Chiharu Shiota: Drawing Memories in the Air

Trace of Memory, The Mattress Factory, 2013 (Photo: Priyanka Sacheti)

I remember being thoroughly enchanted the first time I encountered Japanese installation and performance artist, Chiharu Shiota's work, Trace of Memory at The Mattress Factory, a contemporary art museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the United States. Utilising both the spatial landscape of an abandoned 19th century row house as well as specific objects such as a wedding dress, hospital bed, and a pile of suitcases, Shiota enmeshed it all in intricate black wool-thread creations. Everything was visible and yet, not; it was not unlike cobwebs studding the dusty corners of an abandoned house, simultaneously representing decay and life. In a sense, Shiota's work resurrects an otherwise dead house, creating a physically tangible web of narratives through the confluence of thread, space, and air. Perhaps, enchanted was also an appropriate word to describe my engagement with her work, for there was a fairy-tale, other-worldly quality to her work that I had never previously witnessed or experienced elsewhere. Researching further and talking with the artist herself, I discovered that the wool-thread is a signature motif of her work and through which she quite literally binds memories, past, people, and objects.

Born in Osaka, Japan, Chiharu moved to Berlin, Germany in 1997, where she studied with Marina Abramovic and Rebecca Horn, forerunners of the performance art movement; she has exhibited all over the world, presenting her installation art in both solo and group exhibitions.

What does installation art specifically mean to her? “I love empty spaces; the minute I come across one such as an abandoned building or an empty exhibition space, I feel as if my body and spirit transcend a certain dimension - and I can then start from scratch,” Chiharu says, presenting the abandoned or blank exhibition space as one void of references or associations and which she is subsequently free to re-interpret and realise her imagined worlds in. What particularly excites her about installation art is the immediacy of communication and engagement with the viewer. “[The viewers] can immediately feel as to what I am trying to show...unlike a painting or sculpture where you may have to engage with it for quite a while before distilling its meaning,” she opines.

While her work is largely rooted in the soil of her personal memories and concerned with theme of remembering and oblivion, it also sprouts and entwines itself with larger collective memories as well; one glimpses it in installations such as Dialogue from DNA in Krakow, Poland and which was subsequently recreated in Germany and Japan. Currently living and working in Germany, Chiharu reminisces about how it is linked to the time she returned to Japan three years after moving to Germany. "I wore my old shoes and experienced a curious situation; they didn't fit me any more even though they were the same size. This sense of dislocation persisted even when I was interacting with my parents and old friends. Nothing specifically had changed - and yet, I felt differently about them," she says.

The scenario made her start thinking about the gulf between the idealised memories when one is away from the home and yearning to return to it -- and actually being in home itself. "I began to interrogate the idea of missing and memories and I fused it with the idea of old shoes and the memories associated with them," she says, elaborating that the installation consisted of 400 disused shoes that people had donated along with notes containing specific memories associated with the shoe. Looking at the installation (below), it is almost as if the threads anchor the memories in form of the shoes in place, lest they vanish into nothingness and being unremembered.

Chiharu Shiota, Dialogue from DNA, (2004) Manggha, Centre of Japanese Art and Technology, Krakow, Poland, Shoes, Thread Photograph: Sunhi Mang

Chiharu has often remarked that working with thread is a bit like drawing in air. “When I began working as a painter, I felt that two-dimensional drawings were limiting me. I needed more space so I started working on installations and using thread in order to achieve a three dimensional drawing, so to speak. The threads since then have been a fundamental aspect of my work,” she says. These threads represent multiple meanings in her diverse output of work, whether of connections or ensnarement or opacity.

Apart from the threads embroidering the surface of Chiharu's installation spaces, they are also home to objects which Chiharu frequently and quite literally weaves into her works; these objects are plucked from the quotidian, facilitating both the unspooling of a narrative while crucially being a narrative in themselves. They also signify absences, absences which become the works' fundamental bedrock. "Specific objects inspire me when I experience a personal association or link with them as I did when putting on my old shoes. Abandoned objects are laden with even more memories and associations," she mentions, suggesting that this surplus of memories adds further narrative texture to her work. "The object itself has a meaning, being a signifier and then my role would be to weave its memories and meaning together using the threads."

