Thursday, April 10, 2014

Parting Advice From a Graduating Feminist

Well here I am. Only a few weeks left until graduation and I’m writing my last post for the WMST blog feeling incredibly nostalgic. So, I thought I’d take this opportunity to reflect on my time here at Colgate and offer a few pieces of advice on the things that I’ve learned and wish I had known sooner.

Not all feminists are the same:
I know that this might sound silly, but you’d be surprised how often people lump us all under the same category of bra-burning, man-hating, anti-shaving, militant lesbians… Okay, maybe you aren’t surprised.  But here’s a confession: I have yet to meet someone who perfectly fits this description. So the good news is that if you don’t fit this description then you can also be a feminist! Congratulations!!
In all seriousness, what I’m trying to say is that feminists have very different opinions, ideals, goals, and beliefs. We don’t always agree and that’s the beauty of it. I’ve had some of the best discussions with feminists who had different opinions and at the end of the day when we still disagreed, I learned so much more than if I had talked with someone who agreed with me from the start. The point is that even if you disagree with some aspects of feminism don’t be afraid to identify as a feminist and engage with other feminists in conversations.
Along that same vein, don’t be afraid to change your mind. In my humble opinion, I think open-mindedness is one of the best qualities a person can have.

Get to know someone you admire (ideally a feminist):
Like REALLY get to know them. Ask that person to grab a cup of coffee or plan a time when you two can just hang out together. Pick their brain, laugh with them, ask them for advice, and learn from them. It makes this world much more manageable when you see someone you admire navigate this crazy life with ease. Figure out what they struggled with and how they might have gotten over it. Odds are that as a budding feminist you probably are going through the same challenges. Don’t reinvent the wheel but rather learn from those around you.

Talk about what you’re passionate about with your friends and family:
For a long time I kept all that I was learning in my Women’s Studies classes to myself because I didn’t want to come across as fanatic or pushy to my friends. But, as the years have gone by I’ve become more and more comfortable discussing with my friends issues surrounding feminism, intersectionality, race, class, privilege, etc. and it turns out that they actually enjoy discussing these topics too (for the most part). What I have learned from this is that I need to have friends in my life that are willing to have these conversations. Even if they don’t agree with me, we are able to open each other’s eyes and push each other out of our comfort zones.

Allow yourself to be self-critical:
It has become very clear to me (sometimes painfully clear) that I make mistakes, I sometimes offend people, and occasionally I’m just actually wrong. Rather than deny it, I believe there is power in learning from our mistakes and a willingness to be self-critical. Learn about your privilege (or lack of) and understand that we all have a little of both. We all have privilege and we all lack a certain type of privilege. Become conscious of this and how you may perpetuate systems of inequality. This is probably the hardest and yet the most important feminist lesson I’ve learned at Colgate. It’s not easy, but it’s not supposed to be.

Love yourself and those around you:
All right this is my cheesiest advice yet but bare with me. Yes, we are learning. Yes, we aren’t perfect nor will we ever be. But that’s okay. Be critical of yourself, the world around you, and other feminists, but don’t forget to find the little golden nuggets as well. Constantly critiquing the patriarchy, the multiplicity of oppressions, and privilege is important but it is also exhausting and honestly not that much fun. Too often we are quick to be critical, but less willing to point out the good that has come about. But in order for this whole feminism thing to work out, we need to continuously support one another. So I have a challenge for you. Pick several people that you admire or who have helped you in the last few years and write them a letter. Feminist or not, tell them how much they mean to you and in which ways they’ve made a positive impact in your life. Not only will this rejuvenate them, but it will also help you figure out what you admire in people and how to be more like them. And when you are writing your letters don’t forget to write a letter to the most important person: yourself.

- Michelle Van Veen ‘14

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