Girl w/ Pen is happy to share the following guest post from Kayla Parker, a senior Sociology major and Entrepreneurship minor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. (read more about Kayla at the end of the post)

Being a black woman in America can be absolutely terrifying at times. One of those times was a year ago when I stopped for gas off an unfamiliar exit and left thankful I still had my life. At this gas station, I was both objectified and degraded in a white man’s twisted version of a compliment. When I went inside for gum, one man shouted at me, “Oh you’re a cute little nigglet, aren’t you!” Acknowledging the 15:1 ratio of white men to my black ass, I turned to leave. Only to have one of them follow me. I left the gas station alive, but for a moment, I thought I would not. I remember hitting my lock button five times, like I do every time now. Regularly, I fear that my physical body will be assaulted for being a woman, being queer, or because of the melanin my skin contains.

In my Gender in Society class, we explored the unfortunate realities found at the intersection of race and gender and how those who find themselves there navigate white spaces. In The White Space by Elijah Anderson, Anderson defines white spaces as “overwhelmingly white neighborhoods, restaurants, schools, universities, workplaces, churches and other associations, courthouses, cemeteries, and situations that reinforce normative sensibilities in settings in which black people are typically absent, not expected, or marginalized when present.”

Black spaces, on the other hand, are often depicted as crime filled ghettos and are easily avoidable spaces for weary white people. Growing up black, I quickly learned that it would not be as easy for me to avoid white spaces as it was for white people to avoid black spaces. Finding a way to navigate these spaces is a condition of my existence and historically, navigating these spaces incorrectly has had negative and, sometimes, fatal effects on black women.

For centuries, black women have been persecuted in the United States and reminded that they are outsiders who need to find a way to incorporate themselves within our predominantly white and patriarchal society. Subtle reminders, such as the events that took place on the Napa Valley Wine Train in 2015, are intended to remind black women of how to behave in white spaces. One victim says it best when she explains that their only offense was “laughing while black”. On August 22, 2015, a group of book club members, ten of them black and one of them white, hopped aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train for a fun trip through the Wine Country. Though allegedly laughing no louder than the other inebriated white passengers on the train, they were asked twice by management to lower their voices. Minutes later, they were ordered off the train and turned over to the police.

Time and time again, we’ve seen differences between how black women and white women are treated when doing otherwise normal acts. A few actions that garner disproportionately negative and sometimes fatal responses for black people that achieved trending topic status on Twitter included: #LaughingWhileBlack, #DrivingWhileBlack, and #ShoppingWhileBlack. In my experience, I would’ve hashtagged #BuyingGumWhileBlack.

In The Continuing Significance of Race: Antiblack Discrimination in Public Places Joe Feagin states, “[One problem with] being black in America is that you have to spend so much time thinking about stuff that most white people just don’t even have to think about.” Activities that white men can do without simultaneously thinking of their race, gender, or sexuality are not available to me because I don’t have that privilege. I was born queer, black, and female so activities like buying gum at night put me at a higher risk for assault than most.

To navigate white spaces as a black woman, I am constantly making sure I’m Black but not too Black. To ensure my safety when I navigate these spaces, I stay strapped, but I also make room for white people. When I am walking on the street, I find myself constantly stepping out of the way for white men and I believed I was doing so at a disproportionate rate than my white female friends.

My friend Emma and I decided to obtain some empirical evidence. We sought to discover if white men, whether consciously or subconsciously, make room for white women on the crosswalk more frequently than they do for black women. Whenever the crosswalk had over five people, one of us would stand directly across from a selected white man. When the light would turn red, we’d cross the street and if we had to move out of the way within two feet of chosen white man, we counted it. Emma and I tested this and walked across the crosswalk over 250 times. Emma stepped out of the way for 51 white men. I stepped out of the way for 103.

My overwhelming feeling on this crosswalk was that I did not belong. There were several times when I would move out of the way too slowly and would find myself bumping shoulders with the men I passed. Twice, I found myself stepping out of the way for a gaggle of three to five white men. One time, one man angrily mumbled under his breath when I did not move out of his entitled pathway.

