Thursday, April 10, 2014

Parting Advice From a Graduating Feminist

Well here I am. Only a few weeks left until graduation and I’m writing my last post for the WMST blog feeling incredibly nostalgic. So, I thought I’d take this opportunity to reflect on my time here at Colgate and offer a few pieces of advice on the things that I’ve learned and wish I had known sooner.

Not all feminists are the same:
I know that this might sound silly, but you’d be surprised how often people lump us all under the same category of bra-burning, man-hating, anti-shaving, militant lesbians… Okay, maybe you aren’t surprised.  But here’s a confession: I have yet to meet someone who perfectly fits this description. So the good news is that if you don’t fit this description then you can also be a feminist! Congratulations!!
In all seriousness, what I’m trying to say is that feminists have very different opinions, ideals, goals, and beliefs. We don’t always agree and that’s the beauty of it. I’ve had some of the best discussions with feminists who had different opinions and at the end of the day when we still disagreed, I learned so much more than if I had talked with someone who agreed with me from the start. The point is that even if you disagree with some aspects of feminism don’t be afraid to identify as a feminist and engage with other feminists in conversations.
Along that same vein, don’t be afraid to change your mind. In my humble opinion, I think open-mindedness is one of the best qualities a person can have.

Get to know someone you admire (ideally a feminist):
Like REALLY get to know them. Ask that person to grab a cup of coffee or plan a time when you two can just hang out together. Pick their brain, laugh with them, ask them for advice, and learn from them. It makes this world much more manageable when you see someone you admire navigate this crazy life with ease. Figure out what they struggled with and how they might have gotten over it. Odds are that as a budding feminist you probably are going through the same challenges. Don’t reinvent the wheel but rather learn from those around you.

Talk about what you’re passionate about with your friends and family:
For a long time I kept all that I was learning in my Women’s Studies classes to myself because I didn’t want to come across as fanatic or pushy to my friends. But, as the years have gone by I’ve become more and more comfortable discussing with my friends issues surrounding feminism, intersectionality, race, class, privilege, etc. and it turns out that they actually enjoy discussing these topics too (for the most part). What I have learned from this is that I need to have friends in my life that are willing to have these conversations. Even if they don’t agree with me, we are able to open each other’s eyes and push each other out of our comfort zones.

Allow yourself to be self-critical:
It has become very clear to me (sometimes painfully clear) that I make mistakes, I sometimes offend people, and occasionally I’m just actually wrong. Rather than deny it, I believe there is power in learning from our mistakes and a willingness to be self-critical. Learn about your privilege (or lack of) and understand that we all have a little of both. We all have privilege and we all lack a certain type of privilege. Become conscious of this and how you may perpetuate systems of inequality. This is probably the hardest and yet the most important feminist lesson I’ve learned at Colgate. It’s not easy, but it’s not supposed to be.

Love yourself and those around you:
All right this is my cheesiest advice yet but bare with me. Yes, we are learning. Yes, we aren’t perfect nor will we ever be. But that’s okay. Be critical of yourself, the world around you, and other feminists, but don’t forget to find the little golden nuggets as well. Constantly critiquing the patriarchy, the multiplicity of oppressions, and privilege is important but it is also exhausting and honestly not that much fun. Too often we are quick to be critical, but less willing to point out the good that has come about. But in order for this whole feminism thing to work out, we need to continuously support one another. So I have a challenge for you. Pick several people that you admire or who have helped you in the last few years and write them a letter. Feminist or not, tell them how much they mean to you and in which ways they’ve made a positive impact in your life. Not only will this rejuvenate them, but it will also help you figure out what you admire in people and how to be more like them. And when you are writing your letters don’t forget to write a letter to the most important person: yourself.

- Michelle Van Veen ‘14

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Buck Angel' BB

Speaker Event
Listening to Buck Angel’s speech was inspiring and life changing because it was real. Angel talked about his transition, his childhood and young adulthood when he felt disconnected from his body because he knew he was a boy, and that what he felt connected with.  This occurred when he hit puberty and realized that what he believed he was did not match what perceived him as. He copped the only way he knew how to numb the pain, because he did not have to think about how he was being called a “she” and being referred to as a woman. By drinking, getting high and cutting himself he reveals how our social construct of the gender as a binary is destructive and painful when one does not fall into either of these restrictive categories.  This critique of our society is important because it still occur today and is very much a lived reality of lot people. This desire to live lead to his journey to find professionals who could help him transition in a time when transitioning from a woman to a male was unheard of, in the United States. By transitioning, he talked about the importance of being connected with his body and how this brought him hope and opened the possibility to a whole new world. 

