“I remain less occupied with coming to voice because I know how quickly voice can be taken away. My concern now lies in finding effective ways to use the voice that I have claimed while I have it.”
- Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought.
Our Voices: My Feminist Thinking
The essays that follow originated in a graduate seminar on feminist theory at Colorado State University in the spring of 2011. At the end of the semester, students responded to a request to describe their definitions of, and thoughts related to, feminism. There were fifteen women and men the course, and the readings for the semester included: Patricia Hill Collins, bell hooks, Maria Lugones, Jessica Valenti, Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards, Wilma Mankiller, Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua, Michael Kimmel and Abby Ferber, Kimberlee Crenshaw, Aimee Carillo Rowe, and others.
The essays are presented in alphabetical order, and are designed to stimulate conversation and reflection. If you would like to submit an essay for consideration for this ongoing series, see our Submit an Essay page, and contact Cindy at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like a copy of the syllabus for the course, contact Cindy, as well.
My Feminist Thinking
I believe feminism is central to my finding a semblance of understanding and direction in my life. Feminism provides an alternative way of viewing and feeling the world around me, an alternative that relies on cooperation instead of competition and that rejects the dynamics of hierarchical power as a means of establishing itself. This semester I have again, as happens with any gender oriented, feminist class I take, experienced a shift in my feminist thinking. This shift for me focuses on identification of power structures, language, and cooperation. Feminism is something I carry with me in both my personal and professional lives. It informs me about events I have lived both personally and professionally but it also informs me about the life I am leading now. I feel more attuned to my surroundings and equipped to deal with my world as it changes.
As I move through my experiences and events that life is sure to bring, I know that I will be unable to ignore the presence of certain power structures, the influence of language, and the importance of cooperation. bell hooks’ concepts in The Will To Change found a deep seating in my soul. I cannot acknowledge patriarchy as a simple “patriarchy” as I have in the past. Patriarchy is a multi-appendaged mechanism with arms and fingers in nearly all aspects of our existence. We cannot turn without running into what bell hooks termed an “imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy” (hooks, 17). Patriarchy no longer occupies a furtive space, for me it is palpable and much clearer than it was at the beginning of the semester.
I have learned the importance of language and its role in helping us to cooperate with rather than compete against one another. Maria Lugones, bell hooks, Patricia Hill Collins, and Sally Gearhart have reformed my understanding of language as it relates to my individuality as well as my membership within communities. Lugones revealed for me the silence imposed on individuals by language differences and barriers between groups. As she says, “I will swallow my tongue “a medias,” halfway” (Lugones, 45). Lugones articulates that language can and often does divide us. Patricia Hill Collins echoes this assertion when she, through Audre Lorde’s words, identifies the dual consciousness African-American women must adopt in order to feel protected, “Black women ‘become familiar with the language and manners of the oppressor,’” (Collins, 107). Collins informs me of my status of both an oppressor and an oppressed individual, I am now looking toward my own consciousness and wonder how many different consciousnesses I must posses and how I might engage them in such a way so as not to oppress others. Finally, Sally Gearhart provided me a foundation for changing the way I view intention in language, her writing has forever altered the way I interact and listen to others. She argues, “that no intent to enlighten or persuade would be made but rather that each party would seek to contribute to an atmosphere in which change for both/all parties can take place” (Gearhart, 198). While I think there is a lot of work to be done before we can reach this ideal Gearhart has given us, I think it is of the utmost importance and I am committed to achieving it in my own life.
Feminism had changed my life before I got to Colorado. It once again changed me after I arrived. Having spent a year working in a corporate setting in which language and patriarchy were the standard tools of oppression and control, I want to become stronger in my identifying and calling out those structures which seek to control us. My feminist thinking is that I exist as an interdependent man, who is aware of his gender and the power afforded to him by his particular intersectional existence. I know that I am favored in many ways by the patriarchal mechanism hooks lays out and that I am in a position to exploit people through my use of language. But I will reject this because I know that such actions hurt others as well as myself. Oppression and power influences afforded by patriarchal structures actually oppress everyone, even those who seem or feel in control of such structures.
To end this semester I will give my definition of feminism, knowing that this definition is never final and embraces the changes it’s sure to experience. Feminism is a way of living that appreciates all people as valuable and important influences in one another’s lives. Feminism is a collective approach to change, committed to identifying and calling out those structures of power and oppression that harm all people. Feminism is an understanding of gender’s role in the struggles we face and the control we have of our own bodies, minds, and hearts.
This writer is a heterosexual, white-male, born in 1985 and was 25 years old when he wrote this reflection. He enjoys reading, travelling, and spending time with his partner and family. His favorite hobbies are fishing and canoeing on the backwaters of the Mississippi. He is a Communication Studies graduate student focusing on media and rhetoric as they apply to issues of gender and difference.
Gearhart, Sally Miller. "The Womanization of Rhetoric." Women's Studies International Quarterly. 2.2 (1979): 195-201. Print.
Hill Collins, Patricia. Black Feminist Thought. New York: Routledge Classics, 2009. Print.
hooks, bell. The Will To Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love. New York: Washington Square Press, 2004. Print.
Lugones, María. Pilgrimages Peregrinajes: Theorizing Coalition Against Multiple Oppressions. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2003. Print.
My Feminist Thinking
This self-reflexive piece seeks to address the question of what it means to be a feminist, as well as speak to my place in such a concept, movement, and lifestyle. In crafting this brief expression, I have decided to focus my attention on four feminist scholars: Jessica Valenti, bell hooks, Maria Lugones, and Patricia Hill Collins. The ideas and insights presented within their texts have truly enriched my thinking towards feminism. Thus, it is my aim within this piece to highlight how the perspectives of these women have shaped my feminist thinking, and end with the articulation of my own personal definition of feminism.
To open, Jessica Valenti text Full Frontal Feminism exhibits her arguments in a fiery manner throughout her book. Her ear-perking perspectives reveal that her book served as a “talking piece” in which its goal was to position the feminist lifestyle in a contemporary manner, while also seeking to motivate new audiences to take a step forward in feminism. From this, I am able to infer that one aspect of being a feminist is taking messages to people and places without any bias or discrimination, and doing so in a compelling and effective fashion. Thus, the first piece of what it means to be a feminist is playing the role of a courier, or messenger.
Next, I utilized bell hooks’ ideas surrounding the expression of love in her book The Will to Change. Hooks’ overarching point was that patriarchy has created a division between males and emotion. She contends that this division has led to a variety of problems in how men approach and manage their relationships with others, and even how the lack of emotion has caused men to conceptualize reality in problematic ways. The issue of male un-emotion cannot be solved through grandiose societal, structural changes. Such changes ought to be exhibited within the everyday lives of individuals through gracious words, gestures, and overall expressions of love. And it is from this that I have discovered that feminists are to be characterized as poetic painters. This is so because the most aesthetic images created are defined by its value in each stoke whisked upon the canvas. Even the smallest of strokes can have a large enough impact on the overall outcome of the picture. Therefore, feminists are poetic painters in the sense that their approach to change can be found in the smallest demonstrations of eloquence.
Maria Lugones further advanced my exploration of what it means to be a feminist through her discussion on the topic of anger in her book Pilgrimages. Being angry is perfectly fine, as Lugones suggests, and the experience of such ought to be encouraged indeed. Anger can serve as the driving force by which action can be provoked, and the experience of anger holds no benefit without proper form of expression. Differently phrased, merely being angry is not the key to change; rather, the key is what we do with our anger. Due to this, I gather that feminists are skilled at taking something and transforming it into something new and useful. Thus, we arrive at an additional characterization in which an element of being a feminist is that they are consummate artisans.
Lastly, Patricia Hill Collins’ text titled Black Feminist Thought presents the notion that it is not helpful to the achievement of change if we thrive solely off of our distinctions and individual bodies of knowledge. Instead, the mindset of convergence allows those of intersecting and similar oppressions to achieve change alongside one another. If intersectionality binds people together in ways that were once considered solitary and exclusionary, then what Collins highlights is another aspect of being a feminist, and that is the necessity to be a part of a larger community, to belong. From this, I gather that my last ingredient to feminist attribution is that we are very much so companions of all who value betterment.
Therefore, by taking into account and dissecting the notions of Jessica Valenti, bell hooks, Maria Lugones, and Patricia Hill Collins, I have been able to construct ideas to answer the question of what it means to be a feminist. From these theorists, I have determined that feminists are: couriers, poetic painters, consummate artisans, and companions. Thus, I define feminism to be a doctrine and movement of small actions demonstrated by individuals of similar passions who seek to influence an epic result of creating a better world by using the elements contained within its current state. The application of this definition to my personal life informs my association with others without a respective bias as well as the content that I impart upon them. Furthermore, in proceeding with life in the social world with this definition in hand, I understand that my attitudes, actions, and words serve as the tipping point between attracting others to feminism as well as causing them to be repelled by it. Therefore, I close this piece expressing and encouraging that feminists embrace the responsibility of being couriers, poetic painters, consummate artisans, and companions in our everyday practices of feminism.
Darrie Matthew Burrage was born September 25th, 1989 in Redwood City, California. He recently graduated from Colorado State University (CSU), studying Communication Studies as well as History and Women's Studies. Throughout the walk of his undergraduate career, Burrage has been tremendously active in the opportunities made available to him and his fellow students within Communication Studies. He was the President of the Mu Sigma chapter of Lambda Pi Eta, which is his major's honor society. Furthermore, he served as a Senior Associate within CSU's Center for Public Deliberation in which he worked as a trained facilitator and convener, helping local citizens come together to address critical issues more effectively. Burrage will soon be entering into a Master's program in Communication at the Boulder campus of the University of Colorado. Due to his passion for education, he aspires to one day obtain a vocation in the university environment as either a professor of Communication or a high-level administrator of some sort.
