New Directions in Museum Accessibility

Violet Phillips

This article attempts to address and confront a number of issues within existing museum structures. While the Museum of Motherhood aspires to be a leader in championing women’s studies in a family-friendly environment, there is still much work to be done.

Gail Andersen is a museum consultant who’s been the director of the Mexican Museum, vice-president of Museum Management Consultations, chair of the department of museum studies at John F. Kennedy University, and is now a private museum consultant.

In 2002, she founded Gail Anderson & Associates to help museum leaders further transform their effects on community and global leadership. Her book, Mission Matters: Relevance and Museums in the 21st Century, addresses the ways in which museums can be social change agents.

While museums exist to preserve society, they can also show problems, like racism or sexism, as they exist. Showing the intersection between what has been and what could be, is part of what inspires people to create meaningful change. [3]

Art Works for Change Was founded in 2008, out of a desire for more meaningful change and also aims to use art to address social issues. It focuses on “human rights, social justice, gender equity, environmental stewardship and sustainability” And partners with local organizations. The organization’s philosophy sees artists as storytellers, to both reflect on past experiences and pave the way for better experiences in the future. [4]

As “writer, trainer and consultant” Anna Fathery wrote for MuseumNext:

“At their core, stories make us care. They connect us with people and places, even stimulating the release of a hormone usually expressed during intense bonding experiences, like childbirth, breastfeeding, and sex. This emotional connection is the reason stories are so powerful. As any advertiser knows, stories drive people to take action, whether that’s buying a product, gifting a donation, or making a difference in the world. From a marketing perspective, stories can help museums raise funds, encourage visits, and trigger sales. For instance, when the Tenement Museum in New York wrote about former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in a fundraising mailing it told a story about Roosevelt’s work in the local area. By connecting the teenage Roosevelt’s story with the Museum’s education programs, the call to action was obvious: donate money and you could inspire a new generation of young Eleanor Roosevelts” [5]

However, the storytelling experience currently curated in museums can be difficult for those with physical disabilities to access. People in wheelchairs usually use public transit to get around, and museums can be difficult to find from a bus stop or train station. Many museums also don’t have wheelchair ramps to help people get inside. It also can be hard for someone in a wheelchair to reach the resources provided, such as brochures.

Some museums are also lacking in Braille or audio descriptions that would help blind people access the exhibits, as well as sign language interpreters that would help deaf people access the exhibits. [6]

Also, as of 2015, 84% of museum staffers were white, and those who weren’t were often security guards or janitors. As of 2019, 85% of artists exhibited in major museums were white, and 87% were male. Historical museums rarely show the history of anyone who wasn’t a white man. Curators tend to agree that museums are important and should continue to be part of society, but should also expand to represent a more diverse society. [7]

Children are also less likely to enjoy museums, due to lack of engagement. Of course, many families would like to visit museums and bring their young children, and it could be a way for families to explore and learn together. Children are generally only willing to go to museums with a lot of interactive features. [8]

However, if done properly, museums can encourage children’s critical thinking skills, curiosity and creativity. [9] There are no good reasons why museums can’t make themselves enjoyable to children, who have a lot to learn, unless there are size constraints.

As Gail Andersen insists, museums are one of the most impactful ways to make sense of the past and future. Museums should be made accessible to as many people as possible, so that everyone can absorb the lessons about The past and future.

The current location of the MOM Art Annex in Florida requires additional funding so that it can implement special exhibits that are accessible to all, including those with disabilities, and expand our current space so that children may enjoy engaging, playful, and educational experiences (as we did during our time in New York City). Additionally, we pride ourselves on exhibits from multicultural perspectives. We welcome those of all races, nationalities, and ages to join us as board members, interns, and exhibitors.

Works cited

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Reinventing-Museum-Historical-Contemporary-Perspectives/dp/0759101701

http://linkedin.com/in/gail-anderson-6710575

[2] 1000 museums : museum quality fine art prints & custom framing. “How museums can lead the way for social change.” June 23, 2021. Online. Accessed February 10, 2021.https://www.1000museums.com/museum-activism/

[3] https://www.artworksforchange.org/our-story/

[4] museum next. “Why do stories matter to museums and how can museums become better storytellers?” July 7, 2019. Anna faherty. Accessed February 13, 2021. Online.