The two advice he shared with the audience were to deprogram our minds and to express gratitude.  The first advice resonated with me because I have come to realize that at Colgate I often times have to perform certain role behave a certain way, represent a certain identity. Also the dissatisfaction of the constant performance, which is not real, can be exhaustive.  I have been thinking about the constant performance that occurs on this campus and how it self-perpetuates these gender binaries at the very expense of the denial of our own happiness. And for me this fear that seizes me when I think about deprogramming my mind and to stop performing, what would that mean? This fear evolves out of the so-called unknown and also acknowledging the fact that the performance is comfortable and set yet costly.  It is costly because we lose ourselves and by deprogramming our minds, we have the possibility to find ourselves. This is done by constant self-examination and critique of my life, and how I navigate in the spaces on campus and outside in the world. This is a life journey that I always have to work on and it makes it less overwhelming. Finally, gratitude is important because we all have people that we are grateful for and our very existence at this very moment is a moment to be grateful for. This gratitude does put a smile on our face because it is a reminder of being alive. Therefore, I am grateful.
_Noufo Nabine

Friday, March 14, 2014

BB Reflection: “Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement”

On Tuesday, we had the honor of hosting writer Sarah Erdreich for “Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement.” She started the brown bag by first talking about how it is she got to doing the work that she does. Sarah joked about her educational pursuits and how they essentially made her “impressively useless.” Given that I’m a senior struggling with unemployment similar issues, it was nice to hear from someone in the real world who took some time to get into the swing of the real world. She went on to talk about her work on the NAtional Abortion Federation hotline and the information she shared helped me put some things in perspective. Firstly, I am pro-choice. I believe that all women should be 100% in control of their reproductive health and if that means having an abortion, then so be it. While I am vocal about laws in the United States infringing on the rights of women to have access to proper medical care, I did not realize how little I thought about how access is not enough. It is not enough to say that under the law, women have the right to have abortions. Having a right on paper is not the same as having a right in practice. Women may have access to abortions, but what about the dangerous people who are willing to incite violence because they disagree? What does my right to an abortion mea if the people picketing outside of the clinic are willing to throw a bomb through the window? What does my right to an abortion matter if the nearest doctor who can perform an abortion is two hours away from me? What if my insurance is not comprehensive and will not cover the procedure I need to have? Sure, I may have the right to have one, but how realistic is that if there are so many other factors to consider when making these choices?
Additionally, Sarah talked about personal blinders that contribute to the stigmatization of abortions. She argued that abortions are a standard form of healthcare and that women contribute to the stigmatization of this by not asking of their health care provider performs them. Sarah admitted that she did not even know if her own doctor performed them. She also admitted that when she asked her doctor, she was uncomfortable. She felt it necessary to preface the question with “I’m not pregnant, but...” It’s interesting that even women who work as pro-choice activists still battle with these kind of concerns.
Ultimately, the abortion debate needs to be humanized. We need to see it as more than body parts and legal precedents. Abortion may be a talking point to your local politician, but it is a very real reality for many people who have had to face a decision as serious as this one.

Drunk In Love,

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Change, Inclusivity and The Spectrum

In one of the assignments for my Core Legacies’ class, I have been thinking about change and what it would needs in order to be inclusive of all. Then, I had to ask myself what is change? Can it truly ever be inclusive? And how can this change for inclusivity be implemented? Is it through laws, institutions, or a mental process?

After endless thoughts, I have come to a block. I realized changes that are being implemented surrounding certain topics such gender, race or beauty inclusivity, when passed through laws and institutional systems oftentimes fail. For instance, the idea of the beautiful black woman in the media is the one’s who has a skin color closer to white. What does this say about beauty? And now that Lupita Nyong’o, a Black actress, film and music director challenges our understanding of what is beautiful, because she is not this absurd idea of what the media considered beautiful previously. I do consider this to be a change even though, this idea of beauty is still limiting by not take into account her intelligence or her other achievements outside of her role in Twelve Years of slave. By acknowledging her as beautiful challenges the idea of what has been understood as the ideal beautiful black woman. This acknowledgement is only made possible by rethinking our idea of beauty. Therefore, I believe in order for change to truly be made in regards to a topic such as beauty, people’s mentality has to be challenged. In addition, when thinking about the changes that are essential to creating inclusivity for all “things”, such as beauty, need to be thought of as on a spectrum. This spectrum can be understood by allowing for different narratives that speak to various and realistic definition of what is beautiful. By having multiple of these narratives will challenge the one popular narrative that everyone seems to be comfortable with. These narratives will create space for many people who are made to be invisible and are often time stripped of their voices because they are not the “it”. These narratives will force people to always question themselves, to think outside of the “box” and to start acknowledging that the “it” is limiting because a person is much more than their beauty, their race, their sexuality and everything they are intersect. Therefore, a change for inclusivity becomes personal and collective.

