Barnard Feminist Conference—Raising Pride While Raising Awareness

This past Friday I got the pleasure of attending the BCRW Feminist Conference. It was a day of mixed emotions for me in a way that I never expected. Of course it gave me a better understanding of what the feminist movement was all about, but, and this was the most important, it gave me an unfamiliar feeling of being proud to be a woman.

As a child and even now, I have always centered my identity around my being Puerto Rican. I was never ashamed of being a woman, I’ve just never really seen the world in terms of gender, so I’ve never paid attention to it . . . until now.

Not all of the sessions spoke to me; however, the ones that did were some of the most eye-opening talks that I have ever heard. Keynote speaker, Sonia Alvarez, who is the Leonard J. Horwitz Professor of Latin American Politics and Studies and Director of the Center for Latin American, Caribbean, and Latino Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, was the first to make me realize my newly found pride. Although all of her speech was amazing, the one phrase that opened my eyes was a play on two little words, “Latina America.” As I was listening to her speech, I noticed that Alvarez repeatedly referred to what’s commonly known as Latin America as “Latina America.” For those of you who may not know, in Spanish, certain words change based on whether it is meant to be masculine or feminine. Using the word Latino is masculine and Latina is feminine. Just by changing these words, Alvarez was going against the norm in hopes of making a statement. In the same way people change the term “history” to “herstory,” she was making a change in the way that people view male dominance and identity.

I know many people who have done the same exact thing. For example, my father, who is a journalist at Fox News Latino, uses “her/his” when he writes his story.  Or how a family friend of ours took his wife’s last name. These little acts go against what society is comfortable with—where masculine is dominant and most common—to change the way that people think about gender. This is exactly what I believe Sonia was going for, making me feel proud not just of being Latino but of being a Latina woman.

Sonia Alvarez wasn’t the only strong and inspiring woman at the conference. During the Writing, New Media & Feminist Activism Panel sat five powerful feminist role models, among them LREI’s very own Ileana Jiménez. Now, they triggered my womanly pride in a completely different way than Sonia Alvarez did—they made me see that there were so many strong, powerful women out there and gave me something to aspire to. They all represented different roles that are extremely significant to the feminist movement: the editor (Courtney Martin), the educator (Ileana Jiménez), and motion setters such as Veronica Pinto of Hollaback!, Mandy Van Deven of Girls for Gender Equity, and Susanna Horng of Girls Write Now.

Courtney Martin changed my perception of what feminism is. I have always learned my information about through

stereotypes, as many people seem to learn these days. As soon as she began to talk, she proved everything that I had heard wrong. “[Feminism] is not old women writing about their sex lives” is one of the first things that came out of her mouth. She talked a lot about how there is this misconception that feminist blogs will “replace on the ground activism.” Martin makes it clear that the two aren’t competing but intertwining to become a “beautiful marriage.” Her efforts “to have more accuracy” within the feminist movement was clearly conveyed; enough to completely change my knowledge of it.

Ileana Jimenez educated me on the importance of teaching youth about feminism and today’s feminist movement. She stated that her role is to “bridge the gap” between the movement and the youth of our communities. Being a student of hers has given me a firsthand knowledge of why exactly it’s so important—because the younger generation has the ability to change the society that we will soon be running. Getting them to understand it is one of the most significant parts of expanding the movement, which Jiménez is one of the forerunners of.

Mandy Van Deven, Veronica Pinto, and Susanna Horng clearly have set the motion of the movement through writing, which has caused my desire to want to write more. They all mention the importance of individual stories. Pinto was particularly inspiring to me as she spoke about “elevating the voices” of women and “making the revolution go down.” These three women in particular proved to me the importance of blogging, since “movements starts through storytelling.” As Horng explained, “a voice can be both empowering and overwhelming,” giving me the hopes to be able find my own voice through my writing.

7 thoughts on “Barnard Feminist Conference—Raising Pride While Raising Awareness

  1. I love your quote about this conference giving you “an unfamiliar feeling of being proud to be a woman.” Before reading your post I didn’t really see that, but after reading your post i now really understand what you mean, and I completely agree with you that at least for me seeing the world through the lens of gender has never really been emphasized.

  2. “Latina America”

    It’s amazing how by just switching one letter, Sonia E. Alvarez could make such a huge statement. It is important for people not to say “well that’s just the way things are.” I believe that going against the standards is what it’s all about.

    In reference to your family friend, it must of been very affirming for her to keep her last name, but it is also a huge step that the husband went against what is “normal.” It shows that not only the women want change, but the men are supporting change.

  3. I really thought how you including and noticed the usage of the term”“Latina America” by Alvarez. I completely agree with what you said about how moving her talk was. This term she used was very subtle yet you picked it up and expanded on it.

  4. I really think that we as women or feminist have a voice and we have to speak and say what is on our mind and I think that feminist movement are much more present then we think and that a lot of women are taking control!

  5. This was an interesting post for me to read because I’m the opposite way: I’ve always identified very strongly with being female. At the same time, I totally got the same feeling of feminine pride from the conference itself. In my second panel (Women’s Literature and Feminist Learning), the talk centered on classes of women students, reading books by women, taught by women. It seemed absolutely idyllic. Anyway, I also liked Ms. Alvarez’s use of the phrase “Latina America”, which I’ve certainly never heard anywhere before. Your post reminded me of those little patriarchal things we get so used to. I have a friend who has her mother’s last name, as opposed to her father’s, and when I found out that this was the case, and that her parents were still married, etc., I was shocked.

  6. I’m glad that you included that analysis of Sonia E. Alvarez’s play on the words “Latina America.” I did not notice that at all. I, as well found myself to be kind of taken aback when I first encountered the word “herstory.” And when I found it on one of the texts we’ve read in class, I just read on, never really thinking about why the author made the choice to change the norm. I never really noticed or realized how male dominance plays a part in on daily lives. I guess everyone just learns to accept it. It’s also very interesting the effect of simply changing the order of the words “his/her” to “her/his” can have.

  7. Your observation about Alvarez’s use of the term “Latina America” in her talk at the conference is one example of how feminist scholars not only analyze issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality within different contexts–and with Alvarez, within Latin@ and Latin American contexts–but also change the language that they use to do that very analysis. Part of the project of feminist scholarship is to revise and re-imagine how the language we are so used to–as Dinayuri says, “I guess everyone just learns to accept it”–and instead, turn it on it’s head so that we can see those power dynamics anew.

    I’m thrilled that you experienced a newfound pride in being a woman while at the conference. I think it’s important to attend conferences like the one Barnard hosted for that very reason of finding a powerful community of likeminded people. Often, we feel that we are alone in this work, and conferences like this one remind us that we aren’t. In addition, the feminist blogging that you are doing both for this class and for SPARK continues that sense of community in very exciting ways, allowing for the work of feminism to sustain itself on various platforms–both in person and online. Onward!

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