Feminist Networking and Social Support // Alexandra Nobel
When considering a topic for this post I wanted to discuss how much the feminist community of my colleagues and mentors has meant to me professionally as well as personally. After reading Marlene Williams’ piece on the stress reducing health benefits of feminism, published on FemPop on March 10th, I was inspired and hoped I might be so bold as to add a 4th benefit of feminism: social support. The process of identifying, sharing, and collaborating with other women who share similar viewpoints and experiences is extremely beneficial for the process of developing one’s feminist identity and finding a supportive community. These processes might serve as protective factors against internalization of discrimination, for example, and may ultimately buffer against stress.
Within academic and professional settings, women may experience sex-based discrimination and/or microaggressions and may feel variably confident that they can assert their objections and distaste for their organizations’ acceptance or management of these issues. It is possible (and I would argue likely) that women who identify as having a strong feminist support network (either within or outside of the setting) may feel more confident addressing microaggressions in professional settings. It may be that these women may actually feel more stressed in these situations because they have developed greater social consciousness, but arguably the support gained from the feminist networks could provide them with the confidence that they could address discrimination and enact change for themselves and other women. Gloria Steinem said, “the truth will set you free but first it will piss you off.”
When women are silent about their feminist identity in academia and other professional spheres, they deny themselves and their peers the opportunity to discuss what being a feminist means to them and how they may navigate situations that trigger frustration or discomfort. Perhaps they may also be able to learn from each other about intersectional discrimination (i.e., that one woman may be shielded from due to a privileged status). It is highly likely that many women observe, hear, and feel discrimination/microaggressions and may also experience dissonance in not asserting their thoughts and feelings for fear of being ostracized.
I am grateful that I have had mentors (faculty and peers) who helped to raise my consciousness to ever-present social injustices and inequities. They guided me toward a feminist framework to put these issues in context and introduced me to a network of women who not only felt similarly (i.e., “THIS IS NOT OK!”) but were also making their careers out of studying these issues and working toward real social change.
The process of identifying with women who share my/your identity as a feminist can be big or small. Sometimes it’s as small, but no less powerful, as having one relationship with someone who shares your views. The energy that can be gained from that one good conversation with a colleague - where the number of “YASS KWEEN!”s and “PREACH GIRL”s gets too high to count - can really carry you through the sexist experiences in daily life, which could be draining otherwise. The social support of feminist peers and mentors could influence your self-efficacy in identifying when you may be giving in to social pressures versus asserting your wants and needs. This support could also provide motivation to maintain self-care regimens in a stressful, demanding world.
I know there might be some people reading this post who identified as a feminist early on in your life and education. I was not one of those people. I was confused about what feminism meant broadly and in terms of my own identity. It wasn’t until graduate school that I started to recognize social inequities as malleable and worth advocacy. I will be forever grateful to my mentor in my master’s program and several women I met through my graduate education who provide me with support, validation, and inspiration. I gain enough energy at feminist minded conferences that I attend annually to carry me through the rest of the year! I also have plenty of conversations with feminist colleagues, reaching out when I want to get their opinion on something or asking them for advice on how to structure my schedule to include self-care. I urge you to reach out to your students and/or your colleagues (within or outside of graduate school) and get them involved in conversations, brainstorming sessions, and conference presentations. Let’s get more people involved in the process of understanding and developing their feminist identity and raising consciousness regarding how societal pressures, biases, and inequities may be negatively affecting our moods and motivations. I acknowledge that the term ‘feminist’ has garnered criticism and that certain women may be hesitant to identify as a feminist if they think it means that they must believe (insert misconception here). But this is exactly the reason why we NEED to talk about it, especially with young women who may be trying to wade through all of the misunderstandings and skewed portrayals.
I will conclude by saying that, in my opinion, identifying as a feminist means identifying with a community of women who hear you and acknowledge your struggle as rooted within a context that wants to silence you. It means that you are willing to align with your fellow woman, listen to their trials and triumphs within their intersectional feminist experience, and feel connected to them in your mutual pursuit of social justice. Standing with fellow feminists and feeling them stand with you can bring unimaginable strength. Tapping into that feminist energy can bring you confidence in the pursuit of your goals and give you the platform to advocate for social change along the way.