This Spring has been a roller-coaster of feminist studies in and out of the classroom. Between two women’s studies courses and a lot of relevant experiences outside of school, I have really powered through the past few months by trying to lace a continuous theme of advocacy in to all my projects. Because of all my running around, writing posts on Fatal Femmes has gone to the back burner, but now that finals are almost over, I can begin to get back to the swing of things. Let this post be a summation of my feminism this semester as well as the jumpstart to a Summer of analysis and media critique!
First, January 16th was the last feminist dinner party I was invited to by my friend and the activist artist, Phoebe Bachman. This dinner marked the end of a multi-meal performance piece that Phoebe was hosting for the long-term research project, “Women Making Activist Art in Public Spaces,” that she had been conducting for months on feminist creators. I was so thrilled and honored to be included in her work as both a documented subject and as a participant. I guess I was a little surprised that I was picked because although I am very open about my feminist politics, I never count myself as an artist. I write and paint, film and edit, but I never seem to consider myself as a creator. I have begun to rethink the idea in recent weeks.
Following up with her work, Phoebe officially presented her art and research on February 4th at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art. I silently joined a “tour” of spectators that she was walking through her exhibit the night of the opening. Although I had been aware of her methodology and work throughout the process of watching her plan everything for almost a year, I was thoroughly impressed by the final execution. She knowingly glanced up and caught my eye and asked me to speak out about the experience of being a participant. I was so content to speak on her behalf. It was wonderful to be a part of someone else’s work. She inspires me.
In February, Temple University’s branch of HerCampus, run by my friend Jaimee Swift, asked me to sit on two informational panels. The first was titled “Young Women in the Media.” Like Phoebe’s dinners, I felt that I held a unique place being the only self-identified academic (or budding academic) in the group. Regardless, I still have a few documentaries under my belt and have picked up an interest in band photography and headshots so I was still counted as media maker. As usual, I was impressed by the women I that I was being associated with and thrilled to sit with them. The other panel was silly as it was about Valentine’s Day and Romance. I tried to be serious at parts when asked to discuss safe sex and consent, with added knowledge about sex toys and why it’s important to communicate partner-to-partner. I was excited to bring two of my friends, Karley Cohen and Tom Diaogistino, onto the panel last minute. They had completely different perspectives and experiences that completely added to the discussion.
Also in February was the Women’s Way tenth annual Women and Influence Conference at Moore College of Art in Philadelphia. I went with two fellow feminists, Melissa Fabello and Nuala Cabral. It was exciting to see accomplished women acknowledged and celebrated, but Melissa and I had a few comments about how to improve the event as a whole. Firstly, we noticed that although Women’s Way did a great job coordinating the conference, many of the workshop sessions lacked interactivity. The topics seemed stiff and centered around business and entrepreneurship, less about the “issues of importance to women, girls, and their families in our region” that the program highlighted. Throughout the day there was great debate as to whether or not women could truly have it all. I hope to attend next year.
I spent quite a bit of time preparing for my first workshop this semester in early March. I was asked by Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania to host a media literacy session for their Pot of Gold, or bi-annual adult volunteer day. More than happy to accept, I included in my proposal that Nicole should join me to speak. As my collaborator, she deserves to share in the sharing of knowledge. I was particularly proud of her the day that we presented because not only had we created the workshop together, but it was also her first ever public speaking engagement outside of classroom presentations and our first ever as a team. The workshop was great and the feedback we received was amazing. Comments ranged from “It was thought provoking and on point for what’s going on with tween and teen girls today” to “This workshop invoked a lot of great conversation. It really could have benefited if it was given more time!” 9 out of 10 guests recommended the workshop for future audiences. It was the first time I had ever really worked with adults without children being present. This allowed for flexibility of material, faster teaching and discussion, more examples of current events and, of course, a wide range of debate. After the two sessions we hosted, Nicole and I took time to reflect on being what we called “novice masters,” a term we use to explain the odd relationship we have to our highly specific studies and those outside the field. Being students, particularly undergraduates, we are learning all the time, but to give back by breaking down what we absorb we are the closest thing to “masters” or “experts” that those unfamiliar with such schools of thought may interact with at the time. If anything, it’s a responsibility that we do not take lightly.
