Feminists don’t spontaneously happen…

There are no sparkly Feminist Fairies running around sprinkling Feminist Fairy Dust on girls and boys. No Feminist Mindmelders transferring feminist history by osmosis. Feminists don’t spontaneously happen. With some fairly minor exceptions, people who understand feminism and identify as feminists generally get there by dint of personal need, curiosity, experience and hard work—all of which are explicitly counter-cultural. If they are lucky, they have parents and teachers who teach them. But, that’s catch as catch can. Ms. Blog May 8, 2014 Soraya Chemaly

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The culmination of each of my Women’s Studies classes is always a profound experience for me. Soraya Chemaly is insightful when she says that “feminists don’t spontaneously happen.” It is hard, critical, emotional work. Frankly, at the end of each semester I tend to sink into a contemplative state, reflecting on my teaching, and wondering if I might have done some things differently to make a more significant impact on my students. Then…my students rescue me from myself by showing me the meaningful ways that they embody the feminist knowledge that has been offered, and especially by the stunning ways that they articulate and express their own learning.

At the close of my Women’s Studies classes, I ask each student to write a letter to me reflecting upon her/his learning during the semester. I hope that this self-exploration is useful to the student; moreover, I love reading how students see their own learning process and I find it deeply gratifying to share in how students have been influenced by the knowledge offered in the class.

This semester I decided to experiment with giving students the opportunity to design their own final, hoping that a creative approach might be more interesting than a traditional final exam or paper. Students decided to do a poster project that had dual purposes: we would have a collective sharing and learning experience during our final session with each student sharing a message that was meaningful to her/him; and the posters would be displayed on our campus to educate the broader community about gender inequality. The collaborative sharing was a beautiful representation of student learning—students shared emotional personal stories and creatively highlighted feminist issues that were most meaningful to them. The experience was indeed interesting; most importantly, we honored everyone’s voices and created a kind of tapestry of our learning.

Below are selected quotes from student letters, as well as a sampling of their posters.

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I would have never called myself a feminist before this class because I did not fit the “stereotype” of a feminist. But I do stand up for myself when being catcalled, when I am being discriminated against, and when people called my gay friends names. But I realized I am a feminist. I am so glad I decided to take this class. I learned not only about being a feminist but about myself and what I believe in.

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Before taking this class I didn’t think feminism and gender were so important. Feminism to me was something that was only for older women, about lesbians, and was a club for only girls. Now, after taking this class, feminism means equality, respect, unity, and so much more. And I’m proud to say that I am a feminist.

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Some of the most valuable lessons I learned during this class had to do with LGBT. I had a certain level of hate towards LGBT people to the point where I would completely bully them. As this class progressed my views completely changed and I feel it has been the greatest learning experience I have had this semester. As I continue through my next 5 years of college, I will take my new found acceptance of LGBT and possibly make friends and meet new people that I would have never been able to communicate with before this class!

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One of the most valuable lessons that I will take away from this class is to not let stereotypes dictate how I live my life. After taking Women’s Studies, it’s easier for me to embrace myself for who I am instead of what society tells me to be. I’m pursuing my talents in mathematics and I’m considering that as my major, and I’m also learning how to fix cars which is both interesting and satisfying. I never would have thought of calling myself a feminist, but after the myths about what a feminist is were busted, I’m happy to be part of the group. I want to help change our society in a positive way.

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I’ve always felt like something wasn’t right about the way gender was treated in society but I always wondered if maybe it was just the way I felt, and that nothing was wrong with it at all. When I took this class I was fascinated and learned that what I had seen and felt was not all my own imagination, but that there was a real problem. After taking this class I learned that I’ve been a feminist all along but just never knew what modern feminism really meant. What I take away from this class is inspiration and an eagerness to help the feminist cause.

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Many of the things I have learned are becoming pieces of the glasses we can call my feminist lens, and I am finding that the frames fit more than they used to. I am however finding it harder to see without them, because it seems the deeper you understand power structures in our society, the more prior knowledge seems to crumble and become blurry. I now not only claim the feminist label, but also dare anyone to try to take it away or diminish it. The question “Are you a feminist?” Now sounds more like “Do you want to be truly free?” And of course one always want to be more free.

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Nancy's Painting

Painting by Nancy Guobadia

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