I believe this experiment speaks volumes to the character of our society and negates speculation that we are moving towards a “post-racial” world. For centuries, Blacks were legally banned from white spaces, thus coddling and developing white entitlement to these spaces. Today, Black women face the consequences of the white man’s entitlement.

In this era of Trump, a man who campaigned and won with rhetoric of textbook sexism, misogyny, and xenophobia, we must work to de-normalize the white supremacy that thrives at the expense of other minority groups. Stepping out of the way for a person of color may seem small, but I’m sure we’d see some positive outcomes from us feeling more included on the goddamn street.

Our society must be better and our society must be more tolerant. Maybe a world where black women and white men are equal on the street, is a world where a black woman doesn’t have to be afraid to buy gum from the gas station.

After transferring to UTK in 2015, Kayla continued her passioned for business but also discovered that she has a passion for social justice. When seeing the growing wage disparity, racism, and sexism in the world, Kayla began dreaming of ways to make Knoxville more tolerant and more safe for everyone, especially those who are disenfranchised. Combining her love for business and social justice, Kayla worked as a Marketing and Event Planning Intern for Big Brothers Big Sisters of East Tennessee. She helped plan, organize, and host their largest annual fundraiser, Cash 4 Kids Sake which helped pair more positive mentors with impoverished youth in the community. She continues to volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters during events. The marketing and event planning skills acquired during this internship with nonprofit, BBBS helped Kayla in organizing and planning events for her on campus organization, Students Who Stand (SWS). SWS is a support group for student sexual assault survivors. Their aim is to provide an inclusive environment to provide support to survivors, increase awareness, and engage in continuous dialogue with the University to encourage policy changes that will make campus safer and more supportive. Recently, Kayla organized, executed, and hosted a Sexual Assault Round Table with University administrators who handle sexual assault cases and activist Kamilah Willingham who was featured in CNN’s The Hunting Ground. She also organized an open mic for sexual assault survivors called Survivor Voices ft. Kamilah Willingham which gave other survivors a safe platform to share their experiences. Kayla has recently discovered her passion for writing and writes on her blog. In her final year of college, Kayla plans to continue to dedicate herself to her studies, grow her organization, and dream of the day she can finally own and love a Great Dane.

amrita_singh2Amrita Singh ’15 is a film studies major and an Athena Scholar. She serves as president of Columbia University Film Productions (CUFP), a Barnard Student Admissions Representative, an IMATS Media Technologist, and she’s also involved with the Athena Digital Design Agency. Additionally, she is an intern with Big Beach Films. She’s never been to Paris, but has always admired French cinema–in particular, Truffaut’s Les 400 Coups– and the city’s art scene both past and present. As an Indian immigrant and francophile, she is eager to better understand multiculturalism within a global context and as it relates to the particular history of Paris, France, and also looks forward to participating in the symposium during Barnard’s historic 125th anniversary.

With Hillary Clinton’s recent announcement regarding her candidacy of presidency and the conversations surrounding the current state of female leadership during a period of revived interest in women’s issues in popular culture as manifested in hashtag campaigns and impassioned speeches by celebrities, I find that the movement pushing for gender equality would greatly benefit in the inclusion of the voices of women that often go unheard. For instance, while the more recent HeforShe campaign importantly advocates that women’s rights affect us all and invites boys and men to the conversation, I wonder what more we could gain in focusing on diversity instead. While it’s incredibly important to highlight that gender equality is not strictly a women’s issue but one that affects us all, when we celebrate men as feminists to gain more traction in advancing the women’s movement what voices do we unintentionally drown out? In a patriarchal society where women still remain largely underrepresented in positions of authority, with their presence in top management positions remaining below 9 percent according to a report by the American Center for Progress despite reflecting the majority of the population, its important to bring these experiences to the forefront of the movement to effectively work towards correcting imbalances of power that permeate nearly all industry sectors. Furthermore when considering how women of color fare far worse in claiming leadership opportunities, the question of solidarity takes on a new form entirely.

