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?