“She never had a mind or a wish of her own, but preferred to sympathize with the minds and wishes of others” (Davis 592).
Virginia Woolf’s polite, selfless “angel” surfaces again in Debra Anne Davis’ story of her heart-breaking rape. Tellingly, Davis recounts her indignation at his accusation that she fought back. She was a good girl, with all the pain and irony that entails, and living up to that myth came at a cost. Davis’ story is agonizing, especially when I can almost hear the voice of that angel in my own head two decades later in this supposedly “post-feminist” culture.
I became a feminist when I recognized these destructive, limiting gender stereotypes in myself. I know now that idolizing that angel and holding myself to that unrealistic image might have destroyed me. In the process of explaining why I and my peers worked so hard to live up to this impossible “angel”, I found solidarity in the feminist community. But, as Davis says, “just because I can see, understand and believe that something is false, that it’s not right, now, doesn’t mean it won’t continue to be a part of me, always” (Davis 591). Like so many others, I am still afraid of feminism when that need to be the “good girl” resurfaces.
I’m graduating in eight days, and I’m endlessly thankful that I took the time to refocus on what feminism means for me in the last, transitional, terrifying semester of my senior year. This semester has not been easy. I’ve confronted this “angel” in my head, and Davis gave me the language to describe the tension between my expectations and the reality of trying to be a “good girl”. In college, we don’t often give ourselves the freedom to reflect on our identities and relations to others, but I was lucky to spend much of my senior year doing just that. Turning the intense focus usually devoted to classes on myself was at times traumatizing, but ultimately rewarding.
An idealist at heart, I believed in perfection for a long time. Striving for selflessness – my ideal of perfection – hurt me, but I always thought that I just wasn’t good or strong enough. I thought that this trauma came from a personal struggle, but I found other voices speaking to the same struggle in the feminist community. These selfless ideals weren’t individual and isolated, but perpetuated by our culture; as Carol Hanisch famously stated, “the personal is political.” Feminism and its surrounding community embrace women as they are, helping them to confront the structures that limit their growth. For me, finding a community that applauds instead of represses the freedom to be has been immensely empowering. Without feminism, I would have few resources to explain my story.
To many of my peers, feminism seems foreign, academic, and polarizing. To me, feminism frees women and men alike to find their identity without unnecessary stereotyping, embracing the self in a community of acceptance and growth. My feminist education has been integral to my development as a person, and I will encourage every person I meet to explore feminism for themselves. I believe that the plurality of voices in the feminist community makes us strong, and helping this community grow is essential. While feminism can still empower twenty-two-year-olds like me, feminism is very much alive.
Female masturbation is perhaps the “last sexual taboo,” according to Globe writer Zosia Bielski. Whereas male masturbation is often the butt of jokes, is part of a coming-of-age process in movies and literature, and even has its own physical hand signal, many consider self-stimulation of the female genitals to be shocking and sickening. Society has created excuses for the male's need to ejaculate, as demonstrated in Bielski's research, whether for biological reasons or due to the claimed "superior male sex drive."
Oppositely, many works of literature and film such as Goobie's Hello Groin and Apatow's The 40 Year Old Virgin that actually do include a female protagonist masturbating give these characters a marginalized identity so their sexual behavior is considered abnormal and freakish. Studies such as those in Michael Gordon's Women and Language even show that the language we use is systematically more inclusive of male autoeroticism, with both sexes more familiar with its informal language than with that of the female counterpart.
So why is this biologically normal, sexually safe, and immensely self-pleasurable act so stigmatized for women? Due to its liberating qualities that imply that women can be sexually satisfied without any part of the male, let alone his penis, female masturbation is a powerful and self-determining act, addressing the woman's needs and only the woman's needs. Women who masturbate rebel against the patriarchal system, rejecting the phallic penis in exchange for their own sexual self-exploration on a healthy quest to connect body and mind by establishing and fulfilling their own sexual needs. Although masturbation in general is very stigmatized, feminists are aware of and challenge the fact that sexual self-exploration for men is more socially accepted. This social acceptance is proven in studies that show that males masturbate more than females, and there are several different hypotheses as to why.
