Reflections

 

MarieBlog

A reflection by student staff member, Marie, on her personal journey to becoming a feminist and beginning the process of raising her own daughters as feminists.

 

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Three years ago, my life changed drastically.  Three years ago this week, I became a mother. Besides the birth of my second daughter (almost 15 months later), this was my single most amazing accomplishment of my entire life.  Around the same time, almost exactly three years ago, I made the decision to take charge of my life. I decided to go back to school to finish my undergraduate degree. I was determined to be someone, to make something out of my life and returning to school was how I wanted to do that.  I was set on becoming the kind of mother that my children could look up to, the kind of person that they would want to emulate.kiddos

When I decided to return to school, I had a plan.  Not only did I have a plan, but I had a partner, and someone who was willing to share the financial responsibility of being a single income family for a period of time.  I was nervous, but I was ready. However, as soon as my plan started to come into fruition, everything started falling apart. I found myself suddenly: jobless, partner-less, a newly pregnant single mother taking 19 credit hours, and moving back into my parents’ home.  This was not the way that I had envisioned my return to college to be.

I tell you this, not for pity, but to show you how a little bit of hard work, “true grit,” and determination go a long way.  I came onto this UMBC campus eager to learn, and even more eager to graduate.  What I found was, that in between the learning and the pursuit of graduation, I found a lot of “greatness” in between.  (add image) I remember clear as day, where I was, (Dr. O’s Human Behavior class), and who I was talking to (Erin), when I first found out about the magical place on campus that would alter my college experience- The Women’s Center.  I was told about a program that I had never heard of, called the Returning Women Students Scholars and Affiliates Program.  Erin was currently a member of the program, and she persuaded me to look into the scholarship that is offered to “non-traditional students over the age of 25” and to check out the Women’s Center.  I didn’t think much of this conversation at the time, but looking back now, I am eternally grateful to Erin for this nudge in the right direction.  Not only did this amazing program help me out financially, it helped to secure a place on campus where I finally felt like I belonged.IMG_4322

Finding the Women’s Center on campus was somewhat comparable (to me) as finding a hidden treasure chest.  Because that’s kind of what it is really like. (When you go visit the Center yourself, you’ll know what I am talking about)  Are you interested in Critical Social Justice?!?  Well, there’s an entire week devoted to it.  Discussion-based programs? Yup, they’ve got those too.  Then there is Take Back the Night, which always serves to unite the campus of UMBC together to support the survivors of sexual violence and to protest sexual misconduct of any shape or form.  This semester, there are even Pop Culture Pop Up’s to address current issues that are prevalent “today.”

The idea of having an available Women’s Center here on campus got me thinking about the importance of Women’s Centers on college campuses and why they really matter.  I spent a little bit of time reading up on the start of campus-based women’s centers in general (the first campus-based center was founded at the University of Minnesota in 1960) and the undeniable need for a place to support and empower women in higher education.  I read about how in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, women began to re-enter into the field of academe. However, at this time, there were no departments or offices that were solely dedicated to women students, and many needs of this population were being unmet. The beginning women centers that were established to promote and support the re-entry of women back into higher education, while at the same time allowed for women to find “like minded others and build a radical, forward-looking community that worked for women’s equity (Devi, 2015).

Additionally, women’s centers were spaces that were open and available to all students, not just a fraction of the campus.  This allowed and encouraged participation in these spaces to encompass a broader range of people that collectively share the same ideals, beliefs, and values.  The founding centers focused primarily on raising and examining new questions about women’s lives, roles and expectations; helped to grow and develop feminist consciousness, aimed at combating isolation, and developed a sense of community.Credit Jaedon Huie25

What I found to be a common theme within women’s centers that I was able to research, was the shared common denominator of alternative resources and programming that are readily available and are not necessarily found anywhere else on campus.  Information on such topics such as: pamphlets and newsletters about rape crisis intervention; self-defense; coming-out information; lesbian support groups; women of color coalitions; contraceptive options for women; healthcare; feminist and lesbian literature; women’s music; alternative scholarship programming; feminist mythology; and other progressive and unconventional ideas were on display or easily accessible in each center.  These spaces also promote expect respectful interactions and conversations between all those who choose to participate in either discussions, or in the spaces in general.

