialist feminism is international.   While liberal feminists may look towards policies that benefit women within their own society, socialist feminists look at feminism globally.  Not everything that seems to benefit U.S. women benefit women elsewhere in the world.  Electing a woman as president means little of this president promotes war, sanctions, and free trade.  The U.S. is not the world’s police.  At the same time, oppressed women in the world will not be liberated by the U.S. or its military.  This is a task they must take up on their own.  For instance, a socialist feminist is against war in Afghanistan, even if some schools for girls are built or other projects that benefit women are supported by this mission.  The cost of war, the violence, the death, environmental destruction, and the usurping of national autonomy is always worse than these gains.


6.Socialist feminism is environmentally minded.  Socialism has not always had the reputation of being focused on the environment, just as it has not always had the reputation of focusing on women.   While I would argue that socialism has always had strong environmental and gender implications, social movements have helped socialists to further develop theory about and emphasize these issues.  It is clear that capitalism is destroying the planet.  Climate change is an outcome of the anarchy of capitalist production.  Capitalism will not transcend a fossil fuel based economy so long as it is profitable.  At the same time, climate change disproportionately impacts women globally because women are more likely to live in poverty.  In the third world, they are also more likely to be involved in farming and food production.  Thus, women are more likely to face food insecurity, disease, loss of livelihood, displacement, and increased impoverishment as the result of climate change.  Economic vulnerability lends itself to other vulnerabilities, such as to trafficking and domestic violence.  Socialists want an economy wherein production is based upon human needs rather than profit.  The productive forces of society should be socially owned, made more efficient, more sustainable, and localized, in the interest of meeting human needs and salvaging the planet.  The fossil fuel economy must be abolished.


7.Socialist feminism is intersectional.  Many feminist activists who use the word intersectional today use it in a very generic way.  That is, intersectionality is commonly understood to simply mean that oppression is complicated and often compounded.  A person may experience many kinds of oppression, including classism, racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, etc.  Thus, feminists are called upon to not only look at the oppression of women, but how this oppression interacts with other oppressions.  In this very generic understanding of intersectionality, socialist feminism is extremely intersectional because it is very aware of how the mission of feminism should not be to simply advance women, but to end racism, ableism, environmental destruction, heterosexism, and all of other social ills produced by capitalism.  Of course, socialist feminism does differ from the post-structural understanding of intersectionality.  Class is not one oppression of equals.  Class does have an important place in socialist feminism, because it is not only a type of oppression, it is the heart of the economic system and the engine of liberation.  Class is a node that intersects with many kinds of oppressions.  All of these oppressions play an important role in the functioning of capitalism.  However, because workers, as a class, make up the vast majority of society and because they are the economic power that drives capitalism, they have a special place in the network of oppressions.  Class is more than an identity, it is a social position and economic function.  At the same time, a working class revolution will not succeed unless it is anti-racist, feminist, against heterosexism, against ableism, etc.  These things cannot be divorced or teased out of this struggle.  They are enmeshed so tightly that socialist feminism is intersectional in practice, despite slight theoretical differences with the academic understanding of the word.


Conclusion:

With the resurgence of the feminist movement, it is important to revisit some of the variations of feminism.  Socialist feminism is just one kind of feminism.  Liberal feminism, which is the center of my critique, is another.  But, there are many variations of feminism.  There are variations of socialist feminism.  This piece set out to establish a few of the basics, at least from my own perspective and experiences as an activist.  While socialist feminism may seem old fashioned, I think it remains extremely relevant.  Attacks against collective bargaining, austerity, challenges to reproductive rights, and war have become commonplace.  The planet is dying.  The challenges faced by humanity are as daunting as ever.  Big problems need big solutions.  That is the promise of socialism.  It is a big solution.  Of course, building a socialist movement itself seems like an impossible task.  The question is not, “What is to be done?”  It is, where to begin?  International Women’s Day was a great beginning point to a feminist movement that connects to socialism and the labor movement.  Capitalism atomizes us.  This system breaks the continuity of history so that we feel isolated, lost, and alone.  But, the Day Without a Woman sought to make a connection to the labor and socialist history of the holiday.  It also sought to highlight the economic power of women and the connect the struggle of women in the U.S. to those abroad.  To me, this contains of the seeds of possibility.  On my part, I can continue to have conversations, promote these ideas, and dedicate myself to a variety of causes in the struggle against capitalism.  With hope, others will join in.

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, people standing, hat, shoes and outdoor

 

 

https://www.marxists.org/subject/women/authors/ehrenreich-barbara/socialist-feminism.htm

http://socialistreview.org.uk/367/women-and-revolution

https://monthlyreview.org/2003/03/01/the-socialist-feminist-project/
http://www.oakton.edu/user/4/ghamill/Socialist_Feminism.pdf

The Story of International Women’s Day

The Story of International Women’s Day

H. Bradford

3/4/17

I first became aware of International Women’s Day when I was in my early 20s.  I learned about it through my Russian language class in college.  The professor gave all of the women in the class a flower and explained that the holiday was a little bit like Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day in Russia.  This quaint and apolitical version of International Women’s Day remained my template for understanding the holiday until after I became a socialist.  This understanding mirrored my understanding of May Day as a spring holiday with cute baskets.  Yet, both holidays are more than just flowers and baskets.  They are both celebrations that honor a long history of struggle against capitalism.

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 You mean International Women’s Day is not just a cute Russian holiday?


The Socialist Roots of International Women’s Day:

While I learned about International Women’s Day in the context of Russian culture, the holiday, like May Day, actually originates in the United States.  The first “National Woman’s Day” was organized by the Socialist Party and held on February 23, 1909.  The New York event was attended by over 2000 people and featured speaks such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Leonora O’Reilly.  The first “National Woman’s Day” focused on suffrage and women’s equality.  It was also called in support of ongoing labor organizing of garment workers, such as march of 15,000 workers which had occurred the year before.  At the time, socialists wrestled with the issue of balancing the demand for suffrage with their traditional focus on the economic rights of women, but ultimately, committed themselves to both through the advocacy of women within the socialist party.  Like May Day, the holiday was later popularized in Europe.  In 1910, women from 100 countries, consisting of socialists, labor organizers, working women’s clubs, and three female Finnish members of Parliament, gathered in Copenhagen for the Second International Congress of Women.  It is at this meeting that German socialist, Luise Zietz and Clara Zetkin, motioned to create an International Women’s Day the following year.  The first International Women’s Day event was held March 18, 1911 and featured over a million demonstrators across Europe who used the event commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Paris Commune and assert the economic and political rights of women.  That same year, on March 25, 1911, 146 mostly immigrant women lost their lives in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York.  Because of unsafe working conditions, including locked doors to prevent theft and a lack of fire alarms on some of the floors, a fire originating in a pile of scrap material killed a quarter of the workforce in less than twenty minutes.  The fire was a catalyst for new safety regulations and a rallying cry for unionizing garment workers.  It was also memorialized in future International Women’s Day events.


Early International Women’s Day observances were focused on labor, suffrage, and other facets of political and economic equality.  While the relationship between socialists and suffragists was uneasy, the socialists became increasingly committed to suffrage and collaborating with suffragists during this time period.  American socialists actually marched together with suffragists in Boston a few days before women’s day in 1911.  While suffrage seems obvious today, at the time, socialists worried that suffrage would mean women could be drafted, thereby becoming instruments of capitalist wars.  There were also concerns that women were politically conservative and that suffragists tended to consist of wealthier and middle class women whose interests were not the same as working class women.  Despite misgivings socialists had regarding suffrage, the early celebrations of women’s day were expressions of their commitment to the economic and political equality of women.  According to the Russian socialist, Alexandra Kollontai (1920), North American socialists played a prominent role in arguing to other socialists that suffrage was a worthy demand.

240px-frauentag_1914_heraus_mit_dem_frauenwahlrecht


International Women’s Day and the Russian Revolution:

Peace became another central demand of International Women’s Day organizers during World War One.  Unfortunately, socialists who had been elected into office, were blinded by nationalism and voted to enter World War One, thereby discrediting Socialist Parties. However, in 1915 Clara Zetkin called a conference of women in Bern, Switzerland and encouraged them to demonstrate against war, even if this meant treason.  Women from countries involved in World War One were denied passports to attend this meeting and unfortunately, the only country that managed to host a demonstration in 1915 was Norway, though some women from war beleaguered European countries managed to attend.  It is during this time that International Women’s Day was first celebrated in Russia, which went on to play an important role in the holiday’s history.  The first Russian “Working Women’s Day” was organized in 1913 as a meeting, as demonstrations were illegal in tsarist Russia.  The following year, organizers for a “Working Women’s Day” were put into prison and the demonstration was stymied by police intervention.  State repression prevented Russian further observances of International Women’s Day until 1917  By then, the Russian population was weary from war, poverty, hunger, and tsarist autocracy.  The threat of imprisonment could not contain the anger of the masses.  On March 8th, 1917, or February 23rd by our calendar, women in Petrograd took to the streets to demand bread and an end to the war, which had taken the lives of two million Russians.  Garment workers played a central role in the strike, but other workers joined them, swelling to a mass of 75,000 workers on the first day and 200,000 on the second.  By the third day, 400,000 workers participated in the strike in Petrograd.  Four days later, military garrisons revolted and police went into hiding.  The International Women’s Day strike in Petrograd spread across the country, becoming what is now known as the February Revolution.  The revolution resulted in the abdication of the tsar a week later, ending over 400 years of tsarist rule and set the stage for the October revolution later that year.


