The Future of Women, Social Justice, and Death Acceptance

It is no secret that many of our readers and movement builders identify as female. Our place as women is under threat, perhaps now more than ever. So where do we go from here?

“The Dead Girl” Juan Soriano (1938)

‘The Dead Girl’ Juan Soriano (1938)

Since I have mired in the slog of working on a new book, there has been nowhere near enough time to write as I should. But I’d like to alert you that there has been a ton of good work being shared and written over on the Order’s sister site, Death & the Maiden.

Death & the Maiden is run by the Order’s Executive Director, Sarah Chavez (Troop), and Lucy Coleman Talbot. It is a project to explore the cultural and historical roles women have played, and continue to play, in death.

I wanted to share with you a bit of what is happening there, from Sarah’s own words.

“Death & the Maiden offers a supportive and inclusive community which endeavors to amplify the voices of those actively creating the future of death.

We acknowledge that social justice movements fighting for human, social, or reproductive rights of women such as Black Lives Matter, Ni Una Mas and countless others, are streams of the death positive movement. Among our contributors are scholars, death doulas, scientists, morticians, game developers, museum professionals, artists, anthropologists and activists, to name a few.

In the press, women working with death are often reduced to stereotypes of the nurturing, sensitive, party planner – portrayed as selfless martyrs or even Disney Princesses – viewing the individuals, the work and the movement through a narrow lens, acknowledging only a fraction of the picture.

As women and non-binary folks, many of us are often forced to confront death in ways men are not. Murders of trans women of color, indigenous women in Canada, women in Mexico and El Salvador, or at the hands of our domestic partners and law enforcement are so common that they are now deemed “epidemics” by experts. Care of elderly and dying family members overwhelmingly falls to women, Latina teens and trans women have the highest rate of suicide attempts and deaths in the U.S., and of course, there is a long history of reproductive rights tied to death in countless ways.”

If you want your voice heard in this dialogue, please submit here.  Sarah and Lucy will be posting some submissions on Death & the Maiden, and some here on The Order of the Good Death.  We also have some larger projects in the works on these themes, so stay tuned.

‘Girl with Desk Mask’ by Frida Kahlo (1938)

‘Girl with Desk Mask’ by Frida Kahlo (1938)

Death & the Maiden will be holding their first conference in July of 2017.  I will absolutely be there, and I hope you will consider adding your voice as well. Here is a call for papers (note: you do not have to be an academic– practitioners, innovators, activists and artists also welcome.)

In the past few days it has felt taxing for many to be a woman, a person of color, LGBT, the list goes on. But we have only just begun to fight, and our movement will only be made stronger as we seek to reveal the role death, and fear of death, plays in all our lives.

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  • Shelly

    I read smoke gets in your eyes & the mission statement about Order of the good death. It’s a beautiful thing..bringing back a culture of taking part of our loved ones transition into the next life..honoring the passing of a fellow human being. But..I am a nurturing, not highly educated, licensed practical nurse of 22 yrs..mother of 3..Christian, 44 yo WF
    I so much admire your death movement. It’s needed! My job is death & dying. But I don’t understand why your group can’t just stick to singleness of purpose. It’s my belief you will have more success in the death movement if that’s what your topic is. Start another group for all the other gender identity folks. America desperately needs a death movement. You will lose the attention of half of the US if you use your death platform for other political issues. Death comes for all of us…it’s our common thread. You can touch so many “human beings ” by sticking with one issue. And for the record..with a very scant exception..you are definitely male or female! I can identify as a bear or fairy..but ..
    You get the picture.. so please please please stick with death in this forum. I personally see the need for change with every death I’m part of. You have the power to get change started. When we are dying I don’t think gender is running through our mind at all.
    Peace & love to you!
    Shelly Whitehead..uneducated, woman, wife, mom, nurse, non-party planning, nature loving, Southern born & raised, lover of humanity!!!

    • Tracy G

      Shelly, I feel the same exact way. I was so disappointed when politics started being mixed in (or I may have just naively missed this). I am wholeheartedly ready to embrace this cause, however now I’m not so sure It is in my best interest to associate myself with this particular group, as a whole. My death-positive attitude is here to stay, however! For the record, I am an educated IT professional living in the South. I am 42 yo WF, and the mother of three sons. Like, I’m probably the total opposite of others in this movement, but the MOVEMENT is our common thread! I want to be ALL in but it’s taking a turn that i feel uneasy about…

    • K

      Hey cool comment. Next time, maybe try being less bigoted.

  • Evi Numen

    I’m honestly confused about the unease here. Saying that death is a unifying thread for all of us to me denotes an affirmation of equality for all humans regardless of race, creed, sexual orientation, health status, gender,affiliations, etc etc. And the above qualifiers undeniably play a role for end of life and death care. Who we are as people does not determine if we die, but it certainly determines how we die and how are bodies are cared for, what kind of services we can get, who can be on our bedside. How can one advocate death acceptance without accepting paramount equality?

