Last year a friend of mine who is also a professor, a professor of Philosophy, initiated an email conversation with me to casually dialogue and ask some questions about feminism, a topic about which he had only limited knowledge. During this conversation, he asked a particularly pointed question which I will paraphrase here:
“Sara, do you think that ‘popular feminism’ or the kind of feminism we see in social media, particular political organizations or popular culture ends up getting to define feminism for larger society (and isn’t this representation a bit limited or behind what feminism has actually become)?”
His question stayed with me for quite some time and was echoed by members of the Women’s Caucus at the 2014 meeting of the American Academy of Religion, Western Religion (AAR/WR). Who defines feminism for society today? Who is defining what feminism is becoming? Who wants to be a feminist? Who ‘gets’ to be a feminist now?
Reflecting on these questions personally last year, I found myself a little lost… My daily exposure to feminism via social media sometimes felt like I was watching a constant battle between those who identified as feminists and those who found feminism wanting, inadequate, harmful or even hateful. Yet, much of my professional experience working with feminism, at the same time, also involved the opposite: purposeful coalition building, training and discussions about allied relationships, and efforts to create inclusive, if agonistic community.
Teaming up to address this issue of representation, power, naming and justice-making, the Queer Caucus and the Women’s Caucus of the AAR/WR co-hosted a panel and groups discussion at the 2015 regional conference this year in March. We asked the panelists to consider the question: “Who ‘gets’ to be a feminist,” encouraging each panelist to directly engage her, his or their own social location, institution and activism when addressing the workshop theme.
Who “Gets” to be a Feminist Now?
The Women’s Caucus and Queer Caucus of the AAR/WR invite panelists to consider the idea of feminist identity as this relates to power and naming, our own particular communities, and the larger work of justice-making in our regional community.
Not everyone has been included in the label “feminism” historically, nor does everyone want to be. Yet, the word feminism has far reaching political implications in society, popular culture, the schools that we attend/ at which we teach, etc.. Asking “Who ‘gets’ to be a feminist now,” the WC and QC hope to interrogate not only the meaning of feminist identity, but also the ways in which we practice and define justice-making. Who ‘gets’ to fight for particular visions of justice, why, and how? What does the “fight” look like today? What does it look like in our region? Who or what sets these standards, and how does this impact the work that we do?
The panelist should respond to the overall theme in light of her, his or their particular intersectionality and communities. We recommend that panelists consider and/ or address the following questions:
- Who “gets” to be a feminist? What does “feminism” mean to you? Who can “fight” for feminist causes (and how is this defined, in your view)?
- Do you identify as feminist or not, and why? How do you name/ identify your own particular works of justice-making?
- How do the communities in which you work and live define feminist identity? What does feminism look like in your discipline/ field? How does all of this impact your practice of this type of justice-making?
- Is “feminism” activism, or is it teaching? If it is activism, what does this look like to you? If it is teaching, what does this mean for those of us who are unable to find jobs/ find sustainable jobs?
- How does praxis need to evolve/ change? What does the “fight” for justice look like today, and how can we translate this into practical strategies for justice, community building and alliship?
The workshop resulted in very fruitful dialogue for us in March. Themes addressed by the panelists and participants included (but were not limited to):
- How we can incorporate our own personal history into definitions of feminism
- Pedagogical strategies
- Issues of class, and the way that class impacts access to feminist discourse
- How we raise boys in particular to see in feminist ways
- How we deal with/ protect from the wounding of misogyny experienced by all genders and sexes in society
- Intersectionality & symbiotic power
- How and who can speak, and when
- The “sanitization” of the term feminism in the academy
- Feminist work (and the work of survival) that hasn’t been included in Western feminist discourses
Sharing the workshop questions and some of our group’s thoughts in this blog, my hope is to expand this discussion beyond our March workshop. What do you make of these questions? Which of these questions are applicable to you and in your work for justice? Who ‘gets’ to be a feminist now (and are your okay with this)? What is feminism becoming?
Lost in the political tides of feminist discourse, I found this reflection, rooted in particular experiences, practical concerns, meditation (thank you Marie!) and actual strategy to be grounding. And while I realize that this ground is still changing because justice-making is an action, not an endpoint, I believe there is great value in stopping for a moment to consider where we are right now.
I want to thank our panelists: Shanshan Yang of the California Institute of Integral Studies, Sakena Young-Scaggs of Arizona State University and John Erickson of Claremont Graduate University, as well as all participants in the 2015 WC/QC Event.
I look forward to continuing this discussion with the feminismandreligion.com community.
Sara Frykenberg, Ph.D.: Graduate of the women studies in religion program at Claremont Graduate University, Sara’s research considers the way in which process feminist theo/alogies reveal a kind transitory violence present in the liminal space between abusive paradigms and new non-abusive creations: a counter-necessary violence. In addition to her feminist, theo/alogical and pedagogical pursuits, Sara is also an avid fan of science fiction and fantasy literature, and a level one Kundalini yoga teacher.