Hey all you women’s studies devotees, it’s time to gather round the proverbial fire and swap theories. Jessica and I are off to the National Women’s Studies Association’s annual conference tomorrow. This year the title is “Resisting Hegemonies: Race and Sexual Politics in Nation, Region, Empire” and it is in Cincinnati, Ohio. The keynote is (awesome, awesome, awesome) Patricia Hill Collins.
I’ll be part of a roundtable on the election led by Ellen Bravo on Friday afternoon, and then Jess and I are doing a panel, along with my friend Amada from Princeton’s Women’s Center, called “Swinging Back to Center: Balancing Judgment and Empathy within the Women’s Studies Classroom and in the Feminist World Beyond” on Saturday. We hope to see old friends there and meet plenty o’ new ones. Please introduce yourselves to us feministing readers!
Read more if you want a sense of what we’re going to be talking about at our panel on Saturday…
Recent popular feminist analysis seems to fall into two camps, crudely put “the judgers”—Get to Work by Linda Hirshman, Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy, Unhooked by Laura Sessions Stepp—and “the includers”—Pimps Up, Ho’s Down: Hip Hop’s Hold on Young Black Women by T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, Sisterhood Interrupted by Deborah Siegel. The judgers argue that there are, indeed, more and less feminist choices, more and less feminist ways to live, and that until feminists owns up to these distinctions, we will be a movement awash in our own ambiguity and inclusivity. The includers, on the other end of the spectrum, worry that feminists too often come off as righteous and bullheaded, and that this perception keeps women from embracing the movement’s rather uncontroversial mission of equality and choice.
This same imbalance is mirrored in classrooms across America, where young women are trying to understand and integrate feminist ideas. They complain of feeling judged by professors who point fingers before asking questions—like, why does pole dancing seem like a passage to power for college-educated women? Why do young women listen to music with misogynistic lyrics? Some women’s studies programs, in an attempt to attract students, seem to water down their politics and course offerings until their feminism is practically unrecognizable.
So how do we—women’s studies professors, feminist thinkers, writers, and activists—find the middle ground? How can we articulate a concrete vision of the most feminist way to live, but also have empathy for the motivation and psychology of others? How can we move feminism forward, without alienating its future?