Why Feminism?: In response to a colleague who has never heard of Rebecca Solnit (and #metoo)

Yesterday, I passed by my colleague’s office and he mentioned that he was going to give a lecture to his class on the #metoo campaign and the sexual harassment and violence against women issue that has exploded in the media.

I asked him if he’d read Rebecca Solnit’s work.

He replied, “Who?”

I explained that she is pivotal to all the feminist changes afoot right now. Five years ago, feminist was a taboo word. Now it’s all the rage, and “mansplaining” (her word) is common parlance.

Had he heard of Solnit’s, “Men Explain Things to Me?” I asked.


Had he read or heard of Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist, or Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Why We Should All Be Feminists?

“Who? Uh. No.”

He scrambled to write their names down.

He later wrote me a thank you note for giving him these authors’ names.

I applaud my colleague’s interest, but I wonder: why hadn’t he heard of these authors prior to our conversation? This man reads the New York Times and other key publications daily.

I wrote my colleague back and recommended that he begin with Solnit’s essay “Men Explain Things to Me,” (and the book of the same name). I suggested that he give the essay to his class to read. I recommended This Bridge Called My Back and Feminism is for Everybody, as well as these two lists of writing by African and black feminists:

18 Phenomenal African Feminists to Know and Celebrate
by Moiyattu Banya What is African Feminism? Many feminists from around the world have contested the idea of whether…www.forharriet.com

14 Books That Should Be On Every Black Feminist's Bookshelf
Feminism has been getting a lot of attention lately in popular media, and the more people use the term, the more…www.matermea.com


My entry.

First, I was a little girl and sexual assault was everywhere. You know the story. We all do.

Then, I was a young woman in the theatre (acting), at parties, working in restaurants, in college; sexual assault was everywhere. You know the story. We all do.

Then, I got my PhD and I started teaching feminist criticism and literature in the 1990s. At the time, my focus was on 18th-century English literature and culture — and mostly on women writers who were famous in their day— such as Aphra Behn, Mary Astell, Maria Edgeworth, Frances Burney, Mary Delariviere Manley (and others). You probably haven’t heard of them. They were wiped out of the literary canon because of their bawdiness (open sexuality) and their deep questioning of patriarchy. They addressed rape, domestic violence, venereal disease, women’s (lack of) education, female desire, same-sex desire, racism, & female inequality (legally and in every way) in their writing.

When I went on the job market as a young female PhD to apply for university teaching jobs, the majority of my interviewers were white men with white hair. It was uncomfortable. I was told I was intimidating. I was told they felt their academic fields were being invaded by strange and unfamiliar studies (feminism and women writers).

When I began teaching as a young scholar/professor, I had to fight to teach courses on 18th-century women writers. If I split my course readings in half (half women, half men), I was told I wasn’t teaching the true 18th-century. I was supposed to stay in line and teach Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, Samuel Richardson, Daniel Defoe, etc. The 18th-century has been defined by scholars as the Age of Reason for a reason. Women have never been reasonable, it seems- they question the very foundations of rational thought. They raise messy corporeal, class, and political questions. Their language on the page (often) unsettles everything.

The story of the erasure of the 18th-century women writers (there were 100 great women novelists before Jane Austen — according to Dale Spender) was central to my area of research — yet late 20th-century male professors told me that teaching women writers was invalid, not scholarly.

When I later switched my field to contemporary literature and film/media, with a focus on environmental issues, and in particular on eco-feminism, I met with even more disdain from my colleagues. I became the defacto department weirdo. This was about 2003. Few were talking about climate change or environmental degradation in academic humanities circles then. Public environmental scholarship — books such as Bill McKibben’s End of Nature, Sandra Steingraber’s Living Downstream, or Solnit’s Savage Dreams, were not well known in the academic world. Crunchy/environmentally aware places with hippy professors like UC Santa Cruz covered these works perhaps, but they were not “recognized” in mainstream colleges or universities in literature classrooms.

I plodded on as the Department feminist and eco-feminist weirdo. I knew that the environment was crumbling in so many ways, and that my students needed to learn about toxicants, disease, and pollution, eco-feminism, environmental injustice, and climate change.

Repeatedly, students have said the following to me, “Why haven’t we been taught about these issues before? It’s our right to know!”

Sometimes we dance. Sometimes we meditate. Sometimes we march. Sometimes we walk in forests or by the shore and write about the trees and water and animals and birds. We read poetry, essays and novels about the environment, gender, race. Always we tie these issues together: violence against women, environmental racism, and the grave harm humans have done and are doing to our earth.

Students cried in class after Superstorm Sandy; they had witnessed hundreds of felled trees, boats washed up in their front yards, looting and guns at gas stations.

My students talked to me and cried after Trump’s election — they were afraid of what would happen to them because of their female gender, or because of the color of their skin, or because of their ancestry.

They come to me in tears after they have been diagnosed with cancer, or their mother or relative has been diagnosed with cancer. They know it has everything to do with our poisoned water, soil and air — the superfund site next door.

They worry about our National Parks, species extinction, climate change, and nuclear war.


One student’s project: she went into various online chat rooms and asked the question:

“What do you think of feminism?”

Over and over she received the response: “fuck feminism.”


In some ways: the walls of patriarchy are crumbling. Women are being heard. Many assaulters are being called to accountability.


I don’t trust this moment in time. I’ve been harassed (grabbed, assaulted, verbally insulted, glass ceilinged) like all of my sisters in the world of #metoo.

No, I can’t fully trust this heightened moment of #metoo, when we have a pussy-grabbing president wagging a big nuclear phallus (thousands on hair tigger alert) at North Korea.


What do I make of an older male colleague who is only now waking up to the idea of feminism?

I am very glad he is reading Solnit. But where has he been?


(This is not merely a hyped up feminist media campaign. This is hundreds (or thousands) of years of women being shut down in every way — violated, raped, trafficked, owned, silenced, burned, shot, strangled, starved, and prevented from being educated, prevented from ownership of property, prevented from the right to vote, and more. Let’s treat the #metoo stories as sacred prayer.)

Voting for the Planet

This has been one harrowing, nail-biting election season, with such hostile political debates!

As a mom who cares deeply about the environment, where our candidates stand on sustainability policies matters to me first and foremost in my voting decisions.  I hope you will carefully examine where the candidates stand as you vote on NOVEMBER 8.

We are living in dangerous times—rising cancer, learning disability, and asthma rates, vast climate change destruction, and mass species extinction.  It’s heartbreaking. 

What kind of world are we leaving for our children?  This question plagues me.

So from our political candidates, I don’t want to hear false accusations –a dog and pony show of one-upmanship about nonsense.

I want to hear policy. Real policy. Great policy. Our politicians need to be dreamers, visionaries, and they need to act on environmental protections.

I want to hear their substantive plans to solve our climate change, toxic pollution, and dirty air and water problems.  I want to know that our president and leaders will work effectively with the EPA to clean up the mess we have made. I want to hear a solid clean energy plan and exciting new designs for transforming our outmoded current transportation systems. I want to hear about new policies for improving our dysfunctional and toxic food systems, systems that contribute greatly to climate change, soil, air, and water pollution.  

Other countries are moving forward with making these vital positive system changes; the U.S. can, and must, too.

Andrew Freedman writes that election week will be unusually hot. That may be good for election turn out, but it’s not so great for the planet. We’ve seen more damaging scenarios all year: lack of rainfall in California, massive and devastating flooding in Louisiana, and the destruction of Hurricane Matthew.

This year, we’ve also seen story after story about high rates of water pollution harming our children.  Lead in Detroit. Hexavalent Chromium-6 across the U.S.  Uranium pollution in indigenous communities in the Southwest. Exploding pipelines, oil spills and fracking chemicals polluting wells and water supplies everywhere.

Right now our Native American “protectors” are holding the line at Standing Rock, North Dakota—to stop a dangerous oil pipeline from running through sacred Indigenous burial lands and threatening the Missouri River, a river that supplies water to millions of humans and animals, and as well as water for vital farmland.  We need politicians who will stand with these protectors.

Right now our brothers and sisters are fighting to protect millions of New Yorkers from an expanded natural gas pipeline just outside of New York City (the Spectra pipeline).  Engineers and medical experts say this pipeline threatens 20 million lives.  We need politicians who will stand with these protectors.