The Russian revolution ushered in a variety of advances for women.  The October revolution granted full suffrage to women and enacted equal pay.  Russia became the first country to legalize abortion, which it provided free and on demand until Stalin came to power.  Divorce became easily obtainable and marriage was treated as a civil matter rather than religious affair.  Daycares and communal kitchens and laundries were established to alleviate the burden of unpaid labor.  Paid maternity leave was also extended to women, something that the United States lacks 100 years later.  All of this was granted to women during a time of civil war and economic collapse on the already shoddy foundation of centuries of tsarist autocracy and an undeveloped economy.  Many of these remarkable accomplishments were later rolled back by Stalin, who rebranded International Women’s Day as a benign Soviet Valentine’s Day.  The revolutionary character of the holiday was largely forgotten and the holiday itself became associated with communism, as countries ruled by Communist Parties tended to be the ones which made it an official holiday.  Like May Day, Cold War politics, which sought to tame, ignore, or persecute the far left, meant that International Women’s Day went mostly unnoticed in the U.S.

tdih-march08-hd

 


The Struggle Continues:

International Women’s Day was a largely Communist holiday until the late 1960s.  The emergence of the feminist movement in renewed interest in the holiday, though, since socialists participated in the feminist movement, they may have played a role in promoting the holiday.  In any event, the holiday became less associated with communism after International Women’s Day was promoted by feminists and adopted by the United Nations in 1975.  As of 2014, International Women’s Day was observed in over 100 countries.  The United Nation’s version of International Women’s Day doesn’t quite capture the militant spirit of the original celebrations.  Each year has featured a theme, such as human rights, decision making, progress, and empowerment.  However, these themes often sound more like Girl Scout Badges that women should earn rather than rallying calls for the next revolution.  Thus, for most of my life as a feminist, I have been disappointed by the lack of interest or action around the holiday.  The Feminist Justice League, formerly known as the Twin Ports Women’s Rights Coalition, has organized International Women’s Day events in the past, but these were never well attended and there was never much community interest in them.


All of this has changed this year after four million women marched on January 21st.  In the wake of this event, the Women’s March has called for 10 actions in 100 days.  Prior to calling for a “Day without a Woman” Strike on March 8th, feminists around the world were calling for a strike.  Women in Poland, Ireland, and Argentina have been particularly active in this call.  In Ireland, women plan to strike on March 8th in protest of restrictive abortion laws there.  In October, women in Poland striked against the introduction of legislation which sought to criminalize in all cases but imminent danger to the mother’s life.  In Argentina, and across Latin America, women striked against femicide in October, catalyzed by the gruesome rape and murder of Lucia Perez.  The strikers tied the violence against women to the economic conditions that women face, such as unpaid labor, unequal wages, and neoliberal reforms that have cut public spending, all of which render women unequal and vulnerable.  In solidarity with these struggles, and to spotlight the economic component of women’s oppression, the Women’s March called for a strike on March 8th.  This strike was called in mid-February.  As a result of the resurgence of feminism, events will be held all over the United States and abroad.  Locally, the Feminist Justice League is hosting a 78 minute symbolic strike, followed by a march and a panel which focuses on women as workers.  This event will be held at 5 pm on March 8th at the MN Power Plaza.  However, it is one of a dozen local events.  Other events include an the Feminist Action Collective’s International Women’s Day celebration on March 10th at Beaner’s, Domestic Violence Action Day on March 7th at noon at the Duluth City Hall,  PAVSA’s pack the Plaza at 11:30 am on the 8th, and a solidarity with Honduras event at 2:30 at the Building for Women on March 5th.  This is just a sample of the wave of feminist actions for International Women’s Day.

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Conclusion:

I am excited by the revival of interest in International Women’s Day and feminism in general.  Sometimes there is so much activity that I worry that I will be washed away in this new wave of feminist activity.  At the same time, I am incredibly proud to be a socialist.  Some people enjoy pointing out their genealogy, finding joy that at some point in history they descended from a king or Viking.  I take pride in my socialist genealogy.  I take pride in my membership to a party which descends from the Russian revolution and from the socialists before this.  I feel that the history of International Women’s Day is my history.  It is my history as a socialist, as a worker, and as a woman.  Of course, International Women’s Day should be for everyone.  The story of garment workers dying in a fire continues to be the story of all workers who face dangerous conditions. The story of immigrant women who were afraid to organize because of their marginal position in society, continues to be story of immigrants.  The story of women standing up against the senseless loss of war should still be our story.  The story of women standing up to soldiers and the police, protesting in the face of state repression, should still be our story.  This gives new meaning to, “…and still she persisted.”  The story of women trying to build an international feminist movement should be our story.  The story of women connecting femicide to neoliberal policies and economic inequality should be our story.  The story of women making revolution should be our story.

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Sources:

http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/3/7/socialist-history-of-international-womens-day.html

http://kclabor.org/wordpress/?m=201703

http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/3/7/socialist-history-of-international-womens-day.html

https://iwd.uchicago.edu/page/international-womens-day-history

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/russias-february-revolution-was-led-women-march-180962218/

https://www.marxists.org/archive/kollonta/1920/womens-day.htm

http://isreview.org/issue/75/februarys-forgotten-vanguard

http://socialistreview.org.uk/367/women-and-revolution

https://viewpointmag.com/2017/02/23/striking-for-ourselves/

My Favorite Birthday Memories

 

My Favorite Birthday Memories

H. Bradford

2/12/17

  As I was in bed today, my mind drifted through some of my favorite birthday memories.  There are so many good times.  I thought about my childhood and the many birthday parties that my parents hosted for me.  I thought about some of the parties that I’ve hosted for myself as an adult.  I really do enjoy my birthday.  Here are some of those memories.


Childhood Roller Skating Party:

I remember when I was in the 4th grade or so, my mother organized a roller skating party for me at the roller rink in McGregor, MN.  I don’t even remember who was there or any of the gifts that I received.  I imagine that Libby was there.  I think I remember Tonya and Kym.  I am sure there was pizza and pitchers of fountain soda.  It is all pretty foggy now.  One thing I do remember was that I wore these hideous turquoise elephant pants.  Even though bell bottom pants had been out of style for a few decades, I somehow thought that they were super cool.  I thought that they looked even cooler swaying side to side while roller skating.   I had a strong and bizarre sense of style as a kid.  In any event, I remember feeling pretty darn cool wearing those pants.  I also owned my own roller skates.  They were white with pink pompoms.  Again…super cool.

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Birthday Dinners with the Wallis:

Each year for my birthday, my grandpa Walli would take the family out for a celebratory dinner.  We would often go to a supper club or “older person” restaurants.  Each year, I ordered a hamburger and French fries.  It was my favorite.  It also became a bit of a joke, since the adults would order walleye or steak, but I wanted just an ordinary burger.  I remember one year had been very hard on my family.  I believe that my father was laid off of work that winter so money was pretty tight.  I remember that we ate potatoes and eggs.  To my childhood brain, it felt like we ate potatoes and eggs for the whole winter.  Perhaps it was only a week.  Maybe it was for a few weeks.  I only remember that we ate a lot of potatoes and eggs that winter.   When my birthday arrived, it was really wonderful to go out for my birthday meal….since it was a relief from potatoes and eggs.  It seems like everything got better after that.  We ate other things or I don’t remember eating so many potatoes and eggs.  Thus, that is how I remember my birthday that winter.  It was when things got better.  Really, I still frame my birthday that way.  By February 12th, it seems that winter is not as dark and harsh.  It has always been the beginning of the end of winter for me.

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“Birthday” in Korea:

I visited South Korea in 2010 through a study abroad program at UWS.  The program did not begin until late February.  As such, I didn’t actually spend my birthday in Korea.  Still, for some reason everyone thought it would be a fun idea if we pretended that it was my birthday.  We did this for others as well.  Thus, we went to a pizza place and pretended that it was my birthday.  We somehow obtained a small cake and everyone sang happy birthday.  Why me?  Why my birthday?  I was the least fun and social person out of the bunch.  I dream about bird identification.  This is all very silly, but that weekend has become a birthday memory.  So, while I didn’t do those activities for my actual birthday, I remember going to Seoul,  eating pizza, eating cake,  wearing animal costumes, going to a photo booth and wearing a red wig, and a group of people singing happy birthday to me.  I am not sure if all of these things actually happened on the same weekend even!  But, it seems suiting that my fake birthday would have a fake memory.

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Birthday in Ireland:

Many eons ago, I also studied abroad in Ireland.  I don’t think that my roommates there cared for me much, but they did find me an ice cream cake for my birthday.  This was a pretty amazing feat since ice cream cakes are not that common and our program was based in a small town in County Mayo.  I remember that everyone went out that night to celebrate my birthday.  They offered to buy me drinks, which consisted of diet coke, since I am a teetotaler.  Thus, everyone got drunk on my behalf, or at least used that as an excuse for drinking.  Still, it was a fun time.  I got free diet cokes and an ice cream cake.


The Epic Birthday of 2011:

I used to host large parties for my birthday.  I think that one of the most epic parties that I hosted was the party of 2011.  That year, I subjected my friends to a long march of birthday celebrating.  The celebrations began with snowshoeing at Jay Cooke State Park.  I remember that unlikely people, such as my mom and Adam, joined me on this trek.  My mom was proud that she kept up with the “youngsters” on her first snowshoe adventure.  Adam still complains that he hates snowshoeing.   Next on the all day intermarry, was a stop at Mexico Lindo in Cloquet.  I love Mexican food.  I had a fun time.  The fun was bolstered by the fact that I got to wear a black sombrero while the staff sang happy birthday to me.  Oh, but the fun didn’t end there.  Nope!  Next on the agenda was a private showing at the planetarium.  The birthday party was treated to a show at the planetarium, though I am not sure what the topic was now.  Finally, the party ended back in Superior with an astronomy lecture from Kris Nelson, a cosmic ice cream cake, trivia, and animal costumes.  Why did my friends subject themselves to dawn to dusk birthday celebrations?  Why the marathon of Mexican food, astronomy, and snowshoeing?  Who knows.  But, this was probably the best birthday ever.  It also marked the last mega birthday party of my adult life.  After that year, I moved to Mankato for grad school.  Mike moved to the cities and is now married with a family.  Carl also moved for grad school.  I think this party marked the end of an era in my life.  Which is fine.  Everything changes.  It is a lot of effort and energy to create such as massive celebration.  Still, it was a fun time.


