Interview: Lila Morse

August 30, 2016

Lila Morse is one of the largest influences in my advocate side of life. We first met at Principia College, a tiny Liberal Arts College for Christian Scientists located 50-minutes north of St. Louis, in Elsah Illinois. Lila was in her sophomore year; I was a newly minted freshman. Lila studied Theater at the College. I studied Sociology. Yet we first got to know each other in the major dance show at Principia, called: Dance Production. Lila and I had been cast in a tap dance—Lila as a tapper, and myself as a breakdancer.

During the last several weeks before the show, where rehearsals become a nightly endeavor Lila and I got to talking. Low and behold, I found Lila was perhaps the most educated person at the school when it came to matters of social justice. She proudly proclaimed herself a feminist—something we shared. In that first conversation we discussed how important a white cis man’s role in social justice is—how people are more naturally inclined to listen to those like them, therefore, as white cis man still held a lot of power in the world, white cis men needed to advocate, yet not as the “experts” but as the “Up-lifters.” In other words, white cis men had a duty to uplift the voices of the oppressed; to try and get the oppressors to listen to the oppressed.

At the end of the conversation Lila invited me to speak at SPEAK. I didn’t understand, so she kindly explained that SPEAK was an acronym, S.P.E.A.K., which stood for Students of Principia for Education, Awareness and Kindness for women. Lila in her freshman year created SPEAK as an advocacy platform for feminist issues. Each year there was an event where members and interested students and faculty came together to speak on issues. Monologues, speeches, videos, dances, and all sorts of presentations were performed at SPEAK, and by the end of Lila’s four years about a fourth of the school attended the main event—an amazing accomplishment for a mainly white religious school.

I did speak at SPEAK, as well as the next two and when Lila left she handed me the reigns to SPEAK, where I organized the next main event and some outreach programs. Lila’s advocacy has not stopped with school. She is constantly advocating for women’s rights, minority rights, gun laws, etc. She is an incredibly powerful woman, remarkably sharp, and a lovely person to talk to.

We interviewed last week via email and Facebook, because I couldn’t go another issue without having her voice be a part of immix. I very much consider her a family member to this journal, and I hope to have more of her voice in future issues.

In the interview below we discuss feminism, politics, black lives matter, gun laws, and touch upon foreign policy. Please enjoy!


Feminism

You’ve been a feminist for a long time. Do you still find yourself talking with people who think being a “feminist” is wrong? If so, what do you tell them?

I'm a feminist because I have no reason not to be.  Feminism makes me more understanding of myself and other people.  It encourages me to keep learning about the world and people around me.  Most importantly, it means respecting myself and others.  But people tell me all the time about how wrong it is. And I hear this from men and women, surprising as that maybe. The thing is, feminism is for everyone. It's not exclusive to educated people, or white people, and it's certainly not a ‘women only’ club.  Feminism helps us uncover inequality in every facet of life. Whether it's healthcare, education, everyday purchases in the grocery store, even how we relate to each other. Feminism is the active pursuit of equalizing the sexes. It is not intended to leave anybody out. Feminism is only isolating when you don't try to include yourself in it.

I have a female friend who once said “I will never be a feminist” and that she'll “raise [her] boys just to be good people.” And that's great. Your children should be good people. But when we teach our sons and daughters to specifically look out for how we can help girls and women see that their accomplishments, minds, and bodies are just as important as any boy or man, then we improve as a population.  

Some people would say sexism is gone, or sexism is basically gone, or “look” how much sexism has been reduced. Any comment?

If sexism really were gone, then we wouldn't need to comment on how gone it is, right? But I do understand why people are saying that. The way that most people understand sexism is some guy standing on a street corner being a creep when a woman is walking by. Or the Don Draper personality in your office. But sexism, like any form of inequality, is nestled way down at the core of our everyday activities and behaviors.  It's a micro institution which effects our macro institutions. 

We can see it right now during the Olympics. Headlines that describe the accomplishments of the females by talking about her husband first, are sexist. What that headline is actually saying is that the husband, boyfriend, or fiancé is in possession of that woman's accomplishment. That she wouldn't be anywhere without him. And it doesn't seem like a big deal because they're talking about such a great thing, and maybe the husband is also an important figure. It's a subtle, even unintentional way of placing more weight on the accomplishments of men. But it's the changes to those tiny, minute things that can make a bigger difference on the whole. If one Jenga piece is rickety, the whole thing is unstable, right?