I will vote for the Presidential candidate, congressmen and women, and senators who will dream, plan, and fight hard to protect our children and our planet.

Clean air and water--must be the number one priority for all of our politicians.

Now more than ever, we need to pay attention to our candidates’ plans for caring for our mother earth. 

On so many of these issues, the clock is ticking. 

I pledge to vote for our planet, our mother earth.  Will you join me?

This post was produced with support from Clean Air Moms Action. All opinions are, of course, my own.”

9/11 After Thoughts

My daughter was born on September 11.

My father died on September 11, from terminal cancer.

9/11, and 32 miles from NYC, the air was rank for days after the towers fell. I worked in those towers in my early twenties, as a waitress at Windows on the World. It was my first waitressing job. Some of the kitchen staff I had worked with died on the day of the attacks.

I was driving to teach at Stony Brook University when I heard about the planes flying into the Trade Towers. The news was on NPR and I heard it on my commute to work. Stunned, I arrived on campus, went to my class; my very shell-shocked students all wanted to go home and contact loved ones. I dismissed the class and told them to be careful. I then drove back home to my family.

It was my daughter's 4th birthday. We didn't know what to say to her--we had the TV on briefly, but didn't want to scare and scar her, so we turned off the news and said, "Some buildings in New York City are on fire." That's all she knew for years.

Her preschool was at a Jewish temple, and her class met in the afternoon. I had made cupcakes to take to the class to celebrate her birth. There were few cars on the street and when we arrived at the temple, we saw a number of police guarding the parking lot. They anticipated attacks at synagogues (which seems odd to think of now).

Her teacher met us at the door and said, "Say nothing. These are babies. They don't need to know what just happened. They cannot possibly understand." What a strange birthday it was; I felt removed from the celebrations; the little ones didn't seem to notice.

But this is our world today. Violence, terrorism, school shootings. As a parent I feel this inner division--the desire to pretend everything is safe and 'normal' and the terrible knowledge that nothing is normal. There have been so many violent incidents and scares throughout my daughter's childhood--weeks and weeks of black outs, two major hurricanes, multiple local terrorist attacks, and on and on.

There has always been some shame for us on this birthday. Wanting to celebrate; she was a miracle post-cancer chemo baby for me; yet knowing others are suffering. Wanting to honor my child. Wanting to respect others. Wanting to honor those who grieve.

I still remember the stench in the air from 9/11, 32 miles from NYC.

Talking to Josh Fox and a Review of How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can't Change

“Can a person stop a wave? Could you stand on the shore and stop a wave from crashing? What are the things that climate change can’t destroy? What are those parts of us that are so deep that no storm can take them away?”

—Josh Fox

How to Let Go of the World opens with Josh Fox dancing to the Beatles--joyously celebrating the banning of hydraulic fracturing in New York State. Fox and thousands of fellow "frackativists" had just successfully pushed through the ban on 'fracking' in New York (2014). 

Fox's first environmental film, Gasland (2010), brought national attention to the negative environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing.  

So, Fox had good reason to celebrate the New York State 'fracking' ban, and yet...

Fox soon recognized that while the banning of 'fracking' in New York State was a big win, there was and is much more to be concerned about in the environmental battle.

Namely: global Climate Change.

How to Let Go of the World next takes the viewer on Fox’s journey of environmental despair (a condition I deeply identify with and talk about in my TEDX talk "ECO-GRIEF").

Fox returns to his family home in the woods that inspired the making of Gasland, only to discover that a favorite childhood tree is infested with parasitic insects (induced by Climate Change).  The infested tree is a living symbol of the changed world we now inhabit--a world gravely altered by the ravages of fossil fuel extraction.  

Fox is thrown into a state of hopelessness.

Yet Fox determines to, “find the people who’d found this place, this place of despair, and gotten back up.”

The film then takes the viewer all over the globe. We follow Fox as he seeks to understand how others cope with environmental grief.

We observe the negative environmental, health and social impacts of Hurricane Sandy in New York, sea-level rise in the Marshall Islands, deforestation and oil spills in the Amazon, and the wanton burning of fossil fuels in smog-laden China, among others.  

Along the way, Fox has heart-to-heart conversations with prominent Climate Change authors Bill Mckibben, Elizabeth Kolbert, and climate scientist, Michael E. Mann. He also speaks with the activist and "civil disobedient" Tim DeChristopher, who went to jail for 21 months for protesting a Bureau of Land Management lease auction to the fossil fuel industry in Utah. 

Fox introduces the audience to climate warriors everywhere who will not give up on hope or love—even in the face of disaster.

One fierce Marshall Island community chants: 'We are not drowning, we are fighting!'

At the close of the showing of How to Let Go of the World at Manhattanville College, New York, where I viewed the film--amidst a sea of New York environmental activists, students, parents, grandparents, artists, actors, politicians, and musicians--Fox was present.  He called on each of us to come together as a community—to do all in our power protect this earth and our loved ones.

Fox called on us to dance.

And so we did. 

The film airs on HBO, June 27th.  Don't miss it.  Join your community and dance.                                          

Watch interviews (below) with Josh Fox right before the showing of How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can't Change and on my show, Coffee with Hx2:

Musings on a new semester

Spring semester at Stony Brook University, where I work and teach, started last week. To me, new beginnings like this one are one of the most exciting parts of the academic year. Each new semester is filled with new introductions. A new beginning means I have the privilege of meeting a whole new group of students.

It’s this group of students that I will lead over the course of the following months.

I will do my best to nurture this new group, instilling in them the skills, knowledge and drive they need to make positive environmental and social change. And in turn they will share with me their passion and ideas. Spending time with my students is energizing. It boosts my own abilities as an environmental educator and writer.   

As I drive to campus on these early days, I wonder: What kind of students will I find? What are their backgrounds? What are there passions?

This semester I am teaching my spring course, Environmental Writing and the Media. I created this course to expose students to how media shapes our idea of what nature and the environment is. But I also teach them how they can be creators of such media and shape others’ ideas about these ideas, too. 

Throughout the semester I teach my students—some of which are new to sustainability studies—about various environmental issues. By consuming and discussing environmental writing and films, students learn more about: climate change, environmental justice, fracking, garbage/consumption, animals, environmental exploitation, environmental activism, nuclear energy/waste and the human-environmental health connection. 

The class is centered on two primary types of media: writing and filmmaking. Students are required to write weekly blogs and, for their final projects, create films about environmental issues that are important to them. Emmy-award winning filmmaker Dave Chameides coaches my students through the filmmaking process, taking them from idea to finished film in just a few months. This semester animator Jeong-A Seong will accompany Dave in the filmmaking instruction aspect of the course, helping students to bring a new element of creativity to their films.

I encourage my students to attend activist events and lectures with environmental experts and communicators, whom I bring to campus. This semester ecologist and environmental writer Carl Safina, who last year published his New York Times best-selling book Beyond Words will visit our class to discuss animal emotions and intelligence. 

You can find my students’ blogs about animals and the other environmental issues we cover here. Additionally, this is an example of the kind of films my students produce, created by my former student Johnny Lee. During the semester, Johnny showed keen interest in learning more about climate change, an issue he admitted he was not an expert in. By dedicating himself to studying the issue and honing his communication skills, he was able to create this great film. 

Each semester I am so impressed by the incredible work my students produce. I have discovered many talented writers and filmmakers in my classes—many who were not even aware of their own abilities as environmental communicators. It’s a pleasure to see their communication skills, knowledge and ideas expand as the semester goes on…and this is almost exciting as these first few weeks of introductions.

Below are some memories from spring semesters past.

Eco-Grief and Ecofeminism

For years I’ve enjoyed listening to and watching TED talks—10- to 20-minute lectures delivered by all types of people on all types of topics, broadcast on radio and online. So it was a gratifying experience when just a few weeks ago, I found myself for the very first time, on the TED stage.

Stony Brook University, where I teach and direct the Sustainability Studies Program, has hosted independently organized TED events—called TEDx talks—over the past few years. I was lucky to snag a spot—in fact, the opening talk—in this fall’s “TEDxSBU” event, themed “The Master Pieces.” Such a theme drew forth a diversity of intriguing topics from my fellow presenters, from “How Helping Others Contributes to the Flourishing of Givers” (Stephen Post) to “Printmaking in India” (Marcia Neblett).

