Op-Ed

This week, Somersworth became the first city in New Hampshire to raise the Juneteenth flag. Juneteenth, also called Liberation Day or the Day of Jubilee, marks the enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation — two and a half years after it became law — in the final state of the union. Since it is also Pride month, and there are two flagpoles at Somersworth’s Citizen’s Place, the Juneteenth flag now waves next to the rainbow Pride flag, where they will wave together for a week (the Pride flag stays up all June long here in the Rainbow City).

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The word “feminist” is on my business card. Not as a title I’m using to define myself, but because it’s in the name of my business. Even with its recent rise to acceptance in mainstream popular culture, the word “feminist” still prompts startled reactions most times I hand someone my card. Since I’m so frequently reminded of the baggage of this word, I’m also increasingly aware of my responsibility to define, and demonstrate by my actions, what I mean when I use the word “feminist.”

Feminist theorist bell hooks (no, the lowercase of her name isn’t a typo – she consciously declines to capitalize her name in favor of putting the emphasis on her ideas) defines feminism as “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression.” Defining feminism as a commitment to end oppression is notable in that it is not (as it is sometimes misperceived to be) seeking to reverse it. Taking power from one group and giving it to another doesn’t solve the problem – it simply perpetuates domination and systemic injustice.

Feminist poet Audre Lorde wrote, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” The goal of a hooks and Lorde kind of feminist movement is to dismantle systemic power structures altogether in favor of equity for everyone – all genders, all identities.

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In her TED Talk, “The danger of the single story,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warns that knowing only one story about people different from you can result in a vast misunderstanding. A single story can never be representative of the entire group that the subject of the story represents. The power of stories is that they show one possibility. That possibility, if it resonates with beliefs we already have, is very motivating – for better or worse.

“Single stories create stereotypes. And the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.” Allowing single stories to speak for the identity of a vast group of people is, to say the least, problematic. But that doesn’t mean stories themselves are the culprit.

Adichie goes on to say, “Stories matter. And many stories matter.” Our job is not to stop telling stories, it’s to stop repeating the same tired stories, listen to new stories from others and start telling our own.

What does all this talk of stories have to do with guns?

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Tipping promotes inequality, and fosters discrimination and sexual harassment. The roots of tipping in the US can be traced back to the freeing of enslaved people, when change-resistant employers could avoid paying newly freed people an actual wage by making them work for tips. People who work for tips are twice as likely to live in poverty, and can be paid far below minimum wage. People of color are tipped at lower rates than their white colleagues. Workers who rely on tips to make a living experience twice as much sexual harassment. Is this what we meant when we used to say, “Here — for your trouble”?

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New Hampshire’s fetal personhood bill is expected to become the latest example of what those who have been following New Hampshire’s reproductive rights policies already know: Governor Sununu consistently steps on women’s bodies to rise in his own political career.

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Photo by Ben Kramer

We’re fast approaching Seacoast Outright’s third annual Portsmouth Pride event — and this year our notoriously fun crew is on a serious mission: Paint the Town Rainbow! Hopefully you have already seen the rainbow save the date posters for our Saturday, June 24 event popping up all over town — and that’s just the beginning. The closer we get to the fourth Saturday in June, the more rainbow we hope our city will become.

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It was easy to tell myself I wasn’t doing work that supported the NRA. Until a man walked into a club in Orlando and killed 49 people, injuring over 50 others. Once again, dozens of innocent people were dead. Our nation mourned. Vigils were held. Arguments raged. Who is culpable for letting this happen again?

I was. And I didn’t act alone.

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“A lot of people think that the United States is the best place in the world to have a baby, and that’s just not true. It’s the most dangerous place in the developed world to have a baby.” This statement by artist and birth justice advocate Michelle Hartney may sound like an exaggeration, but it’s hard to argue with the statistics. Hartney is part of a growing movement fighting for women’s right to choose when it comes to their maternal health care.

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Political power is everything. But nearly 25 years after “The Year of the Woman,” U.S. women have just 20 percent representation in the Senate and 19.3 percent in the House.

Here in New Hampshire, we gained headlines in 2013 with phrases like “… In New Hampshire, Women Rule!” when we became the first state in history to send an all-female delegation to Washington. But here at home, New Hampshire women make up just about a third of our state’s legislative representatives (33 percent in the House and 37.5 percent in the Senate). When we look at mayors, an even smaller percentage, just 16.7 percent, are women. Nationally, New Hampshire ranks fifth out of 50 states in political gender equality. So relatively speaking, New Hampshire women aren’t nearly as underrepresented as women are in the rest of the country. But is that really the best we can do?

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“My sister was lucky when her husband tried to kill her 18 months ago. As crazy as that sounds, it’s true. That attack against her life gave her the courage to finally call for help and escape nearly two decades of abuse. Hearing this story devastated us, her loving family who had suspected for decades but hoped it was just our imagination, but it also made us whole again by allowing us back into her life.

Before escaping through a window, she tried to calm her kids, my 11-year-old niece and screaming, crying 6-year-old nephew, who had just witnessed his father strangling his mother. “Who knew your own dad could turn out to be a bad guy?” he asked. As she waited outside in the freezing cold Grafton, NH night, hiding in the dark in her pajamas, for the one and half hours it took the police to arrive after she called for help, safety seemed so far away.

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