What if “change the world” was the most popular major in college?

Well, for starters, the business buildings probably wouldn’t be the fanciest places on campus. There would be a whole plethora of social justice classes with cool titles like “How Katrina Could Have Been Prevented 101,” “Stopping the Darfur Genocide 210,” “Feeding the Entire World With Sustainable Food Production 320,” and, the senior capstone, “Putting an End to Corporatization 500.”

However, at the moment, colleges are instead tending to focus on how much bang for your buck you can get out of such and such a degree rather than the ways in which university study can be used to better the world. This is why when someone share’s they are getting a degree in Women’s Studies, the response is invariably “What are you going to do with that?!?”

I remember my father being heckled by his friends at a family BBQ some 20 years ago when they learned that I, his youngest daughter, planned to major in English. One friend looked over at me and smirked “Why don’t you get a REAL degree?” Another claimed I must be going to college “Just for fun.” Well, “so there!” to all dad’s chums who heckled him (and me) about my trivial degree – turns out there ARE things you can do, like be a professor, thank you very much.

Sadly, the attitude displayed by these people 20 years ago has been upped to a much higher wattage today. Parents and students alike seem to look to college as some sort of ATM of degrees where you deposit your dough and withdraw your ticket to a well-paying career. Sure gives Paulo Freire’s notion of “the banking model of education” a different spin! While the student as empty vessel where the professor deposits knowledge model of education has thankfully waned (at least in many disciplines), what has not is the degree as ticket to a bigger bank statement model.

As another academic year is about to begin, and as I think about all the problems that plague our world, I so wish that more students would choose world changing as a life goal. Happily though, more students seem to be very interested in social justice and attack the activism project I assign in my Introduction to Women’s Studies classes with relish. This coming semester they will take part in an activism forum (the campus’ first) and here’s hoping they carry this change the world message with them as they continue their college careers. If you ask me, changing the world is a lot more important (and rewarding) than changing the numbers on one’s bank statement via a shiny business degree meant to serve as ticket into the corporate machine…


What if motherhood fogs your feminist lenses?: On being a feminist mother

(Thanks to Habladora for prompting me to post this piece that has been gathering dust on my hard drive…)

I did not expect that being a mother would make me more of a feminist. In fact, I feared quite the opposite, worrying that my feminist convictions would wane under the weight of overfilled diaper bags and the expansive responsibilities of caring for an infant.

When I had my first child, a son, just after finishing my Master’s and while ramping up to begin my PhD, I worried that motherhood might de-radicalize my politics and cause me to lose my feminist vision of the world.

During that first pregnancy, I had applied for various doctoral programs and been happily accepted to the University of London – an acceptance that necessitated my partner and I move from the U.S. to England during my 34th week of pregnancy. While my mother, grandmothers, and older sisters were convinced I would give up the doctorate once I fell madly in love with motherhood, I firmly disagreed with their image of me as stay at home mom basking in the glow emitted from Telly-tubbies while pureeing homemade baby food. Yet, despite my long seated plans to get my doctorate and pursue an academic career, pregnancy and looming motherhood made me fear for my feminist life. Would my feminism wither into a past identity as I assumed the mantel of mother? Would I lose my love of reading obtuse theoretical treatises and instead dog-ear Dr. Spock and What to Expect When You Are Expecting? As my own mothers and others predicted, would I decide that a career paled in comparison to “a woman’s true vocation” of being a mother?

These fears and many more fizzled through my increasingly exhausted brain throughout my pregnancy and practically boiled over when I discovered I was having a boy – a discovery I had dreaded. I wanted a daughter or daughters – a girl that would grow into a woman with whom I could fight the feminist good fight, a girl whom I could give the feminist upbringing I never had, a girl who I could let know from day one that she was as strong, smart, and capable as any penis-privileged human. Looking back, this dread of having a son embarrasses me. As a hopefully wiser feminist now than I was 12 years ago, I see that it is just as important to raise feminist sons as it is to raise feminist daughters.

