Intersectionality Snowday: A Feminist Teacher Revolution!

February 10, 2010 § 2 Comments

Two years ago when Miranda and I started a feminism club at our liberal high school in Chelsea, we had chosen a faculty advisor, our global history teacher who openly incorporated feminism into the curriculum. Then, we walked into our English class and our teacher came up and asked us if she could be our advisor too! We celebrated the beauty of two awesome feminists, one who teaches of a patriarchal world with a critical eye and the other who teaches loquacious poetry written by unheard women. It is true that both teachers were in the humanities and it would be awesome to find some feminist science teachers to round out our school, but the point is that we had educators vying to teach feminism and we know that’s a rarity.

Too often, academic feminism is restricted to the college classroom. In Girldrive, Nona Willis Aronowitz articulates her well-deserved skepticism,

We realize its power, but we’ve also noticed how academic feminism alienates young women from concepts they would otherwise be down with…. All we want is conversation and if academic feminism really has become so removed from personal experience that it’s caused emotional paralysis, then we are determined to change that.

Here’s the thing: academic feminism can get so wrapped up in theories and generalizations that it gets disconnected from reality. That reality is that women and men experience sexism conditionally, based on all the intersections of their lives – their personal lives. The academic must be personal in order get young women and young men down with concepts they can relate to. And for the academic to be personal, intersectionality must be acknowledged, celebrated, and taught in the mainstream. And that’s especially hard when there’s such a clear socioeconomic gap between women’s studies curricula at various universities.

Next year, I plan to attend super-liberal and well-to-do Wesleyan University. Currently, Wesleyan offers 19 women’s studies courses and offers a major in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. And they better offer this many courses, seeing as Wesleyan costs $54,000 a year. I was also considering SUNY Geneseo, a public small liberal arts college with roughly the same number of students as Wesleyan, though it costs $48,000 less. SUNY Geneseo currently offers only three women’s studies courses. Unfortunately, there is a direct correlation between the escalating tuition of higher education and the number of women’s studies classes offered.

This is a problem. A dramatic disparity between the number of women’s studies courses offered at private versus public institutions means that only a certain part of the population is being educated on feminism. And let’s face it – those who go Wesleyan are already pretty knowledgeable on feminism whereas those who attend public universities come from a much wider range of backgrounds and need this education the most. Sure, it’s easy to celebrate intersectionality at a university that is known for being politically correct, but what about in a university that actually has a ton of students from backgrounds that provide the means for intersectional discussions? Shouldn’t that university offer courses devoted to such conversation?

I propose a solution. Academic feminism, as confined to the campus bubble, is nice and safe. It’s hard to pinpoint patriarchy as it affects us on a personal level when we sit in a classroom with around twenty women and one man in a college that is made up of mostly women in a town so crummy that quads have become the most immediate society we interact with. Of course Nona’s critique of the removal of academic feminism from personal experience occurs. There is little personal experience to draw from in such a setting. That is why feminism must be taught before the university bubble is blown, way before it is to be popped a few years down the road, academic feminism potentially leaving its students defenseless in the real world of personal experience.

Feminism must be taught in K-12 classrooms. And not just in yuppie high schools in Chelsea. Feminism must be taught in inner-city schools where students have personal experiences with domestic violence and rape. Feminism must be taught in Catholic schools where girls are taught to be chaste and purity rings are celebrated. Feminism must be taught in Jewish Day Schools where the religious classes are taught almost exclusively in a male lexicon. Feminism must be taught in all schools where, to quote the blog Equality 101, “history courses continue to obliterate women who have made marks on society and culture.”

To teach feminism in the classroom not only gets more students to identify as feminists, but it broadens the spectrum of whom a feminist is. When a feminist can be a kindergarten student who is genuinely pissed off that her arithmetic talents aren’t being as valued as that of her male peers, we are making progress. In the K-12 classroom, the academic is inherently personal. Us high school students deal with sexism daily – at home, work, school, extra-curriculars, the books we read, with friends…just fill in the blank. We need a feminist teacher revolution to incorporate equality into the curriculum. Why is this basic concept, one that promotes inclusion of personal experience, so revolutionary when it comes to the classroom, the youth that represent our future?

