Barnard Feminist Conference Encourages Unity

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.

7 thoughts on “Barnard Feminist Conference Encourages Unity

  1. I agree that taking down the poster in SoHo was a huge step and it just goes to show what people can do when they believe in something. I feel that change happens in numbers and if we could see feminists movements like this, it would bring feminists closer in their endeavor to stop oppression towards people who don’t fit the norms of society.

  2. I loved your connection to Janet Jakonsen’s quote “We must know what we’re marching for,” and understanding the feminist theory of the diversity of the feminist movement within itself and knowing we must eradicate all forms of oppression. It really connected the conference to our Feminism Class at LREI and our Feminism Class to the Feminism movement as a whole.

  3. I agree I remember feeling so excited when the conference had started. It was as if I discovered something new in me. I think that Ileana was right when she was talking about the “bridge the gap” because there is only so much that I have already learned in her class in it is only the beginning and I would have probably regret it if I had learned it later on.

  4. I love how you connected things said in the conference to larger issues within feminism, especially the reaffirmation of the connection between scholarship and activism, and the importance of unity. You definitely had a fresh and interesting perspective on the various parts of feminism and how they fit together.

  5. I like how you said, “we must put together thought and action” as a response to what Janet Jacobsen said in her great speech. Those two elements are the main components to creating a movement because it is what inspires OTHER people to join and do something about it as well. If we spread the word through education, not just to the youth as you and Ileana said but also to adults as well, because there are just as many adults who have graduated from college who still don’t know about the movement and what it fights against, we can turn a ripple of movement into a wave.

  6. I really appreciate how you came to an understanding that both feminist scholarship and activism must work in tandem. Often, these two worlds are at odds with each other for a variety of reasons. But, you are right to point out that “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.”

    I especially appreciated how you connected one of the readings from the class by Crenshaw on intersectionality to the underpinnings of the conference. So much of what the conference was exploring connects to intersectionality and how we must work on multi-issues with a feminist social justice and intersectional approach.

    I’m also honored that you enjoyed the panel that I was on with Mandy Van Deven, Veronica Pinto, Susanna Horng, and Courtney Martin. I think this panel really explored so much of the themes that we are talking about in class, especially in terms of how we can leverage our voices in different platforms, especially online media, to make social change. Keep making those connections as the class continues! Onward!

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