Feminism and Me – Freestyling Feminism with Elisabeth Hill
Anyone who calls themselves a feminist has their own reasons and path to claiming this label. I don’t intend this to be a confessional blog – there are enough over-educated, middle class, white millennial feminists talking about their lives on the internet and everywhere else, some with more wit, skill, and thoughtfulness than I could offer, and some with less…. But I thought it would be appropriate to begin this column with an introduction to who I am, why I’m here, and where I hope to go.
Regrettably I did not discover feminism in high school. I am convinced that my adolescence would have been greatly improved if I had listened to Bikini Kill alongside the Clash, but that came later. I mostly discovered feminism through blogs towards the end of high school and the first year of university – the Bust blog and magazine, Feministing, and of course, Jezebel at its high point. Body image and body positivity seemed to be a hot topic at the time, and was an ideal entry point for me. Like many (most?) girls, coming of age meant a sudden, negative awareness of my own body’s existence, from which followed constant comparison with other girls. Negative body talk became a primary topic of conversation with friends.
By the end of high school, I’d largely decided that fat/ugly talk was boring and reconciled myself with preferring food and sitting around to being “hot”, but the newfound concept of body positivity and body image as a political and cultural issue put my thoughts and feelings about my body in a new light with far reaching implications. My new understanding of beauty standards and girls’ body image issues led to real and long lasting changes in my own body image on an emotional as well as intellectual level. It also empowered me to eat the amazing carrot cake at UVic library coffee shop twice a week for all of first year and gain a good fifteen pounds with no qualms… Let’s just say that it took a couple years for my approach to body positivity to evolve past the many negative attitudes and associations that the weight loss imperative attaches to healthy eating and exercise.
More importantly, body positivity also kicked off an interest in, and awareness of, feminism in general. Through articles and discussions that I read online, as well as an introductory women’s studies course and other university courses that dealt with critical perspectives, I was exposed to concepts like privilege that changed how I understood the world and my place in it. Having grown up white, middle class, straight, etc in a predominantly white, middle class, complacently left wing environment, I was certainly opposed to racism, homophobia, and other kinds of bigotry on principle, but I had little understanding of how those things really worked or manifested. Reading about feminism that pertained to my concerns, led me to reading about feminist issues less directly recognizable in my own life. Themes such as feminism and race, queer feminism, and issues faced by transwomen, sex workers, or poor women, for example.
I was exposed to a multitude of perspectives, ideas, and issues, because I was mostly reading about intersectional feminism. Intersectional feminism takes feminism (“women’s/gender issues”) as a starting point, but recognizes the other factors that impact individual women’s lives and the concerns of diverse groups of women. Intersectional feminism recognizes a plurality of feminisms and the diversity, even contradiction, among “women’s experiences” and gender issues. Intersectional feminism not only led me to a better, and empowering, understanding of myself and my own circumstances, but to greater social awareness and critical sensitivity to issues and perspectives outside my own direct experience.
In my last post, I discussed the urgent need to embrace intersectionality whole-heartedly and for white people in particular to throw their weight into anti-racism efforts in the coming years. (And into efforts against the misogyny, colonialism, homophobia, transphobia, Judeo- and Islamophobia that are enmeshed with white supremacy.) It would be disingenuous to say that intersectionality matters now, as if it did not matter so much before. In some ways, this election doesn’t signal a change in American culture and society, so much as it should serve as a wakeup call to those of us who perhaps did not realize the extent and severity of racism and fear and anger in America in the twenty-first century. It is a privileged position to be unaware of that reality and perhaps if the greater mass of liberals and progressives had been more conscious, had really felt on the behalf of their marginalized, vulnerable, and even angry friends and neighbours who were telling them about this reality, the new reality of a Trump presidency could have been defended against.
Although I do not live or vote in the United States, I admit to experiencing guilt in the wake of the election because I was as disbelieving of the result as anyone else who didn’t think such overt bigotry could be so widely socially acceptable. I am taking the American election as a wake-up call that intersectionality needs to be more than awareness, it has to be felt and acted upon – it has to be more than a politically correct intellectual performance. As I did in my last post, I urge Canadians to start doing this work now and to reject complacency.
As I mentioned at the top of this post, I mostly want to avoid confessional-style blogging, but I want to hold myself accountable by expressing these intentions. So I apologize if my first two posts seem to be speaking to an assumed-white audience, but I also hope I can help motivate others like myself to avoid sliding back into privileged complacency as we all adjust to a post-Trump world. The general intention of this column is to discuss a diversity of feminism-related topics while maintaining an intersectional perspective and mandate. I hope to strike a balance between serious topics and more upbeat, and between positive news and critical perspectives. I am obviously limited in my ability, or entitlement, to give personal insight into many intersectional topics, but I hope to at least facilitate introductions to a range of issues, ideas, and critical perspectives.
Elisabeth came to Edmonton to do a Masters degree in History at the University of Alberta after completing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art History at the University of Victoria. Her research interests include medieval and early modern social and cultural history, especially issues around medical history and persecution. In the first year of her Masters degree, Elisabeth received the Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, followed by the Walter H. Johns Fellowship, Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship, and the Field Law Leilani Muir Graduate Research Scholarship.She presented at the HCGSA Conference at University of Alberta in 2016 and will be writing the entry on Leprosy in World Christianity for the De Gruyter’s Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception (forthcoming). She has worked as a Research Assistant at the University of Alberta, and as a contract researcher and writer for the Government of Alberta’s Heritage division. In addition to her work as a writer and researcher, Elisabeth works with the Art Gallery of Alberta.