#BadFeminist

By Caitlin Panarella

Media has often been a primary tool through which women and girls discover and create a feminist consciousness.  For some it was the Bible, for others it was books and newspapers, for more still it was television and radio.  Social media is now the order of the day, with hashtags and public accounts providing forums for democratic debate.

No matter what else I think about social media, I will always be thankful for it.  Instagram was indispensable in my discovery of, and identification with, feminism.  Though I do not remember the specifics of how I found the account, I do remember the first account I followed- @Feminist_101.  

With every post I read, more emotions came to the fore: excitement, anger, astonishment.  I was shocked I had not recognized it before- the way girls and women are judged, the little and big things we can’t do, the little and big things we must do.  I also learned that feminism was not solely about gender; it included the rights of people of color, the LGBTQ community and people with disabilities.

I now follow more accounts that promote feminism, and I have thus been privy to a troubling trend on some of these accounts.  I have seen multiple posts that read, “If your feminism doesn’t include X, your feminism SUCKS.”  “If you don’t support X, how dare you call yourself a feminist.”  “If you aren’t rallying behind X, shut up and get out.”

These posts are a far cry from what welcomed me into the feminist community.  Had I seen these posts first, instead of ones that educated me on feminist issues, I wonder if I would have sought out a higher feminist consciousness.  

I recall scrolling through my Instagram feed last year and seeing a post reading, “If your feminism doesn’t recognize sex work as real work, it’s not feminism.”  I immediately felt a horrible sense of guilt- I had not yet learned about this facet of feminism, so I felt like a “bad feminist.”  

Over the summer, I read Roxane’s Gay Bad Feminist, a collection of essays about popular culture, events, and her own experiences.  I felt a sense of relief when I read what I had been thinking reflected in her last two essays.  She cites gender theorist Judith Butler, who claimed that there is constant pressure to be the “essential woman,” that there is “a right way to be a woman.”  Gay then applies this thesis to feminism, saying that there is a “notion that there are right and wrong ways to be a feminist and that there are consequences for doing feminism wrong.”

This notion that they will be scrutinized from the moment they join, may be inhibiting more women and girls from embracing feminism.  It also may be making feminists afraid that as they are still learning what feminism means, they will be judged for not having all of the answers yet.

I understand that many times, the posts I see on social media reflect an outrage that some feminists are not intersectional enough.  I agree that that is an enormous problem, and that feminism that excludes anyone, or ignores the issues specific to marginalized groups, is not feminism.  However, I disagree with the way these accounts go about addressing the problem.

As Roxane Gay said in her TED Talk, “We have this tendency to put visible feminists on a pedestal.  We expect them to pose perfectly.  When they disappoint us, we gleefully knock them from the very pedestal we put them on.”

Feminism as I understand it has two branches- one of which focuses on uplifting all women, and the other which promotes feminist ideology.  With these vicious-sounding posts, we risk exiling and repulsing those who still are learning the ideology.  We post and repost the idea that once you identify as a feminist, you are watched until someone can expose the cracks in your facade of “fake feminism.”  

Whoever the intended audience may be, the recipients of these posts will include passersby, perhaps tween and young teenage girls happening upon the accounts as I once did.  Will we welcome them and educate them?  Or impress upon them that this community hurls accusations and ruthlessly roots out “bad” or ”fake” members?

Social media is a tool.  It can be used to educate, agitate, and organize, or it can serve to scare and intimidate would-be feminists.  I hope that we can continue to promote the former, and find more positive avenues to promote better intersectionality.  Our own feminist awakenings should benefit others, not be a means by which we shame them.

A feminist consciousness is not an inborn quality; in fact such awareness requires the breakdown of internalized lessons of a sexist society. If we fail to guide the uninitiated into such a vital consciousness, we risk losing a generation that may agree with feminist ideals but resist their unifying label; we fertilize the ground for a new “I’m-not-a-feminist-but” cohort.

 

Source:

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fxt_MZKMdes

A Princess for Our Time

By: Izzy Wilder

Many of us have heard the story of the princess who lost her slipper, or the princess cast in a sleeping spell, or the princess under the sea, but have we ever had a princess of women, a princess of activism? Meghan Markle may be the closest thing we have to that right now. Markle, a graduate of Northwestern University and the newly-engaged fianceé of Prince Harry, has been appearing all over the recent news for her activism that began when she was just a young girl. Markle is both a celebrity and a feminist; in a recent post by CNN, writers Lisa Respers France and Judith Vonberg talk about how “Markle has used her platform as a TV star to champion gender equality, clean-water campaigns, pet adoption, and the eradication of modern day slavery.”