Now, I love men (and some more than others), but I have to admit, like many feminists, there are aspects of masculinity that I see as variously harmful, useless, and/or idiotic. In fact, if push came to shove, I would probably commit a grave sin of gender essentialism and say that women tend to be more socially aware, more just, and more prone to activism than men. (However, I hasten to add I believe this is the case not because of female biology or hormones, but because of the ways women tend to be socialized as women.) As a card-carrying member of the ‘gender is socially constructed club,’ I thus believed I could raise my son to love justice more than football, peace more than toy guns, and hot pink more than camouflage.

So, imagine my shock when my son was born and what my mother had so long insisted proved to be true – he actually seemed to be ‘boy-like’ by nature! At playgroup gatherings, he was little Rambo on the rampage, grabbing toys from others and then whacking them over the head with them. At parks, he acted like a colonizer intent on committing genocide on any kid who dared to play on his turf. At home, despite the fact I refused to buy weapon toys, he industriously built toy guns from Lego, play dough, and Lincoln logs to shoot everything (including me). For a while, I sadly gave into my mother’s mantra that “boys and girls are just different” and chalked up my faith in social constructionism to naiveté.

However, as the years wore on, I realized I had fallen prey in my daily life to the binary thinking mode I am so critical of in my academic life — I had simplistically seen my son’s strong affinity for traditional masculinity as proof social constructionists had it wrong. How could I, a feminist schooled in post-structuralism, postmodernism, and political theory, be such a dupe?

I think one of the reasons I fell prey to questioning my convictions about gender was due to the fact that I had always insisted without question, ala Simone de Beauvior, that women (and men) are made, not born. Thus, when I had tangible proof of a little man in the form of my son, fear and second-guessing kicked in (or maybe it was just the lack of sleep and deluge of stress brought on by raising an infant while working on a PhD).

My personal feminist theoretical crisis concerning gender essentialism verses social constructionism was not resolved by the birth of my daughter two and a half years later. For, just as my son seemed to be a ‘natural boy’ so did my daughter exude femininity from birth onwards. These children were ruining my long held feminist beliefs! They were proving my mother right! And, as I tried to balance raising them alongside finishing my dissertation, I found myself living a double life – feminist by day, mother by night. While I continued to read and write feminist literary theory, my practice of being keenly politically informed and active waned. In my children’s early years, I did not attend any protests or participate in any girlcotts let alone stay abreast of activist news and happenings. My feminism became abstract – rather than living ‘the personal is political’ I seemed to be opting for ‘feminism is philosophical’ via an approach that directed my feminism solely into research and writing. Although I practiced the basic tenets of feminism and endeavored to raise my children to value diversity, equality, and social justice, I became, in the main, an academic feminist rather than an everyday feminist activist.

However, as my children grew, entered institutional education, and as a number of world events changed the socio-cultural landscape of the United States (and the world), I returned to my ‘pre-children’ self of fighting the feminist fight not only in my writing and teaching, but also via my battles with teachers, principles, corporations and even roller-rink managers.

Further, as my children moved from babyhood to toddlerhood to childhood, I saw (to my relief) that they were not the ‘typical boy’ and ‘typical girl’ they first seemed. My son revealed a feminine side, a true love of the color pink, an aptitude for tap dancing, and a very strong nurturing personality. My daughter revealed she did not only love dolls, fashion, and burying her head in books, but also math, wrestling, and skateboards. I think I can take at least some credit (along with my partner) for our children’s ‘gender blending’ personalities. It seems that while I felt I was not ‘feminist enough’ once motherhood became part of my life, that, in fact, insisting my children use gender inclusive language, arguing for Tinky Winky’s right to carry a purse if he wished, or analyzing the injustices of Nicktoons boy-dominated cartoon lineup helped to turn out two socially aware, feminist kids.

And, while I worried I had lost my activist streak, I see that instead I had fostered too narrow a vision of what feminist activism is. I now see that being a mother can be an activist activity, that raising children to be pro-peace, consumer conscious, and actively anti-sexist/racist/classist/heterosexist/able-ist is just as vital as marching on Washington or leading an Impeach Bush campaign. Just as I see teaching and writing as valuable forms of activism, I now understand that motherhood itself is a vital form of feminist activism.

