Welcome back, Academic Feminists. Today we are happy to present Sarah Scalise, the next interviewee in our students series. This series features the work of college and masters students whose final projects/theses focus on gender and sexuality issues.
Sarah Scalise graduated from Shimer College in May 2014. She currently resides in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago with her feline partner—Dustin Hoffcat. While taking a break from higher learning, Sarah leads a Girl Scout Troop, provides childcare for a neighborhood of vibrant & curious girls, rides her bike, and binges on Netflix. Future plans may include writing steamy poetry about feminist icons or re-reading the entire Harry Potter series.
Gwendolyn Beetham: What is your thesis about?
Sarah Scalise: Ultimately, my thesis is about providing a comfortable place for teenage girls to examine and accept their developing bodies, minds, and sexuality. I intentionally shied away from a traditional academic paper by writing and self-publishing a zine; this format allowed me the opportunity to reach out to girls as young as thirteen. My first goal in “Understanding the Beauty Myth: A Girl’s Guide to Human Sexuality, Interpreting Popular Culture, & the Cultivation of Pimples and Pubic Hair!” was to clear up a lot of the terminology that kids hear but don’t understand; defining common words in the LGBTQIA lexicon provided me the opportunity to take the “weird” out of queer. From that foundation, the zine investigates the relationship between bodily discipline and the creation of a gendered self. It also examines institutional categories, contradictions in feminism, and the realities of modern forms of mass media. Using thought-provoking real life situations, contemporary examples in popular culture, humor, and purposefully stylized language the zine is a resource for any teen girl interested in boosting her body image or subverting the standard beauty myths.
Don’t let the intended target audience keep you from browsing — my project is accessible and inclusive to any prospective reader. Each person will experience the zine differently, which is why any conclusion has to come from the perspective of the newly examined-self. My great-uncle described my zine as interesting…. but a necessary resource for his teenage granddaughter. Older siblings have overheard their sisters newly claiming the title of “feminist,” and I’ve taught people of all ages the proper way to pop a zit! Anyone who reads this zine will walk away understanding the standards of beauty that girls, colluding with society, enforce on themselves and skills to intervene and subvert the beauty myth.
What got you interested in this subject?
I babysit for pre-teen girls and lead a Girl Scout Troop in Chicago, they started asking me “sex” questions and I realized I couldn’t think of many appropriate resources for their “body dramas” and “body projects.” I began my research just before the “summer of Miley Cyrus.” I love pop culture and initially hoped to defend her as a feminist, but the deeper I dug I realized just how complicated it is to be an individual in a systematically unequal society. My excitement for deconstructing pop-culture only increased as Sinead O’Connor* and Amanda Palmer wrote their open-letters, and my world exploded when Beyoncé dropped a pro-feminist album sampling Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie!
[*Sinead O'Connor has removed the original letter from her website.]
What is the one thing you are most proud of?
I was dealing with complications of a chronic illness for most of the school year, so at first I was simply proud to finish my thesis. Now that I’ve had time to distribute my zine from Philadelphia to San Francisco, I’m ecstatic that it has become a real example of praxis: theory and action. I feel that I am practicing a more ethical life and I am now more confident as a youth leader.
What was the most difficult?
So much Beyoncé! I let myself get a little too wrapped up researching the pop culture aspects of my thesis. I have a bad habit of reading, and reading, and then reading some more. Once I had a stronger grasp on the post-structuralist theory I was trying to explain, the writing started to flow more freely. Once I had that “Aha!” moment I sat down and wrote for an entire weekend with lots of motivation from Kathleen Hanna and Patti Smith.
What is the one piece of advice you’d offer to students who will be working on these papers/projects next year?
Find an advisor or faculty member who will support your intellectual development. I was very blessed to work closely with the same faculty member for three years and her expertise helped me focus when the project grew too big. Also be willing to compromise–sometimes a great idea doesn’t fit and has to be saved for your next project. I kept a list and have enough new research prospects to last me a lifetime!
Are you a feminist student? Would you like to be interviewed for the Academic Feminist? Send an email with the subject “Feministing Student Series” to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include in the body of the email your name, your school, your year of graduation, your major, and a one-paragraph description of your paper. Please attach your paper as a word or PDF file. Anyone who is a current college or masters student or has graduated within the last year is eligible.