Moxie makes me think

Stephanie is interning with the Ms. Foundation.

Realizing, reassessing and restructuring almost 21 years of how I think about my experiences, what my values are and how I act on them, is no easy task. How do you come to terms with your race when you’ve never before realized the implications and inherent privileges? How do you develop your voice when coupled with a growing fear of sounding ignorant? Lately, I find myself either constantly defensive, or angry because I don’t know how to deal with the way I am being challenged. Because that is what Ada and Erin are doing. Challenging me. All the time. And I am at constant dissonance now with how I have felt for almost 21 years, and how I feel now.

The challenges I am facing every day are perfectly illustrated in a seminar discussion we had two weeks ago. The conversation quickly turned into a discussion about privilege. This conversation  really struck a nerve with me. I have never intentionally treated anyone differently based on their gender, age, color of their skin, sexual orientation, etc. I was raised better than to pass judgment or live a life that implied I was more deserving than anyone else. However, the passionate way Erin started talking about race and white privilege felt so accusatory, and there was nothing I could do to defend myself. I am white. This was the first time anyone had made me think that this was a bad thing. I realize now that at the time, I had only been hearing half of what Erin was saying. But in that moment I felt guilty, angry, and hopeless. Guilty because I felt there was nothing I could do to combat the inherent white privilege that I was born with. Guilty because I had never realized it before. Guilty for exploiting it for almost 21 years. Then I became angry. Angry because they were wrong, I’m not privileged. Angry because I was being judged for my skin. Angry because this was something I had never wanted to realize. Angry because it was complicated, and I couldn’t understand.

Hopeless, was the worst. If I had this privilege, how could I ever hope to make a difference for anyone other than white middle class women like myself, since I would never be able to relate to the experiences of others in the same way? Hopeless, because I felt I would never understand. Hopeless, because I felt that there was nothing I could say, either in my defense, or to contribute, because I felt like this silly little white girl. I felt like a cliché.

Earlier this summer, I had set a goal for myself to find my voice. And here I was, slumping into my chair, clenching my jaw about to burst with a wave of thoughts and questions, but not saying anything. Why? I am afraid of being ignorant. I am afraid of not thinking the right way. Of being not a good enough feminist. I am combating this by always trying to read more, to educate myself, but until I feel I have given myself an adequate enough learning curve, I don’t know that I will feel comfortable enough to have a voice. I feel that I only have one piece of the puzzle, and it’s not enough to have a real opinion.

This way of thinking is also proving to be a problem in my recent undertakings at work. I have been assigned the task of making a fact sheet on Women and Health, particularly Women and AIDS and Women and Reproductive Justice. Reproductive Justice largely encompasses women of color. Who am I to create a fact sheet on this? What is the appropriate framework, vocabulary, perspective? I do not know how to orient myself in these statistics, and present them in a way that does not further marginalize these women.

I hope that simply realizing these things is a good first step, but I am uncertain of where to go from here. Fortunately, some concepts that I have managed to grasp are keeping me from total pessimism. I like the idea that the individual has the power to exhibit activism every day, and every contribution helps a collective. In regards to my privilege, all I can do is to learn when to step back and let someone else’s voice, a more important voice, be uplifted. But I am still learning. It is daunting and exhausting, and I am worried that if things keep up this way, I will burn out. Life was easier in my bubble. I realize easier isn’t better, and at this point, I could not go back to my previous way of thinking now that I have started to realize this dissonance. However, I need to learn to be more aggressive in articulating this disconnect. I don’t think I can be an activist, or a feminist for that matter, and be afraid of saying the wrong thing. Maybe I need to learn to say the wrong thing and learn from my mistakes. I need to learn to take risks.

But realizing this, and actually taking risks, are two entirely different things. This  is my next challenge.

Getting Over the Feminist Learning Curve.

Sarah Kendrick is a rising junior. She is interning at Legal Momentum for the equality works division.