A video of Markle speaking at the 2015 UN Women’s Conference has been recently circulating on Facebook. During her speech, Markle talks about a life-changing event that occurred when she was just eleven years old, “Where in my hometown of Los Angeles, a pivotal moment reshaped my notion of what is possible.” Markle describes watching a soap commercial during elementary school that had a tagline that said: “Women all over America are fighting greasy pots and pans.” Two boys responded to the commercial saying “Yeah, that’s where women belong -- in the kitchen.” Markle describes how shocked and angered she was at the commercial and her classmates’ responses. When she got home from school, she talked to her dad about it, who encouraged her to write letters. Markle decided it would be most effective to write letters to Hillary Clinton, the First Lady during the time, to Markle’s news source Linda Ellerbee, Gloria Allred, a feminist attorney, and the soap manufacturer. Markle not only received encouraging responses from all three women, but also persuaded the soap manufacturing company to change its slogan from “Women all over America are fighting greasy pots and pans,” to “People all over America...” Even at eleven years old, Markle had a sense of the cultural prejudices that disadvantage women, and the tenacity to fight these prejudices.

In addition to her long-standing activism, Markle is a particularly inspiring figure because she has forever dealt with adversity due to her race as a half-black woman. Markle’s father is Caucasian, and her mother black. Race as a social-construct has been a topic of contention for as long as humans have existed. There have been many mixed posts on social media, such as Twitter, as to her recent engagement to Prince Harry, and how her race plays a role in its reception. Many people are celebrating the fact that Britain may have a black princess, while others consider her race a “‘disgrace’ to the British monarchy.” Still others consider her either too black or not black enough. Markle herself identifies as half-black and half-white; why does there need to be any further clarification? According to Elle Magazine, Markle was asked to check one box that accurately described her race. Markle ended up not checking a box, out of loyalty to both her parents, and when she told her father what happened, his response was “If that happens again, you draw your own box.” Markle has remained firm in her belief that “ You create the identity you want for yourself.” Prince Harry has been fully supportive of this idea, and has himself come forward and asked the media to end the “wave of abuse and harassment.”

Markle is much more than just future royalty. It is her resolve to fight sexism, her unwavering belief in the freedom to self-identify, and her environmental consciousness that make her a  true princess. Markle is a multi-faceted inspiration for women of all ages. She is not yet an official princess, and perhaps she never will be (due to the British line of succession), but she is as close to a feminist princess as we have right now, and we could all take something away from her determination.

Sources:

http://www.cnn.com/2017/11/27/europe/meghan-markle-profile/index.html

http://www.tampabay.com/news/world/Meghan-Markle-has-advocated-for-women-since-the-age-of-11_163069659

https://www.facebook.com/ELLEuk/videos/10155116019392944/

https://www.elitedaily.com/p/why-meghan-markles-race-was-the-first-thing-in-question-after-she-said-yes-to-harry-6382656

http://www.elleuk.com/life-and-culture/news/a26855/more-than-an-other

A Hidden History of Sexual Harassment

By Caitlin Panarella

Amidst the waves of stories of sexual harassment in the last few weeks, the recent flood of accusations against those in government must be scrutinized.  From supervisors to Congressmen, sexual harassers still threaten women in every level of politics.  Though this fact is not new, it reveals the extent to which women still are deterred from partaking in the “public sphere” due to a danger that largely targets them.

According to the New York Times, “in more than 50 interviews, lawyers, lobbyists and former aides...[said]... that sexual harassment has long been an occupational hazard for those operating in Washington politics.”  In one account the Times reported on, a lawyer said that a former representative called her into his office and asked her to twirl.  Soon thereafter, he gave her a $1,250 bonus.  Literally objectified, the woman was appraised for and diminished to her sexual value while trying to do her job.

At the moment, Senator Al Franken and Senate candidate Roy Moore are two of the most high profile cases of politicians sexually harassing women, but others must not be ignored.  We must ask: How can we trust our lawmakers to protect us when we are not safe working for them?

History has the tendency of forgiving and forgetting the sexual violence and deviancy of men in power.  Sexual assault and abuse of power are important, of course, but aside from that he accomplished great things.  Somehow, a man’s use of his position of power to coerce or harass women is not a disqualifier; the more powerful a man is, the less his victims are afforded credibility.

Georgetown University recently held a symposium on the legacy of former president Bill Clinton, hosted by the McCourt School of Public Policy and its Institute of Politics and Public Service. The event celebrated his achievements and vision, and Clinton spoke to an audience filling Gaston Hall.  His sexual relationship with then 22-year-old Monica Lewinsky was not considered or mentioned.  It’s a mark on his record, to be sure, but “the Lewinsky scandal” is attached to her name, not his.   

