A Feminist You Should Know: Spotlight on Mwende Katwiwa!
Recently I sat down with the lovely and talented Mwende Katwiwa — a.k.a. FreeQuency, a spoken word artist, recent recipient of the Feminist You Should Know Award, and senior at Tulane University. Ms. Katwiwa is 22 and double majoring in Political Economy with International Perspectives, and African & African Diaspora studies. Originally from Kenya, she came to New Orleans after graduating high school to pursue service with the AmeriCorps program City Year, prior to enrolling at the University of Chicago. However, after immersing herself in the city, Katwiwa realized that engaging communities and contributing to sustainable change would take a lot longer than one year — so, she applied to Tulane and has since worked her way into different social change circles both on and off campus. Currently she is a member of WhoDatPoets and Slam New Orleans (NOLA's championship-winning spoken word team). She also serves on on the executive board of The Black Student Union, at which post she chairs The Tulane Black Arts Festival (February 17th to the 23rd). In addition to putting most 22 year olds to shame with her glowing C.V., Katwiwa is well known around Tulane's campus as an inspirational, intelligent, down-to-earth, and all-around-super-cool lady. She was kind enough to share a bit of her story with me:
What initially attracted you to the Spoken Word medium?
My mom (who is the coolest lady in the world, the more I remember all the things she's done I'm like “aw yeah that was my mom!") does a lot of work with community engagement and activism,and she took me to my first spoken word show by a group called 2050 which I later joined. Before then, I though I hated poetry because it didn't say anything. Then here I was at this show where every single person was using their voice to say something meaningful in a poem. I had never had poetry presented to me in that way and I was so captivated by it. I happened to live in a community that supported youth arts and so I was able to join in pretty quickly.
What are some sources of inspiration for you?
My parents are first generation immigrants who came here and worked their way to the top. They came here on student visa's as graduate students and now they're tenured professors. How could you not admire them? If there is one thing that really does encourage me to keep doing things it’s just looking back on where my mom and dad came from to where they are today. If they can do that, I can do more because I came from them.
Any other projects you have going on right now?
I teach poetry after school and social justice at Akili Academy here in New Orleans. I love it, I really love working with kids, they're just so hungry for knowledge and when you talk with them you have to be careful about what it is your instilling in them. I like that because it really keeps me accountable for things.
I'm also a producer for the Vagina Monologues, (if you can't tell [there's] this theme of arts and activism...), I really do believe in the power of art to connect different groups of people and give voices to people who would otherwise be silenced. With the Vagina Monologues it’s kind of around the same idea but now focused on marginalized women. One of my reasons for becoming a producer this year instead of being a cast member, which I've been for the past two years, was to make the production more intersectional and more inclusive of all kinds of women, whether those are women of color, queer women, trans women — all women.
What is really cool about the organization that named me the Feminist You Should Know is they encourage women’s initiatives, so I'm using that to try and throw support to some groups on this campus that have never had it before. For example, we have a pretty active pro-life group on our campus but [had] a much less vocal pro-choice scene until this semester. I recently started a 1 in 3 chapter on Tulane’s campus, and there is a lot going on in terms of reproductive rights in Louisiana so it is a perfect time to start and build a college coalition on that.
There is a performing arts showcase TONIGHT from 8-10pm in the Kendall Cram Room of the LBC on Tulane's campus featuring Sunni Patterson and Mwende.
--Interview by Olive Henzel
Images courtesy of Mwende Katwiwa
The Other Side of Sex
I interviewed a friend of mine who is a dominatrix, because I was curious about whether she finds her job empowering and what made her get into it. She was kind enough to answer my questions candidly, providing insight into a world I know relatively nothing about.
1. How did you get into being a dominatrix?
I've always been a pervert. When I moved to New York, I pretty much immediately started going to burlesque shows, which are closely tied into local fetish parties. I was always kinky and had a rough sex life that went far beyond what my friends were doing, but I got my first taste of really beating someone up for fun in the play areas at those parties. Then I started modeling nude, which led to a stint doing lesbian and solo fetish porn, and when I answered an ad to do a film for my current dungeon's website, they hired me as a Switch (professionally Dominant and submissive, sometimes but not always in the same session). After I established that I'm a shitty, bratty submissive who can't keep my mouth shut when big stupid guys yell in my face, I went full-on Domme.
2. Were you intrigued by it beforehand--what made you do it?
Always. First and foremost, I'm an artist-- I've always drawn fucked up, dark shit. No one's surprised that this is where I ended up. As for what made me do it, I'm not going to say the money had no part in it; but there are other things I could have done for money. I actually really like the job. People tell me their deepest secrets, even more than they tell their therapists, best friends, and wives. I have a constant crystal clear window into people's brains. It's great material for my fetish art- go into work, get paid, get inspired, draw stuff, sell the art. Profit, profit, profit!
