Anti-Feminism in the Digital Age

anti-feminism-symbol-finished-large4In case you haven’t heard, the interwebs is alight with controversy, yet again. Well, more accurately, when is it not alight with controversy, right? There are myriad controversies that abound within the spaces of social media and the corners of the internet. Most relevant to us on this blog and ACRL-WGSS is Women Against Feminism (WAF) on Tumblr and Facebook, which has been catching fire recently. As soon as famous celebrities start getting into the action, it’s safe to assume that the phenomenon has more than just momentum.

Of course, this has less to do with older ways of conceptualizing knowledge, information, or data than it does with the attention economy of the internet. In the attention economy approach, the Web is the platform or soapbox, attention is both the product being sold and bought, but also the currency with which we trade. One way to read the internet is as a platform for performance. Among the things we share on the internet–besides pictures of our beautifully assembled meals and videos we have taken of our pets and/or babies–are ways we demonstrate who we are, ways we perform parts of our identities, be it our political affiliations or points-of-view regarding particular social issues. We demonstrate these online in myriad combinations. Attention is significant in these performance endeavors since it is essentially how images and videos go viral. Catching the attention of others is how our identity performances online expand beyond our individual spheres to those of others. This ability to spread ideas quickly, along with the ability to amplify them, is among the most significant aspects of the Web as platform. If an image or a video resonates enough, it will be shared and re-shared and even more attention will be paid, traded, and trained on the image or video.

Which brings me back to perspectives delivered through Women Against Feminism’s social media channels. I must admit that I am confused by the perspectives shared on the WAF Tumblr and Facebook pages. I find the comments left on the stories about WAF baffling as well. Of course, it is very easy to just dismiss these occurrences as oddities and of being of little consequence. However, I do think that there’s something worthy of deeper examination in this latest iteration of anti-feminism on the Web.

Perhaps I ought to qualify my confusion by stating that I have had only very positive experiences with feminism. I am also baffled with the assertions of feminism as an organization or a singular movement. As if we completely agree on everything. I accept that there are many forms of feminism, as there are many types of feminists. Sure, the principles of gender equality, social justice, and empowerment are what ties us all together. But some of us emphasize some aspects of lived experience more than others. We also have differing views and outlooks, which often get translated into various corners under the vast umbrella of the feminist movement. I have heard stories of women who have been shamed or ejected from feminist organizations because they got married or expressed desires to have a domestic life with men. This is the type of feminism with which I have no experience at all.

As I intimated earlier, I don’t quite know what to think of WAF. To me, its demonstrations on Facebook and Tumblr show a fundamental failure. Perhaps feminists need to develop a more unified message that communicates the value of feminist ideals, one that strongly resonates with more people, especially those who are younger and those who don’t identify as women. And one that gets pushed out through different channels, more than once in a long while. Or maybe more educational opportunities need to happen. Some WAF posters don’t seem to get that feminism is all about equality. I don’t understand how feminism got equated with female supremacy over men, but it’s there.

Quotation-Andrea-Dworkin-defense-expression-feminism-women-Meetville-Quotes-259612I expressed my befuddlement among people who actively engage in issues of social justice. To make sense of WAF, I offered to them an idea that I had.  The adamant rejection of feminism, and by extension the label “feminist,” I posited, seems to be the inverse of having the power to name, the power to write and speak the official word of history and experience. While the power to name is among the highest of privileges and is therefore associated with those who have such things, I am uncertain what the inverse, the refusal to name (in this case to claim the label “feminist”), entails. Is it akin to colorblind racism? There’s probably a scholarly grain in this train of thought, somewhere. And yes, the racial composition of the majority of participants in WAF has not escaped my notice.

A friend pointed out that, ultimately, this recent example of rejection of feminism derails us from more substantial critiques of feminist ideology, such as those made by women of color, indigenous women, and women among the working poor. In short, this fight takes attention away from considerations marginalized women are asking mainstream feminists to make. I agree with my friend. However, are there some substantial critiques among the images posted on WAF, just waiting to be retrieved through astute analysis? Just for instance: How is feminism truly for gender equality if boys are growing up feeling like they are persecuted because they will become men? How are we addressing the issues boys are faced with? These are just some of the questions that I found moving among the images shared in WAF. The abstractions we often speak of (i.e., patriarchy, privilege, oppression, colonialism, imperialism, etc.), though quite concrete to many, are, at the same time, very nebulous to others. Feminism needs to continuously translate its theories, concepts, positions and ideals in ways that are accessible and resonant to a variety of people. That’s a tall order, but a worthwhile one.