Chiharu Shiota, During Sleep, (2004), Saint-Marie-Madeleine, Lille, France, Thread, Beds, Performers
Photographer: Sunhi Mang

While objects frequently figure as the central components of her installation works, her works are also distinctively body-oriented, as evidenced in works such as During Sleep, which features real-life women asleep on hospital beds and the space enshrouded in her customary fog of thread, bringing to forth gendered associations with the fairy-tale Sleeping Beauty.

CLIO TALKS BACK: Maria Vérone on the “Modernization” of Islam

Maria Vérone
Several days ago, Clio came across an intriguing text about the “modernization” of Islam, written by a French woman lawyer and published by the International Council of Women. The author, Maria Vérone, a dedicated feminist, was one of the first French women to be admitted to the French bar; she had worked as a teacher and a dancer before studying law.  She presided over the Ligue Française pour le Droit des Femmes [French League for Women’s Rights] for many years. By the early 1930s she had been tapped to head the pathbreaking Women’s Consultative Committee on Nationality, appointed by the League of Nations, and she continued to be active in international legal circles, engaged with studying, comparing – and attempting to advance – the status of women in the law both in France and worldwide.

Here is what she wrote about the status of women in Islam.

“After long centuries of lethargy, Islam is awakening from its slumber. By a sort of return to primitive religion, Musulmen, as pious as they are broadminded, may now be found who declare, text in hand, that the Prophet never intended to place women in a state of servitude. The Veil, they say, is not obligatory; instruction should be given to girls as well as to boys; polygamy is permitted but not enforced; on the contrary, men are forbidden to abuse their rights. The Egyptian (Islamic) Civil Code has been framed in this spirit, recognising that woman, married or single, has full civil capacity; in this spirit, too, Musulman Tribunals have recently given certain judgments, suing a man for damages towards his ex-wife, whom he repudiated soon after the marriage, she having been compelled to leave the occupation which she followed as a single woman.

“In Iran, in Syria, in Irak, in Palestine, all the Musulmen inhabiting these parts of Asia have seen the rise of Feminist Associations; Congresses have been held in the more important cities, where the Delegates appeared unveiled before high authorities, where programmes of new demands have been drawn up, and certain reforms are already on the way to accomplishment. In Europe, the young King of Albania, believing that the emancipation of women is not a sign of revolution or of irreligion, has begun by forbidding the use of the Veil, as a start, greater changes may follow. In Northern Africa, pecuniary difficulties, stronger than the most ancient custom, are doing away with polygamy. Men, if not because of sentiment, at least in their own interest, marry only one woman, and this completely changes the moral position of the family; should an era of prosperity follow, it may be that a generation brought up in utterly different surroundings than those of its ancestors, may not desire to return to ancient customs.  So, by good will or perforce, the world is changing."

Do you know, Clio asks, when these words were written and published?  Can anybody guess?

Would any of you imagine that it dates from 1937 – well over 75 years ago?

Source: Maria Verone, “The Evolution of the Family throughout the World,” International Council of Women: Bulletin, 16:3 (November 1937),18-19.

The Year of Living Out Loud

As 2014 shuffles off its mortal coil, I want to amplify the many voices of 2014 that inspire me to live out loud in 2015. What these voices all have in common is that they are no longer living quietly, accepting the status quo. Instead, they expose their truth, expressing rage, conviction, joy, authenticity, and hope. 

"I Can't Believe I Still Have to Protest This . . . "   

Protester in Washington, DC. #blacklivesmatter
Photo: Ben James.
Yes, 2014 was the year Americans came out to protest police killings of black men. And to protest grand juries not indicting the white police officers. Even when it is filmed. And in Dublin, Ireland, people protested the fact that Irish women still have no access to abortion services.  