I spoke about what I consider to be the most important issue of our day: environmental degradation and the need to take radical action to care for our earth.

Titled “Eco-Grief and Ecofeminism,” my talk focuses on many topics I delve into in my coming books: my cancer diagnosis, my parents’ cancers, and my pregnancy and ultimate development of an unbearable case of what I call “eco-grief”…and what I did about it.

What is eco-grief? It’s the sadness I began to feel as I learned more and more about environmental problems, including synthetic chemical and ionizing radiation contamination, climate change and global warming, deforestation, desertification and species extinction—as a result of human hubris, greed, and the exploitation of our earth’s precious resources.

Eventually I reached a point where my eco-grief was so intense that I couldn’t stand by and watch as more damage was done to our planet and human health. Too many people in my life had been affected and harmed by cancer—cancer that is largely the result of environmental pollution.

Inspired by strong women scientists and writers, including Rachel Carson and Sandra Steingraber, I took action—through teaching, activism, and writing. As I describe in my talk, as a result of my cancer and my parents’ cancers, I began learning more about the environment and its problems, especially focusing on problems related to women and the environment—an area of study called “ecofeminism.”

In a recent interview with a reporter, when asked if I thought activism makes a difference, I replied, “Come talk to me and I will tell you story after story of how that one person makes a difference.”

“I’ve seen it, I’ve lived it,” I continued. “Try it. Talk to people who are doing it, and it is the best high in the world. It’s very empowering to realize that you can make a difference.”

Right now, in New York State, friends and allies have accomplished so much: the banning of Fracking, the banning of the importation of Fracking waste to Long Island, the banning of the Port Ambrose LNG (liquefied natural gas) facility off of Long Island, and right now activists are fighting to stop a dangerous and highly volatile pipeline (AIM/Spectra) that is slated to run just a hundred feet from the Indian Point nuclear power plantPresident Obama just rejected the Keystone XL Pipeline, and many dear friends and activists are off to Paris and COP 21 to ensure that the world’s nations “change everything” (to borrow from the author Naomi Klein) to help reduce global warming and climate change and make our planet livable for future generations.

My first TEDx talk was a great success!

My first TEDx talk was a great success!

After watching my Tedx, I hope you link arms with me, with all of us around this beautiful blue planet, and “fix this thing.” 

A lack of precaution is the biggest problem in U.S. chemical regulation

America is unlike many other countries in that the use of chemicals across a wide swath of applications—from medicinal to pesticide to consumer product uses—there is no “precautionary principle” in effect. This means that chemicals DO NOT have to be proven harmless before they are used and that, once in use, they are only removed from the marketplace if something bad happens. In effect, U.S. policy toward chemicals closely mirrors the country’s judicial system: chemicals are assumed innocent before proven guilty. The precautionary principle, by contrast, is based on the assumed-guilty-before-proven-innocent model, in which chemicals must be proven safe BEFORE they are used.

For those who want to understand what's going on with the lack of safety rules regulating American manufacturers’ use of chemicals in their products, this article by Elizabeth Grossman provides a good outline of the basics. Grossman is an independent journalist and writer specializing in environmental and science issues and Ensia, the magazine in which her article appears, features stories covering the vast spectrum of environmental problems and solutions that our world faces today.

What prompted this post was my response to a friend who supports the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade, best known for its association with the iconic "pink ribbon campaign." During a Facebook conversation between us on the above topic, I posted a series of comments on her page with good links for anyone wanting to dig further and I then decided to repost these links here  for others to see.  In our conversation, my friend asked me where, if not the Avon Foundation for Women, they should donate, and I replied, "first, read up on pink washing.” I posted this piece written by Lindsay Coulter for the David Suzuki Foundation.

In terms of finding easy solutions, or places to donate, the issue is complex. Here is one of the major problems: The aforementioned lack of chemical safety regulations. So, giving to an organization like Center For Environmental Health, which supports enhancing and strengthening the Safe Chemicals Act (more on that below) and other legislation to put precautionary principles in place such as they have in Europe is a good choice. CEH works on many fronts to help enforce stronger precautionary safety regulations and they have had some very good success. The key is to support work on “prevention," as cancer rates have exploded primarily because of environmental pollution.

Most solid environmental NGOs (Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Natural Resources Defense Council, New Yorkers Against Fracking, Food & Water WatchPhysicians for Social Responsibility  Nuclear Information and Resource Service  and Beyond Nuclear, for example) do good things in this area of cancer prevention—mainly through efforts to curb air, water and soil pollution—as many forms of toxic pollution contribute to high cancer rates. Some do more of this work than others (check their websites to see their projects). I happen to love Grassroots Environmental Education in New York. They focus primarily on New York, the state in which I reside. Their efforts to influence environmental policy have proven highly effective, and I follow them closely. 

We need to clean up our act in the U.S. We need to pollute less—and this means stopping our production and consumption of dirty and dangerous energy (natural gas, oil, coal, tar sands and nuclear). That's the biggest issue. Read the President's Cancer Panel Annual Report 2008-2009 and it will give you a really good overview of how such energy sources harm our health. Also, read Living Downstream (as well as her other books) by biologist, writer, cancer survivor and activist Sandra Steingraber. Steingraber identifies the many exposures to toxins we experience every day, and elucidates the implications these exposures have on our health. She also reminds us to keep in mind that our children are the most vulnerable to toxic exposures.

In response to Avon’s claim that they use “only ingredients that can be used safely,” they have eliminated only one harmful chemical from their products, as far as I know: triclosan. There are other dangerous chemicals that their products still retain. It's a good first step, but given all the funds they've raised, and the power of their voice in the beauty industry they could and should go much further. To really make a difference and do what they "pretend" to be doing for cancer research, they should get behind strengthening the Safe Chemicals Act, a bill based on the precautionary principle that was introduced by the late Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ). They should rally the beauty industry, in general, to stop all use of toxic chemicals and advocate for the reduction of toxic chemical use in other products as well. There is so much to be done on the prevention end. According to Center for Environmental Health's Eastern States Director Ansje Miller, "There are chemical reform bills moving through Congress right now that are problematic and have the potential to undermine even Europe's laws if the trade deals go through." Learn more about this issue, and sign a petition that could prevent this calamity from happening, here.

The answer is not in the cure, ultimately, it's in prevention. If we really want to make a difference in the "war on cancer", giving to pink isn't the way…. So much help is needed: in policy, industry, production, waste and more. Navigate back to the home page on my website and review my 13 "Key Environmental Issues Today” to learn more about toxins, dirty energy and other problems our planet is now facing.

Love our Mother Earth! Thanks for reading!

Packing for Madagascar

We leave today for Madagascar.

Sounds funny to say. I never expected to go to this island so far away from home, but the opportunity came up and we're thrilled.  I've never been to Africa or Asia --only Europe and to Israel as a child.  I know this will be very different.

I'm traveling with my daughter, Olivia, her friend Gabrielle and her sister Lauren, and their mother Mickie. The girls are all in high school--Olivia and Gabrielle are rising seniors. Olivia is interested in global sustainable politics and gender studies and Gabrielle hopes to go into medicine.  Lauren, a rising tenth grader, is coming a long to learn. 

We are going to the Centre Valbio in the Ramonafana National Park, the research site of Dr. Patricia Wright, a prize-winning anthropologist and primatologist, and one of the world's leading experts on lemurs.  We'll be joining a summer study abroad class from Stony Brook University, and I'll jump in to teach ecofeminism. The college students left a few weeks ago with Dr. Wright.

At the moment all I can think of is packing lists--and it's quite extensive. The forest is quite wet, so everything must be lined in plastic.  We will need so many things like Dr. Bronner's soap for washing our bodies and clothes (biodegradable and not harmful to the environment), towels, sleeping bags, rain gear from head to toe,  binoculars, waterproof watches, wide variations of clothes and shoes, and yet the airlines are so restrictive about weight. Don't bring anything you don't mind losing or getting destroyed, the instructions say.  I'm so used to packing super light, but for this trip, we'll need many supplies.

I've got a new camera with a great lens for filming wildlife. I hope it survives the humidity!

Be prepared for culture shock, the instructions say.

We're leaving the western world soon in few hours.