[5] museum next. “Making museums accessible to those with disabilities.” January 22, 2020. Goabaone montsho. Accessed February 13, 2021. Online.

[6] vox. “If museums want to diversify, they’ll have to change. A lot.” Constance Grady. November 18, 2020. Accessed February 13, 2021. Online.

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.vox.com/platform/amp/the-highlight/21542041/museums-diversity-guston-national-gallery-hiring

[7] “what do families with children need from a museum?” Kai-Lin wu. Accessed February 13, 2021. Online.

[8] world of illusions. “The educational benefits of taking kids to museums.” April 9, 2019. Accessed February 14, 2021. Online.

Women and the Wilderness

By Carla Ferris

This month’s Museum of Motherhood Ecofeminism research included the Women’s Wilderness Program and Early Native American women’s roles as hunters. As I ventured through the Women’s Wilderness website and associated articles, I reflected on my hiking days. This is when my church group and I blazed through on a ten-day hike through the upper Yosemite trails.

Our group was able to conquer the trail on top of El Capitan in Yosemite California.  I recall the strengthening training, and jogging events along the California coastal beach. I found my former training was very similar to the training the Women in the Wilderness practice, but nothing like the practices of Indigenous tribes in early American history. While contemporary hiking prep includes boots, plastic bags, sports bras, and sunblock with SPF of 30 +, these first peoples lived much closer to the land and did not require the kind of store-bought items modern day outdoor-types have come to count on, myself included.

In this final post for MOM, I am aiming to connect my modern-day nature experiences to the journal article, Female Hunter of Early America which references Native American women’s roles in the outdoors. In this article, Dr. Haas debates and shows evidence for females as hunters in Early America.  I cannot imagine a more different world than the Californian landscape I have come to expect and the assumptions and traditions I have grown up with in my lifetime. He asserts that some modern historians are now challenging previously held man-as-hunter theories. His labor division philosophy has gained new evidence for women’s roles as hunters. Dr. Haas reveals a young Native American female was found with a hunting tool kit in the Wilamaya Patjxa Native burial site. His findings demonstrate early-Native American women might have been large game hunters.

 As a Public History student, I was delighted to research and explore Ecofeminism concepts during my time at MOM. I am encouraged by the Women’s Wilderness program which continues to benefit young women’s growth, confidence, and leadership skills. I believe Dr. Haas’s article, The Female Hunter of Early America, has a valid stance that introduces a potential image-change with regard to woman’s roles. As my American Public University program is near completion, I am reaching the conclusion of my research goals. I have gained new knowledge of Native American, and Ecofeminism topics.  I appreciate the Museum of Motherhood lens throughout the Internship program and have learned so much through my experiences here.

This site contains outdoor skills, challenges and equipment for women and girls: https://www.womenswilderness.org/   

RESOURCES:

Science Advances 04 Nov 2020: Vol. 6, no. 45. Female Hunter of Early Americans https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/45/eabd0310

When Women Venture Outdoors Together https://www.womenswilderness.org/from-our-instructors/when-women-venture-outdoors-together

Photo by Pixabay.                                                                                                                                

LIBRARY FEATURES: The Big Let Down

By Violet Phillips

February is Black History Month! Here at MOM, we celebrate Black motherhood by kicking off our Library Features by highlighting the work of author and activist Kimberly  Seals Allers.

Kimberly is a graduate of Columbia  Graduate School of Journalism, executive director of Narrative Nation, inc., president and chief health communicator of  Shift Health Communication  Strategy and author Of “The Big Letdown—how Medicine, Business & Feminism Undermine Breastfeeding,” published in January 2017. [1] Recent accomplishments include a yelp-like app that fights racism from a public accountability perspective. Find out more here [LINK].

Kimberly Seals Allers is passionate about the ways motherhood intersects with race, class, and policy. [2] She had her first baby shortly after graduate school and was very anxious about birthing complications, that, as a black woman, she was statistically more likely to face. She felt her concerns were brushed off by the hospital workers, and then was inspired to invent strategies to improve birth and breastfeeding conditions in America.

