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The conundrum of women's studies as institutional


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The conundrum of women's studies as institutional new niches, undergraduate concerns, and the move towards contemporary feminist theory and action
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Willman, Rebecca K
University of South Florida
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ABSTRACT: In this thesis I address current debates on the perceived lack of contemporary feminist activism and concerns of Women's Studies as existing within university institutions. I propose that Women's Studies programs and departments serve as locations useful for feminists interested in participating in feminist activism in and beyond the university. By viewing Women's Studies programs and departments as contemporary abeyance structures in feminist movements, I revisit the ways in which debates on differences between second and third wave feminisms have contributed to social change. In doing so, I highlight how the feminist movement maintains itself between upsurges in mass-based visible collective action. I argue that Women's Studies programs and departments are contemporary locations in which the feminist movement continues to raise feminist consciousness, create feminist activists, produce feminist theory, and contribute to social change. Through a series of interviews with Women's Studies undergraduate majors and minors, I discuss the ways in which feminist activism is occurring, and address concerns of contemporary feminists with regards to organizing and focusing their activism. I propose a "matrix of activism," comprised of four pillars in which contemporary activism occurs: structural activism, community activism, discursive activism, and activism of the self. The matrix of activism, including its four pillars, can be utilized in Women's Studies classrooms to clearly discuss how activism is currently done rather than focus on an undefined mass-based feminist movement.
Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2007.
Includes bibliographical references.
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by Rebecca K. Willman.
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The conundrum of women's studies as institutional :
b new niches, undergraduate concerns, and the move towards contemporary feminist theory and action
h [electronic resource] /
by Rebecca K. Willman.
[Tampa, Fla.] :
University of South Florida,
3 520
ABSTRACT: In this thesis I address current debates on the perceived lack of contemporary feminist activism and concerns of Women's Studies as existing within university institutions. I propose that Women's Studies programs and departments serve as locations useful for feminists interested in participating in feminist activism in and beyond the university. By viewing Women's Studies programs and departments as contemporary abeyance structures in feminist movements, I revisit the ways in which debates on differences between second and third wave feminisms have contributed to social change. In doing so, I highlight how the feminist movement maintains itself between upsurges in mass-based visible collective action. I argue that Women's Studies programs and departments are contemporary locations in which the feminist movement continues to raise feminist consciousness, create feminist activists, produce feminist theory, and contribute to social change. Through a series of interviews with Women's Studies undergraduate majors and minors, I discuss the ways in which feminist activism is occurring, and address concerns of contemporary feminists with regards to organizing and focusing their activism. I propose a "matrix of activism," comprised of four pillars in which contemporary activism occurs: structural activism, community activism, discursive activism, and activism of the self. The matrix of activism, including its four pillars, can be utilized in Women's Studies classrooms to clearly discuss how activism is currently done rather than focus on an undefined mass-based feminist movement.
Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2007.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format.
System requirements: World Wide Web browser and PDF reader.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
Title from PDF of title page.
Document formatted into pages; contains 69 pages.
Advisor: Sara Crawley, Ph.D.
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Dissertations, Academic
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The Conundrum of Womens Studies as Institutional: New Niches, Undergraduate Concerns, and the Move Towards Contemporary Feminist Theory and Action by Rebecca K. Willman A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts Department of Womens Studies College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Major Professor: Sara Crawley, Ph.D. Marilyn Myerson, Ph.D. Maralee Mayberry, Ph.D. Date of Approval: March 29, 2007 Keywords: Feminism, Theory, Activism, Women, Politics Copyright 2007, Rebecca K. Willman


Dedication For Spencer Cahill, because your passion for academics and devotion to your students will forever inspire me. You are always alive in my heart and work.


Acknowledgements Special thanks to my mom and Paula fo r their infinite support and love; to my mom who taught me that women are str ong from the very beginning. Thank you for believing in me when I say Im going to cha nge the world--it made me know I can. To the Department of Womens St udies at USF, you provided me with a home in which to grow and become someone I never thought Id be; you helped turn this C-average high school kid into an academic scholar. To my friend Clare, without whom I could have never survived this process--our talks about everything and nothing provided me with the strength I needed when I never thought Id ca tch my breath; also, for loving Skippers as much as I do. To my activist, Ali, your driv e, heart, and love mean the world to me; no matter what, youre always my girl. To Marilyn, I thank you for your peaceful hugs and presence, for the constant reminders to love and believe in myself, and for always making time for me. To Maralee, you helped me prepar e to teach, the only thing Ive ever wanted to do; your involvement with th is project was invaluable. La stly, to Sara: this wouldnt have been possible without your guidance and hands-on support; you helped bring to fruition that which Ive longed to write for 12 years. You are an incredible professor, but most importantly, a kind and trusting frie nd. Thank you from the bot tom of my heart.


i Table of Contents Abstract ii Chapter One: Introduction 1 Literature Review: Contemporary Concerns on Femi nism as Institutional 4 The Heart of Womens Studies: The Second and Third Waves of Feminism 10 The Face of Contemporary Feminism: Womens Studies Programs as Abeyance Structures 14 Womens Studies as Feminist Abeyance: Setting the Terms for Activism 18 Chapter Two: Methods and Methodology 21 Interview Findings 25 Theme #1: It changed my life. 27 Theme #2: Im an activist--well, kind of 32 Theme #3: I want to do more, I just dont know where to begin. 39 Chapter Three: New Directions 47 Defining the Matrix: Four Pillars of Activism 48 Structural Activism 50 Community Activism 51 Activism of the Self 53 Discursive Activism: Conscious ness-raising as Contemporary Feminist Praxis 56 Chapter Four: Conclusion 62 References 66 Bibliography 69


i The Conundrum of Womens Studies as Institutional: New Niches, Undergraduate Concerns, and the Move Towards Contemporary Feminist Theory and Action Rebecca K. Willman ABSTRACT In this thesis I addres s current debates on the perceived lack of contemporary feminist activism and concerns of Women s Studies as existin g within university institutions. I propose that Wo mens Studies programs and de partments serve as locations useful for feminists interested in particip ating in feminist activism in and beyond the university. By viewing Womens Studies progra ms and departments as contemporary abeyance structures in feminist movements, I revisit the ways in which debates on differences between second and third wave femi nisms have contributed to social change. In doing so, I highlight how the feminist m ovement maintains itself between upsurges in mass-based visible collective action. I ar gue that Womens St udies programs and departments are contemporary locations in wh ich the feminist movement continues to raise feminist consciousness, create femini st activists, produce feminist theory, and contribute to social change. Through a series of interviews with Womens Studies undergraduate majors and minors, I discuss the ways in which feminist activism is occurring, and address concerns of contemporary feminists with regards to organizing and focusing their activism. I propose a matrix of activism, comprised of four pillars in which contemporary activism occurs: structural activism, community activis m, discursive activism, and activism of the


ii self. The matrix of activism, including its four pillars, can be utili zed in Womens Studies classrooms to clearly discuss how activism is currently done rather than focus on an undefined mass-based feminist movement.


1 Chapter One Introduction A longstanding debate circulating th roughout Womens Studies programs in the U.S. questions whether such programs prepare students for engaging in feminist activism beyond college campuses (hooks: 1994; Boxe r: 1998; Weigman: 2002; Baln: 2005; Kennedy and Beins: 2005; Zimmerman: 2005). More specifically, a major concern is whether institutional Womens and Gender Studie s programs have the potential to affect revolutionary social change and if students are adequately equippe d with the necessary tools to do activism when they leave academ ia. The plethora of answers to date--yes, no, or kind of, sometimes,--obscure the issues and are dependent upon the specified definition of activism. For feminist scholars, and our colleagues engaged in critical race theory and queer theory, we often find ourselves unsure as to wh ether our theory adequately informs activism outside the academy. Left with a blurred discussion and intangible answers, our discus sions have not successfully re solved the issues at hand, but have rather resulted in a new niche in which we are able to research, study, publish, and talk or argue with one another. In this thesis, I will investigate the ways in which institutional Womens Studies programs, as contemporary feminist spaces, prepare students for activism beyond academia and whethe r such programs have the potential to affect revolutionary social change. In a ddition, and perhaps most importantly, I will explore the ways we conceptualize and define activism, what we consider as valuable activism, and how such activities may or may not contribute to revolutionary and radical social change.


2 Accepted as their central mission, Wome ns Studies and Gender Studies scholars have utilized various theore tical approaches for analyzing and critiquing social and institutional hierarchies in th e world at large. In recent de cades, academic feminisms have made use of similar approaches for asse ssing Womens Studies own location within hierarchal educational institutions. Such critiques are not only warranted but necessary: for how is it possible that feminisms seeking to challenge unjust social orders can be useful as existing components of a hierarchal institutional academy? In short, as Audre Lorde said over 20 years ago, can the masters tools dismantle the masters house (1984)? Many feminist scholars, including Lord e, maintained that they cannot, for the masters tools may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but will not ultimately lead us to revolutionary change necessary for the liberation of marginalized and oppressed groups (Lorde: 1984; Minh-ha:19 87). At the same time, many feminists claim that the production--and de construction--of theories based on identity, difference, and experience, including those often created within the realm of academia, are integral to the formation of knowledge, politics, and ep istemologies which have the potential to create a revolutionary reorganization of society (Haraway: 1988; MacKinnon: 1989; Collins: 1990; hooks: 1994; Hartstock: 1998). Concerns about the instit utional status of Womens Studies programs necessitate investigation; currently, such interrogations are on the rise. Feminist texts, journals, and conferences around the globe have begun to as k important questions like the one above, only to be left with further directions fo r research and study. Rather than formulate tangible or acceptable answers, it appears that we have instead carved out yet another niche for study, one only truly researchable by those of us on the inside. For feminist


3 academics promulgating discussions on th e conundrum of Womens Studies as institutional, many opt to remain within th e academy as teachers, faculty, and scholars, suggesting that such critical self -reflections continue to reveal the value of these positions and their locale. For Womens Studies scholars and those of us working in academic feminist programs, we can no longer imagine the university system without such departments and are not ready to give them up. As it is, many of us struggle to maintain departmental status due to de ficiencies in funding and s upport; our existence within an increasingly conservativ e political climate by which the university system is controlled is constantly under threat. I believe a large and important reso urce has gone untapped in proposing such questions: the undergraduate students that ma ke up our classes and departments. Though they instigate a number of rhetorical questi ons, we rarely direc tly include them in academic and curricular discussions on this to pic. Undergraduates often inspire us to continue our goals of creating theories that wi ll lead to social change; they teach us about contemporary personal and sociopolitical issu es, and ask serious questions that often guide our research. Yet underg raduate students, though they take up much of our energy, time, and effort, have, in many ways, been left out of this discussion about the future of Womens Studies and feminist academics. I do not intend this critique as another criticism against feminist academics; I am calling for self-reflection. The fact that underg raduates have been le ft out of curricular discussions makes a certain amount of sense. Many of these students are still working on comprehending the language of theory and acqui ring the analytical and written skills that are needed to access scholarly journals, texts and conferences, where the breadth of this


4 conversation takes place. Yet undergraduate influence on us remains significant, and their involvement with this discussion should be encouraged. Undergraduates provide an excellent sounding board into publ ic perceptions and literacies of feminism. This work intends specifically to include the concerns and ideas of undergraduate Womens Studies students. Through a series of interviews w ith Womens Studies undergraduate majors and minors, I hope to broaden the scope of this re search and engage them in the discussion about the present and future of Womens Studies. I am arguing for a shift from convers ations questioning the usefulness of Womens Studies to conceiving of them as activist-based spaces. Rather than perpetuating discussions on in stitutional Womens Studies programs as problematic, I propose that the existence of Womens Studies programs are evidence of the continuation and livelihood of feminism. To view Womens Studies this way requires that we expand limited definitions and conceptions on what counts as feminist activism. More attention must be paid to feminist activism as relevant to contemporary feminist concerns and issues; this attention will ultimately contribu te to an increase in feminist activism and social change. Literature Review: Contemporary Co ncerns on Feminism as Institutional In 2005, Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy and Agatha Beins compiled Womens Studies for the Future in hopes of addressing some of the current concerns around the institutionalization of feminism and womens studies programs. They contend that rather than focus on the problematic of Womens St udies as institutiona lized, current programs


5 should shift towards addressing contemporary so cial conditions in or der to manifest new frameworks for the future of the discipline. Ra ther than basing ideal models of activism on the past, we would be better off looking at the present to create new modes to create social change. Kennedy, an early founder of Womens St udies at the University of Buffalo contends that she continues to work within academia to keep feminist education and scholarship radical, critical, and contributing to social ch ange [as well as] to refine continually the meaning of a socialist feminist perspective. She continues that the most important consideration is that history is ruthless; it keeps moving ahead; social movements, institutions, and i ndividuals (even radical ones) ei ther engage it quickly or become ineffective (2005:2). For Kennedy, we cannot remain glued to our visions to glorified feminist histories or idealized futures. In order to create the change we long for, we must focus our attention on the present. Kennedys co-editor, Agatha Beins, has a different relationship and concern for Womens Studies. She has only recently co mpleted her MA in Womens Studies, and contends that the emphasis on feminist theo ries which prompt self-reflection within Womens Studies is its main strength. For Beins, postmodernism, poststructuralism, and other theories that work to deconstruct a nd disrupt traditional ideas about identity are integral to the work that Womens Studies does (2005:2). Problematizing identity, and hence, the subjects of Womens Studies, must remain integral to our programs, in order for our work to be considered, as Kennedy says, radical, critical, and contributing to social change (2005:2).