It's a thirty hour trip to the forest.  A stop in Paris, and then to the city of'Tana', Madagascar; a night in Tana sleeping, and then off to meet the students and Pat Wright in the forest.

I'll be writing here with updates of our trip. I will post pictures, too.

Back to packing!


A Single Mom Graduates

Helen walked into my feminism, literature, and culture class a few years ago and announced immediately, “I’m a single mom.” Fiercely proud and strong in demeanor, she also came across as childlike with her petite figure, round baby face, bright blue eyes, and high-pitched powdery voice.  This was Helen’s story: she had gotten pregnant in high school; her drug-addicted and mentally ill parents threw her out of the house; high school teachers and advisors vilified her. The boyfriend-father vanished and barely helped out financially.  Helen went to live with relatives who had plenty of children already and couldn’t help support her or pay college tuition.  Helen studied hard, made her way to university, where she raised her little girl, Anna, in a campus apartment. Campus life was good to Helen: she used the highly rated day care center and didn’t need a car--which she could not afford. Helen told her story with great pride, and many of her responses to our class readings circled back to single parenting issues. For Helen’s final project, she wrote a book entitled, For My Daughter, about how pregnant teens deserve to make the choice to become mothers and to be treated respectfully by society in return—not judged, not bullied, nor ‘othered’.  It was full of love for her daughter. All of her work in class was solid—she labored intensively over homework projects and the reading content.  She was an ideal student.  Helen got an A. 

I honored Helen’s position and choice. She was doing all she could as a single and, essentially, orphaned mom—Helen held a job and was earning a BA, and she appeared to be a present, loving parent.  In class, on Facebook and to me privately she recounted parenting stories of art, sewing, and baking projects, book reading, and taking her daughter to the beach and parks. I’d see Helen and her daughter around campus—on their own or with a group of college student friends who lavished attention on little Anna. Anna bubbled and smiled, and appeared secure and happy. Clearly, Helen was doing a good parenting job.

So when Helen posted a plea for help to get through her last semester on GoFundMe, as she explained that she’d run out of scholarship and loans, and her salary alone would not be enough to cover tuition and campus residency, I wanted to help.  Mother and child would have to leave their apartment soon if she didn’t come up with the funds.  They would be homeless. So I donated and passed the link around on social media.  Helen raised all she needed and will graduate this spring.  Additionally, she was admitted to a graduate program, which she plans to attend this fall.

But then, the other day, I saw her post a photograph on Facebook that took me aback: a sonogram photo of a new baby on the way.

I felt myself judging her. I wanted to say to Helen, but didn’t: Pregnant again?  You still have a young child. Your career and income stream are not set yet, and you are carrying loans.  Is this fair to the child you already have, and now there will be a second?

My reaction to the pregnancy surprised me.  I fully supported Helen all along the way up until now. I understood the decision to keep and raise her first baby. A teen might make a mistake and get pregnant and that could be forgiven. Why call it a “mistake” at all? Isn’t this a sexist view coming out of a history of patriarchy in which men own children and women’s bodies? Why is it anyone’s business how a young woman uses her body sexually or if she decides to parent and with whom? I reasoned that this should all be Helen’s choice, and society should not penalize her—especially as Helen clearly made every effort to get a solid education and to parent well.

We all know of the waning of the traditional heterosexual nuclear family.  Families and come in all shapes and sizes these days: LGBT parents, mixed-race families, blended families, and children are born through complex variations of reproductive methods and biological/non-biological gendered parenting combinations.  Over forty-percent of children are raised by unmarried parents. The possibilities in this brave new baby creation and childrearing world are endless, and the traditional heterosexual family unit doesn’t have a lock on love or good parenting.

Still, the sonogram photograph disturbed me. I wasn’t sure why, especially given my feminist view of mothering. I told a female friend this story and she asked, “Perhaps you feel betrayed? You supported Helen.” 

No, it’s not betrayal I feel, nor is it judgment, I realized. It is the older mother in me, wanting to protect Helen and her children.

Yet I also know that this is Helen’s body and life to live, not mine.

Happy graduation.

Easy to Forget

I am concerned about Indian Point Nuclear Power plant.

It's so easy to forget. It's easy to worry about my daughter, who has some kind of sinus infection; she keeps coughing; she has finals; we're worried about college admissions. There are dishes to wash. There is laundry to fold. There are papers to grade.

I am concerned about Indian Point.

It's so easy to forget. I know there is an abundance of unsafely stored spent fuel there--sitting in overcrowded pools, more fuel rods than the pools were designed to hold, and the longer the reactors run, the more spent fuel there will be. I don't think people know about the spent fuel issue and storage. They just stay, "Oh dear, Yucca Mountain didn't work out because of politics." They don't think, "How in the heck would one even get all the spent fuel from all over the U.S. safely TO Yucca Mountain?" That's "IF" Yucca Mountain were safe for containing nuclear waste, which it's not (geological studies show us this), and there's no other plan at the moment for long-term safe storage of nuke waste. Meanwhile, there is forty years' worth of nuclear waste stored at Indian Point and twenty million lives at risk. They are expecting earthquakes--7 on the Richter Scale (Columbia University Study) and the plant is not built to withstand such seismic activity. 

I am concerned about Indian Point.

It's easy to forget. I wake up and think, "I must do something." The day gets busy.  Driving. Work. Teaching. Meetings.  Just the other day there was a transformer fire there. It was in the news.  It barely got anyone's attention.

I am concerned about Indian Point.

It's so easy to forget. Yet I think of Japan. My friends in Japan can't understand why New Yorkers are not afraid. They look at me with pity in their eyes and ask, "What are you all doing about Indian Point? Don't you realize how much danger you are in!"  Nobody thought Fukushima would blow. Well, a few did. Mostly women. They tried to alert the government, they worked hard to reduce the amount of MOX fuel used (a plutonium mix) in the reactors. But nobody expected a Tsunami and Earthquake to cause three core meltdowns. 

I am concerned about Indian Point.

It's so easy to forget. Oh New York City. Nothing is meant to last. I could take a Buddhist approach.  Maybe Americans are really Buddhists, after all. Nothing matters to us. It's all Samsara. That irks me. Perhaps nothing lasts, but the massive suffering we cause with our hubris and greed is not acceptable.  

I am concerned about Indian Point.

It's so easy to forget. They are going to run a new high pressure and potentially explosive natural gas line approximately 1500 feet from reactors 2 and 3 and only several hundred feet from the spent fuel rods.* I should do something. What? What? Protest FERC. FERC approved this pipeline. People I know are protesting. Artists and parents and citizens are rising. 

I am concerned about Indian Point.

It's so easy to forget. The nuke plant seems far away. Nothing happened at Three Mile Island, that's the chant. Fukushima isn't so bad. Nothing much happened at Chernobyl. Secrets and Lies. Amnesia and cover ups. So many other spills and leaks and accidents that have few have heard of. It's hard to imagine such a disaster happening here. It's spring. The birds are singing. A nuclear nun was just released from two years in prison for protesting at Oak Ridge. What's Oak Ridge you might ask?  We can't smell or taste radiation, so maybe it's a science fiction story. Maybe ionizing radiation doesn't exist at all. Maybe cancer is a dream. Maybe children with leukemia don't exist. 

It's so very, very easy to forget. 

My head explodes with fear when I remember.

If you'd like to remember and learn, read these two important articles by Ellen Cantrow and Alison Rose Levy.

Or, speak up at the May 20th Nuclear Regulatory Commission meeting. 6:30 in Tarrytown, NY. Make your voice heard. Keep in mind: We don't even need Indian Point (it only produces 5% of NYC's electricity) and the Governor of New York has said the plant (on its own) poses such a great safety risk that it should be shut down.**

Or, get involved with SAPE (see below). They are working hard to stop the Algonquin/Spectra gas pipeline that threatens millions of lives. They need your help. 

*The newly approved 42" diameter high pressure gas pipeline will run 105 feet from vital structures at Indian Point e.g. jet fuel tank and switch yard.
The pipeline will be located several hundred feet from 40 years of spent fuel rods, and about 1500 feet from Reactors 2 and 3.
**We don't need IP for electricity in New York, even though Entergy claims we do. NYC gets about 5% of its electricity from the plant and the rest is sold elsewhere. 


