This Is What A Feminist Looks Like: Ashley

Name: Ashley Jiles
Age: 30
Occupation: Secondary English teacher and aspiring yogini
Location: The Deeeeep South
Any other relevant tidbits you’d care to share: I’m a reader by nature. I’m a life long lover of learning. My dogs are my children. I am a bleeding heart liberal living in a Republican stronghold. I’m always open to book suggestions, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’ll read them. I started to do a Susan G. Komen 3 day walk to prove to myself that I could, and I’m learning a lot about myself through the process.

Ashley, rocking out

How do you define feminism?
I always have a hard time answering this question, because in my head, feminism is the way I live my life. I expect to be treated fairly and equally when interacting with my partner, my family, my friends, my co-workers, my students, and the world, regardless of the labels our society places on each of us. I don’t expect to be treated better, but I do expect for the world to realize the value that women bring to the table and acknowledge the hardships and work our gender has contributed. For me, feminism extends beyond women and encompasses the fight for human rights.

When did you first identify as a feminist?
I grew up in a conservative, rural GA family. Feminism was not a word mentioned in our household, even though my mother was an example of a 2nd wave feminist. Going to college meant driving 20 miles to a private Baptist institution. I didn’t even identify as a Christian, much less a Baptist, but that college kept me close to a high school sweetheart and provided a rich learning environment. I began taking business classes, because I was going to be an accountant. (PS. I hate math!) Finally, as an elective course, I took the introductory class in the Women Studies program. Needless to say, I had come home. People were speaking my language, and for the first time in my life, I felt like I was developing a vocabulary and theoretical basis for the bold, confident, socially conscience young woman that was beginning to emerge under the tutelage of some amazing professors and mentors.

Has your (definition of) feminism changed over time? How?
When I first found my voice as a feminist, I shouted from the rooftops about the injustice done to minority groups. I fought with my daddy (and other Conservative types) constantly about politics, life views, and my decisions. I have always been pretty good about existing on the edge of status quo, and I started to develop my own rules and start to define my life by my expectations. As I have gotten older, I’m much quieter about my viewpoints. Choosing to let my actions tell my story. I resist in subtle ways now. I am still vocal about issues that matter to me. I mean, who are we kidding? I do hold 150 students captive at various times during the day. I still get to preach my message without using such words as feminist or liberal. Though, I do not mind being labeled if the need arises. A lot of times, I am the first person these teens have encountered that goes against the status quo so vocally. I often think to myself “I wonder if I’ll get fired for that.” Not because my views are that controversial, but because I do teach in a conservative, middle class, right wing Christian Republican stronghold. It hasn’t happened…..yet.

Have you ever experienced resistance to identifying as a feminist? If so, why do you think that is and how do you handle it?
Luckily, I enjoy lively political discussion. I have developed a tough shell and a handful of very witty comebacks to idiotic comments. Even though the majority of women I encounter live their lives under feminist premises, I do not believe the majority would not use the term “feminist” to describe themselves. I just educate. Educate. Educate. Regardless of age. Exposure is a powerful tool.

What do you see as the future of feminism?
The immediate future of feminism for me lies in educating young women about the rights they have to their bodies, self-esteems, and post-secondary education. Being a teenage girl in 2011 is a war zone. I believe we each fight our own battles for feminism every day. We fight for the equality of others while celebrating the differences of others.

Ashley is Southern to the core, but always skating on the edge of the norm in her small town GA community. She lives at home with her partner and fur baby family. She plays mom to Beau, Kricket, and Ronnie. She’s at home playing in the kitchen, in the dirt, or on her yoga mat. She lacks neither opinions nor the confidence to speak on them. She’s currently training for a Susan G. Komen 3 Day walk in Atlanta.

If you would like to participate in this series, please contact me for more details!

5 thoughts on “This Is What A Feminist Looks Like: Ashley

  1. This is a very interesting interview. Yet, I wonder why a feminist, or a liberal or a democrat, you name it; would teach at such a <>

    I totally agree with the need to educate both girls and boys (it is not important that a girl knows it is correct to have an abortion if she wants to and it is correct to keep the child if she wants to; but also boys should learn to respect this!) yet, I keep wondering and thinking. Obviously, you can only get to know certain things if someone teaches them, so I really appreciate what Ashley does and I hope she is of any help to any boy or girl with a conservative family.

