Post College Feminism

July 25, 2011 § 2 Comments

Welcome back!

After graduation, I decided to take a hiatus on MyFeminisms. I wanted space from thinking critically about my identity, and needed time to think about what optional feminist critique would look like (the earlier posts were for an independent study course I designed and were required). I’ve realized in that time, however, that I often think about how I would analyze some situation on MyFeminisms and tend to think about how I would deal with some thought or moment in writing. It’s time to come back, and I’m excited to get going again.

As I begin to practically plan for my first big jump after college, I wanted to reenter the discussion on feminism in the real world. I recently came across Furry Girl’s article Feminism is the shitty relationship you had in your early 20s on her website http://www.feminisnt.com/. (Furry Girl operates¬†http://www.swaay.org/, an amazing organization that advocates for sex worker rights and unites allies and sex workers.) As both someone in their early 20s and someone who identifies as some sort of feminist, I found myself laughing out-loud at how scarily accurate Furry Girl’s observations were. At one point she writes about feminism/early 20s relationships:

You tried to fit yourself into his pre-existing framework, rather than finding someone who didn’t require that you shuffle any part of yourself the first place.

I deeply understand and in many ways relate to her frustration with feminism. During my time writing my thesis on sex work, I began to feel defensive of feminism and qualify my support for certain types of feminisms and particular feminists. As I learned about how certain (and so many) “feminists” saw sex workers as victims and/or threats to society, I tried to find ways to shape my feminism as separate from theirs. When I learned about how women of color had been left out of the fight for equality under the guise of feminism (and by many of my former feminist heroes), I felt I had to explain why this was the exception and not the rule. Yet my most significant problem with feminism has been one that I’ve only recently discovered. Over the past year and through this blog, I established an understanding of feminism that went beyond the academic-industrial complex, that valued different experiences over traditional “knowledge,” and a feminism that prized intersectionality and a multiplicity of realities over all else. Yet no matter how good this sounded on paper (or when I was still in the safe arms of academic feminism), I’ve found myself doubting my own realities and experiences after I’ve left college. I instinctively find myself doubting my own ideas to those that are published or feeling unqualified to make a judgement without knowing some theory or theorist. Feminisms ties to a certain kind of privilege or complicated past cannot be erased simply because it’s feminism; work needs to be done to make feminism the idea it needs to be. But how?

Having feminism as a community or safety net or an identity as I enter the real world is an idea I have–and continue to–rely upon. But what if it’s not good enough? What if feminism is something that I’ll make excuses for in my early 20s and then be forced to abandon? What would feminists without feminism look like? And while I agree with Furry Girl that feminism shouldn’t be something we try to shape ourselves into, but then what are we striking towards?

Popular (Feminist) Culture

March 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’ve always been a secret pop culture junkie. I maintain a totally useless mental inventory of celebrity names, posses knowledge about their past and present relationships, and occasionally find myself referring to a celebrity as I might a friend. I spent high school watching embarrassing reality television shows (not exclusively, mind you. But embarrassing nonetheless), and secretly keeping up-to-date with the deeply inconsequential goings-on of my favorite stars. This certainly didn’t mean I wasn’t politically active or digging the beginning of my feminist roots simultaneously, but my love of pop culture wasn’t, to say the least, a totally minor part of my life growing up.

While I did maintain an unabashed love for all things pop culture throughout all of high-school (and, honestly, a lot of college) there was one moment when I realized that there was something wrong with how women, race and class were being presented. I couldn’t put my finger on what bothered me, but knew that I was fighting for one thing in my everyday life and then going home to watch shows which were created to facilitate the same anti-feminist actions I had just condemned. When I began to explore my identity as a feminist and explore the ways I could live what I was learning, reality television and pop culture was the first thing that came under fire. I knew that I was supporting an industry which perpetrated the racism, sexism, classism and homophobia that I tried to fight (or at least address) in all other aspects of my everyday life.

