Off the Cuff: Amanda Matos, founder of the WomanHOOD Project


Eli Steiker-Ginzberg

Amanda Matos, reproductive justice advocate and founder of the WomanHOOD Project

Elizabeth Dobbins, News Editor

Amanda Matos, founder of the WomanHOOD Project and reproductive justice activist, gave a lecture at Oberlin this Wednesday as part of the Sexual Information Center’s Radical Explorations of Sexual Health and Personal Experience week. Matos, originally from the Bronx, graduated from Columbia College in 2013, just over a year after she started the Bronx-based WomanHOOD project, a program that educates high school women of color about intersectional feminism. Matos sat down with the Review to discuss role models, the challenges facing the reproductive rights movement and Nicki Minaj.

You started WomanHOOD when you were still a student at Columbia College. What are some of the challenges and advantages of starting a program like this while still an undergrad?

The fun fact about WomanHOOD is that we’re completely sustained and run by young women. Even in our by-laws, no person older than 30 [can] work at our organization. That connects to why it was exciting starting this in college. My team and I had a youth perspective on it. We had this novel idea of realizing our lived experiences are just so, so relatable to the women we work with … [and] this organization should always be sustained by young people. Having that mindset really helped shape something that was sustainable and unique in and of itself. Managing a course load, managing other clubs and activities, thinking about the future, thinking about a post-grad job, all of these things add stress to starting an organization and finding the funding [and] the resources for it to last.

The WomanHOOD project is a program that focuses on intersectional identities. How can high school students in your program benefit from understanding race and gender through this framework?

They benefit in so many ways. Mostly because, oftentimes, it’s outsiders coming into their communities or talking in a condescending way to young people. The way we run our curriculum is that the students are empowering themselves. We’re not empowering them for themselves. They’re doing it. With the skills they’re developing by learning about this analysis at a young age, they’re able to feel equipped as they get older to combat these issues, whether it’s in their communities, in the work place, in college, even, and especially then going outside of the city. It’s very important to have a grounding in that work at a younger age than what my team and I had because we learned these things while we were in college. If we had learned them in high school we would be very, very different. So that’s one key piece of it.

What they’re learning from this program is [that] no matter what career they’re in, no matter what field, no matter how they view leadership, they’ll be bringing this analysis with them no matter where they go. They will be spreading this qualitative impact for all people that are in their lives.

WomanHOOD offers workshops on Women of Color Feminism, Media Literacy and Community History. Why did you choose these topics of the many possible topics to approach?

It connects to our core values, and it connects to centering ourselves on women of color because often when we’re talking about issues based on gender we’re only thinking about white women, or we’re thinking about white cis women. At the same [time], when we’re thinking about race, we’re just thinking about men of color, and women of color are left out of those conversations. Even the way that feminism is taught in schools, it’s mostly focusing on suffrage, focusing on pro-choice issues and reproductive rights or just focusing on pay-equity and not connecting race into it. Women of Color Feminism addresses the intersections of race. We’re also including a class analysis and a gender expression analysis when we talk about Women of Color Feminism.

Then we think about media literacy and using pop culture. High school students, even me, [and] I’m not in high school, I love thinking about what Nicki Minaj represents or what Beyoncé represents. Media literacy is important because the media we’re consuming needs to be analyzed and addressed, but it can also be fun. It could be art. It could be therapeutic, so just having the skills to know when something is being sexist and when it’s just being empowering for the person [is] important.

[As for] the community history, we’re Bronx-based. The Bronx has such a bad reputation in terms of crime, in terms of education, in terms of violence, in terms of all of these things. Know[ing] the community’s rich history and things that are there now is so important for young folks, especially when it comes to role models and thinking outside of this box or the way we’re taught in school.

Those are the three areas. Of course we could have a curriculum that could go on and on and on, but we want to focus on those three pillars because that’s the most relevant to young women.

What does Nicki Minaj represent in your opinion?

We’re all young women running this organization. We don’t agree on everything, so instead we come to a consensus on how we want to teach a topic. When it comes to Nicki Minaj, we came to a consensus on how to teach the topic. We talk about her identity and her art form and the fact that she’s in a male-dominated field and that she’s a successful business woman. That, in and of itself, is incredible.

It’s also incredible that she chooses how she wants to represent her body, and she chooses the way she wants to represent her sexuality and her intelligence. There’s a really great Buzzfeed article that shows some incredible quotes of hers. She directly says that she is there to empower young girls, and people think “How is she empowering young girls if she’s sexualizing herself?” but that’s not the case. She’s creating a dialogue for young women to talk about these issues and how they can control their bodies, and that’s incredible. I personally love her and listen to The Pink Print pretty much all the time. I love what she represents. I love that in some of her music videos it’s only women of color in them, and it just shows this autonomy. I think she’s a great role model for people.

In your talk you’ll be discussing the impact of mainstream feminism on reproductive justice. What are some of the problems or shortcomings of mainstream feminism, and how do you address them through both the WomanHOOD project and your own work with reproductive justice in New York City?

It all connects. There’s three frameworks when we think about reproductive health. The first one is reproductive health, the second is reproductive rights and then you have reproductive justice. Reproductive health comes down to just the basic reproductive services that all people deserve to have — just to be healthy and to live just a healthy life style. Reproductive rights comes down to the legally framed rights that people have, whether that’s constitutional, whether that’s through the Supreme Court, whether that’s through human rights doctrine. … Reproductive justice [is] this firm belief in intersectionality that shows that not until all forms of oppression are eliminated can reproductive justice be achieved. Recognizing that it’s more about whether a person should have an abortion or not. It’s about [whether] a person has access to reproductive health services. Does a person have access to motherhood or parenthood? The way mainstream feminism falls into this is that too often dialogues are about being pro-choice or being anti-choice. [The conversation is] not about this access, this race analysis, this class analysis, which is rooted in history even of the forced sterilization of so many women of color in the United States and Puerto Rico. That’s not talked about. Instead what’s talked about on the more mainstream level is abortion, instead of these other issues.

What are some of the major issues currently facing reproductive justice in New York City?

In the New York City area and also nationwide, there are so many incredible organizations that are reproductive justice organizations, that are run by women of color, focus on LGBTQ folks, focus on low income folks, that are incredible. Because of issues like the nonprofit industrial complex, they’re unable to get the same amount of money or grants. … Even having that support or that money or the salary to pay your staff, it’s so challenging now to get the work done. So I see this nationally, and I also see this locally — that it’s more mainstream established organizations that are taking the resources. That’s hurting the reproductive justice movement, but there’s a comeback. There are so many people working now together in organizations across the country. I see that very definitely in New York City, especially when it comes down to class issues and race issues throughout all five boroughs.