I just returned from the National Women’s Studies Association Conference feeling inspired and energized. (There’s so much amazing work that I can barely stand it!) Two panels in particular spoke to an issue that I think about a great deal: how can we bridge the various kinds of feminist work going on in different places?
Ileana Jiménez spoke about how to bridge women’s and gender studies in high school and university classrooms at a visionary session moderated by Patti Provance and featuring an amazing lineup: Stephanie Troutman (Berea College), Rachel Seidman (whose Duke University undergraduate students in her Women in the Public Sphere class started the Who Needs Feminism? campaign), and Jiménez, who has been publicly sharing her work as a high school feminist teacher and advocating for social justice education for over fifteen years.
Jiménez talked about “breaking down the silos” of K-12 and university classrooms, which really resonated with me on multiple levels. As a women’s and gender studies professor and a former high school teacher, I’ve felt for a long time that we should collectively think about social justice education in middle and high school, a focus of the recent AAUW Gender Studies Symposium. I’ve been following Jiménez’s work for a while, and it was inspiring to hear her as well as Seidman and Troutman, all of whom are working in innovative ways to break down educational borders.
To move to the boundaries of geography: I had the honor of presenting on a panel with Alicia Catharine Decker (Purdue University), who talked about the development of women’s and gender studies in Morocco and Uganda. Decker’s close analysis of the histories of these two programs suggested some interesting differences in disciplinary focus, a theme that emerged in my own comparison of women’s and gender studies in Africa and North America. (A third panelist, Adrianna L. Ernstberger, was unfortunately unable to present her research on women’s and gender studies in Uganda.) Our panel suggested the possibility of mutually beneficial collaborations that might come out of future conversations between women’s and gender studies teacher-activists based in Africa and the U.S.
As Jiménez put it so eloquently: feminists must break out of our individual silos in order to create a larger movement for social change. I’d only add that we must understand the larger landscape—both our own location as well as others’—in order to cross borders and figure out how each of us can work best with one another.