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Women’s History and the Red Tent Movement: Provocative Questions at Georgia Screenings

by Jayleigh Lewis

From Latin American countries to college campuses, March 2015 was a lively month for screenings of the Red Tent movie, Things We Don’t Talk About. On March 5th, the film came to Harvard University’s Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, while on the 12th a screening was hosted by the Feminist Collective of Northeastern Illinois University. A hemisphere away, the Parque de la Herradura Barrio Miraflores in Cali, Colombia, was the site of another screening on March 15; on March 28th the movie came to Talca, Chile, and the Casa de la Luna.

It is fitting that for Women’s History Month (celebrated every March in the U.S.) the movie traveled so widely and was embraced by those seeking to preserve and understand the story of the role of women in the world. The Red Tent movement continues to grow, to define its place in women’s history. It both complements and enhances other women’s movements of the present and past. The movie, as a readily accessible icon of the movement, inspires questions that help to clarify the unique contributions of the Red Tent.

March 27 in Canton, GA, hosted by the Youniquely Woman Red Tent community

March 27 in Canton, GA, hosted by the Youniquely Woman Red Tent community

Dr. Isadora, the filmmaker, attended two screenings in Georgia this past March, at which these questions took center stage. The first was on March 27 in Canton, GA, hosted by the Youniquely Woman Red Tent community. This dedicated group of women has been meeting monthly for about a year in a permanent Red Tent located in the home of Crystal Starshine. Since Canton is a rural community located in the hill country north of Atlanta, some women have a commute of over an hour! This screening, which included a potluck meal and a Red Tent talking circle, was attended by about 10 women; overall, it was relaxed and low-key. The talking circle was an opportunity for honest, open conversation and healing. Dr. Isadora particularly enjoyed the informal feel of the post-screening Q + A—instead of standing in front of the group as a presenter, she sat in a circle with the women and engaged in an intimate, collaborative conversation about the movie and the Red Tent. (An interesting anecdote: Dr. Isadora dreamed about attending this screening a few days before her arrival. When she shared this with Crystal, who, among other things, is a professional psychic, the two speculated that perhaps they had been unconsciously in communication prior to the event. A possible reason for the comfort and ease Dr. Isadora felt?)

March 28, in Atlanta. The First Existentialist Congregation of Atlanta

March 28, in Atlanta. The First Existentialist Congregation of Atlanta

The second Georgia screening took place the next day, March 28, in Atlanta. The First Existentialist Congregation of Atlanta, an independent philosophical and spiritual community, co-hosted and provided the space. Also co-hosting were Charis Books (one of the first feminist bookstores in the U.S.) and Charis Circle, the educational and nonprofit arm of the bookstore. This screening was well-attended, with about 50 people present. Two of the attendees, Mary Ann and Drea, are good friends of Dr. Isadora and longtime supporters of the Red Tent movie; they were instrumental in arranging this screening. (They also partnered with Dr. Isadora a couple years ago to host the largest screening to date of Things We Don’t Talk About: it was sold out with approximately 250 women present!) Mary Ann is actually featured in the movie, speaking about her choice not to have children.

This screening’s audience was composed largely of politically active women, many of whom had been involved in consciousness raising groups in the 60s and 70s. They were keenly interested in issues of feminism and how feminist values are represented in the movie. Some tough, thought-provoking questions were asked during the Q + A. Dr. Isadora was kept on her toes as the questions brought out the scholar in her and invited everyone present to truly think about issues such as diversity within the Red Tent movement. Is the movement truly welcoming to all women everywhere, or does it only (perhaps unconsciously) reach a subset of women? Are the women portrayed in the movie truly representative of the larger Red Tent movement? Whose stories aren’t being told? Does the Red Tent movement acknowledge its debt to other women’s movements, particularly those of the past and the work of older feminists?

These questions can be answered in many ways, and the larger discussion is ongoing. On this particular occasion, the women and Dr. Isadora, through honest discussion, concluded that the Red Tent movement is indeed growing in diversity and that it crosses many racial, social, and religious boundaries. The movie was filmed in 2009 and 2010 and provides a snapshot of the movement during those years. Between then and now, the movement has spread and now embraces, for example, women who primarily speak Spanish or French (the movie is subtitled in those languages) and whose native cultures are very different from the English-speaking Caucasian women who are well represented in the movie.

While the film does not overtly address connections between the Red Tent movement and the larger women’s movement, since its focus is on the Red Tent, these connections very much exist, and Dr. Isadora believes that Red Tents represent what women want now. Each wave of feminism brought with it much-needed changes in women’s lives, sometimes in an attempt to rebalance the effects of previous changes. We are now in the third wave of feminism, when women are realizing that the stress of “having it all” (family, work, etc.) is causing them to become alienated from themselves and each other. The Red Tent, Dr. Isadora believes, brings women back to themselves and brings back women’s community.

What do you think about these crucial questions? If you have seen the Red Tent movie, do you think it accurately represents women and women’s communities? How would you add your voice to the discussion?