Intersectionality Saturdays: Choice in a Cultural Context

January 16, 2010 § 3 Comments

It’s been a really long while since I’ve posted on here, but I’m back for a weekly cross-post between Women’s Glib and my new blog on Jewish feminism, from the rib?. This column will focus on intersectionality – the connection of oppressions and liberation movements – and how it affects my life. Here’s edition #1:

Yesterday, I was talking to a girl in my Biology class who just returned from a semester abroad in Israel. She asked me the broadest yet incredibly popular question: “What do you think of Israel?” After living in various parts of Israel for five weeks this summer, I left more confused than when I arrived. When I arrived at Ben Gurion Airport, I was ignorant. I left realizing just how many diverse and seemingly unrelated topics there are to be ignorant about. Because of that ignorance, I like to gently lead people away from pre-supposed political answers and into topics I feel comfortable forming opinions about. These usually concern sexism and feminism.

Academically and socially, I feel authorized to speak on sexism and feminism. At times, I feel like I live and breathe books, blogs, and performances of feminist work. I am also a woman and recognize the exploitation of my own gender in the media, as well as what “society” (the largest abstraction of all) expects of me. Culturally, however, I feel like a feminist without a cause. Growing up as a white member of the middle class in liberal New York City with a mother whose income is greater than my father’s, the education of my choosing, and occasionally attending egalitarian synagogues, I am privileged and, on a superficial level, I have nothing in my own life to fight for.

So back to the conversation that got all these thoughts whirling. I redirected it to the treatment of women in ultra-Orthodox Israeli societies. While I was supposed to be researching viral causes of cancer cells, I spoke of the horrible treatment of women in education, in synagogue, and in the home. The girl in my Biology class responded that she does not see suffering amongst women in the ultra-Orthodox communities she has visited. Their roles are what they have been brought up with and it is what they want to continue with because they have never known anything else. It is their lifestyle.

My immediate response was that it is because they have not been shown an alternative. These women do not know they are oppressed because they have never experienced having equal opportunities. And then my Bio buddy threw at me one of the most provocative questions I could be asked: “How do you know your way is better?”

How do I know my way is better? I believe I know what equality is. I am proud to be a woman. I am proud to be a feminist and fight not only for my rights but for the rights of us all that are so interconnected. My way is what I have grown up with and has stemmed from the privilege I was raised with and the beliefs I have had the freedom to foster. I believe in choice and I believe that all women should be able to choose their own way in life, be it sexist or feminist through a traveler’s eyes. If a woman is happy and fulfilled singing lightly in the background of a synagogue or receiving an education different from her husband’s or forgoing occupational opportunities and chooses to do so, that is not sexist. She has chosen it for herself.

What does choice mean in a cultural context? Where is the line drawn between advocacy and – I’m going to make up a word here because we are speaking in a feminine lexicon at the moment – maternalism? How can we enforce a right to choose in communities where women do not know what choice is? And who on earth am I to say they do not know what choice is?

Call for Participants

January 15, 2010 § 1 Comment

I am thrilled to announce that my Senior Keystone project — a culmination of my high school work — is underway. I have decided to focus my project, tentatively titled Beyond Juno: The Birth Mother Project, on how social stereotypes about birth mothers compare with their identities and lived experiences.

Beyond Juno: The Birth Mother Project
Call for Participants

SEEKING: Birth mothers, first mothers, women who have placed a child for adoption from the New York City region, TO BE INTERVIEWED AND PHOTOGRAPHED for a feminist art/activism project.

PARTICIPATION REQUIRES: A physical meeting with me (roughly an hour and a half long), where I will conduct an informal interview regarding the participant’s life and experiences with adoption, as well as capture some portrait photographs. The final product will be a compilation of transcripted interviews and portraits. The aim of the project is to give voice to birth mothers and to encourage discussion around their experiences and identities.

