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.

3 thoughts on “Getting Over the Feminist Learning Curve.

  1. You have encountered the very real world problem of “Change is slow.” Yet, the “something” that has to be done IS being done . . . albeit slowly and most visible among those with means (who have some measure of power to being with). Regrettably, not only the prospect but the reality of female empowerment is still very threatening to the traditional societal order and, even more regrettably, there are still many women who are threatened instead of excited by the concept (and the reality). You can help expedite it by making a commitment to be a lifelong part of it, which is already more than many people do, and you can make a commitment to support others who are doing the same and to help others learn how to do the same. How to expedite it amongst those who need it most is a challenge that implicates not just fear of strong women but fear of the empowered underclass or “other” and fear of change — and what more powerful emotion could one possible have than fear. These are obstacles you may be disheartened to still find amongst your contemporaries, may face yourself when you leave the “bubble” of university and/or graduate studies, and may even find twenty years from now amongst your youngers. Unfortunately, these fears may never disappear entirely but they are (slowly) eroding. Being a living example that an empowered woman is not something to fear but to celebrate and an advantage to the community that embraces her is one small stealth way to start.

  2. Hi! Hope the program’s going great! Try finding out more about liberal feminism versus radical feminism; I recently read a little about these two branches of feminism from Allan G. Johnson’s ‘The Gender Knot’.

  3. Karen, thanks for the encouragement! I will keep your word in mind as I go forth.
    Mingles, thanks for the recommendation. I will look into it!

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