It is important for me to start this piece with a note about myself and my views on feminism. I have expanded my critical understanding of feminism, both materially and emotionally at an explosive pace over the last two years. I have been challenged, accepted, rejected and reborn in terms of the way I see feminism. With this evolution has come growing pains, but also the knowledge that the process is fluid. We must keep gaining perspective. I will, and must, keep growing, learning and changing in terms of my views on feminism. To not do so would be to deny the process, perhaps the most important part of all on one’s enactment of feminism. Being a white, educated, male feminist is an interesting existence. All around me, I see the devices and structures that continually support me and marginalize women (amongst others) and I have to ask myself the most productive way to destroy these systems. I must admit it is slightly counterintuitive because so many of these structural inequities privilege me. But, when I construct the way I think of feminism and my role within in it, I see a struggle and a glorious conclusion. The resistance that all feminists have engaged in must have a final destination, a clear goal: equity. For if it were not for a true uncompromising goal all of the work that we have pursued, our efforts would be solely academic.
So with this in mind, I enjoy asking the “rubber meets the road” questions. As I am sure some of you can empathize, I have grown tired with the so called “ivory tower” which both defines and confines modern academia and the splintered, micromanaged ways we live in post-modernity. I am curious to explore how we can address and tear down the patriarchal structures that have defined the lives of so many with our own hands and words. But planning for it only does so much good, the true answer (and challenge) is to get out and live one’s feminism. This is the gauntlet that has been laid down: act on your convictions.
I see the challenges of modern feminism as an ongoing social movement. So from this assumption, I ask myself how are we most productively going to get to the place we want to find ourselves, our society? With this epistemological perspective in mind, I see power feminism as the most commanding concept to me and my views of feminism. Patriarchy has been cruel to women, and will continue to do so. But the theorems of power feminism look to harness the power and momentum of this cruelty to re-center themselves within society. Simply put, the master’s tools can be used against him with great success. In the case of power feminism, the same issues, words and situations that arbitrarily kept women subordinate can be reversed and renegotiated to a condition of power. There is nothing about these power structures that are inherently masculine, but they have been molded to subordinate women. As Carillo notes (14) “the question of power has always been central to feminism.” So with the power that is available in mind, the redefining of power structures which are already engrained in society is the fastest and most comprehensive route to where we want to go.
The world is changing in many ways. The promises of equity by the founding fathers are coming closer and closer to fruition. But I submit that the change is not fast enough. As Marx said it would, all that is solid has melted into air, the things that have constrained women can be provide their liberation as well. For feminists, there are two keys. First, we must operate as a collective, with an agreed upon goal, no matter how farfetched or seemingly difficult. Rhetorically, when we have a united vision we also have a united voice and identity that is too loud and large to be ignored. Second, we must not be timid but be concise and confident; we are doing the right thing. The systems are there waiting to be reclaimed, they are growing weaker as we grow stronger. Claim your own agency. Harden your skin. Soften your heart. Tell your stories. Fight for your sisters. Accept nothing until we have reached our destination.
Alex T. Coughlin is a writer and political critic. He received his B.A. in communication from Saint John’s University (Minn.) and M.A. in communication studies from Colorado State University. His focus is on communication, rhetoric and discourse in American politics.
You can contact him at email@example.com.
My Feminist Thinking
Many years ago a friend told me what he thought of feminism. “It’s totally contradictory, because to claim that women deserve more rights than men is equally damaging. Also, the very existence of feminism itself highlights the differences between genders that feminists are claiming don’t exist.” I didn’t really have an opinion on the matter at the time, so I kept relatively quiet. I now know that each of those points (and both taken together) highlights what feminism is for me today. I was somewhat inspired by the students of an undergraduate class, Rhetoric and Civility, who were asked to define the term “civility,” in that some of their definitions were many sentences, enveloping many ideas. I realized that, in attempting to define feminism (like attempting to define civility), it’s probably not productive to strive for consolidation (succinctness, but not consolidation). Dictionary definitions are limiting, anyway.
First: “It’s totally contradictory, because to claim that women deserve more rights than men is equally damaging.” This is the essential claim that anti-affirmative action arguments rely on—so-called reverse discrimination. While anti-affirmative action is also a theoretical claim that attempts to demarcate the legitimacy of requests for equality (or equity, or whatever one deserves), the quote more represents the hands-on piece of my definition of feminism. It addresses the political side, the moment in which we turn action into thought through legislation or activism (Loeb, 1999). This is what I have previously referred to as “doing” feminism (or, at least, represents a piece of it). To do feminism requires a willingness not simply to exist within our own worlds (our minds or our academies), but to also reach out into the community in any number of ways. Spreading material results, perhaps, will work towards a larger belief that feminism (and social justice generally) can work and should work.
Second: “Also, the very existence of feminism itself highlights the differences between genders that feminists are claiming don’t exist.” This argument very succinctly epitomizes that tired charade that media and other forms of popular discourse go through in order to dismiss ideas that ruffle hegemony’s feathers. It can either be the systematic silencing of ideas on a large scale (Spender, 1983) or specific factions of feminism being silenced for challenging mainstream feminism (Collins, 2009) or supposedly damaging shifts in focus away from other social movements (hooks, 1984; Flores, 1996). The second piece of my definition, then, has to do with hegemony as it manifests forms of patriarchy and recognizes the necessity of existing within our own heads. This is the “being” feminist part of it. It’s necessary to be aware of the resistance to structural change in general in managing both being feminist and doing feminism (see also, about antifeminism and backlash, Faludi, 1991). My commitment to feminism in my personal life will be to call out these tired arguments. I now have, and will continue to acquire, tools other than the master’s with which to systematically dismantle thinking that’s fundamentally flawed. They are tools used for debunking myths as well as inviting new ways of thinking.
These concepts—doing feminism and being feminist—operate often in tandem. That said, the last piece of my definition is to avoid the temptation to be feminist without actively doing feminism in specific ways. And writing for the academy only counts a little. I may have isolated them for purposes of clarity, but we cannot so easily group them as such in real life. To pass legislation, we must take our theoretical commitments to the streets. Without these theoretical commitments, what are we working for? What motivates us? It’s clear that we’re unlikely to do feminism without at least secretly being feminist. But to be feminist openly and not to call out the privileged attitudes of those around us, especially those who consider themselves to be progressive (see Blair, Brown & Baxter, 1994; Flores, 1996; hooks, 1984; Collins, 2009, p.154-5), is to abandon our own musings and commitments. As with any feather ruffling, others might brand us as mildly annoying or trivial. They might make fun of our somehow ironic self-righteousness (and we theirs).
Therefore, the tension that’s inevitable between us forces the conclusion that, as a substantial part of this last piece, we invite (Foss & Griffin, 1995). Rather than exclusively using persuasion, which we know has been conceived of as violent (Gearhart, 1979) and certainly has the potential to be, we must invite people to listen to our tapes. We may suggest (for certainly we have an agenda), but as I’ve previously suggested, forcing them to listen can be counterproductive, and may well adhere to principles we critique. Being feminist in our minds and doing feminism with our bodies and ideas, coupled with the commitment to invitational rhetoric, constitute the cornerstone of what my feminist thinking has come to be. Going forward, I’ll have to continually remind myself (although I’m not sure it will be difficult) that doing feminism completes the soul and, perhaps more importantly, writing for the academy counts only a little.
Blair, C., Brown, J. R., & Baxter, L. A. (1994). Disciplining the feminine. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 80(4), 383-409.
Collins, P. H. (2009). Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment (Routledge Classics ed.). New York: Routledge.
Faludi, S. (1991). Backlash: The undeclared war against American women. New York: Three Rivers Press.
Flores, L. (1996). Creating discursive space through a rhetoric of difference: Chicana feminists craft a homeland. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 82(2), 142-156.
Foss, S. K., & Griffin, C. L. (1995). Beyond persuasion: A proposal for an invitational rhetoric. Communication monographs, 62(1), 2-18.
Gearhart, S. M. (1979). The womanization of rhetoric. Women's Studies International Quarterly, 2(2), 195-201.
hooks, b. (1984). Feminist theory: From margin to center. Cambridge, MA: South End Press.
Loeb, P. R. (1999). Soul of a citizen. Living with conviction in a cynical time. New York: St. Martin's Griffen.
Spender, D. (1983). Women of ideas and what men have done to them: From Aphra Behn to Adrienne Rich. New York: Routledge. Jeremy Grossman is a musician, hobby woodworker, male feminist graduate student. He and his partner Jaime live a minimalist lifestyle in Fort Collins, CO, but are relocating shortly to Athens, GA. His roots are in CO, taproots that go very deep, in fact, and has anchored a piece of himself to the Land of Sunshine despite the impossibility of assuring that he'll ever return for good. He and Jaime garden, with the help of their faithful yellow lab Zep, and are looking forward to a climate that doesn't frequently laugh at efforts to sustain fruitful vegetables, before thwarting those efforts. In keeping with the minimalist lifestyle, his primary form of transportation is either a bicycle or, despite strange looks and a lack of understanding, his feet. His feminism, like so many others, makes him a bit of a downer at parties, but pervades the space several feet around him at any given time. It ensures others' right to speak, to be heard, and to be valued.
A Way Forward
A feminist’s work is never done. It is a daily struggle and a full time job. It is acknowledging the past and finding a way forward. It is about equity vs. equality. It is about political, economic, and social justice. It is about having a fair shot; a chance to follow your dreams, be who you want to be, and live how you want to live. It is diverse, but the message seems cohesive: I will not be held back, I will not be discriminated against, and I will stand up for what I believe is right.