There is this American ability to easily separate the man from the politician, and only deem the politician’s actions as relevant.  This ease is indicative of a larger refusal to take sexual crimes seriously, and to dismiss survivors because of everything else the man supposedly has to offer.  How can anyone forget Judge Aaron Persky’s statement when lightening the sentence of Stanford University rapist Brock Turner: “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him.”

Sexual harassment is not an inconvenient truth anyone can whisk away anymore.  It cannot be treated as footnote in the otherwise venerable politician’s biography.  To do so sends a clear message to survivors- that there are more important things to remember.

With the slew of stories emerging about the sexual harassment part and parcel with the American political system, or any system of power for that matter, it is imperative to support women legislators.  If men continue to make up the majority of figures in positions of power, and women constitute the majority of those lower on the totem pole, our needs will continue to be ignored.   Women must not be dissuaded from partaking in politics for fear of objectification or harassment, as their voices are necessary for the protection of all women’s rights.  

 

Source:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/13/us/politics/sexual-harassment-congress-capitol-hill.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/16/us/politics/gillibrand-bill-clinton-sexual-misconduct.html

Yes, I am that stereotypical, overly emotional girl

By: Izzy Wilder

Females are often associated with being overly emotional and dramatic, and to be perfectly honest, it is amazing to me that I’ve ever even had a boyfriend. I am the stereotypical, overly emotional girl who cries too much, gets too attached, and requires far too much cuddling. Recently though, I’ve been trying view my emotions as something positive, rather than as something annoying and undesirable.

For as long as I can remember, my emotions have seemed to far exceed my physical capacity to contain them. Yes, I cry when I see puppies, but I also cry when I read, hear, or see something moving. Sometimes, just the sheer beauty of a fall sunset makes my eyes water. When my friends cry, I cry, because to me, one of the worst experiences is seeing a friend sad or hurt and feeling powerless to do anything about it. Often, I myself don’t even understand why I’m crying. I’m truly amazed my body possesses so much water as to allow me to cry as frequently as I do. I feel everything so deeply, and most of the time, it feels like a curse. Emotions can be excruciatingly painful; they can make you feel like you don’t have enough air, like the whole world is crashing down around you, like you’re being sucked into a black hole of your own negative emotions and thoughts. In relationships, I’ve found that I get attached easily. I’m all too happy to just spend a Friday night cuddling and watching Netflix, as opposed to going out with friends. I was in a relationship for a year and a half, just as I was entering college. He went to school eight hours away from me. Needless to say, the long-distance killed me. Despite the many other problems with our relationship, the sheer distance between us seemed like an impossible barrier to overcome. I became obsessive, always worrying about what he was doing, when we were going to see each other next, etc. When things finally ended between us, I was absolutely crushed. Granted, he was my first love, but still, I sat on my living room couch for five straight hours until early in the morning, struggling to breathe as the waves of tears poured from me.

As truly painful as emotions can be, they also make you more human. In my experience, they make you more empathetic, because when you see a friend who is upset, you really get it. I have a friend right now going through a really rough patch, and for once, my emotions have been useful, because I can relate to what he is going through in a way that few people can. One useful outlet I can pour my emotions into is music. I have been playing the flute for around a decade now, and being able to express myself emotionally through music, to create meaning and beauty when I lack words, has been an enormous help. Strong emotions also mean that while being sad is almost unbearable, being happy is one of the most incredible emotions I can feel. I am able to forget about everything and simply take in the joy of the moment. When I’m happy, I’ve been described to have a noticeable aura about me. In my more recent relationships, I’ve learned that my emotions can be a positive thing. Yes, I require routine cuddling, but I’ve also been described as spontaneous, genuine, and generous.

For those of you, regardless of gender, who identify with at least some part of what I’m saying, I urge you to embrace your emotions. There is a stigma around being emotional, around being vulnerable, but I think emotions just make us all the more human, and are something to be embraced, not hidden away. It takes time to learn how to channel emotions into something positive, and trust me, I haven’t found the formula just yet, but I’m learning to appreciate my feelings, instead of hating myself for them. The next time you feel like crying, don’t stifle it. Embrace the moment, let yourself have a good cry, and remember that your emotions don’t make you a terrible person, they make you a more genuine human.

