In a (possibly) deep, intellectually stimulating conversation with the youngest daughter a few weeks back, while reflecting on the journey’s end to university knowledge and wisdom we now both share, I came to the realization that I really know squat about my chosen discipline.
Whaaattt? How can this be? Doesn’t one graduate from college with all the world’s greatest knowledge base jammed, crammed inside their brain cells, ready to spread their profound wisdom to just about anyone who will listen?
Come on, who’s kidding who here. The ironic thing is that I fell into the same egotistical trap that probably many college grads find themselves in which I am fondly calling the “I-think-I’m-pretty-smart-and-knowledgeable-right-about-now-but-the-reality-is-that-I-don’t-know-s**t-about-anything” syndrome.
My epiphany came simply enough. I am still struggling with that idea of extending my educational endeavors into higher education. I like to learn. Challenging myself to learn something new is okay in and of itself, but I learn more with structured assignments and deadlines hanging over my head. My lack of knowledge smacked me in the face when I was casually cruising through Amazon.com looking for new writing on feminism and women’s studies. I could feel that thrill of discovery creeping into my inner student with each new text in the list, yet something was amiss.
Most, probably 90% actually, of the focus presented during my college classes centered on decidedly biased feminist theory through the years, women’s writing on issues central to mostly liberal American women, and strongly ignored, or perhaps purposefully left out, discussions of other women’s organizations that present themselves by imparting deeply contrasting and controversial viewpoints seriously not aligned with feminism’s goals.
I can recall reading essays that touched briefly on feminist impact in areas outside of America written by up and coming young feminists from India and Southeast Asia. These usually centered on the lack of interest and focus by American feminism regarding anything outside the North American continent. Central to most of this writing was the ideal of intersectionality and a widening of worldviews involving women of all cultures who seek social change. A few essays also touched on the experiences of early Black feminists and activists: the Combahee River Collective, bell hooks, Patricia Hill-Collins.
These brief introductions provided my first encounters with the fact that feminists can be deeply and profoundly white-centric and just as easily able to avoid seeing feminist place from divergent class levels, lifestyles, and cultural positions. It was really rather disturbing to realize that the label of feminist truly did not make us all sisters in the same social change family.
A second area completely lacking in the available courses within my program was essentially the opportunity to learn about those other women’s organizations that consistently work just as hard as feminism to push their views and agendas to the American public.
My own hazy research into religious conservatism and full-blown patriarchy for a paper on atheism as central to feminist belief systems was truly one-sided. At the time, I wanted it to be that way because I was pushing my own agenda regarding religiosity. Papers on women’s healthcare issues, such as access to pregnancy planning and abortion services, also presented my adamant opinions regarding the flawed beliefs of conservative Christians who felt they had the right to speak to my choices. In both of these examples, the points of view of conservative women’s groups was gleaned through my own research. Textual discussions, and opposing viewpoints on these, as well as other topics, didn’t exist in my required reading.
While I still strongly believe that my views are correct, that epiphany related to my true lack of knowledge after graduation was pretty profound. I don’t have to agree with other’s views. I can still believe that I am correct in my opinions. However, I am sorely lacking in credibility without having a working knowledge of the other side. I was never naive enough to fully believe that feminism, like any social movement, was somehow beyond simply pushing an agenda, or that aspects of the movement were without flaws. How can anyone speak to their beliefs without having a working knowledge of opposing views, or the reasons that those views inform specific positions within a group just as adamant about their own agenda?
In pursuit of a more well-rounded worldview my Amazon.com search led me to purchase texts never mentioned during my studies. Sitting in a stack before me are books on feminism and Islam, South Asian feminist essays, the place of transnational feminisms within American society, a rethinking of the basis of women’s studies core concepts, radical feminism and capitalism, and the text I just finished: Righting Feminism by Ronnee Schreiber, a Political Science professor at San Diego State University.
In part two of this post I will share some of Schreiber’s work as she presents the other side, namely the viewpoints of the two largest conservative women’s organizations directly opposing (?) feminist politics.