Today, I sat in on a two hour long seminar called Women and Leadership. The professor began by asking how many students in the room could call themselves feminists. As I shot my hand up, I noticed that barely half my peers had done the same. They blinked, not seeming to understand the question.
The professor was intrigued. “For those of you who didn’t raise your hand, why didn’t you?” One student answered that the term was antiquated. Another stated that she didn’t want to be accused of being a bra-burner. As more and more reasons piled up, I saw that I was one of the few people in the room who was unafraid of declaring feminism to be a part of my identity.
This isn’t the only time that I’ve been upfront about who I am. I’ve declared other things too: I’m an Asian American. I’m a writer. I’m a food maniac. I’m an obsessive compulsive. My liberal arts education taught me to do otherwise: avoid labels, don’t embrace them. My education tells me that that nothing is definite, everything is malleable. It tells me that being loud and proud is a performance, all show and no sincerity. As intellect becomes more important, conviction and the sense of self becomes less so.
College, I’ve discovered, often involves more talk than action. Brilliant minds sit in a circle and throw ideas at each other, always making sure to follow certain rules. Don’t accuse someone else of being an essentialist. Don’t say anything that doesn’t relate to the texts. And don’t ever, ever get overly personal. Sometimes I hate these rules. I can’t stand the emotional stagnation after I’ve done all that mental work. It’s because of these things that so many people are afraid to step forward and believe in something; they’re thinking and rethinking to the point of paralysis. Some people take an entire lifetime to get comfortable with a term like “feminist”, or refuse to even give it a chance. They don’t know what they’re missing.
As a new blogger for The Line Campaign, I can only hope to use my daily experiences to initiate both emotional and intellectual discussion, about gender, sexuality, the body, and all the gaps in between that complicate our movements through social spaces. My therapist once drew a Venn Diagram, with emotion as one circle and intellect as the other. She pointed at the overlapping space and said, “That’s wisdom.” The first piece of wisdom I’ll share with you is: Labels are not always lies. Don’t run away from conviction, belief, or chances to find yourself. Find your boundaries and stick to them.
I began my second morning as a Soapbox Soldier with an Americano. I ordered a small, upsized to a medium, and sat down to smell the beans before running to our first meeting at the Feminist Press, up the street from Penn Station at the CUNY Graduate Center.
This was just the beginning of a day focused on media: on getting into it, on challenging it, on consuming it, and on creating it. I was particularly interested in this, as someone who has ventured into the areas of film, graphic design, writing, and promotions in her time as a student and advocate and has thoroughly enjoyed it all.
The organizations hosting us and speaking with us were all what seemed like worlds apart: from the Feminist Press, the oldest feminist publisher in the world (and just a note- yes, book design is still an appreciated art) to the Women’s Media Center, which advocates for more equal gender representation and opportunity in the media, and even Courtney Martin of Feministing, the world of “real-life feminists” seemed to be one full of different creative outlets. This is a good sign for activists, I think- we’re going to stay busy, which means we will stay satisfied. We also get to choose from a variety of activities to express our feminism, be it through blogs or PSAs.
In terms of how these various mediums benefit feminism, well- messages. Gloria Jacobs of the Feminist Press sees it as a vehicle for feminist thought that goes beyond “women’s issues” – it’s about bringing forth the issues relevant to women’s lives, written about by women, or even separate from women but related to other social justice causes. This was echoed by Debbie of BUST Magazine, who met with us and professed deep convictions that presenting typically “frowned upon” things like cooking, knitting, and fashion in BUST was controversial but necessary: she is trying to create a feminist pop culture, not critique an anti-feminist one.
So this leaves me, the media glutton and the internet geek, slouching in trains at the end of the night piecing it all together. “Carmen, how you gonna do it? How can you? What should you do?” For now, I’m taking the young and ambitious route: I’m doing a little bit of it all. I’m going to remain vigilant, remain visible, but make more of an effort now to reach out to media outlets and let them know how I feel about their programming and coverage. I’m going to remain outspoken and nontraditionally active in feminism, but I’m also going to stick to my guns and lobby and rally and yell like all hell. This is what feminism is made of, after all. Love for your own voice and respect for your own self, and knowing that nothing else matters- except maybe figuring out which blog to publish first.
To describe the first day of Feminist Winter Term would be too challenging a task for a paragraph, so today I made the executive decision (for your benefit, as well) to simply blog about each day individually.
It began with the classic feminist icebreaker: “when did it click?” There was laughter and there were tears, and one heartbreaking story about someone’s four-year-old niece, who said she wanted to be a president when she grew up…and knew that in order to do so, she needed to grow up to be a boy. We checked out the local area, hit up Babeland and Bluestockings (what kind of feminists would we be in NYC without such things?), and then stopped in for our first meeting.
The Ms. Foundation. Speakers from were also in attendance from the Barnaba Institute as we crowded into a conference room and listened to stories of sex trafficking, girls as young as 9 forced into sex slavery and kidnapped off the streets by pimps who beat them and then convinced them they were meant for each other. The stories were a challenge to listen to, not only because of the wrenching imagery, but also because of my nagging gender studies conscience, which wanted so badly (and then raised my hand) to ask –
Do you think it’s a problem with sex work, or do you think a lot of this is also masculinity and sexuality and how we talk about them? If we gave women agency, and control, wouldn’t these pimps be powerless?
There was hesitation from the presenters and from the audience, although a few receptive voices backed me up. There is more to human trafficking, after all, than the capitalist needs and demands- there are people doing these things. And do women need “rescuing?” Well, I suppose anyone would need such a thing if they were being beaten, killed, and forced into sex slavery. But does it deny sex workers whom opt-in to sex work, and operate either independently or within an “organization,” and reap successful capital, to summarize sex work as inherently dangerous? And why are we worried only about rescuing the victims, and not finding those sniveling, pathetic people committing the real crime- abuse- against them? (As you can see, it was thoughtful to say the least.)
I left early and hopped the C Train with setting up to do.
Shelby Knox. She sat with her usual ease, blending in with us mere mortal feminists before she delivered her story. Some of us confessed to have never seeing The Education of Shelby Knox, but anyone who has ever met Shelby knows that that’s the least of her worries- instead, we tackled intergenerational feminist divides, how to unite our movement, and exactly what we young people, gathered by Soapbox Media, think of being called the “Forth Wave,” a term Shelby likes to use to describe herself.
If the people I’ve met so far, and the cards I’ve handed out, the smiles I’ve received, and the casual discussions about rape culture I’ve had at FWT so far have taught me anything, it’s that a term about what is to come is the best for us: because we’ve got a lot of energy in the works. (Also, cheers to encouraging someone to buy Yes Means Yes! – I remain loyal, ladies.)
All Posts from January, 2010
- Between our bodies and minds
- I am a sexual being + candy
- Labels are not always lies
- Media glutton + Internet geek + Feminist
- It changes- please ask. please listen.
- Corporation:FAIL! Teens, Sex & Violence
- Do women need “rescuing”?
- Don't make assumptions
- My pussy has nothing to do with your masculinity
- Establishing a mutual comfort level
- Packing for (Feminist) Boot Camp
- One Night Stand-Less
- Vintage Sexual Harassment – Jerusalem, 2000