6 Though their approaches slightly differ, the editors share concerns for the direction and perception of Womens Studies programs as not moving towards revolutionary change because of their institu tional location. Again, Kennedy and Beins offer this anthology with the attempt to ask that those of us involved in feminist scholarship push the field to actively engage the present rather th an long for an ideal future (2005:24). Perhaps one author who st ates this last point best is Robyn Wiegman in The Possibility of Womens Studies (2005). Wiegman contends that the apocalyptic narration of Womens Studies does a disse rvice to the field; she defines this apocalyptic narration as poi nting toward the failure in academic feminisms institutional success (2005:41). In short, apocalyptic narrativ es give rise to the notion that the institutionalization of Womens Studies is a betrayal to itself. Wiegman argues that these narratives do not offer suggesti ons for broadening the scope of feminist scholarship to include new options for politic al activism; furthermore, narratives like these establish a history of the political pr esent that voices academic institutionalization as a betrayal of the political urgencies and critical vocabularies that inaugurated the project thirty years ago (2005:41). Such a narrative posits the academic against feminism (emphasis in original), and academic feminism thus comes to figure the impossibility of a transformed and tran sformative feminist future. (2005:41). Wiegman addresses the notion that Womens Studies departments are often criticized for simultaneously being too theo retical or not theore tical enough. Similarly, they are often rebuked for being too politic al or not political enough. These narratives often contradict their intent wherein they eliminate future possibilities for progress while


7 privileging only past political feminist projects, methods of activism, and theory. Finally Wiegman suggests that we must explore beyond apocalyptic accounts or the ultimate failure of Womens Studies will come from our attempts to reproduce histories of feminist projects instead of contemporary so lutions to current concerns. Without focusing on contemporary projects and a new criterion for the formation of feminist theory and activism, we will lose opportunities for engagement with academic and mainstream feminism, politics, activism and social change. bell hooks is widely known in the acad emy as a theorist who has managed to maintain community engagement outside of academia. The accessibility of her work is key to this position; at the same time she is a strong proponent of the importance of feminist theory (2000). She has prompted impo rtant discussions about those issues which are often interpreted as the most difficult to reconcile: issues of race, difference, and identity. She exemplifies a position that many of us seek to attain: a voice recognized and honored within feminist scholarship, as well as a legible voice in mainstream communities. For hooks, theory creates the questions necessary to make sense out of that which does not; theory enables us to imagine a future that is no t founded in hierarchy, oppression and domination (1994). In her chapter on Theory as Libratory Practice in Teaching to Transgress, hooks holds that students often enter Womens Studies classes precisely because feminist theory offers students a way to understand a nd ask questions about politics of hierarchy, domination and constructions of inferiority /superiorities among genders, races, sexual orientations, and the like (1994). hooks conte nds--and I concur--that theory, if presented as moving toward a goal of healing and soci al change, will inevitably result in actions


8 that foster activism. Theory and action are r eciprocal: if self-realization leads to self liberation, the two cannot be separated. Theory becomes problematic however, wh en it becomes obscure, jargonistic and esoteric; if one can literally not understand theory, then rather than cr eating revolutionary thought, a new intellectual class hierarchy is being formed. This formation will ultimately assume a gap in theory and acti on. This new class elite of intellectuals impedes the reciprocity of theory and ac tion, and thus, theory becomes inaccessible outside of academia. hooks suggests that in order for theory and action to remain reciprocal, the language of theory must remain accessible (1994; 2000). She warns however, that the privileging of action ove r theory ignores the importance of the production of theory. Such reminds us that theory is necessary for new revelations and a potential collective consciousnesses to be built. Such theory is integral for the construction of new ideas and opportunities for action. The purpose of this study is to exam ine whether Womens Studies undergraduate majors and minors see Womens Studies acad emic programs and feminist theory as adequately informing the feminist activism they seek and/or create. It appears, and many of us hope, that institutional Womens Studies programs are here to stay; so then, how can we to reconcile the split between academic and other forms of feminisms? I suggest one approach is to allow undergraduate stude nts to contribute new answers and ideas for resolving the issue at hand. In this study, I interview undergraduate Womens Studies students about their experiences within acad emics to find whether such experiences adequately inspire and equip them to engage in activism and social change outside of the academic classroom. Using their comments as a sounding board, I then offer my own


9 analysis regarding the connections between th eory and activism. In particular I offer a more complex definition of what comprises activism and suggest steps that scholars might undertake to improve undergraduates co mprehension of the connection between theory and the activism they accomplish in their everyday lives. To accurately assess the usefulness of a Womens Studies degree, we must first identify the general curricula and component s that comprise feminist academics. While Womens Studies is primarily an interdiscipl inary field, there are sp ecific foundations in which feminist theories and histories are de veloped and discussed; we commonly present feminist theories and histories to students as specific to the waves in which they occurred. These waves allow us to contextua lize feminist timeframes, events, theories, and upsurges in activism. Though US feminist history was taking place before then, the first wave of feminism is often recognized as occurring between the Se neca Falls Convention of 1848 and 1920 when women in the US gained suffr age rights. A number of Womens Studies courses acknowledge this as the beginning of feminism in the United States. While attention is sometimes paid to the years pr eceding and subsequent the first wave of feminism, in Womens Studies greater attention is frequently given to theorists, histories, and activists of the second and third waves of feminism. The second wave of feminism is understood to have happened be tween the early 1960s and late 1970s, and is frequently accredited as the starting point for modern and contemporary feminist concerns and theories. The third wave of feminism is sa id to have evolved out of the second wave, beginning in the early 1990s. As of 2007, many feminists claim that we are still in the third wave of feminism; however current di scussions have begun to question whether we


10 have now moved beyond the third wave (Jer vis:2003; Berger:2006). Whether we have moved beyond the third wave of feminism is not my present concern; rather I am interested in briefly discu ssing popular critiques of the second and third waves of feminism. This discussion is warranted he re. In arguing for the usefulness of Womens Studies and feminist academics, I ask that we first pay attention to--and perhaps reconceive of--the ways in which we present and discuss of feminist histories, activism, and the waves of feminism. The Heart of Womens Studies: The Seco nd and Third Waves of Feminism During the 1960s and s, feminist activ ism resulted in changes in U.S. policy and social life that increased opportunities fo r women to engage in professions, work, and public domains previously limited to men. In addition, Womens Studies programs and departments were established in the earl y 1970s to recruit young women as feminist activists, therein changing the university lands cape forever (Boxer:1998). It is fitting that current academic discussions on second wave feminisms often focus on structural shifts in sociopolitical culture as a result of second wave activis m. Indeed, according to the canonized debate between second and third wa ves of the feminist movement, the second wave is often most credited w ith attempting structural change. The third wave of feminism, which begun in the early 1990s, is often critiqued as more concerned than the second wave with interlocking oppressi ons, anti-e ssentialist rhetoric and politics, and stemming from commitments to coalition politics (Reagon:1983; Findlen:1995; Walker :1995). As such, the third wave of feminism is often said to focus more so on discursive issues than structural ones. Third wave feminists


11 spend of their much time discussing definitio ns, identity politics, multiple oppressions, and so on. These discussions often include anal yses of power utiliz ing concepts gained from critical race, queer, and social and political theory. In the 1960s and s during the second wave of feminism, the formation of NOW, founding of Ms. Magazine, ratification of Title IX to the Civil Rights Act, and continued lobbying to pass an Equal Right s Amendment evidence a strong focus on institutional and legislative structures. During the 1990s th e third wave of feminism produced an increased amount of feminist jour nals and texts containi ng theories utilizing post-structuralist and Focauldian critiques of gender, race, and sexualities. The growth of feminist discourse and feminist academics point ed to what some considered a new type of feminism centered on personal and politic al epistemologies, analyses of gendered experiences, and theoretical concerns on soci al constructions of identity categories. Perhaps following the epistemological bases of each era, second wave feminism, seems in retrospect to focus on structural change whereas third waves focus on deconstruction seems to focus on discursive change. Though co rrect, the above analyses of the second and third waves of feminism are incomplete. Both waves of feminism have resulted in structural and discursive shif ts in policy and culture, and have been successful at implementing social change. The second wave of feminism did far more than implement structural change, just as the third wave has done far more than deconstruct notions of identity. Second wave consciousness-raising resulted in a new lexic on and discourse specific to the experiences of women of the s and s; it specifica lly gave rise to new conceptions of the meaning of woman and womens lived soci al reality (Sarachild ; Mackinnon). In the


12 1990s through present day, third wave feminists continue to effectively influence public policy on issues ranging from sexual and domes tic violence to reproduc tive rights and the environment. Third wave feminist moveme nts the Riot Grrrls, groups like Radical Cheerleaders, and magazine publications such as Bitch and Bust exemplify third wave feminism as engaged with far more than di scursive theory and id entity deconstruction analyses. Pitting the second and third waves agains t each other so-to-speak posits feminism as existing within a dualistic framework a nd inaccurately depicts them as unrelated entities. When connections between the waves are made, limited critiques are often given: the script goes that the third wave gr ew out of an overtly racist and middle-class second wave feminism, but the downfall of the third wave is its limited focus on beauty and pop culture and a lack of activism due to lazy young feminists. The creation of this dichotomy oversimplifies the work, histories, and successes of an array of feminist activism and inaccurately delimits the eras in which the evolution of feminist theory, discourse and activism have occurred. This picture paints feminism as fractured and interruptible, as if feminism as a social movement is easily stopped and made immobile. Here, we lose the perception of feminism as continuous and constant; we are left with no recall of feminist abeyance pe riods where feminism sustains itself between peaks in pop culture and major historical turning points (Taylor 1989 : 761). Without recognition of these periods in feminist history, we undermine the necessity of all components of feminism and the importance of the wave meta phor to accurately depi ct feminist social change: to be sustained, a wave needs a crest, trough, and the often intangible, indiscernible force driving the cycle.


