Saturday, September 15, 2007

GUEST POST: Young, Academic, and Feminist - in Public

Heather Hewett is an Assistant Professor in English and Coordinator of the Women's Studies Program at SUNY-New Paltz, and a freelance journalist to boot. If it weren't for Heather, who sat across from munching salads at Cosi while she finished her dissertation, I never would have finished mine. These days, in addition to organizing conferences, writing WashPo op-eds, and hosting MotherTalk Salons, Heather is mom to a 9-month old and a 4-year old. Here's Heather:

So here’s a question: how much of the desire among many younger academic feminists to reach out to a larger audience is generational, and how much has a much deeper history informed by the goals and visions of the feminist movement?

I write this question as a writer, professor, and scholar (and now, for the first time, blogger!) who has never been able to stop herself from writing for mainstream audiences. As a result, I’ve found myself crossing back and forth, locating myself both in and outside the academy. I’ve learned a lot as I’ve traveled this road, journeying along byways (plus more than a few dead ends) and cultivating skills that aren’t taught in most graduate programs. In order to keep going, I’ve constantly had to hew a vision of myself that includes multiple kinds of writing and interests. An endeavor, I sometimes worry, that isn’t always rewarded in the academic world. As a result, it’s been liberating for me to find other young feminists on this journey and to realize that I’m not traveling solo.

But as much as I might congratulate myself on my own ambition (or castigate myself for my lack of discipline), I have to ask: isn’t this one of feminism’s visions? Doesn’t feminism invite us to think about the relationship of our research to social change, to connect with larger audiences over concerns we all share? Haven’t lots and lots of feminist intellectuals – Betty Friedan, Barbara Ehrenreich, Susan Faludi, Laura Kipnis, to name only a few – done this? (If you haven’t guessed already, this is why I love Girl w/Pen!)

So here is another story (and, I will confess, a bit of a shameless plug). One of the things I love about my current job at SUNY New Paltz is that I help to organize a regular Women’s Studies conference. One of the goals of this conference is to connect feminist scholars and researchers, activists, social workers, teachers, students, and other community members – and the Women’s Studies Program has been putting this together for 28 years. The year of its launch, I was in third grade! I’m a bit awed by this history, and it reminds me that plenty of academic feminists before me have sought to create dialogue and community that transcend the confines of the so-called Ivory Tower.

This year’s conference is entitled “Girlhood: The Challenge and Promise of Growing Up Female.” Our keynote speakers include journalist and Feministing contributor Courtney Martin, Senior UNICEF Adviser Mary Roodkowsky, and SUNY New Paltz students Julliany Lahoz, Cristal Pimentel, and Queen Bond. Workshops and panels will explore girls’ identity, culture, activism, health, education, struggles, and successes in the U.S. and globally. Please check us out – we’re on the Hudson River, only an hour and a half north of New York City. Girls of all ages and those interested in girlhood are invited to attend!

You can contact Heather directly at hewetth AT newpaltz DOT edu

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