  • LZ

    Thank you for keeping the death positive movement intersectional and thus cognizant of the world in which it exists. To do otherwise would be irresponsible. In appreciation of all you do.

  • Sarah Chavez

    Re: Shelly and Tracy G’s comments:
    Women’s bodies, particularly those of us that are women women of color, have always been politicized. What you are asking us to do is to not only uphold but reinforce the very death denial you claim to want reformed by only acknowledging “the beautiful” or acceptable to you, aspects of death. As a professional historian, I can tell you that to do so, is not only to be ignorant of the reality of death but is incredibly irresponsible.

  • Amber Brooke

    Shelly, (and also Tracy, but mostly Shelly)
    I am but the humble daughter of a bus driver. I too feel at times the need to discredit my intelligence because I grew up poor. I make a lot of self deprecating jokes out of insecurity that I am not as good as my friends. Out of fear that I will never be. That I am silly and flippant. I got into college was by working hard, but realistically I got to go because I was so poor I qualified for a massive grant (a privilege I am very much aware of).

    I start my response this way because I read your need to excuse your opinion by writing that you are “not highly educated”. As women we never need to apologize for not being highly educated. You wrote that you are a nurse. This means you clearly have shown that you have the drive and ability to follow through and persevere to better yourself (you ARE educated). Never lower your opinion of your education. It will in turn lower everything else about you. Which bleeds into my next thought.

    I am also white. There’s really no smooth transition of that fact, but yes, I too identity as a “WF”. This is why your comment crushes me. Heart and soul. Crushes me Shelly. Because I feel that it is my ethical responsibility to write and reach out, not in hate or anger. Not to put you down. But as a white woman to another woman. I want reach into the part of you that misses the point to all of this. Because I read that there is an anger and fear in your comment. A “hey I may just be a white Christian from the south. And that may not be any good but I’m going to let you ladies know anyways…” And Shelly, that is not what makes your opinion any less valid than ours. It is the disheartening inability to see the connection that death has to all of this. All of us despite you very plainly writing it in your comment.

    Death is the ultimate expression of “making the personal political”. It is a theme that was talked about greatly in my college studies. And like you yourself pointed out, “death… is our common thread.” It is THE greatest “personal” in existence as it transcends gender, religion, ethnicity (and it seems like you get that). Death waits for no one. The problem is that in an increasingly tense time of political struggle. Death has become less patient. Death comes into our schools. Our churches. Our work. We should be so lucky for Death to take us in our sleep. See, it’s as if Death has waged war on us. But sadly, he comes for harder and faster than others. And this is a fact we CANNOT ignore any longer.

    It would be remiss of me to not admit. That I am not on Death’s radar the way that others are. I would be selfish. Selfish not to admit that being white has allowed me to pray in peace, to be pulled over by a police officer and not feel afraid of what may happen. My being white allows me to feel less fear than, lets say, my girlfriend from Tehran. Her brown skin and Iranian features make her a target for hatred and anger. And most of that comes from, unfortunately white people.

    So, while we could simply preach a blanket death acceptance. Tell everyone to buy a preneed. buy a plot. plan your cremation and then call it a day it would be rather pointless yes? I sort of fail to see the grandiose “YES WE CAN!” In simply handing out a pamphlet that reads “Don’t be a dummy. You’re going to die. Plan ahead”. That would make us no different than a regular mortuary. It would also be ignorant and sell short the power that women like us can have if we choose to work together to leave behind something greater than ourselves. And that is the idea of connecting while we are alive. That is our MOVEMENT. Death Positive, it’s just another way of saying Life Positive. It is a way of connecting with ALL human beings. But we CANNOT CANNOT turn a blind eye to the very real way it affects our brothers and sisters on different levels. You and I will never face death the way my friend from Tehran does. Nor my African American friends. And we have to understand that if we are to bring death back into the home it has to be with the understanding that all homes are different. That bringing death into my friends of different ethnicities comes with different details. And learning and growing, and experiencing the knowledge those “homes” have acquired ONLY serves to make us better.

    If you loved humanity you would see that you have to yearn to truly know all facets to love them.

    Much love and hope that you will understand and carry on with a voice, loud and strong for ALL women and men.

    Amber Carvaly.
    educated in college and by Life. But learned more from Life. Daughter of a bus driver. I am a Mortician but I spent my life waiting tables. I don’t plan parties, I ruin them. Born and raised in the 909 (the meth capital of the Inland Empire), lover of all, even when disappointed in them. Because I believe you can change….

  • Corey Wisler

    Do you know where the conference will be held? Looking forward to it!

    • Sarah Chavez

      It will be held at the University of Winchester – there will be off site tours/field trips as well. If you click on the “call for papers” link in Caitlin’s piece it will take you to the conference website 🙂