I annoyed my friends by complaining (loudly, I’m ashamed to say) about America’s Next Top Model, explaining how plastic surgery shows perpetrated violence against women during the shows, and spouting jargon from gender studies 101 as I read US Weekly over their shoulders. And then, after all of that angst-causing behavior, I would secretly relish Huffington Post Entertainment and Laguna Beach re-runs. Could I be a feminist and support these programs and industries? Was I a total hypocrite? Should I just pick my battles and embrace my illicit relationships to reality television, or sacrifice the pop culture in my life for the good of the cause?

Lost in what felt like an unsolvable haze of young feminism, I turned to the internet. I discovered, to my total and utter delight, that there were feminists talking about pop culture with humor and respect. There were people talking about the very questions I wasn’t able to articulate! I had some idea that I should know what to find problematic within pop culture instinctively and instantly, and felt angry at myself when I read some article about how this kind of show promoted this kind of exclusivity, or how this language objectified these types of women and it was something I hadn’t thought of on my own. While pop culture is an inherent part of everyday lives, it also felt totally menial and meaningless. Yet there are multitudes of incredibly smart women talking about what it meant to be a feminist and participate and interact with pop culture. Since pop culture and reality television is so new, there’s just an acceptance that the analysis won’t be right the first time around. With increased input from varying types of women, the meanings and analyses are constantly being re-shaped and re-established. Pop culture feminism is based on an acceptance that no one has things right just yet, but with community involvement and participation, pop culture feminism can come to be relevant and meaningful.

I first came across Jennifer Ponzer’s book Reality Bites Back on Twitter, when I found myself totally taken with the idea that feminist analysis of pop culture could be a thing–and a worthwhile thing at that. (For more information on Reality Bites Back, see http://www.realitybitesbackbook.com/ .) Through Jennifer Ponzer and the magic of Twitter, I discovered a whole range of feminist pop culture analysis–which was funny, smart, constantly evolving, and totally relatable. Pop culture feminism disproves the idea that feminism is this one thing which is opaque, academic and inapplicable to real life. Discovering pop culture feminism was one of the first times I realized how I could apply the ideals of feminism to every and all aspects of my life, and what a privilege it was to be able to interact with pop culture through feminist analysis. It meant I didn’t have to remove myself or annoy my friends or frustrate myself, but I could work with pop-culture to reflect and analyze and hopefully improve upon what work it does for women.

Dueling Identities

March 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance

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Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I spent a lot of time avoiding going to Temple. While I identified as Jewish and enjoyed the community¬† that my reform temple offered, I couldn’t ever understand how going to services or saying prayers really related to me. For my Bat Mitzvah, I avoided studying for so long that I had to spend a week in double-time tutoring and studying sessions. I enjoyed the practice of it all, and was surprised about how much I enjoyed thinking about the meaning of my portion. I maintained some interest in the theory, and in many ways found that my cultural Jewishness was a big part of my identity after leaving home. However, in my first encounter with Judaism after my first few women and gender studies classes, I couldn’t believe how patriarchal the whole thing felt. Why would I ever participate in it? How could anyone continue to? Who expected me to not be livid about it?

My junior year, I decided to take a class called Gender and Judaism. It was my first religion class, and I think I half expected that it would prove how outdated and unrelated Judaism was to someone whose main identity was as a young feminist. While we did learn about many of the ways which religion was a patriarchal structure or Jewish practices were based on sexist ideas, I was shocked when I realized how much women had done to find ways to create an identity as a Jew and as a feminist. For these women who felt strongly about maintaining duel identities, they took a two-pronged approach by carving out a place for them within Judaism while also reshaping the the religion itself.

Learning about Jewish Feminism was the first time it really registered that loving something can mean being critical of it. It made me question my initial idea that I should immediately and instantly drop my Jewish identity. Examining structures and the roles they play in sexism is a basic feminist practice, and the experience of Jewish feminists made me realize how easy it is to stop examining. Learning about Jewish Feminism taught me about the value of the fight, no matter how complicated it is. There is never one right answer, one feminist way, one version of intersectionality. But there is one major truth: identities are incredibly complicated and constantly changing. I don’t know how I’ll end up changing my identity or reconciling my feminism with my Judaism, or even if it’s the fight I want to have. But there’s something incredibly powerful in realizing that it’s not all or nothing.

Where Am I?

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