The issues of feminism are all encompassing; it is not limited by gender alone. Feminism embraces differences related to race, sex, sexuality, gender, ethnic, and economic status (just to name a few). It battles patriarchy, power, discrimination, racism, classism, homophobia, and wrongdoings all around the world. It sticks up for the little girl/guy, gives voice to the silenced, power to the weak, and agency to the oppressed. Feminism is a way of seeing the world and it is a way forward. To not acknowledge feminism is to be stuck in the past, or at the very least – the present.
Living this sort of feminism is a process. The first step in this process is to ask questions. We must reflect on situations and become reflexive in our own beliefs and actions. Challenge the premise of a situation. What are the customs and social standards? Why is this so? Why do you believe what you believe? Question when there is silence, ask when there is certainty, and always discuss. Just as we must ask why, we must also ask, why not? This may cause some uncomfortable situations, but that is good. Why are you uncomfortable? It’s easy to see the ways we are oppressed, but it’s often harder to see how we oppress others.
The second step in this process is identification. Know why you believe what you believe and why you act the way you act. Realizing there is no right answer here, you must at least be willing to answer to yourself. By acknowledging it, however, is it ok to accept it? Do not accept the status quo simply for what it is. Do not be afraid to go against the grain. Call out patriarchy, discrimination, and injustice where you see it. Do not turn a blind eye or run from the uncomfortable.
The third step is to be a role model. Use invitational and inclusive language. Don’t laugh at jokes that come at the expense of others and don’t be accepting of intolerance or bigotry. This may mean not being fun at parties. Realize the great power and great responsibility that comes with using language. As communicators, we must be careful with our language and the language we surround ourselves with. Also realize the power of naming and the significance it has: the significance to cause personal, social, and political harm as well as the significance to do good. We must be careful of generalizations and we must be careful of focusing on commonalities at the expense of differences or vice versa. They are not mutually exclusive. Can we find a way that embraces both? In any given situation, we should be willing to flip the social roles, stand in the other person’s shoes, realize that we are not the same, acknowledge different circumstances, and embrace differences.
We must also be careful of our actions. In doing so, we must be willing to take responsibility for them and accept consequences. How do we treat our family, our friends, our co-workers, and strangers? This is not a utopian world and the “system” is not going away any time soon, but can we push back in a way that is more inclusive? Can I create relationships based on the values that I hold dear? Am I silent when there is wrong being done? Am I speaking for others? What are the implications for speaking for others? Am I a voyeur and am I appropriating, or am I calling attention to something important? What are my intentions? Do intentions matter? Do actions speak louder than words? How loudly does silence speak?
With this, we must be willing to do our homework. We must be willing to challenge ourselves and we must be willing to grow. We should try to learn different cultural languages and try not to use the backs of others in doing so. Am I a PR person for any one group? Do I ever ask someone to be a PR person for me? How do I learn what I know? What are the implications of this?
The power of feminism begins with the individual and it starts with a choice. We can accept reality, make it our own, and/or try to change it. All battles cannot be won, and to be honest, all battles are not worth the effort. We must pick and choose our battles carefully, but when we do choose, we must not give up. The questions and steps presented here only begin to scratch the surface of what feminism is and how to live my version of a feminist lifestyle. Through the years, however, I have been challenged – emotionally and intellectually – and today I feel awakened. Today, I am choosing to take up the work of a feminist. Today, I am choosing to move forward.
Aaron Keel was born in Flint, Michigan and lived in the Flint area for much of his life where his mother, with the help of his grandmother and twin uncles, raised him into the man he is today. He received his Bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan – Flint in 2009 where he studied interpersonal and organizational communication and earned a minor in Political Science.
Currently, Aaron is moments away from completing his Master’s degree at Colorado State University in the department of Communication Studies. His thesis is on public memory of the Flint Sit-down strike between the United Auto Workers and General Motors and a park that was built to commemorate it. He is especially interested in how gender and agency are represented in public memorials, labor rhetoric, politics, and the Detroit Tigers. He also has one younger sister, many great friends, and an extremely close family. He is engaged to be married in the summer of 2012, believes that the glass is half full, and is optimistic that the best is yet to come.
My Feminist Thinking
As someone who considers myself relatively new to embracing and fully expressing feminist ideals, my definition of feminism is still developing as my knowledge of feminism continues to grow. At this time in my life, my definition of feminism says that every person, no matter their gender, sex, race, ethnicity, nationality, class, sexual orientation, religious orientation, etc., deserves fairness and equity in every aspect of life (socially, politically, and economically). I want to emphasize “fairness” as an important part of my definition of feminism because as far as sex is concerned, I believe there are innate biological differences between men and women (ex. the presence of certain hormones, ability to bear children, etc.). But I don’t believe those biological differences are any reason or explanation as to why a person should be treated differently in our society, based off false, socially constructed notions of “abnormality.”
My definition of feminism has been influenced by many different things including my beliefs, the material I have learned about because of my education, personal experiences when women have been oppressed, etc. In class, I really enjoyed reading Jessica Valenti’s Full Frontal Feminism. Although I thought her book had a lot of flaws academically, she did a very good job creating a basic picture of Third Wave Feminism so young women could eventually step in and personalize their feminist drawing any way they wanted.
Most people have a tendency to believe men are a feminist’s number one enemy, but for me as a feminist, the enemy instead lies in a society that has been completely constructed around patriarchal ideologies. Men are not women’s “natural” enemy – I believe they hold an important role in the feminism movement if they wish to be recognized as such. The same sort of snap judgment can also be said of women – not all women are biologically feminists. Both men and women can be misogynists, but they are that way because patriarchy has told them for so long that women are the “weaker” sex. Presently, I am continuing to learn how to channel and express my anger toward patriarchy instead of an individual I believe represents patriarchy.
bell hooks’s book The Will to Change was also an important piece of literature that helped shaped my feminist identity this semester. She talks about how our society has taught men to perform masculinity – by not appearing feminine or expressing “feminine” characteristics, such as showing any kind of emotion other than rage or anger. Because men are taught to enact that masculine gender role, hooks argues men cannot fully love another person until they learn how to fully express themselves. This theory has a place in my life as a feminist because I need to realize more often that most men do suppress their feelings and to stop thinking they don’t care about something, when in fact they don’t feel “masculine” if they were to express their emotions. I also can help the men in my life become more comfortable around me and other people so hopefully, they’ll learn to stop suppressing their emotions.
The most static aspect of my feminist identity I have been aware of for years is a woman’s right to sexual and reproductive freedom. I resent the notion of the double standard that tells men they are free to sleep with as many people as they want, while women cannot do the same thing without receiving harsh criticism from within our patriarchal society. I also strongly believe a woman holds ultimate control over her body with means such as birth control (in any form), abortion, adoption, and deciding if/when/how to have children or not at all. I believe a woman has the right to enact her bodily rhetoric in any way she pleases, whether it is sleeping around “like a man” or controlling any aspect of her ability to procreate.
Lastly, the most important aspect of feminism I closely identify with is the notion of a fierce independence that is reminiscent of Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s “Solitude of Self” speech from 1892. In it she talks about the innate solitude ach human has to endure – every individual is ultimately alone in the world and must rely on one’s own skills and education to survive from birth to death. I love this speech because it reminds me every person is ultimately alone, but we will overcome that feeling of loneliness if we are able to improve ourselves through education and building meaningful relationships.
Each previously mentioned aspect, along with many others, work together to create my definition of feminism, which is enacted in my professional and personal life every day. Because feminism is one of the most important parts of my identity, I have no choice but to enact it all the time, because it is who I am.
At the beginning of the semester, as I was trying to deal with a significant “identity crisis” on many levels, I typed out a feminist pledge for myself and taped it to my bathroom mirror so I could see it every day and be reminded of the things that are important in my life right now. I have had the tendency every so often to second guess myself and make decisions that I don’t believe in 100%, so this pledge was a way for me to keep focused and not lose sight of who I am as a feminist.
I, Katie Kethcart, pledge to the following, to preserve my agency and independence:
- I pledge to listen to my head.
- I pledge to always be there for me.
- I pledge to not loose sight of my goals.
- I pledge to work my hardest towards those goals.
- I pledge to remind myself that no distraction from school is ever worth it.
- I pledge to resist patriarchy whenever I witness it or find myself buying into it.
- I pledge to love myself.
- I pledge to remind myself everyday that I am a strong, intelligent, independent woman who is so much better than a man.
- I pledge to never depend upon a man.
- I pledge to never let a man define who I am.
- I pledge to never sit by the phone waiting for a man to call.
- I pledge to remind myself that my friends and my family are the most important relationships within my life, and they will always be there.
- I pledge not to waste my time.
I pledge to follow these guidelines, each and every day of my life, at the expense of my humanity.
About the Author
Katie Kethcart is a twenty-two year old feminist who just began graduate school at Colorado State University in an effort to earn a Master’s degree in Communication. She has realized that living as a feminist in a male dominated society has been a struggle in her everyday life, although all of its benefits make the struggle worth it at the end of each day. As Katie’s self-identity continues to change, so does her identity as a feminist. In her free time, she loves to read (she is Harry Potter’s biggest fan), watch movies, spend time with friends and family, swim and snowboard. Katie hopes to change the world one day… however that will be accomplished still remains a mystery.
