I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat, or a prostitute.
Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once famously declared of obscenity that, while he could not define it, he could certainly identify it. Such is the case with feminism today, and, as the West quote above clearly articulates, for a very long time. Rebecca West was one of those women for whom the realization of the goals of the First Wave supplied opportunity. She was part of a Golden Wave that followed passage of certain laws in America and England (West was British) that finally granted women the right to vote. Of course I’ve digressed again, as is my style, because Stewart and West aren’t my focus. The quotes from them, however, do segue nicely with my thesis that if women are to make progress, they must take a practical approach. This includes an awareness of how certain systems operate, and an eye for how cultural change happens. There is no one right way to create the world in which we want to live, but it behooves us to be smart about creating it.
In my Composition classroom, I have my students practice their research skills on the first day by creating a research scavenger hunt for them. The first ten questions are always timely for the month; for example, this month I asked them to tell me what Juneteenth was. In the final section, I ask them to identify certain kinds of articles and summarize them. Putting information in your own words is a crucial skill to learn in a Composition class. I always find the student responses interesting, especially when a student includes their own opinion, which they are not supposed to do. It’s really in the mistakes, the anomalies, and the disruption of systems wherein one can find evidence of real, dynamic change.
This month I found an extraordinary example of feminism in a student response. This student was commenting on the fallout from the Brandon Marshall case of violence against his girlfriend (an issue that has come up for him time and time again). She also commented that she thought the treatment of this man compared to Michael Vick was insane. You may recall Vick as the Atlanta Falcons player whose career was ruined over dog-fight events held at one of his properties. Her point was clear and startlingly true: our culture values dogs over women. That is a feminist statement, and I knew it when I saw it. She, however, was and remains ignorant of her own feminist leanings. I have not broken the news to her that she was a closet feminist. If I am good at what I do—and I am—I won’t need to; she’ll begin to adopt some of my language and consider the point of view that I will present without my ever consciously telling her how she should think or what she should think.
There is also a new young female teacher at our school, and I found evidence of feminism in her recently as well. This 24 year old woman, we’ll call her Ms. Mimosa, has never really encountered a woman like me. Her ideas of feminism included staying as far away from it as she could, even as she was perfectly aware of many of the issues that women face. We have become friend in the smoking area (doh! I so need to quit!), and I have been myself. I talk about what I talk about here and in every part of my life (though I admit to being soft on Obama in public discussions, but that’s a whole n’other blog post). Ms. Mimosa’s idea of feminism before she met me was the traditional media-driven view of trench-coat wearing hairy-legged women who hated men. Because of my confidence and because I report honestly and my purpose is clear, this woman is beginning to understand how she is really a closet feminist. I enjoy watching her jaw drop as my ideas register on her face. She’s very cute and very smart, and most importantly, reachable. There’s our practical approach: an understanding of audience. Continue reading