Other Adult Birthday Parties:

In 2007, I began hosting birthday parties for myself.  I had been depressed for many years.  In fact, I lost a few years of my life to depression.  Well, in 2007, depression was finally losing its grip on me.  As such, I wanted to celebrate and make up for those years I lost to feeling unmotivated and isolated.  2007 marked the debut of my birthday parties.  The first party was a roller skating party followed by trivia and snacks.  I learned that although roller skating was fun as a child, it was terrifying as an adult.  The next year, I hosted a party at Carnival Thrillz, followed by trivia and snacks at my place in Superior.  I learned that most adults are not that into laser tag and mini golf, as the party was not well attended.  The following two years featured hotel pool parties.  These were pretty fun.  I have a fond memory of my birthday party in 2010, since this was also a farewell party.  I was going to leave for Asia for six months.  So, it was a way to say goodbye to my friends for a while.  This was a fun party, but like the party in 2011, it marked the end of an era.   Vanessa moved away later that year.  Rose was in China.  Flappy, my pet squirrel, was left behind, never to be seen again.


Birthday 2016:

This party was unique since it was my only adult birthday party which I didn’t plan myself.  As such, it was pretty low key, which is great.  I liked that I didn’t have to do any food prep, party decorating, inviting, or planning.  Adam and Jenny took care of that.  The birthday was pretty fun.  We played games.  Jenny made a giant cupcake.  We sang a special song to mark the cutting of the cake with a cheese knife (Oh, Holey Knife).  As a general rule, almost all of my birthday celebrations feature a piñata, singing, and trivia.

Childhood Birthday Parties:

My parents always tried to make my birthday special.  When I was in the second grade, they took my friends and I to Bridgeman’s in Floodwood, MN.  Again, I ate a burger and fries.  I also had a hot fudge ice cream sundae.  I was a pretty silly kid, so I invented a song called “Mr. Bubblegum.”   I have a long history of making up songs at my parties (the piñata song and Oh Holey Knife).    I remember a valentine themed party, wherein everyone received gift bags.  The bags included pens with removable heart shaped caps.  I remember we played trivia at this birthday party, but I wanted MORE trivia, so I began quizzing my friends on Greek mythology.  I think my mother even made a scavenger hunt for us outside.  She also made heart decorations which she put on the living room mirror with some streamers.   I can’t remember when I stopped having birthday parties as a child.  I suppose they became less elaborate affairs after my parents divorced.  I had few friends in Cambridge/Isanti, though my mother did take a few of us to the Mall of America one year.  In any event, I always enjoyed my birthday.   I enjoy the Valentine’s Day theme, the cakes that my mother would make (I always wanted angel food), the Valentine candies from my grandparents, the red, pink, and white, the friends, the trivia, the piñatas, etc.


The Present:

I did have a party this year!  I worked this weekend (or took the night off Sunday).  Perhaps I will try to celebrate with my friends next weekend when I am off.  Of course, I don’t have to celebrate.  There are plenty of adults who quietly let their birthday pass by each year.  But, my birthday invigorates and inspires me.  It motivates me to get outdoors,  do more fitness, wear red, indulge in my favorite things, and have fun.  It makes February a special time of year.  With that said, I hope that I have many more happy birthday memories in the years to come!

 

12 Things I did for My Birthday: 2017

 

 

12 Things I did for My Birthday: 2017

H. Bradford

2/12/2017

   Today is my birthday, which is normally a pretty big deal.  However, I have been very busy lately.  As such, celebrating my birthday feels a little more like a chore this year.  It is just one more thing to add to my “to do” list.  Yet, I really want to push myself to celebrate.  I feel that I have been in a black hole of work and activism, so taking time to celebrate is a very important “to do” list for the month of February.   With that said, here are some of the things that I did this weekend for my birthday.  Of course, my birthday celebrations usually last the entire month of February, so this is just a sample of what the month has in store for me.  Why bother?  Well, I happen to like being alive.  I won’t always be alive…so I best enjoy it while I can!  I won’t lie, this year’s birthday weekend was a little less fabulous than most years.  But, I did my best to make the most of it.

1. Worked:

Ten hours of my birthday consisted of working.  This isn’t the most fun way to spend a birthday.    Work has been a little stressful this weekend.  I can’t go into details, but I work at a domestic violence shelter and things can get a little stressful at work.  So, yep, there you go, I spent a good portion of my birthday working.

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2. Felt Sick to my Stomach

I worked on Saturday night, but felt sort of bloated and gross.  My stomach discomfort continued on Sunday.  I could not sleep well.  The howling wind outside of my window and my heavy stomach kept me awake.  I could hear the crows cawing in the creaking trees outside.  I even had a dream that there was a giant crow in my bedroom window.  In the dream, I debated if it was a crow or a raven.  The thicker beak and wedge shaped tale told my dream brain that it was actually a raven.   In any event, I had planned on going to a Darwin Day celebration hosted by the Lake Superior Freethinkers.  That was supposed to be the highlight of my actual birthday.  However, my stomach felt unhappy, so I decided to stay in bed.  I actually called in sick to work because I felt that if I moved around too much, I might become sicker.  I try not to call in sick, but I figured that I didn’t have to push myself through a shift on my birthday.   Thus, aside from working, I spent a good portion of my birthday in bed.  Thankfully, my stomach eventually felt less icky (after 12 hours in bed).

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“Caw, caw, wake up!  Wake up!  Will you throw up?  Is it just diarrhea? Caw, caw!”


 

3. Drank Tea:

Wow, who would have known that February 12th is Hot Tea Appreciation Day?!  At least it has been hot tea appreciation day since it was established in 2016.  I certainly appreciate tea.  It is my caffeinated drink of choice.   While working on Saturday night, I took time to drink some Bhakti brand Fiery Masala Chai tea while at work (I really like the flavor of this tea, which we actually have for residents).  Well, whoopee I drank some tea.  Still, sometimes having hot tea is like a bubble bath for my innards.  It is the little things in life.


4. Read:

I’ve been pretty good about reading lately.  On Friday, I finished a really interesting book about the environment history of Russia.  Saturday, I started on a very short book.  It is Anton’ Treuer’s Ojibwe in Minnesota.    The book is a very quick read that offers a basic overview of Ojibwe history in Minnesota.  Here are a few interesting facts:  1. The 1898 Battle of Sugar Point at Leech Lake was the last conflict between a U.S. tribe and the military. 2. Ponemah on the Red Lake Reservation has never held a Christian funeral.  3. The Ojibwe and Dakota formed an alliance, wherein they shared territory and were at peace for 57 years- before the better known conflicts after 1736.

 

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5. Full Moon Snow Shoe Hike:

On Friday, in celebration of my birthday weekend, I went on a full moon snowshoe hike with UWS’ outdoor adventure program.  I signed up at the last minute and wasn’t sure if I wanted to attend a three hour snowshoeing excursion before working a 10 hour shift.  I went anyway.  The night was lovely.  At the beginning of the trip, the sky was clear and the temperature was about 35 degrees F.  The outing offered me a good view of the full moon (which was experiencing a partial eclipse) as well as some wintry constellations like Orion, canis major, Taurus, Gemini, etc.  Because the moon was slightly dimmed by the eclipse, the constellations were easier to spot than during a regular full moon.  The snowshoe hike itself was along Lake Superior on Wisconsin Point.  We clambered up the ice hill along the lake and continued that precarious path for about an hour before turning around and heading back.  I imagined that I was walking along a glacier or ice cap in Greenland as I carefully trod across the small mound of snow and ice.  It was fun, but it wore me out!  Thankfully, I survived my night shift on Friday night.


 

6. Watched Documentaries:

 

Since I took Sunday night off of work,  I had some free time for some sedentary activity.  I filled this time by watching documentaries and videos about the “stan” countries on YouTube.  I am planning on traveling to several of the “stan” countries this summer, so I have been reading about them lately.  I read a book about the Great Game in January and finished a book about early communist policies regarding the stans earlier this month.  I read a book about the Silk Road in December.  I am slowly increasing my knowledge of the stans, which I will meet in person in June.  Anyway, on Sunday night I watched a BBC travel series about the “stans.”  I also watched a short video about Turkmenbashi, the former dictator of Turkmenistan and another short news video about upcoming elections in Turkmenistan.   I have enjoyed learning about this region of the world.  Nevertheless, like always, I have some anxiety about the upcoming trip.  I worry the most about health, but also the conditions of travel.  This trip will involve overland travel and camping.  The camping conditions will be more rustic and challenging than my previous trip to southern Africa.  Am I up to the challenge?  On the bright side, I will probably get to see part of the Aral Sea and the giant gas crater in Turkmenistan.

 

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7. Fed the Squirrels:

After finishing work on Sunday morning, I decided to head to the grocery store to pick up a few items.  I decided to pick up some hazelnuts and leave them out for the squirrels in my yard.  I know that Flappy’s favorite food was hazelnuts.  Thus, the nuts were a little Valentine’s treat for my squirrel friends.  I love squirrels.  Happy Valentine’s Day to my favorite rodents!

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8. Went for a Walk:

I went for a walk with Dan in the Superior Municipal Forest on Saturday evening.  I didn’t actually want to walk, as my stomach was already starting to feel a little iffy.  But, it was nice to be outside and I felt better once I was walking.  I chalked the iffy stomach up to nerves or stress from a busy weekend at work.  Perhaps that is all it was?  Perhaps it was just a very mild bug?  Who knows.


