I worked at WOMAN INC for 14 years and my time there impacted my life and career immensely. I often say “I grew up at WOMAN INC.” I started as a volunteer in 1984, right after I moved here from Philadelphia. I thought the organization would be a good place to help women and find community and I was so very right! In 1984, WOMAN INC was only 6 years old and just transitioning from being a feminist collective to a democratically run organization with an executive director.
My first paid job at WOMAN INC was Volunteer Coordinator. From there, I served in multiple roles including Director of Crisis Services, Intern Supervisor and eventually as Executive Director of the agency.
Working at WOMAN INC was a wonderful experience, even with the usual ups and downs (especially financial) that come with working with any non-profit, but my experience in my role as Director of the Woman to Woman Domestic Violence Program is especially close to my heart. “Lesbian Domestic Violence” was a new and controversial topic at the time and WOMAN INC was one of 2 programs in the nation addressing this issue. It was difficult for the Feminist and Lesbian Feminist movement to accept that woman to woman domestic violence was an issue at all.In 1987, WOMAN INC sponsored the first large conference addressing Lesbian Domestic Violence- “Say the Words, Lesbian Violence”. It was a very exciting time. Just coming out as a Lesbian and acknowledging that power dynamics and “power over”, including Domestic violence/battering existed in Lesbian relationships (and was NOT the same as S/M) was a powerful political statement. Much of my time in this job was devoted to education and outreach. My co-workers and I were invited to speak both nationally and internationally on the subject of woman to woman domestic violence. I remember one of my main education points in discussing the differences between “heterosexual DV and woman to woman DV as “Everything is exactly the same — and everything is completely different (due to institutionalized homophobia and heterosexism). At the same time our Latina Program was in its beginnings and the multi lingual access program (MLAM) was in its first stages.
Please be understanding, this is a very condensed version of the politics, changes and underpinnings of WOMAN INC and the evolving feminist movement. I wanted to give an overview of my history with the agency. Many women of different cultures, histories and opinions were involved. This is my perspective.
It is true, we called it the LESBIAN DOMESTIC VIOLENCE PROGRAM for the first several years. Then moved to the WOMAN TO WOMAN DOMESTIC VIOLENCE PROGRAM to be more inclusive of Bisexual and Transgender women. This was a product of the times. We separated ourselves out as Lesbians as a very political act. To be visible when we had historically NOT been visible. It felt important at the time. The Latina program (we hadn’t even thought about Latinx as gender free nominator at the time) was separate. One impact of this was that if you were a Latina Lesbian you were “made” to choose whether you attended “Latina” groups or “Lesbian “groups. Any woman of color might have faced a similar choice. We were focused on visibility of all women, of Lesbians, and of the issue of Domestic Violence. We worked hard on diversity issues, but may have been impacted by not directing our awareness towards intersectionality. We were aware but perhaps not as articulate as the agency is today.
This is what I feel has changed and evolved at WOMAN INC and gives me a feeling of renewed hope. WOMAN INC has moved from a “gender oppression” framework to the concept of intersectionality. (I know I am oversimplifying). It seems like we have moved from emphasizing differences to gain visibility to understanding the interwoven connections of disparities and oppressions.
So yes, I felt a bit sad that there is no longer a specific WOMAN TO WOMAN DOMESTIC VIOLENCE PROGRAM, but as I said to the staff, that may be a wonderful, hopeful sign. Maybe the emphasis on separateness and oppression is no longer as needed and relevant. It feels like girls/ women/ people growing up today understand gender identity, sexuality, race, class in a more dynamic and fluid way. When I was active in the LDV movement I honestly NEVER thought that I would see the legalization of same sex marriage in my lifetime. I never saw Lesbians represented on TV. Now we appear regularly in mortgage company and Safeway commercials ( ! ) Sometimes it is hard to see, but society HAS moved forward.My bottom line is that I am so glad that WOMAN INC is still surviving and thriving, and on the cutting edge of political activism and change. I did not tell them at the time, but I almost burst into tears while meeting with the wonderful staff of WOMAN INC. Perhaps it sounds emotional but I felt like I came home – and not only that but found that the home fires were still burning with an activism and community that is still inspiring. Thank you so much for meeting with me and for inviting me to write this blog. I hope to continue to be involved!
– Jeanie Morrow, former W.O.M.A.N., Inc Executive Director