Occupation: Full-time Student; Server; Teacher’s Assistant; Research Assistant
Location: Central PA
|Liz & her sons|
How do you define feminism?
Feminism has taken on different meanings to different women in different historical and social contexts. As there is no blanket definition or experience of womanhood, so too there is no blanket understanding or goal of feminism. It is not a single oppression, ideology, or experience that makes up the whole of feminism, but instead it is the fragments, the discontents, the demand for recognition of the myriad voice and experience that shapes a woman’s experience, only then connecting it to the larger context. For me, when thinking of or discussing feminism and women, we must always say “which women?”
When did you 1st identify as a feminist?
Oh, probably when I was very young. I think my generation, raised largely with the privileges fought so hard for by the previous generations, largely shies from defining as feminist. We tend to see these privileges as entitlements without understanding how fragile they are. So, growing up in a middle-class household where my sister and I were both given only our mother’s last name, both of my parents held advanced degrees and worked full time, “free choices” like abortion, birth control, work and educational opportunities, motherhood and all the aspects of it, etc were there for me without question, to take or leave as my own individual right. I believe I actually adopted the title for myself at 14 or 15.
Has your (definition of) feminism changed over time? How?
My definition has absolutely changed, indeed quite significantly. For quite sometime, my personal feminism and what I believed feminism to be was this ideology of choice, an ideology so strongly entangled with American individualist rhetoric. I never really considered who could make these “choices” and this was in part because I could, I had the privilege of choice. I saw women as women who shared similar oppressions and the same oppressor without much complexity. Like so many women, my life experiences have shaped my relationship with feminism.
I had my first son when I was a junior in high school, eleven days after my 17th birthday. I had a guidance counselor who really did not want me in school, she wanted me to drop out, and I was only able to fight her coercion for so long. I finished out my junior year and got my GED that August. Leaving high school was incredibly discouraging and at that time, I gave up on higher education. I began apprenticing to be a homebirth midwife and that combined with new motherhood really gave me a feminist identity centered around choice more than ever before. Motherhood- my own, my mother’s, and the women I worked with- became my world, defining my feminism in black and white. I thought feminist motherhood was breastfeeding, homebirth or natural birth, organic foods, and even staying home as opposed to working out of the home. My mother told me I needed to go to school, get a degree, put my son in day care, and be able to support my son and myself if and when I left his father, who was becoming increasingly selfish and abusive. Along with some other dramatic life changes, my apprenticeship ended abruptly and bitterly, my future seemed to vanish. I needed a paying job, I needed to leave the boys’ father, and I began (very slowly!) gaining confidence to start school and choice gave way to necessity.
My feminism now has so little to do with choice. It is about my privileges and how those privileges contribute to the disadvantage of others. I am much more aware now that I have feet planted in two worlds, as many of us do and that we can be as much the oppressor as we are the oppressed.
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 actually struggle some with openly identifying as a feminist because the negative connotations associated with it can close off possibilities for creating change before they even begin. When I say this, I am talking less about distancing myself from the angry, bitter, man-hating stereotypes and more the privileged, white-washed feminism that so frequently has and does dominate the mainstream. A lot of people believe feminism is not for them because issues most publicized like the pay-wage gap or “the mommy wars” for example mean little when you’re earning minimum wage and the concern is if you can put food on the table, not what food gets put on the table. So, I tend to discuss feminist issues, do feminist research, and be a feminist without first calling it or myself such.
What do you see as the future of feminism?
I think with the increasingly conservative climate and serious economic issues in the US, there will likely, hopefully be a surge in feminist activism on a larger level. What we must remember and I fear we are going to learn the hard way is that any right we have was not handed to us and it is not an entitlement; these rights can be taken, they are being taken. I am not just talking about women because it is those who are not in power (those of us who are not white, upper/middle-class, heterosexual men) whose rights are the most fragile and the first to be taken, if they are not an illusion altogether. Social movements are born of necessity and it is hard to imagine how things could become more dire than now, though I know it can and I fear that is what it will take to force us from this place of passivity and compliance.
Liz is a mom to two boys, Makena age six and Judah age four, co-parenting with her partner Sarah, a dog named Solomon, and a cat named Wietzie Bat. She is about to finish her undergraduate degrees in Women Studies and Sociology with a minor in African American Studies and then hoof it to grad school.
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