Photo: Sharon Davis.

In New York City, protesters demanded the release of
200 Nigerian girls kidnapped from their school.
Photo: Michael Fleshman.

And people around the world took to the streets to demand the return of 200 Nigerian girls, who Boko Haram kidnapped from school.

Photo: Malik ML Williams

A Photograph. 

In August of 2014, Lynsey Adarrio photographed 16-year old Yasmin Ritaj with her daughter in her arms in a refugee camp in Jordan. She had just left her abusive husband, while pregnant, to return to her family. The photograph was included in 2014 The Year in Pictures, a compilation of the best single images of the year. 

Project 562.

A young patron of the Tacoma Art Museum
pauses to contemplate Project 562. Photo: Deborah Espinosa.
Project 562 is the brainchild of photographer Matika Wilbur.  Thru Project 562, Wilbur is documenting all 562 federally recognized tribes in the United States (which are now numbered at 566). Wilbur, a Native American woman of the Swinomish and Tulalip Tribes in Washington State, explains, "My goal is to represent native people from every tribe. By exposing the astonishing variety of the Indian presence and reality at this juncture, we will build cultural bridges, abandon stereotypes, and renew and inspire our national legacy." She further explains her work in this video.

In 2014, I had the privilege of viewing Wilbur's work at the Tacoma Art Museum. The Project combines compelling portraits with oral narratives -- some in native languages -- about all aspects of their lives. Project 562 is a true contribution to our understanding of Native Americans.

Italian Boys and Violence against Girls.

When asked why he refuses to slap a girl, a young
Italian boy explains. Photo:
"Slap Her," a video is making the rounds on Facebook and it blew me away. Italian boys between the ages of 7 and 11 are asked a series of questions, including "What do you want to be when you grow up? (In case you are interested: firefighter, soccer player, baker, pizza maker, and a police man.) And they are introduced to Martina, a girl. What follows is touching and makes you wonder what happens as Italian boys grow up. 

A compilation of data on the prevalence of violence against women, as of March 2011 by UN Women, found that 31.9% of Italian women experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. That figure is just a few percentage points lower than the 35.4% of Indian women who experience the same.    

In January 2014, an Italian court ruled that acts of brutal violence against one's wife and children are not considered family abuse if such acts do not happen on a regular basis.

The Comic Book Priya's Shakti.

Cover of comic book, Priya's Shakti.
The December 16, 2012 fatal gang rape of a 23-year old woman on a moving bus in New Delhi shocked the world.  Two years later, a news article recounts the limited progress made in India to prevent more atrocities, including passage of an anti-rape law and a prohibition on the retail sale of acid to deter attacks on women. The article further notes a recent study published in the Hindustan Times that found that 91% of women between the ages of 13 and 55 said that New Delhi is no safer two years later, and 97% had continued to experience some form of sexual harassment.

And along comes the comic book, Priya's Shakti, created by Ram Devineni. Priya is a super hero/ gang rape survivor, who conquers her attackers on the back of a tiger with the help of Parvati, the goddess of love and devotion.  

Need I say more? It's a must read (and available for free)! And there's an app for that!

May your 2015 be filled with peace and joy, love and light. Loudly.

The House with the Mint-Green Walls

[Editor's Note: After a few nomadic months, Priyanka has settled in New Delhi. Here she shares her feelings on the way art has inspired her own sense of being home. She will resume her regular column with Her Blueprint in mid-January.]

The first thing that I saw when we walked into the apartment was its mint green walls. 

We had just arrived in New Delhi two days ago. Since June, we had moved from Pittsburgh, traveled across the United States, and divided time between Bombay, Bangalore, and Rajasthan before finally making up our mind to come to India’s capital city. I was both utterly exhausted of being a nomad for the past many months and apprehensive about calling Delhi home. Actually, more precisely, calling India home. 