When I first decided to apply to the Moxie Project, I knew that I would learn a lot but I definitely underestimated the toll this learning experience would have on me.   I originally believed that all the international Duke Engage programs would be drastically more stressful than Duke Engage in NYC because these programs would force students to experience and adjust to new cultures and lifestyles, which would ultimately adjust these students’ entire outlook on life.  Being that I would only be an hour from my home in New Jersey, I did not think it would be possible for me to have nearly the same learning curve as students in the other programs in countries like India, South Africa, Egypt, China, Guatemala and Kenya.  Yet, I can say, without a doubt, that I have never been more intellectually challenged in the past 20 years of my life than I have been in the past three weeks.

I have come to question every aspect of my life and the world around me.  I have grappled for hours about how my life fits into feminism and what I need to change in order to be a “better feminist.” What makes a good feminist?  More importantly, what even is a feminist? As Dukies we want to be perfect and be able to tackle and understand anything at the drop of the hat.  Yet, it is clear that all of us are struggling with the true meaning of feminism and how we can each be one in our own ways.

My very idea of change and what is required for significant social change has been challenged.  Sitting around a table with my peers we were all confused as Ada and Erin challenged the fact that our organizations, which we all believed to be god’s gift to earth and thus ourselves successful servants to the feminist cause, were maybe not enough to make the necessary social change required to uplift women from marginalization. Initially, many of us were enraged. How is this not enough? What the heck more can one do? I remember Erin saying that when she challenges people’s ignorance and makes them feel uncomfortable she knows she has done her job. They definitely were doing their job.

As I looked around the table, all of my peers’ faces were just as perplexed and frustrated as mine. You know the saying do not shoot the messenger, well this applied to this case. At first, the frustration, which eventually turned to anger, and confusion I felt about this new world-view, was directed toward Ada and Erin because they merely were delivering the message. The idea that we had to go deeper than policy, educational reforms and outreach programs scared me.

Finally, after I got past my initial confusion and alarm I saw that they were right. Going to the root of problem seemed scary and unknown but was essential to induce the necessary social change to elevate women’s standing once in for all in society.  It was not that they were saying our non-profits were pointless but that we needed to change the very fabric of society that forced our non-profits to exist.  Yet, now I grapple with how can I even make a significant change or impact because going to the root of the problem seems almost impossible.

As each day passes I learn more about the feminist cause and the amazing ideas and theories it encompasses.  I have become fascinated with viewing the world through this new lens.  Yet, when I step outside my group and discuss with other people what I am learning it becomes challenging to stick to these views. It becomes clear that the stigma surrounding feminism is still so strong.  The moment I mention the word “feminism” people are automatically turned off.  It is literally like the plague.  I am struggling with ways to discuss these new views with others in a way that can get people back onto the side of feminism.  Feminism, like many things in this world, has been tainted by a few and thus turned so many people off.  In order to invoke social change something has to be done to get mainstream society onto the feminist side.

Take a Chance, Make a Change

Emily is interning with Sanctuary for Families.

Growing requires changing, whether it’s a lot or little. Changing requires taking risks and stepping outside of your comfort zone. That often involves making tough decisions. As a creature of habit, I’ve never been a huge fan of change. I just find it easier to stick with what you know. But the Moxie Project is not going to allow me to stick with what I know.  Sure, I came in expecting to learn about myself but as I’m sure we have all experienced before, expectations don’t always match results. I never considered learning about myself might result in a conflict between what I used to believe and what I now believe. After 21 years of thinking I know myself, it’s hard to accept I may be changing.

It was the first reflection dinner when it happened. It, being the realization I was heading down a road that is different and unfamiliar from where I had come from. At this dinner we played a game where our supervisor read a statement and we moved to sides of the room which indicated whether we agreed or disagreed with that statement. One statement read, “I consider myself a feminist.” I was one of two out of a group of ten who stood on the “Disagree” side. I began to feel an emotion I wasn’t comfortable with. It was as if everyone was speaking in a foreign language and I was the only one who didn’t understand it.

That sense of isolation followed me home that night and still remains with me. On one hand, I’m glad I can be strong enough to be honest about where I stand in my beliefs. On the other hand, it’s difficult feeling like I don’t quite fit in with the rest of the group.

