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Got 99 problems and one-percent feminism is all of them

24 Apr

This post originally appeared in the Georgetown Voice.

by Erin Riordan

On April 12, Georgetown University’s Women in Leadership hosted their inaugural Own It Summit. Tickets for the event sold out within 24 hours, hundreds of students and community members attended and a host of impressive speakers participated in panels and workshops. Despite these remarkable achievements, I would not call the Own It Summit a complete success. While this event certainly did empower female leaders, it also left out a significant number of voices in promoting a narrow view of what kind of woman we talk about when we discuss female leadership and success.

It needs to be acknowledged that this event had several barriers to entry that prevented the summit from being accessible to everyone. The $20 entry fee was an economic barrier for many lower-income students and women, and while there were scholarships offered, it is still likely that this fee was a deterrent for some. The entry fee also sent the message, whether intentional or otherwise, that this was an event for women with the means to pay an entrance fee.

The racial makeup of both the event organizers and panelists was also strongly biased towards the perspectives of white women. While women of color did participate, eight of the ten student organizers were white, and 17 out of the 24 panelists were white. It is possible that the event planners made a conscious effort to include a diverse array of voices, but when a space is so dominated by the perspectives of white women, it reinforces the larger structural dynamic that white voices matter more than voices of color.

These dynamics of race and class impacted the perception of the event, as well as those who felt comfortable attending and participating. I spoke with many friends who decided not to attend the summit because they felt their voices and perspectives would not be adequately represented. One friend, who did attend, left after the first hour, saying, “I didn’t feel that a lot of the topics I engage with when I talk about feminism, like class struggles that affect women, labor rights, and race in particular, were being addressed at all.” She went on to say, ”I sensed that the conference would be talking about your more typical ‘Lean In’ and one-percent feminism, which in my opinion is inherently oppressive and exclusive of the large percentage of women who really do need to be talked about when we talk about gender discrimination.” “One-percent feminism” is generally defined as feminism that focuses mainly on the needs of white, socioeconomically privileged women pursuing more traditional kinds of success.

Any event on campus that aims to further women’s leadership and empowerment needs to better represent the voices of all women. While I am a white woman, racism and racial politics in the workplace matter to me because dismantling racism and supporting my fellow women matters to me. An optional session during the summit on “Women of Color” is not sufficient because everyone should hear the voices of women of color, not just the few who choose to listen.

Similarly, focusing on traditional ideas of high-powered success is not sufficient, as it does not include or acknowledge the realities and struggles of working class and poor women. In the fight for gender justice we cannot just be concerned with the struggles of women who occupy space within mainstream, socioeconomically privileged feminism. Fighting for a national living wage and fair conditions in the workplace is as important to me as fighting for my own fair pay, and that should be reflected in all feminist spaces.

Transwomen also need to be engaged in these conversations, as they face unique struggles in the workplace that should be of concern to every person who claims to support the empowerment of women. Any event that supports women’s leadership needs to include the varied perspectives of women of color, poor and working class women, transwomen, and all the other women whose voices were not heard or adequately represented by the Own It Summit. Without these voices, our movement will only support women who are already privileged in many other areas of their lives. To achieve true justice and support all women, we need to engage and listen to voices that the GUWIL Own It Summit did not represent.

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I Am Here for Me, Too

21 Aug

by Kevin Carty

For anyone who’s spent at least a minimal amount of time within the pages, blogs, feeds, and conversations of modern feminism, it should be more than apparent that feminism can no longer survive and succeed as a discrete, limited endeavor. Intersectionality has been a buzzword and important focal point of the movement for decades. Millions of feminists have come together to fight for the rights of the LGBTQ community. The best feminists today are inclusive of and fighting for the rights of trans individuals. And, altogether, if you’re a feminist today, it is unlikely that you are only focusing on the plight of women who are of your class, race, and orientation. And if you are so exclusive, it is likely that you are receiving endless, justified criticism.

No, hopefully, your feminism is broad, willing to include and appreciate the endlessly unique narratives of oppression that you will come to hear if you come to listen. And hopefully your feminism is humble too, willing to acknowledge the privileges and particularities of your own perspective whenever you weigh in on an issue.

