Sister Speak: More Than a Women’s Literary Zine!

Are you interested in unique stories, poems, photographs, and essays by JMU women?  Are you interested in learning facts about womanhood, women’s health, and women’s experiences?  Are you interested in sharing your own experiences with others?  If so, then Sister Speak’s literary zine is the place to look.

Recently, I had the awesome experience of sitting in on a Sister Speak meeting.

First and foremost, Sister Speak is a feminist literary zine, which focuses on works that examine women’s experiences and view the world through a feminist lens.  However, by participating in their group, even for just one night, I realized that the group had even more to offer than their compilation of JMU women’s works.

I wasn’t the only new face in Keezel G9 for the Tuesday night Sister Speak meeting, so Meredith Burns, the executive editor of the zine, suggested we introduce ourselves by giving our name and telling everyone the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to us! Obviously, this helped everyone get comfortable and ready for discussion right away.  After we exchanged embarrassing stories (my own concerning a little tumble I once took down the Richmond Coliseum stairs), I realized the need for comfort—this group of girls was interested in having real discussions about personal experiences, and everyone’s comfort and cooperation was necessary to facilitate it.

The discussion at this meeting was about sexual consent—defining it, sharing our experiences with it, both positive and negative, and about exploring all the huge gray areas surrounding and permeating it.  Consent was the topic of conversation because Sister Speak was hosting a brown bag lunch the next day on the topic.  The group had been asked to host a discussion in Taylor Hall during lunch to educate men and women on campus about sexual consent.

To prepare for Wednesday’s brown bag lunch, the group went through the workshop outline at the Tuesday night meeting.  To my delight, they let me participate completely!  We did a comfort exercise about body language—approaching each other from opposite directions, specifically looking for body language that signaled discomfort.  The exercise revealed that everyone shows their discomfort in varying ways, some more obvious than others, so it is important to recognize the feelings of others, even when they aren’t saying them out loud.

The next activity I participated in during the meeting was a sharing exercise, and this exercise was the most revealing.  We all wrote down one positive and one negative personal experience with sexual consent.  The experiences were anonymous, and when we traded we read each others experiences out loud and discussed them.  To my surprise, every single woman in the room had at least one negative experience with consent!  There were no exceptions.  The shared experience made me realize how important the issue of consent really is, especially on college campuses.

We discussed “what should you do & what would you do” scenarios about consent.  Several of these focused on scenarios that are particularly pertinent to the prevalent college “hook-up” culture.  One example: What should you do if a friend asks you not to let her leave a party with someone if she decides to drink?  While discussing these various scenarios we all realized how difficult situations concerning consent can be—not only because of alcohol, but also because of confusion, embarrassment, and peer-pressure.

I stayed after the meeting to discuss the blog with Meredith Burns and Katie O’Connell (Executive Editor and Managing Editor, respectively).  When I told them I was interested in writing about their organization, they were both on board and enthusiastic.   Like other women’s groups on campus, these women want nothing more than to get the word out on campus about what their organizations do!

Along with being a feminist literary zine, Sister Speak is involved with consciousness raising and women’s discussions, like their Consent workshop.  Their meetings are about more than organizing and planning their magazine—they also concern facilitating a place for women to share their experiences.  Burns said, “It is so important to talk about our issues because we share so many with other women.”

It is true, we accomplish so much by sharing experiences with each other and learning from one another—and that’s what this women’s organization is all about—whether the sharing takes place during Tuesday night meetings or on the pages of the Sister Speak zine!

**Sister Speak is interested in your work!  Submissions for the Spring 2010 issue are due on Friday, March 5.  You can send your art, photography, opinion and personal essays, prose, and poetry that examines women’s experiences or views the world through a feminist lens to

Also, if you are interested in joining Sister Speak, meetings take place in Keezell, room G9 at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday nights.


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