Into the Lion’s Den: Early Forays into Feminist Thinking
When TV Azteca sports reporter Ines Sainz walked into the New York Jets’ locker room to conduct an interview with one of the team’s players in September of 2010, she did her best to ignore the sexual comments made by the players at her expense. It was only the next day when the owner of the Jets, Woody Johnson, called to apologize for the team’s behavior that she began to recognize that the behavior of the players had, in fact, been harassment (Hanna and Squadron). When asked about the incident in an interview with the New York Post, Sainz related the following:
One colleague – one female colleague – came with me and [told] me, 'I'm so sorry. It mustn't happen. It's not OK,' Sainz said. So I tried to calm her. … I really know that she [heard] something that I didn't hear, and the rest of the media … heard things that I didn't really hear. So I really appreciate the concern about it. (qtd. in Hanna and Squadron)
Though locker room interviews are very common in sports reporting, female reporters were banned from this male-dominated space until 1977 when a federal court case granted them equal access (Druzin). Since then, the players, the media, and the public have been at odds about the wisdom of allowing women behind the scenes of professional male sports.
Sainz is not the first reporter to find herself embroiled in the debate over the propriety of locker room interviews. According to Randi Druzin, writer for the Women in Sport’s Foundation, “The lot of the female sports reporter is much better today than it was two decades ago, when women took their first steps into the locker room, tiptoeing through a minefield of jockstraps and naked men. Nonetheless, the female sports reporter is still not competing on a level playing field. She still encounters obstacles and frustrations her male colleagues do not.” These “obstacles and frustrations” female reporters face have included everything from jocks straps thrown at reporters to death threats made by those in the public who disagreed with the presence of females in a traditionally male zone (Druzin). It seems then that while women may have gained access to the locker room, it has come at a steep price.
I stumbled across the article on Ines Sainz shortly after it was posted on CNN in the fall of 2010. Knowing that the conversation surrounding sexual harassment claims can be quite contentious in our society, I wasn’t surprised to see many readers commenting on the question of “was she or wasn’t she.” I was, however, shocked to see how many readers resorted to blaming the victim for the harassment. Growing up, I had often heard that it was wrong to blame the victim in any crime, and I thus (quite naively) expected this rhetorical tactic to be outdated and little used in today’s society. From reading the comments on this and other articles about the Sainz/Jets incident I was quickly reminded that while women have made strides toward equal access in society, patriarchy continues to strangle these efforts. In our patriarchal society, the public’s blaming of women in instances of violence or harassment against them hurts both the victim and the victimizer. Furthermore, by overestimating the culpability of the victim and underestimating the role played by the victimizer, the public continues to perpetuate the very sexism that led to the incident in the first place.
What does it mean to assign blame in a patriarchal society? As Jessica Valenti, author of Full Frontal Feminism, explains, “after years of legislation, awareness-raising, and activism, women are still being blamed for being victims of violent crimes” (65). She goes on to cite four common victim-blaming arguments used against women when they are raped: the victim was dressed provocatively and invited the rape, the victim was inebriated and therefore an easy target for the rapist, the victim has slept with others and is therefore impure, and the victim should have recognized the warning signs and taken steps to avoid the rape (pp. 65-69). Valenti refers to the first argument as “wearing a skirt equals open for business.” She goes on to explain that in a patriarchal society if a woman is dressed provocatively in any situation, she is interested or even asking for sex (65). This argument can be used to defend the rapist and discredit the victim because, after all, “if you don’t aim to please, don’t dress to tease” (abstinence literature qtd. in Valenti 24).
Valenti calls the second argument used to discredit victims of rape the “girls just want to have fun” argument. In this line of reasoning, women who consume alcohol or drugs “are not to be trusted”(67). Valenti cites an anti-drug commercial that features a teen girl passed out at a party who is then sexually assaulted. Commentary at the end of the ad warns that “Marijuana lowers your inhibitions” and is directed at female viewers (67). This logic—that drinking and drug use by women invites rape—places blame on victims by punishing them for their “reckless” behavior. Another aspect to this argument is that by placing themselves in dangerous situations, women should not be surprised if the result is rape. Often these “dangerous situations” involve spaces traditionally dominated or populated by large groups of men (ex: a bar or a party)(67).
The third argument used to place blame on the victim of rape is that of “no hymen, no fun.” This argument involves discrediting the victim based on her prior (or presumed) sexual experience. For a victim of rape, the more sexually experienced she is, the easier it is to believe that “if [she’s] slept with one guy, [she] want[s] to sleep with them all” (68). This argument is especially damaging to women in the sex industries who have been raped or sexually assaulted. Says Valenti: “If you’re a stripper, prepare to be disbelieved. If you’re a prostitute, forget it” (69).
The final victim-blaming argument as cited by Valenti is that “women should know better” (69). In this argument, victims of rape “should have seen it coming” and taken the proper precautions to avoid risky situations where they might be seen as easy targets (i.e., walking home alone or drinking at a bar by oneself) (69). Similar to the “girls just want to have fun” argument, “should have seen it coming” places the blame squarely on the victim and lets the rapist completely “off the hook” (69). Furthermore, this argument puts the responsibility of rape prevention on the victim alone, making it her fault if she falls prey to a rapist.
A blaming culture is problematic for reasons that go beyond the dehumanization of women and the delegitimization of violent acts against them. It perpetuates an image of men as “big, dumb animals unable to control themselves within one hundred yards of a miniskirt” (Valenti 66). bell hooks places the blame game under the all-encompassing umbrella of patriarchy and further explains the detrimental effects of blaming the victim to both men and women in her book The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love:
Patriarchy is a political-social system that insists males are inherently dominating, superior to everything and everyone deemed weak, especially females, and endowed with the right to dominate and rule over the weak and to maintain that dominance through various forms of psychological terrorism and violence (18).
For hooks, the portrayal of men as dominators and women as figures to be dominated has serious psychological effects on men and can ruin relationships and lives. Says hooks, “Patriarchy is destroying the well-being of men, taking their lives daily” (118). These “lives lost” are both literal (men falling prey to violence by other men) and figurative (men falling prey to alcoholism, “workaholism,” and emotional death) in a patriarchal society (158). By denying men the right to feel any emotion other than anger, we, as a patriarchal society, are perpetuating a system that breeds violence among men (hooks 184). Similarly, by blaming the targets of male violence and by refusing to name the system that encourages it, the public is sentencing men and women to a relationship where “women wholeheartedly stand by men when they are doing the work of destruction” (187).
Armed with this knowledge of the damage that can be done to both men and women when society blames the victim of a crime, it was personally discouraging to see how eager readers were to blame Sainz (and women in general) for the abuses she endured. Though Sainz was not sexually assaulted or raped, most reader responses to her claims of sexual harassment fell in line with the four arguments used to discredit rape victims as cited by Valenti. One common argument that parallels Valenti’s claim that “wearing a skirt equals open for business” is that because Sainz generally wears tight clothing on the job, she was “asking for it.” As one reader wrote, “Look at how she is dressed! She dresses like a street walker and she doesn't want anybody to say anything to her?” Another reader commented that the harassment from players “Sounds like a compliment.........get over it” (“Sound Off”). Much of the commentary that focused on Sainz’s appearance revolved around a picture that was included in the article. The picture, taken at the 2007 Super Bowl, shows Sainz wearing a white tank top with slim straps and tight, low-slung jeans. Interestingly, many readers misread (or did not read) the caption that cited when and where the photo was taken and assumed that it was taken the day that Sainz interviewed players from the Jets. As one reader put it:
First of all did you see the outfit that she was wearing into a male locker room. [sic] Sorry but if she doesn't want to be looked at they have full body robes that she can wear or she can wear clothes that are not so flattering. Second she is walking into a locker room full of dozens of testosterone filled men and she doesn't think she is going to be looked at. That's like thinking you can drink yourself into a coma and you have no chance of dieing [sic]. This is a display of over political correctness. (“Sound Off”)
This reader comment displays two of the arguments used to discredit rape victims: “wearing a skirt equals open for business,” and “women should know better.” It also clearly illustrates Valenti and hook’s belief that if men in our patriarchal society are treated as if they are driven solely by their hormones, that they will have very few choices but to fulfill these stereotypes. Says hooks, “this is the logic that produces what feminist thinkers call ‘a rape culture’” (78).
“Girls just want to have fun” was also widely utilized in the commentary to the article about Sainz. In their comments, many readers shared the belief that women, in general, should not be allowed in certain “male” spaces like a locker room. One poster wrote, ”Another woman going where she does not belong – when are these idiots going to understand that they dont deserve to cover mens professional sports.” Another stated that, “She walked into the MENS Locker room. Where the Men are trying to take showers and get dress after a hard practice. What do you think will happen when 30 to 40 men are 90% nude and walking around. [sic] You walk into the LIONS den what do you think is going to happen” (“Sound Off”). The message from these comments is as clear as it is in the anti-drug commercial cited by Valenti: there are certain spaces for men and certain spaces for women. For the woman who dares to cross these boundaries, she deserves what she gets (this is the “LIONS den” after all). An “overload” of testosterone amongst the football players was also widely cited as an excuse for the behavior towards Sainz. One reader shared her belief that, “ . . . a woman has to be aware that she is entering a locker room full of hormonal men who are just being macho” (“Sound Off”). Again, in this line of argumentation, men are reduced to slobbering Neanderthals who would be acting against nature and instinct if they refused to comment on Sainz’s physical appearance. This portrayal is damaging to both men and women and does little to advance the conversation surrounding gender roles in our society.