I began writing in my journal that evening and before I knew it I had 5 pages filled with thoughts, many of them I had no idea I possessed. At that moment, I started to think, could this sense of isolation be just what I needed to push myself to grow? Uncomfortable, yes, but it forced me to navigate through the compartments of my mind where I was letting ideas gather dust. In the past it was easier to just not decide what I thought about controversial issues such as feminism. But I was now being confronted with them, whether I liked it or not. The hardest part was the recognition that what I used to think may not match what I’m beginning to think. Uh-oh. Looks like I need to start making some serious decisions. Sure, I want to grow and I know that requires change, but I was comfortable with who I thought I was. Or am I?

I think this resistance to change lies at the root of the biggest struggles I have here in New York. And feeling like I don’t quite fit in doesn’t help. Not only am I struggling with redefining and solidifying my beliefs, but I also struggle with maintaining relationships with friends and family both here and at home. It’s so easy to get caught up with the discussions, work, and fun events that are happening here that I often find myself shoving relationships back home (and some here) down a few rungs on my priority ladder. But when I do, I can see evidence of how I’m changing. I find myself discussing topics I wouldn’t have wanted to discuss before and thinking in ways I’m not used to thinking. In these moments I have to stop myself and wonder, do I really want to head in the direction I’m going?

Obviously I’m not going to resolve this issue in a blog post. It’s going to take time. And more reflection. And risk-taking. And decision-making. If only you could hear my groaning through the Internet. But it’s a good thing, I think. Learning to take risks and step outside my comfortable bubble is going to push me to become the person I want to be.

I realize it’s likely I may never adopt the exact same beliefs as everyone in my program or as my family and friends. But I want to continue challenging myself to really listen to the many different perspectives of members of this Project, as well as individuals outside this Project, and remain open-minded to the idea that I might decide to reform my beliefs, or not. And either way, it’s okay. It’s okay to disagree. It’s okay to believe what I believe because my experiences may be different from someone else’s.

I guess I should brace myself for a long summer still as I send myself down this bumpy road of balancing my own needs to redefine my identity with my relationships with others that I value so highly. It won’t be easy as it requires more risk-taking and more changing. But I’ll accept the challenge. Looks like I’m making progress already, at least a little.


Underprivileged Privilege

Sarah G. is interning with Sadie Nash Leadership Project this summer.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my personal privilege and how it shapes my perception of the world. As one of two white girls in my office, I’ve been confronted with my race for the first time.

I’ve never really considered being white as a significant part of my identity. That sounds kind of silly, but for most of my life race has been a complete non-issue, so I never spent much time thinking about it. Growing up, this translated to me being very much oblivious to race as a factor in any situation. Because I wasn’t really aware of how my race influenced my life, I was also blind as to how it shaped the experiences of other people. My ignorance has whittled away with the years – especially since I’ve been in college – but it wasn’t until I found myself as the obvious minority that I really began to examine how race shapes who we are and how we interact with other people.

Recently we had a particularly heavy conversation at work in which many of my coworkers – who identify with various racial and ethnic minorities – spoke candidly of their experiences with white people. The overwhelming majority of these were negative. I found myself feeling acutely guilty, and embarrassed – which I realized wasn’t exactly fair – but mostly I wondered how I could work my undeniable privilege to my advantage as I become more involved in the feminist movement.

The truth is, I’m not really sure how I can do that.

Does being white and upper class automatically render me unable to meaningfully contribute to the movement? I hope not, but I think the first thing I need to do is really understand that I do come from a position of enormous privilege, and that though I can’t necessarily relate to certain experiences of other people, it doesn’t mean that I can’t respect those experiences and try to take the resources that are available to me and channel them towards contributing to social change. I’ve been thinking a lot about the excerpts from Manifesta and Grassroots that we read, and the idea that we should use the resources we have access to rather than try to utilize resources we don’t have really resonated with me. As a white college-aged girl, there are certain resources I have – like knowledge of social media and connections to older and wealthier people – and there are certain resources that I don’t have.

Rather than try to be someone I’m not, or feel bad for being who I am, I should recognize the power and privilege that I do have, and go from there. If I can do that, and also respect the power and privilege of others, I think I’ll be on the right track towards productive, active feminism.

She Can Back It Up

Libby is interning at Sanctuary for Families, which provides advocacy and support services for victims of violence and sex trafficking.

