Name: Jen Getting Jameslyn
Occupation: Part-time Professor
Location: Western MI
How do you define feminism?
I’m partial to bell hooks’ definition: the movement to end sexist oppression. I think it’s important to understand and fight oppression at its roots, and to be open to the ways that ending oppressive practices and value systems creates space for us to imagine new ways of living and working and connecting to one another. I tend to dislike definitions that emphasize equality and choice, though those definitions may have more immediate appeal to non-feminists. Equality within fundamentally oppressive institutions can’t be the endgame, though it might be a useful step along the way; choice without an understanding of the systems in which we choose is deeply problematic.
When did you first identify as a feminist?
I started identifying as a feminist in high school. I didn’t have a particularly developed sense of what that meant, and I didn’t know anyone else who identified as a feminist, but I had read some Naomi Wolf and I was pro-choice, and I had a vague sense that somewhere out in the world there were other people who thought this way. I had amazing Women’s Studies professors as an undergrad, women who supported and challenged and nurtured me. Their mentorship was invaluable as I grew into a more fully realized feminism.
Has your (definition of) feminism changed over time? How?
In some ways, I think I’ve changed very little: the center of my feminism has always been about understanding systems of oppression, struggling to confront the ways I’ve internalized those oppressions, and making choices that disrupt rather than perpetuate those systems.
That said: I’m not the same person I was when I was 18, or 23, or 27, or 30. I’ve grown out my hair, but I still don’t shave my armpits. I’m not any more tolerant of sexism or other forms of oppression, but I’ve learned how to pick my battles. I have fewer opportunities for guerrilla activism and more opportunities to leverage my identity as a prof and push people to see the world on different terms. I have a much more nuanced understanding of issues like sex work, thanks largely to students and friends who have continued to challenge me. I have a keener sense of my own strengths and limitations,and a deeper appreciation of the role of feminist mentors.
And of course, becoming a mother to three girls has shifted my perspective and experience. Pregnancy and breastfeeding changed my relationship to my body. Just living my everyday life with little girls in tow provides ample opportunity for people to say sexist bullshit to me: I am still amazed that people think it’s okay to say things like “So does your husband want to keep trying for a boy?” Do they think I’m going to say, “Yes, because he finds our beautiful daughters who are STANDING RIGHT HERE inadequate.” And parenting girls has meant navigating popular culture and consumer culture on different terms: how do we feel about princesses, My Little Ponies, Barbie? What my partner and I want most is for our girls to grow up safe, healthy, and strong, and we’re raising them in a world that does not share those goals.
Have you ever experienced resistance to identifying as a feminist? If so, why do you think that is and how do you handle it?
You know, no matter how I look or how old I am or what kind of feminism I’m espousing, I’ve gotten pushback. When I was 19 and bald and blasting Ani DiFranco out my dorm room windows I got a lot of patronizing “You’ll grow out of that, you’re overreacting, you don’t understand how the world works.” Now, as a 35 year old with long hair and professional clothes I get “Oh, but you’re not that kind of feminist, you’re not a feminazi, you’re not one of them.” I think the root of the sentiment is the same: there is a real resistance to understanding that oppression and injustice are systematic, and we could change those systems with commitment and activism. When I talk about violence against women, for example, people are sometimes sympathetic to individual victims. But very few people want to consider the ways that acts of violence against women are systemic and culturally normative. And very few people want to talk about what we could do to end violence not through individual acts of risk reduction (like self defense classes and coasters that detect date rape drugs) but through changing the forms of masculinity and femininity we value in our communities.
What do you see as the future of feminism?
My daughters. My nephews. The sons and daughters of friends and colleagues. My students.
I hope that the future of feminism is a movement which understands the interconnectedness of all systems of oppression, and which values connection, love, hope, and peace.
Jen Getting Jameslyn teaches Liberal Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies at a midwestern university; she has three beautiful daughters, an amazing partner, a big garden, and an overwhelming desire to change the world, a little bit at a time. She blogs at Mama Nervosa with the smart, funny, talented Lauren. They write about motherhood, feminism, pop culture, and life beyond grad school.