Valenti’s argument of “No hymen, no rape” was used by readers to discredit the victim’s claims in the article. Though this article focused on an incident of sexual harassment and not rape, readers repeatedly used explicit language and slurs to describe (and then discredit) Sainz. “Ho,” “whore,” “tramp,” “bimbo,” “Barbie,” “Victoria Secret model,” “trollop,” and “street walker” were all used to describe Sainz in reader postings. Most comments also expressed sentiments along the lines of “dress like a tramp...you're gonna' be treated like a tramp!” This overtly sexual language creates a disturbing situation where a woman who has formerly “dressed like a ho” (as is “evidenced” by a photo taken at the Super Bowl three years prior) can expect to be treated like a “ho”—i.e., for sex. In fact, several posters made a direct link between prostitution and female sports reporting in their comments. As one reader explained, “This [article] is funny considering the coaches probably order out for blondes and redheads when a game is won” (“Sound Off”). Another commentator “chide[d]” his fellow posters by stating that “hey you pigs [sic] mark sanchez should apologize for the whole team and take her out to dinner, then give her what she wants” (“Sound Off”).
Valenti explains the danger of this attitude by stating that rape and sexual harassment are “both intrusions into your personal space, your right to just be. Both harassment and rape are the results of a culture that teaches men that women exist solely for them, their desires” (76). The thin line between the two can be seen in comments such as, “If she is such a ‘reporter’ then why is she bubbly posing for the camera in the pic on this page? Also, CNN left out the pic she posted of herself from this event, showing her rear with pants that could be argued to be painted on. In conclusion, I'd hit it” (“Sound Off”). It seems, then, that in a ‘rape culture’ a woman’s sexual past (even if it is just the way she has dressed on prior occasions) can and will be used against her if she complains about unwanted sexual advances. But, as one reader puts it, “meatheads are meatheads, [sic] what the hell do you expect” (“Sound Off”).
This think piece was written for an assignment in Dr. Cindy Griffin’s graduate course on Feminist Theory. At that point in my adult life, I had only a basic understanding of feminism and feminist theory. Throughout the semester, the topics and readings covered in Dr. Griffin’s class pushed me to explore my feelings about certain issues, and the feelings that I uncovered often conflicted with one another. On the one hand, I was thrilled to be a part of a course filled with smart, thoughtful, and like-minded people discussing issues that, to me, have immense social consequence. However, if bell hooks is right—that “ours is still a patriarchal culture where sexism rules the day,” it seemed (and still seems) at times to be nearly impossible for meaningful change to ever come to our society (102). These feelings of hopelessness and helplessness were and are generally amplified within me when I encounter instances of unfathomable hatred and sexism like those displayed in the commentary to the article about Ines Sainz. It is in these moments that I feel like throwing in the towel.
Of course, this is a defeatist attitude and one that will not serve to increase my emotional wellbeing, let alone bring about any real change. Taking Dr. Cindy Griffin’s course in Feminist Theory, for better or for worse, was my “click” into feminist thinking as is described by Baumgardner and Richards in their book Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future:
Feminist consciousness—understanding that women can and should be whole human beings, not measured in relationship to male supremacy—is, was, and will always be the soul of feminism. In the seventies, Jane O’Reilly called this experience the ‘click,’ as in women ‘clicking-things-into-place-angry.’ (italics in original; 11)
To close this think piece, I was and still am “clicked-into-place-angry.” I am angry that women like Ines Sainz are blamed when they come forward with stories of abuse. I am angry that men are being let off the hook in these situations or are being excused for their bad behavior because they “can’t help it.” I am angry that when men DO choose a path of integrity (in this case apologizing to Sainz and requiring that the victimizers be educated about the issues surrounding sexual harassment in the workplace), that they are told that they are being “too PC” or “too sensitive” or even denying men the freedom to be men. But being angry is only one piece of my feminist journey and not the end result. As Dale Spender asserts in her book Women of Ideas - And What Men Have Done To Them, “When women become visible, when they assert the validity of that experience and refuse to be intimidated, patriarchal values are under threat” (11). Though my light is small, when combined with the light of others, it can work to shine through the darkness.
Baumgardner, Jennifer, and Amy Richards. Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, And the Future. Array, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000.
Druzin, Randi. "Women Reporters in the Men's Locker Room." Women's Sports Foundation. Women's Sports Foundation, 2008. Web. 27 Sep 2010. <http://www.womenssportsfoundation.org/Content/Articles/Issues/Media-and- Publicity/W/Women-Reporters-in-the-Mens-Locker-Room.aspx>.
Hanna, Jason, and Michael Squadron. "Reporter Says She Accepts Jets Owner’s Apology." CNN 15 Sep. 2010: n. pag. Web. 27 Sep 2010. <http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2010/09/13/new- york-jets-kicks-off-season-facing-harassment-claim/?hpt=C2>.
hooks, bell. The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love. New York: Atria Books, 2004.
"Sound Off." Online Posting to Reporter Says She Accepts Jets Owner’s Apology. Web. 28 Sep 2010.
Spender, Dale. Women of Ideas - And What Men Have Done To Them. London: Pandora Press, 1982.
Valenti, Jessica. Full Frontal Feminism: a Young Women's Guide to Why Feminism Matters. Emeryville, CA: Seal Press, 2007.
Emily Moreland is a recent graduate of the MA program in Communication Studies at Colorado State University. Originally from Grand Junction, Colorado, Emily attended CSU as an undergraduate, earning a BA in English Education. In her professional life, Emily has worked as a teacher, instructing students at nearly every grade level. Her most adventurous teaching pursuit took her to Busan, South Korea where she taught English to elementary and middle school Korean students. Since graduating with her MA, Emily has found work as a secretary by day/public speaking instructor by night. She plans to teach abroad again after wedding her longtime partner Jordan Englehart in the summer of 2012.
My Feminist Thinking:
A Personal and Professional Commitment
Instead of becoming another useless academic stuck in an ivory tower committed to tooting my own horn, I want to be a courageous woman, mother, and scholar committed to the voice and agency of women both in the academy and around the world. I am committed to being one person with multiple passions, and I refuse to let one passion replace another because the structure of academia does not allow for the balance of passions. Feminism has taught me that this is possible, and it has also given me the tools I need to succeed in my endeavors without forsaking my happiness. Within this paper, I will first describe what feminism means to me. I will then explain how I will live the life of a feminist in both my personal and professional life, and finally, I will conclude by linking my personal and professional selves together, as I am and always will be one being.
To me, feminism is the only tool useful in tackling patriarchal structures and systems. In the “Preface” of This Bridge Called My Back, Moraga describes the system of patriarchy and imperialism as “a calculated system of damage, intended to ensure our separation from other women, but particularly those we learned to see as most different from ourselves” (Moraga & Anzaldúa, 1983, p. xvi). Patriarchy separates us from others by painting our differences as insurmountable. As it separates us based solely on our differences, Nakayama and Krizek (1995) assert it grants privileges to those closest to the center of power (read: white men). I envision a future where we are not so separated because of our differences, a future where privilege is no longer stuck to the center. McIntosh (2010) claims that privilege is domination and oppression at work, and I would argue that feminism provides the path to new privileges, those that are “not advantages at all but simply part of the normal civic and social fabric” (McIntosh, 2010, p. 22). In my personal and professional life, I am committed to the success of universal and inherent privileges available to all people.
In my personal life, feminism has to be an integral part of the family, and there are a lot of areas of my family that need a feminist make-over. First, I have an obligation to address racism at the dinner table, as I was raised in a racially-rooted all white town in south Texas. I have to call out this form of patriarchy when I encounter it even if I become a marginalized voice in my family. Judit Moschkovich (1983) describes racism as an ignorance that needs to be transformed, and she writes, “I do hold every woman responsible for the transformation of this ignorance” (emphasis in original, p. 79). It is my responsibility as a woman and a feminist to attempt this transformation within my own family.
Second, I have to confront my father’s patriarchal tendencies and privileges, but I must remember that he is not the enemy just because he is a man. He has suffered at the hands of patriarchy too, and McIntosh (2010) acknowledges that because privilege and domination go hand in hand, “privilege has not been good for men’s development as human beings, or for society’s development” (p. 14). hooks (2004) argues that we have to eliminate the dominator model and replace it with a model of partnership between men and women “that sees interbeing and interdependency as the organic relationship of all living beings” (p. 117). If I am to have significant and meaningful relationships with the men in my life, this is important for me to know and live.
Finally, in my relationship with my partner, I will continue to develop the interdependent relationship that hooks (2004) describes. In this way, I will share my feelings with him, and I will encourage him to share his feelings with me whenever he feels comfortable. Our relationship can (and will) grow because of our openness. I will continue to plant the seed of feminism even though he is resistant because I know one day the seed will begin to grow (and maybe, hopefully, it already has). When the time comes, I will introduce feminism to my children as something positive and empowering that stands for equity between gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual preference. I will not encourage a feminism that would embrace the rights/power of women at the expense of others. Through my own daily and professional practices, I will elevate the feminist family and the feminist lifestyle by example.
In my professional life, I will elevate feminism through teaching and writing. In the classroom, I will be an advocate for inclusive and nonviolent language, and I will assign readings that are authored by women, minorities, and other silenced and subjugated groups. Even though I will meet resistance (both verbally and in course evaluations), I will challenge my students to think critically about the decisions they make and how those decisions might affect other people who have less resources and privileges.
In my scholarship, I will be committed to writing about/for/with women who are silenced or disciplined in the academy, who suffer from the ideals and messages of the main stream media, who are not represented (or who are under-represented) by our legal system, and who do not have a voice in their own cultures. As we move farther from the (white man’s) center, the realities of white women, black women, black lesbian women, and poor, lesbian, non-English speaking women are not only different from the realities of the white man, but they are also different from each other (Crenshaw, 1993). It is important for all of us to be aware of and embrace those differences if we are to ever overcome them.