    1)  My mother’s peach paint colored fingernails curved like the back of a hard shelled insect downward, downward, and after she died, at my mother’s memorial, a woman I had never met said those curved fingernails were the result of a lifetime of chain smoking.
    2)   My mother was an anti-nuclear activist. 
    3)   A lifetime of chain smoking. She coughed endlessly. A painful wheezing cough.
    4)   The smell of smoke.
    5)   After she died, I often smelled the scent of smoke at odd times. I’d wake up in the middle of the night. Smoke. Was my mother visiting me?
    6)   I hated my mother. I thought I did, anyway.
    7)   My mother was a civil rights activist.
    8)   When did she stop holding me?
    9)   I remember her holding me in the swimming pool, the warm water, singing and humming. I was an infant or toddler. Blue chlorine Florida water. 
    10)  My mother learned languages easily, and spoke French, Hebrew, Yiddish. She understood Russian. She could get by in German.
    11)  My mother made friends easily. 
    12)  My mother made friends in Paris.
    13)  She took us to live in Paris, near Paris, and these friends expanded to a large circle. Quickly.
    14)  She loved to throw parties. Mostly political parties.
    15)  My mother was a peace activist. She taught the UC Berkeley students civil disobedience. 
    16)  She wore a scarf around her neck to hide her neck. I thought everyone aged like that. A loose chicken neck. Shame.
    17)  Who shamed her?
    18)  Who shamed my mother?
    19)  My mother’s last job was as a volunteer with Planned Parenthood. She couldn’t find a paid job because of her age.
    20)  She could have gone to law school or done anything at all. 
    21)  She read everything important. (Her bookshelves were my college education)
    22)  She was fluent in Latin. I forgot that.
    23)  The Great Depression was her playground.
    24)  She was the daughter of Russian Jewish Immigrants. Socialists.  
    25)  The only girl in her high school calculus class.
    26)  In Washington Heights.  New York, New York it's a wonderful town.
    27)  Her sickly parents ran a laundry shop. 
    28)  They ate potatoes. Only potatoes.
    29)  And listened to Frank Sinatra on the Radio.
    30)  My mother was never warm. Her coat was thin and her shoes had holes in the bottom and her legs were bare. Girls wore dresses then.
    31)  My mother joined the young communist league against her father’s wishes. They argued. Joyfully. He had red hair. 
    32)  My mother had to support her family.
    33)  She became a secretary at 16 and was harassed by her male bosses just like every woman and put my father through law school and my father became a lawyer tyrant and philanderer.
    34)  She yelled, “YOU BASTARD.”  The tolling bell in our house: “YOU BASTARD, YOU BASTARD, how could you?” 
    35)  I thought I hated my mother. For her weakness. For giving up her life for others.  For living through me. “Get your own life.” I would shout. “Why would you stay with him?” 
    36) After she died, my mother’s friends told me stories about her, how she was strong and courageous, a member of Women’s Strike For Peace. She helped stop above-ground nuclear bomb testing.  She marched and fought and petitioned for many important causes. 
    37)  My mother danced with black panthers.
    38)  I read books on mothering and feminism. Adrienne Rich. Susan Griffin. Toni Morrison. Alice Walker. I learned: What do we really know of our mothers?  These mothers who are taught to be the mules of the world, who are taught to blame themselves, who are taught to shame themselves.
    39)  My mother, after you died in the hospital ICU--frail, in another time zone of 1968, skin dry and peeling.  Heart and lungs cluttered/hardened with smoke and cancer.
    40)  I wept.
    41)  In my own post-mother death chemo body. 
    42)  I paid a deep debt of shame for not loving you.  
    43)  My head was bald.  
    44)  I paid.
    45)  Burned and scorched. I. 
    46)  Reached through time and non-bodied existence.
    47)  I see you now you, Mother, in the eyes of the Hiroshima Survivor at the UN at a convention for nuclear disarmament.  I see you in the eyes of Japanese women anti-nuclear activists post Fukushima on Skype. I see you in the eyes of women talking about Chernobyl in my classroom in St. Petersburg, Russia. I see you in the eyes of the Indigenous Dine anti-uranium women from the Rez. I see you in the eyes of Helen Caldicott as I interview her, your heroine.
    48)  With these women and mothers, there is an invisible string that crosses through time and space and cultures.
    49)  To you, my Mother.
    50)  This story I teach daily to my students: of women and their tyrants and the dangers of nuclear weapons and power and toxic chemicals and climate change and racism and rape of the earth. I am a professor now. You missed that.  
    51)  Now, I have a redheaded daughter—red, the color of your father’s hair. I took her to Russia, to stand in your parents’ land of sorrow. She is tall and good at calculus and languages and passionate about civil rights and race and peace and feminism and literature, and she marches, like you.  
    52)  My anti-nuclear Mother. 
    53)  At last: I see you.

    (For all my mothers)

    Aileen Mioko Smith: Anti-Nuclear Feminist 

    1111_Sit-In_In_TokyoThis March, for Women’s History Month, the Ms. Blog is profiling Wonder Women who have made history—and those who are making history right now. Join us each day as we bring you the stories of iconic and soon-to-be-famous feminist change-makers.
    My mother was part of Women Strike For Peace in the early 1960s and, along with thousands of other women across the U.S., she helped put an end to above-ground nuclear bomb testing. Women Strike For Peace organized in response to the St. Louis Baby Tooth Study, which revealed that Strontium-90 released from nuclear bomb tests in Nevada had contaminated cow and human breast milk and poisoned children’s bodies across the country. Horrified mothers rose up in protest and their efforts led, in large part, to the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963. In later years, my mother and father participated in the Nuclear Freeze movement to ban nuclear weapons and shut down nuclear power plants in the U.S.
    So, when three Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdowns occurred after March 11, 2011, my eyes and ears were peeled to any and all news I could find about the accident.
    Not surprisingly, I found that most activism post-Fukushima was led by women and mothers. One such activist is Aileen Mioko Smith—mother, grandmother and executive director of Green Actionwhom I have interviewed several times over the years. Smith is also co-author with her ex-husband, photojournalist Eugene Smith, of Minamata: The Story of the Poisoning of a City, and of the People Who Chose to Carry the Burden of Courage, the book that exposed the damaging health effects of mercury pollution in Minamata Bay, Japan. In working to help the Minamata survivors with their 14-year lawsuit (which they eventually won) Smith learned that, “No matter how hard it is, and no matter how many times you lose, you will win. There will be some measure of justice.”
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    On March 28, 1979, Unit 2 at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant, located near Middletown, Pennsylvania, had a partial meltdown. Mitsuru Katagiri, the translator of Smith’s Minamata book—a university professor and anti-nuclear activist—went to the site with a scientist and lawyer to investigate. When Mitsuru’s team returned to Japan, they reported that the situation on the ground was quite different than official statements which claimed no harm had been done. Mitsuru’s team, Smith says, heard and saw a different story: the locals near the nuclear plant noticed strange tastes and smells. Then, later on, their animals became sick and many people had strange ailments. Smith then traveled to Pennsylvania with Katagiri where she spent several months interviewing 250 citizens affected by the accident.
    The interviewees in Pennsylvania repeatedly asked the research team about nuclear power in Japan: “Well, there must be no plants in Japan because you have earthquakes?” These inquiries stirred Smith, because Japan did, indeed, have nuclear power plants and the country is very earthquake-prone.
    When Smith returned to Japan, she turned her full attention to the anti-nuclear cause. In 1988, Smith helped collect 4 million signatures calling for a ban on nuclear power. In 2004, she made the public aware of the government’s attempt to pass on the cost of reprocessing MOX fuel (plutonium-uranium mixed oxide) through citizen tax dollars at a cost of 8 trillion yen (about $66 billion). For years, Smith’s team worked diligently to achieve the now-de-facto moratorium on highly dangerous MOX fuel in commercial nuclear plants in Japan. In 2010, she helped lead a large movement warning of the dangers of nuclear power—especially in high-risk earthquake areas such as Fukushima. After the 2011 Fukushima disaster, Smith protested the restart of nuclear plants in Japan and participated in countless anti-nuclear rallies, legal battles, and presentations before politicians and corporate boards. In one large anti-nuclear Occupy event in 2012 (pictured above), Smith’s team and many others camped out for over 10 months in front of the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI). At the end of the Occupy period, the women danced in celebration. Smith is pictured with them in the center.
    Is nuclear power in Japan a gender issue? “Absolutely,” Smith affirms. “[Japanese] leadership is [dominated] by men. The nuclear industry and … officials working on nuclear issues, including government officials, local government officials … and, of course, the utility people … are 100 percent men. Well, maybe now there are a couple of women, so 99 percent men.”
    Most people in Japan do not question this gender inequity, as the dominance of men over women in Japanese culture is so embedded.
    Smith believes that to avoid accidents, the gender inequality needs to change. Currently, anti-nuclear activists and those watching out for safety issues in Japan are mostly women and many mothers from Fukushima. Yet they have little political power. Women activists have to go up against male politicians and male members of the nuclear industry. Overwhelmingly, women’s arguments are silenced, Smith says. But they fight on.
    Aileen Mioko Smith comes from a long line of anti-nuclear mothers and feminist activists. Women’s History Month falls in March, the month of the Fukushima disaster in 2011. We honor Smith’s and other women activists’ ongoing efforts to protect the lives of the people in Japan, especially the children, on whose behalf she works tirelessly to safeguard their health and future.
    Photo courtesy of Aileen Mioko Smith
    Posted originally at Ms.Magazine  http://msmagazine.com/blog/2015/03/26/aileen-mioko-smith-anti-nuclear-feminist/