In hindsight, I am bemused that I ever imagined otherwise. I, who had read Adrienne Rich’s Of Women Born multiple times, had theoretically understood ‘motherhood as institution’ but had failed to see how our patriarchal, non-feminist friendly society had warped my own conceptions of mothering and made me second guess my own abilities to be both a feminist and a mother. I know this is in part due to the way that mothers are still a fairly denigrated bunch in the public world and also in the academic world in which I labor. Work is supposed to come first, and whether that work is feminist or not, often being a mother is seen as a hindrance. As books such as Impeccable Advice for Women in Academia suggest, if one has children, it is better kept a secret. In ways I have taken this advice to heart. As proof, this past semester, my office mate of two years was shocked to learn I have two children. When she was bemoaning how difficult it is to juggle teaching, publishing, and parenting and I agreed wholeheartedly, she replied in astonishment “I didn’t know you had kids.” The sad thing is that I took this partly as a compliment knowing I had done what Ms. Mentor (the author of the above mentioned book) advises for academic survival – I had kept my kids a secret and was successfully carrying out my job as a Women’s Studies Professor as a ‘mother in hiding’. Yet, as my office-mate’s comment sunk in as I drove home, I began to feel angry that I had to hide or at the very least not discuss the ‘mother’ part of my identity. How would my kids feel, after all, if they knew they were a dirty secret I had to keep from colleagues?

With my students, it is different. They do not judge me negatively for being a mother – in fact, I think it helps humanize me and gives me ‘street cred’ when we analyze key Women’s Studies topics such as reproductive freedom, childcare, education, etc. And, even though being out of the mom closet seems to be more acceptable in academia these days, there are nevertheless those higher up – the deans, the provosts, the presidents – who one hesitates to share their mommy side with. While society seems to believe a male can do any job and be a father too, a woman’s job is often endangered on many levels when she becomes a mother. Any weakness is invariably blamed on the fact she is a mother while the strengths, widening perspectives, and multi-tasking mastery she gains from motherhood are rarely acknowledged. Coming to these realizations has changed my work politics – I now refuse to hide in the closet and am out about being a mom. If ‘Dean So and So’ sees this as a drawback, s/he can kindly review my positive teaching evaluations and/or publication record. I refuse to any longer pretend that I can’t be both a good mother and a good professor.

I have also learned that there is no need to give up my feminist activist hat – that, in fact, I never did. If anything, being a mother has made me more of an activist. I now feel obligated to raise my children to be activists in their own right and to, as the well known Gandhi quote prescribes, be the change they want to see in the world. Thus, on the drive to school, at the dinner table, while grocery shopping or at the park, we discuss politics (big and large), worker’s rights, the evils of Wal-Mart, how Hummer’s are a blight, and how our president, (in my son’s words) “is really dumb.” We analyze sexism in television and movies, homophobia on the playground, and racism in music lyrics. Not a day goes by that politics is not part of my mothering.

In fact, I now realize that while I feared my feminism had gone dormant in those early years of being a mom, that my politics has affected the way I parent since the day my children were born. From refusing ‘gender appropriate’ toys to my deliberate attempts to use the same tone of voice, the same type of compliments, and the same frequency of touch for both my daughter and son, I tried to treat them both as equally human – rather than as ‘girl’ and ‘boy.’ As they aged, I encouraged them to have friends across gender, race, class, and ability (a feat our segregation happy society certainly doesn’t make too easy). Once they entered educational institutions, I quickly became the mother every teacher dreaded – the one who brought in studies on linguistic theory showing the detrimental effects of always using male pronouns, male examples, and putting males first (as in the ubiquitous “boys and girls”). The one who was at the principles door the minute she heard the term ‘faggot’ and ‘lesbo’ were being used by the 3rd graders to insult one another. The one who complained each year over the way Thanksgiving was presented – “No kids, the Native Americans were not ‘so happy’ when the pilgrims arrived.” The one who has her son bring in a Cesar Chavez posters with a prepared speech to supplement the curriculum and whose daughter refuses to partake in any ‘boys against girls’ activities.