That’s why I find programs focused on cultivating a group of diverse girls and young women who see themselves as leaders prove incredibly valuable. Given my quiet personality, I certainly didn’t see myself as a leader until I entered Barnard College, a liberal arts college for women based in New York City. As a student pursuing directing and opportunities in filmmaking, a male-dominated industry that notably lacks diversity with a mere 7% of female directors last year according to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, I found the space of a women’s college incredibly empowering in demonstrating that leadership takes on many forms and is an ongoing process. I never understood what the big deal was in being a leader, especially since I honestly felt most comfortable on the sidelines. Without having to compromise who I am, in claiming leadership, my voice felt validated. Thus, while many people still question the relevance of women’s colleges today, as an institution, Barnard was founded to challenge systems of inequality and even figures prominently today in the discussion of women’s rights and in addressing pertinent ideas of gender identity. This year marks Barnard’s 7th year in hosting the global symposia series, with Barnard student fellows both interacting with the larger New York community and traveling to Rio, Mumbai and Paris to engage in issues of women and leadership. In exploring feminism within different cultural contexts, the program relies on the diversity of experiences to better understand how identity impacts one’s individual encounter with systems of inequality. By celebrating the importance of including a multiplicity voices, both in theory with inspired discussions relating to relevant social issues, and in practice by way of the vast backgrounds of the leaders participating in the program, the symposium refocuses the conversation on feminism by tackling issues of representation directly. From leading artists including Panmela Castro who engages with activism through her vivid graffiti on the streets of Brazil to Helene Gayle, CEO of CARE USA, an organization fighting poverty, the symposium in New York City draws from the rich experiences of a diverse group of leaders to present a number of perspectives on explicit challenges that women face at a global level.

16618620978_a3a412d9b7_oI had the opportunity to collaborate with high school students abroad in the Paris Young Women’s Leadership Workshop and amplify their voices by encouraging them to embrace their identity as a platform for their leadership. Given the different cultural settings a part of each city explored through the Symposium, the exchange between Barnard students and participating high school students provides invaluable learning opportunities on both ends. Using these interactive workshops to inspire participants in developing social action projects empower these young women to see themselves as leaders who can actually take the steps to bring about this change in their respective communities. In cultivating a global network of individuals who embody what it means to be a leader in this day and age, the Barnard Global Symposium connects women of different ages, backgrounds and beliefs across the globe to take part in the discourse of women and leadership as agents of change, impossible to ignore. As Global Symposium Panelist, Ndili Nwunelli said, “As young people we are told we are leaders of tomorrow. Why tomorrow? We can be leaders of today and tomorrow.”

By Dairanys Grullon-Virgil*

While reading Paulo Coelho’s novel Aleph over the semester break, a passage jumped out to me.  Coelho, the main character, sees Hilda, his love interest, naked and notices her shaved genitals: “When I met her in her past life, when I first saw her naked she had pubic hair. Today the woman in front of me has shaved all of it, something that I think is abominable, like if all man are looking for a infant to have sex with. I ask her to never do that again.”

What? He is actually fine with her having pubic hair and begging her not to shave it all ever again?! That is certainly not the message I’ve gotten as a young woman. Then thinking about it he makes a very important point. Pubic hair on a woman or a man is the symbol of becoming, growing, age. However, thanks to the media and social norms, we often feel repulsed or embarrassed by having pubic hair. Especially for women, we are constantly targeted with messages on how our vagina should look when we wearing a bikini or before having sex. I am not saying that all women feel this way, but many of us have felt that that way including myself. more...

This fall I had the great privilege of designing and teaching the first Sociology of Gender class to be offered at the City College of New York.  My goal of the class was for the students to leave able to apply a nuanced gender lens to whatever social problem tickled their fancy. One night reading their weekly reflexive journals, I witnessed that “click” moment when the students start to engage with the class material in very exciting ways.  More importantly, I realized I had stumbled upon the next generation of gender justice thinkers.  They were asking questions and making connections that I knew the movement needed to hear.  How could I NOT invite them to blog here at Girl w/ Pen, a space that has long supported the next generation of feminists?  So without further ado, here are some of my star students, chatting about a few of the key debates we had in class this semester. Enjoy!

Throughout the semester, we debated whether the goal of a movement for greater gender justice should be the expansion of gender or the explosion of gender.  In other words, is your utopian vision a world with a multiplicity of genders or a genderless world?  Where did you end up in this debate?