 

9. Ate Mexican Food:

After taking a walk on Saturday, Dan and I went to Guadalajara Restaurant.  I really like Mexican food.  After eating, I felt bloated and that feeling didn’t go away for about 24 hours.  I don’t think that this is what made me feel ill today, but probably added to my uneasy stomach.   Oh well, it was worth it since I really do like Mexican food…


10. Drank Lime La Croix:

So, two of my twelve activities involve drinking.  While most people probably have a drink on their birthday, it probably isn’t tea and lime sparkling water.   Well, I am a teetotaler.  I have never drank an alcoholic beverage in my life.  Oddly enough, I have not smoked a cigarette or tried an illegal drug.  I am not against these things and don’t look down upon people who do these things, but when you haven’t done them there is a certain momentum to maintaining the identity of a teetotaler.   And, I have plenty of other vices…such as junk food.  However, my drinks of choice remain unsweetened tea and lime La Croix.  I was very happy to find 100 cans of La Croix in the kitchen when I finally rolled out of bed today!  Thanks Adam.   February 12th should also be Lime La Croix appreciation day.

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11. Booked a Trip to a Sloth Sanctuary

Next November, Dan and I are going on a trip.  We haven’t been anywhere together for about seven years.  He rarely gets time off of work and really isn’t that interested in travel.  Thus, for the most part, I travel alone.  However, in November 2017, he was able to take some time off of work, so we are going to go on a cruise.  While this trip is a long while away, I booked a trip to visit a sloth sanctuary in Costa Rica today.  I thought it would be a small way to prepare for that trip and brighten my mood about being sick.   I am more of a squirrel person and Dan’s favorite animals are toads.  Still, sloths are really cute.  And, my bloated, slow digesting stomach…coupled with my lack of energy….certainly makes me feel like a sloth today.

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12. Wrote a Blog Post

Last year I wrote a blog post about 12 things I did for my birthday.  I didn’t work on my birthday last year…and I wasn’t sick, so I had a bit more time/ability to do fun things.  Despite it all, I think I successfully managed to squeeze some birthday fun out of my weekend.  Perhaps it isn’t the most fun I’ve had for my birthday, but the month isn’t over!

Marxmas: A Commie Candyland

 

 

Marxmas: A Commie Candyland

H. Bradford

1/08/2017

The holiday season is finally over.  To be honest, the holidays were a little depressing.  It has been brutally cold all month.  Also, I experienced a chest cold that lasted from Thanksgiving through Christmas.   I have not been very active because of this.  I have mostly felt like hiding under blankets and sleeping.  I worked on Christmas and New Years at a domestic violence shelter.  So, it was a little grim to have no holiday meal, no time with loved ones, or no celebration.  It was just work and…going home to sleep.  While I don’t believe that my lethargy is seasonal depression, I do think these circumstances put me into a state of semi-hibernation for the past month.   But, perhaps it is alright to slow down and rest from time to time.


Things perked up as I planned Marxmas.  Marxmas is the socialist alternative to Christmas.  Each year, Twin Ports Socialist Action hosts a Marxmas party for our friends.  For the past two weeks or so, I have been frantically planning for the big day.  This year’s theme was “Commie Candyland.”  The theme was chosen because my friends and I dressed up as the characters for Halloween and it was a way to re-use our costumes.  My life for the past two weeks have been related to the preparations for this epic annual party.  The party involved a skit wherein the Candyland characters are trying to overthrow Candy Capitalism.  The skit had four acts.  Each act was punctuated with rounds of Pictionary, trivia, and “hodgepodge” challenges, as three teams competed with each other for the purpose of overthrowing the king/candy capitalism.  The skit/game ended with the victory of the rebels, the singing of The Internationale, and the breaking of a cupcake piñata meant to represent candy capitalism.  All participants received prizes, the house was decorated to look like a version of “commie candyland”, and included a feast of two tables of food.  Oh, and there was also a soundtrack of 36 sweet related songs!  This party was an ambitious undertaking.

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The Menu:


I wanted the menu to be very colorful, but also with a wide variety of sweets to match our theme.  I also wanted the non-desert foods to be as vibrant as candy!  Many of the guests are vegetarian or vegan, so that is also a consideration.

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Desserts: baklava, Turkish delight, revolutionary gingerbread men, cupcakes, cake, dried fruits and nuts, a cringle, a wide variety of candies, fruit fondue, and a giant chocolate chip cookie in the likeness of Karl Marx


Drinks:  Orange Dreamsickle punch, coffee, Cranberry punch


Not Desserts: Pita plate with hummus, falafel, and olives; chips and salsa; vegetarian meatballs; vegetarian orange chicken; phyllo asparagus, Forbidden rice bowl with edamame and mushrooms;  vegetarian sushi-sweet potato, asparagus, and cucumber; shitake; beets and sweet potatoes.


The Decorations:

One enormous time sink was actually decorating the house!  I envisioned that the house should look like a magical candy dystopia.  To this end, I created two large posters that depict scenes from my imagined Candyland universe.  One of the posters represented “Kandygrad” the industrial center of Candyland.  The other represented a battle in “Sweetbearia” the icy frontier of Candyland.  Both are part of the nation state called Chokovia.  The posters introduced new characters.  All of this made me decide that I should really create a graphic novel called “Candywars” (though changing out the Hasbro related things to characters of my own creation).  But, we’ll see if I have time for that..

 


To continue on the topic of decorations, the room was decorated with dozens of balloons and streamers.  I created some candies from tissue paper and cardboard, which were placed in various places around the room.  Admittedly, I did buy some decorations on clearance after X-mas.  I just did not have the time to create elaborate decorations beyond my posters, candies, balloons, and streamers.  Different parts of the room were decorated to represent the regions in the game.  For instance, there was a blue and white color scheme where the team from Sweetberia was meant to sit.  The team from Kandygrad sat in a red and pink area.  The villain team featured a makeshift throne for the king.

 

 


    The Skit/Game:

The party mostly consisted of a skit/game.  The skit began by introducing the characters from Candyland as well as the political situation therein.  I pretended to be Lord Licorice, a villain aligned with King Kandy.  I was also the narrator/game master.  The acts of the skit was broken up by rounds of a game, wherein three teams would compete with each other in trivia, Pictionary, and hodgepodge.  The category was determined by which color block the teams landed on while moving along the Candyland board.  For instance, red and purple were trivia.  There were 19 categories of trivia-each somehow related to candy.  The Pictionary items were all current events from 2016.  Hodgepodge included everything from acting to memory challenges.  One memorable acting challenge involved the marriage of two characters in a Candyland style wedding. The game was integrated into the actions of the skit.  Each act was an event- such as a prison rebellion in Sweetbearia, the abduction of Queen Frostine,  and the ultimate victory of the rebels.  As the game master, I had some discretion over the trivia or Pictionary challenges that I posed.   However, in the end, the rebel teams actually won the game without my intervention!   It was interesting to see the teams become upset when they thought that the game was rigged and how the villain team seemed genuinely disappointed when they lost and genuinely boastful when they were ahead.  While it was only a game, the integration with the skit seemed to up the emotional ante for the players.  This also was likely because everyone was playing “roles” in the game.  I invented a book of non-canon characters so that anyone who attended the party could be a character.

 


The Pinata:

The game ended when we broke the piñata.   The piñata was meant to represent Candy Capitalism.  Personally, I love pinatas.  I try to have them at parties whenever I can.  I even have a piñata song.  However, each party that I host usually ends up with a lot of leftover candy on the floor.  This is a bit of a bummer.  But, the truth of the matter is that adults like the idea of pinatas a lot more than filling themselves with candy.   After a lifetime of candy, there is diminishing returns on the joy that it potentially brings.  Instead, it brings cavities, stomach aches, and weight gain.  Kids love pinatas and candy.  Adults- not so much.  To improve upon the piñata, I filled it with candy- as well as condoms, lube, safety whistles, and carbineer compasses.  I think this improved the outcome of the piñata, as much of the adult centered loot was taken.

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The People:

The people are what makes a party special.  Usually, 20-25 people attend Marxmas.  This year had our lowest turnout in a long while.  But, there was a good quality of people and this made the space less crowded.   I think conflicting schedules and bitter cold kept some attendees away.  Honestly, everyone was a hoot.  My friends dressed up as characters from Candyland and were good sports about the game.  The game ranged from silly to demoralizing.  For instance, when a rebel team was in the lead during a time when the villains were supposed to be in the lead- I gave the rebel team a very difficult Pictionary topic: Muslim genocide in Myanmar.  I would tip my hat to anyone who can successfully draw this in two minutes.   On the silly side of things, I later had Mr. Mint move a gummi bear to this mouth from this belly button-while lying on the floor-without using his hands.   I really love my friends for attending these parties and making my vision a reality.


Aside from attending the parties, I must thank my friends for their help making the party possible.  For instance, Jenny, Angie and I made a chocolate cake.  I have never made a chocolate cake from scratch.  It was the best cake I have eaten in my life.  The frosting tasted as rich as gelato or ice cream.  The cake was epic!  Angie randomly decided to make a giant cookie.  This cookie turned into a Karl Marx cookie.  Wow!  Adam and Lucas helped me decorate and clean.  Adam did all of the cleaning after the party, which is about as fun as cleaning up elephant turds after the circus was in town.   But, he was happy to have the house return to normal, since he was not as fond as I was of the candy wonderland.  He missed seeing the thousands of books we have everywhere.