As always, dear readers, I offer very little answers or solutions. I do invite you to read through the links provided in this post. I also invite you to write your thoughts in the comments. May these internet discussions of social issues prove fruitful in your teachings of Women’s & Gender Studies.

~Melissa I. Cardenas-Dow, ACRL-WGSS blog co-editor, 2013-2016

Conducting Ourselves…Professionally

Rebecca West quotation

Since Midwinter 2014, ALA has established a Conference Code of Conduct with which attendees need to comply. It is ALA’s stance against harassment of any kind during conferences.

I am sure questions abound. First, why is a blog post on conference anti-harassment policy tagged with “feminism”? Though the language of ALA’s Conference Code of Conduct covers the broad spectrum of potential targets of harassing behavior–from gender identity and expression to race, religion, and language–the roots of this movement to establish professional conferences as harassment-free zones came from the concerns of women and feminists in the technology fields.

From the concerns expressed by women in the information technology fields, we arrive at the question of why is an anti-harassment policy needed at ALA conferences? One answer, to put it simply: because it is needed. Or at least, there were enough people who felt it was needed. One would not think that harassment occurs among librarians, much else during ALA conferences, but it does.

Ingrid Henny Abrams is currently conducting a survey that will establish a more statistically oriented picture of harassment incidents at ALA conferences. Until now, incidents of harassment have lived on in the realm of anecdotal stories. As Abrams says on her blog, this survey is not intended to shame ALA, its staff members or any ALA Councilors. It’s meant to get a better understanding of how we conduct ourselves when we gather in a professional capacity, under ALA’s umbrella of conferences and meetings.

Another question that I have heard asked regarding the ALA Conference Code of Conduct is how such a statement can have a chilling effect on freedom of speech. Does it violate or prohibit free speech? I suppose one can imagine a scenario when it possibly could. However, I also sense a dichotomy being constructed here. One that doesn’t work very well with the realities lived by people in groups that are often marginalized, even within ALA.

I can offer very few answers. And since I think it best to take this issue as an ongoing, evolving one, I invite you, dear readers, to explore the links offered in this post and formulate your own ideas and questions. Maybe even participate in Ingrid’s survey, should you be impelled to do so. May these events within our professional association be fruitful in your own teaching of Women’s & Gender Studies.

~ Melissa Cardenas-Dow, ACRL-WGSS blog co-editor, 2013-2016

Updated Schedule of WGSS Events at ALA

Image of the American Library Association Annual Conference 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Image text say, "Transforming Our Libraries, Ourselves. ALA Las Vegas Annual Conference & Exhibition, June 26-July 1."I’m looking forward to ALA and the opportunity to have face-to-face conversations with section members. We’ve got an exciting lineup of events, which are listed here.   As an update, our WGSS social will take place directly after our membership meeting and poster session:

Saturday, June 28, 4:30 pm – 6:00 pm   General Membership Forum/Poster Session   LVCC-N115

Note: We’ll be joined by scholars from the Women’s Research Institute of Nevada.  Light refreshments available.

Sometimes It Doesn’t Pay to be Modest

Clip art image of a right hand holding a pen writing on a piece of paper.According to a recent analysis* of JSTOR articles from the past 60 years commissioned by The Chronicle of Higher Education, women are 56% less likely to cite themselves than men are. Moreover, it’s getting worse. Analysis of articles from just the past ten years showed men to be 64% more likely to cite themselves.

The overall percentage of self-citations is pretty low for both men and women (only 1/40th of all citations from the JSTOR study were self-citations), but that small percentage can have a big pay off down the line. It turns out that the more often a given article is cited by anyone, the more likely it is to be cited in the future. In other words, citing yourself can lead to even more people citing you.

Why don’t women cite themselves more often? The Chronicle article* mentioned several possibilities, including the idea that it’s not “nice” to cite your own work, and the fact that female researchers are more likely to collaborate in relatively small, long-term groups whereas male researchers often work with larger groups and in disciplines that do more wide-ranging collaborative work.

What do you think? Please let us know through the comments.

*The article mentioned in this post is accessible only to subscribers of The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Three Hashtags Discussing Issues Relevant to Women and Gender Studies

Image of a sign that says, "Don't mess with the #INTERNET."

