I’ve had this post saved in my drafts for over 5 months now. I was fearful of posting it out of the high possibility that I could offend many of the people that inspire me to be a better activist. Though some of these sentiments have shifted, I realize now how important this personal statement is to my development as a feminist since my journey abroad. And so, I hope that when you read this you understand I am critiquing a system rather than individuals or white, middle class feminist women.
A professor of mine once said that the United Nations is a community of white, male non-retires thus making it difficult for others to enter the system and create change. I have come to believe the same holds true for the feminist community in NYC, except they are a group of predominantly white, middle class women.
When I left for Costa Rica last year, I simultaneously disengaged myself from the feminist community in the United States. My experiences in NYC and LA had made me resent the world of feminism. I saw many powerful feminists have their voices hidden by mainstream feminist outlets because they chose not to focus on commonly discussed topics such as reproductive justice, or sexualities. And though I witnessed many well-known leaders within the feminist community who were supportive, they didn’t want to share their power in order for the younger generations, women of color, working classes etc so that they may be recognized. I was tired of feeling let down, and sometimes ridiculed, by those whom I looked up to. Of course, there were exceptions and some strong friendships have been made.
While I believe passionately about the many causes and fights within the movement, I can’t help but get the sense that this is a community in the United States that heavily focused on recognition. Though there is an immense amount of support, it’s often followed by sentiments of, “I know better and, I can do this event, job, petition, etc better.” The companionship that I’ve found has often been about self gain - who can I mentor, how can I get my name through the door, who is the best person to network with for this project.
But I don’t think this “problem” has to do with individual people, rather it is the effect of the system in which feminism and feminists exist within. The United States, especially NYC, is a competitive place and it takes a long time to get your foot in the door. Of course, once you have gained access and recognition the thought of someone else taking your place is daunting and so people hold on tightly, almost perpetuating the system that they experienced as activist and writers in their twenties. Hello! Why is it that the same women have been running the largest and most well-known feminist organizations (i.e. Ms.) for such a long period of time without passing the torch to others?
As much as we say there is an increasing focus on intersectionality within feminist circles in the United States, we need to put more emphasis on our communities and ask ourselves how we move forward in a way that encourages mutual learning and respect between all ages, classes, genders, races, etc within feminism. How do we empower younger generations, women of color, working classes, etc to do the feminist work that they love as a career path without continuing a cycle that perpetuates competition over teamwork and growth?
From left to right: Myra Duran, Tani Ikeda, Morgane Richardson, Miranda Petersen, Melanie Klein, Brie Widaman and Jollene Levid
Written by Rachel O’Conner. Originally posted at Feminist Fatale. Cross-posted with permission.
Thursday night, feminists drove from all over L.A. to be at the Young Feminists Speak Out event in Santa Monica. While the panel (click here for a list of all featured panelists and their bios) focused on the new generation of feminists, people of all ages were in attendance to talk and listen. The event was put together by Morgane Richardson, a feminist originally hailing from the east coast, Myra Duran and Miranda Petersen. Upon moving to Los Angeles and noticing a lack of feminist gatherings in Los Angeles, Morgane was inspired to organize a diverse panel of LA-area feminists and connected with Myra and Miranda to make the vision a reality. They are already working on more feminist events for the Los Angeles area. Melanie Klein and Miranda Petersen moderated, and asked questions which ranged from how each panelist “found” feminism, to whether there’s a need for a current mainstream icon for the feminist movement.
One of the questions asked was whether there is an “east-coast/west-coast divide” in terms of organization, issues, and focus in the movement. I was surprised to hear panelists disagree that a divide exists. Ever since changing my major to Women’s Studies, I’ve wanted to do work for a feminist-focused company, and while there are some in Los Angeles, or regional offices for larger organizations, a great majority exist in Washington D.C. and New York City.
In fact, I felt the panel was a great example of this – while there are tons of feminists residing in L.A., this was the first time most were meeting, or had been in the same room together. While I would like to attend feminist conferences, again a majority are held in large cities on the east coast. Of course I’m not badmouthing these organizations for setting up in cities like Washington D.C. – being the political capital of the country, it makes the most sense. However, it frequently feels there’s no equivalent of organizations of such a size in Los Angeles, or the west coast in general.
Another topic of discussion addressed that many still see Gloria Steinem as the face of the movement, and why there doesn’t seem to be anyone with that kind of visibility in recent history. I think the fact that panelists had a difficult time naming any current famous feminists, is indicative of the lack of voice we have in the mainstream media. Panelist Myra Duran stated she felt having a mainstream icon is no longer necessary – girls and women are able to choose their own inspirational figures. While I somewhat I agree – I’m able to choose who to look up to; it wasn’t until taking Women’s Studies courses that I was even aware of who the current feminists were. I didn’t know who Jessica Valenti or Ariel Levy were until their work was assigned reading. Additionally, simply being able to go to college and the availability of these classes is a privilege, one that many women do not have access to. Unless one finds feminism through family or friends, for the most part it’s a movement that must be searched out in order to find. The injustices women face as a minority in this country does not garner much mainstream news coverage; Ms. recently pointed outthat Nancy Pelosi was not once on the cover of Newsweek or Time, while John Boehner scored the cover of both news magazines when he won the mid-term election. While the internet makes it much easier to find information on the current topics and history of the movement, it’s still important to reach those who may not even have access to the web. During the “Second Wave” Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan achieved a level of visibility in the mainstream media that allowed girls and women who wouldn’t have otherwise identified as feminists to find information and understand how these issues personally affected them. I don’t feel like that is happening currently – to find feminist (or even just women-centric) news, the two places I look to are feminist blogs and magazines.
The panel was an important gathering of feminists, and I hope there are many more events to come in the future. While I disagreed with some of the answers given, as panelists pointed out in response to a question asked by the audience, “there is no singular definition of a feminist.” Feminists don’t always agree about certain issues – an east/west coast divide, or a face of feminism, but that is one of the best things about the movement – discussion, dialogue, and debate.
Photo taken by Marley Poyo.