Wednesday, May 14, 2008

UPDATE: Mid-Week Memo

Wednesday entries will now cover specific topics and projects that we are involved in. Look out for ongoing themes such as women and the arts, mentoring teenage girls, intergenerational conversations, and more juicy tidbits from the feminist frontier.

Left Forum: Continuing the Conversation

In March, I got invited to speak on behalf of "young feminists" at the Left Forum, an annual conference of lefty intellectuals, activists, writers, and organizers held at Cooper Union in New York. The panel was called "The Pleasure Frontier: An Intergenerational Dialogue on Sex in Feminism" and consisted of me (in the middle); Jennifer Baumgardner (right), the thirtysomething Third Wave feminist activist, author and filmmaker; and Loretta Ross (left), Second Wave-era feminist and founder of the National Coordinator of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective. The room at Cooper Union was packed--people sitting on the floor and in windowsills, latecomers hanging in the doorways. The brief panel was followed by--I'm not kidding--a 1.5 hour-long question and answer session.

Anger and confessions spilled out of people's mouths, as arguments bounced across the room. Hands shot up everywhere: Can stripping and porn ever be feminist? Why is incest ignored by the media? Are women of color too oversexualized to be included in the feminist conversation? Jennifer, Loretta and I felt a palpable generational gap. There were audible "tsks" in reaction to what I had to say about teenage sex and modesty. I could feel the tension, rage, and passion in this tiny little classroom, and I left with a strange mix of defeat and satisfaction.

It proved to me that once again, feminists are their own worst enemies. It seems to take unfathomable amounts of compromise to please women from all over the spectrum. But it also showed me that feminism--sex-related or not--is still a hot topic. It is one that women care about and want to tackle head-on. People (yes, men too) get riled up about these issues. Sex was just a way to get the fire going, but judging by the profusion of hugs and thanks yous I got after the panel, it will continue to burn.


*Look out for the next installment of Emma's Contemporary Art and Feminism series next Wednesday.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Chicago: HANNAH (aka GOOSE)

Hannah (right, known to us by her former nickname 'Goose'), 23, is originally from Hoboken, NJ, although she "considers herself from New York, even if most people don't." She is currently assisting on a documentary about Grace Paley and is going for her MA in Film Studies in the fall at the University of Iowa. She considers herself a feminist and is an old friend of Emma's and mine from Camp Kinderland, a lefty Jewish summer camp where we met. We reunited with Goose in Chicago over sandwiches to get her take on feminism and being a woman. At one point, we reminisced about how Goose used to be a serious tomboy, and often people would mistake as a boy. Turns out it was a very conscious "fuck you" to preconceived notions about gender:

"As you guys know, I had very short hair for quite a long time, and part of that was that even when I was young, I would think, 'How can you say I look like a boy, because what does a boy look like?' It wasn't me questioning my gender identity, it was more questioning those kind of constructs from my naive 9-year-old point of view....I had a letter that I wrote to a pen pal that I never sent for some reason, [and I wrote] 'People always think I'm a boy, but I'm really happy being a girl'...after a while, it was like, 'This is my stand. I should be allowed to look how I look and still be considered a young woman.' [Then I changed because] I was attracted to men and they weren't attracted to me. Also, it was kind of exciting because I had never had the childhood experience to dress up in girly things."

Look out for Goose's upcoming article in The Believer, where she writes about being into baby names and, among other things, how it kind of makes her "feel like a bad feminist."