13 Verta Taylor argues that abeyance organi zations contribute to social change by maintaining a commitment to collective challenges under ci rcumstances unfavorable to mass mobilization (765). If we consider the second wave to have ended close to the end of the 1970s or early s, and the third wave to have begun in the early 1990s, we are bound to a timeline ignoring feminist activism preceding the 1960s and during the 1980s. The first wave of feminism is thought to have ended with womens suffrage in 1920, though important feminist historical events took place between the years of 1920 and the early 1960s. For instance, Margaret Sanger de dicated her life to making birth control available to women between the years of 1921 and 1966; the National Womens Party first introduced the id ea of an Equal Rights Amendment in 1923. In spite of this, the second wave is far more credited than the above with demanding access to birth control and legal abortion; and though the Equal Right s Amendment has yet to pass, we rarely recognize its origins and the years in wh ich it gained streng th, popularity and mass support. In the 1980s, activism and literatur e by women of color demanded greater attention to issues of poverty, race, welfare, and divisions of labor. The introduction of Black Feminist Thought, concerns about white privilege, and growing concerns about capitalist imperialism laid the foundation for th e discursive focus of the third wave of feminism. In the late 1970s, the Combah ee River Collective (CRC) wrote A Black Feminist Statement, gaining major feminist attention in the early 1980s when it was published in This Bridge Called My Back (1981), an anthology highlighting the concerns of feminist women of color. The CRC, a nd feminist authors such as Audre Lorde, Beverly and Barbara Smith, and others began to demand feminist accountability on


14 considerations of interlocking oppressions a nd intersecting identities affected by race, class, gender and sexuality (Moraga: 1981; Hull, Scott, Smith: 1982; Smith: 1983; Lorde: 1984). In the 1980s, Angela Davis Women, Race and Class (1981) called attention to ignored experiences of women of color in the US, and publicly recognized the complex histories and positionality of women of color. Davis called attention to ignored histories of slave women; she pointed out racism of wh ite feminist suffragists ; and drew attention to distinct oppressions faced by women of color in the US in the areas of welfare, work, and economics. This reclaiming and documenti ng of histories of women of color was later designated a defining feature of Black Feminist Thought, a phrase coined by Patricia Hill Collins in 1990, forever changing the face of feminism. If Collins Black Feminist Thought was written before what we consider th e beginning of the third wave--as termed and claimed by Rebecca Walker in 1993--to which wave does Black Feminist Thought belong? Thorough considerations of feminist abeyance periods can allow us to accurately assess the full usefulness of th e wave metaphor; more importantly we can engage in more accurate analyses of contemporary fe minism and feminist activism. The Face of Contemporary Feminism: Wo men's Studies as Abeyance Structures The wave debate perpetuates an impression of feminist activism and mobilization taking place between apparent upsur ges as insignificant, precisely in that they are often ignored. Furt her complicating the wave de bate are new discussions on what wave we are currently in. Many contemporary feminists resi st the third wave label, and at the same time deny that a four th has yet to begin. If we cannot name or define our waves, how can we successfully use the metaphor to describe feminist


15 movements? How do we recognize feminist productivity? Without a massive public display of feminist upsurge, it appears we ar e hesitant to claim the activism many of us are engaged in as worthwhile and valuable. Many contemporary feminists hold that while they are active, they can always do mo re, and dont do enough. Perhaps they are correct--maybe they could do more. Yet if they did, contemporary feminism would still not match the visions of massive collective upsurges of rallying w itnessed in the second wave. It would remain dissimilar to the th ird waves escalations of 1990s feminist attention to pop culture, iden tity politics, consumerism, and environmentalism. To contemporary feminists, in comparison with the second and third waves of feminism, there is an appare nt lack of collective femini st visibility and direction. Contemporary feminists often view their m ovement as scattered and nameless; this contributes to current concerns on the future of feminism and the potential to create revolutionary social change. Paired with th e number of feminist scholars and lack of mainstream visibility, the contradictory a ppearance of feminists as existing within a hierarchal institution lends confusion on the usefulness of Womens Studies departments. Whatever wave we are in, it is obvious that the collective visibility during the second wave has left current feminism near ly undetectable to the masses; similarly, where we once debated the effectiveness of third wave activism, most third wave and contemporary feminists have demonstrated their work as worthwhile, even when it only (sarcasm intended) resulted in new theory and discourse. Today, contemporary feminists, some who consider themselves third wa ve, some who claim to have moved beyond, continue to study theory, engage in activism, work in non-profits and public policy sectors to affect social change. Still, the la ck of public visibility of feminisms today is


16 suspect to many who question whether feminist s are successfully advocating for gender, sexuality, racial, and class equality. Rather than naming what is lacking in contemporary feminism, I suggest feminist scholars would be better off considering what is taking place; to do so we can consider the feminist movement as occurring in abeyan ce, at least in the sense of lacking vast public recognition. Though contemporary femini sm may not be at what we consider a peak, feminism in abeyance allows us to i nvestigate contemporary fe minism for what it is--applicable to current culture and rele vant to contemporary gender oppressions and concerns for current students who I am optim istic will create future change. Feminism in abeyance should not give the false impressi on of feminist activism and theory as stagnant, but rather as providing the force for the next possible upsurge, though I would argue it erroneous to focus too much on fu ture upsurges over present moments. Rather than focus concerns of the potential future of a massive collective and public feminist upsurge, focusing on feminisms abeyance struct ures tells us to focus specifically on contemporary feminist activism, feminist theorizing, and organizing as important, valid and productive for the movement over time. Verta Taylors concept of abeyance orga nizations is helpful in illuminating the usefulness and appropriateness of womens st udies departments as productive feminist spaces. For Taylor, an abeyance organization is a place of exclusivity and commitment where feminists continue to critique and shape dominant political culture, resist oppression, and exist as voices of dissent to social and gender norms. Continuing traditions of radical activism, voicing opposition to social standards and recruiting likeminded allies, womens studies as an abeyan ce organization exists within an institution


17 useful to the production of fe minist discourse and creation of social change. This is extremely important in a climate where a pub lic or visible mass movement is either superfluous or difficult to establish. Upsurges of activism in the early 1900s to 1920 and later visibility in the 1960s and s were results of sustained a nd continuous feminist mobilization and abeyance organizations between 1920 and 1960. Feminist discourse, theory, and political reform did not stop betw een upsurges, nor are they insignificant to the activism that occurred duri ng the years in which they were more publicly visible. To discredit events taking place between the peaks in feminist waves not only contradicts the purpose of the wave metaphor, but discredits and falsely historici zes the feminists who worked diligently during those years. Understanding Womens Studies progr ams and departments as abeyance organizations responds to several important concerns about the status of Womens Studies and Gender Studies departments. First, we are reminded that feminism is alive and well; crediting Womens Studies as a feminist abeyance structure requires that we alter our conceptualization of feminist activism. In this context, the pervasiveness of Womens Studies precisely points out the ex istence and enormity of feminism, its continuation and fluidity, rather than its demise or stagnation; in Womens Studies departments, consciousness-raising continue s to be contemporary feminist praxis. Second, it allows us to investig ate the usefulness of such depa rtments when they are often criticized as exclusive, elitist and problemati cally institutionalized, or irrelevant beyond academia. Third, and perhaps most important, we are able to consider that the successes of feminism and feminist activism cannot always be defined in terms of how visible it is to mainstream culture. Feminist movements s hould not be measured by their successes as


18 relative to oppositional movements such as the radical right. Rather, it is important to recognize all forward motion of contemporary feminisms, not simply whether we are beating the competition in the public eye. Feminism is not solely a responsive movement; goals of unity and visions of mutuality (hooks: 2000), exist for groups of people culturally defined as inferior, therefore feminist achievements should be measured by such groups, not by the extent to which we gain public visibility and acceptance by the dominant and often oppressive mainstream culture. Womens Studies as an abeyance structure then, requires a r econceptualization of what counts as activism in implicating social change. It requires our acknowledgment of the production of discourse, mobilization of activists, and circulation of feminist analyses of sociopolitical culture. Femini st activism cannot always be defined in terms of how visible it is to mainstream culture, or we are bound to miss opportunities to create and participate in activist movements, as well as discredit activists constantly engaged in working for revolutionary social change. To require the worth of feminist activism as measurable through public recognition imp licates a need for approval from the patriarchal and normative structures we are trying to critique, shift and move beyond. Womens Studies as Feminist Abeyance: Setting the Terms for Activism As Kennedy and Beins state in Womens Studies for the Future we need to reconceptualize how we see or define activ ism in order to make it applicable to contemporary culture and feminism. If our only picture of activ ism includes posters, rallies and marches, we are leaving unapprec iated those who do daily activism, live as activists, work as activists, a nd make less public, but still vita l forms of change. Constant


19 discussions on the lack of feminist activism perpetuate s the idea that contemporary feminists are unimportant and ineffective. Th is point is especially poignant for womens studies undergraduate students, many of whom are just beginning to understand and articulate where and how to negotiate ch ange. Many of them are just beginning to discover the ways in which to live activist lifestyles, speak out on oppressive issues, and confront peers on sexist and racist speech and actions. A focus on the lack of activism is frustrating to students who are doing activ ism on and beyond college campuses. Many of them are conscious consumers, environmentalis ts, working to broade n their awareness of gender concerns, actively speaking out against racism, heterosexism, and the like. University Womens Studies department s on college campuses often serve as foundational space in which to practice and gain experience in organizing, promoting and involving oneself in various issues. Yet, rath er than the encouraging contemporary forms of activism, discourse on the lack of activ ism often implies that the exhaustion students feel as a result of living as feminist activists is under va lued and not worthwhile. In addition, for feminist scholars and those of us teaching Womens Studies, we may be forgetting just how important our jobs are--not just in pr omoting awarenesses, but in encouraging the upcoming generation to speak up, use their voices, and become active in feminist movements in a variety of ways. I propose that as scholars and instructors in women s studies we begin to call specific attention to the types of activism currently taking place. Though Womens Studies exists within a hierarchal and patria rchal institution, we must remember that the founders of Womens Studies saw an opportunity to create new activists, open new minds, and bring feminist awareness to a mass amount of people. Womens Studies has


20 had great success in doing this. Feminist scholars, activists, a nd professionals now abound on and beyond college campuses, in a variety of departments and influence tremendous amounts of students every year. This recognition should suggest we focus our lens more broadly on what we value as activism.


21 Chapter Two Methods and Methodology Mary Fonow and Judith Cook advocate that feminist research methodology include reflection on the study of actual techniques and practices used in the research process (1991:1). They s uggest that self-re flexivity, orientation towards action, consideration of affective content, and atten tion to everyday situations are identifiable components of feminist research methodology. The decision to conduct interviews with undergraduate Womens Studies majors and mi nors stems from consideration of these; upon investigation it appears that current re search on feminist academics and feminist activism rarely includes these voices. Th ese missing voices stand to inform current discussions on how Womens Studies affect s feminist activism beyond academics, as undergraduates remain our main bridge with the outside world. Undergraduates have prompted a number of questions on the usefulness of feminist theory as sparking feminist activism, and often challenge us to move beyond an academic and non-academic feminist split. Following Fonow and Cooks suggestion that feminist collaborative research leads to political action and social change, I contend that the interviews and subsequent discussion can expand our perceptions of femi nist activism and increase our valuing of academic feminism. I challenge the reader to reconsider the classroom as a space designated for--and successful in--creating social change. Though I am writing with regards for th e pervasiveness of Womens Studies departments, the following interviews are not a representative sample intended as


22 generalizable truths about Womens Studies. The discussions have implications beyond this campus, but I am in no way claming that these accounts are dir ectly applicable to non-USF Womens Studies departments. There is no intent to present this work as exhaustive or final. I do not claim that in terviewees are providing right answers to questions surrounding feminist activism, academ ic feminism, and the worth of Womens Studies as an undergraduate degree. But th ese undergraduate interviews do provide insights into discussions of curriculum, pedagogical strategies and the effectiveness of current practices in Women s Studies contexts beyond USF. I use them as a sounding board for a broader analysis and argument th at intends to connect theory and activism more visibly. As such, I interviewed nine undergradua te Womens Studies students, all of whom have taken three or more Womens Studi es classes, including seven of whom have completed more than two upper level courses w ith substantial amounts of feminist theory in the curriculum. Four of the students were Womens Studies majors; one of the students was an Interdisciplinary Soci al Science major with Wome ns Studies and Sociology as her concentration areas; four of the students were Womens Studies minors. Of the minors, one student was majoring in Histor y, another was a double major in Sociology and Psychology; one student is majoring in Intern ational Relations; the last is majoring in Creative Writing. All students are female and identify as women, and two identify as heterosexual. Not all racially identify as wh ite, though all of them may be perceived as white. All of the students were in their early to mid 20s, the youngest student being 19, the oldest 26. Of the interviewees, none have any previous degrees; all are still enrolled in school; five are completing their last se mester as an undergraduate. Three of the


