December 23, 2010

Tony Porter on Speaking Our Collective Feminist Voice

When I was pregnant in 2006 with my son, everyone would ask, "So, what are you having?" Depending on my hormonal state, feeling of fighting the socially constructed, gendered-political fight, or if someone satiated my former almost-vegan-self with a steak followed by a Dairy Queen Blizzard, my answer would change. 

Most of the time, I would just answer simply without deconstructing or commenting on the question itself - a boy.  What was more shocking were the responses to my answer: "Oh, don't worry, next time you'll have a girl." 


The first time I heard this response was from my mother and although aggravating it was no surprise (that is a whole other post)!  But when complete strangers began giving me that response, I was flabbergasted and at times unsure if I heard them correctly. 

In short, my interpretation of this response was as such:

1. While boys are more valued in our globalized world, you can play "dress up" with your new infant baby girl.  What woman wouldn't want a real-life baby girl to play dress-up with?  Isn't that what she has always dreamed of?

2. If you are having one child, why wouldn't you want another? You are a woman, after all, you should want to have lots of children and be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen for years!

3. And specific to me, the interpretation would go, "Don't you want a daughter you can raise a feminist?"

Well, my personal answer to the implied questions was and remains an adamant, NO!   No, I never dreamt of having a real-life baby to play dress up with; no, I do not want more than one child; and most importantly, no, I do not need to have had a daughter to raise my offspring as a feminist!  In fact, my most favorite response came from a cousin, who said when I told her I was pregnant with my son said, "Oh, thank goodness!  We need more kind, compassionate and enlightened men in this world."  Of course, I hold that statement dear to my heart to this day.  As for my now four-year-old son, nothing brings me more joy than to know that I am raising my son to be a kind, compassionate and self-aware child who as an adult will have a gift to use his voice for the benefit of women and men alike. 

This TEDwomen talk by Tony Porter, educator, activist, lecturer and co-founder of A Call to Men, moved me deeply.  Porter expressed the exact sentiment that I feel like I am fighting on a daily basis - to break our sons and men in our life "free of the man box."   

December 20, 2010

"Oh, Yes. Oh, F*&^*ing Yes!" No Shame in Protecting Yourself!

Thanks to a WCC blog reader, I bring you this story shared on local news stations and YouTube of Nicola Briggs, a five-foot tall woman attacked on a subway by a man sideling up next to her and pulling out his condom-covered penis.  Fortunately for the rest of us, Nicola's quick thinking and refusal to be victimized by this man and victimized from a perceived norm of how women should behave in this kind of situation, I hope enlightens and educated the rest of us.  Here is Nicola Briggs on Jezebel speaking about her experience and providing tips and tricks on how to shut down a subway pervert.  Thanks Nicola!

December 16, 2010

Speaking My Voice - WCC Founder's Experience of "Not Knowing"

An Experience of ‘Not Knowing’ Challenges Existing Practice Models

By Carly Goldberg, MSW, LCSW

(Recently published in Social Work Today's E-Newsletter Web Exclusive)

     She was dark, very dark. Petite and drowning in remnants of African garb layered with donated clothing from decades past. On her face was written a story that sadly reverberates around the globe. Rachel was an African woman infected with HIV. With her narrow back pressed up against the dimly lit office wall covered in local HIV/AIDS resources and pamphlets promoting safer sex practices, she was lost. Her eyes though, they stood out, all on their own. In the first few minutes of our meeting her eyes alone told me so much—the terror, the loss, the isolation, the trauma. The second Liberian civil war displaced not only Rachel’s body but her mind and spirit, too.

     Via a refugee camp in Sierra Leone, Rachel arrived in Philadelphia just three months prior to our initial meeting. She came with her two children aged 4 and 8, her decreasing CD4 count, susceptibility to opportunistic infections, and her all-too-vivid memories of murder and rape. I, a white, privileged, American-born, licensed and master’s-trained social worker, was to acquaint her with the ways of safer sex practices and how she could reduce the spread of HIV infection. Her eyes drifted off and her gaze seemed noticeably fixed on memories of her not-so-distant past. Tears gently rolled down her face. Stumbling for words, like a fish out of water gasping for air, I choked. I choked on my discomfort, my lack of experience in working with refugee survivors of genocide and civil unrest, choked on my mother tongue, and choked on the knowledge and experience that I have come to rely on in my social work practice.