Apart from annual holidays to the homeland while growing up in Oman, I had never previously lived in India before. I was becoming increasingly disconnected to the idea of calling it home over the years. In fact, the label itself was becoming a complex abstraction for me. Was the home in homeland actually home? What was home anyway? I could worry about the semantics of home later though. Right now, I wanted a house: a nice, comfortable house, where I could anchor myself and start fleshing it into my space again.

 I fell sick hours after landing in Delhi. On our first night, we went to a mall where there was an indie rock concert going on in a huge open-air court. I remember sitting on the edge of a white marble planter, simultaneously listening to the crowd sing along to the music and feeling a dreaded itchiness invade my throat. Every time I had previously visited Delhi, its notorious dust and pollution had not been my friend. The following morning, I woke up to find that the itch had snowballed into a cold: my eyes watered continuously, my nose was on fire, and I had little desire to do anything but remain under the covers for the next day. 

 I couldn’t, of course. I had a house to find.

 Our apartment was the second one that the real-estate agent showed us in what would be a long succession of potential homes. Seeing the green walls after a day of battling a burgeoning cold, consuming cold, dessicated sandwiches, and dodging dusty, traffic-clogged roads was like stumbling head-first into an oasis. I wanted to camp out on the sofa itself, refusing to budge further. Afterwards, once we were done with visiting the other apartments (good, terrible, and ugly), the only one that remained with me was the green wall apartment. In the morning light, it would be mint-green, I thought, by dusk, it would assume the shade of pistachio ice-cream. I like the green wall apartment, I told my husband at dinner that night, as we listened to three college-age musicians sing Bob Dylan, let’s take that one. 


We arrived in the apartment. My cold became a fever — and I spent the first week in our new house, ensconced in the bedroom, either staring at the ceiling or the windows bracketing me. On one side, the shadow of a massive peepal tree and its spreading, embrace-like branches and numerous leaves dutifully dappled the balcony while the other tree — whose name I still do not know — was framed within the window, like a minimal black and white photograph. During the day, their leaf shadows stenciled and overlapped one another upon the green walls, the walls fluid canvases. The leaf-shadow dance lulled me into sleep; the green soothed and calmed me. 

The house swiftly became a welcome sanctuary after all those migratory, mobile months. 


We are still in the process of turning our house into a home. In fact, we are still befriending the city, understanding its costume, its dialect, when it sleeps, when it wakes up, the art of razoring through its traffic jams. We potter about in the house, migrating from one room to another, wondering where the guest room should be, what color flowers will look good against the mint. 

A river of traffic flows behind our house. We hear people’s conversations, dogs fighting, and ambulance and police sirens. I was accustomed to a soundtrack of silence in all the places that I had previously lived. This is the first time my ears are constantly negotiating the overwhelming barrage of sound, the sheer plurality of it; my mind is learning how to filter, distinguish one sound from another. However, I don’t miss the silence quite as much as I miss peering above into the nocturnal sky, glimpsing the dense population of stars studding its surface. Here, in the city, like any other city, they are just as invisible as they are during the day. 


 Our landlord’s art work meanwhile still dots the apartment walls. In the living room, you can see camouflage-hued tapestries of Paris, a bright bird water-color, an Ancient Egyptian god and goddess in dialogue, and a mountainscape sparely executed in oils. I have decided that these works will continue to hang there on the walls until we discover and introduce our own to them. In any case, they are strangers no more; our daily engagement with the works has made them familiar to us. There are three paintings though that that we have decided to never remove as long as we stay in the apartment. 

These paintings are portraits of three distinguished women hanging upon one wall in the living room. I call them distinguished simply because that’s exactly the sort of air they exude. I have no idea who these women are. I don’t even know the names of the artists who painted them. What I do know is that these portraits define the house as much as the walls themselves. And like the tree window-photograph in my bedroom window, I am content to see their framed selves on the walls. 