23 interviewees attended previous institutions before coming to the University of South Florida. Interview contacts were established through Womens Studies professors and faculty, announcements about interviews were made to upper level classes and interested students were encouraged to contact me. In addition, I contacted students I knew to be Womens Studies majors and minors through teaching classes and my previous position as Womens Studies undergraduate advisor. I realize that these women cannot yet have full comprehens ion of how Womens Studies will impact their personal and prof essional lives beyond graduation; I am not implying that they can predict what will come of their lives after graduation. However, as college campuses are assumed to prepare stude nts with the tools and skills useful beyond the university, Womens Studies is no differe nt. Just as with a Business or Marketing degree, the question of what are you going to do when you graduate? is valid here; the assumption being that an undergraduate degr ee should help prepare one for endeavors after college. With that considered, we cannot kno w what undergraduate Womens Studies students are getting from thei r degree if we do not ask them. While they do not have concrete answers as to how well Womens Studi es is preparing them for a life they have not yet led, their perspectives are valuable, informative and useful to educators. The goal of conducting such interviews is to expand the analysis of how academic feminism impacts activism done outside of the university and to look at how the students perceive Womens Studies as preparing them to do activism. Specifically, I am interested in


24 how students see Womens Studies as preparing them for any future attempts to create social change and why they feel th is degree or minor is valuable. I first asked interviewees to describe how and why they are pursuing Womens Studies courses; I then asked them to respond to the lack of current fe minist visibility and perceptions of contemporary fe minists as unorganized, lazy, a nd/or not active. They were prompted to discuss their opinions on whet her they viewed academic feminism as inaccessible, elitist and ineffective beyond the un iversity. Interviewees were asked if they considered themselves activists, what types of activism they participated in, and what modes of activism they felt to be important and influential in creating social change. Lastly, I inquired about how th ey viewed Womens Studies as informing to their current personal, social and political lives, and what they envision themselves doing after graduation--including whether they feel it necessary or benefi cial to go on for graduate degrees. A goal of Womens Studies is to encourag e students to use th eir voices for selfempowerment, to assist their understanding of their experiences as valuable, and to speak-up in favor of social change and ju stice. To lead by example is one way of empowering students to do so; in this niche of research it is especially important to consider our students concerns or hesitati ons. The lack of unde rgraduate voices being published and included in current theory and texts often goes unquestioned and is regarded as usual practice. A feminist cr itique of this practice would hold that the privileging of one voice over another contra dicts the goals of feminism--to embrace and value all perspectives, even if they are still in the process of formation and experientially lacking. While I do not contend that underg raduate students understa nd the full scope of


25 Womens Studies pedagogy, curricula, and episte mologies given their lack of graduate and faculty level exposure, their perspectives are still important and informative. The presumption of Womens Studies as existing to foster to social change remains present, therefore Womens Studies educators should be held to some level of accountability in answering the concerns of students--especially if those concerns have to do with their desire and ability to actively create social change. If we encourage undergraduates to use their voices, but then ignore their words and concerns, we contradict and confuse the message that they are capable of devel oping sound personal awar enesses and creating social change. We cannot presume they will have all of the answers for us, yet it is important that we remember them in our conversations on the us efulness of Womens Studies and feminist academics. I nterview Findings Three main themes were revealed th rough discussions with Womens Studies undergraduate students. First, when asked a bout their decision to major or minor in Womens Studies, none of the interviewees in itially came to the University of South Florida with the intent to do so. Instead, each of the interviewees claimed to have found Womens Studies by accident, or just ha ppened to sign up for a Womens Studies course; some enrolled in a class based on the recommendation of a friend or advisor. Most did not know that Women s Studies existed before comi ng to college, but after their first class made the decision to pursue a dditional feminist education courses. Second, when interviewees were asked if they considered themselves feminist activists, all but one stated that while they engaged in some activist projects and events,


26 they could be doing much more. Only one in terviewee gave an affirmative yes to the question of whether she would de scribe herself as an activist. When prompted to define and explain what they perceived to be feminist activism, interviewees initially referred to marches, rallies, and public feminist uprisin gs, and stated that the current lack of that type of activism meant that they had to do activism in smaller ways, like the more day-to-day stuff. Initial associations of activism as something exemplified during the first and second waves of feminism, quickly turned into conversations on everyday activism as resulting from feminist awarenesse s, such as speaking-up in classes and peer groups, for example, when witnessing racist comments or sexist jokes. Many students also discussed participation in smaller activist events organized through the Feminist Student Alliance, a studentorganized feminist group offi cially recognized by student government and housed in Womens Studies, dedicated to promoting awareness on womens rights issues. At some point, every interviewee had participated in at least one event with the Feminist Student Alliance. Lastly, when asked how Womens Studies in formed their activism, most said that Womens Studies did an oka y job, but that there was room for improvement with regards to specifics. Some spoke of wanting more faculty involvement; others discussed the inaccessibility of feminist theory, stating that it was grea t, but its like, what am I supposed to do with that? Again preoccupied with the concept of activism as a massive collective of feminists, they appeared dissati sfied with the lack of direction in which Womens Studies aided them in choosing an issue around which to organize. Feminist theories based around interlocking oppression s and identity politics expanded their awarenesses, yet resulted in confusion as to how to approach doing activism due to the


27 wealth of concerns facing contemporary femi nists. The appearance of an infinite number issues affected by sexism prompted hesitation on their abilities to recognize where to start, and what the most important th ings were. How do you organize a mass movement, when there is so much to do, a nd so many people and issues to consider? While recognizing that Wome ns Studies provides a community in which to raise consciousness and build feminist awareness, in terviewees consistently noted a lack of instruction on how to focus, prioriti ze and organize for potential activism. In the section that follows I discuss th e three main themes that developed during the course of the interviews. The first, It changed my life, discu sses the ways in which Womens Studies classes and coursework imp acted students on a pers onal level resulting in a raised feminist consciousness which al tered their personal and career goals. The second, Im an activist, well, kind of..., poi nts to the ways in which Womens Studies students are often hesitant to describe themse lves as activists because they claim they do activism on smaller scale and are not partic ipating in visible or massive feminist events. The third theme, I want to do more I just dont know where to begin, addresses how students see Womens Studies as informi ng--or not--the activism they seek to do in and beyond the classroom. Theme #1: It changed my life. For many students, the first semester in a feminist class often piques their interest and encourages them to take more classes or even become a Womens Studies major or minor. The first semester may empower student s to speak up, incite them to find their voice, and compel them to re alize the value of their lives and autonomy. Interviewees


28 spoke of how Womens Studies changed my life forever, and that they took [their] first womens studies class and that was it. Donna 1 an International Relations major and Womens Studies minor said that for her, I fell into it [Women's Studies] by accident. I was looking for an exit requirement and Classics in Feminist Theory was one of the last classes available. And I was like, how hard can it be? [Laughs] And that's when I decided I loved it. It's helped me put a lot of names to the feelings I've had about activism and feminism and sexua lity and all that kind of stuff. While the data collected from intervie wees can only be at tributed to their experience in Womens Studies at USF, my assumption is that the accident of Womens Studies is common in other universities. Cassidy, a senior majoring in Womens Studies summates her decision as: it's just a haphazard degree. And by that I mean just the way you find it. Like, you never leave high school [and say], I'm going to USF for Women's Studies. You never hear that! I think a year and a half ago I was at my fourth college. I had one Wome n's Studies class and that was it. I was hooked. And I would never picture myself doing anything else." So what is it then that changes their lives? How can something so haphazard and accidental be so life altering? Lucy, a Creative Writing major and Womens Studies minor said, when I t ook Intro [to Womens Studies], I was aware that there was a lot going on in the world, but not of how it affected me. Learning about these issues in Womens Studies made me aware of how it affected me . Similarly, Julia said, I took my Intro class and I felt like, right at home. This was exactly it and I didnt want to do anything else. Julia declared her major in Womens Studies that year. Like Lucy, Julia, Donna and Cassidy, ma ny students commented on the appeal of a degree that related to their personal lives and provided a sense of community, or made 1 All names have been changed; pseudonyms have been used.


29 them feel, as Julia said, at home. Angie st ated getting a Womens Studies degree might not be anything thats considered, quote, f unctional, but I think if I didnt have it I would have gone crazy. it provides a good community. For Angie and others, Womens Studies is relevant to their lives in ways that other degree s are not and provides them with the community and home they realized they wanted. When I asked Michelle what the deciding factor was for her, she talked about a specific moment when she got it: "I actually kind of fell into it by acci dent. I was [also] taking Statistics, and read this one article called 'Ima gine a Country' and it was like, it kind of all hit me at once, how much th ings really did affect my life, and I never even realized it before. And ju st all at once I totally had this revelation about the way things actually were you're suddenly like, 'click'!" But the clicks dont always happen immediately the way they did for Lucy, Julia, and others. For Michelle, the cha llenge of opening herself up to feminist perspectives meant confronting a lifetime of personal beliefs: We read, the first [article] was Audre Lorde, Defining Difference. I sort of grew up in a city that is all wh ite people [and I] had never seen any diversity until I came to USF. And so, like, I was very uncomfortable with talking about it or even acknowledging it. I wasnt prejudiced, I was just uncomfortable discussing it. And so to think about that inherently, I had some sort of privilege when I didnt th ink that I did and that kind of thing was [hard]. I guess the topic that the class started off on, I wasnt too fond of. And I actually remember the moment [when I read Imagine a Country], that Womens Studies changed my life. I was just totally in denial about it for the first half of the class. Johanna entered her first Womens Studi es class much like Michelle, somewhat resistant to the material. A double major in Psychology and Sociology, Johanna is now minoring in Womens Studies, but had not inte nded to do so when she began her first Womens Studies class.


30 I took it as a last resort cla ss because it was open. I was very conservative, and I was like, I don't think what they' re saying is right and I was very into [normative] gender role s and such. I think I spent the first half of the semester coming in and just blasting the pr ofessor; in my journals Id be like, youre so wrong! I was very defiant. And I decided one day that I'd actually open the book and read it, and pretty much from there started to try to at least entert ain the ideas. Over the course of the semester, eventually I was like, I should go back and re-read everything I spent so much time hating. And I ended up really loving it. Before coming to college, Johannas goal was to become a sex therapist or sexologist, but since working on her Womens Studies minor has shifted the way in which she envisions conducting her work: I decided that I couldnt do it without fe minism. I started to think about how our society medicalizes it [sex therapy] and I dont want to be a part of that. Though I want a PhD in Psychology, I do consider it to be important that Im feminist first in my dealings with people. The ultimate goal has changed. I want to eventually start a womens clinic, and I can do th at without a PhD in Psychology, but no ones going to care unt il I have that. Rebecca: So youre aware of the privil ege and benefit of that degree, and it sounds like youre using it to get you to a place where you can use it to help others. You dont want to be a psychologist first, youre a feminist first. Is that it? Johanna: Right. Ill be like, Im a feminist doctor. Its not like, Im a doctor and a feminist. The overarchi ng theme of why I chose Womens Studies [was] because I wanted that to inform all of my other decisions rather than letting the decisions lead me to whatever in other departments. Molly is a History major minoring in Womens Studies; though her degree and goals differ from Johanna, she shares similar sentiments. Mollys interest is researching womens participation in radical social move ments. She has applied to start graduate school for Womens Studies in the fall stating I didnt want to do it in the History department because I didnt feel like the tools for analysis would be there. Rebecca: What tools? Wh at is the difference?