For me, feminism is also about recognizing how the personal and professional come together. The literature discussing women and care in academe confirms that it is not an environment that allows for multiple roles. Townsley and Broadfoot (2008) assert, “Total dedication is the expectation in the academic workplace and those who work there must demonstrate that such work is their primary, sole, and uninterrupted focus” (p. 137). Realistically, the academy will never be my primary, sole, and uninterrupted focus; however, I will continue to stand by my words, I refuse to be silenced or beaten by a patriarchal system that claims to be family-friendly and flexible, but in reality, is neither of those things. Moreover, I refuse to feel guilty because I want to participate in the academy while also building a family. I agree with Aubrey et al. (2008) that “ignoring, minimizing, and essentializing pregnancy will only maintain the status quo. Doing gender and doing babies means challenging the status quo; it means actively participating in the (re)construction of the professor(iate)” (p. 195). I will have to fight this system if I want to be an academic who is also an empowered mother and partner. Feminism has allowed me to make this commitment to myself: I will do academe differently!
In conclusion, I have learned so much about how my actions affect others who are not provided the same privileges (McIntosh, 2010), and I will carry those lessons into my home, my classroom, and my writing. I will be careful of where I buy my produce, flowers, and clothes as most of those are available to us because we stand on the backs of other women (Moraga & Anzaldúa, 1983). I will live by Cindy Griffin’s motto, and I will no longer be fun at parties. And of course, in the words of one of my wise colleagues, I will have feminist babies. Since I recognize that the academy is a patriarchal system at work, I will use it to spread feminist ideals through my scholarship, and with the rest of my time, I will make sure my family is happy, and of course feminist. Feminism will provide me with the tools I need to challenge the status quo and stand up for myself in my diverse roles, while also raising a happy family.
Aubrey, J. S., Click, M. A., Dougherty, D. S., Fine, M. A., Kramer, M. W., Meisenbach, R. J., Olson, L. N., & Smythe, M.-J. (2008). We do babies! The trials, tribulations, and triumphs of pregnancy and parenting in the academy. Women’s Studies in Communication, 31(2), 186-195.
Crenshaw, K. (1993). Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics. In D. K. Weisberg (Ed.), Feminist legal theory: Foundations (pp. 383-395). Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
hooks, b. (2004). The will to change: Men, masculinity, and love. New York, NY: Washington Square Press.
McIntosh, P. (2010). White privilege and male privilege: A personal account of coming to see correspondences through work in women’s studies. In M. S. Kimmel & A. L. Ferber (Eds.), Privilege: A reader (2nd ed.) (pp. 13-26). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Moraga, C., & Anzaldúa, G. (Eds.). (1983). This bridge called my back: Writings by radical women of color (2nd Ed.). New York: Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press.
Moschkovich, J. (1983). – But I know you, American woman. In C. Moraga & G. Anzaldúa (Eds.), This bridge called my back: Writings by radical women of color (2nd Ed.) (pp. 79-84). New York: Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press.
Nakayama, T. K., & Krizek, R. L. (1995). Whiteness: A strategic rhetoric. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 81, 291-309.
Townsley, N. C., & Broadfoot, K. J. (2008). Care, career, and academe: Heeding the calls of a new professoriate. Women’s Studies in Communication, 31(2), 133-142.
Ashton Mouton is currently working on her Masters degree in Communication Studies at Colorado State University. She was born and raised in southeastern Texas, where she hopes to one day return for her family and the climate rather than the beliefs and attitudes of the region. She is an avid participant in her own education and a devoted member in her family; these two roles will continue to define her as a person as well as her scholarship. She will be attending Purdue University for her PhD in Health Communication where she will continue her struggle to do academe differently.
Camping in the gray area: My feminist thinking
I must confess that at the beginning of the semester I was in denial of my feminist identity. Yes, I had taken multiple classes during my undergraduate education in the area of Women and Gender Studies. Yes, I had presented a research paper at leading disciplinary conference on language and gender. And yes, in second grade I insisted that I could play the president of the United States in my class program. So I suppose I knew I was a feminist all along, but despite this, I still hesitated in uttering, “I am a feminist.”
I find two reasons my feminist identity was problematic to me. First, I was afraid of the word “feminism/feminist.” I circumvented the terminology because of its power to isolate me. I couldn’t publicly ascribe myself to feminist ideals because of the pervasive stereotype that feminists are (extremely) angry and basically just man-haters. I feared the stereotypes and stigmas. I knew that the stereotypes were not true, but I couldn’t help resisting insinuations that I was associated with “that camp.”
Second, feminism is just plain…complicated. Many have attempted to provide a unified postcard version of the movement, but trying to put boundaries on Camp Feminism for mapping purposes is problematic. (Did someone say forest fires?) Instead of acknowledging the personally frustrating bits of feminism it was easier to go the way of, “Well, I am feminist, but…” (I’ll just stay along the paved roads of the park.) There are still aspects of prominent feminist thought, especially as portrayed in popular culture, that couldn’t (and still can’t) avow to or reconcile. This made me unsure how to be or how I could be a feminist.
What I realized over the semester is that there really isn’t one “camp” that all feminists belong to. Readings have problematized feminism for me by presenting various intersecting, yet diverse perspectives. As a result of identity intersections being publicly theorized, multiple feminisms have emerged that seek to re-imagine society void of hegemonic structures of dominate. Despite its newly realized plurality, feminism takes up unpopular questions of power and privilege, voice and agency, identity and intersectionality. By raising socially subversive questions, feminisms acknowledge the complexities of all these questions and their enigmatic response. It is not blunt criticism. Questioning leads to the naming of experiences, deconstruction of structures, contemplation of alternatives, and the active remodeling of systems and behaviors that deny the worth of the individual and the community based on social assignments. My own feminist thinking requires just that, thinking. By thinking, I mean raising social issues, contemplating social structures, and recognizing the experiences of others. It is about coming to terms with the landscape.
So, the question becomes how is my own definition informed and what do I exclude and include? Trying to define feminism is constraining. In attempting to articulate a definition I find myself struggling with limiting its boundaries. It’s about women, but it’s also about men and the individuals who identify as neither. It’s about experience, individual and communal. It’s about unity, but it’s also about division. It’s about empowerment, but it’s also about oppression. It’s about the ideal, but it’s also about the real. I don’t find feminism nearly as black and white, either this or that, as it is made out to be.
The more I reflected on my personal definition the more I found words, fancy sentence structures and organized paragraphs of thought insufficient; all I seemed to be able to do was make a rudimentary list of characteristics supplemented with everyday instances where I found these qualities exemplified in my own life. As I wrote notes on a chalkboard I use to brainstorm, I couldn’t help but to think about myself as an elementary school student filling in sentence prompts. Feminism is…
Then I remembered a favorite NPR “This I Believe” in which seven year-old Tarak McClain reads 30 of the 100 “I believe” statements he wrote for his kindergarten homework: to bring 100 of something to school. Inspired by Tarak’s seven year old philosophical prowess I began making my own “This I Believe” as a testament to my feminist thinking.
- I believe feminism is about CARE for self and other, the practice of being considerate and respectful.
- I believe feminism is about commitment, the realization that they journey is long.
- I believe feminism is about confidence, the ability to be unwavering in commitment and not discredit personal competence.
- I believe feminism is about HOPE for a better future.
- I believe feminism is about contemplation, the ability to think reflectively about the world.
- I believe feminism is about conversations, the ability to talk about what you have been thinking.
- I believe feminism is about change, the willingness to take what you have been thinking and talking about and turn it into positive action.
- I believe feminism is about learning (see #1-7).
- I believe feminism is about teaching (see #1-8).
- I believe feminism is about crying when needed.
- I believe feminism is about embracing anger as productive, and demarcating this from violence.
- I believe feminism is about laughing and smiling endlessly.
- I believe feminism is for everyone!
- I believe feminism is about the individual and the community and the world (not just the humans).
- I believe feminism is about the past, the present, and the future.
- I believe feminism is about running and dancing, biking and hiking, singing and creating art.
- I believe feminism is about living your dreams (even when it seems the world is against you).
- I believe feminism is about asking “What?” “So, what?” and, “Now what?”
- I believe feminism is about embracing the tensions of conformity.
- I believe feminism is mom telling you she loves you and dad telling you he is proud of you.
- I believe feminism is not about silence; it’s about finding a voice.
- I believe feminism is not about fear. Fear is a form of domination.
- I believe feminism advocates for critiquing the ideas, not the person.
- I believe feminism is having someone bringing you another pot of tea and splitting a piece of lemon cake with you while you are studying.
- I believe feminism is about calling it out in the day-to-day in thought and in action.
- I believe feminism is eating chili and playing Rock Band with great friends on a Tuesday.
- I believe feminism is about taking naps, detours, breaks, etc. until you are ready to continue.
- I believe feminism is about admitting humanness, the knowledge that no human is perfect and the knowledge that we each come with our own identities.
- I believe feminism is about embracing hypocrisy, mine, yours, and theirs.
- I believe feminism is about courage.
- I believe feminism is never to be isolating. That said, it is not about guilt either.
- I believe feminism is about creativity, in expression and in re-imagining the world.
- I believe feminism is about LOVE, not the sentimental or the possessive but the “politicized force that enables movement against dehumanization (Foss, Foss, and Trapp, 2002, p. 272).” As hooks writes, “‘[love is] the idea of being able to let fear go so you can move towards another person who’s not like you ‘(Foss, Foss, and Trapp, 2002, p. 272).”
To me feminism has a fundamental place in both my professional and personal lives. The list I created demonstrates just some of the many ways this worldview informs my life. I realize, however, that much work is still to being done, both in re-imaging society and in re-creating my own less than feminist ideals and approaches to living. I write this essay in a week in which I have been rather frustrated/angry/saddened/and a whole other range of emotions prompted by un-feminist comments and actions of the people around me. In the midst of this, I find myself challenged to transcend un-productive emotions and revenge-filled inclinations to not love. Even if I don’t identify with a particular, defined, feminism my list reminds me of the profound wisdom feminism has to offer this world.