3. Did it match your expectations?
I don't work in a huge dungeon. We have no cool features or huge equipment like a St. Andrew's Cross or a medical room or anything, which is a bit of a disappointment when I hear about my friends in their big, fully loaded places. The difference is that they have to work long shifts and I only have to go in when I have a client (and I get paid more). I prefer that, for the most part, so it's worth the exchange for now. As long as I have a punishment chair and an array of ropes and paddles and other knickknacks, I can make it work. As for the clients, they matched my expectations in every way.
4. What's the average time in a dungeon like?
It depends on the client. Sometimes I just sit there and we have a normal conversation about life- people will pay 200 dollars an hour to listen to me talk about my everyday life. Other times, I walk in wearing head to toe latex and spend the next hour yelling and hitting and punching and kicking and spitting without coming out of character, even at the end when the session is over and I grab the bloody pathetic pulp of a man by his hair and try to throw him down the stairs to get him out of my sight. I get a lot of sessions with guys who just want to suck feet for a whole hour. Some want to smell my armpits or act like babies or eat my used toilet paper. Some want me to wear a frumpy dress and be a diaper changing Mommy who swaddles and breastfeeds them. It's a mixed bag, there is no average.
5. Is it overtly sexual-- ie dildos etc, or is it mostly just guys who want to be verbally abused and whipped?
I don't do dildo stuff because it's technically illegal and I don't really care for it. I can instruct guys to penetrate themselves with dildos, but I won't usually do it for them. Almost all of them jerk off during the session, so yeah, it gets pretty sexual; but I absolutely never touch a penis unless I'm torturing it. That said, I have used my hands to make a man ejaculate... With sandpaper :) Clients are not allowed to touch my vulva, anus, mouth, or breasts, and they need to ask permission before touching or worshipping any other part of my body.
6. Do you find it empowering?
I guess I find it intellectually empowering... knowing more about what really goes on in people's heads than most. I ask my clients a lot of questions about what drives them, where their fetishes originated, exactly what makes them tick and why, et cetera. It's a kind of honesty that not a lot of people get to hear. I guess it empowers me as a woman in that I can get paid to do this job that no one would pay a man to do. It's cool to just be some ratty little girl who can force a grown man to drive in from Jersey to buy me a candy bar and bring it to my building at 2am for no reason.
7. Is it easy to get taken advantage of?
It's easy to get taken advantage of if you're naturally passive or even a little naive about men. When I was a professional submissive, I'd occasionally have group sessions with other submissive girls. I saw a lot of shit. Guys will just stick a dick in your mouth and expect you to keep quiet; they'll go as far as they can until you tell them to stop. You'd be surprised by how many girls don't know how to tell a guy when to stop or when they're uncomfortable.
When I got hired at my current place, it was me and one other girl coming in for the interview. I was told that I'd be going into "training". We were tied up, bent over, and gagged. No real instruction was being given so I was immediately suspicious about the nature of this "training". The other girl had previously expressed to me that she was naturally extremely passive and rarely spoke up. She kept glancing over and giving me uncomfortable eyes like she didn't know what to do- we were both confused as to what was going on. Our boss took off his pants and began jerking off. I saw him pull her underwear down to look at her vulva and before he had the chance to go any further, I immediately untied myself, forced him to untie her, and made him hire us and pay us for our time and trouble. He apologized profusely and never tried that shit with me again. Sometimes he has the balls to ask me if I ever want to "train" girls with him, which is code for help him get a free jerk off session with a random submissive girl who doesn't know that she can say "no". I'm not into that.
The only way I get taken advantage of is over the phone. I book my own clients, so I have to answer phone calls from a lot of freaks. Some of them will try to keep you on the phone for an eternity so that they can keep asking questions while they quietly jerk off, and sometimes for the sake of trying to book the client, I have to keep answering their dumb questions. I'm getting better at weeding out the phone wankers.
8. Do you think working as a Dom has made you stronger?
I am definitely better at standing up for myself. I don't take any shit, ever, from anyone; maybe I took a little shit before I learned that I absolutely 100% don't have to. I am better able to notice when others are trying to take advantage of me and I'm good at seeing through manipulative lies. I also have a quicker wit and am a better arguer from that whole coming-up-with-insults-for-an-hour-at-a-time thing.
9. Has it changed your relationships to men at all, (esp. in the beginning?)
It made me more confident that I'm a huge gigantic massive lesbian. I'd occasionally date men before being a Domme, but I was never physically attracted... whatever feelings or urges I was having that made me date them years ago have not surfaced since I've had the job. I guess I'm getting just the right amount of the masculine attention I'm subconsciously craving to satisfy my repressed Daddy Issues, without having to dole out empty affection or sleep with someone I'm not attracted to.