As a young woman who has lived in both urban and rural situations, have you faced harassment, sexism, and other predjudice circumstances? Is it different between the two generalized locations? What message would you send to those who harass, and are sexist?


This is a great question. Harassment sexism, and other prejudices happen in both urban and rural environments. I think they appear differently.

In more Suburban or rural environments, I've seen things and read the news stories about how a girl wants to go to prom but she's banned because she wanted to wear pants. “It's just not what girls do.”  Or I've seen a couple having an argument in a parking lot, and the man starts to get physical.  In the past, I've said to myself, "Well, I don't know what's going on here, so I shouldn't get involved."  Now I am trying not to sit back when I see things like that.

 Harassment, sexism, misogyny, all of it will only end when we actively insist that it does.
In urban environments, I've had men grab me on the train and when I push away and scream at them no one does anything about it. Or I've had a man follow me up the stairs and keep hitting me in the butt with his skateboard, and when I say something, and no one does anything about it.   Men have followed me home, "just to say goodnight." Or I'm a bitch because I don't say thank you when they tell me I'm beautiful.  These are all examples of harassment and sexism.

 Regardless of where they're happening, the root of the behavior is misogyny. 
So what I would say, and what I have tried to say (though not always successfully), is that I am a person. A human person. You don't even need to think of me as your sister or your daughter or your wife. Because the importance of my safety and confidence shouldn't be dependent on whether or not I belong to you in some way. It should matter because I'm a person whose safety and respect is being compromised, and it should matter to you that this is happening in your world.  This is where things like the everyday sexism behavior come into play, because if we didn't see women as possessions, then we wouldn't feel the need to either exploit or protect them based on that relationship.

People say, under Clinton and Obama that sexism (and racism, and all forms of prejudice really) have only gotten worse. I’d say some of the reasons are because we’re all becoming more educated about it, and social media has helped to point out instances. What are your thoughts? 

I think it would be impossible to prove that racism and sexism have only gotten worse under the Obama Administration. Rudy Giuliani even said the other day that never in the Bush Administration had we seen any terrorist attacks similar to what has happened under Obama's 8-year presidency. Rudy Giuliani was the mayor of New York City on September 11th while George W. Bush was President of the United States.

It may feel like racism and sexism have gotten worse these last eight years, but it's only because we can talk about it more than we have before. We have new language to describe everyday practices of racism and sexism. And it is because the Obama administration sees the importance of intersectionality. We are calling each other out all the time on the abuses of power. But the fact is these problems have been around for a long, long time. So, no, it isn't getting worse. It is being exposed at every opportunity and we're only now beginning to see how everyday occurrences are no longer acceptable. I think it might have even been Obama who said this, but the term politically correct only means respect. So when we say things are too PC nowadays, we are really saying things are too respectful nowadays. People are upset because we're being too respectful to other groups and populations that didn't have a voice before.

(Really want your thoughts on the sexist treatment of the Ghostbusters flick this summer)

(I haven't seen it yet because I'm a terrible person and can't ever make it to a movie =(  But I'm really looking forward to it.  I can't wait to see a movie that passes the Bechdel test over and over again.  I'm glad that people are upset b/c what's-his-name is just eye candy.  But I'm more excited for what this will do for the industry going forward.  Many argue that this is simply the "girl’s version" of Ghostbusters, and while that may be true in some aspects, it is paving the way for producers, directors, and other artists to see that an action comedy with all women is as funny as with men b/c women are capable of producing good work.)

Politics

We’ve got a woman selected as the nominee of one of the two major political parties, Former Madam Secretary Hilary Clinton, and ever since she’s announced she’s running for president she’s faced a lot of criticism. I have this theory that a lot of her criticism comes from unidentified sexist feelings, as well as some straight up sexist people. I’m not excusing some of the questionable things she’s done (i.e. not being in favor of homosexual people being able to marry in the ‘90s, voting yes for the wars in the middle east as a senator, and her handling of intel in Benghazi), but it feels like a lot of people are waving away the rest of her accomplishments, and her reputation in Congress, as well as dismissing her as being a “liar”, “untrustworthy,” and a slew of sexist terminology (“bitch” comes to mind). What are your thoughts on Clinton, and the treatment of her? 