Image from Kindle, an online magazine from Kolkata, India. It comes from the article #Hashing It Out: Democracy and Discourse in Twitterverse by Koli Mitra (October 2, 2013)

According to the ACRL WGSS website, our section “was formed to discuss, promote, and support women’s studies collections and services in academic and research libraries.” I agree with this statement, but… I posit that while library collections and services in academic and research libraries are the primary concerns of the section, they will be only as good as the broader understanding and awareness of academic and research librarians. As an academic librarian, I propose that our primary objective should be grounded in matters occurring in the world outside of academia. The relevance of our library programs and collections depend on how well we understand the events, issues, and matters being discussed outside of the ivory tower. As the mediation of social media is drastically and dramatically transforming social interactions, we can witness global-scale discussion of matters relevant to women and gender studies. Our collections and services will greatly benefit from understanding these social actions and calls for change through hashtag activism.

Many of you, dear readers, may already be aware of these hashtags I introduce below. If not, I invite you to investigate and read about them, from different corners of social media, such as Twitter and Tumblr.

1) #LifeOfAMuslimFeminist

Created by Noorulann Shahid earlier in 2014, the hashtag #LifeOfAMuslimFeminist gathers the assertions, questions, and concerns prevalent in the intersections between feminism and faithful Muslim living. Complexities of female oppression and liberation, religious practice, and racial issues are laid bare for all to discuss and ponder. The hashtag and the feminist views expressed through it are more powerful when considered along with the actions of Ukrainian feminist activist group Femen and their well-known topless protests against the oppression of Muslim women. Femen’s protesters have been inviting Muslim women to bare all using slogans such as “Muslim women, let’s get naked!” and “Islam = Oppression,” in effect equating female nakedness with liberation. Femen’s actions present an extreme point-of-view that does not sit well with many. Femen stages protests against various political and religious events and institutions that it deems oppressive to women, not just against Islam.

Shahid is currently a behavioral economics postgraduate student at the University of Nottingham, United Kingdom.

Some resources to explore:

32 Powerful And Brutally Honest Tweets from #LifeOfAMuslimFeminist (BuzzFeed, Jan. 10, 2014):
http://www.buzzfeed.com/tasneemnashrulla/32-powerful-and-brutally-honest-tweets-from-lifeofamuslimfem

Why I Created the #LifeOfAMuslimFeminist Hashtag (HuffPost Students UK, Feb. 6, 2014): http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/noorulann-shahid/muslim-feminism_b_4730882.html

Noorulann Shahid’s WordPress blog: http://noorulannshahid.wordpress.com

#LifeofaMuslimFeminist by Nadia Kalifa (Loyola Marymount University, First-Gen Voices: Creative and Critical Narratives on the First-Generation College Experience, Vol. 1, Issue 1, 2014): http://digitalcommons.lmu.edu/fgv/vol1/iss1/15/

2) #BringBackOurGirls

On April 14, 2014, armed militants in Chibok, Nigeria, roused 230 high school girls from their sleep in a boarding school and forcefully took them away. The militants razed the school to the ground before leaving with the children. This is not the first incident of child kidnapping in Nigeria’s corner of the world. From the hashtag #BringBackOurDaughters, started by a group of relatives of the kidnapped children, came the global #BringBackOurGirls. While many have commended the hashtag activism of the #BringBackOurGirls movement, others have also provided criticism. Though the criticism may be legitimate, the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls has certainly raised awareness to the continuing insurgency, warfare, and child enslavement plaguing Nigeria.

Some resources to explore:

#BringBackOurGirls and the Trouble With Hashtag Diplomacy (Daily Maverick, Johannesburg, South Africa, May 20, 2014):
http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2014-05-20-bringbackourgirls-and-the-trouble-with-hashtag-diplomacy/#.U4N4jfldXFU

#BringBackOurGirls Misses the Real Story About What’s Happening to Nigeria’s Boys (PolicyMic, May 21, 2014):
http://www.policymic.com/articles/89695/bringbackourgirls-misses-the-real-story-about-what-s-happening-to-nigeria-s-boys

Fear and Determination for Nigerians at Heart of #BringBackOurGirls (LATimes.com, May 22, 2014): http://www.latimes.com/world/africa/la-fg-nigeria-girls-20140522-story.html

BringBackOurGirls: Why U.S. Parents Should Care (GoEerie.com, May 22, 2014): http://www.goerie.com/article/20140522/LIFESTYLES21/305229996/Bringbackourgirls%3A-Why-US-parents-should-care