These two directives are kind of the hard and fast rules of modern feminism, as far as I see them, and they exist for good reason. They are the modern effects of feminism’s past failures, the best responses that we feminists have to the blindnesses and biases which have afflicted our movement since the very beginning. Furthermore, for those of us who are privileged and who attempt to write about feminism, these are the rules by which we should live if we wish to be moral, modern feminists.

But, now that I have used ‘we’ and ‘our’ to talk about this ongoing movement, we get to the point where I should explain my own feminism, and my relationship to these rules. As a man, there are understandably a few questions that I receive whenever I call myself a feminist.

Does your feminism subtract, or detract from the efforts of female feminists?

Do you need to be a feminist?

Are you too privileged to write and act against social injustice?

Can you be a male feminist?

Or (worse) should you be a male feminist?

I can answer all these questions, or at least avoid them, through the hard and fast rules above. I can be broad; I can be humble; I can summarily check my privilege as best as possible. But, that doesn’t feel like enough in terms of an answer. Yeah, as long as I do these things, I can be a ‘good’ feminist even though I’m such a privileged man. But that doesn’t sufficiently explain why I identify as a feminist, and why I want to be one. I have a better answer for that question, and it has to do with the interconnectedness of gender justice.

Feminism has always been an action-oriented movement. The fight against disenfranchisement, domestic violence, the opposition to working women, sexual violence, the lack of reproductive healthcare and rights, the wage gap and the sexist exclusivity of the high-paying boys’ clubs of the world, these are the battles which prove the necessity of our movement and keep us going. But, additionally, we are a movement of ideas, because beneath those obvious violences also lurk the gendered ideologies and expectations which drive such injustice, ideas that are dominant, hurtful, and self-perpetuating. So, we attack the idea that women are meant to take supporting roles in life, the purity myth, the sexual double standard, and the socialized lies that women are disinclined to traditionally logical and mathematic endeavors.

And, here is where interconnectedness comes in. These violences and the concepts which undergird them are not simply perpetrated and maintained by men to the detriment of women. Additionally and accordingly, these violences exist alongside violences that men feel and inflict upon each other as a result of gender ideology, and these ideas were all developed in tandem with conceptions of masculinity that affect and hurt men just as related conceptions of femininity affect women.

For instance, consider the social expectations surrounding female virginity, the madonna-whore complex, slut-shaming and the double standard; consider the generalized ideas of female sexuality that constrain and hurt women, each of them based in the patriarchal belief that women are not interested in sex, and that they should be pure, angelic, virginal beings who are tainted by sex and sexuality. This paradigm of sexuality does not live in a vacuum; with it goes the belief that men are grossly sexual beings, defined by aggressive desires for release and horniness that they can’t control. And independent of the implications of this idea in regards to victim-blaming and leniency toward rapists, this idea that we men are wild sexual beasts has great and profoundly negative effects on the vast majority of us men who are not violently sexual.

It should go without saying, but we are in control of our sexual drives. Our horniness is not some monolithic presence that deprives us of personal choice. We are not wild, sexual animals. And when the culture around us works to make that argument again and again, demonizing our sexuality saying that women must always say no to us, that we all think with the ‘wrong head,’ and that rape and sexual harassment are built into our genes and driven by our hormones, that is profoundly, disgustingly disrespectful. And when we hear this again and again, I think that many of us come to believe its truth and unwillingly buy into this myth of male sexuality. Some of us might unwittingly feel that we can not and should not control ourselves, and some of us, I believe more of us, come to fear ourselves. If we are taught to believe that we are sexually aggressive beasts who act outside of conscious control, what reasonable response is there other than self-fear?

Likewise, think about the larger frames of social role and purpose that circumscribe work and family for women: the overwhelming share of domestic work that working women shoulder, the fact that women are underpaid relative to men by eighteen cents to the dollar, the dearth of women in leadership positions across industries. The understanding of femininity that argues for women to stay home and support is obviously also built upon a societal devotion to the male breadwinner, the chivalric man who provides for his woman and finds purpose in doing so.

