Womanist Wisdom: Seven Simple Acts for 2012

Last week, country-pop princess Taylor Swift swiveled a few heads circa The Exorcist when she proclaimed in an interview with The Daily Beast that she doesn’t consider herself to be a feminist. Her exact words were:

“I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls. I never have. I was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life.”

Though Swift’s wording is problematic, since feminism isn’t necessarily a pitting of the sexes against each other, I can relate to her perspective. Like Swift, I didn’t grasp the spirit of feminism until the beginning of 2012. In this Clutch article, I explained this internal conflict further.

“Though I spent a portion of my undergraduate career at an institution designed to empower and educate black women, I was so entrenched in the misconceptions of feminism that I struggled with embracing the label.

I, and a legion of my peers, was against the concept of feminism. After all, I was insolated in a collegiate environment with hundreds of intelligent, ambitious, and undeterred black women, so we didn’t need to burn bras. I appreciated the struggles of the suffrage movement and respected the women in the trenches of the fight. But, as a millennial reaping the benefits of their sacrifices, I was never denied access to the American Dream based on gender. Race? Yes. Female? Not so much. I did not see how I could be a feminist in a world where the leader of Liberia is a woman.”

As much as I abhorred feminism, I was the personification of its spirit. Swift is as well. She is smashing Billboard records and promoting independence in her art and life choices. But she has misconstrued feminism’s role in her ability to make these triumphant strides in the music business. However, Swift isn’t alone. A major slice of the millennial demographic is in alignment with her shedding of feminism, as evidenced in the CNN article, “Where are all the Millennial Feminists?

“I can’t say I blame Swift if she hasn’t quite pinned down the definition of the word. I do identify as a feminist — after all, I trust in my abilities, combat stereotypes and believe in equal rights. But I’ve also been unsure at times what exactly it means to be a feminist and whether the modern movement is the best vehicle for gender equality.

Women have been divided over feminism, its definition and practice, since the first suffragettes demanded space in politics. Even today, asking a roomful of millennial women, roughly those 18-29, whether they identify as feminist will elicit a range of responses: yes, no and someplace in between.

Lack of information about feminism’s history, both in the classroom and the news media, may explain millennials’ dissatisfaction with the term. Plus, constant revisions to feminist rhetoric make it difficult to keep up with its definition.”

What traditional feminists and womanists are slow to embrace is that millennial feminists/womanists’ principles are much different than our foremothers. Some of us struggle with hip-hop’s misogyny and reality television’s ratchetness, but we still appreciate it and tune in weekly. I just purchased Meek Mill’s “Dreams and Nightmares.” In most traditional feminist/womanist’s eyes, I’ve committed an ultimate sin. Oh well. Like others in my generation, including Rihanna, I flick off those that don’t understand and have redefined these principles to suit my preferences.

We are reaping the benefits of the sacrifices that previous generations made, so our points of contention in the gender inequality battle have a different spin than it did for our spirited feminist ancestors.

On the other hand, how feminism/womanism manifests in our millennial lives leaves a lot of Generation Yers in Swift’s position: confused and unsure of how to become involved in the new waves of the movement. But here are seven simple acts of feminism/womanism that can be accomplished by the end of 2012.

This list was adapted from a similar one on the Kentucky Foundation for Women’s website.

Share an article or book that embodies the positive spirit of feminism, whether in its literal content, the characters or the themes.

Interview wise women (Grandmothers, mothers, aunties, community elders, etc.) that are knowledgeable, but don’t identify as feminists or womanists. Use their experiences to begin building a functional feminism/womanism that is self-reflective and progressive.

Support local feminist artists. Attend a reading or theatrical/spoken word performance that reflects feminist values or visit an art gallery that’s featuring a feminist/womanist exhibition.

–  Read five articles or a book about feminism/womanism principles and use social media (Twitter, Facebook, email group) to spark dialogue about the readings. You can also join an Ebook club that focuses on feminist/womanist work. I suggest reading The Feminist Wire, The Crunk Feminist Collective, XO Jane, Feministing and Ms. and using these platforms to connect with other feminist/womanist-focused publications and communities. The Nation has a great, free listserv that sends weekly feminist articles.

Write a letter to an inspiring congresswoman or other local influential figure to both uplift her and inform her about the different projects that feminist artists are contributing to the community.

Subscribe to a non-profit publication or website that has a feminist manifesto or dedication to promoting equality.

Create a feminist blog, focusing on a specific niche such as art, politics or the role of feminists in history e.g. the Harlem Renaissance, pop culture, literature, etc. The Writeous Babe and Red Bone Afro Puff both channel the educational, triumphant feminist spirit on their sites. This is a project I’m also undertaking. Details are coming soon!

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