I have always been impressed by people who know what they are talking about. You might laugh at this statement… but think about it for a second. How many times have you shaken your head at someone who firmly believes in an idea and they:

A) do a miserable job of substantiating their claim
B) have no idea what they are talking about

(these do not have to be mutually exclusive)

In life, I want to know what I’m talking about. My beliefs are part of who I am. They are part of my genuine identity. If I can’t back them up when someone asks me what I value and why, I feel like I am not only letting myself down, but I am also letting down those people who share my beliefs- and I like being a team player.

There are so many -isms and -ologies bouncing around today, and people as a whole are prone to persuasion- It’s no wonder that people don’t know what they are talking about. Throw in some ambiguity, a dash of personal interpretation, and you get a lot of people with varying abstract definitions (perhaps an oxymoron?) of things like:
Let’s look at “feminism.” My nine fellow Dukies and I are two and a half weeks into this Moxie Project experience to explore feminism. We have been trying to define feminism, and I think we are all on different pages as to what it really means. We can all agree on certain (perhaps, only a few) tenets of what feminism is, but what does this really mean? What are the implications of its meaning? Who can call themselves feminists?… And the ubiquitous question: Why does this even matter?
It is too early to delve into those questions. My head is… well, it is spinning. It is difficult to define such a term that is attached to the seemingly countless branches of the women’s movement and is weighted with so much negative stigma. But my goal for the summer is to figure out what feminism means because:

1. I have always believed in feminist ideals, even though I might not have known it.
2. I want to know what I’m talking about when I do attach myself to feminism.

I have always believed women should be respected just as much as men. Last week I remembered just how angry I was in high school when my guy friends and past boyfriends said sexist comments or make crude jokes. It really infuriated me. I had forgotten that. I was raised to treat everyone as an equal, and when friends said they were just joking, they didn’t get that it wasn’t just a joke to me. I wanted it to be just a joke. Things would have been so much easier if I could just take it as a joke. I didn’t understand why I got so upset. Blame it on being a teenager? Now I know that doesn’t fully explain it- I have always wanted to change the inequality between men and women.

I think I want to call myself a feminist. Before I do so, I want to flesh out society’s definition of feminism and what feminism means to me.

Then, when someone asks me, “Why do you believe in feminism?” I can lay it out like x, y, and z… So I can do the feminist cause justice… So I can represent the female gender well… So when they talk about me… they will say, “She can back it up.

Keeping the Movement Alive

Avery is a rising sophomore working at Legal Momentum with the National Judicial Education Program, which trains judges and court personnel to ensure that victims of violence have access to an informed and impartial judicial system.

Saturday afternoon was a bit of a struggle for my friend Brooke and me, due to our getting lost in the darkness commonly known as the New York City subway system for about an hour and a half, and then narrowly managing to make it to the rally with only half an hour left. Coming from the suburbs of Denver and Tampa, we run into this problem daily in New York City. But at least we got a glimpse of the event.

It wasn’t what I thought it would be like. I’m not really sure why, but I was expecting a more radical scene. Maybe it was because I had just recently read an article about the Stonewall incident of 1969, so the imagery of that particularly event was still fresh in my mind. What I actually saw was a group of people just having fun. Brooke and I weren’t even sure if we had found the place when we first arrived. It took reading the banner above the stage that said something along the lines of “Celebrating Pride” in relatively small font to confirm it. When I really started to look around, I noticed same-sex pairs in the crowd. But other than the fact that there were more homosexual matches than you would typically see in a public area, it seemed like just another concert to me: a group of people coming together to enjoy a performance, but the performer just so happened to be singing inspiringly peaceful yet passionate lyrics.

Would this be considered activism? I guess that depends on how you define the term. I see it as any act that is done with the purpose of pushing a movement forward. In the sense of that definition, I would consider this activism. It may not have explicitly changed anything in regards to civil rights policy, but I believe it had an effect on the people that attended. Social movements are about more than changing laws; they’re about changing attitudes too. When like-minded people get together, you can feel the sense of hope and support from those around you. That’s how I felt at the rally. And I would think that someone who was gay would feel that to an even greater extent. There truly is strength in numbers.