An Ode to Working Mothers

By: Maddy Forbess

Dear Mom,

Thank you so much for waking me up every morning before school and packing my lunch even though you have to finish preparing your talk and clean the kitchen all before 8:00am. Thank you for picking me up from school to go the doctor’s in the middle of your work-day. Thank you for making my favorite dinners, and thank you for helping to load the dishwasher afterwards. I have so many other things to thank you for, but they would not all fit on this page. I think I speak for everyone when I say that you do so much for us. Whether it is helping to make Halloween costumes or bringing snacks to our sports games, you are always there. It is the extra “second shift” you work after you come home from your paid job that we take for granted, and for that I am sorry.

 I promise to pay more attention to all that you do, especially the household duties that still seem to fall under your domain. In an age when women are increasingly active in the workforce, it is not fair that women, wives, and mothers still do the majority of domestic labor. Studies have shown that women have broken into the public sphere yet they continue to hold the same about of private sphere responsibilities. As a result, working mothers experience the extra load of cooking dinner, cleaning the dishes, and, in many cases, providing child care in addition to their professional occupation. For balancing all that you do with an air of grace and humility, you deserve much more than a simple thank you. Not only do you deserve credit for the “second shift” you work, but you deserve help—help that your capable, loving husband and children can provide.

You take the dogs for walks, arrange for our appointments, and somehow have time to dictate all of your office notes, too. Even if you are traveling to a conference for the weekend, you make sure to leave an extensive to-do list so that everyone can somehow manage in your absence. I am in awe of all that you are capable of, and I resolve to tell you more often how much I admire you. Your “second” household shift seems much more outdated than the progressive dual-earning model your and Dad’s marriage ascribes to, but it is a testament to how much you do to make our family run smoothly. That is not to say you should have to do all of these domestic duties. Our society’s sexual scripts must continue evolving before we rid ourselves of the historical sexual division of labor. Until then, gendered roles in household labor will still linger despite the liberal family structures with which many families in the United States identify. But we do not have to wait around for some external stimulus to bring about this change. It is each of our responsibilities to contribute more. We can help in a myriad of ways. By simply taking the trash out in the morning before school or making a dinner schedule for the week, we can more equally divide household tasks. I know it seems we are all increasingly busy in today’s market-driven society, but we must not lose perspective. Yes, school is time-consuming and it is difficult to make time for seemingly mundane chores, but my point holds. Household labor should not fall upon one person’s shoulders, regardless of how incredibly strong a mother she is.

 

Love,

An aspiring woman in leadership

The Case for Ecofeminism

By: Brooke Claflin

            In many feminist circles, it is largely agreed upon that a middle to upper-class largely white and largely heterosexual group of women should not represent the movement as a whole. Instead many feminists have argued for an intersectional approach to feminism and on top of that have even argued that any brand of feminism that is not intersectional fails to really get to the heart of the movement. Intersectional feminism takes into account everything about a person, ranging from sexual orientation to race to socioeconomic status to religion. Thus, a successful brand of feminism bases itself on solidarity not unity because not all women share the same experiences, but all women do share the desire to be free from oppression and subjugation.

            In her essay “The Power and Promise of Ecological Feminism” Karen J. Warren goes beyond the importance of inclusivity in the feminist movement and explores how the feminist and environmentalist movements are inextricably linked. Warren claims that an oppressive patriarchal conceptual framework exists in our world and that this framework serves to justify the domination of women and nature. In general, nature is seen as inferior to mankind due to its incapacity to change the world around it and, at least in western culture, women are identified with nature and the physical making them also subordinate to men. Thus, the subordination of nature and women to men are linked in their ties to the same logic of domination.

            These interconnections amongst oppressed entities are important in that they are similar to the interconnections amongst different oppressed communities of women; although nature and women do not share the exact same problems, they should work together in solidarity because they are both oppressed by the same patriarchal framework of values. In general, a feminist ethic, according to Warren, ought to be an inclusive one.

            In the past, I had not really considered how such distinct movements as feminism and environmentalism might be connected and probably would have even denied the existence of any such fundamental link. However, after reading Warren’s article, I now acknowledge the importance of recognizing the interconnectedness of naturism and sexism. Oppression cannot just be fought in one place for one group, but rather all the oppressed must work together in solidarity to overthrow the logic of domination that arbitrarily considers men superior. A new logic and conceptual framework of society cannot be established until the old one is completely rejected, and the oppressed come together to re-vision the world order.

 

 

Source:

Warren, Karen J. “The Power and Promise of Ecological Feminism.” Environmental Ethics:           Readings in Theory and Application, edited by Katie McShane, Louis P. Pojman, and Paul Pojman, 7th ed., Cengage Learning, 2017.