U.S. Troops Have Been Deployed Near Nigeria to Help #BringBackOurGirls (The Week, May 22, 2014):
http://theweek.com/speedreads/index/261986/speedreads-us-troops-have-been-deployed-near-nigeria-to-help-bringbackourgirls

3) #YesAllWomen

On May 23, 2014, a male student of Santa Barbara City College opened fire at a deli in Isla Vista, California, near the University of California, Santa Barbara campus. In total, 7 people have died, including the shooter, Elliott Rodger, and 13 others are injured. Rodger intended to commit mass murder in response to the frustration and dejection he experienced at being rejected by women he found sexually attractive. In response to the blatant misogyny evident in Rodger’s declaration (linked below), the Twitterverse responded with the #YesAllWomen hashtag, sparking a global conversation about violence against women, sexual politics, and misogyny. As of the writing of this post, May 26, 2014, the hashtag is still trending.

Some resources to explore:

The Manifesto of Elliott Rodger (NYTimes.com, May 25,2014):
http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/05/25/us/shooting-document.html

#YesAllWomen Shows That Misogyny Is Everyone’s Problem (TechCrunch blog, May 26, 2014):
http://techcrunch.com/2014/05/26/yesallwomen-shows-that-misogyny-is-everyones-problem

How the #YesAllWomen Hashtag Began (Mashable, May 26, 2014): http://mashable.com/2014/05/26/yesallwomen-hashtag

~~~~~

Many people have derided the use of hashtags to further social and political positions, giving the practice the derogatory term “slacktivism.” I think such an opinion is short-sighted and stems from positions lacking understanding and appreciation for the role of social media in modern life.

Of course, hashtag activism is by no means perfect. It should not replace face-to-face advocacy, outreach, education, or skeptical inquiry and scholarly study. However, social media affords us with unprecedented communication and organizing power. While continuing collection of scholarly resources of women’s and gender issues is the main charge of our work as subject and area studies librarians, we should be aware of the trends happening in the digital realm. Social media has become a significant platform for protest, discussion and inquiry. As we are all actors and citizens of the social world, our mindfulness of the trends taking place online are fodder for the ongoing scholarship of our students, our faculty colleagues and ourselves.

I invite you, dear readers, to explore the world of digital culture and hashtag activism. There’s a lot there to see and learn.

ACRL WGSS @ ALAAnnual14, Las Vegas

Image of the American Library Association Annual Conference 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Image text say, "Transforming Our Libraries, Ourselves. ALA Las Vegas Annual Conference & Exhibition, June 26-July 1."

ACRL WGSS is looking forward to seeing new and long-time members in Las Vegas, Nevada! Below is a schedule of meeting times and locations. If you use ALA Scheduler, please be sure to include these!

Saturday, June 28
All Committees Meeting (ACRL WGSS)
8:30 am – 10:00 am
BALLY-Las Vegas 3

General Membership Forum (ACRL WGSS)
4:30 pm – 5:30 pm
LVCC-N115

WGSS Social
6:00-8:00 p.m.
Off-Site Location (Still to be determined)

Sunday, June 29
Executive Committee Meeting (ACRL WGSS)
1:00 pm – 2:30 pm
BALLY-Las Vegas 3

Monday, June 30,
Digital Humanities and Academic Libraries: Practice and Theory, Power and Privilege
8:30 am – 10:00 am
LVCC-N252

Abbreviations for locations:

LVCC – Las Vegas Convention Center
BALLY – Bally’s Las Vegas
CAP – Caesars Palace *
FLAM – Flamingo Las Vegas
LVH – Las Vegas Hotel *
PARIS – Paris Las Vegas

*Co-Headquarters Hotel

Information from: http://www.libr.org/wgss/conferences/index.html

The New VIDA Numbers Are Out

…and while they’re somewhat higher, they’re still pretty low.

image for VIDA Count. Text on image reads, "I count. #vidacount"

What, pray tell, are VIDA numbers?

The VIDA Count is an annual tally of the number of female  reviewers, female authored pieces, and reviews of female authored books published by a core list of influential literary publications. These publications include titles such as The Paris Review and The New York Review of Books. Essentially, it’s a way to gauge how many women are represented in a given publication. Ideally, that number would be the same as the current population, i.e. 50% (or, if anything slightly higher since according to the U.S. Census, the international ratio of women to men is actually 101.4).

Although VIDA reports that things have gotten a little better over the past year, it’s still not great. Of the 39 publications, only 10 had VIDA numbers of 50 or higher. Some very big names, such as the New Republic, still have very low numbers (21.4 for the New Republic, which is apparently the worst yet in the five years that the VIDA Count has been going).

To find out more (including a discussion of the methodologies that were used), check out VIDA’s web site.

Collaboration! Suffolk County Community College’s Feminist Film Series

image of Shelby Knox, on March 26 2014, at the Suffolk County Community College East

 Shelby Knox speaks at Suffolk County Community College, March 26, 2014

Susan Wood, Media & Reader Services Librarian:

Last fall term, I was invited by faculty members in Sociology and in Counseling & Advising to help plan a series of screenings of feminist documentaries on our campus in conjunction with several student organizations.  I was excited to get involved with feminist programming and to have found an opportunity to promote the Libraries’ Media Collection.

Eight films were chosen from the Libraries’ Media Collection with an eye toward representing women’s issues internationally. The intention was to choose films that give voice to social problems, as well as to resistance and activism around those social problems.

We applied for a grant from our Campus Activities & Student Leadership Department, which is given for programming with interdisciplinary appeal.  The grant made it possible to invite Shelby Knox to speak following our screening of the 2005, Sundance-award-winning documentary of which she is the subject, The Education of Shelby Knox.

The documentary profiles Ms. Knox, who, at the time, is a teenager in Lubbock, Texas, working with other students to convince the school district to replace the abstinence-only sex education curriculum with a comprehensive one.  The numbers of unwanted pregnancies and STIs in Lubbock were, and still are, some of the highest in the nation.  The documentary shows us a young woman in a socially conservative community beginning to question her inherited worldview regarding religion, sex, politics, and authority.

A decade has passed since the events set in the documentary. Ms. Knox is now a professional feminist organizer at Change.org and a talented public speaker with significant activist experience.

The combination of the back-to-back film and talk was powerful, and the seemingly instantaneous transformation of Ms. Knox from teen to adult was charming.  Ms. Knox is very well informed on current issues, and students and faculty alike left the program with insights about current social problems and a clearer understanding of how activists are utilizing social media to promote positive changes.

The film series has given me plenty of opportunities to promote the Libraries’ collections, facilities and services. The series also provided me with occasions to make connections across the college with students and faculty. One of the many happy results has been requests from student organizations and from faculty and staff in several departments to help develop future film series on our campus on a variety of themes (foreign language films, sexual assault awareness and LGBTQ themes).

I’m looking forward to continued collaborations with Dr. Curreli and many others, and I’m reflecting again on the power of a good documentary.

Misty Curreli, Instructor, Sociology:

As a professor and researcher in the field of Sociology, I have always found teaching about gender inequality and feminism to be an important yet challenging aspect of the curriculum.  To my dismay, it seems that many young men and women are resistant to the idea of feminism. I get the sense that, somewhere along the way, they have learned that feminism is unnecessary and “uncool.”

This is why I decided to reach out to the members of the campus organization called I Am That Girl.  This student club is a local chapter of the non-profit organization that motivates girls to, “BE, LOVE, and EXPRESS who they are through education, content, and community.” From this platform, the Feminist Film Series was developed to create awareness around issues of gender-based inequities, as well as explore solutions to these social ills.

The students in my Modern Social Problems class attended the screening of The Education of Shelby Knox, as well as her presentation on what feminism looks like today. Shelby Knox informed the audience that one of the chief complications about gender inequality is that people often believe it’s an individual problem, i.e., it’s happening to me and no one else. She said, “Let’s kill that myth.” She also wished to abolish another common myth that young people are apathetic and unengaged.

Ms. Knox described “millennials” as supporters of cultural diversity. They are concerned about many social topics, some of which they advocate for in online settings, such as blogging and web-based petition-making. This is the basis of what she calls the FORTH (not Fourth) wave of feminism, a type of contemporary feminism that largely takes the form of consciousness-raising via online venues. The presenter’s last address to the audience was a call to action. She asked us to think of small things that we could do to make an impact on the world.

After the event, the class discussion that followed was quite informative and refreshing. The vast array of feminist topics that Ms. Knox covered (the representation of women’s accomplishments in textbooks, gender-specific toys, healthcare coverage of contraceptives, etc.) served to inform students about feminist gains that have been made and the work that still needs to be completed.

My students were especially appreciative of how Ms. Knox depicted their generation and of her authenticity in how she became a feminist (or how feminism found her). I was pleased to see that many of the men in my class were vocal about gender inequality. One student remarked that he was surprised to learn that men can be feminists.

Ms. Knox’s talk served to demystify feminism and make feminist pursuits real. Above all, she created excitement about activism, which I hope has effects long into the future.

 