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Next was another workshop, later in March, for the GirlTalk Summit hosted by the YWCA of Greater Harrisburg, PA. I was asked to do a presentation on media’s glorification of teen pregnancy, a controversial, but incredibly important topic. I suffered through research by making myself watch “16 and Pregnant,” “Teen Mom” and a few other shows that I really could care less about as a viewer, but as a budding media scholar I do understand that their impact is intense and widespread. I ran three sessions with about two-dozen teenage girls aged 15-19. Some of these young women were already mothers, many watched the shows I discussed and all were identified as “high-risk.” Being from the intercity placed them into a special category that sociologists, educators, politicians and paperwork like to use. I was just excited to interact with young people close to my age that had ideas about how to start talking about what they cared about. I found that when presenting, I must learn to sum up lofty ideas with more examples. Nonetheless, I am happy to have participated. The experience was very important to me.
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The tail end of April was all over the place. Out of the blue I received an email from a former professor from a few semesters back who asked if I was interested in teaching one of my favorite articles from his class to his current students. I was ecstatic. The writing, “Fraternity Gang Rape,” started with a brief summary of America’s sexual history and eventually discusses present-day rape culture. The day I was to teach, I was surprised to find out that my mentor chose not to assist or comment and left both of his classes up to me. I excitedly spoke as I moved around the classroom. Students, my own peers, followed up with me via email and gave me wonderful feedback. It was an amazing time and really gave me a better idea of how much I think I would enjoy teaching.
During the last weekend in April I was ask to present yet another workshop! This time, I occupied the upstairs lobby of the Warner Hotel in downtown West Chester, PA during the ninth annual West Chester Film Festival. The experience was special because I was also a nominated director. My documentary “The Voices of Time Before They Are Silenced: The Holocaust” was up for Best Pennsylvania Director. During the workshop, titled “Lights, Camera, Action: Women’s Sexuality In and On Film,” I found myself very comfortable with the material I had arranged. I think it was a touchstone of confidence in understanding that I know what I’m talking about. Pretty cool if you ask me! A great discussion was peaked post-speech and carried on for about half-an-hour with yours truly as moderator.
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As of May 7th, I can also say that I may add state lobbying to my feminist activism this semester. Just earlier this week, I went with a few fellow feminists to the Capitol in Harrisburg, PA with Women’s Way. The organization was supporting the efforts of the Polaris Project to advocate for stronger human trafficking laws in the state. According to Polaris, Pennsylvania is at the bottom of the scale when it comes to safety for “victims” or survivors of slavery and does very little to fully prosecute pimps and other traders. Lobbying was really interesting. It was much like a performance of suits and ties and smiles and handshakes. I credit Women’s Way and Polaris and all the other activist group present, but there was something sad about having to dress up to talk about real issues, problems outside the marble and stained glass of the Capitol Building.
At the Capitol talking to a Senate Rep
While all this was going on outside of school, I was also a student in two women’s studies courses, as aforementioned. One was a foundations course treated as a history class on women’s rights and activism in America and the other was an upper level topics called “Male Perspectives of Women’s Studies.” New to Temple, Dr. Edward Onaci taught both. As the semester eased on, he became more flexible with the format in which he chose to teach. Eventually, both classes came to rely and appreciate a circle approach to roundtable discussion. No raising of hands, just commentary and dialogue. No yelling or fighting, just debate and civil conversation. It reminded me of the circular education paradigm that Gloria Steinem spoke of during a speech I witnessed in November 2012. She emphasized the importance of shared knowledge passed through or across teachers to students and from generation to generation. This approach opposes our current academic institutions’ way where education is treated as another form of class that oppresses those who seemingly do not have access. In “Male Perspectives” I found great frustration in reading the works of men like Rousseau, men who believe women’s place in under them, in society and in the every other context. I have realized that, as Lynda Lange explains in “Feminist Interpretations of Jean-Jacques Rousseau,” if nothing else, perhaps reading the works of a man as sexist as Rousseau, who is “the very embodiment of misogyny,” will encourage feminists “to read and view more works by women.”
Lastly, my future endeavors. Besides giving Fatal Femmes a make-over, which Nicole and I both agree that it needs, I have a lot of other projects going on that need time and love ASAP. These include, but are not limited to another workshop for Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania coming up Fall 2013, possibly photographing LadyFest in Philadelphia in July, learning how to be a peer health and sexuality educator for Temple University in Fall through the HEART Wellness Resources Center on campus, becoming a Women’s Way media intern this Summer, traveling to Los Angeles to volunteer as a student scholar for NAMLE (the National Association of Media Literacy Education), animating an abstract documentary about gender literacy and word structures titled “Woman,” and trying to kick as much as butt as possible on the side.
-Darragh Dandurand Friedman