Women’s History Month: Las Mariposas (1961)

Las Mariposas were the Dominican sisters who helped to bring down a dictator.

The four Mirabel sisters were born into a family of farmers in the 1920s and 30s in the Dominican Republic. All four girls were all well-educated, an exception for the time, and three of the four received college degrees.

The sisters grew alarmed at events they were witnessing in their country under the shadow rule of Rafael Trujillo. Minerva, the third sister, was personally targeted by the dictator, allegedly for refusing his sexual advances. On several occasions Trujillo gave orders for Minerva’s arrest and harassment. She was barred from attending her 2nd year law school classes until she publicly praised the dictator and upon graduation she was denied a license to practice law. Their father was arrested and thrown into jail and the family’s finances ruined. Patria, the oldest Mirabel, witnessed a brutal massacre by Trujillo’s men while on a religious retreat, and joined her sister’s active resistance against the regime. Youngest sister Maria Teresa joined her older sisters in their resistance efforts.

Together the sisters led The Movement of the Fourteenth of June. They distributed pamphlets, gathered weapons, and even made makeshift bombs out of firecrackers around Minerva’s kitchen table.

The sisters became known by Minerva’s underground code name: Las Mariposas.

The Butterflies.

After an assassination plot against Trujillo became known, Las Mariposas were thrown into jail. However, due to pressure from the Catholic Church, the trio were spared torture and released after a short time. Their husbands, who joined the women in their political resistance, remained jailed.

On November 25, 1960, Patria, Minerva, and Maria Teresa, on their way either to or from visiting their husbands in jail, were ambushed by Trujillo’s secret police. The sisters, along with their driver, were dragged out of their jeep, separated, strangled and beaten with clubs. Their bodies were put back into their car which was pushed over a cliff.

Patria was 36, Minerva, 34 and Maria Teresa, 24.

In death, the sisters proved iconic, becoming “symbols of both popular and feminist resistance.” Rather than ending his problems, murdering Las Mariposas contributed to the dictator’s own demise. In 1961 Trujillo was assassinated by military leaders.

The fourth Mirabel sister, Dede, who was not an active part of the Mirabel resistance efforts, raised the six children her sisters left behind. She kept her sisters’contributions to the country’s history alive until her death in 2014.

In 1984, the United Nations named Nov. 25 the “Day of Non-Violence Against Women” in honor of The Butterflies.

In 1994, Dominican author, poet and essayist Julia Alvarez published In the Time of the Butterflies, a fictionalized account of Las Mariposas.

Of the Mirabel sisters Alvarez has said the three are “a reminder that we [Latinas] have our revolutionary heroines, our Che Guevaras, too.”

Las Mariposas: Badass resisters.

Read more about Las Mariposas here.

Happy Women’s History Month!



To All the Women I’ve Never Had a Chance to Know

For all the inventions that might have made my life better, brighter, or easier but were never made because a woman never got the chance, this is my lament.

For all the female comedians I never got to laugh at, all the women authors I’ve never had the chance to read, who were never taught in school, whose voices were deemed too this or not enough that, for all the art I’ve never had the chance to stand in front of in awe, this is a song of mourning.

For Phillis Wheatley, Sybil Ludington, Rosalind Franklin. For Claudette Colvin, Katherine Johnson and all the women whose accomplishments I never learned in history class, in science class, in English class, whose names have been buried in the footnotes, this is my keen.

For all the women never given a chance. For all the women I never got the chance to know or study or emulate, all the women I’ve never been able to look to for inspiration because their names have been written in invisible ink upon someone else’s pages.

Imagine a world full of women of talent and passion, except you don’t need to imagine it. It already exists. What you need to imagine instead is what the world could have been if all those Judiths* had been allowed to write and paint and sculpt, to invent and choreograph and map, to calculate, to design, to innovate.

How much have I missed because women have been silenced, in classrooms and boardrooms, on stages and art galleries, in small stand up comedy backrooms and in publishing slush piles?

The art held up as imperative, the music and philosophy and books and comedy and film and journalism held up to me as important, all of that has been pushed through a filter of masculine approval.

Even the stories we do have of women are not theirs alone, they are the stories which appealed to the men who allowed them through the sieve. The stories men chose to hang on bare, white walls, to publish or produce, to grant life to.51afb6757fefc.image

They are stories which somehow resonated not with other women, but with men.

How many corsets could we have avoided, or slips or girdles, how many extra inches of stiletto if women had been designing the clothes we wear rather than men designing for a figure which almost never exists, and yet we kill ourselves to achieve regardless?

What is it like to walk through life in sensible shoes and comfortable clothing, never doubting that what you dream about can be achieved?

The newsmakers and tastemakers and dressmakers.