Update 04/11/2014: Corrections made for grammar and further clarity. ~Melissa Cardenas-Dow, WGSS blog co-editor

Excerpts from “Making the Grade”: Gender Matters

image of a woman in a black burqa.Women’s History Month is an important time set aside for us all to consider the many voices that have paved the way to our present state of social progress. It is also a time to honor current voices that help us look at our collective past and anticipate a brighter future.

ACRL WGSS marks Women’s History Month 2014 with guest articles from different areas and perspectives. Our second article comes from Angi Caster, an instructor of English and writing from Highline Community College in Des Moines, Washington, near the city of Seattle. She is currently writing a book called No More Secrets, No More Lies: Community College Teaching in the 21st Century (publication date still to be determined). The following are excerpts from the book’s fifth chapter. 

Image of a Dolce & Gabbana ad depicting a woman lying down under a man while other men look on.Please give Angi a warm ACRL-WGSS welcome and thanks in the comments.

 

My students include single moms who prostitute at night to earn money for college, Somali women whose labia have been cut away in “female circumcision,” full-burqa-ed women whose identities become only their clothing, white Christian missionaries with no idea where Somalia is, and sickle-cell anemia sufferers wanting to achieve before they leave an orphaned daughter. Every time you write, you put a self on paper—or nothing.

 

Ms. Mullet, she of the minuscule, unreadable ½” printed essay, read my story of abuse, looked at me directly, blinked, burst into tears and blurted out the long-term molestation by her uncle and abandonment by her biological parents. We talked about how much that sucks and how (and when) to truth-tell and what happens to your soul and self if you don’t. I did not even mention the problems with size and style in the paper—just asked for another draft. Like most of my students, there was nothing whatever the matter with Ms. Mullet’s brain or her rationale: She knew she would fail because she’d have to ignore her real life and lie to present the required evidence, especially if other students would read her work. Peer-review is important since there is only one of me and 90 of them, and they are producing 7,000 to 15,000 words in each quarter. But, to be honest, in her case, it meant shame. So I suggested only I, the teacher, would be her reader. She said that was ok, and I got a passing draft the very next day from Ms. Mullet in script 3 times as big as the first draft, with edited grammar, undistracted by lies and invested enough in the content that she actually rewrote it to make herself clearer. She did not have to hide in front of me and the secret was out despite promises to the uncle. After reading published writers’ commentary about abuse, Ms. Mullet even shared her writing with the whole class. Some cried and now she trusted peer reviewers to help.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Muslim Somali student Aria’s full-black burqa-covered body sat silently at the extreme edge in the back of the class. Since learning is a dialogue, not a lecture, I speak honestly to the students about how much I depend on their body language to cue my own responses. In her nun-like, loose fitting dark robe and full face coverage, only her eyes are available for me to read.

So I walk around among the desks, closer to her there, alone in the back of the room, naming and explaining this phenomenon of visibility as a teaching moment. I know from experience that the other 30 students are aghast, will not meet my gaze and certainly not Aria’s–they never look directly at students in full burqa. That would be “rude.” Preferring to focus blindly on the lecturer, the class is totally silent and uncomfortable at my naming what is real, visible…but, Aria knows she has on the full black burqa! I say so and see laughter in Aria’s eyes—and relief.

Two hours later, Aria shows up for the first time for my office hours. As she sits down in my tiny, messy office, her eyes dance and she says conspiratorially, “Wanna see my face?” Drowning in angst, the old white woman Angi asks shyly, “Is that ok?” Aria laughs and laughs and removes the veil, chattering away about how much she is enjoying the class and my authenticity because in my class she is not invisible. Now we are a couple of gossipy high schoolers (despite the chasm of a 40-year age difference), comparing her cool, sassy sparkly heels under the austere, black robe, how relieved she feels not to have men looking at her body, but wishing she could speak with more people as she is speaking with me. The next day, she sits in the front row where she remains for the rest of the quarter, speaks up, and, not surprisingly, so do the rest of the students! Now, they are peers and learning, no longer lost or invisible.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Another Somali-American student, Dionna, wears trendy jeans, has blond-streaked hair and wrote about her mother, burqa-clad and obediently producing one child a year (she was on her twelfth). Dionna wrestled with outrage over her mother’s subservience, burdens, and dependent situation, even as she loved and worried about this overworked woman–her heroine and role model.  