Alex Constantin: Although I understand some (utopian) reason behind the call for exploding gender to reach a genderless, liberated world, my personal sense of justice lends towards the expansion of gender. There are still far too many oppressive gender rules for me not advocate for expanding gender. We have an entire outdated archive on the male and female dichotomy that calls for an urgent expansion above and beyond the binary.

Gloria Robles: I personally believe that the goal of a movement for greater gender justice should be on the expansion of gender – not the explosion, or elimination. To draw a comparison of gender to race, it’s important to recognize that there are differences and to not promote “color-blindness.” We are all unique and have many nuances to who we are and that should not be disregarded but celebrated.

Sandra Prieto: I can’t really relate to a genderless world. A genderless world would only allow some other category to restructure how we relate to each other, like sports team affiliations or preferred ice cream flavor. Maybe I’ve read too many Orwell novels, but the only genderless world I can imagine is where we all have to mask our faces and bodies. Sure, it might create greater equal opportunities, but might it also strip away one way we express ourselves? That is why I find the expansion of gender more appealing. With the introduction of more genders, we would no longer be able to assign masculinity to just males and femininity to just females. Instead of expecting everyone to fit into one of two ideal categories, we would be creating more flexible gender norms.

Shari Mohammed: For me, this is a both/and question. To successfully move towards greater justice, we need to expand gender, which will eventually entail the explosion of gender. Not that this will result in a genderless world, just an exploded understanding of what is gender. We need to recreate how we think of, react to, and how we express gender. My utopian world would be everyone expressing their gender however they wish without fear of social sanctions.  The first step, in my opinion, is eradicating the sexism inherent in our current binary system and then working toward an expanded sense of acceptance.

Dairanys Grullon-Virgil: We need an explosion of gender. Today people more than ever are becoming more comfortable and proud of who they are. The problem is that we still judge individuals based on socially constructed ideologies of gender. I think that the conversation about having greater gender justice should revolve around acknowledging the multiplicity of gender identities, instead of imposing gender identities to individuals.

Erin Crowder: It is difficult for me to pick a side in this debate.  Expanding what is considered normal sounds utopian at first, but then I think about how much I despise the word “normal.”  It is quite clear that norms are always regulating and oppressive, so why simply create more?  On the other hand, however, I feel a genderless world is problematic too.  I believe there is an internal force creating gender that creates our identity.  Personally, my gender is central to my identity, although, I do not know if this is a good thing.  What I do know is that in a genderless world I would lose this part of my identity.  Lacking this identity could be detrimental, but it could also be a source of liberation.   I find myself somersaulting between the two sides in this debate.

Kenya Bushell: I feel that we should live in a genderless world. The world shouldn’t have expectations of anyone for any reason, especially regarding genetics. It shouldn’t matter that a person was born a male or a female. They had no control of this outcome and therefore should not be controlled by it. As we continue to conflate gender and sex, a genderless world is the only way I see out of this conundrum.

One of your first assignments was to go out in public and do your gender differently in a way that challenged current gender norms.  What gender norm did you choose to break and what was the experience like for you? more...

The following is the fourth installment of “The Next Generation” column, featuring young feminists under the age of 30 who are not yet established in an academic career.  If you fit this description and are interested in writing your own take for us on bridging feminist research with popular reality, please submit your idea and a little about yourself via our contact form.
I grew up in a very traditional family. I was taught that God had created specific gender roles for men and women: the husband was to provide and protect while the wife was to keep the home and raise the children. Furthermore, I was learned that feminism was anti-woman, anti-family, and anti-God, and that it is the cause of most of the problems we see in society today, from the growing number of single mothers to rising STD rates and declining real wages.

Then I went to college. My academic record was stellar, and my professors, both male and female, told me that I had potential. They encouraged me to go on to graduate school, to use my talents and abilities to their utmost, and they believed I could do it. This was the first time I had been given these messages. While my parents had always praised my intellectual ability and encouraged me in my academic pursuits, they also taught me that my role was to be a stay-at-home mother, not to have a career. Now I was realizing for the first time that I really could be anyone I wanted, do anything I wanted.