 


Conclusion:

Each year I exhaust myself to make a great big party.  It costs me a lot for the food, prizes, and decorations in terms of time and money.  But, it brings me joy.  I like to create an experience.  I think of it as my version of a potlatch.  I don’t mean to appropriate a Native American practice, but many cultures hosted big feasts with gift exchanges.  This exhausting event redistributed resources and could build the prestige of a leader.  Now, I don’t think that the event that I host significantly redistributes resources or builds my prestige.  However, I do think it serves the purpose of building social bonds.  My friends always tell me that I spend too much time or money on it.  They want me to scale back the party.  But, I take a lot of joy in creating an experience for my friends and giving them something like this.  I want to create a memorable experience.  I want to create happiness.  This is a gift that I want to give to people on this day- even if it means I have to work non-stop for three days before the event to make the final preparations!  Maybe all of our holidays involve some remnants of a forgotten time (to Europeans)- when we celebrated to give.  This is useful in capitalism as it drives consumerism.  Yet, the urge to give is socialist at its heart, even if it is distorted by free market interests.   Hidden behind the labor, plates of food, and endless trivia is the promise of an economy of plenty.  It seems like an impossible dream, but I think that is the heart of Marxmas.   Celebration is role playing the fantasy of possibility.

Thanksgiving in Texas

 

Thanksgiving in Texas

by H. Bradford


This Thanksgiving, I visited my brother in San Antonio, Texas.  I love visiting my brother since I feel that we can sometimes have interesting discussions.  I also like that my brother likes to be active, so he usually is up for going for a hike.  The trip to Texas was an opportunity to spend time with my brother and my nephews Layton and Orrin.  My mother also went to Texas for Thanksgiving, so it was an opportunity to be together as a family.  I have never been a huge fan of the holidays, but I always like to travel.  This makes the holidays less constricting for me, as it offers the opportunity to explore and try out new traditions.

The Commissary:

My brother lives on a base, which makes visiting there unusual.  The base is a little like a college campus in that it is an enclosed community with housing, recreational centers, shopping, food, a service station, a museum, etc. all located in one area.  A person could probably live quite well without a vehicle, as most needs can be met within walking distance of base housing.  The housing is somewhat similar, with some variation in the style of homes used for various ranks of officers.  A base is a planned economy, so as a socialist, I can appreciate the logic, planning, and uniformity.  Of course, it is planned within the context of capitalism and in the interest of capitalism.  As such, the market shapes what appears on the base.  For instance, there is a Subway and Chic Filet (I believe).  Which fast food places appear on the base are less about the needs of the soldiers and the military than about contracts and prices.  Still, since many Americans have experience living in college dormitories or bases, these living situations make socialist living seem less far fetched.  In any event, the base is a planned community of America’s working class, poor, and people of color.


On my first day in San Antonio, my brother brought me to the commissary to buy some food for our Thanksgiving meal the following day.  The store appeared like a grocery store like any other.  In my imagination, I thought it would be like a Sam’s Club or a giant warehouse of supplies.  I enjoyed observing what foods the people were buying.  For instance, corn bread and collard greens were among the Thanksgiving foods on sale.  I noticed several carts with these items in them.  These are not typical Thanksgiving foods in Minnesota.  I also noticed that people purchased small sized marshmallows to put on their sweet potatoes.  In Minnesota, I have observed that large sized or medium sized marshmallows are more common.  Finally, I purchased a turnip.  The clerk had to look it up in his produce book, even though I told him it was a turnip.  The clerk insisted it was a rutabaga and it was actually listed as such in his produce book.  This is not correct, as turnips and rutabagas are two different vegetables.  A turnip is an ancient vegetable named Brassica Rapa.  A rutabaga is a new vegetable that is a cross between a turnip and a Brassica Oleracea (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, etc.) which is usually larger, yellowish inside, and less bitter.  In any event, it was fun to go to the grocery store to explore the differences in Texan Thanksgiving v. Minnesotan.


Government Canyon:

On Thanksgiving day itself, I visited Government Canyon.  Earlier this spring, I visited Government Canyon recreation area.  At the time, the park was flooded in areas.  This made seeing the park’s dinosaur tracks difficult.  I wanted to return to the park, since I felt that a hike on Thanksgiving Day would be a constructive start to the holiday.  Visiting the dinosaur foot prints was a Thanksgiving pilgrimage to the ancestors of the modern turkey.  After all, turkeys and chickens are believed to be more closely related to dinosaurs than other modern birds!  In fact, one of the earliest galliform fossils  (from 85 million years ago) was discovered in the Austin Chalk near Austin, Texas.   Government Canyon contains the footprints of Acrocanthosaurus and Sauroposeidon, which are believed to be from 110 million years ago.  At the time, Government Canyon was a beach along an ocean.  The tracks themselves were only discovered in 2014 when a drought uncovered them and scientists excavated them from the muddy riverbed.

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We thought that we would find the park deserted on Thanksgiving Day, but we saw several groups of hikers during our four hour hike.  The terrain can be rocky and inclined, so both times I have hiked there I found it challenging enough to feel worn out by the end of the endeavor.  I kept my eye out for birds, as another homage to the turkey was an appreciation of other birds.  However, the bird life was absent.  I did see hundreds of butterflies though!  It made me wish that I had brought a butterfly guide.  It also inspired me to try to take up the hobby of butterflying.  I don’t think I have ever seen so many butterflies as I had in Texas.

 

Thanksgiving Dinner:

After the hike, I got to work making Thanksgiving dinner.  I prepared sweet potatoes (sans marshmallows), buns, and wild rice, mushroom, and cranberry stuffing.  I also wanted to introduce some new traditions to Thanksgiving, so I made quinoa and the “mash of nine sorts.”  The mash of nine sorts is a Cornish recipe which uses nine ingredients, including turnip, potato, leek, parsnip, rutabaga, cream, salt, pepper, and carrot.  I have made it before, but this time, it did not turn out that great since it had a much stronger turnip flavor than usual.  In the past, I used a turnip from my garden, which was smaller and resulted in less dominant turnip flavor.  I like the recipe since it is associated with fall and Samhain.  My brother purchased a small turkey breast probably because of the symbolic attachment to meat at Thanksgiving.  Tiffany made mashed potatoes and green bean casserole.  As a whole, the meal was not dominated by meat, as 90% of the offerings were vegetarian.  I wanted to follow my theme of bird appreciation through a vegetarian thanksgiving, but oh well!


Before we began eating, we each put on a turkey hat (which my nephew Layton made in pre-school).  Whomever wore the hat had to say something they were thankful for.  We did two rounds of this, which made for a silly time (as a group of adults donned a paper turkey hat and gave thanks).  I also discussed a book I was reading about the history of Thanksgiving (including the social construction of the First Thanksgiving, Native American critique of the holiday, and the historical imagination regarding pilgrims).

The Journey to South Padre Island:

On Black Friday, our family set out for South Padre Island.  I was excited to see more of Texas, but I quickly learned that the route between San Antonio and South Padre Island was pretty empty.   San Antonio does not extend into endless suburbs.  It simply ends.  Once it ends, the landscape becomes expansive with farms.  There were few towns along the way.  There wasn’t much for trees or wildlife to look at.  Just cattle and farms.


Things became a little more interesting a few hours into the drive with the appearance of thicker patches of palm trees and the growing use of Spanish language.  It struck me that southern Texas reminded me a lot of southern Africa.  This is because there were various thorny acacia trees (though nowhere near the amount in southern Africa where it was the dominant type of tree).  This is also because there was a lot of impoverished people of color with speckles of nicer homes and farms owned by white people.  As we went further south, I also saw more birds.  I jotted them down in my notebook.


Cracker Barrel

My great grandparents spent their winters in Harlingen, Texas.  We aren’t sure where they lived, but we stopped there to get a late lunch.  My mom wanted to go to the Cracker Barrel, despite some protests.  I tried to be open minded about it as I don’t have much experience with the chain.  I thought it might be a fun southern experience.


I found that the menu wasn’t very vegetarian friendly, but that a person could patch together sides into a “Vegetable Combo Platter”.  Vegetable is used loosely, since most of the sides were not vegetables.  I settled on some southern sounding sides like grits, corn bread, and fried okra, with some actual vegetables to balance it off (steamed broccoli and another item that I forget).  I felt pleased with my patchwork of sides.  My mom seemed to like the place, but it was sensory overload for most of us.  The place was loud with music and a crowd of diners.  The entrance was a maze of Christmas trees, toys, and decorations.  To reach the reservation desk, a person has to thread their way through narrow passages, accosted by Christmas music and overpowering holiday scents.  Yep, that is Cracker Barrel.

Schlitterbahn:

We arrived on South Padre Island about an hour later.  By then, the air was muggy and the landscape appeared fully tropical (though it is subtropical).  South Padre had a ghost town feel.  It felt like a mall at closing time or a concert after clean up.  It was the off season after all.  There were no college students.  No flocks of families.  Just a few lonely souls shivering in the breezy 70-80 degree weather.  We stayed at Schlitterbahn, a German themed water park.  We had a massive room with three beds and two pull out couches, a kitchenette, and a view of the Gulf.  The park itself featured a water slide, some kiddie pools, a bar inside of a pool, and a tubing course.  I am not a water park person.  In fact, I have never been to a water park before.  But the room was nice!  While the rest of the family went to check out the waterpark, I went for a walk along the beach.  I ended up drenched by a sudden rain and then attacked by swarms of mosquitoes.  Throughout the weekend, I avoided the waterpark.  However, on the last day I did go down the water slide twice and spent some time on the tubing course.  That was an adequate amount of time for me.  A highlight of my stay at the waterpark was the long walks that I took along the beach at night.  On one of the nights, we found dozens of moon jellyfish and man-of-wars washed up on the beach.  That was interesting.