31 Molly: Theres a big difference. In History, we dont really talk about radical women at all. In fact, not at all because Ive never talked about that in a History class. So I was hesitant to do it in History because I didnt feel like it would be accepted or [that] th ere would be anyone to help me. Rebecca: So then, Womens Studies became your choice for graduate school because? Molly: I didnt stay in History becau se ideally Im more interested in more different divisions betw een women and different gender consciousness. So its in a historical context but its not just history. History is boring. Womens Studies is never boring. Lucy, a Womens Studies minor and Creative Writing major, has found that Womens studies is informative for investigat ing feminist authors, something she finds lacking in the Literatu re department, but is interested in pursuing. Specifically, Lucy is interested in finding out wha t are feminist critiques and [who are] feminist authors? When I asked how Womens Studies informs her work, she responded: As a creative writer, I now have a plethora of i ssues now to deal with that are affecting everyone. And now they a ffect me because as a writer I can write about them and listen to other people, and get stories from them. And also just in arguing with profes sors and defining what a feminist author is. So knowing the issues, hear ing more stories about them, [and] getting the background information. Rebecca: How does Creative Writing and Womens Studies further your plans for after graduation? Lucy: I want to go to grad school and possibly [on for] a PhD, depending on money and time and those other factor s that take a stand in the world I want to do Creative Writing and Womens Studies together and I want to be a feminist author. And critique the American canon of literature. Though none of the interviewees intended to pursue Womens Studies when they first came to USF, it is clear that feminist academics have provided them with a unique foundation on which to unders tand their lives and guide fu ture work. Womens Studies


32 serves a framework for which they have b ecome empowered to understand their place in the world and assess their research and caree r goals. In addition, many students appear thankful for the sense of community they ha ve found with Womens Studies students and faculty, and speak of finding something in Womens Studies that they do not get elsewhere. Though perhaps a haphazard or accidental degree, all of the students appear thankful for the existence and influe nce of the Womens Studies department at USF and the education they have received as a result of their coursework, professors, and engagement with feminist theory. Theme #2: Im an activist--well, kind of. All but one of the student s interviewed stated that they could be doing more activist work than they currently do; most referred to activism they engage in as existing on a small scale. When asked if she was an activist or how she defines activism, Molly stated: I think activism can range from small gestures to very large, collective gestures. But I dont really consider myself--I dont take part in large marches and stuff. Im a student and Im broke, and I cant afford to go to Washington on a whim for a weekend [because] I have to work and all this other stuff. But I would say activis m could be anything I guess telling someone about it, or shaving your head or things like that. Rebecca: So would you consider everyday activism to be activism? Molly: Activism with a lower-case a. Rebecca: And activism with a capita l A would be what? A visible collective movement? Molly: Well like, in the s there was everything. Itd be nice to have a big massive movement because were still not getting paid Its not public, or the same way as in [the] 0s. Its going on, its just not highly


33 visible. I think back then people really felt that those things that were needed to be done now. People were being drafted. We dont have the same sense of urgency. When I asked Angie if she considered he rself an activist, she responded with Id like to think so. I then prompted her to tell me what that meant to her: It depends on whether or not were ta lking about episodic or everyday activism. An everyday activist I tota lly am. Like everyday. [Like when] somebody says, thats gay meaning, thats stupid. Or something incredibly misogynistic. Rebecca: So you consider everyday activism and speaking out on those things you named as activism? Angie: Well, the episodic is kind of different. Ive part icipated in--there was that Voices for the Unborn counter protest that FSA did, and I was in that. And in high school I did the AIDS walk. I like being active, but I dont always have the opportunity. A nd doing the everyday stuff, which is constantly taking gender into acc ount--which is how I do it--and saying something about it instead of bei ng quiet, is something. The everyday activism doesnt even out the episodic act ivism, but its definitely always there. So its not really as active I think. Im in that mindset so often that its not as active. Its just how I live my life. Rebecca: So because its day-to-day and not as say, direct, its not as active? Can you give any other exam ples of everyday activism you do? Angie: Well, I work for [a cor porate department store] on commission. And basically they tell me to bully peopl e into stuff that they cant afford. And Im like, Im not going to do that. And that bugs me. The fact that I work off of commission or have th e potential to do so really hurts. Because I think about sweatshops and how the people who make those TVs probably dont have electricity, and on and on and on. Im just always thinking about it. When I asked Donna whether she consider ed herself an activist, she responded affirmatively. I asked her to define activism as well: I consider myself an activist. I think activism, personally, is something thats consistent that you never really take a br eak from. You continually participate in activities or functions li ke protests. You go out and create an uproar I guess. You just have to go make noise, be visible.


34 Rebecca: So as a feminist, you would say you are active? You said that you have to make noise, be visible. So how would you respond to people who say that contemporary femini sts are unorganized or lazy? Donna: Were not outside of Washington getting b eat up by the police and protesting; were not asking for suffrage and that kind of stuff. But were definitely not causing as many problems as we used to. And I think thats one reason. Its not like its not happening, its just not getting acknowledged. A member of FSA, Donna proceeded to discuss an example of the activism in which she has participated where she took a tr ip with seven other members of FSA at the end of 2006 to promote womens access to safe and legal abortion. The students (three of which were interviewed) drove to South Dakot a before the 2006 elections to canvass and rally support against a proposed state ban that would have outlawed abortions in the state. They stayed in South Dakota for three days, knocking on doors, standing on streets with posters and signs, and passing out literature to the community of Sioux Falls to encourage them to vote against the ban; the ban did not pass, and abortions remain legal in South Dakota. When I asked what prompted them to plan the event she stated, I think one of the things that triggered it was the electi ons that happened. We sa w people that possibly could get elected that would in fluence decisions that are going to be made not in our favor. Rebecca: What about everyday activism ? Do you do that? Is that different? Donna: I do speak up in certain situ ations. Especially with the whole thats gay and thats straight Im like excuse me! People and friends that dont identify with being homosexua l I call them out on things that are offensive. I speak up when people offend me. Some people dont care, some people ask why. Its a mixed reaction, but I appreciate when I can explain things to people. I think that counts as activism because it educates someone.


35 Rebecca: Can you give me any other examples of what you consider everyday activism? Donna: When someone decides to major or minor in Womens Studies, some see that as a form of activism. Numerous times I have wanted to just be a Womens Studies major. But if I minor in Womens Studies and major in International Relations, its a way for me to become a part of government or work on a global scale. Its a way of getting our thoughts and beliefs out there. [For example,] in (an International Relations) class, we had to present a 15-minute thing on a global issue. I heard about money and multinational corporations And I get up there and Im like gender based violence. And Im talking about all these women, human trafficking, child marriage, female genital mutilation and people were like, what!? Even in other classes, we had to pick a cancer to research. Im like cervical cancer! Rebecca: So you see that as activism? Donna: Yes. I think Womens Studies helps me choose presentations and stuff I do in classes. And even doi ng sexuality panels, presentations on gender-based violence, cervical cance r Its like my way of thinking when I do that is that I have 80 people in front of me that I can educate at one time. I asked Julia about whether sh e views herself as an activist: Because Im taking a class social ac tion class online; you realize, okay, that little thing I did real ly does matter. So I want to say yes [that I am an activist], but then someone might be like, no, youre not.I think of speaking up when someone says, you know, faggot or something sexist. And then also getting out in your community and you know, doing the [stuff] like FSA did. And even having resources for when you meet someone, like, oh, I know this place you can go and being ready for somebody. Julia, like many of the othe r interviewees br ought up doing the [stuff] like FSA did, and students in FSA have done a lot. At some point, every inte rviewee I spoke with had participated in at least one activity with FSA, most of them more than three or four events. FSA, an organization run by students w ith little to no faculty involvement, have, within the last year, gone to South Dakota to lobby against a proposed amendment to ban


36 abortion procedures in that state. Three interviewees, along with a number of other students organized a counter-pro test to an anti-choice Voi ces for the Unborn exhibit on campus where they handed out condoms and factual information about birth control, condoms, abortion and sexually transmitted in fections. One project involved a pubcrawl where they went to popular bars a nd clubs handing out thousands of condoms to promote safer-sex, of which four interviewees participated. FSA has promoted awareness on HIV/AIDS; last year they sent hundreds of letters to the FDA in support of making Emergency Contraception available over the co unter. Six of the nine interviewees participated in a 150 person walk-out at a speech by Ann Coulter (whose visit was sponsored by university funds), organized by FSA, resulting in lo cal media attention. Two of the interviewees were involved w ith the 2007 production of Eve Enslers The Vagina Monologues, in which they raised over $4,000 dollars to donate to two domestic violence organizations in Tamp a; two other interviewees were also involved in the 2006 production last February. They have appeared in the campus newspaper, The Oracle at least ten times in the past sc hool year and have been menti oned in local papers at least three to four times. They regularly appear on WMNF, a local radio station in Tampa, as guests to talk about various events and activities that they have organized and participated in. So students on our campus are active, a nd often, are quite visible within the community in the traditional sense of organized protests and public speaking. Perhaps they do not appear daily in massive groups but their messages, ideas and activism regularly gain attention in the local comm unity and on campus. The list above hardly begins to cover the types of personal awar enesses they engage with or the everyday


37 activism they maintain. From the perspective of an interviewer, it is difficult to imagine that they see themselves as inactive, or that they feel it neces sary to provide the disclaimer on the types of activism they do not do before discussing the types of activism that they actually do. Certainly not every event the st udents organize is picked up by mainstream media, nor does each activity draw participation from a massive group of students. But FSA continues to hold weekly meetings, plan events, socialize regularly; they have formed a solid community of activists and contribute to th e overall feeling of Womens Studies as community space. As an outsider to their group, and from the perspective of an instructor, it appears that students within USFs Womens Studies department have a solid, active, femi nist community, complete with regular consciousness-raising meetings, participation in structural and community activism, and as a result, constant activism of the self as they sustain momentum and inspiration in one another. Where one student is active, anothe r sees and adopts certain practices and so on. They call each other on oppressive language, di scuss personal issues, and are constantly developing a personal feminist politic th at informs their everyday life. As demonstrated above, everyday activism is very important to them. Every interviewee claimed to constant ly engage in day-to-day activism and activism of the self. On the question of everyday activism, Julia stated: Like you know, Ive got a button on my book-bag and stuff. But also I think you have to change--weve ta lked about how you change yourself and the way you live, and [then] thats going to affect everyone else and then it just kind of goes. Its like the big movement change. Its going to have to start on a smaller level. If Julia is correct--and I believe she is--tha t change has to begin with the self, then how is possible that what they are doing is not activist enough? What more can they


38 do? Perhaps part of what undergraduates need is a reminder that what they are doing does count. For Cassidy, she feels that: This generation is being labeled as lazy or apathetic; in the past, revolutions and changes in ideologi es all happened on college campuses, and were not creating that action--were not on the forefront of that. And I think that misrepresents us, but I al so think it separates us. And it feeds back into the apathy, like, well, were told were apathetic, so I guess well be apathetic. Cassidy appeared to be the one student ut terly confident abou t the usefulness of everyday activism. When I asked her if she considered herself an activist and how she perceived of activism, she stated: I definitely consider myself an activ ist. And I know that activism comes in daily forms, its basically cal ling someone one language thats inappropriate or oppressive. For myse lf, being an activ ist is involving myself to the point of exhaustion as much as I possibly can by pulling on the resources and trying to find avenues that allow me to participate in organizations that I personally fell ar e going to make a difference. And if those organizations are unavailable, to find ways for myself to participate outside of them. Rebecca: So do you think there is a sp ecific type of activism that is given more credibility? Cassidy: I think that comes with a ce rtain amount of visibility. Whats visible is given more reward... But I th ink anything that involves being in contact with other activis ts and networking with the largest group possible of people to work with. So when you re setting up a collective of people, that you know you are working for the same cause I feel is the most important type of activism out there. Rebecca: So are you saying that a visible collective movement is the ideal? Cassidy: Doing all this stuff is very exhausting. And if you only have three people at a meeting its frustra ting. But if you know that there are three people having a meeting here a nd here and here and all over the country, thats something we dont think about and dont take into account. And the daily-ness of those pr actices, and practic ing activism in your daily life; incorporating it into your being is just as important as a


