The following is a transcript of a short performance piece by Martha Easton and Maggie M. Williams, two members of the Material Collective. They presented it during the BABEL-sponsored session, Fuck This: On Finally Letting Go, on May 10, 2012 in Kalamazoo.
Martha and I are mothers. We are feminists. We are art historians. We are activists. We have each struggled to keep those identities carefully compartmentalized to achieve some abstract notion of success. Both of us were drawn to the Fuck This/Fuck Me sessions out of a sense of frustration: dissatisfaction with the tactics of purportedly activist groups, disillusionment with the hypocrisies of academic life, and disappointment in our own and others’ willingness to rock the boat.
Today, we are finally letting go of preserving our secret identities. Together, we will unmask our true selves, telling our stories and sharing our hopes for real change. Rather than coping silently, we want to call for real progressive action among medievalists.
We will be presenting a short performance piece that collages our experiences into a single narrative. We invite you to participate by chanting with us. (We’ll tell you when!)
I became a feminist the first day of fourth grade, when my teacher wrote “Ms. Wolman” on the board, not “Mrs.” or “Miss” like the other teachers. By the time I was in college I was a committed organizer and activist.
I chaired a newly-formed committee on sexual harassment and physical violence, organized protests against the Solomon Amendment which tied draft registration to financial aid, and agitated for the nuclear freeze – a photo of me in full regalia got picked up by the national wires and published in papers across the country.
Feminism was instinctive for me, but I was reserved and rather shy. I had never been an activist. About a month before I finished my dissertation, I went to my first union meeting. The moving testimony of my grad student colleagues flipped a switch in me, and before I knew it, I was leading hundreds of TAs and RAs out on strike.
Maggie: Hey hey, ho ho…
Martha: …the status quo has got to go!
Together: Hey hey, ho ho…the status quo has got to go!
Audience: Hey hey, ho ho…the status quo has got to go! (2x)
In graduate school I joined WAC, the Women’s Action Coalition, which formed in 1992 after the outrage sparked by the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings. We participated in direct actions like protesting, together with the Guerilla Girls, the new Soho branch of the Guggenheim Museum — not one woman was included in the opening exhibition. Around that time, my funding for graduate school got pulled because I married a lawyer, while a fellow graduate student, a man, also married a lawyer and retained his.
Marching outside of those hallowed gates day after day, week after week, we built our own university. Physicists and philosophers, administrative assistants and art historians, together we confronted our love objects (Columbia, our research projects, our paychecks) and said, “FUCK THIS!” If we can’t have fairness, we don’t want academia. If we can’t have transparency, we don’t want scholarship.
We needed to break the silence.
Maggie: Tell me what democracy looks like…
Martha: …this is what democracy looks like.
Together: TELL ME WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE…
Audience: THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE! (2x)
I struggle with the gendered choices I have made, with a non-conventional career path that allowed me to focus on my two children. My scholarship focuses on feminist issues and I teach classes on gender, but I miss the days of action. It seems to me that many of my students have felt that the battle has been won, that feminism is no longer necessary, or is even embarrassing. And yet ironically, the Republican war on women, which would roll back gains we have made and severely limit the control women have over their own bodies and lives, seems to have reawakened a sense of urgency. The opposite of feminism is complacency.
Together: FUCK COMPLACENCY!
After the strikes, I retreated into domesticity, teaching, and motherhood, losing myself in that ultimate, elusive love object: the tenure-track job. Take-to-the-streets activism seemed out of reach, but then there was BABEL: worlds collided, collectives were formed, real change began . . . .
Maggie: We are unstoppable…
Martha: …another world is possible!
Together: WE ARE UNSTOPPABLE, ANOTHER WORLD IS POSSIBLE!
Audience: WE ARE UNSTOPPABLE, ANOTHER WORLD IS POSSIBLE! (REPEAT AS OFTEN AS NEEDED.)