 

South Padre Birding and Nature Center: 

My favorite part of the weekend was visiting the birding center.  Of course, this was not quite as interesting to the three year old and five year old in tow.  The rest of my family returned to the waterpark, but I stayed behind at the birding center.  I circled the wooden walkway a few times, recording all of the birds that I saw.  I wrote about this experience in my year of birding blog post, so I won’t add too much detail.  Only, it was great!  It was also neat because many of the people there were from other countries.  It seems that they were there specifically for the opportunity to see the migratory birds!

Dolphin Watch and Shrimp Haus:

In the evening, we went on a dolphin watching tour.  There were dozens of dolphins, but it does not take many dolphins to become desensitized to their existence.  I suppose it is the law of diminishing returns.  The last bites of a cake are less wonderful than the first.  The first dolphin is more exciting than the last.  The first fifteen minutes of a boat tour is more fun than two hours in…   Oh well, we did see a lot of dolphins and it seems that it relaxed my nephews, who both took naps during the boat ride.


This was followed by a culinary adventure at Shrimp Haus, a German themed shrimp restaurant.  The entire menu was seafood!  Seafood is my very least favorite food.  Looking and thinking about it disgusts me.   I ordered the salad bar.  But, my salad tasted suspiciously like shrimp.  I thought that perhaps it was just my imagination.  I had a few more bites.  I poked around.  There was no sign of sea food.  Maybe the smell in the air was tricking my taste buds?  NO.  To my horror, there was shrimp in the salad dressing.  The humanity of it.  I was disgusted by this.  I felt angry.  I entirely lost my appetite.  This sounds over dramatic, but for some reason I just really really really hate seafood.  It isn’t a vegetarian thing, as I am not ideologically committed enough to vegetarianism to have such a visceral reaction.


Zoo Lights and the San Antonio Botanical Garden:

Our drive back towards San Antonio took us on a more interesting alternative route.  I was surprised to find a border crossing 100 miles from the Mexican border.  For a moment, I thought that we had accidentally crossed into Mexico.  Nope.  I guess that the U.S. has secondary border posts to snag undocumented people who might have gotten through the first border post.  That is pretty terrible!  It creates a corral for undocumented people living between border posts.


On Monday, we went to the Botanical Garden and Zoo Lights.  The San Antonio Botanical Garden is wonderful.   It is expansive and diverse.  There is a pond with ducks that is lined with Texan trees.  There are various areas that represent different ecological zones.  Near an area filled with cacti, acacias, and aloes, there is a birding station, where we watched various birds.  There is also a vegetable garden, Japanese garden, orangerie, buildings for ferns and palms, etc.  A person could spend an entire day wandering around the botanical garden.  We spent several hours.  Orrin, the 3 year old, seemed to enjoy it well enough, even if it is a pretty sedate place with not a whole lot to offer children.

In the evening, we all went to Zoo Lights, which is an event wherein the San Antonio Zoo is decorated with x-mas lights.  Layton and Orrin love the zoo, but it was past their bedtime, so both were a little cranky.  Zoo Lights was interesting, since it sought to create the illusion of winter.  There was a snow machine which produced a thin cloud of snowflakes.  There were “warming stations” with fires and s’mores, even though the temperature was in the 70s.  Workers dressed in fake velvet with fake fur trim, wearing mittens and hats.  Granted, it probably felt cooler to people who were not used to the “real” cold of winter.  There were looming inflatable Christmas characters, a boisterous light and sound show, and all sorts of things which probably tormented the animals to some degree.  The parents looked equally tortured, as they pushed and carried their tired children through the gauntlet of lights and “holiday fun.”  Still, the zoo created a fun atmosphere, even if unlike Bentleyville, the cocoa, cookies, and s’mores weren’t free.

 

One Last Day…

My last day involved returning to Cracker Barrel with my mother (since Tiffany had to return a defective Christmas decoration that she had purchased).   My mother had an earlier flight, so she headed off after our final farewell to the Cracker Barrel Colossus.


The departure of my mother left Tiffany, Orrin, and I to spend some time together.  We went to the Japanese Tea Garden.  Then, we went on the kiddie train near the zoo.  Orrin loves the kiddie train.  I am not sure if I have ever been on one.  It was fun to see Orrin enjoy himself so much, even though he admitted that the kiddie train made him feel sleepy.


My brother finished work in the early afternoon, so we went on a final hike together.  On the ride to the airport, we briefly debated workplace democracy, which he quickly dismissed as a stupid idea.  Then, it was time to leave!  So, my time was cut short from defending the idea that workers might be able to control their own work places.  There is never enough time…


In the end, the trip had a good mixture of many things.  I enjoyed some hikes, plants, and birds.  I tried out a water slide and the Cracker Barrel.  There were debates over Donald Trump and work place democracy.  There was a landscape of dead jelly fish.  There was a lot of culinary compromise (I’m looking at you Shrimp Haus…my haus of pain).   There was a surprise border crossing, palm trees, x-mas lights, a turkey hat, and a family Thanksgiving dinner.  I am thankful that I had the opportunity to see my family and that we had so much fun during my time off for Thanksgiving.

 

 

All the Season’s Ladies

All the Season’s Ladies:

Forgotten Females of the Holiday Season

By H. Bradford

12/18/16


It often seems like men have the starring role in the holiday season.  There’s Santa Claus, who delights children by delivering toys and travelling the world by a reindeer powered flying sleigh.  There are dozens of old men who act in a similar way to Santa Claus, including Father Christmas, Grandfather Frost, and Sweden’s Christmas gnome. There’s baby Jesus, who makes babies seem less awful by not crying, spitting up, or creating messy diapers.  The three wise men add to the count.  Frosty the Snowman, Jack Frost, Rudolph the Rednose Reindeer, the Elf on the Shelf, Krampus, Nester the Donkey, and the Little Drummer Boy can be added to the list of guys.  Even an obscure Bohemian king from the early 900s has a memorable holiday song (Good King Wenceslas).  Thankfully, there are some interesting female characters during the holiday season as well.  They might not be as numerous and might not attract the same attention, but each has an interesting story and offers some lessons in feminism.

 crazy-christmas-ads1  (Tis the season for sexism?)

Mrs. Claus

Mrs. Claus is a familiar Christmas season character who is usually portrayed as a plump, elderly woman dressed in red, with white hair and round glasses.  She is often engaged in such things as baking cookies, ironing clothes, and managing the Claus household.  There are few stories about her or well known songs.  Even her name is unknown or unmentioned, though she has been called Molly, Jessica, Delores, and Maya in some adaptations of her story (Santa Takes a Wife, n.d.).  For most of history, Santa Claus did not even have a wife.  This is because the character, Santa Claus, was based upon a bishop from Myra, Turkey who may have been born around 280 CE.  According to legends, St. Nicholas gave his wealth to the poor, saved a three falsely imprisoned men, and gave dowry money to three poor sisters to save them from prostitution.  In a particularly horrific tale, Nicholas sensed that a corrupt inn keeper in Athens had pickled the corpses of three men, so he prayed to have them resurrected (St. Nicholas Origin Story, n.d.).  Ms. Claus has always lived in the shadow of her husband, baking cookies and doing laundry while he delivers toys.  It would be hard for her to compete with a character who gives toys to the world’s children, but also save women from prostitution and revives pickled corpses from time to time.

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Historical evidence of an actual person whom Saint Nicholas was based upon is thin.  His written biography was published 250 years after his death and the region already featured a similar story about a pagan philosopher named Apollonius who performed similar feats as St. Nicholas (Lendering, 2002).  Whatever the actual history, Saint Nicholas was a popular saint who was associated with gift giving and protecting sailors and children.  Even after the Protestant reformation, he remained a popular saint in the Netherlands, where he was called Sinterklaas.  Interestingly, saint days were abolished after the Republic of United Provinces became protestant, but due to unrest in the Catholic south and among students in Amsterdam, private observances of the Feast of Saint Nicholas were allowed.  Dutch immigrants are are credited with bringing Sinterklaas and the observation of the December 6th Feast of St. Nicholas to the U.S, where the character slowly lost his religious connotations and became associated with Christmas (St. Nicholas, n.d.).  There is no historical record that Saint Nicholas had a wife and his pagan counterpart, Apollonius was also celibate.  While modern bishops and priests within the Catholic church are required to be celibate, this would not have been the case in Nicholas’ era.  In 304 CE, when Nicholas would have been about 24 years old, the first written edict from the Council of Elvira stated that clerics should be celibate.  In 325, the Council of Nicea rejected a ban on the marriage of clerics.  It was not until the 12th century that clerics were definitively banned from marriage (Owen, 2001).   Thus, it is possible that St. Nicholas was married, if such a person existed.  But, in the imagination of post-12th century celebrants of the Feast of St. Nicholas, he likely would not have been thought of as a married man because of the normalization of celibate bishops.

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(St. Nicholas is more somber than jolly)

In the early 1800s, Santa Claus began to take on his more modern identity.  He went from the thin, olive skinned, saint in bishop’s garb to the jolly, magical, character dressed in red.  The 1823 poem called, “Twas the Night Before Christmas” or “A visit from Saint Nicholas” helped to create the modern American Santa Claus, as it featured him as a character carried by a reindeer drawn sleigh, plump physique, and chimney travel (St. Nicholas Origin Story, 2014).  The secularization and modernization of Santa allowed the possibility that he might have a wife.  Mrs. Claus was introduced in 1849 in “A Christmas Legend” by James Rees (Hatherall, 2012).  In 1862, she was depicted in Harper Magazine as wearing a dozen red petticoats and Hessian boots, which seems like oddly militant yet fancy attire.  She was again depicted in 1877 in the book “Lill’s Travels in Santa Claus Land (the History Chicks, 2014).”  In 1889, Mrs. Claus was further popularized in the poem, “Goody Santa Claus” by Katherine Lee Bates (Hatherall, 2012).  In “Goody Santa Claus”, Mrs. Claus asked her husband why he should have all of the glory delivering toys and requests to come along in his sleigh (Santa Takes a Wife, n.d.).  Bates, the author of the poem is famous for her song America the Beautiful.  She never married, was Oxford educated, and wrote children’s books, songs, and travel books.  Bates also had a very close relationship with Katharine Coleman, an economics and political science instructor.  Modern notions of lesbian sexual identity were not yet understood at the time, but some historians believe that the two women were a couple.  Either way, Bates was an independent woman and it is no wonder that her poem depicted Mrs. Claus as a more assertive and independent woman than other portrayals of the character.