My supervisor at Legal Momentum, Lynn Schafran, pointed this out the other week. She’s been a part of the Feminist movement longer than the rest of us in the National Judicial Education Program, and has had success over the years. Yet she knows and makes a point to share that social change takes a long time, and can be an exhausting effort to be a part of. But she says the environment at Legal Momentum gives her hope. Coming to work every morning to join a group of people that you know are on your side can make the effort worthwhile, and keep you from giving up in the long run. I see the Pride rally as a similar setting. Not everyone can work at an organization whose sole purpose of existence is to make social change. Most people work alongside people who may not necessarily agree with their beliefs. That’s why I see events like the rally as necessary to keep the movement alive. It reminds those who may have doubt that they’re not alone.  Saturday’s event may not have legalized gay marriage, or changed anything concrete for that matter, but its importance should not be understated.


Where are the angry mobs?

Sarah is a rising junior. She is interning at Legal Momentum for the Equality Works program, which promotes opportunity and equality for women in non-traditional job sectors, such as the construction trades and in law enforcement.

When I think of activism I think of angry mobs of people marching across the State Capitol with protest signs. My mind instantly flashes back to images from my U.S. history textbooks of factory workers picketing factories and demanding higher wages. I think of Martin Luther King leading boisterous rallies of thousands and thousands of people to uproarious applause with his “I Have a Dream Speech.” All of my mental images of activism are filled with drama, excitement, and of course marching, lots of marching.
Obviously, I expected from the gay pride rally nothing short of a mixture of all of these images plus better since from what I have seen on TV and in magazines and newspapers about gay pride events is full of color, flamboyance and other spectacles as people extravagantly and passionately display their pride.

When I got off the subway stop near 72nd St. & 5th Ave. I expected to see rainbows everywhere and colorful signs lining the way to the Rally in central park. Yet, I was surprised to find the exact opposite. In reality, I had a lot of trouble finding the rally. As I am not a true New Yorker, or maybe I cannot blame this truly dumb mistake on that, I ignorantly forgot that Central Park encompasses 6% of Manhattan’s total acreage so I showed up to some random entrance point expecting the rally to be right there but it was not. I then asked a park police officer if he knew where the gay pride rally was and he had absolutely no idea what I was talking about, which I thought was strange. In my mind this was supposed to a massive event that encompassed the entire 843 acres of Central Park. How could anybody miss it, especially the park ranger for god sakes?

After calling a friend for directions, I finally found the right region of central park. Once I got to the general vicinity I followed the sound of the music to the surrounding area of the event. I was slightly skeptical that I was in the right place. No signs or symbols demarcated the outside of the event to let one know that this was indeed the gay pride event. As I mentioned before, I did hear music playing but I thought maybe this was just a concert going on. I had to ask the security guard at the front gates of the event if this was in fact the gay pride rally, to which he replied yes. So far, this Rally was not meeting my very high expectations of a loud, colorful, life-changing march across central park.

When I walked into the rally I found a confined spaced filled with colorful food trucks selling pride themed food. Upon entering I was bombarded with flyers promoting various pride events throughout the city. The stage was lined with pride signs and a singer, I am not sure who, was singing passionately for a happy crowd. I finally knew I was in the right place.

Everywhere around me people were hugging, dancing and just feeling free to be themselves in plain site. Never before had I been able to discern so many people being their true selves. Usually in society, especially at Duke, it is hard to tell who is gay, bisexual or straight and thus one automatically assumes that they are typically surrounded by straight people, which is the sexuality that is deemed “the societal norm.” Yet, here it was clear that not all the people were straight and those who weren’t were proud of it. I no longer felt like a majority, I felt like a minority and I enjoyed it. Being a minority gave me a chance to see and experience a whole other culture, something the “Duke bubble” does not always afford.

I suddenly realized that activism does not have to be a dramatic escapade complete with police barricades holding back mobs of protesters. Rather, it can be a much smaller event than Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” or the Stonewall riots. This rally gave people hope and reassurance that they were in fact “normal” and that a good portion of society welcomed people’s true selves. Hearing people happily greet each other with “happy pride day,” a greeting I had never heard but liked a lot, made me realize that even small acts of furthering the cause, even if it is just a cheery greeting that lets people know you welcome them and their cause, are forms of activism.