     To meet the agency requirements for our initial meeting and complete a psychosocial assessment I feared may have resulted in further trauma given her fragile mental status. I was paralyzed by indecision. I did not know whether I should meet Rachel where she was at this very scary, difficult, and unfamiliar place for her (and me) or to continue with the assessment, risking further injury. I am sure in that moment my desperate attempt to search for the right words sounded just as, if not more, convoluted to her as it sounded to me. Clinically the only thing I felt I could do in that instance was to reassure her that she had great courage and strength coming to meet with me and that she was not alone. However, the “not knowing” and my uncertainty in that moment seemed like a curse and not at all the gift I would later recognize it to be.

Creating New Practice Models for a Changing World

     As I move along in my clinical and academic work, this case continues to highlight for me the increasingly complex and dynamic world that we live in. Despite the arsenal of theories and techniques with which we are equipped upon graduating from our undergraduate or graduate programs and continuing education courses, we aren’t fully prepared to support women like Rachel. Her narratives, and those of women like her, are informed by world events such as the state of the economy and the drive for capital, political strife and reparations, and social and cultural expectations. Current practice models don’t sufficiently meet the needs of the people and communities in which social workers directly work. We need an analogous theory and practice that meets this 21st-century challenge for our clients and our profession.

     As a clinician and doctoral student, I challenge the social work community, in particular our educators and clinicians, to demarginalize feminist theories, in particular postmodern and black feminist thought, to better serve the individuals, groups, and communities with which we work. The social work profession is no stranger to an integration of theories and thought from various disciplines and historically has been inspired by and borrowed from numerous theories that later translated into practice to best aid those in need, so I do not believe an integration of theory is an issue here.

     To date, the social work profession as a whole has tread lightly in the area of feminist thought, while challenges for women from all socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic backgrounds in our local and global communities prevail. We do not live in a postfeminist era, though some would like to argue that we do. With the manifestation of the momentous growing global demands on women, social work has a unique responsibility to address both the personal and the political in practice and education. Perhaps one challenge is that there is not one cohesive feminist theory from which social workers can address all the needs of women with whom they work that would be accurate.

     Beginning to incorporate a theoretical perspective such as critical race feminism stemming from critical race theory would at least start the dialogue of centralizing theories such as black feminist theory and postmodern feminist theory into our current social work pedagogy and practice. In doing so, I think this will not only raise consciousness for the women with whom we work but raise consciousness within our own profession to question whether the needs of the people we currently serve are being met.

     As a social worker and activist, I am committed to addressing the unique needs of women’s health and women’s rights, both in terms of women as individuals and women in their sociopolitical world. In challenging the social work profession and myself to centralize theories such as black feminist and postmodern feminist theory in my practice, I am beginning to discover that a new model must emphasize and support women’s development through relationships and recognize that for the majority of social workers, there will certainly be an element of “not knowing” on a deep level about the multiple experiences of self that these women experience. However, providing a space that allows for the exploration and cultivation of self and multiple narratives is what’s most important for our profession and the women we work with, helping them recognize that they do have the power and the voice to negotiate their internal and external worlds.

     Working with Rachel forced me outside of my personal and professional comfort zone and challenged me to put my clinical practice and theoretical underpinnings to the test. As a social worker and a woman, it seemed glaringly obvious in my work and within my professional and personal relationships that what is needed among the many opportunities and challenges posed in our society is an organization that allows for the exploration of a gendered self in relation to one’s world. I founded the Women’s Collaborative Circle in the spirit of the feminist consciousness-raising movement along with psychodynamic theories and social work core values. From many conversations with friends and colleagues, it appeared that women were in need of a space and a new model of self-care and preservation to allow for a full exploration of how a woman experiences herself in her gendered world and for multiple opportunities and modalities for development and growth.

     After accompanying Rachel mostly in silence to a morning filled with visits to the obstetrician to discuss the risk of perinatal HIV transmission to her unborn child and the gynecologist to diagnose HPV and possible cervical cancer, the silence broke. While laying on the examination table with a specula protruding out of her vagina, left for what seemed an eternity for the resident to call her attending, tears of discomfort and utter fear flowed down her face. She quietly spoke, telling me about the African herbs she used as well as a hanger in a desperate attempt to abort her fetus. Then she became silent. We were able to sit together exposed with one another.

