On Friday, September 23, I had the great privilege to attend a conference held at Barnard College entitled Activism and the Academy: Celebrating 40 Years of Scholarship and Feminism. Just as the title describes, the conference celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Barnard Center for Research on Women‘s (BCRW) efforts to advance relationships with activist groups as well as feminist scholarship.
The conference was very insightful and entertaining. You could feel the “sense of urgency” and “desire for change,” as said by Janet Jakobsen, the Director of the BCRW in the the opening remarks, who just finished stating the fact that feminism is dead in the eyes of media just as the crowd burst out in laughter.
Jakobsen spoke about what was needed in order for the feminist movement to progress: thought and action. “We must know what we’re marching for,” she said. Knowledge and the understanding of feminism and everything it stands for is absolutely necessary for social change. Scholarship is just as essential to feminism as activism is. If we were to encourage and focus solely on scholarship or solely on activism, putting more weight and relevance on one more than the other, the feminist movement would not be so powerful. Both aspects are important to the progression of the feminist movement. We must put together thought and action.
Before this speech by Jakobsen, I think I believed that activism was the most important part of any movement, feminism included. Her speech made me realize that this was definitely not the case. Without complete knowledge about what you are “marching” for, you cannot fully help or understand your cause. Through scholarship, we are able to comprehend and include all aspects of feminism. For example, if you are ignorant to the diversity of the feminists within the movement itself, how can you combat oppression in a way in which everyone can benefit totally? Scholarship has put a name and definition to this diversity. Theories have been made upon which literature has evolved, informing others of this necessity to understand feminism in every way. This theory is called “intersectionality” and can be explained further in literature such as “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color“ by Kimberle Williams Crenshaw.
Later in the day, I went to a panel which was titled “Writing, New Media, and Feminist Activism.” I absolutely loved this panel which included amazing and inspiring panelists such as Mandy Van Deven, Ileana Jimenez, Susanna Horng, Veronica Pinto, and Courtney Martin. All of these women brought out intelligent notions and beliefs that I definitely agree with. It was very refreshingly apparent that they were all so passionate about what they talked about and what they did. This love for one’s career, combined with advocacy for what is right, is very refreshing and encouraging because it makes me want to have that passion for my own career when I am older.
Mandy Van Deven said something that was very true in my eyes. She said that there was no need to “re-invent the wheel” because there is already a “solid foundation from which you can do you work.” That means that feminists do not have to start from nothing to build the movement up. That could just complicate things and make them harder for us. What we need to do is instead expand on what was already built. Create new theories and find ways to tie them into what we already have. Feminism is not broken. It does not need to be repaired. It isn’t tainted so much so that the grounds from which it was built has to be destroyed and created all over again. But rather there is a need to expand feminism to include as well as recognize and fight for more diversity. Feminists can no longer be ignorant to other factors of oppression that come into play and which thwart one from being fully free of all discrimination.
The panelists talked about their successes and their failures in what they advocated. One of the most important things I believe that was said was by Ileana Jimenez. She said that her failure as a feminist teacher activist was the limitations in her trying to “bridge the gap.” Women’s studies and feminist theories are not being taught in elementary or middle schools. Those types of courses are mostly taught at college level. Ileana also said that she saw this as a “rich opportunity” to, again, expand, feminism and include elementary and middle school students in the conversation.
One of the successes that the panel had as a whole and as activists, writers, and bloggers was being able to take down the racist and anti-women’s rights poster in SoHo. This just shows the power of media and teamwork. By working together with different organizations with similar, yet different goals, feminists were victorious. This not only goes to show that feminism is definitely not dead in the media, but it also shows the power of unity.
Because these different organizations came together as one, their statement was more powerful and of course more effective. Intersectionality also comes to play here. This poster was not only against women, but more specifically black women. It was not only sexist, but racist as well. By uniting together and looking at the bigger picture of taking down this poster, separate organizations were able to be successful and I believe this is what we need to continue on doing to keep on accomplishing what we set out to do.