Life as a feminist is not ever going to be easier. However, that does not mean that it will not be worth it. So, I am going to enjoy the view here. I am pitching my tent.
Foss, S.K., Foss, K.A., & Trapp, R. (2002). Contemporary perspectives on rhetoric (3rd ed.) Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland.
McClain, T. (2009, January 18). Thirty things I believe. NPR “This I believe” Podcast. Podcast retrieved from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=99478226.
About the author and the essay
At the time of writing this essay, Lydia Reinig was a first semester graduate student of Communication Studies at Colorado State University. After four formidable years of undergraduate education somewhere in middle America and a childhood on a farm in Iowa, she was three months into a new ambitious adventure in academe. Writing this essay allowed Lydia to synthesize scholarship with her own everyday experience—to make scholarship real and personal—as a Public Speaking instructor, colleague, daughter, friend, traveler, and bicycle accident casualty among, her various other identities. Upon editing this essay three months later, Lydia had more fully embraced her feminism through reflection and in practice. She had even made a t-shirt pronouncing her feminism and discovered that feminists are so much fun at parties despite popular opinion. While she academically pursued a certificate program in Women’s Studies, incorporated questions of gender in her thesis, and was enthusiastically proposing feminist conference papers, she sought to sort through the feminist wisdom intertwined in the banal elements of life.
In this end this essay is a result of countless conversations over lifetime, in her undergraduate career, and in the past six months. Specifically, it is indebted to the members of Feminist Theories of Discourse for their profound insights and ideas and to Jeremy and Kyle for their wisdom and maintenance of Lydia’s sanity. It is dedicated to Cindy, Chad, Erika, Jay, and Sheri, without whose guidance this essay would have never come into existence, and to Mom and Dad for their loving acceptance no matter the adventures. By the way, Lydia is ambivalent to camping, outside the fitting metaphor it provided in the essay, but thinks she ought to give
My Feminist Journey: Falling Down the Rabbit Hole
I’m not generally a very introspective person. When I was younger I really wanted to keep a journal – I thought that was what all the great writers did – but I always gave up after a week or so. I spent last summer cleaning out my room and found half a dozen journals half-filled with entries that skipped days, weeks and months. For this paper I would like to take some time away from critically observing the world around me, and just spend some time critically observing me. I never use to think of myself as a feminist, but as I’ve grown into my feminism, I can’t imagine describing myself any other way. It feels like feminism is integral to the kind of person I see myself as. But as I sit down to write this paper I’m surprised to find I’m still not sure what that means. What kind of feminist am I? What does it mean to be feminist? Griffin and Chavez write, “Conversations about what our feminisms are, how we define them, and how they move us forward in the world are among the most important conversations we could have.”1 For this final think piece assignment I would like to focus on my definition of feminism, and how that translates into my personal and professional life.
At the beginning of the semester I started out with a very hazy idea of what feminism was, and what it meant to me. I knew it had something to do with the fact that women faced challenges because of their gender that men didn’t, and that I definitely didn’t agree with that! The problem with my thinking on feminism was that it didn’t extend much beyond the idea of women being oppressed. This class really opened up my eyes to the depth and breadth of oppression that feminism is fighting. At first glance this seems kind of depressing, and it was for most of the semester. I left class thinking that nothing I did would ever make any real or significant impact. But the idea of power feminism reinvigorated my sense of agency. I liked the idea of focusing not on the oppression of women, but on the power of women. The Foss sisters put it well when they defined feminism as: “the effort to make conscious, deliberate choices to create the kind of world in which we want to live by using all of the creativity, resilience, and resources available to us.”2
I am not unaware of the problems of power feminism though. It doesn’t really take into account the lives of underprivileged women, or women in abusive relationships, or any other situation than that of a white, middle-class, heterosexual, educated woman. Aimee Carrillo Rowe so eloquently pointed out that Western notions of autonomy, often re-inscribed by First World feminists, deny the coalitional subjectivity that characterizes many women’s experience, that is “some women face a more circumscribed set of options through which to assert their power,” but also that “the conditions that give rise to some women's power/agency are the same conditions that constrain the options of other women.”3 In my second think piece I outlined the two aspects of power feminism that I identified with. First, if one chooses to support power feminism as a personal philosophy, it seems like a healthy, positive choice. I see power feminism as more of a personal philosophy, rather than a unified political/theoretical stance. Second, I agree that feminists should indeed focus on the celebratory resistant practices in addition to looking at ways of oppression. As Karma Chavez writes, “championing women’s achievements is also an important part of feminist theory and action. Thus, power feminism as a tactic provides a healthy checkpoint for those who focus on the ugly realities of women’s lives.”4 I cannot forget how much work is left to women, the oppression and ignorance that still exists in the world, but that doesn’t have to be the only aspect of feminism I focus on.
So how does this impact my life? One of the ways the class came up with to combat feminism is to call out the patriarchy. While I agree that this is a great way for me to live out my feminism it has proven…difficult to say the least. Calling out the patriarchy is basically calling out ignorance, which is not a popular thing to do. I’m still struggling to balance interpersonal relationships and the need to be rhetorically sensitive with my genuine sense of outrage. It’s hard to be invitational and inviting when I’m so pissed. I mean it. I am ANGRY. I am ANGRY I get paid less, I am ANGRY that I can’t go to the grocery store at 1 am without worrying about being attacked or raped, I am ANGRY that people try and tell me how to deal with my body, my family, and my religion, all because I have a vagina. I am equally ANGRY that my privilege silences others, I am ANGRY that my skin, my gender, my education, my parent’s money, all mean that without even trying, I take away someone’s voice, or agency or opportunity.
One way to I hope to try and fight the patriarchy, and my role in it, is through my scholarship. We’ve spent time talking about the right way to do that, to continually ask why I’m writing about what I’m writing about. Am I using my privilege to advance the feminist cause? Am I helping or hindering? Am I writing about other women? With other women? For other women? I’m going to have to keep asking myself that question, but I know it will always be a question worth asking. I also know that getting my feminist scholarship published is going to be a challenge. The Academy is still run by old white guys, and they rarely want to hear what feminists have to say, but this course gives me some hope. We’ve read a number of articles that would never have made it into a journal even thirty years ago. The Blair, Baxter and Brown article I think is a great example – the whole article is about how stupid the system is, and yes, they had trouble getting it published, but they did get published. It’s a sign that even though things are bad, they can get better, especially with amazing women already working in the field to pave the way for the next wave of feminist scholars.
Besides personally calling out the patriarchy I am privileged enough to have an outlet for change that has the potential to impact thousands over my lifetime who can also work to call out the patriarchy. I get to be a teacher. I get to not only impact my students, but other scholar’s students. I get to talk with other teachers, who talk to other teachers, who talk to their students, who talk to their friends, their parents, neighbors etc. I’m not naïve enough to think I’ll get to see the results of my work in my lifetime, or make every student I get a feminist, but I get the honor of touching other people’s lives and minds. Hopefully I get through to some of them, make a few of them stop and think before calling someone a bitch, or get them to question the structures around them.
As a teacher I also get the opportunity to hang out and work with some really smart people. I continually get to have conversations, and yes, arguments and debates, with other people who think critically about the world, and constantly ask “why?” This class has been an amazing chance to think about what feminism means to me, but also to hear about what feminism means to others. For example, I never really thought that veganism or environmental issues are also feminist issues, or thought about the role of men in feminism and how the patriarchy can hurt them as much as it hurts women. There are so many ways to define feminism and enact it, and I’m lucky to be in a place where I get to explore those questions with people who are just as interested in trying to find some answers.
When I think about feminism, and the issue of the patriarchy, the problems are so massive and overwhelming that sometimes I can hardly comprehend how my calling out the patriarchy could possibly make any difference, but Ghandi said (and I am aware of how cheesy this is) that you must be the change you wish to see in the world. So this is me, trying to be the change.
2 Sonja K. Foss and Karen A. Foss, “Our Journey to Repowered Feminism: Expanding the feminist Toolbox.” Women Studies in Communication 32 (2009): p.54.
3 Aimee Carrillo Rowe, “Subject to Power: Feminism Without Victims.” Women Studies in Communication 32 (2009): p. 24.
4 Karma Chavez, "Power Feminism in Communication: An Invitation to Consider the Stakes." Conference Papers -- International Communication Association (2007 Annual Meeting 2007): 1. Communication & Mass Media Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed October 25, 2010).
Emily Sauter completed her masters degree at Colorado State University and is now attending University of Wisconsin-Madison,pursuing her PhD. Inspired by her background as a classical rhetorical scholar and her newfound feminism (thank you Cindy Griffin!) Emily hopes to spend her academic career continually searching out new and interesting women’s voices to add to the field of rhetorical criticism. Her primary area of interest is international feminist scholarship, and she continues to try and do her work sensitively, thoughtfully, and respectfully
My Feminist Theory
“Feminism articulates political opposition to the subordination of women as women, whether that subordination is ascribed by law, imposed by social convention, or inflicted by individual men and women…. Feminism generally springs from each woman’s own lived experience…. Feminism thus challenges women to respect differences among us and to honor, rather than appropriate, other women’s triumphs and tragedies.”1 This quotation says formally what I would informally, and sums up my feminist theory. To me, there is no blanket “feminism,” but rather as many feminisms as there are feminists. My feminism is a commitment to live life as a participant, not an observer. It’s a promise I make to keep my eyes open, even when elucidation is uncomfortable; it’s a commitment to fight oppression by recognizing it and struggling with it. I have taken up my torch as a Feminist realizing that there will be days when merely recognizing the injustice in the world will be crippling, but committing to employ that struggle to feed the fire of response is worth the discomfort. Rather than be disheartened by adversity, I will acknowledge opposition as the fodder I need to keep my feminist fire blazing robustly.