    My feelings towards Ashley’s situation are weird: I come from a democrat, liberal, feminist family and would never want my children educated by a fervent religious teacher just because those values do not fit mine: no disrespect (to each his own). I guess it happens the way round. Yet, there are children from conservative families who may need someone like Ashley But, again, a voice inside me says: “but will my future children would like the solace of/feel attracted to religion/republican values one day? could it happen? what to do, then? wouldn’t I be an intolerant mother if I tried to change them? Ashley has nothing to do with her parents and she is a great human being!”

    I think this is a tricky question but, as it usually happens, it can be solved with tolerance. I like to think “to each his own and no judging.” I hope I have not offended Ashley and the great work she is doing in Georgia.

  2. Maybe I love the challenge. Maybe I’m glutton for self punishment. 🙂

    In all sincerity, I love living in the South, and there are small pockets of liberalism and feminism alive and thriving here. Obviously, I had mentors that helped give me a vocabulary and cohesion of thought to my ideas. I felt the need in my late 20s to be that person for the moldable minds that sit in my classroom. That’s why I have stayed here. Will I be here next year? 5 years?

    I joke that I am my dad’s worst nightmare and punishment for something he did in a previous life. Smart, opinionated, liberal, feminist, and not afraid to speak my mind. He loves me anyway, but there were definitely some growing pains in my teens and early 20s. You love your children for who and what they are. And as much as you try to control their intake of values and ideologies in the end, it is their worldview.

    I’m not sure if this is exactly what you were getting at, Elena, but no offense was taken. I can understand how it can seem confusing that I live around a majority that do not support my political and religious views, but it isn’t all Elephants, red, and Jesus down here in the South.

  3. I love that she teaches in the Deep South. Why move away from that environment when she can be the shining beacon? It’s the same argument as some evangelical Christians putting their kids in the public schools to be the “salt of the Earth” and share the message I suppose. Who will her students see as role models if everyone moves to a Bubble where everyone thinks just like you?

    Ashley, I was stoked to see you on here! I think about you a lot!

  4. I’ve had this discussion with myself (ha!) numerous times when I taught high school…where can I effectuate the most change? Is it better to be in a financially well-off, liberal community (where I started out teaching) where I had access to excellent resources, had parents who shared similar values as I did, and kids whose values aligned with mine (or at least needed very little prodding to get interested in the same causes, etc…). We were able to work on various projects/campaigns and create some real change because it seemed easier when we were all on the same page. Everyone supported our endeavors and I was left knowing that many of these students would continue on to college or elsewhere pursuing some of the same issues and continuing to make change.

    Now I work in a much different environment – tutoring teen moms who’ve dropped out of school (but are working towards their GED). The area is much different and much less liberal minded and you’d be hard pressed to find any of these girls calling themselves feminists. However, every so often, whether it’s via an article we read together or a historical reading/novel/etc… something seems to “click” and I can see that thoughts that might have never entered their heads begin to grow and change the way they look at things.

    The impact in the 2nd scenario isn’t as immediate, nor is it as widespread, but in my mind, it’s just as important. It’s so hard to place greater value in these situation b/c change is still occurring. One can easily say that my time spent working on change in the 1st scenario was a “cop out” since I was working in an area that already shared my goals, and that by involving myself in the 2nd scenario, i’m more likely to affect change that would have mostly likely not occurred otherwise. I’m never able to come to a solid answer with this mental argument, and I’m not sure there is one (although I’m sure there are advocates for either side).

    I think that since Ashley is happy living where she does, why *not* take the opportunity to work from within the system and try to subtly change the mounds of students who wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to it?!

  5. I think we have a really unique culture in the South, and I wouldn’t change that for the world. (I live in Baltimore, but originally I’m from Raleigh, North Carolina). At the same time, of course there are awful things about the South. My mother was also probably a second-wave feminist, and though very open about being extremely liberal, feminism never came up when I was growing up. A lot of stuff like that existed but never came up in conversation. And when I was in high school, many students believed that they had never met a queer person. I think a lot of it was knowing where to look, whether for queers or feminists or liberals or what have you.

    I love Southern liberals because we have this great blend of rich culture, personal and political resistance, and creativity. I love a Southern voice. I do think that Southern teachers need to bring more ideas up in class from feminism, anti-racism, social justice, etc. I wish I had been exposed to those ideas at a younger age. I also think that there is a certain cultural tendency in many of us who were raised as women in the South to value silence and politeness above speaking out. I think of myself as very outspoken, but still tend to defer and feel shaky when it comes time to justify an opinion. Some of those etiquette rules aren’t helping, but they’re deeply engrained and not consciously taught. I think those traditions need to be addressed in the classroom, before students grow up and realize that they’ve internalized them.

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