What is it going to take to get more people to realize that feminism isn’t this monster out to brainwash your daughters and sons? I asked my Feminist Political Thought seminar class to ask people what they thought about feminism as part of a homework assignment. My word the responses have been funny to downright sad. I know that this means that the mainstream assumptions about feminism are just as strong as they were a generation ago. I joke with my students that this just means that I have job security. Actually, it would be great if I didn’t spend the first week of each “gender” class demonstrating why the class is necessary or how feminist political scientists have fought against the mainstream in order to pursue research related to gender.
What do we do? Well, I for one, will continue to teach the materials. Continue to talk to students in my office hours, when they are digesting the material or something that happened in another class, at work, or in their personal lives. You see, feminisms are personal and political (apologies to Carole Hanisch). I know that the material that we discuss in class causes interesting discussions for my students. This is why I suggested that the students in seminar have casual conversations with those around them. Some spoke to strangers and others struck up conversations with family members. These students are brave. They don’t all identify as feminists–and I don’t expect them to do so. Most probably identify as advocates of feminism or as social justice activists.
We just finished reading Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center by bell hooks. We have spent class time talking about the differences between identifying as a feminist and identifying as an advocate of feminism. The class didn’t seem to lean one way. There were positive and negatives with each type of label. The students, though, have added thoughtful points and responses to this classic book from hooks. And, lucky me, I get paid to have these sorts of discussions in my class or office hours. The points that hooks makes in the book are for the most part timeless. We are still working for equality and we are still working to get people to understand what social justice means.
We do have our work cut out, though.