PLEASE NOTE: It is certainly possible for a participant to remain anonymous; a woman’s name can be changed and her face obscured if she prefers.

All prospective participants should CONTACT BirthMomProject@gmail.com. You can also contact me there if you have any questions about the project.

Please forward widely. Thank you!

Go Read This

January 4, 2010 § Leave a comment

When Sex is Normal, Normal People Will Have Sex, by the ever-awesome Jaclyn Friedman — one of my most passionate feminist crushes.

Think about tattoos. It used to be that a tattoo meant that you were low-class and possibly dangerous. Part of a fringe element. Nowadays, over 35% of Americans age 18-40 have at least one tattoo. You can’t write off people because they have a tattoo anymore — there are just too many people involved. It’s too normal.

What if public acknowledgments of sexuality became like tattoos? What if, due to Facebook and Twitter and blogs and all the other ways we have to communicate with each other online, and the number of young people posting personal things about themselves through these media — what if it became normal for there to be some publicly available information about a person’s current or former sex life? What if too many people were in that situation for it to mean anything about your authority, or anything about your character at all? What if kids knew, via Google or whatever comes after Google, that their teachers — heck, their parents — are or have been sexual beings, and that there’s nothing wrong with that? What if the web made sexuality normal?

This is an issue I think about a lot. I’ve skirted the topic of my own sexuality here on Women’s Glib, for many reasons. Though I don’t print my last name or my school, many of my friends and acquaintances — people who know me already — read this blog, and anyone who is friends with me on Facebook knows I’m the author of many posts here. I don’t want just anyone knowing details that might shame me in another context.

And part of it is exactly what Jaclyn describes — I don’t want to limit my professional opportunities now or later in life. Talking explicitly and personally about sex, unfortunately, is unprofessional.

Saying No

October 28, 2009 § 3 Comments

You may have noticed that blog updates have been infrequent of late. I can’t speak for other contributors, but for me this lack of writing has much to do with my stress level. I’m applying to college, and I’m taking a lot of interesting and damn challenging classes.

There’s a lot I’ve had to be proud of recently: I’m finished with a couple applications; my modern dance classes have made my body feel awesome, limber and strong; I’m happy with my grades thus far; I’ve amped up my work with NARAL Pro-Choice NY; this week is my one-year anniversary of dating my boyfriend.

But I’ve noticed that it’s hard for me to take a break. There’s so much I want to do — not only do, but do perfectly — that it’s hard to carve myself any time for just nothing. It’s hard to keep my mental and emotional health strong.

Stress is just as much a feminist issue as its partner-in-crime, choice. As Courtney Martin suggests in her book, women feeling like we have to do everything may be an unintended consequence of the feminist movement, which has taught us that we can do anything. For (privileged) women, the array of opportunities we’re presented with — much broader than even a few decades ago — can be a double-edged sword.

Other bloggers deal with this, too. I have deep respect for Melissa’s and RMJ’s decisions to take some time off, decisions that, unfortunately, may have induced feelings of guilt. And I admired Kate’s post about refusing to feel guilty for being a busy person with many passions.

Sometimes I think of my feminism as two intertwined struggles: feminism for women, which I fight for through my pro-choice volunteering, blog writing and reading, and club-running, among other acts; and feminism for me, which may need some prioritizing. This kind of feminism is me encouraging myself to take a break, to relax with my family and friends, to cook for myself, to nap, to read, to say NO when I’m overwhelmed, to stop doing everything, to stop trying to be perfect by setting more compassionate and realistic goals.

Just some things to think about.

Where Are All the Poster Children?