Since the creation of the first women’s center in the 1960s, the evolution of these centers has continued to evolve around the issues  of women and gender and to address discrimination and dismantle sexist, racist, homophobic, and transphobic organizational structures.  Centers have been able to accomplish these issues by the continuing evolution of programming that includes tackling large scale issues, such as Title IX, salary equity, reproductive rights, violence against women, and issues of equity, diversity and intersectionality within the campus community as well as looking at society as a whole.belonging

At the Women’s Center at UMBC, there is always something going on.  More importantly, there is always someone in the Women’s Center.  This small, but cozy, space houses some of the most intellectual conversations, stimulating interactions, learning experiences, and belly laughs that cannot be compared to. The space itself welcomes and promotes all aspects of campus life and “real life” that a women’s center was designed to encompass.  The staff is beyond friendly and approachable (I may be a bit biased), and the atmosphere is beyond welcoming. I highly recommend stopping by to say hi, to grab some coffee, or to meet a new friend. Why not, take a chance! That’s what I did, and I walked away with friendships, something that connected me to campus that I had never felt before, and experiences that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

When I look back at my time spent at UMBC, I am certainly going to remember the superior education that I received.  I truly believe that I will excel and flourish as a social worker because of the exceptional professors who guided me through the program.  I will also be able to stand up and fight to empower the women and mothers that I encounter with the knowledge that I have gained through the immeasurable teachings from the professors in the Gender and Women’s Studies Program.  But what I am going to remember and miss the most, is the place that I call home on campus, and the family that came along with it.

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Parenting Feminism

MarieBlog

A reflection by student staff member, Marie, on her personal journey to becoming a feminist and beginning the process of raising her own daughters as feminists.

 

As if it weren’t hard enough to finally get the hang of navigating through the world as a “failing feminist” (see previous post), I now have to figure out how to raise my two young girls as feminists.  The necessity to empower my girls to be strong minded individuals who respect themselves and their bodies has been weighing heavily on me lately.  The #metoo movement has played a significant part in bringing this awareness to the forefront of my mind. The online movement, (even though it technically began almost 10 years ago) has exploded into a worldwide hashtag, and is helping to shed an entirely new light on the importance of respect, consent, and especially accountability surrounding sexuality, and sexual misconduct. It has given a voice to women from all walks of life, who felt voiceless for a long period of time.  This break in silence, and rise of empowerment is impacting society in places where change and action are finally taking place, and people, especially women, are being heard.  The entertainment industry has been affected tremendously, (beginning with allegations against Harvey Weinstein), and has long since traveled all the way to the top of society: The White House.  In today’s day and age, it is slowly beginning to seem like there is no longer any authority or entity that is safe, or off limits to scrutiny. Unfortunately, this is rightfully so.

Primarily due to the tumultuous political climate and the heightened awareness of women’s rights, I am now thinking ahead about how I am going to “properly and effectively” start teaching my daughters the basics of feminism.  Sounds simple, right?  But what kind of feminists am I trying to raise?  Do I make that decision for them early on, or do I wait for them to come into their own, as women, and decide for themselves?  Obviously I want them to make their own decisions, but I am at a loss as where to start.

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I first thought that these life lessons would be simple. After attending my first 3-year-old Peter Pan themed birthday party and overhearing my daughter being told “No, no sweetie, you want to be Tinkerbell, not Peter Pan,” I swept in quickly to rectify that situation.  (Side note: it’s a bit ironic for someone to tell my daughter this misinformation, given that Peter Pan was actually played by a woman, and multiple times at that!)  It was on the way home from this birthday party that the realization set in: I need to begin to model the ideals of feminism, which to me include gender equality (and equity), liberation from sexist role patterns, reproductive justice, and basic human rights for all.   After putting the kiddos to sleep, I began to research how to parent feminist children.  Let me tell you, the vast amount of websites, blogs, “what to do” and the “what not to do” options were overwhelming to say the least!  

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After all this researching, I know that I need to avoid being “Feminist Lite,” after reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  I was also gifted these eight tips on how to begin my parenting journey.