10. Any other crazy stories?
I had a Med School student who would pay me in his student loans for bottles of pee and bags of my used shitty toilet paper. His sessions would consist of an hour's worth of me farting in his mouth. How did I fart for an hour, you ask? I prepared by eating everything in sight for at least a day. He started engaging in light stalking so I had to cut him off before it got out of control. I also have a guy- who I actually just saw this afternoon- who is a Hasidic Jew whose fetish is being spat on and force-fed non kosher food. I get a lot of Hasids; I'd say 60% are into being peed on, and half of those don't shower before they go home. I have a lot of stories about people who are sexually repressed by religion; those are the most outlandish fetishists. As a submissive, I had a guy with a crazy sock fetish. He'd come in with hundreds of dollars worth of socks and make me try on each pair and say "daddy, do you think my feet look pretty?" Then he'd tell me to act like I was crying and he'd pretend to rape me, beat me, and make me thank him. The crazy part is that the most degrading part, for me, was having to wear a pink nighty and a headband. I felt retarded.
11. Do you have any advice for girls who'd like to do it?
Know your rights, speak up, don't do anything that makes you uncomfortable, and have fun. If you're considering doing this job solely for the money, become a stripper. It's easier and pays more and you don't get covered in spit and sweat.
Artwork by the interviewee, who prefers to remain anonymous.
ModCloth Goes "Purple for a Purpose"
Ready your clicking finger: today, October 18th, ModCloth will be selling "Purple for a Purpose" grab bags, the proceeds of which will be going to the Pixel Project, a global non-profit dedicated to raising funds and awareness to fight violence against women around the world. The grab bags are set to go on sale at 3 PM EST, and are expected to sell out quickly.
The purple color of the bags is for the Pixel Project's Paint it Purple campaign for National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The funds will go directly towards the Pixel Project's Pixel Reveal Campaign, where each dollar donated will post a pixel that, after a million dollars have been raised, will reveal their collage of Male Celebrity Role Models. The Pixel Reveal Campaign will benefit that National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Malaysia's Women's Aid Organizaton.
ModCloth's noted for its adorable goods, and the opportunity to buy them with proceeds going to a good cause is very tempting.
Image Courtesy of ModCloth
90 Is The New 25!
Zelda Kaplan renews our faith in the ability to be cool in New York City far after our 30th birthdays. She proclaims that "so many young people are so afraid of becoming old. I would like them to know that from someone who is ninety-four years young, it is fun to be old." With such an effervescent presence in the world and a passport that has been stamped to death, Zelda is very much alive! She captivates humanity with her dramatic ensembles and zest for life.
Check out these designs that she created from fabrics brought back from her travels.
Zelda is a self-proclaimed "citizen of the world." She spent half of her life relaxing and the other half crusading. For the last ninety or so years, she has been a ballroom dancer, a women's golf pro, a doctor's wife and a humanitarian. She considers herself a New Yorker at heart and exclaims that one must live for the city's energy and look forward to coming home to be a part of the "New Yorker club."
In a recent interview by StyleLikeU, Zelda gets real...in her closet. She talks about her days of living in mud huts in Africa while gently educating women against the damaging effects of clitoral surgery. She explains that it was her curiosity that took her there, not her courage. Zelda has an immense openness for others and in the interview she muses, "You see...I never, never, never tell anyone they shouldn't do anything." She is an absolute living doll and has such a pure sense of positivity. Check out the StyleLikeU trailer from the interview below.
It's so comforting hearing someone talk about embracing life and aging. As an "emerging adult," I can't help but to live in fear of the next twenty or thirty years. But really...why not celebrate maturity and self-actualization? Maybe I should just put on my oversized sunglasses and live curiously- Zelda style.
photo cred: www.villagevoice.com, www.guestofaguest.com, Joyce Tenneson - www.thefrasergallery.com
'The Colour of Beauty' Examines Institutionalized Racism in the Fashion Industry
The Colour of Beauty is a short documentary that follows aspiring model, Renee Thompson, as she attempts to take on New York City's fashion industry. The video uncovers that the fashion industry still lacks true diversity. Designers and casting agents still believe that black women won't sell magazines, products or clothing.
From casting calls where black models are told not to even bother to the horrendous scrutinization of their slightly wider hips or noses, this film exposes the underbelly of the discouraging industry that we buy into every single day. Literally.
Though this film is extremely infuriating, Renee's drive can be seen as inspiring.
"Quitting, just to me, seems like you’re, you know, you’re giving into that racist façade, or that you’re giving into saying that’s okay that you think that. It’s not okay, it’s not okay that you think that I’m different or lesser than, it’s not, so I’m gonna stay right here and be a sore in your eye until you recognize what I’m good for." -Renee Thompson, The Colour of Beauty
photo credits: Dallas Photography; www.forums.colbertnation.com
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