NYC Pride Rally: Is it Activism or Something Else?

 Emily is a rising senior and is a Development Intern at Sanctuary for Families. Sanctuary for Families is a nonprofit that combats domestic violence and sex trafficking by providing a range of services for victims including legal, clinical, and economic empowerment.   

Ever since I began studying women’s history, feminism, and social movements through this Moxie Project I keep returning to the issue of definitions. By definitions I mean, how to define a concept such as feminism so that I can discuss the issues that pertain to feminism. I struggle with identifying myself as a feminist, I believe, partly because I still don’t have a solidified definition of what feminism is. This is the issue I ran into when I was asked to comment on whether I believed the Pride Rally I attended last Saturday was a form of activism. In beginning to reflect on this question, I realized I wasn’t completely sure how to define activism. What does activism mean? So finding a definition was my first step.

I began by looking up the word in the dictionary. Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines activism as “a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue.” I would certainly consider gay and lesbian rights, issues underlying the rally, to be controversial. But the event was organized, structured, and had a supportive and welcoming atmosphere. There were no screaming protestors or instances of outrageous protesting strategies. Instead there were speeches and performances that made it clear that the point of the rally was to raise awareness for the struggles facing the gay and lesbian community.

The rally also aimed to gain more support from any community members, not only those who are part of the gay and lesbian community, in order to work toward eradicating discrimination based on sexual orientation. The speakers detailed accounts of individual discrimination as well as examples of more widespread discrimination such as restrictive laws. Speeches and song performances: do these count as the radical, vigorous action I originally conceived? I would have to say no. Sure, these strategies moved me and were raising awareness for a cause. But is raising awareness for a cause enough to encompass the definition activism?

After thinking about the impact the rally had on me, I find myself considering the definition of activism to be a bit different than what I initially believed. I had never seriously considered the serious struggles facing the gay and lesbian community before as these struggles didn’t seem to pertain to my life. But after hearing Damian Furtch’s story of being beaten and teased for his decision to live as a gay man, I began to see that I too don’t think it’s right that any group of people be subjected to this kind of treatment. I also realized it’s important for everyone, not simply those in the gay and lesbian community, to become aware that this discrimination is wrong and needs to be addressed.

Social movements can only progress and work toward achieving their ultimate goal if there are a large group of supporters actively working to change the way society views certain issues. Perhaps I was under the wrong impression of what activism is. But my definition now includes any strategy that allows individuals to become aware of issues in need of address. So, yes, at least a part of activism is raising awareness.

Despite not being directly affected by the issues brought up at the rally including same-sex marriages and immigration laws, the rally allowed me to see the tough battles that have been fought and will continue to be fought if social change is going to happen. Because my eyes were opened to consider these issues in a new way, the rally serves as an excellent example of activism. Individuals are fighting, albeit more calmly, for acceptance and equal rights and these individuals are allowing me to recognize the importance of supporting the struggle. Maybe there is more to activism than raising awareness in the community, but raising awareness is a necessary first step.

This one rally won’t completely get rid of the discrimination facing the gay and lesbian community, but it did allow me and perhaps others like me, who don’t know much about this struggle, to acquire new perspectives. But this doesn’t mean it can’t be considered activism. Opening others’ eyes to issues in order to acquire more supporters is important. In order to make progress in mass movements toward social change, this initial stage of activism, which includes raising awareness, is key.

A Feminist Future?

Lillie is a rising Senior and she is interning at Third Wave Foundation. Third Wave is a feminist foundation that provides funds for grassroots organizations with a focus on women’s and transgender issues.

I can’t think of one time when I decided to be a feminist. I almost saw it as a “given,” where even if I wasn’t totally sure about its definition, I knew I probably was one. I think part of the reason why feminism felt natural to me is because I grew up in a family that is relatively liberal, and my paternal grandmother was even an activist in the second wave feminist movement. In college, I’ve made amazing friends who have introduced me to the Duke Women’s Center and broadened my understanding of forms of inequality like racism, homophobia, and sexism, so I’ve never felt seriously uncomfortable with calling myself a feminist.