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January and February Red Tents and Movie Screenings: Warmth and Community in the Midst of Winter

by Jayleigh Lewis

Dr. Isadora, filmmaker of the Red Tent movie, Things We Don’t Talk About, resumed Red Tent hosting and film screening attendance in January and February 2015, after a brief hiatus. As she reconnected with the women of her local Chicago community and traveled to Milwaukee for a screening co-organized by a Midwest Women’s Herbal Conference attendee, screenings were also taking place in other parts of the country and world.

Of particular note were the screenings in Las Vegas, Nevada, on January 25, and in Coyhaique, Chile, on February 7. The former took place at the Sophia Center for Goddess Study, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating men and women about contemporary Goddess traditions. It was well-attended; Dr. Isadora would have been there if not for her prior commitment on that date to the Chicago Red Tent. The latter screening took place at a Chilean women’s festival, Encuentro Ser Mujeres en Patagonia, held at the Centro Cultural Coyhaique. Approximately 300 women attended the festival, reflecting the explosion of interest in Red Tents among women in Latin American countries over the past six months to a year. Since Things We Don’t Talk About is subtitled in Spanish, the film is well-suited to be an introduction to the Red Tent movement in these parts of the world!

On January 25, Dr. Isadora hosted a Red Tent in her Chicago home. She transformed her dining room into a red fabric-draped space which was filled to maximum capacity by the approximately 15 women who attended. Many of the women brought their children; Dr. Isadora makes it a point to welcome moms who can’t always manage to get a babysitter but still need time and space away from their ordinary lives. (One advantage of this is that everyone gets a chance to hold the babies!)

Red Tent Chicago

The event was “loose and flowing,” a time for women to talk and be together in whatever ways they wished. Embodying her commitment to giving back to her community and to honoring the women who show up, Dr. Isadora offered foot rubs to all. She also bonded with the eight-year-old daughter of a friend while painting the little girl’s nails with sparkly polish. It was a gentle and nourishing midwinter gathering.

The February 7 Milwaukee, WI, film screening, which took place at the 5757 Spa Salon, had a similar light and flowing feel. Liz and Cathy were the organizers. Cathy, who works at the salon, had attended the Midwest Women’s Herbal Conference last June and had seen the Red Tent movie there. She happened to have been sitting between a woman in her 80s and a young mother with a baby, and had an inspired moment when she realized that the Red Tent was needed by all generations. After that, she was determined to bring it to the women in her local community.

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The salon, a former doctor’s office, does not have many large spaces (although, in each of its many small rooms, unique inspirational sayings are featured, reminding clients to look for beauty within). In order to clear a space large enough for the screening, the merchandise storage area (which had originally been the waiting room) needed to be emptied, a process which took hours of work. But it was worth it when the women showed up. The event was sold out with approximately 20 women in attendance (including one woman who had driven two hours from Chicago and was glad to find out from Dr. Isadora that there is a Chicago Red Tent community!).

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The post-screening Red Tent, initially slated to last an hour and a half, stretched on for almost three hours; the women did not want to leave! Three activity options were available—henna body painting, chakra aromatherapy, and angel card readings—and in between “appointments” women relaxed, talked, and ate chocolate-covered strawberries in the Red Tent.

Dr. Isadora engaged several women in thought-provoking conversation during this time, bringing to life the spirit of Things We Don’t Talk About by talking about the things women don’t usually talk about! One woman, a nurse at a midwifery clinic, discussed what she knows about infertility and overcoming the fear of having children. Another woman, a salon owner and hairstylist for 30 years, who had been brought to tears by the film, told Dr. Isadora what had so moved her: the depiction onscreen of nonsexual intimate touch. She knows through experience how powerful this kind of touch can be, how it can generate instant trust. When women come to her to get their hair styled, they are often initially uncomfortable with the risk involved in changing their appearance. She has learned to subtly reassure them by unobtrusively massaging their shoulders as they discuss what they want—and thus what was a tension-filled experience becomes a healing experience.

Another conversation touched on a little-discussed aspect of menstruation. Some cultures have menstrual rituals that help to direct the intense energy of this time. Native American women who are menstruating enter moon lodges, because they are seen as too powerful to be part of mundane life; they need to be able to concentrate on ceremony and dreaming. The mikvah is a ritual bath taken by Jewish women that serves as a type of spiritual cleansing and reorientation to the ordinary world after they have finished menstruating. For some women, the Red Tent is a menstrual ritual that can help support and anchor them while they are bleeding. One woman offered the opinion that when women become bloated, “bitchy,” and depressed around the time of their menstruation, it is because they are carrying unresolved grief around the loss of the egg that is passing out of them, grief over the unexpressed potential for life the egg represents. If a woman feels this way, and wants a safe space to get in touch with this inner truth that might otherwise go unacknowledged, the Red Tent as menstrual ritual could be the perfect container for its expression.

Truth and trust were shared, bonds were strengthened, and sacred time was enjoyed during these recent Red Tent gatherings. And more are coming next month! To see a listing of upcoming screenings (including those Dr. Isadora will be attending), go here. If you don’t see one for your area, perhaps you are being called to host one?

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