To many, this role doesn’t seem to be obviously problematic for men, but I think that ignores quite a bit. Noah Berlatsky has written that feminism has given him more options because it has given his wife more opportunity. Because feminism continues to propel more women into the workforce, so is it ending the requirement that we men be nothing but the sole providers for our families, allowing us to be better dads, independent freelancers, stay-at-home parents, and loving and loved caregivers. Further, when men are seen, as is the case in patriarchal understandings of masculinity, as being needed because they provide for women, there is a long-term detrimental effect of that need to be needed. When that form of utility is the only role we are praised and heralded for, it becomes increasingly difficult to find other sources of meaning, whether they be in close fulfilling relationships, independent work, caring fatherhood, or even love itself. Noah Brand has written that because we only know how to be needed, we have trouble being wanted. We have trouble being truly, freely loved because we’ve only ever been needed.

And lastly, consider the rampancy of domestic and sexual violence, the vast majority of it committed by men. This phenomenon should be shocking. The numbers alone are unconscionable; one in two women have been victims of sexual violence and one in 5 have been victims of rape. Fighting gender violence has, up until now, been seen as a women’s issue. Not only should this be a men’s issue, as Jackson Katz argues in this video, because it is our friends, brothers, sons, and fathers who are acting out sexual violence and because it is in our power to stop and change them. But, moreover, this epidemic of violence is rooted in social structures that have hurt most of us men throughout our lives just as it has hurt the women around us.

The same all male groups which consciously and unconsciously maintain rape culture through rape jokes, sexist language, and the validation of rape myths, are the same male groups that maintain themselves through exclusionary, bullying behavior. The devaluation of women and womanhood that is a central part of rape and sexual violence is closely related to the devaluation, by men, of all those who are not masculine, whether they be female, gay, trans, or simply different. This need to otherize, victimize, and bully comes from the anxious state of masculinity as constructed, an identity which always need to be proven, and which is most easily proven by identifying those who are non-masculine as a sort of empty distraction. Many of us have experienced the aggression of these groups in our fraternities, high schools, military squads, and sports teams, and it can be an incredibly difficult, hurtful experience.

I am a feminist, ever-opposed to sexism, passionately supportive of reproductive freedom, an ally and supporter to all victims of sexual violence. I will march in slutwalks, work against harassment and violence, use my privilege to raise the voices of my female friends and allies, and use my maleness to engage and the change the opinions of other men.

But, in addition to my ally-ship and active support of the women around me, I’m here for men too. The interconnectedness of the gender constructs that feminism is uniquely successful at identifying and fighting means that we have a direct interest in making gender justice a reality, for our girlfriends, female friends, daughters, mothers, and wives, but also for our sons fathers, friends, brothers, and fellow men the world over. I am a feminist, but I am more than a male ally. I am here for me, too.

Stay-at-Home Moms

17 May

by Claire McDaniel 

My mother is one of the smartest people I know. She’s strong, brave, and has so wicked of a fashion sense that I steal her clothes. She’s moved from continent to continent to hold our family together, she’s given up so much to even have a family, and she even laughs at my dad’s corny jokes. I wish I were as brave as she.

Her story is, minus some transcontinental moves, pretty typical. My mom worked her ass off and earned her J.D. from Indiana University, meeting my dad in the process. She gave up practicing law to become a law librarian when she was pregnant with me and, once we moved to Switzerland, gave up her profession all together.

It’s that last part that drives me to write this piece. All over the internet, the TV, even the front page of The New York Times, are people definitively stating that there is only one true way of being a mother and, thank the good Lord, we’ve finally found it! Well, until the next week, anyway.

I won’t claim to have the answer to the debate on whether a mother’s role is to stay at home or work, although I will say with certainty that the term ‘mother’s role’ is maddening. Frankly, I don’t think there is a good answer to the debate. Every role is reality for one family or another, and yet the world keeps on turning.

Young women in our generation look at the ongoing struggles over what it means to be a mother, and what it takes to be the perfect mother, and we walk away more confused than when we initially scrolled down to the comment thread on that one article. We’re told that to make the choice to stay home means we’re anti-women and anti-feminist. But God forbid we go back to work, because then we hate our kids. The whole thing is ridiculously stupid.