What is remarkable is that each of them wear an identical expression of contemplation in their portraits. They look as if they were mulling over a problem or a puzzle or a query — and were about to unpack their thoughts to the artist. The thoughts would quickly spill out, raw, unadulterated, like paint gushing upon a palette from a newly pierced open tube. Yet, the women would just as swiftly incorporate them into the bigger picture, the larger idea, connoisseurs of both the macro and micro. These women are constantly editing themselves, their thoughts, striving to be better, fuller, richer persons. But they wouldn’t bite back their words, that’s for sure. If they have something to say, they will say it. 

 When we say goodbye to the house with the mint colored walls, I already know that we will miss these three ladies. In the next few months, we will be constantly overlaying the house with our presence— paintings, photographs, furniture, objects, books, our conversations — and by the time we leave, the house will have become an alternate version of itself, a new draft, so to speak. Perhaps, by that time, I will have even figured out how to solve the mathematical-like conundrum of learning to call my homeland home. But what these walls and admirable ladies will remind us of will be those initial paint-strokes, those first words on the computer-screen, a freshly new time, when blankness was exciting, when anything could become everything.

This post originally appeared at the story-sharing platform, Medium over here.

Belonging Together: The Making of Justice and Art

“What does poiesis have to do with slavery?”

Shadow of Monique Villa, CEO of
Thomas Reuters Foundation. Photo: Deborah Espinosa
That is how internationally renowned artist Anish Kapoor began his 14-minute keynote address during the 2014 Trust Women’s conference recently held in London. The conference, which puts "the rule of law behind women’s rights," gathered advocates and activists focused on solutions to women’s economic empowerment, including women’s access to land and financial services, as well as on the global fight against modern slavery. A short video captured the breadth of issues covered. Notable speakers included two Nobel laureates, Muhammad Yunus and Kailash Satyarthi, CEOs of many major corporations and NGOS, and survivors of the slave trade.  

The Trust Women two-day gathering was highly cerebral, sometimes academic, and always stimulating. It also was visually compelling.  Each theme was introduced with a 2- to 3-minute multimedia piece, including Women and FinanceAccess to Land, and Slavery and the Supply Chain. (All of Trust Women conference videos are available here.)  

We learned that 35.8 million people are working in slave-like conditions around the world in violation of their human rights on a daily basis.  We were challenged to consider whether the supply chains of goods we use everyday include forced labor or debt bondage, including considering the human rights abuses necessary to sustain "fast fashion."

We were also encouraged to consider how responsive cities are to women's needs, including safety, particularly given their typically greater reliance on public transport for going to work and taking care of child and household responsibilities.

And for me, a women's land rights practitioner, of utmost interest was the panel on the issue of women's access to land, which Trust Women aptly described as the "biggest challenge to women's empowerment."   

So imagine my surprise when, amidst this dialogue, sculptor Anish Kapoor took the podium. “What does poiesis have to do with slavery?", he asks. I wasn't familiar with the term “poiesis,” but I imagined it referred to poetry. Later, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that poiesis is actually a much broader concept dating back to Ancient Greece — more like "a making” or the "making of art.”
No doubt Mr. Kapoor's words meant many things to many people.  For me, his words caused my soul to soften. I had steeled myself for a day on the global slave trade, and there he was opening a part of me that I’d purposefully locked down.

The artist and advocate in me heard him liken the making of art to acts in pursuit of justice — and that the time is now.   
“Does my making have truth?  Or is it that belief and therefore beauty is something that lies in the future?  Is it something that is always out of reach? . . .  Freedom and beauty are the future — only possible because of what we do next."
Kapoor continued:
Mr. Anish Kapoor speaking at the Trust Women
Conference on November 19, 2014.  Photo: Deborah Espinosa
The oppressed, as we all know, are asked again and again to wait for the right time to press for change.  Right time?  What is this right time? 
Always in the future.  The right time for respect and dignity is always in the future. . . . 
Time and courage and beauty are now. I’m linking them together because I think they belong together. . . .  Rights are dreamed of as if they belong in the future. But rights, as we all know, depend on what we do next."
Mr. Kapoor's full speech is available here.