    BY  ON JANUARY 21, 2015
    Dr. Heidi Hutner and her daughter, Olivia Fine
    Dr. Heidi Hutner and her daughter, Olivia Fine

    This was written by Dr. Heidi Hutner, Director of the Sustainability Studies Program at Stony Brook University:
    My seventeen-year old daughter, Olivia and I traveled to Northern California for winter holiday break. Olivia is in the throws of an intense “junior year” of high school, while I’m busy with my work as a professor. This vacation gave us a chance to catch up and reconnect – take stock and also have fun.
    One Sunday morning, while enjoying an Asian Fusion brunch in foodie-land San Francisco, Olivia asked me:
    “You work so hard on environmental issues, Mom. How do you know all those hours will pay off?”
    When Olivia was three, she held up a sign that read: “Don’t Spray on Me.” This particular protest was about the spraying of Malathion (a powerful and carcinogenic pesticide) by New York State during a West Nile Virus outbreak. It was the late 1990s and she was barely out of diapers.
    These days, she has become more considered. A teenager’s job is to question everything. To Olivia’s question about whether my hard work will pay off, I replied:
    “When you have asked me that before — ‘Does activism work, Mom, aren’t you just spinning your wheels?’ — I’ll be honest: it made me a tad defensive. Yet, I pointed out to you that historically it has been activists who brought us so many successful and important freedoms that we take for granted today — the women’s right to vote and equal gender access to education and more, the end of slavery for African Americans, Civil Rights, many LGBT rights, the Clean Air and Water Acts, and so on. People acted and stood up for what they knew was right and, eventually, they won. Even as I said this to you, Olivia, part of me worried that we wouldn’t succeed. Today, however, I feel more hopeful! I say to you with confidence, ‘Yes, environmental advocacy works. Look at what a year we’ve had!’”
    I then reminded my daughter of the wave of environmental successes of 2014 and early 2015: some big wins, some partial wins, some in-progress wins; many of which we were a part of.

    I told Olivia,
    “Of course, there is still much to be done. Climate Change threatens our civilization and we need the world governments to agree to radically reduce carbon emissions, stop producing and clean up nuclear radiation waste, and shift to renewable energy. We need an even more effective Safe Chemicals Act to stop the polluters from contaminating our water, soil, and air, and so much more. Yet the tide is changing. Look at the People’s Climate March. We couldn’t have imagined 400,000 showing up five years ago. Governor Cuomo just banned fracking. It’s just amazing.”

    “Okay, mom. I see your point.”
    We finished breakfast, rented two bikes, and rode through Golden Gate Park. It was a beautiful day.

    Small Victories: Riding the Wave Between Hope and Despair

    --> When it comes to the environment and all that we face today, many of us are dogged with doubt—are we doing it right and can we really turn this ship around?

    We work hard, mostly in the dark. Hoping our work will bear fruit. Trusting, because there is no other way.

    In my own case, as much as I wave the hope banner-–there are private moments of doubt and despair.

    As if to answer these questions, I was recently sent a much needed positive sign.

    It’s not often that we get to see our activist efforts rewarded in concrete ways and certainly not within twenty-four hours.

    Here’s what happened:

    Kristen Iversen, author of Full Body Burden, was scheduled to visit my campus at Stony Brook University, on Tuesday, April 29, 2014.  The plan was for Kristen to meet with my class in the morning and, later in the afternoon, she would give a lecture to the university at large.

    The night before Kristen’s visit, the plans changed.

    At 10 p.m. on Monday evening, I received an urgent message from my friend, Patti Wood, co-founder with her husband Doug Wood of Grassroots Environmental Education. The Grassroots team works tirelessly on many environmental causes including Fractavism.

    Patti’s urgent plea: Would I, as the Director of Sustainability Studies at Stony Brook University, speak before the New York Suffolk County legislature on behalf of the bill being proposed banning the importation, sale or use of all radioactive and toxic fracking waste in Suffolk County the next morning at 9:00 am in Riverhead?  Patti was concerned that the gas lobbyists had won over too many of the legislators and my presence was needed. Here was the hitch: my class was scheduled to meet at 10:20, and Kristen Iversen was visiting for the day.  Riverhead is almost an hour from campus and who knew how long the event would last at the legislature. 

    What should I do?  The schedule with Kristen had been set months before. 

    Yet, what was most important? Keeping the schedule as it had been set, or saving the place where I live from poisonous fracking waste?

    How could I not go and try to stop the polluting of my county? This is everything I work for.  The gas industry intended to push our local politicians into applying radioactive radium 226 and 228, radon and other toxic material onto our roads as de-icer and dumping it in ill-equipped and unsafe waste locations.  The material would inevitably end up in our water, soil, and farmland. Radium 226 emits gamma rays that travel long distances.

    So I wrote to Kristen about my predicament and asked if she might want to go with me.  Kristen immediately said yes. She wanted to speak, too.  After all, Full Body Burden is about the dangers of plutonium pollution and the nuclear weapons factory Rocky Flats. I then wrote to two students who are very well versed in the subject of fracking waste and asked them to join us. They eagerly agreed.  My class would run with my TAs and co-teacher, a visiting filmmaker, Dave Chameides. The students would come see Kristen’s talk later that afternoon.

    Kristen, Andi and Cory (my students), and I met up with Patti Wood and many others. We were each given three minutes to speak.  This was one of the most empowering moments of my life—speaking directly to politicians who would vote on our fate, about the need to preventatively protect our children and future generations from exposure to radioactive and toxic waste that would last thousands of years.

    The next morning I got the message: the bill banning all fracking waste in Suffolk County had passed. A few weeks later, the same bill would pass in Nassau County.

    Before putting Kristen on the train to New York City, I shared this stunning information.

    We were both ecstatic.

    Over the next few days Kristen spoke at New York City High School Hibakusha Stories events honoring Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors and educating young people about the dangers of nuclear weapons, waste and power. Kristen told the students about our radioactive and toxic fracking waste victory and they clapped wildly. I chimed in, too, and students reacted the same. Seeing the young peoples’ joyful responses made our small but important action so worthwhile.

    Yes, activism makes a difference.  Yes, all those drops together add up to an ocean.  Yes, cast your seeds and they will grow.

    Another Plain


    It was a rainy day, but the sun came out by the end of our walk. The clouds were vast and billowy, and the water on the sound became flat, shiny-- like one big mirror. I lay down on the ground, turned my head sideways and looked at the meeting of sky and water. The angle was so different: I might have been dead or something or at least on another plain. I made my friend do the same. We were like children, exploring the light and seeing the world in a different way.


    I developed breasts and my life changed.  Thirteen years old.  Life was never safe again.

    This writing is a long time coming.

    It's something I don't speak easily about.  All that harassment. It's embarrassing.  It's humiliating. Best left forgotten.  I'm so well trained to please men, to not offend others; I have tucked it under and swept it under. Still it seeps out. 

    Nobody likes an angry person--especially an angry woman.