Are these suggestions really what I want to base my teachings off of?  I’m not really sure.  I mean, I am not quite sure that I am not the type of woman, let alone mother, who is going to “celebrate” my daughters’ first “menarche.”  I am also not ready to bring either of my children on a Child Protective Services visit to show them the kind of work that mommy the social worker does when she is not at home.  I am all for empowerment, self-advocacy, self-love, and promoting self-worth.  I am not sure how in the midst of these things, I am going to teach them how to properly garden or teach them about “the rhythms of the earth” as was encouraged by some of these parenting articles.

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After bouncing around from different blog posts to articles that offer advice on how to become the “Perfect Feminist Parent,” I have ultimately decided that I am more than capable of coming up with my own list of how to raise my daughters!  With the wealth of knowledge that I literally gain each and every time I spend time in the Women’s Center, combined with the ever so valuable information that I have collected during my time here as a GWST major, I think I’ve got this.

Here’s a few things that I’ve decided will be my basic guidelines to start off this process, as well as serve as gentile reminders to myself:

  • Teach body positivity
  • Teach consent, teach consent, teach consent
  • When talking about the body actually use the anatomically correct names
  • Carefully monitor the words that I use when talking to/describing my girls.  Only use worlds that build them up, not tear them down
  • Never stick to “gender norms
  • Most importantly: Allow my girls to be who they want to be.

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I realize that this is going to be an ongoing, everyday task.  I also realize that along the way, mistakes will be made- by myself and by my children.  In life, nothing is perfect. I for one most definitely have learned this throughout my existence.  However, it is what you do to re-create, or change these imperfections that shape and transform your life experiences.  I am super excited to help create a path in which my children can follow.  I am even more excited to see the paths that they create on their own.  

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*****(Did you know that there is a student organization on campus called Parents Club?  If you are a student at UMBC, and a parent, the Women’s Center highly recommends you check out this exceptional resource!! AND…The Women’s Center lending library has a small (but mighty) children’s collection of books that the feminist kiddos (and their parents) might love.  Come by and check it out!!!)****

Failing Feminism

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A reflection by student staff member, Marie, on her personal journey to becoming a feminist and beginning the process of raising her own daughters as feminists.

I am not usually one to make excuses for myself. However, there is a first time for everything, and I am about to give my excuse.  I am extremely behind the times when it comes to being a feminist and knowing everything there is to know about feminism.  

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Why is this, you might be asking?  Well, I can think of two reasons.  The first is because I am old.  It is hard to keep up with the constant evolution of feminism in this day and age when you have had a preconceived notion of feminism instilled into your brain for decades.  The second reason, which directly correlates with the first, is because of the circumstances surrounding my early education.  I was (un)fortunate to attend a private, catholic school from the time that I was in kindergarten all the way up until my senior year in high school.  I was an honored member of my school’s thirteen year club.  It felt so prestigious at the time.

During my thirteen year sentence, I can vividly remember taking the ONE class that spent a nanosecond talking about reproductive health.  This class, which was mandatory, was not even offered until our junior year in high school.  We literally looked at outdated (even for back then) pictures of both the female and male anatomy.  This lasted for about the amount of time in which the nervously sweating nun, teaching our class, could utter the phrase, “Abstinence only!”  I remember vaguely learning about menstruation, but by that time it was too late, I’d already gotten my own period.  And let me tell you the amount of time we spent on contraception, birth control, or even (gasp) abortion.  Hold on, wait for it…absolutely none.  I guess there was never any thought or consideration put into the fact that half of our class was already having sex.  Or maybe the nuns  really didn’t know, or they just chose to ignore it.

I tell you all this because my catholic education was the start of my lack of education that I was given in regards to women that had any sort of affiliation with the word feminism.  Here’s what I did know about feminism back in the late 1990’s.  It basically followed this particular guideline:feministblog1

  1. Feminists hate men.
  2. Feminists are angry.
  3. Feminists are unattractive and not feminine.
  4. All feminists are lesbians.
  5. Feminists are all pro-choice.
  6. If you are a feminist, you cannot be religious.
  7. All feminists are career women and do not support stay-at-home moms.
  8. Feminists are Bra- Burners who hate sex.
  9. Feminists can only be women.
  10. Feminists don’t believe in marriage.