It is very easy to hate Hillary Clinton because we've been doing it for at least 20 years, if not longer. She's a game-changer because we have never seen another woman do what she has done. Still, Clinton changed her platform many times, she seems to flip flop depending on the popular vote, and voters from all parties feel more than uneasy since Benghazi. But there's a way to talk about all of that and to express your opposition to a politician's behavior and choices without calling her a bitch. It's so sickening to me -- especially seeing other women call her a bitch, cunt, and pretty much any other name you can think of to specifically insult Clinton on the basis of being a woman.  You don't have to like her.  And you can call her a liar and corrupt, but as soon as you call her a bitch, you're saying you don't respecter her because she is a woman.

While I may not believe in everything that Clinton says or does, it doesn't make me better or fancier or more politically astute to insult her as a woman. When we do things like that, it only perpetuates the myth that women are inherently incapable of doing things simply because we are women. But look how much she has done. She's made history.  She's changed the future for millions of girls all over this country, and she's not backing down.

On the flip side, we’ve got one of the most outspoken, racist, sexist, and xenophobic candidates in recent memory, who actually managed to get the nomination for the Republican candidate. Not only has Donald Trump used a sexist slang term, “schlonged,” but he’s either accidently or on purpose proposed her assassination by conservative 2nd amendment voters. On top of that, he’s lied on multiple " http://www.politifact.com/personalities/donald-trump/ " occasions, including in televised debates, and well I don’t really need to tell you more. Your thoughts on Republican Presidential Candidate, Donald Trump?

None of the last five presidents of the United States have endorsed Donald Trump for president. The Harvard Republican Club, who has consistently endorsed the Republican nominee for president over the last one hundred twenty-eight years, has not endorsed Donald Trump for president. He is probably the least qualified candidate to ever run and be nominated. He is famous for getting people fired, not creating jobs. He spent airtime during a debate discussing the size of his penis, not how he will act as a public servant to the United States people. He sexualizes his adult daughter, and has been doing so since she was a toddler. There have been interviews with regular, everyday citizens who have been cited quotes from Adolf Hitler, believed that it was Trump, and were happy to get right on board. And none of these are my opinions. They're facts about things that have happened. 

But now I will give my opinion. People talk about how it's the American thing to do, or the Christian thing to do.  I believe that it is actually unconstitutional and not the Christian thing to do to vote for someone who isolates citizens of this country, does not believe in helping us grow as citizens of the world, and cannot show respect for fallen veterans and their families. I could go on and on about how he doesn't have a single political advisor, supports the use of nuclear weapons, and wants to start labeling people of color like Jews before the Holocaust, but I won't. He is dangerous it is disappointing and alarming to me to see that he has gotten this far.

Many friends—even myself at one time—have said that they'd move if he were elected.  But how can you be here to stop him and protect those who have no agency if you've moved to another country?  If he is elected, we cannot give up.  We will need to work harder than ever to protect the United States from his presidency. 

In the wake of so many mass shootings in the U.S. over the last several years, you’ve been vocal about your wish for tighter gun control. Why do you feel more gun control is needed? You’ve also stated that more gun control doesn’t mean violating the second amendment, what do you mean? What’s your message to those who won’t listen about more gun control, who believe restricting guns will only hinder citizens and help criminals, or, to the most extreme, help the government take over the US? 

Honestly, I don't know that I would call it more control. Just any control at all.  We won't even allow the Center for Disease Control to study gun violence in America. Why? Why can't we even research something that is killing so many people on a daily basis. The 2nd Amendment was written to allow citizens to protect themselves from harm.  And I can support that. But the issues that we're talking about are not someone who protected themselves from an armed robber breaking into their home. And I'm not opposed to anyone going hunting on their land. What I believe in is schools where children go to learn, not die. Offices of healthcare providers where they can treat their patients, not watch them be shot in the name of religious justice. Churches where people can gather and worship, not be slaughtered. Movie theatres for recreation, not murder. 