Let’s be real here, there are wrong ways to be a mom. Maternal neglect, abuse, and even worse haunt the headlines of the leading papers and cause nightmares. But I highly doubt that a mother who agonizes over the decision to work or stay home, no matter which she chooses, will be a bad mother. Anyone devoted enough to care that much will continue to care.

The only true answer is the one that every mother comes to individually. It takes courage, it takes having a strong sense of your own personal compass, and it takes a lot of thought. In the end, I don’t think it matters what mothers choose to do with their own lives. It’s that they choose that makes the difference.

I look at my mother and I know that she made a choice, a difficult one, and I respect her more for it. Her strength, resilience, and ability to deal with my annoying little brother make me wish I could be so tough. The best thing a mother can be is a role model, whether she stays at home or works full-time, or something in between.

Part of me, the same stubborn streak that made me refuse to eat broccoli, wants to complain that staying at home instead of working shows weakness. Being dependent on someone, even if it’s my goofball and loveable dad, seems to go against my near-innate sense of independence. But I look at my mom and everything that she’s done for our family, everything that she’s sacrificed, and I know that she’s not weak. She’s the strongest person I know, and seeing her bravery has made me who I am.

I walk in the same steps as my mother. I struggle to keep my eyes awake during a late night study session in the library. I balance my life as a student with my often-overwhelming extracurriculars, and even call home from time to time. I love my family. I don’t have one of my own, and I don’t know what choices I might face if I get around to it sometime in the very distant future. All I know is that I wish I, and all women, have the courage to follow their own moral compass once they do.

I look around me in the world, and I see real problems. Women are paid less, work less prestigious jobs, are discriminated against, and are sexually harassed—if not assaulted—every single day of the week.  These are incontrovertible facts. These are the issues that define the feminism of our day and age, not what a mother decides to do with her life. Really, it’s as simple as that.

Can I Really Call Myself A Feminist?

19 Feb

by Anonymous

I preach equality. I fight the patriarchy. I’m all for female empowerment. I campaign for gay rights. I love women. But see, therein lies the problem. I do all this impressive talking and writing and campaigning and even living, but I don’t quite admit to some of it. See when I say, “I love women,” I don’t just mean that in the #nohomo sense of the word. In fact, I mean it in all senses of the word. I openly love women as my friends and family, but I secretly love them as my girlfriends. Nope, that’s not right either. I never call them girlfriends; they’re just…fun. But what good am I doing when I say things like that? Who am I helping when I date boys and hook up with women on the side? Sure, I genuinely care about both of them, but it’s time to stop lying. It’s time to start admitting that doing both is the equivalent of cheating on both—and as such, it harms everyone involved.

Up until a few months ago, I probably would’ve said that it just harms them. After all, if I’m doing the cheating, I shouldn’t get hurt, right? Wrong. Apparently falling for someone in the context of an emotionally dishonest relationship hurts. It seems that emotions cannot be permanently buried and swept away into the perpetually shut closet. I might have called her a hook up, a friend with benefits, but after a little while, part of me started to care. And from that point on, a lot of me started to care. And suddenly, before I knew it, I had fallen head over heels for her. But I couldn’t tell her. I couldn’t tell anyone. Because no one even knew that was possible. How can I fall for a girl if I’m “straight?” How can I get hurt if it’s just “fun?”

So here I stand, honest on paper, honest in my heart, and dishonest in every other context. I lie in omission when I meet new people. I lie to my parents and many of my friends every day. I lie to the boys I date about who else I would like to date. I lie to the girls I kiss about how I identify. I lie to her, the one who changed my mind, every time I see her and pretend like I’m okay that we’re just friends. I even lie to all of you by refusing to sign my name to this piece. And that last one especially—that haunts me. I might be able to make excuses for friends and family, but why can’t I just say it? If I can write so honestly, why can’t I just grow a pair and put my name on the sheet of paper. Why am I terrified of saying that maybe, just maybe, I’m not straight. It’s not like I fulfill the norm everywhere else in my life. So why now? Why this issue? I think about how much respect I have for so many of my openly gay friends, but I just—I can’t do it. But what worries me so much about that is what it means for the titles with which I do openly identify: liberal, feminist, progressive. Can I legitimately claim any of them? If I refuse to participate in furthering the move towards equality, away from the stigmatization of the LGBTQ community, can I really say I’m liberal? If I love women and fight to advance their political causes, but cannot tell people that I’d also like to fight for one on a very individual level, can I still call myself a feminist? How can I criticize celebrities and people who say they “want equality but definitely aren’t feminists” when I myself want LGBTQ equality and participate in the culture, but cannot actually label myself as such? As much as I’d like to slap a happy ending on this and say that I’ve convinced myself of the need for honesty, I’m leaving this anonymous. I wish I had the courage to change it, but instead I’m extending the challenge to you. Be better than me: name yourself, label yourself, be proud in who you are and in what you believe.