Thank you Mr. Kapoor and Thomas Reuters Foundation for uniting our efforts to make the world replete with justice with the our making of art. They belong together for me, too.

On Gratitude Versus Suffering: Resiliency Can Rise

The 16 Days of Activism is a worldwide campaign to end violence against women. Photo credit: UN Women.
Today is Thanksgiving in my country of origin. It is the holiday in which families and friends gather to share a long meal and be together. To talk. To laugh. To be thankful.

In France, where I live such long meals happen quite often, to the point I grow tired of dining. Sometimes at long dinners here, I remember myself as a small child at my grandmother's Thanksgiving table covered in pumpkin pies, growing more and more restless in the sunroom of their lovely home near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania because the plastic chair cover was sticking to my tights from sitting so long.

How far I have come from those days. In some ways. In fact, during the past two years, I have learned more about resiliency and growth because living in a foreign country is like shaking off any idea of cultural rules and trying to not judge myself or others for not understanding what is often perceived as cultural givens. Points of growth come from understanding that the phrase, "It's cultural," somehow gives credibility for why things are the way they are.

Upon some reflection, I have come to the conclusion that this Thanksgiving I am most thankful for my ability to summon resiliency. I imagine that by working nonstop most of my life for certain goals that I will attain them, that if I do not give up, eventually, I will look up and one day, the goal will arrive. This is not to say, any goal just arrives or all of them. It is to say that through effort, determination, and resiliency that keeping on, eventually, leads one to true change.

As an athlete, that happened for me. I ran two ultramarathons with a heart problem when most cardiologists said that I could not. Then opted due to more severe heart complications during graduate school to have a heart surgery that confirmed what I had always sort of known, that my heart issue was far more severe than thought for the seventeen years preceding. Yet, I remember laying on the surgery table wide awake, watching my heart beating on the screen completely outside of my own body's control, and the cardiologist actually asking me if I was sure I had supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) because he could not find it. I thought to myself, this man has my heart in his hands, literally, yet he knows nothing of my life story. Of what brought me here, to this moment. He has no idea how often during races, I had to ensure that I took care of myself better than everyone around me because my SVT was not just a quickened heart rate; that when my SVT launched, my chest rocked, my eyes rolled back in my head, my lips sucked in and the loss of oxygen usually rendered me unaware within minutes. He does not know the moment I decided to do this was watching my baby sister's distressed face in the streets of Paris as I tried to calm my SVT because I swore with only four days in Paris, she would not spend her last full day in a hospital. Instead, I just looked at him and said, "Yes, I am sure. I am positive, I have SVT."

A few minutes later, he found the problem in the core of my heart.  He then called in another cardiologist for a second opinion because the risk had grown enormously.

I walk often by the Institute that performed the successful heart surgery as it is around the corner from my pink cottage. I stare inside and think back to how I willed myself on that table to keep going and now my heart problem is resolved. The same way I willed the 17-year-old girl from a violent home to believe in my own education and my dreams to live in Manhattan. The same way I willed the 25-year-old homeowner trying to protect my property before the global financial crisis on a publishing salary. The same way, I willed the 28-year-old to move to Paris to study French at Sorbonne. Just keep going, eventually I will get there. And, I have. I stood this May one year after my heart surgery and walked the stage earning my Master's degree, a goal that took more years than I dare count.

Yet, that moment the cardiologist questioned a reality so real to me reminded me starkly of the times in my life when I have shared incredible truths, risked intense vulnerability, only to have someone stare back at me with disbelief and question that truth. And, often those times had to do with me as a victim of violence. It reminded me of the British police detective who erred constantly as he investigated my sexual assault, which had happened in a very well-known London hotel. It reminded me of the ninth grade history professor who gave me a zero in his class even after I told him my final paper was late because I had been having heart problems that no one seemed to understand but kept telling me were from anxiety, although I remained completely silent of the swell of domestic violence occurring in my family's home at the same time because of my own personal shame and the culture that grew that.