September 9, 2009 § Leave a comment

Yesterday I went to the annual poster sale so I could make my side of the room a little bit crazier. I was delighted to find posters of R2D2, E.T., and (woot!) Rosie the Riveter. However…

While flipping through the posters, I noticed some pretty interesting trends. Did you know that every female college student is crazy for either Judy Garland, Audrey Hepburn, the occasional ironic Britney Spears, or Marilyn Monroe? You do now. I have nothing against these ladies. They are all wildly talented, beautiful, influential women. But come on people, give us some more credit than that!! I would love for the poster sale to offer a few more diverse (in terms of color, personality, age and occupation) options than the double threat white chicks. How about some Michelle Obamas, some Ella Fitzgeralds, some Joni Mitchells (she is a white lady double threat as well, I’m just a little bitter that I couldn’t secure a Joni poster), some Jhumpa Lahiris, some J.K. Rowlings (please please please!!!), or Gloria Steinems… anyone!?! Because women have influence beyond the silver screen (and I mean silver… I’m not sure exactly why girls are supposed to be obsessed with black and whites, but not even Dorothy was in technicolor!).

You might have noticed I mentioned Rosie The Riveter in my purchases… yep. That’s true. There was ONE Rosie poster. Maybe this means that all the feminists snagged the rest of the supply before I got there, but I still think it points to a lack of diversity. Of course, I am entirely ignoring the fact that college women can break the trends of their demographic and go for the aqua teen hunger force or the Bob Marley, but I say with some confidence that we are not the target audience for these posters.

So please, college poster sale, keep us feminists in mind next time you stock up? I like to show my true colors all over the wall, and it’s hard when I have only black and white movie stars to choose from.

My Weighty Story: An Appeal to Feminist Thought

May 25, 2009 § 9 Comments

Two years ago, I lost weight. Growing up, I was made to feel uncomfortable in my own skin. Left to the devices of a television that made me feel inadequate, magazines that made me feel I was in need of a makeover, a doctor that criticized the numbers on a scale, verbal abuse from my peers, and a me who did not understand the meaning of size acceptance, I became obsessed with my appearance. Inevitably, I dieted.

At the time, I had not begun my love affair with feminism, let alone that with fat acceptance (I still bring up the latter during family dinners just to have the opportunity to educate the confused faces around the table). Before my discovery of the ability to let my body be what it wanted to be, I began to physically shrink. Almost everyone commented. When I changed my Facebook photo, people who I barely knew began to commend me on what they thought were improvements.  I thought that if I “got thin” people would stop commenting on my weight, but no, the awkward dotes about my body just kept on coming.

It is considered far too acceptable to comment on women’s weight. Worse off, it is considered far too acceptable to commend thinness and criticize fatness. Although I never verbally criticized other women’s bodies the way I was conditioned to, I internally criticized my own. I am ashamed to say that when I dropped a few sizes and compliments abounded, I said “thank you.”

I no longer believe in dieting as healthy (neither physically nor mentally). I, diet-free, have a new system of beliefs: feminism and acceptance, the two joyously frolicking hand-in-hand. I believe in the power of my mind and body to take up space. It does not matter to me how much space I take up. Simply that I make an imprint on the face of equality is good enough for me. It does not matter if I’m a size 4 or a size 14. With feminism and acceptance, the imprint is still the same.

For some esoteric reason, people still comment on my weight. I do not blame them; they were taught to idealize one type of body and I provide a before, after, and yo-yoing picture for them. For similar societal pressures as why I lost weight, they comment on it. The difference between this year and last year is that this year, I do not say “thank you.”

Through feminism, I have become a size activist, reading the prose of other women speaking out against body discrimination and co-leading discussions on body ideals at my school’s feminism club. With the breadth of knowledge that I have gained from awareness and acceptance, I do not say “thank you,” but that alone unfortunately does not keep my friend’s mother from calling me “the incredible shrinking person” or my second-cousin-once-removed telling me I “look so much better after losing the weight.” Because I no longer deem these innocently demoralizing remarks worthy of my gratitude, I am left stuttering or awkwardly silent during the pause in which I’m expected to say “thank you.”

So what do I, a feminist size activist, do now? The comments keep coming, my body’s not changing, and the awkwardness pervades because I will not express my gratitude for recognition of conformity. How can I tell these people that my weight is not to be commented on (positively or negatively) when they are so innocently trying to compliment me? How do I spread this rant of size acceptance to people who just expect a “thank you” out of my loud mouth?

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