Name: Ruxandra Looft
Occupation: writer, researcher, academic, new mom
Location: Des Moines, Iowa
How do you define feminism?
The belief that all individuals - regardless of gender, sexual identity, race, age, ethnicity, and class – are to be valued, respected, and accorded the same rights.
When did you first identify as a feminist?
During my graduate school years, I was introduced to feminism for looking at literature, society, language, and social structures. I took a number of classes focusing on the history of the feminist movement and on feminist literary criticism. It was an eye opening experience.
Growing up, I witnessed many couples of which both partners worked outside of the home, yet the wife was also the primary worker inside the home. Although I always grew up with the idea that a woman could become successful in her chosen career, I always still saw women as the ones predominantly shouldering home and family responsibilities. Feminism was not something that ever came up as a point of discussion during my youth. This uneven division of labor was just the status quo.
Being given the tools with which to analyze this labor dynamic and the words with which to discuss gender roles in our society made me, for the first time, make sense of something I had always witnessed but not fully understood or been able to verbalize.
Although things are far from egalitarian in our society, I do see these things changing with our generation. My husband and I try to continuously discuss and assess the ways in which we structure the labor division in our household and the way we model gender roles to our daughter. I’m hopeful that by the time she’s grown and forming her own household (in whatever iteration), things will have come even farther.
Has your (definition of) feminism changed over time? How?
My feminism started with a focus on women’s lives and women’s roles in society. Now feminism means much more than that to me. It forces me to confront the way all groups of people are treated and talked about in the media: the LGBTQ community, people of different races and ethnicities, people of different social classes, and people with disabilities.
I say people because I do not see feminism as being solely concerned with women. In my opinion, feminism is concerned with power structures and normative discourses that seek to define and enforce rigid and unyielding identities on others, without allowing individuals to define (and constantly change) their identities and their understanding of self.
Have you ever experienced resistance to identifying as a feminist? If so, why do you think that is and how do you handle it?
I have not experienced resistance to my identification as a feminist but rather have been surprised by how many other young people resist the label for themselves. I believe it has to do with a stigmatization of feminists as “men haters” in popular culture and the media. Young women and men are wary of aligning themselves with the term because there is a lack of popular discourse on what the term represents and what the contemporary feminist movement seeks to do.
I was confronted with this in particular while teaching undergraduate literature courses and discussing women’s participation in the literary world. I was surprised by how ardently some of my students resisted a feminist reading of canon construction and with the ease with which they proclaimed that feminism is dead, labeling the movement as passé and unnecessary for today’s youth. Their response only enforced how much we need to continue talking about feminism: what it is, who it serves, and why it is important.
What do you see as the future of feminism?
This is a difficult question to answer because there is still so much to be done. First, I think there needs to be greater visibility to the movement and to what its goals are. That’s why discussions such as these (facilitated by this series) are important for creating transparency: what is a feminist, what does a feminist believe, how do different identifications with feminism work for different individuals and their unique contexts.
Second, I strongly believe that the personal is political. You don’t have to be out there attending rallies, holding signs, signing petitions (although that’s all wonderful too) in order to enact change. All it takes is starting with yourself and your immediate circle of family and friends. The way we talk to others and, most importantly, the way in which we model acceptable and respectful behavior is the way in which we shape our future and that of future generations.
Ruxandra Looft, PhD is a writer and researcher concerned with women’s literature, gender and queer theory, and questions of national identity. Having grown up in four countries on two different continents, her scholarship is influenced by her experiences of moving between languages and cultures. You can find out more about her work on her website or follow her on Twitter. You can also find her writing about bikes and bilingual parenting on her blog, Simply Bike.
If you would like to participate in this series, please contact me for more details!