39 protest you have on the side of th e street. I mean, you hold up a sign, people see it, and ten seconds later th ey might forget about it. [But] you have a conversation with someone and theyre probably like, thinking about it. Johanna illustrates this last point furt her, about the value of an interaction following an event she participated in: The only thing was the Ann Coulter protest--that reached a lot of people because of the media. [People] saw me in the paper and that opened up a can of worms with some of my fa mily. But then we got to have a conversation about it and I think thats where the real change can come in. But the everyday things that you do and what you believe it does affect people. when youre living it, youre affecting the people in your life like whole family structures can be changed just by having one person in the family be in Womens Studies. The Womens Studies students I intervie wed are engaged in activism on a number of levels. Though the above illust rates their reluctance to view all of their activist efforts as equally worthwhile, all of the interviewees have engaged in feminist activism and desire to take it further. Th e discussions above lead me to believe that USF Womens Studies students are far more involved than they may perceive themselves to be, yet at the same time, concerns about how to further thei r activism is consistently present. They all expressed unease about how Womens Studies cu rricula informs the activism they seek with regards to organizing, focus, and choosi ng issues. I discuss this more in the next section. Theme #3: I want to do more, just dont know where to begin. The interviews make clear that Wome ns Studies students would benefit from clearer discussions on activist tactics and organizing stra tegies. The how-tos of feminist activism matter; many students who j ust dont really know what to do are far


40 from lazy or uninterested, but quite simply often do not know where to begin. In any given Womens Studies classroom we constantly attempt to raise awareness on racism, sexism, sexuality, globalism, transnationalism, economics, and classism--the list goes on. In addition we prompt awareness on thes e issues and countless others, constantly demonstrating issues as inte rlocking and infinitely connect ed. In a discipline where we urge students to recognize oppression in an ar ray of forms, it should be no surprise that some students are left feeling powerless or helpless to working against political inequalities and social injustices. Johanna, stated that while she attempts to be more active, she finds it difficult to choose an issue when there are so many: The problem is likewould I be mo re effective choosing just one and sticking with it or spreading out half -assed attempts to help with a bunch of things? I guess you have to trust that someone else will choose what you couldnt, you know? Though Cassidy describes herself as pe rsonally and politically aware, the difficulty of choosing an issue is present for her as well: I dont want to not address everyo nes issues. In the past, when collective movements have been presse d for it, its with the understanding that someones issues will have to take a backdrop until whatever has been achieved Lucy shares the above concerns, yet expresses the importance of individual decision making: Sometimes I feel overwhelmed like Im not doing enough, and I wonder what else I can be doing if possible. But I want to say that I dont want to consider that a fault of a Womens Studies department, because they do-were offered opportunities in class th at affect change. And I think its now up to the point of the individual to not be overwhelmed and sit there and say, I cant fix everything but what can I help to do? I have these opportunities, so now I can make a choice.


41 Rebecca: How would you answer the notion of young feminists as lazy or unorganized? Lucy: I can see that We, as third wave women can definitely do a lot more. And maybe not just stick to one thing but say, hey, Im going to fight this ageism thing and Im also going to fight this whole thing about religion and what not. Im going to fight several different things . So part of their difficulty is where to begin, and their concerns are warranted. As many of them are new to feminism and Womens Studies, it is understandable that many of them are easily overwhelmed by the myri ad of issues facing them on the road to gender, sexual, racial and economic equa lity. Though they speak of often having difficulties in choosing which issue to focus on, many of them are attracted to becoming part of a mass visible movement. Wh en asked, every student replied that they would love to see the formation of a visibl e collective similar to what they view as second wave activism, yet none can imagine what theyd organize around. In response to whether she would like to see a massive collective movement begin again, Donna, states: it has been done and it can be done again.... But I think now we realize how separated we are. And there ar e so many different types of women, its everywhere. But coming together again, I dont know what issue or how its going to get triggered, but its going to happen. Julia is also unsure of what a massive movement would look like: I think its possible, but who knows. I think before it was like, you know, [the] suffrage movement [and] they got the vote. Then another big thing was sexual harassment and getting girl s in sports. And now its like we have these laws and now, [sexism] is more covert; you cant really see it. Its not visible. The implication in the above statement is clear: if sexism is not clearly visible, how is it possible to coll ectively respond to it?


42 Rebecca: So then how does feminist theory inform your activism? What do you see as challenging for Womens Studies students? Julia: I feel like--I think Womens Studies should be really embracing in getting undergraduates toge ther. And having a seminar or lecture about what other women have done. Maybe not step-by-step, bu t I feel like Im kind of drowning, like its really hard to grasp anything. It seems like it should be a little more of an easy comm unity to come into, like they could have, at the beginning of the semester [ways] to come together and meet the teachers? And after you could mingle and interact. [Womens Studies] is smaller so we could get together and talk and exchange information, get to know other students, let th em know about FSA and stuff. Molly, concurs with some of the above sentiments: In the 60s there was everything. Itd be nice to have a big massive movement because were still not getting paid the same. But how would it happen? Because we already know the problems but its not public or the same way it was in the s. Y oure given the tools [in Womens Studies] to assess the situation and look at things differently, but as far as organizing, I dont know that were given that. Maybe it does for a college campus. But college campuses arent the majority. Rebecca: So feminist theory, in some ways gives you the tools to assess various situations, but I think a common perception is that Womens Studies should promote activism and so cial change. Do you find that to be your experience? Molly: Kind of. This is going to be blasphemous! Some of the theories we read, I feel, dont really have an affect outside of academia. So while I think it lays a groundwork, I dont think that those theories are getting out to the majority of people that are be ing active, and I think some is very abstract. So its hard. For example, I think its Wittig? She says, these lesbians are not women, this is redefining woman. Its like, okay, what do we do with that now? I mean, dominant culture is still doing to perceive a lesbian to be a woman, so its not goi ng to matter that lesbians are not women. Molly continues to discuss the difficulty of organizing and choosing a focus: Molly: It seems like weve started to address that differences dont mean we need to separate, that we shoul d all be valued. But theres not--in Womens Studies, history is left out. We dont really learn in Womens Studies classes about the actions. I dont think we re ally learn about tactics. Maybe if we focused more on how people had done it before, we


43 can get an idea of how to incorporate those skills Organizing skills that became the womens movement... Rebecca: Like a feminist tactics class? Molly: Yeah, maybe. Im taking a Hist ory of Feminism course, but we havent really covered that. And now were talking about the s and s, and how much can you talk about? Prior to this we covered womens history--but theres a difference in womens history and feminist history. Weve covered more womens histor y; we dont really discuss the feminist stuff, [such as] this is what they did, thes e were all the different groups, these were their strategies. I think if we were to do that it would give people more ideas of how to go about doing it and help people get more creative. Molly raises important questions about how feminism has been taught to her. While feminist theory and history provides an understanding of the movement, builds awareness on difference, oppressions, and successfully presents a vision of equality for the future, certain elements are lacking. She knows that feminists organized historically, but is rarely taught how they did it. She knows that they rallied, but not how the rallies were actually created. The awareness and vision is there, but in the midst of so many issues and theories, the specifics on deve loping ones personal method of activism is blurred, and not directly di scussed in the classroom. I asked Angie about her perception on how Womens Studies aids feminist activism, to which she said, It prepares the mindset to want to do social change and definitely creates an environment where its accessible to do that and talk about it. What follows with Angie builds upon my above conversation with Molly: Rebecca: So you view Womens Studies as inspiring activism among students? Angie: Sure. Because after a wh ile, for somebody that isnt in the community all the time could get fade d out and worn out. Burnt out on it maybe.


44 Rebecca: So then does feminist theory encourage activism? Angie: The theory and the study and everything helps explain a lot of it. Im not entirely sure its necessary in order to do something active. I like to think that anyone could be active. Rebecca: You mean because of the inaccessibility of some feminist theory? Youre saying you dont need it [theory] to do activism? Angie: There is the educ ational privilege that pe ople--its an academic thing. That creates a hierarchy that does nt have to be there. Its not a bad thing, its just a problem that makes sense. Its a big contradiction that Womens Studies exists inside an institution, but I also think, where else does it have a place? Which may sound incredibly open ended because I was just saying you dont need it [theory] to be active. But where else are people going to have the tools and ti me to sit down and study so much? Theres a lot of stuff to read, and whos going to do have the patience if theyre not here? At the same time, Angie commented on her desire to see more faculty involvement: ...instead of just passing around flye rs or something, actually showing up [to events] might be motivation. Its always like the newest undergrads doing it, and the grad students and prof essors arent there. So then, where does it [activism] go after [undergrads leave] Do teachers still want to do it? Do they still care? Cassidy remarked on the connections between feminist theory and action when I asked her whether she saw Womens Studies as guiding the activism she sought to do: Womens Studies facilitates a lot of it. But do I feel that Womens Studies facilitates an activist side to it? I think it gi ves a foundation, but I dont know that its overtly encouraged. Rebecca: What do you think could shift that? Cassidy: More faculty involvement, mo re from the department itself. And we get flyers in class, like the other day a teacher talked about Take Back the Night. But its really up to the student organizations to be like, were having an FSA meeting. Teachers could promote our organization in classes where there weren t [FSA] members, that would be really nice.


45 Many students brought up the desire to have more faculty and teacher involvement. Perhaps the reason students ignore what faculty may be doing off campus is because it is not visible to them. Missing in our discussions of tactics is also our own participation in feminist events and activiti es in and beyond the university. If this was addressed more clearly in classes it might hi nder student visions of faculty and graduate students as not caring anymore or uninvol ved, while simultaneously providing them with examples of activism with wh ich many of us engage in daily. It is clear that Womens Studies does inform activism students are seeking to do, yet they have mentioned a number of areas th ey see as potentially improved; I suggest that our perceptions of what counts as activism greatly contri butes to skewed perceptions of Womens Studies as uninforming feminist activism. Though interviewees consistently stated that one of their main concerns in cl aiming to be activists wa s that they dont do enough and could do a lot more, they all seem to be incredibly active. I cannot help but wonder if this supposition has to do with an actual lack of activism on their parts, or if the lack of a visible collective movement prompts them to consider their activism as inconsequential. I suggest that increased recognition of the activ ism they currently engage in would greatly enhance their concep tions of what counts as activism. At the same time, desires to be more active shoul d not be dismissed as solely misconstrued perceptions of activism, and should be taken seriously. In many ways, their point is quite simple: they all want to do more activism but are not sure of how to do it. If they are seeking to do more, I suggest that as educators we need to utilize the classroom to more directly discuss activist tactics and strategies potentially useful for social change. In


46 addition, a majority of interv iewees stated that more te acher and faculty involvement could help them to create ideas and avenues for activism. As instructors, teachers, teaching assistan ts, etc., we are too often exhausted from our own work to engage in yet more Women's Studies events and student interactions. Our students and classes are often emotionally and mentally exhaus ting and paired with frequent concerns about fundi ng for research and other proj ects, are often overwhelming. Paperwork, grading, curricula a nd lesson plan development, our own social and political concerns, personal lives and energies spent on papers, research and articles often leaves us with little energy or patience left to furthe r engage with students. As instructors we are also aware of our influence on studentsev ery semester we see minds open and lives change; we are already aware of the activis m with which we engage in the classroom. Running out of patience for what we may see as our students asking us to hold their hands through the steps and processes of ac tivism appears draining, time consuming, and unnecessary. Yet as those of us who have often facilitated major life changes in our students, it is important to remember our influence on them; while they are often becoming empowered and more self-confiden t in the context of Womens Studies classes, they often continue to seek our a pproval and turn to us for guidance. I propose that many of the above concerns could be alle viated--or at least less ened--if we were to pay greater attention to how we teach our courses. Greater attention to activism in the classroom would allow us to avoid extr a work we may not have time for, while satisfying some of the fears and concerns of undergraduate students. To do so, we must first embark on a reevaluation of activism, our approaches to discus sions on activism, and what counts.


47 Chapter Three New Directions Contemporary feminist activism does not look like the Womens Liberation Movement of the 60s and 70s, nor should it. Mo st of us realize this point; therefore we must answer the question: what does feminist activism look like today? To answer this, I have defined a matrix of activism, which I will describe shortly to paint a clearer pi cture of how contemporary feminist activism is being done. My hope is that this will prompt more specific explanations for students on how they can engage in activism, and that it will remind us to tell them that everyday actions, personal awarenesses, and discourse matter. Naming and addressing the importance of everyday activism, calling attention to current and historical activist tactics, and greater specifics on the ways in which certain types of activism can influence social change will lead to an increase in the value we place on a variety of different types of activism. If, as instructors, we discuss activism more specifi cally in the classroom, perhaps students will begin to think more often a bout the type(s) of activism they do and how it is useful, rather than spending the majority of time figur ing out what type of feminist they are. The matrix I propose is hardly exhaustive of the various forms of feminist activism, however based on discussions with Womens Studies student s, it is clear that they would benefit from clea rer discussions on activist tact ics and methods of organizing.