 Since she kept hearing of more traumatic experiences from black and Latina women, she and her 13-year-old son decided to launch an app calledIrth , that helps people of color find prenatal doctors, birthing doctors, postpartum doctors and pediatricians, by showing reviews similar to Yelp. You can even search for reviews by the race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, or income of the reviewer, allowing users to make sure the medical professionals will be inclusive of their needs. Although currently only available in New York City, New Orleans, Sacramento, Detroit, Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia, she hopes it will eventually be launched nationwide. She also hopes it will grow to include fertility specialists and breast cancer doctors, and that it will inspire white women to take allyship.[3]

She also wrote The Big Letdown about how breastfeeding is stigmatized in ways that promote unhealthy baby formulas,  and how it relates to oversights in feminism and public policy. [4]

By the logic she uses, breastfeeding babies for the first six months of their lives has been proven to benefit their physical and mental health in many ways, including decreasing chances of disease and obesity. It is also proven to benefit the breastfeeder by lowering chances of past-partrum depression, increasing confidence, self-esteem and calmness, improve sense of connection with the child, and lower chances of cancer, diabetes and endometriosis. [5]

However, as women now work more than ever before, many mothers, especially black mothers, have been convinced that baby formulas are better, because they don’t take time away from work. Health care, daycare, and maternity leave have gotten less attention now that women can feed their babies through pumps and don’t need the time to breastfeed. [6]

In addition to the scheduling preference for formulas, breastfeeding in public is typically shamed, as most people have noticed. Even though breasts are commonly shown in advertising and media for straight men’s sexual interest, many people are uncomfortable seeing breasts used for an essential action. The association with sexuality causes anxiety, embarrassment and confliction about breastfeeding in public.

Studies  have proven that social status, level of education, and especially, amount of support from friends and family, all improve chances of making healthy infant-feeding decisions;but, even the majority of women who breastfeed still believe it’s wrong to do in front of men.[7] even in Australia, where there is a law banning discrimination against breast-feeding,  formula feeding is still more popular due to lack of knowledge on how to breastfeed properly, pressure to return to work, conflicting medical advice, isolation and lack of support. [9] Many argue that it’s a personal choice whether you breastfeed or formula feed, but I’m not sure it’s an informed choice, when so many people are unaware of the benefits of breastfeeding.

Feminism and sociology aim to change this by promoting normalization of female/reproductive body functions. Professionals in this field have aimed to show how much women and breasts are seen as sexual objects, designed to tempt men and boys, [11], and create changes towards breasts being seen as a simple body part. As they might argue, the stigma against breastfeeding is part of the issue of women, transgender people and children being seen as less “natural” and suitable for public exposure.

As Allers herself argues “[t]asking about breastfeeding means talking about women’s bodies, feminism, policy gaps, commercial interests and physician education.” [12] She, and others in similar fields, aim for breastfeeding parents to have support from their partners, family and friends, and eventually, improve birthing conditions, children being treated equally and adequate muttering leaves. [Tap on the image below to read more about Kimberly].

This project is made possible through the MOM Internship Project. To find out more about Violet Phillips or to read about our interns, go to our Internship Page here at MOM [LINK].

Citations

[1] LinkedIn. “Kimberly seals allers.” https://www.linkedin.com/in/kimberlysealsallers

[2] the riveter. “Kimberly seals allers: contributor.” https://theriveter.co/voice/author/kimberly-seals-allers/

[3] New York family. “Kimberly seals allers: fighting to lower black and brown maternal mortality rates.” October 1. 2020. Donna Duarte-Ladd.

[4] Amazon. “The big letdown: how medicine, business, and feminism undermine breastfeeding.” https://www.amazon.com/Big-Letdown-Medicine-Undermine-Breastfeeding/dp/1250026962

[5] Cleveland Clinic. “The benefits of breastfeeding for baby & for mom.” https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/15274-the-benefits-of-breastfeeding-for-baby–for-mom

[6] the new republic. “The war over breastfeeding.” November 23, 2015. Kathryn Joyce.

https://newrepublic.com/article/124348/war-breastfeeding

[7] international breastfeeding journal. “It’s okay to breastfeed in public but….” June 11, 2019. Athena Sheehan, Karleen Gribble & Virginia Schmied.

