April Book Discussion – Part 1 of 5

If I actually knew how to post (let alone find) sound clips, it would be right around here that I would find the clip from The Lion King where Rafiki says “IT IS TIME!” …for our book discussion, of course, not for Simba to mount Pride Rock (wow that sounds a lot more dirty than it probably should.)

Since this is our first go at a book discussion, I figured that I would have a new post each day this week that raises different questions to spur discussion on different topics raised in the book.  Even if you haven’t read the book (Not My Mother’s Sister: Generational Conflict and Third Wave Feminism by Astrid Henry) I encourage you to participate in the discussion. All voices are welcomed, all I ask is that we remain respectful. Onward!

After trudging through the book, you may wonder why I chose it to kick-off our blog and the reason lies within this quote taken from its pages:

“By and large, third-wave essays and anthologies published at the end of the twentieth century suggest that younger feminists feel quite tentative about their place within history and their ability to make history and effect change” (75).

EEEEEEK!! I know that the book is academic and therefore seen by some as slightly tedious (coughcoughkeylimecough) but I chose it because I think there is a strong value in that message–there is power in association and disassociation with previous feminist movements, and we should periodically look backat our accomplishments and admire history and know that we can still make historyIn the end it does a disservice to all to pretend we aren’t part of something bigger than ourselves. And that’s why I wanted to start with this book as a way of opening conversation about what this “feminism” thing stands for, past, present, future and beyond. I hope that the discussions that follow will lay the foundation for other books to follow.

Here are a few questions for kick off:

  • “The work of third-wave writers suggests that coming to feminism as children has deeply influenced the ways in which they experienced feminism. A feminism acquired in childhood feels substantially different than one chosen later in life” (49). Henry often talks about third-waves inheritance of feminism, that we were born with feminism “in the water.” In generations before, if you were to take the label of feminist it was considered radical whereas now it is often denounced. Is the term feminist passe? Unnecessary? Do you use the term feminist to describe yourself and what does it mean to you? Does holding that title carry responsibility? By rejecting the label do we deny the lengthy process that it took to get here?
  • Due to the “feminism in the water” I believe many young women were raised as feminists , yet didn’t have the tools or vocabulary to realize that it was feminist. “Like other young feminists of color, she depicts a childhood in which she was raised to be strong and independent, but one which she only interpreted as feminist after it ‘intellectually clicked’ much later” (174). Oftentimes feminism is still seen as Feminism Capital F, loftily perched in the ivory tower. Could the “feminism in the water” be a good thing then, bringing its ideology “to the streets” as it were, perhaps not in name but in action? (Does it need the name?) How did you arrive to feminism? What was your ‘click’ moment?
  • Henry discusses the prevalent third-wave idea that as a feminist I cannot speak for anyone outside my own understanding as a (middle-class straight white girl) and how this is in stark contrast with the “sisterhood is powerful” language of the second-wave. But by only being able to speak for myself, am I thus forced to deny or ignore race/sexuality/class since I “cannot understand” (isn’t that a denial of differences that need to be addressed?) or do I have a “responsibility” as someone with “power” (white/straight/middle-class) to help those who “don’t have a voice” (isn’t that presumptuous of me to speak for others?) Is the third-wave “don’t speak for others” mentality better than the second-wave “we’re all the same!” mentality?

More to come tomorrow, but let’s dive into these today…

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3 responses to “April Book Discussion – Part 1 of 5

  1. one thing that i kept returning to whilst thinking about “feminism in the water”– is that this author and the women she describes come from a verrrrry different place than i did. feminism most certainly was NOT in the water of my traditional suburban Baptist upbringing. i took issue with her broad, generalized statements like these because for young women and girls growing up anywhere outside major cities, the “options” oftentimes haven’t changed: marry young and start a family; go to college, return, marry and start a family; or confuse/disappoint your community by rejecting options 1 and 2 and [gasp] move away to a life of sin and debauchery. unlike the feminism in the water ladies, i still had to find for myself, and go through, much of the process that she/they took for granted. as much as my childhood environment may have tried to “teach” me .my place. i felt that some things weren’t right to me. why does it matter to [you] what i do with my body? why does that make me less desirable, but him more desirable? why are women’s clothes designed to show off their bodies? why are women in ads designed to make me hate myself? why don’t guys *have to* shave, pluck, tweeze, tan, moisturize, cover up, reveal, push up, push in, push out every inch of their freaking bodies?…… and maybe it is precisely because of this intensely personal yet political debate that i was ensconced in for much of my youth that i so strongly value, defend, and support feminism. because it wasn’t something passed down to me, it was something grappled with and owned, and it is something that i can see easily taken away, and taken for granted.
    while in college it was easy for me to forget about life before feminism. it became such a part of my identity, that it became hard for me to imagine anyone living without it. so, how do we reconcile the women who have lived with feminism in the water and the women who haven’t? how do feminists who live in feminist-friendly environments support or reach out to women who don’t? i think it’s almost presumptive to say that feminism is in the water; what’s the point of calling yourself feminist then? your job is done. so how can we create a society where feminism truly is in the water? that’s the question.

  2. Is the third-wave “don’t speak for others” mentality better than the second-wave “we’re all the same!” mentality?

    i think it’s a difficult situation to be in. i think it’s important to recognize and appreciate our individuality and that each person’s experience is unique and informs, by direct or indirect means, their point-of-view. it’s also important to remember that broad generalizations are dangerous and usually misinformed. knowing all of this however, doesn’t mean that we should become individual islands unto ourselves. there is strength in numbers and power in, to use a 2nd wave term, sisterhood. but how can we realistically reconcile these wildly different viewpoints without making the generalizations and, perhaps more importantly, the oversights that we deplore so much?

  3. see, i totally agreed with the “feminism in the water” concept. i was not raised by radical feminists, and yet i was raised side-by-side with feminism (minus the vocabulary.) i was lippy, ballsy, and never doubted that i could succeed in whatever career i chose (i was an uppity child, need i mention that?) however, when i “took” the feminist label in college i felt that even though it was not out of the ordinary for me, i did feel a sense of responsibility by embracing that feminist label.
    sometimes i hate the label. i say i’m a feminist and certain images pop up in people’s minds. on how i should be, how i should act because i’m a feminist–there’s a cookie-cutter that i must not stray out of. it’s frustrating, but i think it comes with the territory of any label. say you’re a republican, a single-mother, an environmentalist–all of these labels come with sterotype baggage that i can’t help others from thinking.
    so although carrying the label of feminist isn’t as radical as it may have been before, i don’t think it is passe, i do think it comes with a legacy and a responsibility and yes, some stereotypes, but ones that i’m willing to shoulder.

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