Thanks to the awesome women at Soapbox, I spent last week with a bunch of young feminists from across the US. We met with different feminist leaders, activists and organizations all over New York City. A major goal of a lot of the women in this program is to figure out exactly what to do with their women’s studies degrees, that is, how the hell to be a professional feminist. I’m not an expert on the subject by any means, but I want to dispel a few myths.
1. If you’re asking the question, you probably already live the answer. Being a professional feminist doesn’t mean you’re getting paid for it. Unfortunately, this is a reality for a lot of us. We have jobs that pay our bills and ALSO volunteer on the side as a clinic escort, on our abortion fund’s hotline, canvassing/phone banking for choice, you name it, we’re there and doing it for free. In a dream world, someone (who?) would fund this, but just because you’re working somewhere else to make ends meet doesn’t make you a traitor to the movement. We’d all love to get paid to do what we’re passionate about, but that’s not reality. Feminist orgs are hurting right now, and even in the center of the feminist world (NYC, in my opinion), they just can’t employ all of us with a strong head on our shoulders.
2. Living in a big city doesn’t mean feminist work is easier, living in a smaller town doesn’t necessarily make feminist work more difficult. I can see it in the eyes of all the women in this program – New York City! Feminist heaven! Feminist haven! In some ways, NYC is one of the best places to be a feminist – where else are you going to find so many amazing organizations in one place? Feminists flock to NYC, and with good reason, but that doesn’t make finding a feminist job here easier. In fact, despite the seemingly endless number of women-oriented organizations, there’s an equally endless amount of women who want the SAME jobs, who came to NYC for the same reasons as you, who also need to pay their rent and want feminist activism to be their bag. As much as I wish it was this way, moving to NYC doesn’t guarantee a life of feminist glamour.
But your small town! Your middle sized city! While perhaps not a bastion of feminist protests, maybe there is some work to be done there. Maybe you can start an abortion fund, a doula project, a service that helps women navigate the adoption process. I’m not discouraging anyone form moving, but maybe it’s time to look at your hometown with fresh (feminist!) eyes. What work can you do there to help women in your community access the reproductive health resources? What resources are difficult for poor women, women of color, trans folks, gender non-conforming folks, to access? How can you improve those resources, make it easier for everyone to get the services they need? Doing this work in your town or a smaller town may give you the ability to take a leadership role that wouldn’t have been possible in a city with all of those resources already.
3. Your college major doesn’t necessarily matter. I wish a degree in women’s studies automatically guaranteed that everyone viewed you as a feminist expert, but it doesn’t. There is so much work you can do outside whatever you studied at school; there’s no need to limit yourself based on what your degree is in, at least for undergrad.
I know I’m missing some other tips. What tips or advice do you have for feminists just starting out?