Dear Friends and Readers,
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” — Eleanor Roosevelt
“The most mediocre of males feels himself a demigod as compared with women.” — Simone de Beauvoir
I grew up in what was supposed to be a traditional Vietnamese family, which is more or less based on the notion of patriarchy. Though not quite identical in concept to the origin of the Hebrew word “Adam”—which simply means “human” (not the name of a man), and from the gender-neutral human being Adam there arrived a man and a woman—there was the moment when gender was labeled due to the differences of physical attributes, and men were given the primacy of power over women: the head of the household over their children, maids, and servants, as well as privilege in other social roles. To my great fortune, the ones who resided over all important matters in both sides of my family have been strong women: my grandmothers, my mothers, aunts, and sisters. The very fact that the prevailing generalization of the Far East, Middle East, and any elsewhere apart from the Western world has implicitly represented the men to be above women, who were considered derivative and second-class citizens, has always contained a strong element of the western projection onto those cultures (regardless of any truth they may have held); Edward Said defined it as the West's patronizing representation of “The East” in his classic 1978 volume Orientalism. So, the whole situation is quite a mess. I've shared this similar view with many of my friends and colleagues, artists and writers, from China, India, Japan, Vietnam, Iran, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, especially those who live in the .S or both cultures, knowing well every patriarchal society has a form of feminism (without calling it such or perhaps referring to it as an attitude), which is to say: there are always individuals, most often women, who argue for the liberation of women. There need to be more men. I am a feminist.
Recently, Dolores Huerta (the visionary labor leader, civil rights activist, and co-founder of the National Farmworkers Association, which later became United Farm Workers) said in an interview,
A feminist is […] somebody who stands up for women's reproductive rights, stands up for gay rights, stands up for immigrants, stands up for labor unions, stands up for our environment. This is what a feminist is. And also, the men can be feminists.
In addition to this intersectionality, I agree with what she's observed in the following:
[W]e just have to change the content of what we teach. Franklin Delano Roosevelt said during World War II, 'We will not take one dime out of our schools, or one dime out of our libraries because education is the foundation of our democracy.' I do believe that the reason racism exists in our country, and misogyny, and homophobia, and bigotry, lack of science is because in our educational systems, from the time that our children are in kindergarten, we do not teach what contributions have been made by people of color. Native Americans who were the first slaves, whose land we sit on, yet we never thanked them or compensated them for the land. The African slaves who built the White House and the Congress. The Mexicans who [to this country] tilled our fields and built our railroads. The Chinese, the Japanese, Filipinos, people from India who were brought in to build the infrastructure of our United States of America. And [they're not] in our school books. If not, we're never going to end the racism and our children of color will never get the dignity that they deserve from what their people did to build the country. And our Anglo children, we can prevent them from having the poison of white supremacy and white privilege.
As for where we are today, in the midst of a serious threat to our liberal democracy by Trump's self-serving agendas, we're confronting alarming reasons to be mindful of the indispensable lessons of history, including honoring those who came before us, and whose creations of events that have shaped who we are today; to be aware of what causes change such as warning signs that lead up to horrific consequences; and above all, while history provides us our sense of identity, we gain greater appreciation for those who dedicated their lives to lessen our suffering, including endless women who fought (and fight) endless battles that shaped the essential history of feminism, from Olympe de Gouges, Flora Tristan, Sojourner Truth, Victoria Woodhull, Margaret Sanger, Rosa Luxemburg, Eleanor Roosevelt, Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan, Shulamith Firestone, Kate Millett, Gloria Steinem, and Audre Lorde, to Rosa Parks, Dolores Huerta, Catherine MacKinnon, bell hooks, Rebecca Walker, and many others.
I should add with the record of 127 women, 106 Democrats and 21 Republicans at the 116th Congress (including African-Americans, a Somalian immigrant, the first-ever Palestinian American, one Native American, and Hispanic members sworn into office while Nancy Pelosi reclaimed her role as the Speaker of the House last January 3, 2019 on the 13th day of the federal government's partial shutdown), the Rail couldn't be more thrilled to welcome Kathleen Landy (the founder of The Feminist Institute, the world's most significant online repository for the study of feminist documentation) as our March guest critic, along with her contributors and our friends, Janice Sands, Dawn Delikat, Lisbeth Redfield, and their staff at Pen + Brush (the only non-profit in New York devoted to showcasing work by women in the contemporary and literary arts) to celebrate International Women's Day. We shall come together in the spirit of solidarity and provide a megaphone to the urgent actions to be implemented into laws—from diversity initiatives to support of public education—while checking as much as possible the entrenched patriarchy (evidenced in every facet of our lives, and particularly in the longstanding political complexion).
This issue is dedicated to the remarkable lives of our two close friends, Robert Ryman and Carolee Schneemann. Robert Ryman's work has changed how we think of perception and its most profound implications of space that lies in between the sublime and the nothingness. He considered himself a realist, and we are grateful for the reality he shared. We send our deepest condolences to Merrill Wagner, Ethan and Kyla Ryman, Will Ryman, Cordy and Raquel Ryman, and their immediate and extended families and friends.
Carolee Schneemann has been a steadfast supporter of the Rail since the beginning. Her intelligence, bravery, and relentless advocacy for young women artists has left us greater motivation to carry on with what we have learned from her.
Love, peace, and courage,
P.S. We congratulate Nora N. Khan on completing her remarkable essay, Seeing, Naming, Knowing, which won the inaugural SVA/Crossed Purposes Foundation Critical Writing Grant, and is printed as a booklet in our March issue. We warmly welcome Richard Shiff as a Consulting Editor, and Harry Philbrick and Constance LeWallen as new Editors-at-Large. We are pleased that Sara Conklin has joined us as a member of our Advisory Board. Her beloved and exquisite restaurant Glasserie, right below our Headquarters in Greenpoint will be the Rail's official restaurant, where artists and writers love to hang out. We're grateful to Scott Lynn, our brilliant board member, and our new friend the artist Alexis Dahan who have created a social experiment Readymade to bring friends together from the diverse fields of art, fashion, and technology. This first installment was centered around the legendary Cedar Tavern. Lastly, we send our congratulations to our friends John and Maddie McElhenny on the birth of their son, Reid McElhenny, and belated birthday wishes to Tom Finkelpearl our most beloved commissioner of New York City Department of Cultural Affairs whose support of our art community is unmatched, and to two amazing artists, Tamara Gonzales and Dana Buhl, the later doubles as our marvelous Managing Director.
PHONG BUI is the Publisher and Artistic Director of the Brooklyn Rail.