My internship with CFC is ending, and I wanted to take a few moments to reflect on this semester. I like to think of my feminist beliefs and general perspective as always being in flux. They are ephemeral parts of my identity, anchored in my self-understanding and acceptance that I will never stop having questions, that there is no end goal, and that I will always remain self-critical. So, what have I learned this semester?
I have learned that being a feminist is hard. Maintaining your passion and gumption about deeply intimate themes (gender, sexuality, race) in a culture that does not value cultivating an equally complicated and extensive vocabulary in order to discuss these things, is tough.
Confronting your own privilege, not once or twice, but as a pinky-swear, forever kind of commitment, does not always feel intuitive, accessible, or powerful. But maybe that's the point.
Community matters, but it might just always leave someone out. Inclusion/exclusion sometimes feels like a balancing act of political correctness that makes me uncomfortable.
But community is also empowering (duh). And sometimes, it is the imagined communities that send me on three-hour long Internet benders reading articles and comments, that I love the most.
I have learned that there are so so so so so many wonderful, humble, dedicated people out there doing work that makes me feel both paralyzed in awe and ambitious beyond all get-out. And to them I am grateful.
Thanks MN Women's Consortium! It's been lovely.
Learn about Mary Jane Young
These scholarships are for $1,000 each. The number of awards varies from year to year. The deadline for this scholarship is April 25, 2013.
Learn more about Diane Coplan Donohue. These scholarships are for up to $1,000 each. The number of awards varies from year to year. The deadline for this scholarship is April 25, 2013.
I am stoked that it is still Women's History Month (and last week was International Women's day, with which I made many rants about intersectionality and appreciating and recognizing women from all over the globe and their tremendous efforts to promote women's roles, etc, as well as to progress all of our respected women's movements, etc). So in this week's "Sheroes" blog post, I'd like to focus on two international women who held significant roles in social justice movements in their communities:
Ani Pachen(1933–2002) was a Tibetan Buddhist nun who led her clan in armed rebellion against China. She is known as the Tibetan Joan of Arc due to her peaceful protest and revolution against the Chinese invasion in Tibet. At the age of 17 she took her future into her hands and fled to a monastary after hearing of plans of an arranged marriage. She spent 18 years in the monastery. She inherited the leadership of the Lemdha Clan after he father died (and would also inherit accusations from the Chinese, due to her father's connections, helping to land her in jail). She led her clan in rebellion against the Communist Chinese. She led a guerrilla campaign of 600 fighters on horseback againstChinese tanks until her capture in late 1959. Pachen was released from prison in 1981, having endured many painful years full of torture (starvation, physical torture, etc). She dedicated her the rest of her life to resisting the Chinese in Lhasa and pushing towards Tibetan independence. She fled to the border upon learning that she was to be arrested again and wandered for several days in deep snow. She walked 25 days to Nepal and her lifelong dream to meet the Dalai Lama came true after she was granted a personal audience shortly after her arrival.
Her autobiography Sorrow Mountain: The Journey of a Tibetan Warrior Nun is one of my favorite reads. Much like the autobiography of the Dalai Lama, it portrays a young individual not much different than myself and my peers (snobby, selfish, rude) who learned from their mistakes and passions and grew up into one of the greatest heroes of our time. She pioneered the way for many revolutionists and is still a wonderful symbol of peace and justice.
(1 April 1940 – 25 September 2011) was a Kenyan environmental and political activist. In the 1970s she founded the Green-Belt Movement, an environmental and non-governmental organization focused on planting trees, conservation and women's rights. In 2004 she became the first African woman to win the Nobel peace Prize for "her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.". She was an elected member of parliament and served as assistant minister for Environment and Natural Resources in the government of President Mwai Kibaki between January 2003 and November 2005. Furthermore she was an Honorary Councillor of the World Future Council. In 2011, Maathai died of complications from ovarian cancer.