- Noufo Nabine '16

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Feminist Ted Talks

I love Ted Talks. I love that they disseminate information from very well spoken and incredibly smart individuals on a wide variety of topics. (Confession: Ted Talks even helped me formulate ideas for my thesis)  Thus, when I want to procrastinate but don’t want to waste my time on Facebook, I watch Ted Talks.

I find that this technological platform for sharing mini-lectures is vitally important for contemporary feminist movements. I have learned so much about other feminist movements around the world because of Ted Talks. I also believe that Ted Talks are an inviting forum for those who don’t know much about feminism to learn about it in a “safe” and private environment.

So, I’ve listed some of my favorite Ted Talks pertaining to feminism in the hopes that: 1) you learn something new; 2) you realize that other people are doing the same work you are doing (or want to do); 4) listening to other people’s stories inspires you; or 3) you realize that we still need feminism. Regardless of your takeaway messages I hope that you at least realize that the information is out there as long as you look for it. There are some pretty amazing people in this world doing amazing feminist work.

This talk highlights the importance of acknowledging how far we’ve come while also being realistic on how much more needs to be done. Esta Soler, an advocate fighting against domestic violence, discusses the various tactic and technologies that have been used over the past decades to bring awareness of domestic violence which has engaged the public and policy maker while also allowing women to share their stories. She argues that technology, in essence, has made the invisible visible.
*Warning: there is a clip within the talk that portrays a violent scene that can be quite difficult to watch.

This is one of my favorite Ted Talks. Adichie is a Nigerian writer who warns us against the unintended consequences of the single narrative. Hearing a single story and then attributing those characteristics to an entire people or country manages to deny individual experiences and ignore complexity. This silencing of voices and overgeneralization is what leads to misunderstandings or worse outcomes. The message from this talk is transferrable to multiple issues such as sexism, ageism, racism, classism, imperialism, etc. and is vitally important in this day and age.  

McKenna Pope is a 14-year-old girl who started a petition to have more gender-neutral toys and ended up being successful. She isn’t the most eloquent speaker I’ve seen (alright I actually just got a little anxious just watching her, but to be fair I’m not even that articulate at age 22). But I still thought it conveyed an interesting message: Anyone can be an activist. She talks about the evolution from starting with an idea, to implementing the idea, overcoming discouragement, and ultimately how she became successful.

Yes, another Sheryl Sandberg talk. There are some very interesting messages within this talk, but also some things that I find problematic. She discusses the impact of her first Ted Talk and how her message has changed the lives of women around the world. She also discusses some important double-standard issues in terms of leadership and why that needs to change. But, a quick disclaimer: this talk is riddled with white privilege and completely ignores intersectional oppression in women’s lives. There are also instances of the “white savior complex.” Still interesting to watch though but just be mindful/critical of what you hear.

Kakenya Ntaiya is a Kenyan woman who tells her story about how she made a difference within her community. As a woman who has undergone Female Genital Mutilation (in her own words) she is an advocate for changing the status of women within her own community. After coming back from the United States, she took it upon herself to start a school for girls that could provide a safe and enriching environment for girls. Overall, her message is that we all have the ability to make our own communities better and if we all do our part, this world can be a better place.  

This is the blurb on the site that better summarizes the talk better than I ever could.  Artist iO Tillett Wright has photographed 2,000 people who consider themselves somewhere on the LGBTQ spectrum and asked many of them: Can you assign a percentage to how gay or straight you are? Most people, it turns out, consider themselves to exist in the gray areas of sexuality, not 100% gay or straight. Which presents a real problem when it comes to discrimination: Where do you draw the line?”

I must admit, this video is pretty hard to watch. Sunitha Kirshnan starts off with telling the story of three children who have been trafficked and then goes into her own experience with sex slavery. She offers some insight into how these children, women, and men that have been trafficked can be rehabilitated into society. Overall her message is clear: we need to stop “victimizing the victims” and start treating them like human beings.
*Warning: there are some pretty graphic images   

This is another one of my favorites. Isabel Allende is an amazing speaker and her message is powerful, thought provoking, humorous, passionate, and honest. She discusses many women’s issues globally and explains why we still need feminism. I’d highly recommend watching this video.

Happy Procrastinating!

- Michelle Van Veen '14