48 Defining the Matrix: Four Pillars of Activism As previously stated, I suggest that rather than naming what is lacking in contemporary feminism, feminist scholars co uld be more productive by considering what types of activism are currently taking place. If we consider Women's Studies as a feminist abeyance movement we are able to move past the conundrum of whet her it is useful as existing within an institution. As academic femi nists we are currently engaged in utilizing the tools around us to create changeand we are doing it successfully. Each student interviewed was unaware of Women's Studies before they came to the university; currently each of my narrators considers themselv es as some type of activist, even if they don't see their activism as be ing "big" enough, or as "activism with a capital-A." Whatever type of activism they are engaged in it is a direct result of their involvement with Womens Studies. As components of the matrix of activis m, I outline four pillars of activism in which contemporary academic feminists engage most effectivel y and regularly: structural activism, discursive activism, community activism, and activism of the self. Structural activism implies work done to create shifts in public policy, legislation, discrimination laws, etc. Discursive activism refers to contemporary consciousness-raising, engagement and creation of feminist theory, critical race theory and queer theory ; discursive activism also often includes everyday activism, though this is a component of activism of the self. Community activism loosely refers to campus activist activiti es and engagement with the local, county or city in which the ac tivists reside. Activism of the self includes transformations in consciousness, everyday activism, and a personal commitment to recognizing feminist concerns and inte rlocking gender oppressions everyday.


49 I refer to the matrix of activism as compri sed of pillars to emphasize the need to avoid conceptions of activism as existing on different levels, which tends to imply a valuing of one level over another. Conceiving of different types of activism as existing in pillars shows them side by side, equally impor tant, and equally capable of informing one another; here, there are no steps one must take in order to move from one form of activism to the next. We must begin to move beyond the privileging of certain types of activism over others, i.e.: structural activism as preferred to everyda y, etc. I do not claim these pillars of activism as distinct or abso lute, they are not inherently separate nor should they be viewed as such. Most likely methods of activism and various tactics will overlap; though the pillars are each distinct, their relationship to one another will be noticeably apparent. The four types of ac tivism I discuss should be regarded as interactive and as having the ability to br ing about opportunities for further activism. For example, while it is often presumed the disc ursive activism and cons ciousness-raising has the potential to lead to structural change, it is important to remember that a structural shift in a social and political climate has the ab ility to shape discourse and language and contribute to discursive activ ism. Whereas engagement in community activism can result in a person adjusting everyday routines and pe rsonal activism, activism of the self can also take place before one begins to part icipate in community activism. The matrix I propose suggests that these pilla rs be easily interchangeable. Wh at I am suggesting is that each of these areas have the potential to inform and contribute to each other under the umbrella of feminism as a movement influencing social change. The matrix highlights the ways in which people engage in more than one type of activism at a time; if we are involved in community activism, we often f eel engaged in discursive and structural


50 activism. An overall awareness of these vari ous types may influence the ways in which we value and do activism, and has the poten tial to encourage more to be done, as we become aware that various actions have the po tential to affect various modes of social change. I use the pillar metaphor much like the wave metaphor of feminism--to describe and highlight distinctions in the variety of approaches to feminist activism. I am naming them as distinct in order to encourage a r econceptualization of how we view and name activism and to call attention to the myriad of ways in which feminist activism is conducted. With this matrix, I am attempting to begin a new conversation about the ways in which feminist activism is taking place; I see no better place to be gin than in utilizing my own location within the femini st location of Womens Studies. Structural Activism: Rallies and Marches and Protests, Oh My! My interviews led me to believe that the massive feminist uprisings witnessed during first and second waves of feminism re main the first association many have when they think of activism. By structural activ ism, I refer to those methods of activism that publicly demonstrate in support of, or in opposition to, public policy, legislation, and overarching ideologies that have the potential to affect the overall structure US politics. For example, GLBTQ activists are presentl y running campaigns and gathering support for the rights of same-sex couples to marry and receive legal benefits, gain acceptance to establish families, adopt children and so fo rth. If successful, these activists would alter the structural landscape of a culture that implies homosexuality as unnatural and immoral. Activism that attempts to create an overall structural shift in society would


51 fall under this category. Due to the enormity of work and efforts it takes to create structural shifts, as well as the numbers of activists often needed to make patriarchal forces take notice, structural activism, could be understood as activism that publicly rallies mass amounts of people with the intent of altering the way in which our society is organized. This could be demonstrating for or against wars, campaigning for political candidates, or attempting to es tablish new laws granting rights to certain groups of people often deemed second-class citiz ens. This type of activism could also include lobbying, or participation in legal, legisl ative and electora l processes. During the 1960s and s, second wave fe minists gathered in massive groups to demand equal pay for equal work and publicly rallied in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment. Though neither were actually ach ieved--the ERA has yet to pass, and the Equal Pay Act did not rectify the wage gap--feminist rallying required a shift in the way women were viewed in the US. Gender differe ntiation and ideal gende r roles did not end in the 1970s, though a public r eevaluation of womens capabili ties and potential resulted. Subsequent to public feminist activism in the 1960s and s, women gained access to professions, work, sports and more, ultimately changing the structural organization of US politics and womens place in the political landscape. Community Activism: Grassroots and Local Organizing In 2004, the Womens Studies department at USF established a Womens Studies Advisory Board, made up of various commun ity members, such as feminist doctors, counselors, former Womens Studies faculty and executive women who were interested in strengthening the goals of Womens Studies and the visibility of the department in


52 Tampa and surrounding communities. The Advisory Board currently engages in projects like raising funds to offer scholarships to Womens Studies majors and minors and has created an endowment fund. They bring in guest speakers from the community at monthly meetings to further ties between community members, campus faculty, students, and staff. The creation of the Womens Studies Advisory Board is an example of community activism. Community activism includ es activities organized to increase local or regional involvement with feminist projects; activism aimed at networking and building allies; as well as awareness-raisi ng campaigns aimed at neighborhoods, specific constituencies and local businesses, city and county boards, and non-profit groups. The most extensive example given throughout this paper is the activism in which the Feminist Student Alliance has been i nvolved. The students in the alliance have worked to raised awareness on campus and in the Tampa Bay area on a number of issues like safer-sex, domestic violence, and sexual assault. In addition, they have created a community for themselves in which they have established friendships, allies, connections with other student groups and so forth. Community activism is perhaps one of the most common forms of contemporary feminism outside of discursi ve activism. Though they do not always result in media or public attention, community events are a large component of the maintenance of social movements over time. They provide spaces fo r interactional encounters that have the potential to create change and shift thoughts. In Johannas interview, she spoke about experience with FSA during the Ann Coulter walk-out, which gained attention from a local newspaper. We can consider the walk-out a form of community activism as well as


53 the discussions she later had with family memb ers. Johanna said that it was not the walkout so much that probably made people think or change thei r minds, but that then we got to have a conversation about it, and I think thats where the real change can come in. But the everyday things that you do and what you believe it does affect people. Community activism is valuable becaus e it points to something often overlooked in discussions about feminist activism: the importance of interactions and conversing with community members, family, friends, and peers. As Womens Studies students are learning about issues ranging from globa lism to politics of motherhood to gender performativity, they often forget the simple wa ys in which conversations and interactions have the potential to shift peoples perceptions and alter their ideas of what is or is not just or right. Womens Studies students lost in the enormity of issues facing feminists must be reminded of the ways in which intera ctions and conversations have the power to inform various views and ideas. Community activism and such conversations encourage students and activists to choose an issue, something interviewees discussed confusion with. Community activism prompts intimate c onnections and conversations that often have the greatest potential to change peoples minds, increase acceptance and tolerance of difference. Community activism can also take the form of coaliti on politics, bringing together members of the community around cert ain issues that otherwise would not have the chance to meet and organize together. Activism of the Self: Person al Awareness and Empowerment When, in Defining Difference, Audre Lorde (1984) prompted her readers to recognize the oppressor within, she was not doing it to escape te lling us how to do


54 real activism. She was doing it because sh e recognized the power of changing our minds and perceptions of the world. For social change to genuinely extend beyond ourselves, it must first ta ke place within ourselves. When students come into a Womens St udies classroom, they are often changed forever. New awarenesses on how gender, race, sexuality, and class affect their lives, everyday experiences, and percep tions of others often sends students through an initial whirlwind of emotion and confusion. Students are introduced to concepts and theories that alter their lives --as I heard a colleague once say, once the blinde rs are taken off, you just cant put them back on. Personal awarenesses, self-empowerment and recognizing the potential of ones voice can be a major activist event. To assu me ones own power a nd potential--and name those things as power and potential can fore ver alter ones existe nce and perception of their existence and purpose in the world. A yoga instructor once told me that our minds are like the muscles and bones in our bodies, that in order to take care of our minds, we have to work them out, just like we would attempt take care of our bodies. In order to shift racist, sexist, and other oppressive thoughts into reflect ions on embracing difference a nd diversity, we have to train ourselves to think acco rdingly and acknowledge that cer tain thoughts we previously held were racist, sexist or oppressive. To move beyond stereo typing, and in order to shift our thinking towards positive and non-oppressive beliefs, we have to work at it. We have to constantly be aware and make choices everyday that affect and c ontribute to overall social change; we have to believe that what we are doing is worthwhile in order for it to be so. We have to call out friends and fam ily on oppressive language and sexist jokes.


55 We have to know that being conscious consumers who pay attention to sweatshops and corporate greed matters--even if the shir t were contemplating buying costs only $3. We have to know that recycling that one small bottle of water is still recycling. If we did nothing--nothing would ever happen. Small or large, all of our acts, thoughts, and processes matter. In The Gender Knot: Unraveling our Patriarchal Legacy (2005) Allan Johnson suggests that we have to at once view ourselves as signifi cant and insignif icant: in the large scheme of things, we are at once nothi ng and everything. Certainly our existence in the context of the entire worl d means very little--yet at th e same time, our existence to our parents, friends, children, st udents--can be everything; so are our politics and actions. Using Ghandis metaphor of a tree, Johnson says that if we view ourselves as a single leaf, we appear insignificant to the tree. If one leaf falls, the tree will continue to grow and is not affected by the leaf--over the cour se of a trees life, it will lose and grow thousands or millions of leaves. Yet at the same time, the leav es sustain the life of a tree. Combined, if all of the leaves fell off, th e tree would die. The leaves bring oxygen and sustenance to the tree. His metaphor is clear : we are always significant and insignificant. And if that is true, we must remember to live our lives as if our thoughts and actions are significant. Even when they appear to not be significant, they are. To assume that we are powerless or insi gnificant negates us of our responsibility in contributing to social change. To assume powerlessness of the self plays into the hands of oppressive forces and those who have in terests in maintaining our submission and passivity. Acknowledging the healing power and potential of ones voice cannot be destroyed by dominant cultural forces unless we believe that individuals do not matter or


56 cannot speak loudly enough. Our belief in ourse lves, and the change we seek to make must begin in ourselves if genuine change is to come of it. Personal awareness, selfempowerment and everyday activism matters. Discursive Activism: Consciousness-rais ing as Contemporary Feminist Praxis In the mid 1960s Kathie Sarachild and others attempted to form a womens liberation group as a way of staring a m ass movement of women to put an end tosegregation and discrimination based on sex. To do so required studying the components of womens oppression before taki ng action; as stated by Ann Forer, they had to begin by raising consciousness. (1968) Consciousness-ra ising, (CR) as described by Jo Freeman (1979) is where women gathered in rap groups to discuss personal problems, personal experiences, person al feelings and personal concerns. This gathering led to a social and political colle ctive consciousness. From this public sharing of experience comes the realization that wh at was thought to be i ndividual is in fact common; that what was considered a persona l problem has a social cause and probably a political solution. Women see how social st ructures and attitudes have limited their opportunities and molded them (561-2). CR was radical in that it called for an anal ysis of womens lives that would lead to womens liberation from male supremacy. CR groups necessitated that women set and define the terms around which they w ould be discussed and understood; in these women-only spaces, women began to name and de fine their lives as differently situated than dominant culture had held. Located within the framework of a patriarchal culture, the formation and growth of CR groups was in many ways, more radical than the