How many women have been told they’re just not funny….or they just don’t get the joke?
How many women have been told what they write is not interesting to men, or not up to par, not serious enough, good but not Infinite Jest good?
How many women have been told their art is not what the buyer is looking for, not good enough for museums, too hostile, too angry, too pretty, not important enough? How much of it is never even looked at in the first place?
How many female directors never got the chance to see their vision on celluloid or artists on canvas, or inventors granted a patent?
How many, how many, how many?

And how many times have women believed them?

This is for all the women who have climbed the mountain, backward and in heels, only to pushed off the precipice. This is for all the women who have lain, unknown and unnamed, under the avalanche of deeds and firsts, of accomplishments unnoticed, of boulders of could have but never have beens.

We have been there all along, scratching our way to the surface, clawing our ragged way back up the sides.

It is time to rise out of the footnotes, to take your place on the page, on the stage, in the spotlight where you’ve belonged all along.


*Judith was the fictitious sister of Shakespeare in Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. Woolf used the character to illustrate that a woman with the talents of Shakespeare would have been denied the same opportunities as her brother, her talent left to wither and die.


One Super Girl at a Time

The other day a friend stopped by with her two daughters in tow, all bright smiles and freckle-faced freshness. Her older girl, bordering on middle school, smiled and gave me a sticker which, I was told, she’d been keeping for me because she thought I’d like it.

Sweet, right?

Look, I scream and use a lot of four letter words. I rage and sometimes but not always fantasize about pulling lightening crackling down from the sky. Some days I put on my pointy witch hat and sweep away the bullshit. But when it comes to kids, I’m kind of a marshmallow, so of course I was touched.

I put it on my laptop, which is home to a selection of sticky slogans, and the more I thought about it, the sappier I got–and not just because I’m probably going to get one of those freak, out-of-nowhere periods that seem to happen when you’re in your late 40s.

I got a little misty because it’s working.

What I do, the way I live my life, the attention I pay to detail, what I speak about, how I talk to girls and boys, the screaming, the shouting, the listening, all of it. It’s working. Because here was this bordering on middle-school girl, half-way down the path to young woman, a girl who is going to, probably sooner rather than later, face the inevitable: comments about her body, catcalls from men who should know and act better, someone, somewhere dropping a comment about her being just a girl–or crying like one, throwing like one, acting like one–as if any of those are inherently bad. She is a girl, which means she’ll pick up on clues from folks who think she’s not worth as much as a boy. She’ll overhear a conversation between boys she knows talking smack about another girl’s body. She’ll overhear a conversation between girls she knows doing the same.

And along comes a sticker, and I thought that seed is planted. It’s buried now, deep down. And it will take root and it will blossom.

Because you see, now she knows she doesn’t need Superman. She doesn’t need Supergirl. Because she is her own super-girl.

I nearly whooped with joy.

My own boys know what I’m like and what’s important to me. But they’re mine. I’m the chief baker and molder of their environment cookie dough. I have been since they were cooing and ga-ga-ing in their Baby Einstein Exersaucer and every day since. But other people’s kids? It’s a pretty great feeling to know that a tweenage girl could see an image, an image evoking female strength and independence, and think of me.

Sweet, right? And I don’t mean in the sugar and spice sense there, I mean in the long drawn out sweeeeeetttt sense.

I think–and hope!– that through these pages, through my actions, my love and respect for my sons is evident. But there are times when I live vicariously through my friends’ daughters, not so much to fill a gap in my heart, but to get a pulse on today’s girls and what they are like. Once I had a conversation with two friends about the things I miss out on being the mother of  only sons.

“I’ll never get to share that first period moment!” I lamented.

They thought I was crazy, but I kind of meant it. Let’s face it, the first nocturnal emission just doesn’t seem to have the same rite of passage feel about it. And to be honest, it’s not something they’ll likely tell me, although if they do, perhaps we’ll share a ritual passing over of the tissue box, who knows.

So my friends message me when a daughter does something they think I will like or find amusing or just kick-ass.

C called out her tennis coach when the medal she got only featured a boy;
R does a fist pump and says “Smash the Patriarchy” when I see her;
E regularly tells boys they aren’t allowed to touch her without her permission;
Another R writes essays and challenges gender stereotypes in her high school hallways; and
S saw a sticker of Supergirl rescuing Superman and thought of me.

These girls are being raised by strong women. Whenever I get a text or a message–or a sticker–I think, if I had a daughter, I’d want her to be just like yours, or yours, or yours. All of them different, but strong in their own ways. All of them Super girls.

And I feel, just for a moment, just for a split second, like I got to play some tiny part in that, like I get to change the world just a little bit.

One super girl at a time.

The Everyday Activist

In a musty, dusty corner of my brain, there resides a card catalog full of bold names and deeds. Those names and deeds are cross-reference with my own subjectivity and experiences. When I need to, I do a mental flip through until I get what I’m looking for.