     At the end of what was an excruciatingly long morning, she and I went to Quizno’s to get lunch before she returned to her demanding job working in a clothing factory, standing on her feet all day. As we walked down the street, I tripped. She laughed. It was the first time I had seen her smile.

     As we approached the restaurant, I explained to her what type of food they served, as it was all unfamiliar. The 32-ounce pink lemonade was a big hit. As we went our separate ways that late morning, just being slightly more comfortable in our “not knowing” and open to the multiple opportunities for Rachel to share her narrative, it proved to be the beginning of what would be one of my most important social work relationships.

— Carly Goldberg, MSW, LCSW, is a doctoral candidate in the DSW program at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice. She is the founder and executive director of the Women's Collaborative Circle (, a feminist counseling and social action organization.

December 13, 2010

TED Talk for Social Workers and the Rest of Us

I love TED talks. That is why I was so excited when a colleague of mine sent me this TEDx talk.

Dr. Brené Brown is a researcher professor at the University of Houston, Graduate College of Social Work, where she has spent the past ten years studying a concept that she calls Wholeheartedness, posing the questions: How do we engage in our lives from a place of authenticity and worthiness? How do we cultivate the courage, compassion, and connection that we need to embrace our imperfections and to recognize that we are enough -- that we are worthy of love, belonging and joy? Brené is the author of I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn't): Telling the Truth About Perfectionism, Inadequacy, and Power (2007) and the forthcoming books, The Gifts of Imperfection (2010) and Wholehearted: Spiritual Adventures in Falling Apart, Growing Up, and Finding Joy ( 2011).

For more information about Brene Brown and her work, check out her beautiful, profound and inspiring website!

December 05, 2010

Upcoming Volunteer Opportunities!

Project SAFE needs your help!Project SAFE is an all volunteer organization that provides harm reduction materials to women working in street prostitution in the Kensington section of town in order to help reduce the spread of STI's and promote public health.  We work to build community among the women we serve and provide information and referrals so that they can make informed decisions about their safety and wellbeing.  We could use your help in the following ways:
Outreach Volunteer - Do street outreach in Kensington in pairs from about 10pm-12 on weeknights. 2 x a month committment in order to be trained.
Delivery Volunteer - Drive bulk amounts of supplies to consumers homes with a buddy.  Times are flexible.
Exchange Volunteer - Drive to prevention point to do exchanges for us.
Bagging Volunteer - Prepare supply bags for outreach.
Hotline Case Manager Volunteer - Have the case management line inquiries forwarded to your phone for an agreed upon amount of time and respond to calls with appropriate referals.
Donate or Host a Fundraiser - Write us a check (made out to NASEN, Project SAFE in memo) or have a house party, a silent auction, or any kind of fundraising event to benefit the work we do.
***Call for Volunteers for the Kensington Avenue Sex Worker Drop In Center***
As many know too well, no nighttime safe location exists for women on Kensington Avenue, a location renown for its open drug market and trade in sex.
A coalition of organizations and individuals, including Project SAFE, Catholic Charities, Prevention Point Philadelphia, Center for the Empowerment of Women, Belivacqua Community Center and Covenant House is starting a pilot Drop-In center to be available specifically for women and female identified individuals who engage in the sex trade on Kensington Avenue.
Drop-In Program Goals: The main goal of the Drop-In Program is to connect with and build relationships with women actively engaging in sex work in the Kensington neighborhood. We do this by providing a clean, safe, and welcoming environment staffed by committed volunteers. The space will be a place where women can address immediate needs to help them feel healthy, human and connected as they are invited to look toward their next positive step.
If you would like to volunteer, Please contact Samantha Sitrin and RSVP for the Volunteer training December 9th, 9pm at Belivacqua Community Center@ Kensington & Lehigh
The holidays are fast approaching, and support for individuals who are underserved and largely alienated from any kind of support network becomes critical to the mental health of the population we seek to serve.

Beginning December 16th the Drop-In will be open
Thursday and Friday nights
9pm-12 midnight
@ Belivacqua Community Center
On Kensington & Lehigh Ave.

To take a shift:
Call 215.630.0774
We are in the process of setting up a doodle calendar so you can also sign up that way
Please call to talk over how you can participate & services we hope to offer.