Dionna vowed to have no children whatsoever. Her family, then of course, thought her morally corrupt. Later, in the next writing class, she wrote a fabulous research paper on khai, a psychoactive traditional herb smoked by Somali men and deemed an illegal Class I narcotic in the U.S. Complete with academic evidence, multiple citations, fabulous photographs, and personal interviews, the paper condemned the use of khai on several levels, but the dominant one was its tranquilizing properties, the ability to keep an entire population of men mellow instead of resistant. About a week later, the  news broke about a  U.S.  khai ring crackdown. Poor Dionna called me in a panic: Had I published it yet?  She was terrified for not only her family’s immigration status, but for criminal repercussions.  Fortunately, we hadn’t, so the essay could vanish, extant only as an A in my grade book.  To be bicultural can be hazardous not only to your psyche but to your freedom–from deportation and/or jail.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Thu, a slim, beautifully made-up and manicured 4.0  A+ student, the American-born daughter of Vietnamese refugees, was a pre-Nursing student in our cell biology and writing class. All her work was simply perfect—as she knew it had to be to get into any of the very competitive nursing programs, including ours (where the instructors boast that they have to have a trashcan outside the door of practicum exams because students routinely vomit from stress, yet another reality of 21st century college life). She inexplicably vanished during the 6th week of class. I tried emailing her, but got no response. Then I phoned, but received only a heated but unintelligible rant from non-English speakers.  She deserved an incomplete but we were unable to track her down, so a 0.0 was posted to her transcript.  Only  the following quarter did we learn from another student what had really happened: Thu’s parents thought she was sneaking out to date (when she was actually meeting with study groups as required by our course), and so they took away her cell phone, then her car, and finally kicked her out of the house.  No one has heard anything about her since, and it breaks my heart.

 

This is why I “get it,” why I will spend the rest of my life passionately mentoring students, facilitating their stories, wheedling them to turn stuff in, listening to their obscene and raucous music and to their tears in my office, even playing their violent video games while daily challenging them to get angry enough to stamp their feet and say NO! to The Man—or to The Family—or to The Media—or to The Culture that manipulates them to internalize failure, abuse, sexism, racism or any other negative self-image. Because nobody ever did it for me.

 

REFERENCES

Dolce & Gabbana. Advertisement. 2006

Woman in burqa.  Photograph. Sipa Press/Rex Features. “Passnotes 2952.”  The Guardian. 3 Apr 2011.

Mainstream Feminism: How It Works, Why It Doesn’t (Always)

Image of iconic Rosie the Riveter, which is the main image used on continuumissuesFor Women’s History Month 2014, ACRL WGSS has asked writers from outside of the association to share their writing on our blog. The first piece comes from Alex Dill. She is a working writer living and daydreaming in Manhattan, NYC. You can find her first published work, a book of collected poetry entitled Venn Diagrams, wherever eBooks are sold. For more thoughts on feminism in this post-millenium world, check out her blog continuumissues. Please give Alex a warm ACRL-WGSS thanks in the comments.

The first thing you should know is that there is not only one kind of feminism.

Like all big political/cultural movements, there are different sects and different strains. When you stop for a moment to think about why this is, the answer seems simple: women are not all alike. We are not one monolithic group. We differ across race and class lines, we grew up in different neighborhoods with different families, we have different motivations and desires, and yes, even different bodies. But while women everywhere are different, in some ways, we are still alike in others. We are oppressed by a system (the patriarchy) that works to keep us quiet, confused, and caged, and stifles our full potential. This oppressive system works in big and small measures, in ways both obvious and insidious, and it will affect each person differently, depending on some of the factors I have mentioned above. Feminism has to morph and shift around race and class lines, and spread across all the neighborhoods on all the continents on this earth. Feminism has to be huge because the needs of women world wide are huge and no girl or woman can be left behind.

We feminists are not always successful when we try to do feminism. Usually, someone gets left out or left behind. These shortcomings do not negate the good our work does, but we must be ever-vigilant and self-reflective so we can get better and better at doing feminism as globally and completely as possible. I think we will continue to approach the limit without ever reaching it. But even so, we will keep striving.

Feminism today has many voices and faces, folks of all genders and races and backgrounds who align with feminist values. Technology has given those voices a great boost, especially in the blogosphere. It is only a matter of minutes after someone (usually a dopey, aging senator/governor/political candidate) says something so sexist that his quote is blasted across the interwebs, scathingly dissected and re-tweeted and mocked as a symbol of a system that is bygone and breaking down. I think that this is freaking awesome. Adding my own voice to these stories is one of the most rewarding things I do.

