The Way a Feminist Conference at Barnard Opened My Eyes

I recently participated in one of the most extraordinary conferences held at Barnard College, Activism & the Academy: Celebrating 40 Years of Scholarship and Feminism. I must say that I was a little afraid when my teacher Ileana Jiménez, blogger at feministteacher.com announced in class that we were to attend such a conference. I had already imagined women standing tall, because they know what they want in life, and had probably already achieved it. So yes, I felt intimidated.

However, as I entered Barnard College, I noticed something: strangers were smiling at me without my smiling at them first. For once, it wasn’t me doing the effort to be nice, this time I had to be polite to someone back. I must say that environment relaxed me even more, and I no longer felt out of place but right where I was supposed to be.
The conference commenced with Janet Jakobsen, director of the Barnard Center for Research on Women. This woman had so much energy in her voice and managed somehow to be welcoming as she talked about how feminism has grown to contrast to what people say: “Feminism having been declared dead…and here you are today!”

I was once one of those people who thought that feminism was dead. In my country, Haiti, there is no hint of feminism. Even when I moved to New York, I did not see any feminist action. So I thought that women were done fighting and that they had accepted their life as it came. However, LREI proved me wrong. At this wonderful high school, I learned that feminism was not dead. For example, Ileana Jiménez, my feminist English teacher, is determined to bring feminism into the lives of a younger generation.

Because of that vision, she started teaching a feminism class to high school students. She helped me understand why she would teach such a class in high school! During the conference, she said, “Bridge the gap.” She later explained that there are a lot of things that you learn in college that you wished you had learned in high school. What she tries to do is eliminate that sense of regret for her students when they get to college. We, as her students, will to college more confident. We already walk more confidently because we know who we are: we are fierce and fabulous.
I could continue writing about how the conference was eye-opening and such a wonderful experience, however, I must say something. I would’ve hoped to have a African-American during the conference panels so that I can see her point of view, because I would probably related more or sometimes feel more comfortable. I am not saying that it was an uncomfortable situation, no, it as wonderful. However, at times when the speaker would say a word in Spanish in an English sentence, I would be lost for a second and feel out of place or even forgotten.

It was interesting to hear Ariella Rotramel (Rutgers) telling us how the people in the Bronx live in bad conditions or sharing with the audience what the Red Plant Policy is. However like bell hooks said, “ It is unlikely that women would join the feminist movement simply because we are biologically the same.” This means that even though we are all women, we are feminist because of various reasons, meaning that a white woman, a Hispanic and black woman may all three be feminists but that does not mean that they are going through the same thing, or that they see the world the same.

That’s what this conference made me think about. I would have maybe connected more to a black speaker, not that we are going through the same issue because we are black, but because the are more chances that we are experiencing the same issue because we are black, than my experiencing the same issues as a Hispanic.

Courtney Martin, who is the former editor at feministing.com, touched upon something really important to all women regardless of your ethnicity, she talked about the notion of rejection of feminism: “A series of NO that keeps us all connected.” She is not talking about the small rejection from parents to their kids. She is talking about something much bigger. The big “no” that society hands without hesitation is to women.

I remember reading a blog post by Ness Fraser, who was a young college graduate woman who unable to be employed. This could have been a normal situation if  the post had not mentioned the probability that she could have gotten a job easily if she only had some breast implants. What has the world come to? Why is it that it this society that can tell us “no,” tell us what to do and not the other way around. We need to stop this and take charge without brutality!

7 thoughts on “The Way a Feminist Conference at Barnard Opened My Eyes

  1. I completely agree with a lot of the things you are saying here. What you were saying about feeling left out of the conversation since you couldn’t really connect with most of the speakers because of their racial differences and experiences from you was eye opening for me. It’s weird because I didn’t even think about that. Since I’m Latina, I was able to connect with a lot of the speakers that were there, especially Sonia Alvarez and Ariella Rotramel, because they were speaking about issues that I have experienced myself, being of the same background as they were. I didn’t realize that not ALL experiences and perspectives were being represented. It just goes to show that, even at a conference that fights against exclusion, somebody can feel left out.

  2. I completely relate to you when you talked about getting a little confused for a quick second when Spanish was interwoven in the speeches. Thanks for pointing out the quote from Courtney Martin former editor at feministing.com, “A series of NO that keeps us all connected.” I missed that quote, and your interpretation of it that it’s like “the big ‘no’ that society hands without hesitation to women” really makes the concept of feminism relatable.

  3. I was also very disappointed that there wasn’t a black speaker. It’s not even that I would of felt more comfortable with a black speaker, but because feminism is supposed to be inclusive, it was expected. And it also makes me wonder why there wasn’t a black woman speaking and why wasn’t she interested in joining the conversation? And taking it a step further, where were the male speakers? With feminism we assume women, but there are plenty of men who face oppression as well. The lack of diversity at the conference makes me feel that we haven’t gotten as far as we thought.

  4. I really liked what you said about the environment at Barnard, and the conference all together. I thought you were spot on about how everyone was very accepting. “strangers were smiling at me without me even smiling at first”, I felt the same way. It was intimidating at first, especially being one of the few males there, but I quickly got over it.

  5. You do such a good job of describing your personal experience at the conference; I really understood how being there felt for you. I also appreciated your point about wishing that more groups were represented at the conference. I also felt it was sometimes hard to relate to the speakers. There was so much talk about Latina feminism, and I believe about African as well, but why not Black-American feminism or Jewish feminism or the feminisms of any other culture? Excellent point.

  6. I like how even though you mention the differences of experience between different races, you also touch on the quote that Courtney Martin said, “A series of NO that keeps us all connected.” I think this shows that even though we are different, we can still work together for the bigger picture, the bigger cause. In the end, we all really do have the mutual goal of equality. I also like your analysis of “the big no” that “society hands without hesitation to women.” I think that idea is very interesting and I never thought of it in those terms.

  7. I felt pulled in by your sentence: “However, at times when the speaker would say a word in Spanish in an English sentence, I would be lost for a second and feel out of place or even forgotten.” I find this line compelling because so often in feminist spaces, white, English-speaking women have historically been given the space to define the agenda as well as the content of what will be talked about and explored.

    I think one of the things that women of color have done, and in particular, Latina women in the U.S., is say that speaking in a mixture of Spanish and English is a way of redefining and shaping the discourse in ways that are most meaningful for them. For example, when we read Cherríe Moraga in class, you might have noticed that she uses both Spanish and English in her work. She does that intentionally to show her readers that she is speaking from a place of being both a Spanish and English speaking Chicana. It is a part of her politics to use the Spanish as part of sharing her feminist consciousness. For some readers, this can be alienating. However, part of the objective here is to say, “we have been alienated for so long by feminism defined by white women and patriarchy dominated by white men,” that using the Spanish is a way to resist those silences and make feminism theirs as well.

    So, I can see how you were pushed out during those moments, however, you might also begin to think of it as a way to feel pulled in to fellow women of color using a language that though you may not know, is still a strategy to speak both to her own community as well as a larger audience. For example, when feminist authors whose language I don’t speak use words from their language and culture, I feel a solidarity with them for speaking their truth from their own perspective. Edwidge Danticat, for example, uses French and Creole, and it creates a vivacity in her work that I think speaks to the kind of literature she is trying to create as a Haitian woman, author, and activist. I hope that you will feel inspired to use your own experience and language as a Haitian woman in these blog posts and the other writings we do in this class to share your voice. Onward!

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