December 02, 2010

Your WCC Holiday Shopping Guide!

Chanukah is already here and Christmas and Kwanza are just around the corner... so what are you getting your loved ones?  Here are some suggestions that will support women and girls around the globe and save you a trip to the mall!

1. Heifer International - Heifer International is a global nonprofit with a proven solution to ending hunger and poverty in a sustainable way. Heifer helps empower millions of families to lift them out of poverty and hunger to self-reliance through gifts of livestock, seeds and trees and extensive training, which provide a multiplying source of food and income.

2. Ten Thousand Villages - Ten Thousand Villages' mission is to create opportunities for artisans in developing countries to earn income by bringing their products and stories to our markets through long-term fair trading relationships.

3. Nest - Nest is a nonprofit organization that empowers female artists and artisans around the world. Using a unique combination of interest-free microfinance loans, mentoring from established designers, as well as a market in which to sell their crafts, Nest helps its loan recipients create successful small businesses. Nest instills pride of ownership, preserves ancient artistic traditions and successfully moves women from poverty to self-sufficiency.

4. Goods 4 Good - Our slogan is straightforward because our mission is straightforward: through the innovative use of surplus, G4G promotes the development of orphans and vulnerable children.  Send an E-Card or make a donation to help out this amazing organization!

5. Peacekeeper Cause-Metics - Peacekeeper Cause-Metics is the first cosmetics line to give all of its after-tax, distributable profits to women’s health advocacy and urgent human rights issues. PeaceKeeper builds a bridge between extraordinary women in the land of plenty and extraordinary women who, by chance of birth, don’t have our resources or opportunities.

6. Nothing But Nets - Nothing But Nets is a global, grassroots campaign to raise awareness and funding to combat malaria, one of the largest killers of children in Africa. With a $10 contribution, Nothing But Nets provides individuals – from CEOs to youth, professional athletes to faith leaders – the opportunity to join the global fight against malaria by sending a net and saving a life.

7. Global Girlfriend - Specializes in fairley traded apparel and accessories hand-made by women and communities in need. 

8. Women's Peace Collection - The Women’s Peace Collection is an enterprise that fully supports women in regions of conflict and post-conflict – as mothers, peace builders, entrepreneurs, and skilled artisans.

9. Global Sistergoods -  Brings you the finest in fair trade, eco-friendly, and handmade gifts, jewelry, handbags, accessories, children's clothing and toys, baskets, and home decor items. All of our fair trade products are made by women from around the world, and offer the high quality and one-of-a-kind feel that today's socially responsible customer demands. Each fair trade product is as unique as the woman who makes it, and each purchase helps women throughout the world earn a living wage and build beautiful, thriving communities.

10. One Mango Tree One Mango Tree uses a fair trade model to provide income generating opportunities for women in impoverished and conflict-ridden areas of the globe.  Our first project is now well underway in Northern Uganda, a region devastated by more than twenty years of armed conflict. The war has taken the lives of thousands, displaced more than two million, and destroyed the once-vibrant local culture and economy. 

11. Same Sky - Is a fair-trade company whose mission is to empower women worldwide and inspire a movement of women empowering women.  Founded in 2007, Same Sky aims to be a part of the global movement lifting women out of poverty by giving them the tools to become entrepreneurs and lead self sustaining lives. 

12. Vital Voices - Our mission is to identify, invest in and bring visibility to extraordinary women around the world by unleashing their leadership potential to transform lives and accelerate peace and prosperity in their communities.

13. Kiva - Kiva's mission is to connect people, through lending, for the sake of alleviating poverty.

December 01, 2010

World AIDS Day 2010

Today is world AIDS day.  And although HIV/AIDS awareness, prevention and education should be (and with HIV/AIDS organizations is) an ongoing and daily event, I would be remiss not to take this opportunity to bring special attention to the increased need for education and prevention among women globally today.  Women globally and in particular women of color in the United States tend to be at highest risk for contracting HIV.  HIV/AIDS is unlike any other virus and syndrome of diseases; it is not only physical but political, social, cultural, religious, sexual, economic and psychological. 

None of us are immune, we are all susceptible to contracting HIV.  Playwrite Eve Ensler wrote a powerful op ed piece - Nothing Short of a Sexual Revolution for The Guardian, and I too believe that we women need a revolution.  Let's stand together and continue the fight!