My maternal activism spreads beyond institutionalized education though. For example, one memorable encounter happened at the local roller rink just after the ‘all girls’ and ‘all boys’ skating time. One of my son’s friends is a female who identifies as male, but, due to her parents insistence, still ‘looks like a girl.’ You can imagine the befuddled response of the roller rink manager when I insisted that segregated skating enforced gender norms and isolated youths not identifying with their ‘given’ gender. When he said that this policy could not be bent even this once, my son and I decided he should skate during all girls skate just to see what would happen. Even though he was wearing one of his signature pink t-shirts, the skate referees were on him in no time, whistling up a frenzy. I won’t forget how angered he was over our failure to win this fight. “It’s ridiculous mom,” he fumed. “Who cares if a boy wants to skate during girl time or vice versa? Those rules are stupid.” However, though we lost the roller rink war, the bigger battle is being won on a daily basis – the battle of teaching my son and daughter about the injustices of the world and the necessity of fighting them, even when we won’t always win.

Our longtime girlandboycotting of Wal-Mart may be one of these battles that will be a long time in the winning. When the kids were younger, they would tell me how such and such toy would be cheaper if we got it at Wal-Mart, how all their friends shopped there, how the teachers recommended it for school supplies. However, as I have supplied them with more and more facts about unfair working and wage conditions, they became as resolute as myself that we should not shop there and now also actively encourage others not to do so. In fact, when visiting Grandma last summer, they gave her a thirty minute lecture regarding the evils of Wal-Mart after she took them there for some beach toys. “Mom, grandma made us go to Wal-Mart,” was how my seven year old daughter greeted me when she got off the plane. “We’re sorry. She made us go in. It was awful.”

And, each year, our everyday activist practices grow as I learn from my students about new areas of feminist concern or new sources of activist knowledge. This past semester, an animal rights activist told me about the video targeting KFC, Killing for Cruelty. Now, my son LOVES chicken and had been bemoaning the fact we no longer ate at KFC after hearing about their inhumane practices. However, once he watched the video, he was a convert. When we drive past, he reminds me “We are never going there, mom.” Nope, kid, we sure aren’t.

Just a few days ago, my daughter spent hours on a short poem entitled “How Hummer’s are Horrible” and asked if we could photocopy it to place under the windshield wipers of all the Hummer’s we see in parking lots (our town is Hummer crazy). In addition to trying to rid the world of Hummer’s, she is a little ‘linguistic cop’ who listens out for any sort of language that denigrates females. “My teacher is STILL saying ‘You guys'” she frequently complains when I pick her up from school. Last Christmas she sent a whole table full of relatives into silence by refusing to pass the gravy unless properly addressed. When her great-uncle requested her and her female cousin please pass the gravy by saying “Hey guys, please pass the gravy,” she responded, “Neither of us are guys in case you hadn’t noticed. If you want the gravy, you will have to ask in a way that does not insult me as a girl.” Now, while no doubt many at that table saw my seven-year-old as talking back to her elders with far too much sass, I swelled with pride. “There she is, my budding little feminist fighter” I thought to myself.

My ten year old son is no stranger to feminist analysis either. After seeing Shrek 3 he mused, “Know what I really liked about that movie, mom?” “What?” I asked, expecting to hear about when Gingerbread man pooped out a gumdrop or one of the many other scatological gags he is still so fond of.”I liked that they made the females strong. Fiona and all the others, they kicked butt. Why don’t they make all movies like that? It’s dumb they always make the boys the strong ones.”

In moments like these, I feel in my gut just how political the maternal is. It is the politics of raising a feminist son who not only analyzes big, outer world issues, like how unjust the US occupation of Iraq is, but who also daily looks through the world via a feminist lens in order to critique everything from cartoons to the actions of his schoolmates and teachers. It is the practice of raising a daughter, who, at age seven, decided to petition Nintendo to rename “Gameboy” into “Gamekid” with the following letter:

“Dear Nintendo,

My name is Naomi and I am 7 years old. I got a Gameboy as a gift and I really enjoy playing the games. But, I think calling it “Gameboy” makes girls like me feel bad because it seems as if you assume only boys will want to play. I suggest that you please change the name to “Gamekid.” To convince you that I am not the only one who feels this way, I have gathered 142 signatures below.”

