My Awesome Former Student and Journalism Major, Sydney Maynard, Interviews Me About Feminism
I’ve come to notice that a lot of people have different definitions of feminism. What is yours?
I’ve never had a particularly complicated definition. I want women and anyone who identifies as a woman to have access to the same rights as men. I want equal pay for equal work, affordable and safe medical care (including all reproductive freedoms), parental leave for all parents, and state-funded childcare options. Oops, I suppose I’m getting into some of my platforms already! A big part of feminism for me is also making women’s voices and stories central to conversations about the issues that matter to them. Too often, we miss those stories or ignore them in favor of data or policy or legislation that doesn’t’ make any sense. Lately, like in the last two months, I’m really into J. Jack Halberstam’s definition of feminism in Gaga Feminism. He (and I’m using this pronoun because J. Jack says his/her pronoun use is fluid and changes daily) writes, “this feminism looks into the shadows of history for its heroes and finds them loudly refusing the categories that have been assigned to them: these feminists…undo the category rather than rounding it out, they dress it up and down, take it apart like a car engine and then rebuild it so it’s louder and faster. This feminism is about improvisation, customization, and innovation” (xiv). Watch Halberstam here if you’d like to know more.
When and why did the feminist movement become important to you?
My mother and her best friend are feminists and I grew up listening in on their conversations about feminism. They helped start the local NOW (National Organization for Women) chapter in my small, upstate New York town in the 70s. They also marched on Washington to try to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, which I still to this day, can’t believe didn’t pass. Such a cool piece of legislation! I remember watching my mom and Sylvia drive away in Sylvia’s Winnebago to march in Washington, while my brother and I waved from the curb with my dad. My mother also spent 25 years of her life working at our local Boys and Girls Club. For most of that time, she was the executive director, and one of the only women in the country to serve as an executive director of a Boys Club and I watched and learned as she worked daily to make improvements in the lives of children and women in particular. Little things like affordable swimming lessons, access to books and tutors, basketball camp for girls, and free hot lunches and breakfasts. I saw how much of a difference these little things make in the lives of kids who come from poor and working class families or who are neglected and abused. I also listened to her stories of discrimination in a national organization that then was almost entirely male run. So I had that early education from watching and listening to my mom. At an early age, I thought feminism was cool! In college, I joined the campus women’s center and participated in marches like Take Back the Night, which I now see as an early incarnation of the Slut Walks. I also took a lot of women’s studies courses and had my mind blown by writers like Gloria Andalzúa, Angela Davis, bell hooks, and Irena Klepfisz (to name just a few).
Have you read any articles recently that you thought portrayed women’s rights in a particularly positive or negative light? What is the most compelling piece on feminism that you have read?
Oh, so many! I’m only going to write about the positive ones though! I’m really into Men Explain Things to Meby Rebecca Solnit, Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay, and Gaga Feminism by J. Jack Halberstam. I also really like The Essential Feminist Reader edited by Estelle B. Freedman. It’s a good primer on feminist texts for anyone who wants to know more about the evolution of feminist ideas globally from the first to the third wave. I saw a panel this week about race in America right now, after these depressing non-indictment decisions in Ferguson and in Staten Island, called The Fire This Time, and Brittany Cooper was on it and she’s phenomenal. She’s a favorite feminist right now because she’s so honest and smart and she’s open about her anger. Everyone is so afraid of anger right now, and I frankly, think we’re not angry enough. She blogs pretty regularly at the Crunk Feminist Collective. I also love my good friend, poet and activist, Dawn Lundy Martin’s latest essay in The New Yorker about how she became politicized. Finally, I need to give a shout-out to Ileana Jiménez for her on-going amazing work with young feminists. Yay! Feminist Teacher!
Have you noticed a significant difference in the ratio of men to women reporters?
Hmmm…I try to stay away from mainstream news outlets, so I can’t really say. I listen to NPR, which has a fair amount of female journalists, and I read a lot of alternative news sources online. I tend to read more women than men, but in terms of data I cannot say what’s happening in journalism when it comes to representation and women. But it does concern me that how hard it is for journalists and writers to be paid well for their work and how often news outlets expect writers to work for free or for very little. I suspect that this is worse for women (because issues around pay usually are), but I have only anecdotal evidence to back that up.
It kind of seems like the feminist movement is a “trend” right now and even celebrities are being asked whether they consider themselves feminists. Do you think its growing popularity is turning the movement into a bandwagon situation? Should the public be informed, or even care, whether or not their favorite celebrities are feminists?
I love trends! And why shouldn’t feminism be trending?! It’s about time it got some mainstream attention. I don’t mind knowing if a celebrity is a feminist or not, especially if it helps some little girl somewhere see that the word feminist isn’t a bad one. It still shocks me how negative the connotations are around this word—the idea that feminists are not fun or sexual or smart or interested in the lives of men is so strange to me because almost every feminist I know is all of those things and then some. But we will get in your face and make trouble if something is going down that’s not fair to women so I suppose that’s where all of the negativity comes from—oh, and the mainstream media which has portrayed feminists as a bunch of crazy, hairy bra-burners who want to destroy all men. I also think young feminists are doing incredible work and activism around issues of rape and consent as well as issues of gender and sexuality, so I want to give them credit here for helping to change the conversation of late. To read more about some of these campus activists, click here.
I am currently reading Bad Feminist because Zoi (Sydney’s friend and also my former student, Zoi Rosado) recommended it and she told me that you read it. What are your thoughts on it? Did you have a favorite section? Was there anything you disagreed with?
I loved the whole thing. I read it in one night after my daughter went to sleep. I’d been eyeing it in bookstores for months. I don’t know what took me so long. I’m particularly partial to her writing about books and movies, but there wasn’t a chapter that I didn’t find smart and honest. Read the whole thing!