Thursday, November 11, 2010

Feminism 101 is not a class.

“Are you a feminist?”

Then, “I don’t know what that means,” one student stammered. “Maybe?” another student responded, hesitantly. “No, I don’t know what it means to be a feminist in the male context,” another (male, obviously) student answered confidently. And, lastly, “Yes?” a student said, posing it as a question more so than an answer.

In an informal interview for a class project, in which my group and I eventually made a video of and showed our class, most of the students we randomly approached in the halls were initially very willing to answer what we assured them was going to be a simple, no-fuss, set of yes-or-no questions. Once they learned for which class (Feminist Legal Theory) and the fact that they were going to get filmed, nearly all of them grew somewhat anxious to get away.

Later on, a professor, when asked to answer the question of whether or not he was a feminist, answered, “ . . . I would say that I understand the values of feminist analysis and sympathize with the project of feminism. But I wouldn’t say that I’m a feminist in the same way that I would say I’m a Democrat or a Republican.”

The general consensus, from what I could gather while working on this project, read to me very clearly: the theory and idea of feminism is complicated, it comes with many an implication, and there apparently remains either a negative or too politically-charged of a connotation to the term or label for most lay people to be really comfortable enough to dub themselves easily as such. On the very first day of class, Professor Pruitt had us introduce ourselves and then answer the same exact question of whether or nor we considered ourselves feminists. Most of us answered yes, almost plainly and surely. I myself was included in this batch, and I was definitely someone who sat there on the very first day, entirely unsure of what that term really meant. Months later, I emerged after reading an abundance of articles on a variety of feminist topics, ranging from essentialism, radical feminism, pregnancy, issues in the workplace, and varying definitions over time of the term.

Over these past few months, my relevant and academic knowledge on the topic of feminism has definitely expanded ten-fold, but it still has very much stayed in tact that if I were to place a sweet and simple definition or explanation of the label, it would remain: equality and empowerment.

I can now confidently apply the many theories that I’m now comfortable throwing into conversation in the academic sphere of life, from intersectionality to essentialism. I’ve read, understood, and discussed, at great length, an incredibly wide range of articles and topics on the related subject of feminist legal theory. By no means do I claim to be an expert. But, I do claim the status of a fairly adequate student of the topic.

I have come far and I know much more on the topic than I did before I’d enrolled into this class, and I’m appreciative and very happy with what I’ve learned and now know and feel much more empowered and enlightened. But, still, what has also hammered into place for me after all this time is that, despite learning so much, I personally still don’t think that, while valuable and interesting, the scholarly or academic route is entirely necessary for those who want to support the cause of feminism. The issue may remain that while there is an obvious barrier between those sitting comfortably in the ivory tower and the layperson who’s often unaware and turned off by big words and ideas such as intersectionality and essentialism, there doesn’t ultimately have to be a problem with understanding, appreciating, and acting on behalf of the title of a feminist.

Learning about the strength of a woman doesn’t require a degree. Before I knew a lick of information about feminist legal theory, I’d already observed that we are able to give birth to a child – something that a man is literally incapable of doing physically (they can open our jars of spaghetti for us while we do that). We are strong beings who have overcome centuries of oppression ranging from issues like discrimination and rape to refusal to rid of our names when we marry. We are resilient beings who menstruate – are men forced to look at the sight of their own blood on a monthly basis? No. We are physically curvier and objectively and perhaps just personally, I think that on the whole, we are physically more beautiful. This is not to get into the matter of trading gender stories or to start up the timeless debate of which sex is the better or stronger or funnier or better-looking, this is simply just to recognize that it is what it is: females are powerful, females are amazing, females are strong.

That is, has always been, and will always be, to me, feminism.


Rebecca said...
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Chez Marta said...
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Chez Marta said...
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Chez Marta said...

Rebecca, you nailed the issue, it is about educating ourselves. But I also remember Prof. Pruitt discussing that she considered changing the title of our class to Gender and the Law, but in the end refused to do so. Our class remains Feminist Legal Theory, and we remain feminists, and not "genderists." Prof. Pruitt said that changing the name of the course would somehow depoliticize it, and she wanted the class remain fairly political.

And that is why people refuse to acknowledge that they are feminists, because it aligns them with progressive, far-left political thinking. Being feminist requires one to critically examine all assumptions behind legal classifications, something we are supposedly trained to do in our Equal Protection class (awesome class, too) but in a lecture format.

I find it amazing how the issues of gender and race are very similar: if one advocated for true, substantive equality of the races (i.e., affirmative action), that in itself would align that person with the left side of the political spectrum. And being on said side is, sadly, considered passe. It is practically political suicide to admit to being anywhere but the center.

Another issue that we examine as feminists is the impact of socioeconomic class on women's life, another issue that is seldom examined honestly by the politicians of our times. Mentioning class warfare, class issues, is risking becoming a political dinosaur. As if we, Americans, have magically achieved socialism, where class does not matter anymore. Well, the truth is far from it. Class matters more than ever, and few people are educated to regain a class consciousness.

As your resident bookworm, I have some recommendations for you. On race and equality, I strongly recommend The Amendment That Refused to Die, by Howard Meyer, On issues of class-consciousness, What's the Matter with Kansas? by Thomas Frank is the definitive piece.

N.P. said...

First of all, I just want to say you go girl! This post was a great introspective way to see how far we have come in this class.

On another note, after the last class, I spoke with two of my male friends and asked them the same question: "Would you consider yourself a feminist?" These are two men who I consider great friends, and in fact would consider as feminists - because of the fact that we have similar views on women's equality and women's rights issues. However, both were reticent to categorize themselves as feminists.

When I asked them why this was the case - the first thing they said is that they could not align themselves completely as feminists because they did not believe in theories like radical feminism within the overarching feminist legal theory. While to a certain extent, I understand this statement because I too do not subscribe to every theory within feminist legal theory, I STILL find myself to be a feminist. I find this to be similar in the same way that I would call myself Hindu - I don't embrace every tenet of the religion - but I still have faith in it.

Rebecca said...

What I found remarkable about your taped interviews was the reluctance most folks had to make a declaration that they were a feminist, or not.

Your subjects averted their eyes and would not look directly into the camera.

I am curious, was it their fear of being labeled a feminist? Was it the embarassment of being found uneducated on the subject? Was it fear of expressing what might be considered a political viewpoint?

Regardless of the reasons, it seems clear that we have an obligation to educate classmates at King Hall on gender issues and the law.

Dusty said...

First, I really appreciated the distinction you made about how its difficult for many people to access feminist academia due to class, wealth, education, etc issues. I think especially with a topic so hotly politicized as feminism, sometimes the safest contexts for its discussions are in academia. Unfortunately, like you brought up, this leaves many many people who can not access academia out the in cold.

Regarding the fear of being labeled, I think there was a strong and intentional defamation movement of feminists in during the 1970s (or how about always). Students and professors averting their eyes when discussing feminism and refusing to identify as feminists is a remnant of the social shaming that comes along with identifying as a feminist. Feminists were made to be the other so much so that "normal" folks still think they can't be one.

Yazzyjazzy said...

I am so glad that I took this seminar. I always considered myself a feminist, but little did I know there was so much more to learn. I really believe that this class should be a requirement for all students because so many are completely ignorant to the serious issues that face women in this age, and many somehow assume that we have reached a point of complete equality.

I feel like my eyes have now been opened and I can recognize inequality and injustice as it pertains to the treatment of women, as well as transgendered individuals.

What a joy it has been to take this class with all of you, you have contributed to my outlook and my life in such positive ways and I will take this experience with me for the rest of my life.