Maternal feminist politics, I now happily realize, infuses the day to day mothering of my kids, as well as my voting choices, my teaching practices, my scholarly work, my buying practices, my language choices, and so on. As a mother, I have never really taken off my feminist lenses, they may have become fogged for a while, but now I see clearly that motherhood and feminism coexist beautifully and are, in fact, more powerful together than apart.

What if Arnold had to do his governating in 100+ degree weather with no water and constant threats of deportation or arrest?

The United Farm Workers reported yesterday that another farm worker, Abdon Felix Garcia, died due to heat stroke after working all day for Sunview Vineyards in Arvin, California. Garcia’s death is the third in the last 8 weeks and the 12th since the governator has been in office. On June 20, Jose Macarena Hernandez died harvesting butternut squash in record-breaking heat. Also in June, Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez died after working for many hours with no water.

The governator attended Vasquez’s funeral where he promised to do everything possible to protect farm workers. Apparently, everything possible is zilch.

I wonder, might things change more rapidly if the governator was forced to work for twelve hours plus in the baking sun with no water, breaks, or restroom facilities? Or what if he had to commute to work on foot, under the fear of arrest or deportation, rather in an air-conditioned Hummer? Might he then be a little quicker to mandate workers have access to water?

Or, how about if the Minute Men as they patrol the border zone were barred from drinking any water, were not allowed to eat, and had bosses who threatened violence or arrest if they made any fuss? Maybe they could just go without all the food and drinks (not only butternut squash and Two Buck Chuck, but also lettuce, tomatoes, strawberries, etc) that are available to do the backbreaking, life-threatening labor of farm workers. Sorry minute men, no veggies or fruit for you. (Seems pretty hypocritical that most who bemoan “illegals” are all too willing to reap the benefits of an exploitive labor systems.)

These latest the three deaths were all easily preventable. How hard would it be to supply workers with water, food, and rest? Not hard at all. But, then, Two Buck Chuck (and the corporatist food industrial complex as a whole) might not make such a profit margin.

Which is worth more: prices kept low on the backs of other humans or the ability to drink copious amounts of cheap wine and eat cheap vegetables while bemoaning “those illegals”? (A woman I know once whisked away a dinner guest’s salad when he made a disparaging comment about farm workers-she told him that if he would like a taste of the labor his comments belittled, to stand up from the table and bend over to the ground 30 times in a order to partly simulate the labor it took for his plate of salad).

If you would like to email the governator and other California legislators to call for more equitable working conditions or laws to protect farm workers, go here. If you would like to read more about Two Buck Chuck and Trader Joe’s complicity with the exploitation of farm workers, see WOC PhD’s posts here and here.

What if we asked what we could do for other humans rather than focusing on what other humans can do for us?

Cindy Sheehan’s new proposal for the twentieth century, “Ask not what humanity can do for you, but what you can do for humanity” has got me thinking. What if we, as humans, focused on how we can help other humans, how we can collectively move everyone up the proverbial ladder, rather than how we can better our own individual lives via the new house, car, vacation, ipod… Better yet, what if we gave up the ladder paradigm and re-envisioned society not hierarchically but holistically?

In her piece, Sheehan critiques what she calls “USA have to War, Inc,” noting that the so-called “peace candidate,” Barak Obama, recently opined “I will call on a new generation of Americans to join our military, and complete the effort to increase our ground forces by 65,000 soldiers and 27,000 Marines.” Sheehan, to counter this argument, argues as follows:

“Instead of increasing the Pentagon’s already bloated budget, a true peace candidate would be calling for immediate withdrawal of forces from these countries so our military can begin the healing processes that need to occur to rejuvenate our broken military so we can have a true defense force and not an imperialistic ready response team to be on constant alert to storm any country at the whim of the emperor to spread corporate imperialism (what politicians call: Democracy) at the end of an M-16 or bombs bursting in air.”

If our military were, as Sheehan calls it, a “defense force” rather than an “imperialistic ready response team,” it could feasibly focus on helping humanity rather than on waging war in order to amass more power and wealth for the USofA. Such possibilities have presented themselves most recently here in California with the spate of fires. With disasters such as these, as with flooding, hurricanes, earthquakes, epidemics, etc, the military (if it were available as a national defense force rather than being spread thin across the globe fighting to spread imperialism) could help defend people’s lives, homes, and livelihoods.