Keeping my eyes open is the first step. In many cases, this cognizance of my surroundings means combating the self-centeredness that our culture so readily promotes. It requires a questioning of what, to me, are the “givens” in life. For example, the awareness of the extent to which my race entitles me to significant privileges has escaped me until recently. Reflecting back to my first think piece, books like Charolette Pierce-Baker’s Surviving the Silence tell the stories of black rape victims, and her text reveals racial undertones to rape which I, as a Caucasian, would have never fathomed encountering. On page 38, one rape survivor writes,
"Even now, thirteen years later, it is difficult to say I was raped and that my husband and child were there. It still hurts so badly. Did they think we would just become another black-on-black statistic? [Emphasis mine] I have no idea why they didn’t kill us. I have always been amazed."2
Keeping my eyes open means not only seeing my privileges, but also recognizing my victimage. Over the course of the semester my eyes have been open to the ripples of patriarchy, many of which I had long been oblivious to. Without recognizing oppression, it’s impossible to attempt to combat it. In her book Pilgrimages/Pelegrinajes, María Lugones explains how difficult it can be to recognize oppression. She writes, “One of the factors that makes oppression inescapable…is the inability to form liberatory syllogisms in the world of the oppressor, given the logic of oppression.”3 The important part to note here is “given the logic of oppression.” The very nature of oppression lies within the dominator removing the tools of resistance from the oppressed, because the victims’ ignorance of their injustice serves as a means of containment. Therefore, keeping my eyes open proves to be a formidable task, but the role it plays in jump-starting the fight against patriarchy makes it indispensible and earns it a place within my feminist theory.
After recognizing moments of oppression and victimage, my feminist theory becomes even more challenging. Along with recognition comes a duty to do something about it, and this struggle becomes the second step. I chose the term “struggle” intentionally. At first, I chose “act,” but after giving it more thought, I realized that sometimes not acting can be as powerful as acting, and, therefore, the struggle comes in determining which result it appropriate. As I mentioned in my third think piece, leaving an instance of harassment unaddressed only perpetuates the problem. However, in the weeks since then I’ve been testing out responses to such instances and determined that often, the harasser’s intention is to get a rile out of the harassee and not acknowledging him or her stifles their intended result and serves as the most powerful discouragement. I also have come to acknowledge that there are some battles that must be conceded as unwinnable, and sometimes silence is a means of preventing an altercation in which I’m certain I won’t come out on top. This lesson was one of the hardest I’ve been forced to face this semester, and I’m hopeful that within my lifetime this won’t always be the case. However, until then I’ve decided that my energy is better spent on instances that I believe I can make a difference. My family and friends are my largest sphere of influence, and just living my life according to these two principles is, in itself, helping promote feminism (as I see it). Pointing out instances of patriarchy when they might otherwise go undetected is all a part of my struggle. Sometimes, people don’t want to see, but these small victories pave the way to larger ones. In fact, if I can persuade my friends and family to see the light of feminism and integrate it into their own lives, then maybe we, collectively, can tackle instances of oppression that I couldn’t influence alone.
With these two principles in place, I embark on my journey of feminism. I define for myself the path less traveled, and undoubtedly a road of more resistance, but I’m determined to not let adversity hinder my progress. This semester has equipped me with the tools necessary to see privilege and oppression, and with that knowledge comes the responsibility to use that knowledge to empower both myself and others to be active participants in my world. By naming oppression in my own life and the lives of those within my sphere of influence, and by considering each instance to ascertain the best course of action I aim to embody my feminist thinking. The journey starts today.
- Wilma Mankiller, “Feminism and Feminisms,” The Reader’s Companion of U.S. Women’s History (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1998),192.
- Charolette Pierce-Baker, Surviving the Silence: Black Women’s Stories of Rape (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1998), 38.
- María Lugones, Pilgrimages/Peregrinajes: Theorizing Coalition Against Multiple Oppressions (Lanham, MD: Rowman Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2003), 59.
Feminism is a Mindset; Feminist is an Identity
This semester’s Feminist Theories of Discourse class has taught me a lot. The content and class discussions challenged my thinking about feminism’s role in my life, both personal and professional. My very first think piece was a reflection on feminism – what my working definition of the term was and how I could best communicate that definition to the people in my life, specifically the men in my life who do not consider themselves feminists. In that think piece I came up with the following definition, “feminism is a partnership rooted in love and against stereotypical gender norms that offers choices for bettering the lives of those who ascribe to it.” While I still accept this definition, I want to expand it based on the discussions and readings done throughout the rest of the semester. In what follows, I will explain the ways in which my definition of feminism has expanded over the course of the semester and then briefly discuss the ways in which this thinking will inform my personal and professional life in the future.
For me, “feminism” is a mindset, not just a movement. It is a way of looking at the world and of interacting with other people. My definition of feminism draws specifically from bell hooks conception of the partnership model. She writes, “Visionary feminism is a wise and loving politics. It is rooted in the love of male and female being, refusing to privilege one over the other.”1 In furthering this point, she claims, “To offer men a different way of being, we must first replace the dominator model with a partnership model that sees interbeing and interdependency as the organic relationship of all living things.”2 In other words, feminism is not seeking equality; instead it seeks a partnership, rooted in love and respect. It seeks a valuing of the other manifested in integrity. This is a point where my definition of feminism broadened: I have moved beyond a strict focus on relationships between men and women to include ideas related to intersectionality and anyone who is “othered.” That means people of other races, genders, abilities, etc. With a feminist mindset, I will seek to create partnerships with all beings, which emerge organically out of respect and love instead of out of hierarchy and domination.
Themes of hierarchy and domination pervade our patriarchal society and, for me, feminism seeks to break down these patriarchal structures. In doing so, it focuses on a break from traditional gender norms as a means of bettering lives. As such, feminism offers men alternative ways of being. bell hooks quotes Olga Silverstein’s notion that male sex roles must be redefined in ways that break sexist norms. “Currently, sexist definitions of male roles insist on defining maleness in relationship to winning, one-upmanship, domination.”3 In other words, a strict set of acceptable behaviors, norms, and roles are set for men in our society. To achieve manhood, men must live within these set boundaries. Michael Kimmel discusses this too (and Valenti draws attention to it): there are “rules of manhood” and “relentless pressure on men” to be tough, show no emotion, be daring and aggressive, etc. (Valenti, 189). In this sense, feminism offers men a break from the pressure to fulfill stereotypical gender roles. It also allows women to break from stereotypical gender roles. What I failed to explain fully in my first try at a comprehensive definition of feminism is that, in my definition, a split from stereotypical gender roles is not required. Feminism does not require that women no longer cook and men no longer be sole financial providers for their families, but instead feminism creates a space for individual or partnered decisions to be made based on circumstance and context instead of solely on gender.
Clearly the mindset of feminism has the potential to change the way that a person interacts with society and the people in his or her life. For me, this is essential. I have thought a lot about the title “Feminist.” I have several men in my life who claim that they ascribe to feminist ideologies, but who do not take the title because of the negative connotations surrounding it. It is my goal to act in a way that breaks down those negative connotations. Because language is important to me and I understand the power of it, I believe that the term “Feminist” is an identity, not just a title. I will do my best in my personal and professional life to present an alternative view of feminism that breaks down the “anti-men” stereotype so often associated with it. In connection to this, it is also my goal to be with a man who accepts a feminist identity for himself. I will not settle into marriage until I find a man who calls himself a feminist. In doing this, I anticipate that there will be discussions regarding the roles we will fulfill in our family since we will not be operating on a path that honors stereotypical gender roles without first discussing them. Additionally, careful consideration will go into work/family balance. While I find this balance generally easy to accommodate now as a single female, I anticipate that it will get much more difficult when a partner is figured into the equation and even more difficult with the addition of children. I refuse to attempt to navigate those circumstances without a partner who identifies himself as a feminist and approaches the world with a feminist mindset.
In my professional life, I will go after any job that I feel qualified for. Statistics and stereotypes will not stand in my way. While I have no control over whether or not I get those jobs, I can control whether or not I try for them. And I will. I will also fight for the things that I value in my workplace. Again, I know that I cannot control all of the structures that are already in place, but I can control how I react to them. I will fight for the things that I value – respect, integrity, and family to name a few, and I will choose my battles when my ability to honor those things is compromised, or I feel that those things are not being given to me.
This semester has been an incredible learning experience. My eyes have been opened to the difficulties that lie ahead for me as a feminist. I have already faced several situations in which my feminist mindset has left me feeling uncomfortable, mistreated, and angry. I choose to channel that anger into action in my own life, which coincides with my definition of feminist. I am a feminist who cares about establishing relationships built out of respect and integrity and love. I choose to treat people in feminist ways, showing each of them that I organically value them as partners on this journey. All I can control is how I act. And I will act as a feminist.
2 hooks, bell. The Will to Change Men. 117.
3 hooks, bell. The Will to Change Men. 117-8.
Abby Zwier is a Communication Studies Master's candidate at Colorado State University. She is interested in studying the rhetorical messages present in films depicting teenage romantic relationships and plans to spend her next year in Graduate School writing a thesis on this very topic. Life post-graduation is uncertain, but Abby is dedicated to walking through life in feminist ways, paying tribute to those who worked so hard to give her the opportunity to travel such a beautiful, fulfilling, and promising path.