For our final interview, Francesca talks with Jen Rubin and Char Braxton. Jen and Char are two friends who live in Madison, Wisconsin. They appeared on camera together to read two letters for the project.
Francesca: How did you hear about Yours in Sisterhood and what motivated you or interested you about being involved?
Jen: It was one of those Facebook things. A friend saw a posting of the call for readers and she tagged me on it. I clicked through the link and thought it looked interesting. I thought of several people that would be a good fit for it and a few got in touch with Irene.
How did you become friends? what is the story of your friendship?
J: I met Char through the Odyssey Project writing class. She was a student in the class. I came in to do a 2 part storytelling workshop and then the third week everyone in the class would perform their story. I offered to anyone that wanted more feedback on their story to contact me and Char was the only one who contacted me. We met several times and each time she brought me something to eat (some kind of tasty homemade chicken dish the first time and very tasty cucumber water the second time). Talking about each other’s stories is a great way to get to know someone. After that we ran into each other at various events in Madison and just struck up a friendship.
How did it feel to read the letters together?
Char: It felt great to read the letters with Jen – I really look up to her as my big sister. She has supported me and pushed me in unexplored areas that I would not have travelled without her!
J: I enjoyed doing the readings with Char. Char has consistent positive energy so she brought that to the reading. She is a bigger personality than I do and she brought energy to the reading. I feel comfortable around her and it was more fun to do it with her than it would have been to do it alone. We were both aware of the image we made since she is black and I am white.
Do you think friendship plays a role in feminism? What is the role?
J: Hmm. I am not sure. I know my female friendships are critical to me. I rely on the advice and support of my female friends. I do consider myself a feminist and have since I was a teenager. I think having solidarity with other women is important and it isn’t always easy. Not every woman has the same struggles or the same frame of reference. Some women have to deal with racism and some don’t. Some women have economic barriers that get in the way of their dreams and some don’t. There are many things I value about my friendship with Char – but one is that we have a strong connection even though we are different races and come from different economic backgrounds. Those are consequential differences.
C: Same as you except the feminist as a teenager part. Feminism does not play a role in our friendship, but I believe that we support the fact that one gender should not be given power over the other. It is based on likes, differences, respect, honesty and supporting one another when we are able to.
One of the letters discussed boycotting large corporations (specifically Dow Chemical Company which made plastic wrap and napalm) that have toxic effects on the world. Do you think friendship and community can be an antidote to the power of large corporations?
J: Right now, with the ugliness of 2017 and 2018, I am holding on the idea that community can be an antidote. For me, I am choosing to dig into building strong networks, strong people, etc, locally. Antidote might be a stronger word that I would use because there is no getting around the fact that large corporations and the legislators that enable them have outsized power in our country. I appreciated that my letter was about Dow Chemical – because I have been cynical about large businesses since I was a kid. I grew up in a small business family. My immigrant grandfather started a small radio repair shop in Manhattan in the 1930’s and my dad ran it until 2008. I was raised on stories of local and federal government supporting big businesses and chain stores and leaving the small mom and pop type stores to fend for themselves.
Looking forward 40 years, do you have hopes for ways that our society (and feminism) may change?
C: Yes, we must push forward for equality for women – look at what’s going in Hollywood now – women are finally coming forward regarding the mental / sexual abuse to obtain certain roles for money! At some point, we need to look at our own values in society and not accept these characteristics of men in society at all. Why is it still hush, hush in some arenas when it comes to standing up for our gender – we don’t want John to lose his job or we are close friends with Autumn and Kaleem and she would have to raise the kids by herself. Well – suck it up buttercup – at some point we have to stand and stand strong no matter what the outcome is.