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What Kind of Times Are These?

The title of the piece in white block text on a red-purple gradient background

March 31, 2020

This past December—which seems like aeons ago—I crafted holiday ornaments from the words of amazing women poets like Eve Ewing, Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, Nikki Finney, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Lorna Dee Cervantes. I could not have known that, just two months later, I—we—would be asking this question in whispers and prayers and rants and video calls to loved ones and tweets and posts and all the ways that we try to make sense of this moment since March 11, when the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 pandemic.

What kind of times are these?

Where structural inequalities—based on social class, job/employment status, gender, sexuality, dis/ability, citizenship—amplified by xenophobia and anti-Asian violence—delineate who is blamed, who can pay their rent, keep their job, have health insurance, practice “social distance,” or have access—data plans, WiFi—to the online world for work and school where we are expected to dwell for the long haul.

For women who are responsible for the overwhelming majority of care work—in their own families while subsisting on minimum wage, temporary gigs, or public assistance; in hospitals, healthcare, and eldercare facilities; childcare for economically privileged families—the gendered division of labor has become more intense and all-consuming. The fantasy of flexibility that used to accompany “working from home” has been upended by the reality of the demands of caring for young and school-aged children who need direct supervision. It is primarily women who will perform this third shift.

Where “shelter in place” and “social distance” slow down one pandemic but amp up and prolong exposure of women, LGBTQIA, and gender nonconforming individuals to the trauma of gender-based violence in all its forms.

Where the violence of late-stage capitalism and the state’s disinvestment in the public good are in plain view, even to the economically privileged: the hoarding and price gouging; corporate reluctance to build respirators because they are not profitable enough; the absence of a living wage and an equitable healthcare system; demands for “productivity” make working from home an imperative, even as that option was dismissed as impossible, too expensive, and inconvenient when people with disabilities and women with caregiving responsibility for children and elderly parents asked in previous years.

What kind of times are these?

This is certainly a time to build communities of care. I am grateful to work alongside people who are committed to doing so.

Feminist and marginalized communities around the U.S. are enacting the powerful work of collective care, mutual support, and asking thoughtful and hard questions that help us to make it through times of crisis, in so many ways. Here are a few examples:

Margaret Fink, Director of UIC’s Disability Cultural Center, has created the resource document Interdependent UIC to help all of us think about accessibility and care as mutually dependent.

Dr. Jennifer Brier of UIC’s Gender & Women’s Studies and History departments reminds us that women—Black, indigenous, Latina, lesbian, HIV-positive—have something to say about how we have faced public health crises in the past, and that we might want to learn from what they have fought, advocated, worked, and died for.

Asian American Feminist Collective has produced the “Asian American Feminist Antibodies: Care in the Time of Coronavirus” zine, a fantastic document that may well become an essential reference for this moment.

Aisha Ahmad offers us a way to rethink—and to resist—the incessant push for productivity. We should heed it.

Thanks to the longtime organizing work of people like Dean Spade, Kelly Hayes, and Mariame Kaba, many have learned the radical history of mutual aid—where ordinary people come together to create a safety net and take care of each other—and are doing it for the most vulnerable among us: transwomen and femmes of color, sex workers, families of formerly incarcerated people, street vendors. Low-income university students who have lost their jobs and/or displaced from campus housing. Learn more at

Monica Trinidad (UIC alum) has created art that groups can use to promote mutual aid projects, understand that connection is possible through social distance, and push for rent relief.

Fibre/textile artists Aram Sifuentes and Mary Scott-Boria are among the many women who are using their crafting skills to make masks for healthcare workers on the frontlines of the pandemic and ordinary citizens.

Chicago educator, writer, and poet Tara Betts is introducing us to books we might not know of and reminding us to read.

We are thinking, dancing, singing, laughing, cooking, and yes, mourning together.

Here at WLRC, we know that everyone is still adjusting. We know that you are being inundated with emails and requests for video meetings on WebEx, Zoom, and Blackboard Collaborate. Thankfully, there are useful resources as we all get used to interacting online in new ways. And all of this is on top of taking care of your families and addressing basic needs: food, shelter, stability, and mental wellbeing.

As such, for the remainder of the semester, we have created a few avenues for you to stay engaged with us and get the sustenance and support that you need.

Black Hair Quilt Project will meet on Thursday, April 2, 16 and 30, 3-5pm.

On Fridays, Write @ WLRC will convene as a virtual writing community, from 10am to 12pm.

Breathing Room, on Fridays, 12-1pm, is a space to exhale, to nurture and be nurtured by community, and to be lifted up by feminist legacies of healing during trying times.

For Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we will build on the successful “Shake It Up” conversation series through a social media campaign. Follow us to get involved.

Kelly Maginot, CAN’s confidential advocate, continues to provide crisis intervention, advocacy, and safety planning for survivors of interpersonal violence through phone and video.

Wherever you are—whether here in Chicago, or in your home communities elsewhere—we hope that you are safe and are finding your grounding. We hope that WLRC can offer comfort and community for you during these uncertain times.

With care and solidarity,

Natalie Bennett