We can do things like improve our background checks, limit the types of weapons that are available for civilian use, even perform annual exams to see if the gun owner is still fit to operate that kind of weapon. We say guns don't kill people, people kill people. But people are the ones using the guns, so we need to do something to regulate who has access to them. Investing in the safety of the American people to reach a compromise so fewer lives are lost, shouldn't be something we oppose so adamantly. It seems strange that gun owners would be opposed to more regulated background checks -- this is something that would support your practice of the Second Amendment. You should only be in opposition to it if you know you're not mentally stable enough to own a firearm.  And then there is the whole black market argument -- if people want guns, they're going to get them.  But shouldn't we do everything we can to prevent that from happening?  We are being apathetic to the lives of the American people.  We're saying "Eh, it's too much work," to the parents who lost their babies.  We have no-fly lists.  We have lists for people who aren't allowed to drive.  We have lists for people who aren't allowed near schools.  These lists all exist to protect us.  Can't we do this for access to guns?

You’ve also been a vocal Black Lives Matter advocate, care to explain how and why a young white woman living in Chicago is such a Black Lives Matter movement? Why is it you feel the Black Lives Matter Movement isn’t anti-white? 

I wish I were more vocal about Black Lives Matter. I think it's especially important that I am vocal about it because I am a white woman living in Chicago. When white people talk about Black Lives Matter (especially in a city as corrupt as ours), it shows other privileged people that this is an issue that effects all of us. In fact, it's helping us to identify and address police violence involving people of all races.

Black Lives Matter is not anti-white because it's talking about the safety and value of all our lives.   When one group is harmed, endangered, and disenfranchised, it affects everyone. If we can be better about addressing these problems and, honestly seeing how racism is a key player in this issue, then it will make things safer across the board. It will improve our police academies and the presence of police force in our communities. It'll help our citizens feel more confident and comfortable calling upon emergency personnel in dangerous situations. 
I've said this before and I feel like it's the easiest way for me to articulate the importance of this issue to people who don't understand it.  Even if we just pretend that there's a problem going on and say "hypothetically" this is an issue, then the only result will be stronger communities. Better resources and training for our officers.  No harm can come from that.
If a house were on fire, we would rush to that home and put out the fire.  We'd probably even evaluate our methods and improve on fire safety for the next time.  But we wouldn't say, "All houses matter," and let that one burn.  Breast cancer and lung cancer patients matter, but no gets upset when we see new research published on destroying breast cancer. The truth of the matter is that the Civil Rights Movement just started.  Black people have only been able to legally vote since 1965.  And that's legally, not safely.  Civil Rights has just started and we're right in the middle of it.  So we're not done yet.

Yes! White people matter, police officers matter, and on and on and on, but Black Lives Matters is saying that Black Live Matter too.  So no, you're not going to hear me say All Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter because I believe that by supporting Black Lives Matter, I am supporting all lives. 

I think we’ve both seen our fair share of people on social media saying, all cops are bad, or black people are criminals? Why is it you feel people are going to the extremes? What are your feelings on the matter?

I think people will go to the extremes because it's a lot easier than identifying what you're specifically upset about. Or what the specific problem is. It's a lot easier to say all black people are terrible rather than the violence and black on black crime and problems we see in this community actually come from racism and disproportionate privilege and opportunities. It's easier to say all cops are terrible rather than saying we have an issue with the way we prioritize the lives and safety if people in this country. 

Your thoughts on ISIS, the term “Radical Islam,” the treatment of Muslims in the United States, the serious terror threat ISIS presents, and how our country should respond?

The treatment of Muslims in the US is unacceptable and has been for a long time.  We're barely 70 years past the anniversary of the Holocaust and we're already plotting to label Muslims and people of color the way Nazis labeled the Jews.  The only difference is now we have computers.  

I completely agree that Daesh (ISIS) is a serious threat to this and other countries.  It's a threat to the Muslim people.  Countless cities have been isolated and starved under threat of daesh.  They're not Muslims in any sense.  They are terrorists pretending that their mission is to serve Allah.  Much like manifest destiny and the early Christians who enslaved and murdered native people in the name of spreading the message of God.  

The US should not respond with "carpet bombing" nations with Muslim citizen.  That would only contribute to daesh's goal of killing innocent people.  It isn't a threat the US should deal with alone.  It has impacted the entire world, and I think it needs to be treated as a global threat.  


Lila is an actor living in Chicago, IL. She has worked most recently with Victory Gardens, Writers Theatre, Goodman Theatre, and The Onion. Lila was one of the original founding members of Chicago Slam Works, and also spends some of her time painting, writing, and learning how to make the performing arts more accessible to all communities.