[8] the pump. “A surprising number of people still find breastfeeding in public inappropriate, survey reveals.” June 2019. Stephanie grassullo.

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.thebump.com/news/breastfeeding-in-public-aeroflow-survey/amp

[9] multicultural center for women’s health. “Why breastfeeding is a feminist issue.”

[10] feminist current. “Why are women being erased from breastfeeding advocacy?” August 21, 2019. Nicole Jameson.

[11] thought I. “Explaining cultural taboos on breastfeeding in public.” September 30,2018. Nicki Lisa cole, p.h.d.

https://www.thoughtco.com/why-breastfeeding-in-public-is-taboo-302623

[12] Facebook. “Kimberly seals allers.” November 8, 2018.

https://www.facebook.com/iamKSealsAllers

Photo credie: By Anton Nosik – TheKid, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15481910

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Why You Don’t Need High-Heels During COVID – And Other Things

By Martha Joy Rose

I’ve always thought high-heeled shoes were ridiculous. Pretty women teetering on stilettos, inviting bunions, rushing about, that kind of beauty hurts. As it turns out, males in the Persian Empire first wore elevated soles in the 10th Century. The term, killer heels exemplify the fact that warriors used them to grip stirrups while riding ponies into battle. High-heels, as we know them today, weren’t invented until 1954, epitomizing an era when women were viewed as lovely vapid accessories.

2020 was not a good year for shoes. 2021 is not looking too hot either. Social activities have been curtailed. City streets are empty. COVID has presented unique challenges. While some hunker down, essential workers keep our country going. Teachers, first responders, delivery people, and health care practitioners (to name a few) perform the tasks necessary so that schools and emergency services are accessible.

I am a mother whose kids are grown. Under usual circumstances, our family spends lots of time together. We share vacation-time in Florida, gathering in the kitchen- cooking big home-style meals, engaging in loud, argumentative discussions about sports and philosophy. Now, life is weird. We wander around in slippers or even barefoot, wearing pajamas from the waist down, doing business on laptops, and Zooming with each other on weekends.

My daughter lives on the other side of the continent. She graduated nursing school this spring earning a residency in the emergency room of a hospital in Southern California. We have never been separated for more than a few months. Now, we are entering our second year of distanced communication. I mail her gifts. Vitamin packs, including zinc, D, and elderberry. She hustles through twelve-hour shifts. Working conditions have deteriorated over the course of many months. The entire hospital is overwhelmed and understaffed.

As the healthcare system topples around her, my daughter continues to push hard. She tells me about the chaos, the missing PPE, and the hallways filled with people. She is a warrior and I know she went to school because she believes in social justice and healthcare for all. Her uniform includes scrubs, gloves, a visor, and a mask. On her feet are white rubber clogs.

This New Year’s Eve, I was hoping for a new chapter in the story. Surely the release of the COVID vaccine and the end of the current political regime would bring a brighter day. I went to sleep at midnight, waking in the early morning to a group text from my daughter, sent to the entire family. The keys lit up at 6 AM, reminding me that sometimes things get worse for a time before they get better.

She texted: 2 firecracker victims, 4 stabbings, and my friend is intubated with COVID. Then six hours later she followed with, Meth lab explosion, two more COVID, two deaths. Finally, at the end of her shift, with nine understaffed workers in a fifty-bed emergency room, after only two months into her new job, she phoned exhausted in tears.

Optimism is hard to come by right now. I have to remind myself, the women in my family are warriors. As a proud feminist who has passed some of these qualities along, I hope her stamina for social change will stay intact, even in the midst of a crushing pandemic. It is challenging to be optimistic when metaphorically the house is on fire. I set my sites on the future, yearning to hug my beautiful daughter again. Then, perhaps my sense of humor will return, and joyously we can kick up our well-heeled souls once again.