When I hear a word like activist, my brain hums along. A loose definition forms, gossamer and ghostly, until it eventually takes shape and I am left with something concrete. A name, an example.

Activist: Rosa Parks. Dolores Huerta, Ida Wells, Cecile Richards, Audre Lorde, Tarana Burke. Flip, flip, flip. More names.

Nowhere in that catalog, not even at the very back, not even in the margins, does my own name appear.


So what makes an activist? Is there a set of criteria which must be met, a level of activist activity, akin to one of those strongman hammer do-dads at the town carnival, which must be reached before one can wear the label?

I’m sure I’m not alone in envisioning activism with a capital “A” and an exclamation point. An all-encompassing noun involving sweeping gestures and noble sacrifice. The word conjures ideas of single-minded crusades, 100% dedication, and bold acts.

How many times can you screw in a lightbulb emblazoned with the word ACTIVISM before you think of yourself as an activist?


The day after the US 2016 election I set up an ongoing monthly donation to Planned Parenthood, an organization of great importance to me. If anyone asked me what I wanted for Christmas I pointed them to the Center for Reproductive Rights. I ramped up my funding for political candidates whose ideas and ideals I could get behind.

Still, I didn’t consider myself an activist.

I marched in 2017 during the Women’s March, but also in 1992 in Washington, DC for reproductive rights. In the late 1980s I marched along the streets of NYC in black, high-top Adidas during Take Back the Night. I marched against the Gulf War, with young men I knew, men just tripping into adulthood, whose eyes reflected their fear that a war none of us wanted would reach out its greedy fingers and mark them irrevocably.

Still, I didn’t call myself an activist.

I write and publish essays about feminism. I regularly bore the pants off many men…and women… highlighting gender bias. I endure countless eye rolls as I patiently work my way through the nuances of the wage gap. I introduce new-fangled terms like the Motherhood Penalty. I use my social media platforms to speak out against harmful policies. And I have raged, oh, how I’ve raged, both privately and publicly, each time we take two steps back in this tango of equality.

Yet still, I don’t use the word activist to describe myself.

Perhaps, however, my definition is too narrow. Perhaps…just perhaps…I should be embracing my personal acts of activism. Activism with a lower-case “a” rather than a capital. With a quiet sentence ender rather than an exclamation point.

The everyday activism.

And perhaps…just perhaps…if we all did that, instead of assuming that what we do is too little, too late, or too insignificant, there would be enough excitement to warrant that exclamation point after all.


There are times when you face the mountain and the mountain seems un-scaleable. What is one person, one act, one small thing going to do? When one lone person takes their canvas tote to the supermarket, is it really going to help the Earth? Is it going to make a difference to climate change?

It’s difficult to fit you and your small, canvas tote into the bigger picture.

Is my ten dollars a month going to make a difference to Planned Parenthood? My fifty dollars a year is, after all, merely a drip in the coffers of the ACLU. My body, one of thousands, will not be missed if I don’t march. My voice, one among thousands, will not subtract from the din.

But if we’re all kicking the can down the road to others because we think we can’t make a difference, if we’re putting out a small spark because we’re not comfortable carrying a torch, does that torch, regardless of who is carrying it, ever stand a chance at staying lit?

Imagine if a young Ruby Bridges, walking to school under the protection of federal marshals to desegregate a Louisiana classroom felt one lone girl wasn’t enough. Imagine if Shannon Watts thought one mother crusading to change the way we look at gun laws thought one mother wasn’t enough. Imagine if Dolores Huerta had assumed that one woman alone could not make a dent in the fight for farm workers.

What would we be left with?


There are hundreds of ways to help force change in the places we believe need change. We can donate money or fundraise to help others do so. We can give our time, our talents. We can add our bodies. We can show up. We can call out.

At the end of the day, I am but one voice, a whisper in a sea of noise. But if  I add my voice, my whisper to the lone whispers of others, if we all do that, it becomes a scream too loud to ignore. And so I continue. Not because I expect to change the world all by myself, but because if there are a hundred other “me”s out there, a thousand, half a million, think of the possibilities.

We are all activists, intentional or not, when we stand up for change we believe in. When you carry the tote bag, when you call out sexism, when you join a march, when you donate to a cause. They are acts of everyday activism.

The exclamation point doesn’t need to be there. The capital “A” doesn’t need to be there. A thousand small, everyday acts become bold when they are taken together.

Find the cause or causes you are passionate about, find the things you want to change. And fight for them. Fight for them a little, fight for them a lot. Fight for them in ways large and small, but don’t ever think those acts, however everyday they seem, aren’t making a difference.

You have a voice. And if you use your voice for change? Well then my friend, you are an activist.

And don’t let anyone, least of all yourself, tell you differently.