I highly recommend reading Unbowed: A Memoir which highlights much of her achievements. Maathai was extremely involved in, not only her government, but globally, as well. In topics such as AIDS awareness, women's health, environmental justice, issues of racism, governmental/politics, etc. A prominent figure of the world.
Each year, I am ashamed to say, it always slips my mind that March is Women's History Month. I just totally forget that there is a month dedicated to the history of women. Why is that? It isn't because I don't think it's a good idea. It isn't because I don't love women (I think I have made it very clear that I do). It isn't because I don't consider myself a feminist (I mean...obviously...I'm interning at the Women's Consortium. I'm a die-hard feminist). I think the reason I forget is because, quite honestly, as a woman, as a women's studies student, EVERYday and EVERYmonth is Women's History month to me. I think about women, my makers and educators and those powerful individuals that have shaped me, I think about them and the stories they created, every waking second. These women are so powerful to me that they transcend a month of dedication. I'm not saying I disagree with this. I think it's wonderful (just as with Black History Month) that we have four weeks dedicated to the greatness of these oppressed peoples. I would hope, though, that after March (or February) is done that this awareness would continue on. However, despite the memoriams throughout these months, we tend to slip back into the rut of ourselves, of a patriarchal hegemonic society, once they are over. So I want to inspire us to notice these people (and, just in celebration of the impending month I will focus solely on women) in our everyday lives because, in all truth, they have impacted us in every way (even when we do not realize it).♀ I love ALL women (both transgender and cisgender women). I love womyn of all sizes, colors and sexualities. I love womyn of all ages, classes, nationalities and abilities. From all political backgrounds and passions. Women are my friends, my lover, my mentors and advisers, teachers, heroes, mother/grandmothers/aunts. I love women because they are strong, intelligent, capable and beautiful beings. I love women because they teach me how to be the woman I want to be. I love working with women, playing with women, collaborating with women, learning with women, talking to women and being artistic with women. Although the feminist movements had&have flaws, I am still proud to say that I am an advocate for feminism trying to champion and fix those failures. Because my love for all women is so strong, enduring, intense and true ♀ xoxo
My SHEroes are the women who pioneered for me the notion that a woman is so much more than what societies allow her to be. A woman is more than a textbook history, more than a media portrayal. More than any of us may even know about ourselves. These women taught me how to be more...
♀♀♀♀For each week of this month
I will post a miniature bio
of 2 of the women I most admire.♀♀♀♀
Here is the beginning of the list of some of my personal SHEroes...
To be Continued...
My name is Anna Ruhland and I will be your new CFC campus Coordinator. I am freshly graduated from Saint Catherine's University where I earned a BA in Art history (minoring in Women's Studies). I am looking forward to a future overflowing with community organizing, art, feminism, equality, queer theory and change (for the better!) I am suupppaaa-dee-duppaa excited to be interning at the Women's Consortium and to be given the opportunity to work with the women/womyn/all persons* in this community to promote and fight for change! But first things first...
My name is Catherine Scallen, and I interned with the Minnesota Women’s Consortium the summer of 2010, right before my senior year in college. Meghan asked me to speak a little bit about what I’ve been up to since graduating college, and how my feminist beliefs have played out in that, so here I am!
I graduated from Notre Dame in 2011 with a degree in American Studies and a minor in Spanish. While I don’t have Gender Studies on my degree, the American Studies major is the greatest thing since sliced bread (seriously—check out this link to understand why I’m so obsessed with my major), and I kept a heavy focus on Gender Studies classes throughout my undergrad experience.
This culminated in my honors senior thesis—which I ADORED. I know everybody talks about how horrible writing a thesis is, and yes, there were definitely long sleepless nights and mental breakdowns alone in the library, but you can ask any of my friends—I’m completely obsessed with my thesis. Its official title is Bitch: Contemporary Feminism in American Consumer Culture, but I prefer to affectionately refer to it as The Bitch. You can find that little guy here. Good times.
The Minnesota Women's Consortium is the largest statewide network of women's groups in the nation, currently serving 170 member organizations. The Consortium's purpose is to achieve equality and justice for all women and girls by connecting organizations and individuals that share that goal.