Sometimes, though, it’s not just the old white guys who mess it up. Sometimes it is one of our own. And I think how we deal with those kinds of screw-ups is much more important to the movement. The latest example of this is a new campaign launched by Sheryl Sandberg, author of the well-known, but less-liked, book Lean In. The campaign is titled Ban Bossy (#banbossy), which is simple and alliterative and perfect for a Twitter hashtag. The video features such prominent bad-ass ladies as Beyonce, Condaleezza Rice, and Jane Lynch. The issue they are hoping to tackle is the dearth of female leadership in this nation, both as political leaders as well as your run-of-the-mill front-office execs, scientists, board members, etc. This is such an important problem to tackle. The message is that when boys are assertive, we call them leaders and give them a gold star, but when girls act the same way, we call them bossy. So they think we should stop using the word “bossy.”

Hm. If that sounds kind of awkward, well, that’s because it is. I wanted to like this campaign so much (hello, Beyonce is involved), and yet it lands with a thud at my feet. We are going to change how girls feel about themselves by banning a word? A word that could actually be helpful to use when it is warranted? One word, amongst all the varied and hateful words that are used against women of all ages, that make us feel less than human, small, and incapable? That’s the plan?

Now, over at leanin.org you can take the #banbossy pledge and download some activities for girls of various age groups. There are some actual leadership tips, so it’s not totally about the word “bossy.” But I would really love to see more action from a group of women with considerable resources, reach, and influence.

Let’s leave that aside for the moment and just be happy that Beyonce is out as a feminist and that the media is talking about these issues at all. Here is where and when I take a step back, become just a little bit more frustrated. This campaign, like Lean In, is for a very specific group of people. Lean In speaks for women who want to make partner or senior executive at a corporate firm, land the corner office. It is a campaign for educated upper-class women with high-paying jobs. It is very smart and I believe it makes some important points. However, it doesn’t speak for women who want to succeed without foregoing work-life balance. It doesn’t speak for anyone who doesn’t have corner-office ambitions. It is absolutely pro-corporation and gives no advice on how to change the system itself, only how to better work within it.

The campaign #banbossy echoes that Lean In idea. Not all little girls are leaders. For that matter, neither are all little boys. And while I can completely back the need to make room for more girls in leadership roles, what about the quiet girls? The thinkers and dreamers? They too need tools and tips to gain self-confidence. Not everyone is on-track to make partner at a law firm or run a Fortune 500 company. And the sad fact is that because certain players have the money and the voice, it is the issues that they choose that will get the most press coverage and the most support. It means only one kind of feminism gets disseminated., It means that we alienate potential allies who look and say ‘That doesn’t have anything to do with me. That’s not for me or about me.’

Ok, obviously, one campaign cannot cover the vast array of issues faced by women (access to healthcare, reproductive rights, the wage gap, everyday sexism and misogyny, homophobia, domestic and sexual violence, etc.). I don’t expect any organization or campaign to touch on everything and, indeed, specialized sects are good. It’s better to focus on one thing and do that thing well. Some other campaigns and organizations that are worth discussing are the #girlscan campaign from Cover Girl, the Joyful Heart Foundation, Planned Parenthood, and Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls. Can you guess what all these have in common? They have lots of money, a corporate sponsor, or celebrity endorsements. Which is absolutely tremendous and wonderful. But I get nervous that those with the most money, and the most access to celebrities and politicians, will end up with all the light and resources despite other worthy issues.

Regardless of the limitations our media does have, we must remember that campaigns like these are important, because they shine light on feminist issues even if they aren’t perfectly executed. And I believe with all my heart that when powerful, popular women come to bat for feminism, that act does a great service for a movement that continues to be misrepresented and maligned (we are not all whiny complainers who don’t shave their body hair and wish men would disappear, although body hair is totally fine, FYI). I hope that the more people are given access to facts and stories they can relate to, the more they will come to understand and internalize feminist values. We are all more alike than we are different and I believe that empathy and compassion are the best tools we have against the hateful, against the patriarchy, and against our own persistent  shortcomings.