This is part of a long series of posts which will be known as Feminist Fridays. Because individuality is at the heart of feminism, I’m going to open up this space to different people each week to share with us a little portion of their unique journey.
I’ve known and been perpetually inspired by Jessica for years and years. I met her on the internet and that’s still the only place I’ve ever known her. But that doesn’t make our connection and deep friendship any less real. She has a passion that lights fires in me and most everyone else who encounters her. She’s an educated, thoughtful woman with compassion and deep need to speak for the voiceless.
She’s also the Valiant side of the Valiant & Valkyrie Instagram account–a social action project aimed at promoting and educating about equality.
I asked Jessica for a quick bio and she gave me this, I think it gives you a pretty good taste of what kind of a person you’re in for, here.
I’m Jessica Valiant, wanted in 14 states for treason, I’ve been known to produce an aura of mass hallucinations, and I am a professional alien hunter.
So let’s get to it!
What does feminism mean to you?
Feminism means that as a society we have work to do in order to create an equal space for women in the places “traditionally” bestowed upon men. It’s making space for women to be as masculine or feminine or androgynous as they want and be taken seriously as a human being. It points out the unique struggle of women in a patriarchal world and gives us a banner to join under to fight back. I feel like it’s the societal equivalent of The Enlightenment and even though to this day people deny what science can tell us, that has not stopped most people from coming out of the Dark Ages.
How does feminism play out in your day to day life?
My very existence is rooted in feminism now. It taught me that I am valuable, even as a leader, and affirms my worth. Having three sons, ranging from 14 to 4, I can see that they’re often oblivious to things that women have to deal with, and it is the burden of their privilege to bring about change. Almost every day I’m having a conversation with my oldest about sexism, racism, the Constitution, theology, and how all of these things have played a role in the world we live in today and why it’s not ok.
I also talk to all of them about consent, and that they own their bodies and NO ONE is allowed to tell them what they must permit. No one hugs a relative they don’t want to, no one gets a kiss goodnight who doesn’t want one, and no one tickles another person if someone says, “Stop.” Even my youngest, who has Autism Spectrum Disorder and limited speech, owns himself, and when I ask him if I can have a kiss and he says, “Nope!” I make sure I say out loud for the others to hear that he owns himself, and that’s ok if he doesn’t want to kiss me. No guilt, no pressure, none of that “oh it makes mommy sad!” bullshit.
This is a version of the consent conversation that I haven’t thought about before. A lot of times we are telling girls that they need to be able to say “no, don’t touch me.” And boys are supposed to respect that. But you’ve got boys that you’re teaching to take ownership of themselves from the get-go! Which is so obvious. Teach each person to take ownership of himself and they’re going to recognize and respect it in other people as well as identify it if they’re not being respected.
So, I wonder how much of your parenting technique is something that you’ve developed naturally and how much of it is something intentional that you and your husband have to actively work on?
I was a victim of childhood sexual abuse, and more than anything in this world, I did not want that happening to my children (or any children) so from a young age I’ve always told them things like, “It’s not ok for a grownup to look at you/touch you when you’re naked” and “It’s never ok for a grownup to be naked/have no pants on around you.” Most importantly, “If you don’t want to do something, or you feel uncomfortable, you do not have to do it.” I try to teach them to listen to their instinct as young as I can and I suppose it just evolved into, “Your brother said no, so he does not consent to more tickles. Yes, even if he was laughing when he said it and you think he really means ‘yes’, he said no, and you respect him.” I use the words “bodily autonomy” a lot, and, “only YOU are in charge of your body, so you need to learn when to say ‘no’ and know when to stop yourself when someone else says ‘no’.” I have no idea what that will look like in the real world but I am hoping that by constantly giving them ownership of themselves they will not try to own anyone else.
When did you start to realize that feminism applied to your way of thought?
That’s a pretty good question. My life and mind have been so firmly manipulated by whatever circumstances I was going through that only glimpses of my actual self pop up in my memories. Into my early twenties a friend smacked the misogyny out of my brain (you get to hear her incredible life next week!), and then more and more I started seeing it EVERWHERE and resisting it. Most important to me was the very day that I first said out loud to anyone that I was a feminist.
In 2014 I was walking out of fundamentalist Christianity and went to what I thought was just a women’s group that turned out to be a book study. Fine, I still wanted community. We were discussing labels and how I believe we should take on the labels only when we feel comfortable explaining them. I mentioned that I was a liberal, Progressive, Feminist, Egalitarian Christian and that doesn’t define me, but introduces me. Later, when we’re all sitting around the friend’s living room chatting I hear a woman across the room say (not so quietly) to her neighbor, “Well, I don’t see how you can be a Christian AND a Feminist!” I whirled around and said, “I think you meant to say that to me.” She sort of was shocked I said something right then and there in front of everyone and muttered how she’s not trying to be offensive but that she just doesn’t get it. I pointed out that Jesus honored women consistently throughout his ministry and elevated their status and feminism is valuable to Christianity. She went on to say that women shouldn’t work everywhere men do because on submarines they don’t even have their own beds and why should the men have to deal with their menstrual trash? That’s so gross! To my credit, I did not lunge at her across the room but said, “What’s wrong with menses? Isn’t it normal? Don’t women have over 300 menstrual cycles in their lifetime? Do our husbands, brothers, and sons ever encounter menstrual trash?” At the point some of the other women were clearly uncomfortable with the confrontation, so I backed down, but the other women kept talking about how she just didn’t understand. In that moment I knew that I would never apologize for being a feminist, and that I would help people understand everyday sexism – if they actually wanted to know, which this woman didn’t.
I feel like being an open feminist comes along with a lot of educating the public in moments like that. Which can get exhausting. Are there certain things that you find yourself saying over and over again? Or anything that you would love to say to a large group of people?
It definitely gets exhausting but I can’t say that I don’t love it. Something I’ve always wanted to do is public speaking. I want to travel around the country and inspire others and be inspired by others. Something I’ve heard often is “why do we still need feminism in _____?” or “don’t you think it’s more important to focus on this country where women _______?”
When asked the right way, I’m happy to discuss the statistics, the laws, and why women still are not equal, even in America. We have made a lot of headway, and to stop now would cause us to stay underneath forever. However, most of us believe that we are not free until all women are free, and can vote, have bodily autonomy, can drive, can get divorced or stay single, and can get an education. Worldwide, it’s complicated.
Many countries in the Middle East, for example, are theocracies, or very close. Can I go over there protesting? No. It won’t be effective. Can I write to my government and ask them to put pressure on banning FGM? Absolutely. Can I support non-profits who are distributing menstrual cups to girls? Definitely. Can I listen to and learn from my sisters in more oppressive countries and see what they are already doing with their incredible strength and support that? I must! We can care about more than one thing at once – we do it all the time.
I go to movies and listen to Pandora and blog about justice, and financially support groups that rescue sex trafficked people, and I read Harry Potter, and I love all of my kids, and I try to pay attention in my college classes. I guess that would be my catchphrase: “We Can Care About More Than One Thing at a Time”. I also use: “Come At Me, Bro” very sincerely.
And there you have, just a teeny tiny slice of who Jessica is. Please, if you have any questions or thoughts, let us know in the comments and we’ll keep this conversation going!