Feminism Continues to Leave Out Women of Color

5 Feb

by Zenen Jaimes

I did not identify as a feminist until this past summer because quite frankly, I knew nothing about it. This summer, however, I had the chance to live with four queer feminists that introduced me to the wonderful world of feminist blogs. I never had a formal introduction to feminism and I have never taken a class with the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, so my academic grasp on the subject is tenuous at best.

​However, as I think back to my life, and the different communities I have lived in, I find it difficult to apply many of the things I have learned over the past couple of months. How does the feminism I encounter on the Internet world apply to my mom, a low-income immigrant Latina that cannot turn on a computer?

​The short answer is it doesn’t.

Even the Spanish word for feminism “feminismo” does not inspire the same sorts of images or responses to a woman that has lived her whole life under the ideas of “machismo.” I can go to sites like Viva La Feminista where the intersections of these identities are often talked about in deeper ways. But feminism still remains a “white issue” in the same way many of the environmental movements in this country are perceived by many people of color as just “more whining white people.”
​A big part of these divisions come from media portrayals of how feminists must look like, sound like, and be like. Feminists are portrayed as educated and upper middle class. Which is the exact opposite of Latina portrayals in the media.

​But I don’t think we can blame these divisions entirely on the media. The fact is, mainstream feminist communities still do a terrible job of representing the issues that truly affect women of color in this country. Abortion, reproductive justice, sexual assault, immigration, and rape have a completely different dimension in my community. But traditional feminist discourses like to look at these issues as a race blind.

​A lack of representation in feminist discourses is not the only problem (I recognize that this blog is new, but it has yet to include an entry by a woman of color). When women of color try to bring up these issues in feminist discourses, they are often dismissed as trying to destabilize the movement and promote infighting that doesn’t further the feminist cause.  The fact is racism is still a problem within society and feminists do not live in a vacuum.

​Feminism cannot truly move forward until it actively seeks to portray the oppression of all women. We have taken several steps since Bell Hooks first wrote about the racism that plagued feminism. But merely saying we are doing intersectional work does not give us a free pass. Anti-Racism work is hard, but it’s the first step needed to create a mass movement.

The World Through Feminist-Coloured Glasses

3 Feb

by Meghan Ferguson

I am a feminist. I will (and frequently do) shout it proudly from the rooftops. Meanwhile, my family casts sideways glances, expecting me at any minute to burn my bras and run off to live in a commune, and my friends joke about me being a militant lesbian (I neither confirm nor deny any of these allegations).  The fact of the matter is, until I got to college, I don’t think I would have called myself a feminist.  My experience with the term up to then was hardly positive; yes, I knew feminists and feminism was about equal rights for women, but from what I had been told, feminists were angry, man-hating women, à la the SCUM Manifesto, and feminism was a thing of the past.  Forgive me; I grew up watching Fox News. You know what that does to a person.

I can’t tell you when the light went on for me, when I began to come to understand what feminism really is and what it means to be a feminist.  Regardless of when it happened, I know that a large part of how it happened was meeting people who shared my opinions and who thought of themselves as feminists; that was how I learned that feminism was not a thing of the past, and ‘feminist’ was not a dirty word.  From that point on, my concept of feminism has continually evolved, though I had never given much detailed thought to it until my Feminist Theory class last semester, when our professor told us we had to write a paper on our own theory of feminism.  Because after months of reading Mary Wollstonecraft, Simone de Beauvoir, Angela Davis, amongst others, that wasn’t an intimidating task at all.