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Generally speaking, Mrs. Claus is a supportive character to Santa Claus, who stays at home while he delivers toys.  She is often depicted as a kindly, large, older woman.  While she often plays second fiddle to her more famous husband, she does have a few more prominent roles in stories.  For instance, in the 1974 Rankin Bass claymation film, “A Year Without a Santa” Mrs. Claus considers donning the Santa suit and delivering toys herself.  She ultimately delegated gift delivery to the reindeer and elves, but does try to convince two weather spirits (Heat Miser and and Snow Miser) to make it snow.  A 1990 book called “Mrs. Santa Claus” deals with a similar premise, wherein Santa is sick and Ms. Claus must deliver the toys using a flying bicycle operated with vacuum cleaners and guided by a goose and chicken.  This eccentric method of delivery is feminine and domestic, but at least offers Mrs. Claus agency and a central role in the story (Santa Takes a Wife, n.d.).

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(I couldn’t find an image of Mrs. Claus driving the sleigh, but here is one which conveys her as a lady prepared to wait for her man to return…)


Mrs. Claus quaint, invisible, and domestic characteristics illustrates how society tends to view older women.  Older women are not viewed as sexy or beautiful in society.  Women are shamed for aging poorly.  They are held to a different physical standard than aging men.  Young women are told what products to buy or precautions to take to avoid aging.  As such, aging is viewed negatively for women.  According to a study based upon data from OKCupid, the peak age of female attractiveness is 20 years old according to male respondents!  Thus, most women have only a small window in their life wherein they are considered very attractive.  As an older woman, Mrs. Claus lacks the power assigned to youthful beauty in society.  Like many women, she is defined by her husband, having no name but his name and no role but a supporting role to his endeavors.  Did she want to live in the North Pole?  Does she want to make cookies and stay home? What was her name before she was married?  What were her own dreams in life?  Why can’t she drive the sleigh?  Her isolation in the North Pole in a world of little men and reindeer only adds to the invisibility of being an aged woman.  At the same time, older women have lived experience and have seen history unfold.  They can be mentors, role models, and leaders to younger women.  As for Mrs. Claus, I’d like to see a story about her life before Santa Claus and see her engage in social change that extends beyond giving toys to kids.  She could be an icon against ageism and for the rights of women.

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St. Lucia


Saint Lucia or Saint Lucy is Catholic and Orthodox saint whose feast is on December 13th.  St. Lucy day is particularly popular in Scandinavia, where a girl is chosen to portray saint by wearing a white robe, with a red sash, and a lingonberry crown with candles on her head.  She is followed by a procession of white clad girls and boys in cone hats, who sing songs for Saint Lucia and Christmas.  Traditionally, the girl playing the role of Lucia would visit local farms to distribute saffron buns and coffee on the early morning of St. Lucia day(Swedish Customs and Traditions, n.d.).  Despite her popularity in Scandinavia, she actually originated in Italy.  Lucia is the patron saint of the blind and is said to have lived in Sicily from 283 to 303 CE.  As such, she would have been a contemporary of Saint Nicholas if both can be imagined as real people.  According to legends, Lucia’s father died when she was young and her mother was not a Christian.  However, Lucia became a Christian and refused to marry a pagan man that her mother had arranged for her to marry.  Instead, she gave her dowry to the poor.  She managed to convert her mother to Christianity by bringing her to a shrine to St. Agnes for healing, but the man she was promised to became angry that she would not marry him.  He denounced her as a Christian to the Roman authorities, who sentenced her to forced prostitution.  Thus, just like Saint Nicholas, her story involves prostitution.  Her body became too heavy to be carried away for punishment so she was instead tortured.  In some stories, her eyes were gouged out but healed, which is why she is often depicted with eyes on a plate and the patron saint of the blind (St. Lucy, n.d.).  Like Saint Nicholas, the evidence of her actual life is scant.  Also like Saint Nicholas, she was a popular saint during the middle ages.  Finally, like Saint Nicholas, observation of her feast day was popular among Protestants.

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St. Lucia Day is popular in Scandinavia and has some elements of pagan traditions.  In pre-Christian times, December 13th was celebrated as Yule (Traditions in Different Cultures, 2016).  Solstice and the Feast of St. Lucia both fell on December 13th according to the Julian calendar.  Thus, St. Lucia’s Feast was on the shortest day of the year, which easily allowed for the survival of pagan solstice traditions such as bonfires, burning incense, and singing songs (Swedish Customs and Traditions, n.d.).  Even the name of the feast is very similar to the Scandinavian pagan observation of Lussi Night.  Lussi night was a night wherein an evil spirit named Lussi was active, along with spirits and elves.  Lussi would punish misbehaved children by taking them away to her dark world (Traditions in Different Cultures, 2016).  Children would write the name Lussi on fences and walls to announce that the darkness of winter was ending and that light would be returning.  After converting to Christianity, the Vikings introduced the Italian Saint to Scandinavia, as she fit well with pre-existing celebrations of the solstice and her very name means light.  Celebration of the saint survived both a calendar change and the Protestant Reformation.  When the Gregorian calendar was introduced in 1582, the winter solstice moved to December 21st.   St. Lucia’s Feast remained on December 13th.  Despite the shift, St. Lucia Day remained connected to the idea of the return of light.  Her feast became increasingly popular after the 18th century in Sweden and today, the Nobel Prize winner in Literature has the honor of selecting the “Lucy Bride” of Stockholm (Swedish Customs and Traditions, n.d.).

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From a feminist perspective, St. Lucia has some pros and cons.  On one hand, it is great that she stood up to her mother, spent her dowry on the poor, and refused to marry a man she did not want to marry.  She was also defiant in the face of Roman authority, as in some stories, she predicted the downfall of the Roman empire and asserted that they would not be able to take her virginity.  She is also a strong character in that she represents the return of light and end of winter.  With the Polar Vortex looming over most of the U.S. right now, and sunset at about 4:20 pm, ending winter is something I can definitely get behind.  On the other hand, the character idealizes youth, beauty, and virginity.  In Sweden, local newspapers often depict various candidates for the year’s Saint Lucia, allowing readers to vote.  Many Miss Sweden winners began as local Saint Lucias (Swedish Customs and Traditions, n.d.).  The girls who depict Saint Lucia are usually blond and fair skinned.  This year, the Swedish department store, Ahlens, received over 200 negative comments on facebook because they depicted St. Lucia as gender ambiguous child with a darker complexion.  The department store had to pull the advertisement.  Like the mythical trolls of Scandinavia, the internet trolls threatened to hurt the child model by their racist and cisgendered objections that Lucia was not a white girl (Swedish Lucia advert sparks love and hate online, 2016).  From a feminist perspective, anyone of any age, gender, race, or any appearance should be able to portray Saint Lucia.  The character is almost entirely fictional and as such, open to interpretation and change.  After all, had there been an actual St. Lucia, she most likely would not have been blond and fair skinned, considering she hailed from Southern Italy.  But, just as Santa has been white washed from a skinny, swarthy, Turkish saint to a fat man with a ruddy complexion, Lucia has also been made more Northern European in her appearance.

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Beiwe:


St. Lucia is just one woman associated with the winter solstice.  Another woman is Beiwe, the Sami goddess of spring, mental wellness, fertility, and the sun.  She is credited with chasing away the winter and restoring the sanity of those who have become mentally ill over the winter.  White animals are traditionally sacrificed in her honor and butter is smeared over the doorposts of homes (Auset, 2009).  On the winter solstice, a white deer was sacrificed in her honor.  The meat was made into a ring and hung from a tree with colorful ribbons.  Butter was smeared in the doorposts so that she would have something to eat.  The Sami believed that the sun was the mother of all life and that reindeer were her children and a gift to humans (Monaghen, 2011).  She flies through the sky on a chariot made of reindeer antlers with her daughter.  The fact that she restores mental health after the winter suggests that Sami people recognized what might be called Seasonal affect disorder (Loar, 2011).  Interestingly, the existence of seasonal affect disorder is currently being called into question.  A 2006 CDC study did not find an increase of depression in the winter months at high latitudes.  Similarly, a 2012 Norwegian study did not find increased mental distress during the winter, but did find a greater incidents of sleep problems in the winter months.  It is possible that the CDC questions did not measure seasonal depression or that the respondents did not recall specific times of year that they were particularly depressed (Turner, 2016).

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Beiwe highlights a perennial issue of the knowledge of women and indigenous people is often devalued by scientific institutions.  It is certainly interesting the Sami people had a goddess which specifically connected winter with feeling mentally unstable.  Truly, for this connection to have been made, the Sami people must have noted that winter had an impact on their mental wellbeing.  At the same time, it is also interesting that SAD is being called into question.  For many people, winter is a difficult time.  I myself feel cooped up by cold weather, saddened by the short days, and less energetic.  Winter driving is a chore at best, and life threatening at worst.  Of course, I enjoy the beauty of winter and have been able to remain happy by adopting winter activities that I look forward to.  Anecdotally, many people around me also dread the winter and become more reserved and reclusive.  Does this constitute a change in mental wellness?  For those who do experience full blown winter depression, do their experiences matter?  Science is an ongoing pursuit to understand the laws, patterns, and trends in the material world around us.  It is a wonderful thing that we can organize knowledge in this manner, but at the same time, because scientific institutions yield power and are themselves beholden to power, this knowledge sometimes shapes our reality and shades our experiences.  This is why marginalized people often find their knowledge dismissed by science.