Of course, this encouragement did not automatically change my view of feminism. The pivotal point for that was a class I took on the history of the 1960s. One week of the class focused specifically on feminism, and by week’s end I was calling myself a feminist. What had changed? It’s simple, really. I realized (a) that feminism had been very much needed and had brought about some wonderful changes; and (b) that the stereotyped image I had of feminists as selfish family-destroyers was flat out wrong.

We read a lot of primary documents from the origins of the second wave feminist movement, and I was completely shocked. I might have been taught that women are to be homemakers rather than have careers, but the idea of women making a lower wage for the same labor was horrifying. When I read that women weren’t even allowed inside Harvard University’s library in the 1950s for fear they would “distract” the male students, I was floored. The more I read the more incredulous I grew. The more I read, the more angry I grew. Suddenly, my entire perception of feminism was shifting. After all, if I’d been in their shoes, I would have stood up and demanded change as well!

But before I could actually embrace feminism, I had to deal with my understanding of feminism as anti-family. Perhaps, I thought, feminists had dealt with real problems by throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Once again, though, the readings for the class were excellent. While some feminists did call for the abolition of the family, I found that their numbers were few, and besides, I could now see why some would go to that extreme. The more I read about second wave feminism, though, the less threatening it sounded. As it has been aptly described, “feminism is the radical notion that women are people.”

I learned that feminism wasn’t about forcing women into the workforce, but about giving women options. Feminism wasn’t about destroying the family, but about making marriages equal partnerships. Feminism wasn’t about selfishness, but a reminder that women, too, are people who have needs and desires. Feminism wasn’t about wanton abortion, but about giving women the ability to control their sexuality and reproduction. Feminism wasn’t about leaving women unprotected and alone, but about giving women the means to protect themselves. This was all completely new to me!

I felt like a butterfly who had gone through some sort of weird transformation. Having been raised to see feminism as my enemy, I now could not see it as anything other than my friend. Having been raised to be a homemaker, I now had a desire to use my talents in the workplace. It was like my world had suddenly turned three-dimensional.

Those of you who are college professors or teachers can help young women raised in anti-feminist homes to come to a similar revelation.  It’s simple:

  • Believe in your female students and affirm their potential.
  • Explain why feminism was necessary by talking about how things were before.
  • Combat negative stereotypes of feminism with more realistic understandings.
  • Discuss the good feminism has done for our society, and the good feminists hope to do in the future.

Rachel Coleman is working on her Ph.D. in history at Indiana University. She is married to a man who shares her newfound feminist views, and is enjoying charting new waters of marriage equality. Together they have a daughter who is breaking down gender stereotypes even at her young age.

 

The following is the third installment of “The Next Generation” column, featuring young feminists under the age of 30 who are not yet established in an academic career.  If you fit this description and are interested in writing your own take for us on bridging feminist research with popular reality, please submit your idea and a little about yourself via our contact form.
Popular democracy movements in autocratic Middle Eastern regimes have captured the world’s attention this year, and subsequently have forced Westerners to reconsider their perceptions of the Middle East. Scenes of brutality that might otherwise have been successfully hidden by leaders desperate to stay in power are instead available for global consumption on sites like Youtube. Various blogging platforms and other forms of social networking like Twitter and Facebook provide activists with the means to report on the realities of life under Saleh, Gaddafi and Assad in the absence of a free press. But the same factors (ease of access, popularity) that allow new media to be used as a tool to advance the work of marginalized activist communities also mean that it is easily hijacked by privileged voices.

For Westerners involved in social justice movements, this is just one thread of a difficult conversation as they attempt to discern their appropriate role as allies to Middle Eastern activists. The accessibility of social media makes it far too easy to participate in activism on a superficial basis, and for allies with academic backgrounds in area studies, international relations or a related field, it can be all too easy to mistake a university education for substantial experience. The combination of these two factors can inadvertently result in a destabilization of the very movements Western allies seek to support.

