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.