Even as I publicly identify as a feminist, I’m still trying to figure out what it actually means to be a one (hopefully that doesn’t break any rules…). I can definitely tell I’m not completely clear on my own definition because everytime I hear a definition that I like from someone else, I think to myself “Yea! That sounds so right!” but then I’m unable to put their words into my own. I hope this summer, in conjunction with our Moxie Project classes about women’s history, feminism, and activism, helps me find my own definition—even though I’m sure it will change as I grow.

As a soon-to-be senior, I am entering a time in my life when considering careers and starting job searches is about to get real. One specific aspect of my definition of feminism keeps coming up as I think about my future—how do I want to live out my feminism? To me, acting on one’s feminism when sexism arises in everyday life and publicly identifying as a feminist are integral to “living out” one’s feminist beliefs. But lately I’ve been wondering if being a feminist requires one to go further than that. Does identifying as a feminist necessitate being active in the women’s movement? What does it even mean to be an activist in the women’s movement? And how should all of these questions influence my ever-approaching job search?

As my family and friends know, my ideas about future careers encompass a huge range of fields and my preferences change from week to week. My hope for this summer is to not only do my best to support Third Wave Foundation, but also to gain some direction—or at least some understanding—of what I want my future to look like and how (or if?) my feminist ideals can be integrated into my career path.

This Is What A Feminist Looks Like(?)

Alex is a rising Senior working at Hollaback, which is dedicated to ending street harassment using mobile technology.

My “This is What a Feminist Looks Like” pin that I keep on my book bag has definitely gotten me some attention around Duke’s campus since I put it on last fall.  From everything to, “Wow, I love that pin!” to “So you would consider yourself a feminist?… That’s interesting.”  Either way, I was never really concerned about people’s perceptions of me if I identified openly with feminism.  After all, I was not shy about institutional racism and inequality, or poverty, and there was no way I could separate these issues from those that feminism dealt with.  For quite some time now, I have been convinced, and unshakably so, that I was, in fact, what a feminist looked like, or at least could like.

Perhaps I should backtrack.  No, I definitely should backtrack.  The 21-year old self-identified feminist from rural North Carolina attending Duke University is no way to begin telling any story.  In my first two years at Duke I thought of myself as a very “race-conscious” person, someone who was not afraid to articulate what I felt were the undeniable and ever present systems of inequality still at work in America. But my scope, in retrospect, was dangerously narrow.   As I think college is supposed to do, Duke provided me with exposure to people and ways of thinking that I would have never come across in Wilson, North Carolina.   Slowly, I began to understand the inter-connectedness of racism, classism, sexism, and able-ism, from an academic standpoint.

Fast forward to this past spring semester, and my amazing course with Robyn Wiegman “Thinking Gender.”  This was perhaps the most influential class I’ve taken during my time at Duke, and it really transformed my approach to understanding systems of oppression and the histories foregrounding the institutions that make up these systems.  From Judith Butler and Bell Hooks to Marx and Foucault, I really felt like I was on to something, I really identified with what I came to understand to be the feminist approach to the world.  Very quickly I came to consider myself to be a feminist, and had no second thoughts about it.  Of course, not everyone, especially men and minorities, saw what I saw in feminism; a link to new ways of thinking, new ways of creating and articulating truth, that possessed, at their core, the ability to speak to and about this world the heterosexual, middle class, white man has constructed for us here in the West.  I took the criticisms of my position in stride, after all I could understand how the socialization of these groups could lead them to approach feminism the way they did.

Now the ground has begun to shake.

I have long been aware of the critique that feminism has become a white woman’s movement, but I’m convinced my own privilege has helped me approach that fact as one that could possibly change.  However, as I look around at the leaders of the organizations Moxie is working with, the beneficiaries of the work these organizations are doing, the ways of thinking that led to their existence, and even the very demographics of the Moxies, it has become very apparent to me, with an unnerving quickness, that I am in fact, possibly not what a feminist looks like.   This is definitely not the end of the story, but I can’t say I know where it goes from here.  In the coming weeks and months I really will be considering what the price of my pin’s message is.  What does it mean for feminism to have physicality, for feminism to be embodied?  How can identity politics be quarantined from and re-employed against, especially here in the US, the discriminatory institutions that have lived on them for centuries?