Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Brown Bag Reflection for “The F Word: Intersectional Feminisms”

I was both shocked and honored this summer when I received an email from Kimmie Garner, the previous Women’s Studies Program Assistant, asking me to speak as a member of the panel for this semester’s first brown bag, “The F Word: Intersectional Feminisms.”  When I came to Colgate three years ago, I had no idea what Women’s Studies was or what being a feminist meant.  If you asked me my first year, I never would have imagined that I was a feminist (even though I have been one all along), or that I would have majored in Women’s Studies (WMST), or that I would become part of the wonderful extended community of WMST people at Colgate.
After reading Kimmie’s email, I began to question her choice in asking me to join the panel and worried that I would not know what to say.  I also began to second guess myself as I started to think that there are much more qualified people who could be speaking on the panel.  Maybe second-guessing oneself is more of a female thing as it is difficult to always be confident in yourself in the patriarchal society we live in, but I did say yes.  I dwelled on the topic the whole summer.  I began to keep a running list of bullet points about things I might say and by the end of the summer, I had come up with about 5 typed pages of why I am an intersectional feminist and the different ways it impacts my life.  Additionally it really allowed me to reflect on my intersectional identities and how those relate to my feminist views.  In the end, the hardest part was narrowing down what I wanted to say for the few minutes I was allotted. 
As I was first to speak, I wanted to make sure to clarify what I meant by “feminism” and “intersectionality” as I knew a lot of new people would be in attendance, and I can surely say that when I was a first-year, those terms were way over my head.  Keeping it simple, I gave the definition put forth by bell hooks and explained that feminism is “the movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” The movement is not about being anti-male (I like guys!), but rather that sexism is the problem.  It’s about recognizing and taking steps to combat patriarchy and institutionalized sexism.  This is an ongoing process and everyday all of us at Colgate can be part of the change on campus by doing and living feminism and showing that we believe in equality and respect for all peoples.  I explained that intersectionality is the way one’s identities come together and that in order to work to combat sexism, it is necessary to recognize other -isms that exist and learn about the ways certain intersecting oppressions interact with each other.
In my spiel, I talked about how I identify as a Jewish feminist as well as a feminist in Greek life at Colgate. Additionally, I touched on the importance of being a woman on campus and being a leader and upstanding citizen in whatever way possible.  Women at Colgate should not be afraid to speak up and to speak with authority, and we cannot let what men (or what others) might think of us hold us back.  I used to be intimidated to speak up in certain male-dominated spheres (which let’s face it, that includes most things), but that is something I am constantly working on.  Furthermore, it is so important for women at Colgate to hold leadership positions around campus considering the history of our school.  Colgate was an all-male institution merely 40 years ago and finally caught up with the majority of colleges when it became co-educational in 1970.  Being a woman on campus in the 1970s could not have been easy, and even today, it is not easy, but we can take steps to make it better when we speak up about things we do not agree with.  
Word usage is another huge aspect of how I try to live feminism everyday and how I think feminists as leaders can help make changes.  One important differentiation is “girls and boys” versus “men and women” which might not sound like a big deal, but it is.  All of us at Colgate are men and women.  Oftentimes, we fall into the habit of using colloquial language, and I am not saying that I do not do it too, but I think we need to be more aware of it.  One time, one of my male friends was telling me about how he was networking with “this girl at JP Morgan.” I called him out on it and explained that he could not call her a girl, especially as she was in her late 20s/early 30s and if he said that in an interview, he surely would not have been hired. Calling a woman that age a girl is frankly offensive and nobody would ever call a man that age a boy unless it was an insult.  Right there is just one of the many patriarchal biases that exist in English.  
Another thing I think it is important to just be conscious of is saying “hey you guys” to a group of mixed people. Guys do not make up the whole world, in fact, they make up a bit less than half of it.  Although it is a habit I fall into as well, it is important to just be aware and maybe make attempts to find other phrases that are more inclusive like “y’all” or “everybody.” Furthermore, it is important to keep others accountable of certain words and phrases that can be hurtful.  When someone says “that’s so gay” or “that shirt is dykey” or any other number of things along those lines, it is important as a feminist in everyday life to call their attention to that.  As Ben said on the panel, that does not necessarily mean embarrassing them but just making them conscious that what they said is not what they meant.  
In a nutshell, as an intersectional feminist, it is important to stand up for all sorts of identities and treat all peoples according to the Golden Rule. There are so many simple ways to live and do feminism, and some people might be doing feminism and not even realize it, which is OK!  At the end of the Brown Bag during the Q&A session, one male student in the audience raised his hand and almost in disbelief said, “Well I think I’m a feminist!” It was a great moment of self-realization for both him and I’m assuming other people in the audience. Feminism is not crazy or radical as it has been perceived in the media and throughout history.  Rather, being a feminist should be one of the most natural things for us as (I like to think) inherently good beings.  Why wouldn’t you want equality for all regardless of sex, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, class, ability, religion, etc?!

-Lindsey Skerker '14

No comments:

Post a Comment