An Interview with Laura Gapske: Social Worker, Derby Girl, Feminist Zine Publisher and Single Mother

Paul Whyte

It hasn’t been an easy journey through history for women in the United States. Although things have been progressing ever since the women’s suffrage movement at the turn of the 20th century and with the passing of the 19th Amendment in 1920 which allowed women to vote, it’s been a slow process of gaining equality. To this day, women on average make less than men and it’s an obvious statement to say regardless of the circumstances, after conception, they’re the ones who carry a fetus until it is born and they often take on many of the responsibilities of raising the child whether they are with a partner or not.
It could be said that a major factor in women’s equality is their ability to control whether or not they can get pregnant and have adequate access to affordable health care where they can obtain birth control and in certain cases have the choice to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. In the event of domestic assault it is also important for there to be social programs that can help care for a victim of abuse and her children.
A highly debatable issue in politics has long been on the subject of abortion. In recent news, Missouri Representative Todd Akin-R came under fire for his comment of how a woman’s body can shut down getting pregnant in a “legitimate rape” and that the cases of a woman becoming pregnant from rape are rare and no reason to continue the legality of abortion. The resulting backlash at the comment has even had Akin’s fellow Republican’s wishing he would drop out of the race and although they still have chosen their side on the matter, they have started to back away from the issue for the moment. Despite Akin’s apology, the comment has only further divided the already polarized two party system.    
We sent a few questions to a local member of the community, Laura Gapske, who has spent a good deal of time promoting women’s advocacy and asked her about her involvement in women’s issues, the largely female oriented sport of roller derby and her thoughts on the political climate of today and what it means for women.

Reader: It seems that you’ve played a significant role in women’s issues and activities in the area, as far as I know you’ve been involved with CASDA, the Harbor City Roller Dames and the feminist oriented publication Minerva. Please discuss the importance of these things in the Twin Ports and anything else you’ve been doing along those lines.

Gapske: Thanks, Paul. I would like to think I play some part in advocacy for women’s issues in our community. Not that the type of work I do shouldn’t be called working with men’s issues as well but the majority of people that I work with are indeed women.
I have been an advocate at the Center Against Sexual & Domestic Abuse (CASDA) for almost six years. My experience began working as a fill-in in the Emergency Shelter Program while I was in college and received promotions throughout the years to my current job as the legal advocate. It’s enabled me to meet many incredibly strong human beings that have survived horrendous abuse. It’s not an easy job to go to but I believe in the work we do. Everyday, I assist victims of abuse with a safe place to go, provide legal information and compassionate assistance.
My role as a board member and skater with the Harbor City Roller Dames has enabled me to come into contact with many extremely intelligent, smart, and strong women of all backgrounds. Our fourth season kicks off with the first home game on Saturday, October 13 against the Dagger Dolls from Minneapolis. It’s a serious commitment to play roller derby not just spending a ridiculous amount of money on fishnets and stockings. The Dames practice three times a week, travel and host home bouts, as well as participate in various local volunteer opportunities. The game comprises of advanced rules, skating, hitting, strategy and women that run a for skater by skater organization. I feel playing the sport of derby serves as a way to be a positive role-model to younger girls. It’s a sport that welcomes all women no matter your shape or size.
Minerva zine is a project I brainstormed while in college and have continued to dabble with when time and financing has allowed. Back in 2007, I noticed publications in the area are predominately published by men and are written from a men’s point of view. I felt a strong urge to rally a few women together to speak out about different issues experienced by them.

Reader: It’s not common for a publication to plug another publication, but yes, Minerva is nothing like anything that I know of in the Twin Ports. What is some of the background and overall goal of the zine?

Gapske: As I stated, I created Minerva zine while in college as an independent study project. I had a core group of contributors who have been pivotal in the continuation of this project. Currently, I publish it on my own with help and support of my close friend, Lindsey Graskey. She usually does the cover art and other collage pieces. I collage the articles, format and contribute more writings along with other local writers: Af Bat and Palabaro. I am thankful they continue to donate their time to this zine because they believe it makes a difference and contributes to the local art community. More than a handful of times strangers approached me to share their support of the zine. It’s good to know that it’s doing good as well as validating each contributor’s experience. It’s a win-win situation. I feel the goal of the zine is to empower women and educate others on issues relevant to us by the use of art, collage, images and words.