57 activism that would later stem from th em. When the powerful normally determine what is said and sayable, womens contro lling of space, creation of definitions and therefore assumption of power was a radical slap in the face to male supremacy (Frye 105: 1983). As women began to articulate the inarti culate, a new reference point for truth and reality developed; Catherine Mackinnon states that within consciousness raising groups detailed and critically reconstructed compos ite images of women are created, and that a shift in the way of knowing a social realit y of being a woman developed. A discursive shift was taking place giving rise to the activism that would eventually lead to a structural shift in political and public life. However, th e act of consciousness-ra ising, as Sarachild argues remains one of the most radica l acts feminists can partake in: The resistance to CR groups named them as petty or not political Everybody from Re publicans to Communists said that they agreed equal work was a valid issue But when women wanted to try to figure why [women] werent getting equal pay for equal work anywhere, and [they] wanted to take a look in these areas, they what [they] werent doing was politics, economics or event study at all, but therapy, something that women had to work out for themselves individually. (Sarachild, emphasis in original). Sarachilds point here cannot be overemphasized. Though feminists had participated in public activism, the biggest threat to male dominance was seen the response to the discussion of male chauvi nism. When examples of discrimination against women, or exploitation of women were brought up, feminists were accused of being man-haters and women who complain ed all the time; CR groups were called


58 hen parties and bitch sessions. Effo rts to invalidate CR group discussions named their ideas and issues psy chological delusions and subjects unworthy of study. Consciousness-raising then, is neither an end in itself nor a stage, a means to a different end, but a sign ificant part of a very inclusive commitment to winning and guaranteei ng radical changes for women in society. The view of consciousness-r aising as an end in itself--which happens when consciousness-raising is made into a methodology, a psychology--is as severe and destructiv e a distortion of the original idea and power of the weapon as is seeing consciousness-raising as a stage. The above analysis of consciousness-rai sing suggests great similarity between it and Womens Studies. bell hooks has stated th at a problem with the development of Womens Studies departments wa s that it replaced consciousness-raising as the primary site for feminist thinking and strategizing fo r social change. In doing so, she claims that feminists have lost their mass based potential. I have to disagree with hooks assumption. In a society where the media and mainstream public is hostile to fe minism, I see Womens Studies as the closest thing we have to a mass-based movement, and that th e revolutionary potential of feminism has remains precisely because of the existence of Womens Studies departments. hooks may assume none but liberal reform as taking plac e in the classroom, but feminist theories, critical race theories, and queer theories continually require us to redefine and reevaluate our lived realities. Though at times inacces sible to non-academic feminists, Womens Studies scholars are hardly engaged in using the masters discourse, even if the space in which we engage is located within a hier archal institution. For even though in seeking revolutionary change, most feminists will suppor t various laws and legislation in support of gender and racial equality--that too is liberal reform.


59 In my classes, I utilize one to two class periods to discuss CR and the ways in which second wave feminist used it for persona l growth (activism of the self) and as an organizing strategy towards community and stru ctural change. During our conversations I always ask the students, what is consciousne ss-raising? To this question they always respond, were kind of doing it now, in cla ss. I agree with this assessment. Though contemporary CR is not identical to the CR of the second wave, Womens Studies classrooms exist as settings to build feminist awareness, critique pa triarchal culture and combine feminist theory with our lives, experiences and futures. As Freedman states of CR, the same description could apply to c ontemporary Womens Studies classrooms. She says that a CR group functions as a m echanism for social change in and of themselves. They are structures created sp ecifically for the purpose of altering the participants perceptions and c onceptions of themselves and of society at la rge (561). In Womens Studies, we are continuing, as CR groups did in thes and s, to expand womens ways of knowing. The ex istence of Womens Studies programs are contributing a paradigm shift within the uni versity system and beyond. Universities exist to prepare students for careers and lives beyond academics--Womens Studies is no different. Womens Studies actively informs students lives outside of the academy. When we view Womens Studies this way--CR as contemporary feminist praxis--there is no split between feminist theory and the everyday theorizing of our lives. They are connected; feminist theory becomes relevant to students in and beyond the university. hooks has also periodically discussed the need to include men in feminism; she frequently discusses the problematic perception of feminism as anti-male rather than antisexist. Whereas hooks encourages the return to CR groups modeled after those of the


60 s and s, I remind her that those we re distinctly women-only spaces. Womens Studies classrooms expose males and sexist fe males to feminist theories and modes of thought, oftentimes when they would have otherw ise not participated in such discussions. Womens Studies in academics not only requires students to co me to class, but requires active engagement with feminist teachers, auth ors and texts if they are to receive passing grades. In Womens Studies, CR is expanded to include me n while still privileging womens experience and feminist theory as the basis for discussion. The CR group dynamic changes, but the goal and potential of a Womens Studies classroom continues to work toward the same priorities of CR groups of the 1960s and 70s. Womens Studies demonstrates the conti nued development of discursive activism; consciousness-raising techniques are employed in feminists classrooms requiring students and teachers to engage in critical analyses of their social and political lives. Such engagement requires a continuous defining and re defining of social a nd personal realities. In addition, the existence and resistance of Womens Studies programs on college campuses exemplifies the need for them to be there. For as Sarachild said, it is often not the public activism and lobbying for legislat ion taken as directly threatening to patriarchy, but the knowledge that feminists ar e gathering regularly, talking, and defining their own lives in their own terms. As stated before, my claim is that Wo men's Studies as an abeyance organization responds to concerns about the instituti onalization of Women s Studies and Gender Studies departments. First, it requires us to stop measuring the quality of feminist activism only via feminisms visibility to th e mainstream public. Second, we are able to remind ourselves of the role of Women's Studies departments in creating activists,


61 broadening awareness and as creating cha nge in and beyond academics. Third, rather than posit feminism as at a standstill, we can recognize feminist ac tivism as still taking place as we reconceptualize our understanding of what activism is. In this context, Women's Studies as an abeyance organizati on reminds of the value of consciousnessraising, activism of the self everyday activism, and the ability to continue to work towards and feel accomplished in continuing to create social change. The above matrix allows us to understand the ways in which Womens Studies contributes to feminist activism while providing a template for discu ssion in the classroom. Use of the matrix of activism in feminist classrooms can e nhance the Womens Studies students understandings of how feminist activism is done. The matrix and pillars will provide more concrete answers to students on how to engage in feminist activism in a myriad of ways with regards to specifics, tactics, a nd organizational focuses, even when there are so many issues. It is our job to help them figure out where to begin.


62 Chapter Four Conclusion Concerns about whether Womens a nd Gender Studies programs have the potential to affect revolutionary social cha nge have led to a new niche of feminist research and scholarship. Self-reflection on the ways in which Womens Studies programs prepare undergraduate students for ac tivism beyond academia is a critical step in assuring the possibility of social change. Such reflection led me to conduct a series of interviews with USF Womens Studies underg raduate majors and minors to present a more detailed vision of how Womens Studies alters perceptions of the world, raises awareness and promotes activism. These unde rgraduate voices are hidden in discussions on institutional Womens Studies programs; I contend that we have much to learn by recognizing and including the concerns and opinions of our undergraduate students. In order to discuss the relevance of Wo mens Studies as applicable to feminist activism beyond the university it is important to situate the development of Womens Studies as a product and continua tion of feminist activism. We must turn our attention to the ways in which the waves of feminism have evolved over time; it is important to recognize what has made feminism productive With regards to feminist activism and productivity, what do we value as historical ly significant and why? How have various types of activism responded to concerns of that particular time? Though we often focus our attention on the upsurges in collectiv e feminist activism, how does the wave metaphor prompt us to consider the periods between peaks in mass-based visibility?


63 By using Verta Taylors concept of s ocial movements in abeyance, we can answer the above questions as this concept allows us to understand how Womens Studies programs influence social change. Conceiving of Womens Studies programs as feminist abeyance structures demonstrates their usefulness in prompting feminist activism rather than naming the institutionalizat ion of such departments a failure of the feminist movement. I have argued that Wo mens Studies programs are evidence of a contemporary feminist movement relevant to present-day concerns; Womens Studies is useful in the creation and promulgation of fe minist theory, in maintaining and building feminist communities, and in increasi ng awareness on oppression, difference and inequality. In addition, Women s Studies, like other universi ty degree programs, prepare students to graduate and maintain personal and professional relations with feminist consciousnesses, whether they remain with or seek careers outside of academia. Kennedy and Beins ask that we recognize productive feminist activism as specific to its historical location. In order to evaluate whether academic feminism informs feminist activism, we must define and disc uss activism as relevant to contemporary feminist concerns. To perceive of activis m as valuable only in mass-based collective form ignores the importance of abeyance periods where social movements maintain their livelihood and gain collective s upport. The measurement of feminist activism as valuable only when recognizable by patriarchal mainstre am culture is errone ous and perpetuates the inaccuracy of feminist activism as not currently taking place. It furthermore deters those of us who are active from valuing our own work, including those of us working in Womens Studies departments as feminist scholars.


64 In addition to conceiving of Womens St udies as feminist abeyance structures and evidence of the continuation of the feminist movement, I have argued that we more closely address the ways in which Womens Studi es classes act as cites in which to help students become more active. A feminist classroom exists as an opportunity to present the myriad of ways in which students can partake in feminist activism. My data analysis of interviews with undergraduate Womens Studi es majors and minors at USF shows that while Womens Studies is useful in promp ting feminist consciousness and influencing a desire to do activism that there is room for improvements in regards to specifics, tactics, and making connections between feminist theory and feminist activism. In response to these concerns I have de fined a matrix of activism to aid in the examination of the ways in which feminist activism takes place. The four pillars of activism that make up this matrix are structural activism, community activism, discursive activism, and activism of the self. By paying closer attention to the ways in which feminists engage in activism it may become easier to discu ss the how-to specifics of feminist activism. For those students who app eared to feel that Womens Studies classes lacked discussions on activist tactics, organizing strategies, and historical developments, I suggest that this matrix provides a clearer view on how various forms of activism are created, maintained and influential in and beyond the university. In addition, the matrix and pillars illustrate the ways in which vari ous types of activism inform one another and become interactive (structural to discursive activism of the self to community, and so on). Womens Studies has the poten tial to reach thousands of students each year all over the world. While concerns about femini sm as institutional are warranted, it is


65 important that feminists recognize the usef ulness and potential of Womens Studies. Womens Studies classes, faculty, and feminist theory are changing the lives of students with every course taught. Wo mens Studies courses introduc e students to revolutionary ideas and give rise to radi cal consciousnesses that feed back into their daily lives, personal relationships, careers and professi ons. Womens Studies programs spatially allow for the continuation of consciousness-raising and production of feminist discourse that has the potential to create revoluti onary social change; in Womens Studies consciousness-raising becomes feminist praxis. Self-reflection, as a necessary process for feminists and social movements is useful as long as it continues to be productive in its analysis. It is time that we include more regularly in our focus what feminists can do and are doing, instead of what is missing and lacking. This positive shift has the potential to be more productive, encouraging and useful to the students whose lives we touch and change every day.


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69 Bibliography Brown, Wendy. 1997. The Impossib ility of Womens Studies. differences 9(3):79-101. Freire, Paulo. 1998. Pedagogy of Freedom: Ethics, Democracy and Civic Courage. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. Heywood, Leslie and Jennifer Drake, Eds. 1997. Third Wave Agenda: Being Feminist, Doing Feminism. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. Labaton, Vivien and Dawn Lundy Martin, Eds. 2004. The Fire This Time: Young Activists and the New Feminism. New York, NY: Anchor Books.