    This is it. Here goes. Here goes the explosion.  Will I post it?  I don't know.

    Thirteen years old. I got my period. I got large breasts. They appeared. I don't even know the moment it happened, but all in the sudden, my breasts were big. As one teenaged girl informed me--and this was the moment I first knew, "Your boobs are HUGE."

    I looked down at my chest and would never feel the same about myself for the rest of my life. 

    Men on the street knew before I knew.

    Summer of my thirteenth year, walking with my brother and Dad in Athens, Greece, I was wearing shorts and t-shirt. It was 1970 something and a hundred degrees outside.  My shorts were too short but nobody warned me that in Greece, girls shouldn't dress like that. What did I know: I saw myself as a child--who would care about me?   I suddenly felt the violence, the onslaught of attention, and it terrified me.  Men stared. Men grabbed. Men tried to get at me, even with my father and brother there.  I put myself between my father and brother, holding their arms. Still, the men jeered with hostility.  My brother and father didn't see--or if they did, they were silent.

    When we got back to the U.S. from our European trip that summer, my older sister, who hadn't traveled with us, immediately noticed the size of my breasts and that I wasn't wearing the right-sized bra.  She gave me one of her larger ones to wear.  I felt like a baby who had large breasts strapped to her, oddly marking her. I didn't identify with them or see myself as any different, but now I was all BREASTS.  I wasn't me anymore, not to others.

    For years, I couldn't walk anywhere without being whistled at, hissed at, or without having strange and disgusting oral sounds muttered at me on the street.  This was/is just part of being a young woman.  Once, when I was fifteen or so, when a guy in a truck drove by and made a lewd comment,  I yelled, "fuck you," at him and flipped the bird.  I told my mother afterwards and she said that it was wrong of me to be so rude.

    At seventeen, I lost a career in the theatre as an actress. I was a member of one of the most prestigious theatre companies in the U.S.  It was my big break.  In acting, you rely on breaks such as these. Backstage, during the production of Our Town, this big breasted little sister Rebecca (me), wearing a little girl dress, waited with her big brother George  (over 30), in a small side area just off the stage. It was cramped and dark and we had to sit quietly and right next to each other until our entrance (all through rehearsals and six weeks of performances--seven days a week, with two matinees). While we waited for our scene in this dark little corner (where the audience could hear everything), George's hand would go up my thigh under my dress. George had bad breath and bad teeth. I would slap him away, but the next day/night, he'd do it again. After his hand crawling, we'd make our entrance, and do our oh so sweet sister and brother scene together, where I would talk about my friend's (Jane Crofut's) strange letter that she'd received from her sick minister-- how it was addressed to her street address and then to the universe and the mind of God, and how it got to her house anyway.  It's a speech I will never forget. Not because it was my grand moment on the stage in my small part, or that it bought me good reviews; but because good ole' George was there with me, breathing his nasty breath, raining on my parade.

    Big brother George from Our Town and his hand.  I told no one. Who could I tell?

    Then there was Lorenzo, in the next play called, Rep!. A play about the theatre company itself. Written by a famous author.  We got to schmooze the the local theatre elite in making this one. It was so exciting. I was the "Intern." Our parts were all true to life. I even had a scene where the "Director" tried to kiss me. The guy playing "the Director" could tell I didn't like him at all (he smelled, never took off his make up and had a coating of it perpetually on his neck and the edge of his face).  I hated the stage kiss, would do it reluctantly, and once herr Director yelled at me after the scene because he could tell.  Then there was Lorenzo the heroin addict in his forties, married with children. We had a scene in which we were supposed to face out and look at the audience. Lorenzo had to stand directly behind me.  Day after day, night after night, through rehearsals, and in performances, as we stood in position, facing the audience, he would whisper closely into my ear, "I want to fuck you. I want to fuck you." He said it in such a way that really meant, "I control you."  I couldn't move. I was told to stand in that spot by the director. It's called "blocking." An actor has to stand where they are told. Who could I complain to?  Lorenzo was the serious and well respected actor.  I was the lucky teenage girl, lucky to be in this play.  He did this one night with his wife directly in front of us as we faced the audience. "I want to fuck you," he whispered with his wife looking on.

    In real life, off stage, when the show was over, the real director and founder of the theatre company would ask me to come over to talk at his apartment.  I would go.  I never drank and nothing ever happened. He would drink and talk and talk. He would tell me about my talent. He said I was "green" but would one day be like the leading older actress whom everyone admired. Sometimes he invited another actor, an older man to come with us. They would talk shop.  I never wanted to go, but I felt I couldn't say no. Wasn't it an honor that the director of the company invited me over?  He never touched me. But it was clear that he was offering me a choice: become his girlfriend and become a star, or ... I didn't know what.  Nothing.  I would be nothing.  He was an old man to me. Grey beard, grey hair.  A drunk. He was important. I was seventeen.

    The women in the theatre company scorned me. I wanted to turn to them for help, but they didn't like me. They saw me as what--a potential competitor?  It became so difficult to navigate these waters--drunk famous actors, non-drunk ones who looked at me with scorn for being trapped in others' nets, constantly saying no, and yet feeling dirtied anyway, as if this were all my fault--even though I had done nothing. I just wanted to act.

    It was my big break. I left this theatre and my big break because of those men. I never had such an opportunity again.

    *           *           *

    There was high school and a rape.  I told my girlfriends.  They were so used to hearing these stories, they didn't blink.

    There were the teachers and the affairs with students.  Everyone just took it for granted.  The attitude was, "so what." People involved  begged me to never write of it.  I complied.  I still comply to save face for others. I am complicit.

    *           *           *

    The man in the subway in Paris. I was sixteen. He walked right up to me, put his hand on my breast and stared angrily into my eyes.

    *           *           *

    The man with the gun who got off the bus in Oakland, California, tapped on the window and aimed the weapon at my face.  The look on his face frightened me for years. I would dream of his anger, his steely eyes.

    *           *           *

    The owner of the restaurant where I was a waitress in New York at South Street Seaport. Three handsome young male Italian owners. Some said they were Mafia, what did they know of restaurants? This one had a wife who appeared occasionally in a mink coat. He had a waitress mistress, too, whom he kept in an special apartment. She told me about it. He'd come up behind me when I was picking up dishes, and slip his hand across my breasts.  If I said anything, he'd fire me.

    *           *            *

    The man at the party with the live-in girlfriend.  A neighbor of my friend.  I was nineteen.  He walked up to me. Put his hand full-on my breast.  Walked away.  No one saw.

    *          *            *

    The men (mostly married) in my building in Soho when I was in my early twenties (they were in their forties, with children) who hit on me endlessly. It was a cooperative artists' building. We painted our own hallways, put up walls in the basement. I had to pass them every day as I walked up four flights and they never stopped hastling me.  They were not so different from the men in trucks who hissed and yelled obscenities.  One, who wasn't married (yet), a well-known architect, never mentioned his girlfriend or impending engagement; he asked me on a date only a few days before the celebrations.  It was summer.  I could hear his party from my apartment.  Loud music.  What was the party for, I asked a female neighbor--"oh, he's getting married, didn't you know?"

    *           *           *

    There is more.  I will stop here.  Every woman and girl must have this list. 

    *           *           *

    Years later, I went back to college, and in graduate school became a scholar of 18th-century literature. I focused on women writers (as well as on race and colonialism). Lost women writers. Important women writers in their day.

    Dale Spender, a feminist scholar, says: there are a '100 great  English novelists before Jane Austen'.

    That was the work I entered into in graduate school--to recover these important writers---to give them voice.  Yet, despite years of hard work among many scholars, do you know their names?

    Of course you don't.

    Here are few of that 100: Aphra Behn (very prolific and popular playwright in her day, probably wrote the first English novel, and the first English woman to earn her living by the pen), Eliza Haywood, Frances Burney, Frances Sheridan (mother to the famous playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan), Maria Edgeworth, Elizabeth Inchbald, Sarah Scott and many more.  There were playwrights, poets, and nonfiction writers of political essays, too.  These women writers influenced Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf, they deeply influenced the canonized male writers of their day--but they are rarely taught in college today (I had to fight to teach them) and their work is hard to locate for the layperson.  We have brought back some of their books back into print, but these are published mostly by small independent presses, ones you don't know about unless you're a scholar.   

