Alexandra Brodsky is one of our newest contributors to the site. She’s one out of three winners in our first ever blogging contest– So You Think You Can Blog. She recently graduated from Yale and started work at a Planned Parenthood affiliate in Zambia. We’re pretty big fans of hers here at the site. And we have been for awhile. In 2011, we wrote about Alexandra and how she helped bring a Title IX complaint against Yale. It resulted in a serious restructuring of the school’s anti-sexual violence policies and programs.
She got her feminist blogging start with Yale’s online feminist magazine Broad Recognition. She also co-ran the school’s center for public service and social justice, and performed with a poetry group. Her most transformative work experience was at Justice Now, a feminist prison abolitionist legal services non-profit in Oakland.
When she’s not working towards queering reproductive justice, and supporting transformative, non-carceral resistance to violence, she’s also convincing her new puppy, “half Weimaraner, half devil,” to stop biting her.
And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five, with Alexandra Brodsky:
Anna Sterling: When did you decide you were feminist?
Alexandra Brodsky: I don’t have a clear “aha!” moment when I started identifying myself as a feminist. From a young age I had this playground stubbornness that I should get to do everything the boys got to do: sexism just didn’t make sense. It wasn’t until college, though, that I really understood how high the stakes were and how personally important the movement was to me. I remember sitting in one of those consent education workshops during freshman year orientation, trying to stay cool so as not to scare off my new friends, but I just couldn’t not respond to the boys who insisted that if a woman initiates a hook-up with a man, she’s obligated to sleep with him even if she says “no.” I realized then, “Well, I guess there’s no escaping this. I guess this is my fight.”
AS: Why did you decide to work at Planned Parenthood? Why is queering reproductive justice so important?
AB: I knew I wanted to work with a reproductive health org in Zambia this year; international aid is complicated and ethically messy and has a terrible colonial history, but I hoped to figure out early in my career whether there was a way that I could contribute abroad responsibly (verdict is still out). I applied to work for Planned Parenthood’s affiliate here because I understood how the organization worked in the U.S., but wanted to see how strategy and services change in a very different setting: Zambia is facing different health challenges and is generally much more conservative.
My time here has been another lesson in the urgency of queering reproductive justice. To me this means recognizing that sex/relationships/intimacy take many forms that vary along innumerable axes, including but not limited to the gender make-up of partnerships–and health services and the law have to be responsive to these differences. In Lusaka repro justice work there’s a lot of focus on young, heterosexual woman (helping them plan their pregnancies, preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV if necessary) but, like in the U.S., other communities with equally pressing needs are overlooked. I recently learned from some peer educators at a local LGBTQ rights org how hard it is to find barrier protection other than condoms. Same-sex sex is punishable by 14 years in prison: how do you get dental dams through customs then?
AS: What recent news story made you want to scream?
AB: I had a lot of trouble reading and writing about the 11-year-old gang-rape victim from Texas. Both the crime and the defense attorney’s victim-blaming strategy were just so awful, but we also know that people in Texas prisons are at tremendous risk for rape themselves. The truth is that we just don’t have the legal framework and infrastructure to ensure justice in this case.
AS: What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge facing feminism today?
AB: Oh man. Well, obviously there are a lot of policy areas that need our work, but in a more fundamental, mission-refining sense, I think we need to define our own aims without regard to what critics and politicians tell us is “possible.” Right now we’re so caught up in resisting this conservative backlash that it’s hard to even think about what our next really ambitious steps should be. I think that, toward that end, there’s tremendous power in utopian imagination. What would a truly feminist world look like? Let’s fight for that vision, not just the Dems’ platform.
AS: Who is your favorite fictional heroine and who are your heroines in real life?
AB: This is definitely a weird choice, but I think fictional versions of Queen Elizabeth. I don’t really know much about her as a real person, so maybe she supported all sorts of terrible, imperialist policies, but I feel like I spent my whole childhood reading Elizabethan historical fiction (I can’t be the only one) and in those books she was just such a BAMF. In real life I’m inspired by loud women who refuse to back down, whether they’re “professional feminists,” grassroots organizers, academics, or ladies who yell at misogynists at parties. I also (cue the corny music) try to live like my mom–who seems to sustain herself by giving to others–and my friend Marina Keegan. She died this past May but held limitless ambitions for herself, her politics, and her friends.
AS: You’re going to a desert island and get to take one food, one drink and one feminist. What do you pick?
AB: When I was a kid my family used to routinely debate what one food could keep you alive longest–I have no idea why–so I feel very prepared for this question. I’d bring a veggie pizza, since you get all your food groups, Fresca (don’t judge), and I’d invite Margaret Atwood because she’d tell really good stories to pass the time.