I’m being 100% serious…this is what I thought.  This is what my girlfriends thought.   The idea that feminists were man hating, hairy arm pitted, bull-dykes was the epitome of the picture that came to mind if or when I ever even remotely thought about feminism.  Do you hear the problem in that last sentence??  There was a period in my life where I never even thought about feminism!  Now, you are probably thinking that this Gender and Women’s Studies double major who works at the Women’s center at UMBC, (which is centered around women and their experiences, stories, and potential) has been, since the late 90s, immersing herself in feminist theory and the constant evolution of feminism.  I am here to tell you that this has not been the case. Until recently.

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I started UMBC in fall of 2014.  My intention was to get in and to get out of school.  I am 38 years old (I did it, I aged myself) and a single parent to two young, adorable children.  Going back to school was supposed to be the big catalyst that advanced my earning potential as a social worker.  It was not supposed to be this eye-opening journey down the ins and outs of a society in which there is an ever present need for the fight for equality and equity amongst genders, races, religions, ethnicities, sexualities, the LGBTQ community, etc.

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But that is exactly what happened!  I came here as a Social Work (SOWK) major with a minor in Gender and Women’s Studies (GWST).  To be completely honest, I was required as a SOWK major to have a minor.  I thought that GWST was going to be my “easy out.”  Little did I know that it would literally change the way I thought, parented, lived, and experienced my day to day life.  I’m leaving here this coming May with a double major and a greater appreciation for the word feminism and all that it represents.  I owe it all to this school, in particular the Women’s Center and the Gender and Women’s Studies program.  

Summer session of 2015 was my first experience with GWST classes.  I took two “obligatory” online classes in order to expedite my graduation status.  The two classes seemed simple enough: Issues in Gender and Women’s Studies and Gender and Sitcoms.  I mean, how hard could it be to watch TV and write papers about the differences between Lucille Ball and Roseanne Arnold?  As for Issues in Gender and Women’s Studies??  I am a woman, duh.  That class was a “no brainer.”  Except neither of them turned out to be what I expected.

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I wanted more.  I needed to have interactions with “real” people.  Discussion boards were not enough.  I was dying to have feminist theories explained to me, (which I later regretted wishing as I was knee deep into Feminist Theory!)  I hated that I had boring gen ed requirements that I had to take because they took the place of GWST classes.  I began to LEARN what feminism meant, not only from my own personal perspective, but from a broader point of view.  

I have been so fortunate to have had some of the best teachers along the way who have challenged me, excited me, frustrated me, and really pushed me to think outside the box.  (Thank you Dr. Kate, Dr. Bhatt, and Dr. McCann…you all have changed me!!)  In addition to these amazing classes, I started meeting people who LIVED this way of life both inside and outside of the classroom.  These theories were ways of life and not just classroom rhetoric.  I learned about activism, and feminism on a global level.  I learned what feminism is, and most importantly, what feminism is not.

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AND…. I found the Women’s Center.  I found a home on this campus that incorporated everything that I was learning, and smooshed it all into a cozy center with amazing bean-bag chairs (seriously, come check them out, you won’t regret it) and a loving, safe, and colorful space.  I became part of a community that, as a non-traditional student, I struggled to fit into.  Not only that, but I could talk and ask questions about everything that I was learning  or struggling to comprehend with people who wanted to engage in this type of conversation.

Basically, what I am trying to say with all of this, is that coming to UMBC and having the engagement with the Women’s Center and the GWST program that I have been fortunate to have, has changed my perspective and my outlook on life.  I am now profoundly committed to being a better feminist on a daily basis.  I am passionate about carrying my knowledge outside of this institution and making a change in the world…or at least trying to.  I am confident in my ability to speak about feminism and am open and willing to expand my knowledge.  I am lucky to have learned what I have, even though it is considered to be “late in the game.” Feminism is an ever evolving concept, and I know that there is so much in this world that I still need to learn, and so much more that I am going to have to know how to teach…. Especially to the two little girls at home that call me “mama.”

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