    The vast majority of their writing is not available to buy anywhere.



    These 18th-century women writers wrote openly about rape, abortion, forced marriages, abusive husbands, fathers and brothers, forced prostitution, venereal disease, death from childbirth, fathers who sold them off to men for profit, violence against women. These women authors were honest, real, and very popular in their day, and they were a major part of the new genre at that time: the novel.  I have plenty of research and evidence to prove that the novel is a female form and a female form that expressed the real condition of women. They have important stories to tell.

    These women writers were silenced.


    *           *            *

    This is my story, or part of my story.  I don't pretend that my own tales are unique or special.  I tell these vignettes to break the silence and perhaps this will help others.  There are far worse stories than mine: childbrides, girls dead from rape, gang rapes, wife beating, child beating, women and girls shot at, strangled, kidnapped, and locked away, girls forced into sex trafficking, mass murders, women shut out of education and equal treatment in the workplace, women hating themselves because of misogyny, and living failed, broken lives, and of course the insidious self-hatred, and self-repression brought about by the beauty myth.

    In my case, I have conquered sexism to a large extent.  I'm not a girl anymore and I have the tools learned from years of feminist study.  I have a room of my own, a checkbook of my own, legal status of my own.  Nobody "owns" me.  That's huge.  I stand on the shoulders of the feminists before me.

    Still, I carry the wounds.  What damage has misogyny done to me, to my sisters, to my daughter? How has this sexist world impacted my/our relationships, heart, soul?  What joy or creativity has been lost?

    Who can say?

    Sexism permeates us all so deeply.  Sexism silences fifty percent of the population. Sexism is a future denied, cultures vastly diminished.

    *            *            *

    I have a teenaged daughter.  She loves acting and the theatre.  She's in France right now, performing in a play.  No surprise, I have strongly discouraged her from pursuing an acting career.  "Go into the sciences," I tell her.  "But I hate science," she quips back. "Okay, well, if you go into the theatre," I insist, "be the director or writer, not the girl who is chosen for her looks, who is at the mercy of others telling her where to stand and how to move."

    Be the girl who does her own directing--that is what I wish for my own daughter.

    Don't be at the mercy of men or anyone for that matter.

    *           *            *

    I will publish this after all. 

    These stories must be told and violence against women must stop.

    Instead of being like those actresses in the theatre company who did not stand up for me when their support was direly needed, I will speak up now, as millions, no billions, suffer worldwide.

    I must speak out against misogyny, violence, and oppression in any form.

    #YesAllWomen. All women.

    she tells me:

    "you are a survivor"

    I say: "aren't we all?"

    (the thing about) nuclear bombs is

    background radiation
       (never) disappears

    not for tens of thousands of years

    she tells me: "words on this page

        spill out with pain."

    I say: "pain is everywhere."

    Peter Pan flew to never never land

    a place

    without adults who
         ruin things

    a place with crocodiles

    a place with racism

    a place with too few girls

    It's been a long year: I'm back and some environmental films!

    My friends.  I've missed you.

    I have missed writing here, too, and I feel remiss for not having done so.

    I made a commitment to myself in the fall of 2013, before writing more here, and before writing for magazines, I had to finish my book, Polluting Mama: An Ecofeminist Memoir (Toronto: Demeter Press, 2014)  I did!  Yes, I did!  I wrote every morning from 4:00 a.m. until 6:30 a.m. (sometimes starting even earlier), woke up my daughter and then drove her to school.  Depending on my work schedule, I'd head back to more writing later in the day/eve, but I have had a lot of other responsibilities this year, so the writing had to take place mostly in the wee hours.

    I did it, I did it.  The book is done!

    I am making small revisions now and it will be out early fall--in print and on kindle. I'm so excited. Those who have read the work like it very much and I hope you will, too.

    It was an exhilarating academic year.

    Last June, 2013, I took over directing the Sustainability Studies Program at Stony Brook University and it rocked my life.  What an opportunity this has been to make a real "environmental" difference in the lives of our students at Stony Brook and beyond.  We brought many speakers to the University this year and into our classrooms--Sandra Steingraber, Michel Gelobter, Micheal Dorsey, Joni Adamson, Kristen Iversen, Dave Chameides, David Cassuto, Carl Safina, Desi K. Robinson, along with many others. These folks spoke to us about a variety of environmental issues including fracking, radioactive waste, nuclear weapons and Rocky Flats, environmental justice, food justice, animal rights and factory farming, and climate change.  In my eco media class, Dave Chameides (film guy and two-time Emmy- Award winner) taught my students how to make environmental short films and I'm so pleased with the results (see below!). We had an environmental film series, too, and showed a great selection of films including Earth 2100, Fierce Green Fire, Bidder 70, No Impact Man, Food Inc, No family History, Atomic States of America... and more....

    So much happened this academic year, it's impossible to capture it all in one blog entry... One of the highlights was speaking at my local legislature to oppose the importation of radioactive fracking waste from Pennsylvania and Ohio to Suffolk County.  I encouraged many others to join me, including two students, Cory Tiger and Andi Burrows, as well as our visiting guest speaker that day, writer, Kristen Iversen, Sierra Club members and others.  We were thrilled to experience unusually rapid success in our efforts. The morning after we spoke, the legislature voted, unanimously, to ban ALL fracking waste from being purchased, imported, or used in any way in Suffolk County, Long Island. Success for the future generations!

    With Kristen Iversen, author of Full Body Burden, at the Suffolk County Legislature

    Oh, I wrote a piece about the Alice Walker film, Beauty in Truth  for Spirituality and Health Magazine.  My daughter and I went to see Beauty in Truth when it opened in NYC at Columbia University and we met Pratibha Parmar, the filmmaker.  The film appeared on PBS as part of the American Masters series.  I snuck that in despite my promise to write nothing but my book. I adore Walker, so I couldn't resist.

    My piece, "Hurricane Sandy A Diary," was published with ISLE, Oxford University Press, in spring 2014.

    Today: there is still grading to complete, administrative tasks to tend to, students to graduate at the end of the week-- but I wanted to say hello and let you know that I'm still here!

    Oh readers, I am back and ready for a summer of new writing: poems, stories, and essays about love, the earth, friendship and motherhood. 

    And here, for your viewing, are a series of film shorts by my students from our Environmental Media and Film class, Spring Semester 2014 (first-time filmmakers) on various environmental topics.  I'm so proud of the work my class did.  Thank you to my co-teacher, the filmmaker & Sustainability guy, Dave Chameides, for expertly guiding the students through this process, and to the film tech TA extraordinaire, Justin Fehntrich, for helping as well.  I know you will enjoy and be moved by these environmental film shorts.  My students are passionate, clever, and visionary.  Please watch all four sections... they are worth it.

    Environmental Film and Film part 1

    Environmental Film and Media part 2

    Environmental Film and Media part 3

    Environmental Film and Media part 4

    The elephant and the only answer i can find for suffering

    folded knees
    collapsing forward
    is he alive?
    and this is all i see:
    folded knees
    folded skin

    a face
    collapsing knees
    folded folded
    i stare at his knees
    folded skin
    is he alive?
    without a face
    is he alive?
    folded knees
    without a face

    again, again, again

    all this for piano keys?

    is he alive?

    on his knees
    folded skin
    without a face

    how can i stop this?

    dear deena, i almost write,
    they asked you to help
    in tanzania
    the herd came
      and blocked
                  the road

    yes, they call to you and us---

    is he alive?
    on his knees
    folded folded
    no face

    how do i stop this?
    why so much suffering?

      so   my    buddhist friends
    went to Portugal
    this week

    [i should have joined them
    to learn the skill

    of seeing this elephant
    beaded with stars

    face restored
    upright with

    his family
    herd all

    amid a herd all of happy elephants
    flapping ears tusks heart safe]

    "it's all samsara"

    that's what
    Buddha said

    the only answer i can find for suffering
     & human torture 

    the heart

    i like to write in the morning
    in the evening
    i am too tired for poems

    where does this emptiness come from?

    my mouth is the desert

    he dove down into the earth
    giving and leaving nothing

    i used to feel that with each human contact

    there was

    what if?

    now it has all become

    a google map

    perhaps it is time for a pilgrimage

    to a holy place

    of birds