Photo: Shoe credit SPERA

BIO: Martha Joy Rose is a scholar, artist, and activist. She founded MaMaPaLooZa, after touring with her band Housewives On Prozac (1998-2008) and began work on the Museum of Motherhood (MOM) in 2003. The MOM Art Annex is currently in St. Petersburg, Florida with ongoing artist in residence initiatives and exhibits focused on elucidating the art, science, and history of mothers, fathers, and families. Rose teaches sociology at Manhattan College and holds an advanced degree in mother studies from CUNY, GC. Rose is the NOW-NYC Susan B. Anthony awardee (2009), has lectured extensively and served as founder of the Journal of Mother Studies. She has been organizing the international Academic MOM Conference each year since 2005. She is a co-editor of the Music of Motherhood (Demeter Press (2018), a contributor to the Encyclopedia of Motherhood (Sage 2011), and her work has been featured in the Mom Egg Review to name a few. She is currently at work on a memoir.

Our Bodies Ourselves – The MOM Library

By Violet Phillips

Our Bodies, Ourselves was written by The Boston Women’s Health Collective in 1970, with the goal of promoting women and girl’s health, reproductive rights, and sexuality. The knowledge presented was radical for its day, illuminating topics as varied as masturbation and abortion.

To quote the Los Angeles Times, “Forty years ago, a copy of “OBOS” on the shelf signified you were a certain type of woman — curious, and unashamed of it. In control. You were not the high school junior who was clueless about sex and pregnancy and missed six months of classes due to “mono.”[1]

Three years after Our Bodies was published, abortion in America became legal with the passing of Roe Vs Wade.[2] Sex education programs in classrooms had been gaining in traction in schools since the 1960s.[3] However, controversy about girl’s bodies and who controls them has continued to be a topic of debate and public discourse.

Even in 2020, there is still growing pressure for women to get plastic surgery and sexual images shown on media pressure teenagers to engage in certain behaviors. While there have been many systemic changes, teenage girls’ vulnerability to STDs, ongoing pressure to have sex at a young age, and unrealistic beauty standards haven’t changed enough. Society continues to evolve, but when it comes to recognizing individual’s personal choices there is still room to be more inclusive.

Early versions of Our Bodies, Ouselves did not include information about transgender identities, environmental concerns, or mental health advice. However, the writers have since expanded their knowledge. In 2020, Our Bodies, Ourselves launched a website. Today, they give well-researched advice, on health, sexuality, and wellness for women, girls and also transgender people.

Throughout the years, The Boston Women’s Collective has inspired health care policies, research on women’s health, feminist activism, feminist studies, health care, and health activism. Prior to the publication of this seminal piece of literature, in many parts of the world, sexuality as well as reproductive rights had many negative associations.[4]

I have grown up in an era of increased knowledge. Gone are the early-day doctors who focused on women’s reproductive value, and used “hysteria” as a diagnosis, which minimized women’s emotional wellbeing and invalidated women’s experiences.[5] My grandmother nearly died from a botched illegal abortion in the early 60s. The original copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves in my bookcase was inherited from her. Because of the work of the Boston Women’s Collective, I am privileged to enjoy a more positive outlook than many women from my grandmother’s age.

Access to the internet in 2021 connects us at unprecedented levels. One recent novel titled, Conversations  Between Friends published in 2017, by Sally Rooney, discusses the topic of endometriosis. The main character gets diagnosed at 21 years old. The disease is often undiagnosed and rarely mentioned in the media, even though it’s been known to have serious effects on mental health, and even on education. Endometriosis is addressed on the new Our Bodies Ourselves website.[6]

Despite a prolific and sometimes superficial “wellness culture” that includes dubiously helpful information, there is a forty-year-plus history of Our Bodies Ourselves which gives people verified information that is dedicated to addressing topics as wide-ranging as motherhood, health, reproductive-control, and emotional well-being. That is a good thing!

CITATIONS


[1] https://www.thedailybeast.com/our-bodies-ourselves-turns-40-why-the-womens-sexual-health-book-still-matters. Our bodies, ourselves’ turns 40: why the women’s sexual health book still matters.” Jessica bennettt. Daily beast. September 30,  2011. Online. Accessed January 9,2021.