This misguided intervention is illustrated particularly well by the controversy surrounding Tom MacMaster, author of the blog “A Gay Girl in Damascus.” MacMaster spent years developing the character of Amina Arraf. Amina purported to be an out Muslim lesbian residing in Damascus, Syria, and a supporter of the opposition to Syria’s current president, Bashar al Assad. Later, Amina’s “cousin” reported that the woman had been arrested by forces loyal to Assad. But her online identity had begun to unravel as journalists in the region proved unable to verify her identity, and on June 12th the Electronic Intifada linked her identity to Palestinian solidarity supporter Tom MacMaster. MacMaster eventually admitted the hoax, and in a phone interview with the Washington Post, MacMaster described his motivation for adopting the persona of a queer Arab woman as a sort of writing exercise, a desire to prove his creative worth by taking on “the challenge of being someone who isn’t me.”

more...

The following is the second installment of “The Next Generation” column, featuring young feminists under the age of 30 who are not yet established in an academic career.  If you fit this description and are interested in writing your own take for us on bridging feminist research with popular reality, please submit your idea and a little about yourself via our contact form.

[Note: a version of this piece was originally posted at NCRW’s The Real Deal blog]

This summer I had the opportunity to participate in a webinar narrated by Terry O’Neill, the president of NOW, entitled “The Budget Deal is a Feminist Issue.” The webinar discussed how Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) 2012 budget deal would cut several social services on which women depend disproportionately. Programs on the chopping block included Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Planned Parenthood and other family planning clinics, Pell grants, job training, Head Start, childcare programs, and WIC nutrition programs. Women depend predominantly on most, if not all, of these programs.

After O’Neill gave her presentation, she opened the floor to questions. I asked if any of the Ryan cuts would impact girls and teens, and she explained that it would cut family planning clinics like Planned Parenthood, which also offer services like mammograms, STD and HIV screenings, Pap smears, and other tests that can help save women’s lives. “That’s appalling,” she said.

All in all, I greatly enjoyed the webinar. (I told my friend about it and she told me, “You’re probably the only teenager on the planet who enjoyed hearing a presentation about the budget.” She’s probably got a point there.) In a personal correspondence, Anita Lederer, the NOW field organizer, asked if everyone could speak to their representatives, host a letter-writing campaign, or demonstrate in a rally against cuts. As the “super committee” makes its decisions on deficit reduction, and as we go into the next budget cycle, it is critical that young feminists continue these actions and oppose cuts that will disproportionately harm girls and teenagers.

While I absolutely loved the webinar, it bothered me a little bit that O’Neill felt the only way the Ryan budget would impact young women was by cutting family planning. Girls do have interests other than sex, after all. I know that I care about getting a college education, which could have been impossible if the Ryan cut on Pell grants had gone through. I also care about Medicaid cuts, since they could financially affect the family of a friend whose sibling has special needs. These are just a couple of my concerns – every young woman would have different worries.

It also bothers me that O’Neill didn’t even address the impact of the Ryan budget cuts on younger women in her original presentation, which is why I made sure to ask about it. I know O’Neill is of the baby boomer generation, and I would venture a guess that the vast majority of NOW members are as well, but isn’t it important to include people of all ages? Feminists go to extreme efforts to include gays and lesbians, people of color, the disabled, etc. Shouldn’t they consider it a primary goal to include younger feminists? We are the next generation, and if they don’t encourage us to join the movement, it will wither away and die.

I’ve noticed similar attitudes with other feminists—this is far from limited to NOW. I have been excluded because of my age in many different feminist forums, and that really bothers me. Why are younger women ignored? Aren’t we just as important as older feminists, if not even more so? We’ll be continuing the legacy of this generation’s feminists, keeping the movement alive. It is absolutely imperative that we are encouraged to attend, included in, and feel welcome at feminist events. If older feminists don’t include our concerns without being asked to do so, no one will want to accept the feminist torch when we’re adults, and all the work they accomplished will go to waste.

Feminists, please: think about about the budget, and make sure the people around you are aware of how detrimental cuts in social services, education, and entitlement programs can be to women and to the country at large. While you’re at it, make sure to inform the young people around you. They have brains and will understand the importance of the budget, once someone takes the time to explain it to them. Don’t discount the next generation of feminists. I happen to think that we’re pretty cool.