On this Thanksgiving, my thoughts are focused on why culture is often used as a blanket reason for why things are the way they are. Not American culture. Or French culture. But the pervasive global culture that accepts women worldwide are harmed.

Two days ago, on November 25,  international organizations and NGOs worldwide launched the 16 Days of Activism to end violence against women. The violent stories I replay in my mind from my own life trying to make sense of my own story. The stories I have listened to from young women in Congo, Mozambique, South Africa, France, the United States. The frequency of violence is astounding.

According to the World Health Organization, "Estimates suggest that one in three women globally have experienced either physical or sexual violence from a partner, or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives, and that levels of violence against women and girls remain extremely high."
And, that in some parts of the world, sexual violence is endemic – reports of non-partner sexual violence are as high as 21% in areas of sub-Saharan Africa.
Violence against women is a global pandemic, not confined to any one country or region. UN Women says, "around 120 million girls worldwide (slightly more than 1 in 10) have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point in their lives." In the United States alone, the World Bank estimates that, "annual costs of intimate partner violence have been calculated at USD 5.8 billion."

That is outright and costly human suffering from every angle.

What does most research suggest as the way to end violence against women? UN Women suggests the current culture of shame and discrimination that surrounds violence against women has to shift.
Violence against women and girls is rooted in gender-based discrimination and social norms and gender stereotypes that perpetuate such violence. Given the devastating effect violence has on women, efforts have mainly focused on responses and services for survivors. However, the best way to end violence against women and girls is to prevent it from happening in the first place by addressing its root and structural causes.
Change has to happen. In response, from November 25 to December 10, the 16 Days of Activism calls on governments, organizations, advocates, and you to call for an end to gender-based violence as a basic human right. The United Nations urges participation in Orange your Neighbourhood, to wear orange to reflect your support in breaking the stigma that surrounds violence against women. To change the culture of acceptance to that of nonacceptance.

I think today of the many loved friends, family, and colleagues I have in my life, and visually if we all sat down at a Thanksgiving table how so many of us would be wearing orange. How so many of us have experienced violence in some way. And, how all of us have channeled that experience in our own way to heal and find resiliency.

Then, I think of all the incredible women I have met all over the world who have found or will need to find that kind of resiliency to move beyond the suffering that comes from gender-based violence, and I am thankful for the strength that can be forged in a collective culture that does not accept violence against women. It reminds me to stay resilient in my pursuit to ensure greater human rights for all of us everywhere. Because, if we just keep going, one day, through effort, determination, and resiliency, that keeping on will lead us to true change: women everywhere will be safer. And, that will be the worldwide culture, just the way things are.

The 16 Days of Activism ends on December 10, Human Rights Day.  

The Opposing Trajectories of Zoe Quinn and Alex from Target

It is a strange thing, sharing the world with the Internet. Most of the time it makes life easier, better. It keeps us more connected, but it also exposes us. We could go to sleep one night, our lives seemingly normal, and wake up the next morning in another realm -- all because something we said or did got picked up and shared by someone and subsequently made its way, like the speed of light, onto the computers, cellphones and tablets of strangers around the world. As a feminist writer on the internet, this is a fact that excites and horrifies me all at once. The fact that something I write here at my kitchen table in Brooklyn could somehow touch a nerve and get shared countless times is at once empowering and paralyzing. Just ask Zoe Quinn.

By Zoe Quinn (@TheQuinnspiracy)
As a female videogame developer in a notoriously male-dominated industry, Quinn is no stranger to the dangers of being a woman online. She has been the target of sustained, anonymous online harassment since the release, in 2013, of her free interactive fiction game Depression Quest. Quinn, who has suffered from depression throughout her life, developed the game with two goals in mind: to show those who experience depression that they are not alone, and to educate non-sufferers about the depths of the illness. The backlash, according to Quinn, started "pretty much the same day" as the game's release. It escalated in severity and volume when an ex-boyfriend of Quinn's published a tirade on a blog, claiming that Quinn had a relationship with a journalist who wrote about the game. In reality, the journalist in question never actually wrote a review of the game, he simply mentioned that it existed. That was enough. The result was the birth of #gamergate and the doxxing of Zoe Quinn.