[2] https://www.history.com/topics/womens-rights/roe-v-wade#:~:text=Sources-,Roe%20v.,procedure%20across%20the%20United%20States.&text=Wade%2C%20abortion%20had%20been%20illegal,since%20the%20late%2019th%20century. Accessed January 11, 2021.

[3] https://www.plannedparenthood.org/uploads/filer_public/da/67/da67fd5d-631d-438a-85e8-a446d90fd1e3/20170209_sexed_d04_1.pdf. Planned Parenthood accessed January, 11, 2021

[4] The legacy of Our bodies, O

urselves– and how one book can change your entire life.” Laura lambert. Brightly. Online. Accessed January 9, 2021.

[5] The female problem: how male bias In medical trials ruined women’s health.” Gabrielle Jackson. The guardian. November 13, 2019. Online. Accessed January 8, 2021.

[6] https://www.ourbodiesourselves.org/book-excerpts/health-article/endometriosis/. Accessed January 11, 2021

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ABOUT

Meet our newest intern, English major Violet Phillips from Mills College, Oakland, CA. Read more about Violet on our Internship page. We look forward to her ongoing reports from the MOM Library, posted here throughout the next few months.

ANNUAL REPORT FROM THE DIRECTOR

The Motherhood Foundation Inc. (MFI) funds ongoing activities and exhibitions at the Museum of Motherhood (MOM). We are grateful for the financial support we received this year. This year’s anonymous grant awarded funds to help support acquisitions, education, art residencies, and scholarship. MOM has not allowed onsite visitors since the COVID-19 pandemic in early March 2020, however, our activities continue.

In February we built and installed a Women’s History Exhibit at USF (University of Southern Florida) in Tampa at the Women and Gender Studies Center celebrating the centennial of American women’s right to vote. That exhibit, titled The Founding Mothers, was archived and is currently available for viewing online at our website. As part of that initiative, one of our students recorded highlights of the feminist waves so that visually impaired visitors could access the information via audio. The website was also redesigned and rebuilt over the course of 2019.

Our internship program mentored eight student interns including three international students who were guided to create content on a wide-ranging series of topics including film and feminist perspectives, literature reviews from our library focused on historical perspectives as they pertain to women, and gendered labor to name a few. Some of these students came from Reproductive Justice classes at USF and some discovered us through Google search as they sought out opportunities for remote internships in a museum setting.

Online exhibits are ongoing in partnership with Procreate Project and the Mom Egg Review (England & USA). MOM also assisted with the promotion and launch of Maternal Arts Magazine (International) in 2020. The Journal of Mother Studies (JourMS) featured the work of ten authors along with two book reviews and was published online on September 1, 2020.

PROGRAMMING: As 2021 approaches with new challenges and opportunities, MOM seeks to reactivate our ongoing Residency Program (by application) onsite at the MOM Art Annex in St. Petersburg, Florida. This program encourages scholars, artists, and activists to apply for the Residency Program onsite for a two-week opportunity for personal and professional development within the interdisciplinary subject of mother studies. (This project is currently funded by volunteer labor).

DEVELOPMENT: MOM is an art, science, and history center. Goals for the MOM Art Annex in St. Pete include purchasing an additional out-building, creating a foundation pad for the building onsite, and outfitting the building for arts activities and art storage ($20,000). In addition to adding an out-building, an existing shed needs attention. Goals include outfitting the shed with AC, finishing the interior walls, moving historical items that are currently inside the main house to this exterior location and installing plexiglass so that visitors can safely access the exhibit without jeopardizing any of the curated materials on display ($18,000). Finally, we aim to create a dozen outdoor waterproof plexi-glass posters to be installed along the fence perimeter of the Annex ($3,000).

ACQUISITIONS: MOM Art Annex aims to acquire a life-size birthing simulator mannequin ($4,295) an antique incubator, (prices vary), exterior sculptures for the sculpture garden (prices vary according to individual artists), as well funds to hire an app developer for MOM.

Wishing you heath and happiness in the new year,

Martha Joy Rose, Director