Reader: Back in March Wisconsin Republican Senator, Glenn Grothman, moved to amend existing state law by “requiring the Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board to emphasize non-marital parenthood as a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect.” As a single mother yourself, what do you think about that?

Gapske: This is a question that also came to me back in March at my job. Obviously, it is not something I agree with and any time we have politicians telling social workers how to do their jobs we are allowing them to interfere with a trained professional’s decision making process. This is dangerous for the children involved and unfair to single parents who have been put in a position which is out of their control. In the State of Wisconsin, one-third of families are headed by single parents. Also, a bill such as SB507 puts children at more risk if there is domestic violence occurring in the marital home. Senator Grothman also believes that the welfare system encourages women to have children out of wedlock. This type of thinking completely removes the focus from these fathers who get off by being uninvolved. A woman doesn’t get pregnant on her own but unfortunately they are more often the ones facing the hardship of single parenting. The last thing they need to worry about is if being single will be used against them in a CPS (child protective services) investigation. The focus should be on what is best for the child. I feel care can be healthier by one amazing single parent rather than a married couple with AODA (alcohol or drug abuse) or abuse in the home. It needs to be considered on a case by case basis.

Reader: Off hand from what you know about vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s policies on women’s issues, explain what you think would happen if these plans went through. Doesn’t it seem odd that Wisconsin, which usually would seem to be a liberal state, is at the forefront of these issues?

Gapske: This is a scary time in Wisconsin with the failed recall election and now the Presidential election coming up in November. I can only hope that women in our country will realize all that is at stake. Paul Ryan’s agenda supports slashing programs that disproportionately employ and serve women, repeal Obama care which makes healthcare affordable to tens of millions of women and their families, as well as in the past, vowed to ban all forms of abortions and some forms of birth control. He’s attempted to end federal funding to organizations like Planned Parenthood which provide a wide variety of affordable reproductive and health services to women. Thankfully, Planned Parenthood has a huge backing for their services and are able to combat these attacks by Republican leaders. I am terrified what would happen to these types of agencies as well as funding for other non-profits and other organizations that provide necessary services to individuals and families. Even CASDA has had to face devastating budget cuts more recently to SAVS (Sexual Assault Victim Services Grant) funds and to our emergency shelter programing. How do we continue to serve these people with the increase in demeaning service and less resources? This is not shocking to me because spending in the elections has become exponential. It’s a troubling issue in our state and for the upcoming election.

Reader: I don’t think I’ve seen these issues pushed so hard in politics before. The issue of abortion has always been a hot topic, but it seems to have really increased especially with this current campaign race. Why does it seem like things are reversing?

Gapske: The reason I feel it’s become such a hot topic is because it’s one of the most black and white issues for the campaign. Paul Ryan has a perfect rating from the National Right to Life Committee in his 14 years in Congress and claims to be “as pro-life as a person gets.” We usually see candidates stray away from this topic but this so-called “war on women” has heightened the media’s coverage on the topic. I think it’s reversing but people with these types of beliefs have always been around. Politics has taken a path that will find hardly any common ground for the American people. Being extreme and radical will get you more attention. It’s unfortunate that politicians are not able to allow women to make their own private medical decisions with their providers. They may claim that they want less government but I feel like it cannot be anymore involved with these proposed policies in our homes and doctor’s office.

Reader: I have to ask, what do you think about Represenative Todd Akin’s statement on “legitimate rape?”

Gapske: The fact is on average 32,000 women do become pregnant as a result of rape each year. I don’t even know what “legitimate rape” means nor does anyone because it’s not a legit term. I think we know what he was trying to say though. It’s good he has issued a statement to do damage control but this will not get as much coverage or attention. The damage is already done and it’s a dangerous ideology to spread. He didn’t just blurt it out and his thinking came from somewhere. It proves to me that organizations that work with sexual assault survivors such as the local agencies, CASDA and PAVSA, need to work even harder to educate folks on the dynamics of sexual assault. Representatives have committed repeat attempts to cut funding to sexual assault programs and toy with language in sexual assault statutes, this just proves the lack of empathy and removal from the reality victims of assault have to face.

Reader: Anything else you’d like to add that you feel people should know about?

Gapske: If you’re a woman, this next election is more important than you’ll ever know. Please educate yourself and vote as if your life depends on it. It just actually might...


Paul Whyte

A South Shore native and University of Wisconsin-Superior journalism graduate. Lifelong musician, and former open mic host. Passionate about the music scene and politics.

View more of Paul Whyte's work »