Over the past few months, #gamergate has spread like wildfire. The issue of women in gaming, which has historically been confined to industry and feminist websites, is now being covered by huge media outlets and countless personal blogs. This is, in many ways, great for women in the longterm both online and off. In the short term, however, the results are a little murkier. Brianna Wu, another female game developer, recently went into hiding after being doxxed and receiving threats such as "I've got a K-bar and I'm coming to your house so I can shove it up your ugly feminist c--t." Notable feminist and games critic Anita Sarkeesian also went into hiding and was forced to cancel a speech at the Utah State University after the school refused to check attendees for guns, despite the threats of violence made against Sarkeesian and speech-goers in advance of the event.

In general, being outspoken and female can be a dangerous proposition. When you are caught being outspoken while female online, the ramifications can be life-altering and, sadly, even life-threatening. The internet, it seems, hates women. It is as if allowing people to be online and anonymous only manages to magnify the misogynistic norms of our culture. And to think, one night when Zoe Quinn went to sleep things were more or less okay, but when she woke up in the morning she was, "the most hated person on the internet." And all she did was develop a game to try and educate people about the challenges of living with depression. And, she had the nerve to do this as a woman.

Let's compare this, briefly, to the recent appearance of Alex from Target, a kid from Texas who was photographed while bagging groceries at Target by a girl who thought he was cute. His photograph went viral. As of this writing, he has 727,000 followers on Twitter.  He recently appeared on The Ellen Show. What Alex from Target and Zoe Quinn have in common is that their celebrity happened by no fault of their own. Both of them were doing their jobs and were catapulted into the limelight by outside forces. For Alex, a photograph taken and published online without his consent has made him some sort of b-list teenage sex symbol. This sexualization, and his presence on The Ellen Show as a result of that, is highly problematic. As far as I know, however, Alex from Target is not being sent death and rape threats nor is he being driven from his home in fear of his life. For Zoe Quinn, the fact that she dared create a game in a male-dominated industry put her in harms way. And due to the fact that she is female, her subsequent sexualization, carried out in written as opposed to photographic form, made her the target of sustained harassment.

For me, there is something inherently wrong happening in both of these situations. In both cases, there was a complete disregard for the right to privacy and the need for consent before sharing photographs or personal information, true or fabricated, with a potential audience in the billions. That aside, the completely opposite trajectories that these two individuals experienced speaks volumes about our society. Don't get me wrong, our need to sexualize people, whether male or female, is incredibly dehumanizing. But that depending on the gender of the individual the result is either empowering or disempowering, that the internet either celebrates or threatens, is just incredible. And sickening.

I imagine that Alex from Target will end up being just a flash in the pan. The plight of Zoe Quinn, however, has staying power. But that also means that for the foreseeable future she, and many other women who dare to be opinionated on this misogynistic platform, will be in danger. It is a sad reality. Those women who keep speaking our minds and hoping that people listen have to live with the gnawing fear that one day we might wake up in the middle of a nightmare. Welcome to being female on the internet.

5 Things I Learned as the Internet's Most Hated Person []
'Alex From Target' and the Mess of Uncontrollable Fame [New York Magazine]
Anita Sarkeesian Cancels Speech After School Shooting Threat at Utah State []
Brianna Wu and the Human Cost of Gamergate: 'Every Woman I Know in the Industry is Scared' [The Guardian]
Eron Gjoni - Proof that Being a White, Hetero-Cis Male Will Get You Everywhere [The Daily Koz]
Gamergate: The Community is Eating Itself but There Should be Room for All [The Guardian]
Zoe Quinn's Depression Quest  [The New Yorker]
Zoe Quinn on Gamergate: 'We Need a Proper Discussion About Online Hate Mobs' [The Guardian]