Last Tuesday, July 1, Governor Schwarzenegger ordered the California National Guard to provide ground support to aid in fighting the California fires. According to The Environment News Service, “they are mobilizing at least 200 soldiers to fulfill this mission.” 200? That seems like a small number in comparison to the call to increase the ground forces of the army and marines by 92,000. So, despite all the lip service paid to a big military as necessary for reasons of “national defense,” when areas of the country actually need defending, the military is by and large unavailable due to being otherwise occupied in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. The same was true during and after Hurricane Katrina. Moreover, these so called “natural disasters” are at least partly the result of failing to fund our infrastructure and make needed repairs to levees, to fortify fire departments with the needed equipment, etc. Rather than spending money on keeping things running smoothly to the benefit of all humanity (you know, on things like roads, schools, social services) we funnel trillions to a fictitious “war on terror.”

This perpetual war goes against not only Sheehan’s directive to focus on helping humanity, but also Kennedy’s earlier call to “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” As Sheehan points out, this proclamation was followed by the lesser-known statement, “The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life.” Unfortunately, as humans we have chosen to abolish human life rather than to abolish human poverty. Moreover, by choosing the latter, we are exacerbating the former.

When I think about the call to focus on what we can do for humanity, I am reminded of going camping at the beach the other night. Seems that somehow camping brings out the best in people. They offer flashlights or give batteries to others who need them, share water/ice/food and other necessities with fellow campers, offer to help putting up tents, lend a hand collecting firewood, etc. And, my favorite, the campfire serves as a communal place of laughter, storytelling, and shared warmth. For those who forgot or run out of supplies during S’more-fest, others offer up their marshmallows or roasting sticks, and flames illuminate the faces of happy, marshmallow covered smiles deep into the night. Perhaps it is because when you are camping supplies are limited and the benefits of sharing are put into stark relief. The same limitation of supplies is true, of course, in every day life. There is only so much earth to go around. However, many forget the benefits of sharing the planet and all its wonder as they go about their daily lives. When you live here, in the heart of empire, and you are able to turn on lights with the flick of a switch, flush your toilet, go to your sink for running water, it is too easy to forget how many people do not have electricity, plumping, or clean water privilege.

If, as when camping, we were put in close proximity with other humans and prompted to realize their lack of supplies, we might be willing to share our plenty. Yet, once cocooned back in our private homes or big honking SUVs, we live lives sequestered from the needs of others. Sadly, we too often forget that we should focus on what we can do for other humans. So, how about those of you reading try this experiment: for today, focus on how you can help the other humans you come into contact with. Perhaps it might be a small act, like offering to take an elderly neighbor to the grocery store, or perhaps it might be larger, like purchasing a tank of gas for someone who has been priced out by big oil. Perhaps it might be pointing out the racism of a particular advertisement or the sexism of a co-worker. Perhaps it might be writing a letter to the editor of your local paper or sending an email to a senator. Perhaps it might be being kind to a child or babysitting for a mom who needs a much needed break.

By raising each other up in ways both small and large, we could work towards a paradigm of shared responsibility as well as shared pleasures. So how about today, we ask not what others can do for us, but what we can do for others? Heck, it just might catch on and, before we know it, Cheney will be asking how he can use his trillions to help the world rather than stashing it in his Halliburton pocket. Or, George W. Bush will donate his oil fortunes to the children of Iraq and Afghanistan and join the Save Darfur movement after retiring from his stolen terms in office. Maybe Schwarzenegger will give up his Hummers and use his muscle to end wealth inequality. One can dream, one can dream…

What if I still want to be an activist after I graduate?

Feminist Gal and I decided to post on activism this week in hopes of getting a conversation started. While she laments “missing a huge part of myself without the activism I became so engrossed in throughout college” and recounts starting a blog to fill this void in her post, I will attempt to offer some reflections as to why activism is harder outside of a college setting and, most importantly, why it needn’t be…

College campuses are often hives of activism. Many students who have not awakened to their innate activist do so during their college years. Those students who came into post secondary education as activists already often become even more active. College is a space (or is supposed to be at least) to question received knowledge, to learn new ways of looking at the things, to envision the world as it might be rather than as it is.