Talia bat Pessi is a teenage Femidox (feminist Orthodox) Jew who writes the blog Star of Davida. She also writes for various other feminist and women’s news resources. After high school and college, she hopes to get a JD/PhD in women’s studies and go into labor law, specializing in workplace discrimination and sexual harassment.

The following is the first guest post in our new “The Next Generation” column, featuring young feminists under the age of 30 who are not yet established in an academic career.  If you fit this description and are interested in writing your own take for us on bridging feminist research with popular reality, please submit your idea and a little about yourself via our contact form.

Caminante, no hay puentes, se hace puentes al andar. (Voyager, there are no bridges, one builds them as one walks.)
Gloria E. Anzaldúa


I first delved into anthologies as an earnest teen combing the “Women’s Studies” section of the woefully-understocked local library. The few books with subtitles like: “Real Girls Tell Their Stories” were an enticing draw—an accessible bridge between the voices of young women in the YA section and the more dense, demanding academic writing on the shelves. In anthologies, professional and ‘amateur’ writers commingled, their only requirements that their piece adhere to the theme of the book and that they write from the heart. Though some pieces were well-researched, footnoted and produced within the context of an academy, some of the best were the uncensored thoughts of authors.

Through “girls,” I branched out to “women”—women writing about having children, about marriage, domestic life, queer women, women of color. I searched for years for a copy of This Bridge Called My Back, the groundbreaking anthology edited by the late Gloria Anzaldua and Cherrie Moraga, before finally being rewarded with the challenging, thought-provoking, and touching book that other anthologies so lovingly describe it as.

Learning how to read academic writing is a challenge, with a liberal arts education or without. Anthologies may be published less frequently, but their style lives on in the accessible, democratic “call for submissions” of the vast blogosphere.1

Anthologies are the bridge we build: the most direct bridge between writer and reader, and a bridge to new concepts. In the introduction, you get the condensed version of the topic. In the ensuing essays, you get the unfiltered perspective of people who actually live the experiences they are writing about: something of a rarity in traditional academic writing.

To get started, pick an anthology with a title and cover that resonates with you. Remember, this is a guide for beginners. Unlike most books, you’re not obligated to read the whole thing. Yes, a committed reader (or someone who feels guilty if they abandon books midway through) may plow through the whole book, but even then one is not obligated to read essays in order. In a good anthology, at least, a diligent reader is rewarded with opposing viewpoints and entries that titillate, resonate, force one to reexamine beliefs or form new ones.

At the very least, anthologies serve as an accessible, enlightening, and even enjoyable bridge into topics or groups of voices with which one is not familiar. Pick one up, flip through, and enjoy!

Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation
Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme
YELL-Oh Girls! Emerging Voices Explore Culture, Identity, and Growing Up Asian American
Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys
This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color
Nice Jewish Girls: A Lesbian Anthology
That’s Revolting!: Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation
The Persistent Desire: A Femme-Butch Reader
The Bitch in the House: 26 Women Tell the Truth About Sex, Solitude, Work, Motherhood, and Marriage
Without a Net: The Female Experience of Growing Up Working Class (Live Girls)

1.  Penelope Engelbrecht, “Strange Company: Uncovering the Queer Anthology,” NWSA Journal 7:1 (Spring 1995).

Cornelia Beckett is a young feminist writer, activist, and student at Smith College. Her own work appears in a feminist anthology called Click (Seal Press). She has also contributed to the NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland Blog and thefbomb.org.

Calling all young scholars, students, and feminist research mavens!  We’re looking for contributors for a new rotating-authored column called “The Next Generation.”  (Apologies to the Star Trek franchise.)  This column is geared towards would-be Girl w/ Pen contributors who may not yet established as feminist scholars, but still have a lot to say about bridging the gap between feminist research and popular reality.  We’re looking for contributors under 30 to submit guest posts to this monthly column, which will include a range of topics.  You can find general criteria for contributions on our Submit Your Ink page.  If you’re interested, just submit a short pitch to me (Avory) via the contact form.  Please spread the word widely and if you know any promising young feminists who might like to submit a post, pass it on!