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!