When my Women’s Studies 101 students learn about the required activism project in my course, they are rarely filled with enthusiasm. However, by semester’s end, many have caught the activism bug and go on to advocate for world changes and protest the status quo in various ways, both large and small.

Yet, I hear lamentations from graduates that activism is harder once you leave the environs of a college campus or town. With their campus support systems gone, political engagement and activism becomes a thing of the past for many – a blip on the screen of their lives that was great while they were in college, but one that they no longer pursue. Perhaps this is why so many look back upon their college years as so pivotal, so energizing, and with such a keen sense of nostalgia. It is not only because college often involves lots of new experiences – of the intellectual, sexual, and partying variety – but also because college is the time for many where they are the most engaged with the world and the most fired up to change it.

Alas, the same people who marched, picketed, campaigned, founded organizations, and raised money for various causes all too often seem to become mere cogs in the corporatist patriarchal machine once they graduate. They do, after all, have to pay the bills.

So, what to do if your own activism has gone stagnant? Well, I think it is key to remember that activism does not only happen on the streets of DC, nor must it always involve signs, chants, signatures, and fists in the air. Nor, might I add, does it need to be given to you ‘assignment style’ in a Women’s Studies (or other social justice discipline) syllabus.

Activism is a way of life – an attitude – that can be woven into everyday life. It is about refusing to accept things as they are and doing whatever you can to foment change. It is about realizing that the fabric of our world is sewn each day, not sewn anew mind you, but either reinforced or weakened by the collective actions of the human race. Each day, our actions either reinforce the fabric of governing social norms and expectations, or begin to cause tiny tears in the normative schema. (For a theoretical take on how the fabric of gender is maintained each day, see one of my all time favorite theorists, Judith Butler).

By how we carry ourselves each day, via the language we use, the things we consume, the knowledge we gain and spread, we are participating in the ever changing circus of life. If we choose to perform as trained animals that never resist or question the rules, we will remain caged within the normative strictures of society. However, if we refuse to perform the normative script, even if only within our own little lives, we can bring about profound change.

“But, I don’t have time to be an activist,” I hear some of you saying. “Between work and home and family, I can barely keep juggling all the musts in my life let alone add anything more into the mix.” Well, hate to tell you, but saying you don’t have time for activism is like saying you don’t have time to care. “Sorry, can’t think about poverty, I’ve got bills to pay.” “Sorry, can’t protest war, I have to get to the gym before work.” “Sorry, can’t fight for wage equity or racial equality, the laundry needs doing.” This treadmill mentality is a big part of the problem. We act as if we will fall behind in the race of life if we don’t earn enough, buy enough, exercise enough, yet we forget to exercise our abilities to reshape the world we live in. By doing so, we capitulate to leaving things as they are – to being strapped to the sexist, classist, racist, homophobic treadmill of social norms, rules, and expectations…

If you are the type of person that needs inspiration to light (or rekindle) your activism wick, you can certainly turn to history to read of killer activists such as Ida B. Wells, Emma Goldman, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Mary Edwards Walker, Mourning Dove, Frances Perkins, Cesar Chavez, Helen Keller, Jeanette Rankin, Bella Abzug, Mike Davis, June Jordon…

Or, if you prefer present day activism to float your boat, consider the work of Cindy Sheehan, Jennifer Schumaker, Fernando Suarez del Solar, Angela Davis, Wilma Mankiller, Jackson Katz, Peggy McIntosh, Dolores Huerta, Eve Ensler, School of the Americas Watch, Znet, CodePink, International Socialist Organization, Feminist Majority Foundation, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Queer Nation, Women’s Institute for Freedom of the Press, Feminist.Com, We Are Change, Minutemen Unvarnished, Class Matters, Feminist Campus, Women in Media and News, and so, so, so many more…

If you feel like you need to read an activist primer or something to you get fired up about a particular cause, try out some of the following books:

  • The Fire This Time: Young Activists and the New Feminism, The Activist’s Handbook
  • A Promise and a Way of Life: White Antiracist Activism
  • Troubling Education: Queer Activism and Anti-Oppressive Pedagogy
  • Grassroots: A Field Guide for Feminist Activism
  • The Art of Protest: Culture and Activism from the Civil Rights Movement to the Streets of Seattle
  • The Color of Violence: The Incite! Anthology
  • Not for Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade–and How We Can Fight It
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex
  • Sweatshop Warriors : Immigrant Women Workers Take On the Global Factory
  • Full Frontal Feminism
  • He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut

(These are only few activist focused books – please hit up your favorite library/bookstore to find many more…)

With all this past and present inspiration, what are you waiting for? Heck, if you don’t need any more inspiration or already have your summer reading list all lined up, there’s no reason you can’t start being an activist right now, right at your very own desk! The opportunities for internet activism are numerous and grow by the day. However, should you ever choose to tear yourself away from your beloved screen, here are 10 ways to be an activist out there in the non-virtual world to get you going:

10 ways to be an activist everyday

  1. Choose your words carefully – Think about how ‘you guys’ makes women and transgender folks invisible and find a substitute (remember that ‘you’ can be both plural and singular), work to weed out sayings like ‘that’s so gay’ from the social lexicon, avoid terminology that indicates some people (by virtue of a penis, white skin, body size, or sex practices) are better than others…
  2. Be a conscientious consumer – Know about the businesses you give your money to and aim to support companies that have some sense of ethics (if you don’t know why so many progressives girlandboycott Wal*Mart, find out why – start here and here)
  3. Think while you listen – Rather than singing along to lyrics such “super soak that ho” or ‘shake that monk,’ seek out lyrics that are not degrading to women and don’t promote racism, homophobia, body negativity, etc. All genres have their offenders and their musicians with a social conscious so it’s up to you to THINK about the lyrics rather than polluting your mind with oppressive junk just because it has a good beat…
  4. Be mindful of what you watch – Don’t forget to don your feminist lenses as you watch television and movies. Look out for sexist, racist, homophobic, pro-imperialist, backwards-ass patriarchal messages and don’t let them soak into your brain! It doesn’t mean you can’t watch – but watch with a critical eye.
  5. Speak out – Use your voice to shut down sexist jokes, to not tolerate racial slurs, to not let negative stereotypes fly, to complain when you see social injustice at the grocery store, the dance club, the pub, or the park…
  6. Be a good friend, parent, sibling, lover – Intervene when you know a friend is in a dangerous situation, listen when a friend needs to rant about the queer bating at his school, tell your sister she doesn’t ‘need’ to diet, tell your parents they don’t need to buy into ageism (or that they need to lose their homophobic attitudes), tell your lover not to buy into the jealousy-ownership-romance matrix, etc.
  7. Always wear your thinking cap –Don’t tune out. Don’t allow the lull of the ipod to distract you from social injustice. Think about and analyze the world around you. Resist the temptation to be a mindless consumer or no-questions asked patriot/citizen
  8. Read, read, and read some more – Know the world you live in, seek out independent media and news, spread the word, read books/mags/blogs that stretch your mind.
  9. Teach children well – Almost everyone comes into contact with children now and again. Remember these children will grow up to either conform to the world as it is, or they will learn to see injustices and just might be inspired to make the world a better place. Don’t say idiotic things such as ‘boys don’t cry’ or ‘ladies don’t act that way’ to children (or in front of them). Teach the children in your life or those that you come across in public that all humans are equal, that bodies come in all sizes and abilities, that words matter, that there is more to life than the latest video game or fashion trend.
  10. Question authority – This saying adorns t-shirts, bumper stickers, buttons, and posters for a reason – it’s a crucial directive. With authority comes power, with power comes corruption. Hence, questioning authority (and the inevitable hierarchy that serves as authority’s sidekick) is crucial. Question your boss, your teachers, your parents, your city council members, your state leaders, your national government. Heck, even question that wonderful feminist professor of yours. 🙂 If you don’t question authority, who will?

Finally, remember: if you are not an activist, you are an accomplice.

Now, get activating for change people!

And…when you can take a break from your breakneck activism antics, please post activist suggestions, links, ideas, reflections in the comments section here at Professor, What if…? as well as at Feminist Gal’s Oh, You’re a Feminist.