La Befana:

La Befana is worth mentioning since she like Mrs. Claus, she is another elderly, female character in the Christmas season canon.  In Italy, La Befana delivers toys to children on January 5th, or the Eve of the Epiphany.  According to Southern Italian folklore, she was visited by the three magi as they were on their way to see baby Jesus.  They asked her directions and asked if she would like to accompany them.  She declined, offering the excuse that she had too much housework.  After they left, she decided to follow after them and see Jesus for herself.  However, she lost her way.  Thus, for the past 2000 years she has been searching for baby Jesus, while distributing gifts to children.  In another less pleasant story, she is a mother who lost a child, went insane with grief, mistook baby Jesus as her own child, and was blessed by Jesus to be the mother of all Italian children.  Unlike Saint Lucia and Saint Nicholas, she is not a saint and is not an officially recognized religious figure.  She is entirely fictional.  She is sometimes called the Christmas Witch, and has a witch like appearance, as she has a long nose, warty face, wears a kerchief and shawl, and flies from place to place on a broom.  Like Santa Claus, children leave her treats.  But, instead of cookies, she enjoys wine, sausage, and broccoli.  Similar to St. Lucia and St. Nicholas, she may have some pre-Christian roots, as Romans celebrated the New Year by honoring a goddess called Strenia (Matthews and Newkirk, 2010).  Strenia gave the same gifts that La Befana traditionally delivered, including honey, figs, and dates.

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La Befana is a pretty cool Christmas character.  She is basically the Baba Yaga of Christmas.  She is an independent woman, as she has been a solo female traveller for 2000 over years.  She is generous and active, but not as domestic as Mrs. Claus, due to her extensive travels (mainly around Italy).  While Mrs. Claus has a neat and tidy appearance, La Befana embraces a more haggard, warty appearance.  She definitely seems unconcerned about aging or pleasing or attracting men.  Perhaps her main flaw is that she fits into the stereotype that women aren’t very good with directions or spatial reasoning.  But, perhaps her wandering has become a way of life and she isn’t even all that interested in finding baby Jesus.  Since her way of life offers her unfettered access to all the broccoli, wine, and sausage that a woman could want, finding baby Jesus would probably be a let down at this point in her life.

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  Snergurochka:

Unlike the other characters on the list, Snegurochka does not have any religious connection (granted, Mrs. Claus is only tangentially connected to St. Nicholas through Santa Claus).  The character first appeared in 1869 collection of Russian poems and folktales.  In that story, a childless couple named Ivan and Marya create a child made out of snow.  The snow child comes to life and grows into a beautiful young woman.  However, she melts when she joins a group of girls in jumping over a bonfire.  In another version of the story, she is the daughter of Ded Moroz (Old Man Frost) who melted when she fell in love with a shepherd named Lel.  Her story is the subject of a play by Alexander Ostrovsky, music by Tchaikovsky, an opera by Rimsky-Korsakov, a ballet by Ludwig Minkus and Marius Petipa, and two Soviet films (Kubilius, 2016).

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While Snegurochka was popular in tsarist Russia, she became particularly popular in the Soviet Union.  In 1929, the Laws on Religious Associations curtailed religious activity in the Soviet Union.  Religion was relegated to groups of 20 or more, consisting of individuals over the age of 18, who registered with the state.  Public worship was banned beyond private worship services conducted by registered groups.  Because public religious expression was banned and the state was officially atheist, Christmas disappeared from the public sphere.  In 1935, public celebration of New Year was allowed.  Ded Moroz and Snegurochka became associated with New Years and would bring gifts to children.  Thus, Ded Moroz acted like Santa Claus and Snegurochka was his helper.  Snegurochka appeared on many Soviet greeting cards and looks a little like Elsa from Frozen, with light skin, pale hair in a braid, and a blue or white dress.  The main difference is that she wears fur and a kokoshnik, or traditional Russian headdress.  Because she is another pretty, young blond, she perpetuates the same beauty standards as St. Lucia.

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Snegurochka offers a few lessons that might be useful for feminists.  The fact that she dies after falling in love is a lesson for feminists to be skeptical about narratives of love.  While many fairy tales end with “happily ever after” “finding true love” and marriage, her story ends with tragic death.  While women should not fear love, they should dissect media messages about love, as many of this messages are unrealistic and unhealthy.  The alternate version of her story is a cautionary tale about peer pressure.  She wanted the acceptance of the other girls, but in following them over the fire, she melted.  Again, a woman should be able to trust others, but she should also be able to stand on her own and say no to dangerous activities.  The fact that her story is not religious is useful to atheist feminists, since it does not reinforce religious ideas about virginity and purity.  Unfortunately, because the character dies young and lives a sheltered life, she does not have much agency or power.  When she was reimagined as a Soviet New Year’s character, she remained a helper to Ded Moroz rather than an independent woman.  This is one of the main drawbacks of the character….aside from her status as an icon for state sponsored religious oppression.  The fact that she was imagined as a helping character wearing the costume of imperialist Russians is indicative of the reactionary nature of Stalinism.  The gains women enjoyed in the early years of the revolution were reversed under Stalin, who reaffirmed conservative values about family and gender by making homosexuality and abortion illegal and divorce hard to obtain.


Conclusion:

 

This is far from a comprehensive list of female holiday figures, but hopefully it offers some ideas of how the holidays might be celebrated differently or characters re-imagined.  Perhaps instead of taking children to see Santa, we should take them to see Mrs. Claus.  Maybe instead of milk and cookies, you should leave out some wine and sausage and see if you are visited by an Italian witch.  Perhaps some gifts could be opened after the New Year, as a special delivery from Snergurochka and Ded Moroz.  The next time a local church or community center celebrates St. Lucia, you might recommend a boy for the role.  Holidays are always evolving.  I imagine that if the feminist movement grows in size and exerts more influence on culture, we will have our own characters, holidays, and interpretations of pre-existing characters.  Until then, we can imagine, dream, and reinvent holidays with our friends and in our own small communities.

 

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Sources:

 

Auset, B. (2009). The goddess guide: Exploring the attributes and correspondences of the divine feminine. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications,U.S.

 

Hatherall, E. (2012). The History of Mrs. Claus. Retrieved December 16, 2016, from http://www.girlmuseum.org/the-history-of-mrs-claus/

 

Katharine Lee Bates. (2016). Retrieved December 16, 2016, from LGBT History Month, http://lgbthistorymonth.com/katharine-lee-bates?tab=biography

 

Kubilius, K. (2016, April 6). Ded Moroz, the Russian Santa Ded Moroz, or “grandfather frost” is Russia’s Santa Claus. Retrieved December 16, 2016, from Travel, http://goeasteurope.about.com/od/russianculture/a/dedmorozrussiansanta.htm

 

Lendering, J. (2002). St. Nicholas Center:: Early sources. Retrieved December 16, 2016, from St. Nicholas Center, http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/early-sources/

 

Loar, J. (2011). Goddesses for every day: Exploring the wisdom and power of the divine feminine around the world. United States: New World Library.

 

Lucia in Sweden. (2013, May 28). Retrieved December 16, 2016, from Culture & traditions, https://sweden.se/culture-traditions/lucia/

 

Matthews, D., & Newkirk, G. (2016, December 10). Meet the Christmas witch: La Befana is Santa’s wine-guzzling, cheer-spreading, female counterpart. Retrieved December 16, 2016, from Religious Phenomena, http://weekinweird.com/2016/12/10/meet-christmas-witch-la-befana-santas-wine-guzzling-cheer-spreading-female-counterpart/

 

Monaghan, P. (Ed.). (2010). Goddesses in world culture: Volume1, Asia and Africa. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.

 

Minicast: Mrs. Claus. (2014, December 23). Retrieved December 16, 2016, from Podcasts, http://thehistorychicks.com/minicast-mrs-claus/#more-4237

 

Owen, H. L. (2001). When did the Catholic church decide priests should be Celibate? Retrieved December 16, 2016, from History News Network, http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/696

 

Santa takes a wife. (2004). Retrieved December 16, 2016, from Hymns and Carols of Christmas, http://www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com/santa/mrs__claus.htm

 

St. Lucy. (2009, July 31). Religions – Christianity: Saint lucy. Retrieved December 16, 2016, from BBC, http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/saints/lucy.shtml

 

St. Nicholas. Retrieved December 16, 2016, from Biography.com, http://www.biography.com/people/st-nicholas-204635#synopsis

 

St. Nicholas Origin Story. Retrieved December 16, 2016, from Biography.com, http://www.biography.com/news/st-nicholas-santa-claus-origin-story

 

Swedish Customs and Traditions. Retrieved December 16, 2016, from http://sccc.ca/site/panel5/SwedishCustomsandTraditions.html

 

Swedish Lucia advert sparks love and hate online. (2016, December 4). Retrieved December 16, 2016, from The Local, http://www.thelocal.se/20161204/swedish-lucia-advert-sparks-love-and-hate-online

 

Traditions in different cultures. (2016). Retrieved December 16, 2016, from Historia Vivens, http://www.historiavivens.eu/2/traditions_in_different_cultures_1111971.html

 

Turner, V. S. (2016). Study finds “seasonal Affective disorder” Doesn’t exist. Retrieved December 16, 2016, from Scientific American, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/study-finds-seasonal-affective-disorder-doesn-t-exist/

 

Woodruff, B. (2015, December 18). Why everyone should celebrate a wine drinking witch at Christmastime. Retrieved December 16, 2016, from Slate, http://www.slate.com/articles/life/holidays/2014/12/celebrate_la_befana_at_christmas_the_holidays_need_a_wine_drinking_witch.html

 

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