After much thought, mulling over class discussions (and arguments) and conversations with friends, I came to the conclusion that for me, feminism isn’t a set of rules or guidelines for how one ought to behave, but rather it’s a lens through which one views the world.  That is, the only way to be a true feminist is to be aware of why you act in a certain way, why certain systems of injustice are wrong, not just that they are wrong. Looking at the world through the lens of feminism involves being aware of the historical context of an institution, thinking critically about one’s actions and their potential ramifications, and actively working to combat oppressive institutions. In this way, people make informed, intellectual choices and are then in turn better able to educate other people about injustices. It’s like the ‘teach a man to fish’ saying – to think of feminism as a lens is to give yourself a way to navigate any situation in an informed, intelligent manner, instead of trying to rely on a book of set rules.  Besides, isn’t that just what we’re trying to get away from?  To that end, being a feminist isn’t just about women’s rights.  Yes, that’s obviously a big part of it, but really it’s about reimagining the world without the patriarchy and fighting the injustices that exist because of patriarchal institutions, whether that is access to birth control, the rape culture, sweat shops, LGBT equality, or worker injustice here at home.

Now, I’m not saying it’s easy by any means.  I’ll be the first to admit that it gets tiring always having to critique things, always having to double check your opinions because, oh wait, I have to check this-or-that privilege, or I only find this funny because the patriarchy has taught me to like it.  Sometimes I just want to watch a soppy romantic film and daydream about my perfect wedding, dammit.  And besides that, there are the conflicts in our lives where our feminism spidey-senses tell us one thing but another part of our brain tells us something different, and you know it’s the patriarchy talking but you just can’t help yourself.  At the end of the day, though, you’ve made a conscious, informed decision, even if it is to go see that new rom-com chick-flick about a woman who desperately wants a husband so her life can be complete, because you have the power of knowledge, and when you’re up against the patriarchy, knowledge is everything.

My Kind of Feminism

29 Jan

By Nicole Chenelle

The more I learn, the more I become a feminist. The more I engage in the world, the more I see the necessity of feminism. The more I grow, the more I see individuals as either feminists or supporters of the patriarchy, either directly or indirectly – ignorance can no longer be respected as a viable third option. I am a feminist in the same way that I am not racist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, ageist, classist, and any other ideology which aims to divide human beings on the basis of irrelevant qualities. I will no longer shy away from the identity of feminism simply because it has a negative connotation. The fact that the term “feminist” has a negative connotation is proof of its necessity! For too long, I have qualified my feminism by saying,“But not the crazy kind!” and I feel ashamed of my former self. Radical feminists were radical because they were angry, justifiably so. When I identify myself as a feminist now, inside, I am itching for someone to taunt me, to provoke me, to give me a reason to defend my choice of identity. I am ready to rant about feminism at any time; I am like a spring that is always loaded. Today, I am tempted to qualify my feminism by adding, “Yes, the crazy kind” because that anger is there. That anger is there every time someone makes a rape joke, comments on a female authority figure’s appearance, uses a derogatory term which has no male equivalent, defends the anti-choice position, or implies the double standard that exists around male and female sexual activity. I live with this rage, burning underneath my fingertips, ready to be deployed at anytime. This is my feminism.

My definition of feminism has evolved as I have evolved. When I was younger, I would defend feminism to my friends and peers by saying, “No, feminism doesn’t mean you hate men, it means you support gender equality!” While I still believe that statement is true, that is not all that feminism is. Today, I see feminism as an intellectual standpoint, as well as a political movement, that seeks to achieve justice for women and eliminate gender inequality. Feminism also accepts the reality of the patriarchy. Recognizing the existence of the patriarchy is crucial to this definition. I have met many people who call themselves feminists, believing in gender equality, yet see this fight as largely finished. When I bring up the patriarchal structure of society, these people ridicule me, laugh at me, dismiss this idea as ridiculous. While these people may call themselves feminists, they do so only because they see it as an anachronistic identity, in the same way one would call themselves “abolitionists” or “suffragists.” Those battles have been fought and won. These individuals support the idea of gender equality, yet see that goal as essentially achieved. Feminists are continuously fighting for gender equality, continuously fighting to dismantle the oppressive nature of the patriarchy. The identity of feminism is an active one.