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?

Advertisements

Creating Coalitions

April 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

As part of the women and gender studies department at my college, one of the most important things I’ve learned is the value of community. I’ve been a part of the group that’s continued a call for change at the college that I attend. Because of that group, I’ve had the opportunity to spend a significant and consistent amount of time with a group of other majors and student feminists. It has been one of the single most inspiring, challenging, and wonderful opportunities of my life. I’ve had the unique chance to take into action many of the principles that I’ve been reading about. As deeply as I believe I understand concepts like intersectionality or “decentering,” turning those ideas into reality is a totally different thing. Realizing the ways that I misunderstood those concepts that I felt I knew so well was an incredibly jarring experience.
But being a part of the most inspiring group of women and men activists is also the most inspiring experience of my life this far.

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.

Theoretical Practices

March 25, 2011 § 1 Comment

At the small and elite liberal-arts college that I attend, the idea of social justice and egalitarianism is very much embedded into the fabric of the college. Yet over the course of my time here, the actions of the school and its students (including myself) haven’t lived up to the school’s image. Even as a socially conscious school which brands itself as such, my college community was not immune to creating or perpetuating inequalities,  stratification and exclusion. In a response to the increasing acts of homophobia, racism and sexism on campus, the women’s center on campus organized a forum to allow people to air their grievances, communicate with one another and figure out how to address the identified problems.

At the forum, hundreds of students, dozens of professors, and several administrators showed up to discuss and dispute what the problems were and how we could go about addressing them. It was powerful and exciting to see so many passionate and intelligent community members articulating what brought them to the meeting and what they identified as the main problems. As facilitators, it was thrilling to be doing the work that we had talked about for so long and dealing with the complicated politics of making change in practice. Where we hit a wall, however, was when we tried to explain academic concepts in real-world terms and applying them to everyday practice. Among many of the women and gender studies majors, we often joke about the amount of times we use words like “intersectionality,” “social construction,” “agency,” and “structure.” After a certain amount of classes, readings, and papers, it feels as if we know these ideas like the backs of our hands. Yet when we tried to explain why we need the supportive structures to enable individual change, we felt at a loss.

The forum was our first attempt to spark conversation and inspire people to change their actions, while explaining why we needed more support from the administration and identify where they are lacking. The second meeting broke into factions about what was more important–student responsibility or institutional systems. Just like structures and individuals exist in balance to one another, we have to find a balance between theory and practice.

Expanding Borders

March 18, 2011 § 2 Comments

International Women's Day rally of the Nationa...

Image via Wikipedia

When I started writing my thesis, I thought I would learn about women in the developing world. When I finished my thesis, I realized that I had learned just the opposite. The prospect of grouping billions of women together and learning about their lives is so deeply ridiculous; I can sit in a classroom at my small liberal-arts college and acknowledge that I can’t speak for anyone more than myself, yet I couldn’t see the problem with grouping together women across countless borders and boundaries.

The idea of the “third-world woman” is often made into a brand of an exotic caged animal that needs liberation, and incredibly often western feminists maintain and perpetuate that discourse. There’s a strong feeling among certain types and waves of feminists that they’ve changed the conversation from patriarchal ethnocentrism to one that respects the lives of women in the developing world. Yet these conversations about who “third-world women” are, how western feminists can help them, and how people should understand third-world woman’s life is still presented in oppressive frameworks.

I’ve spent the past four years examining my feminisms and how they relate to women in America and Western norms. I like to think that I’ve garnered some sort of understanding about the complexities and subtleties regarding my feminisms and Western feminist theory. It took me until this year, however, to realize how I haven’t translated the complexity of that thinking to my understanding of global women. Post-colonial feminisms have created space for women outside of the Global North to explain how Western feminists have denied the “third-world woman” the space to speak their voice and define their identities on their own terms (or even in their own language). If Western feminists have the privilege to struggle, question and mold their identities and then re-question those identities all over again, non-Western women should be afforded the same right. Jaded16, a blogger who writes about Post-Colonial feminism, explains in ‘Skin Deep’ in Whose Skin? (http://jaded16.wordpress.com/2010/10/07/skin-deep-in-whose-skin/):

While there are quite a few theorists, bloggers, activists and people (who may or may not be acquainted with technical jargon of écriture féminin) who understand the problems with privilege and consciously work at divorcing it from their lives, there is an acute lack of Colonial critique or even acknowledgment that actions of mainstream feminism are, in fact, Colonial in more instances than countable.

Western feminists to ignore and deny the voices of Post-Colonial Feminists by using limited guidelines to understand feminisms, assuming one idea of what women want, and have a narrow idea of who’s worth listening to maintains Colonialism within feminisms. I couldn’t believe how powerful Jaded16’s blog was, and how clearly it stated what feminists were doing wrong and what she, as a Post-Colonial Feminist, needed. For her blog, see http://jaded16.wordpress.com/.

When United’s Divided

March 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

Between this blog and my experiences in my final semester in college, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what it means to be in a feminist coalition. I’ve spent many classes considering the problems with creating the essentialist woman, and how ignoring differences isn’t equalizing but empowers the already privileged. I’ve also spent many other class periods considering the dangers of “othering” and the speed with which that creates an “us versus them” ideology.

If neither of these situations work, then what is feminism? Has it ceased to be a realistic or meaningful idea? Where to with theory if so much of it never seems to get it right? I keep hanging on to this idea of feminism as something worth fixing, as a powerful idea, as a community to which I belong. But what if it’s ridiculous? And maybe it is; maybe my questions about the idea of feminism mark my privilege and make clear my lack of understanding.

But if feminism is really a sinking ship not worth saving, then what next?

As I begin to think about my future career, I keep assuming that the feminist theory is going to be the first thing I’ll have to compromise. But when I imagine an alternate vision, all I can think of is how privilege comes from being able to just sit and theorize. I feel, as a women and gender studies major and a young feminist, that my feminism has perfected going 98% of the way. There’s no conclusions. There’s no how-to. There’s no pat on the back for getting it right, because there never seems to be a right.

Is there a coalition to be built over the 98%? Can we unite over the fault lines between and within the feminisms? Being a true feminist ally–not even the voice or the activist–is as complicated as can be. I think that I had some romantic idea that starting this blog would help me figure out the holes in my feminisms, would make me a true intersectional feminist, or would give me some guiding principal with which to live my life as a true feminist. At moments, I have felt like this blog has facilitated things coming full circle. But in all honesty, I feel that the more I learn the more lost I feel. I’ve spent a lot of time talking about allowing room for other realities and learning from others’ experiences. How can we listen without being silent?

And what now?

Dueling Identities

March 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance

Image via Wikipedia

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?

You are currently browsing the feminisms category at myfeminisms.