Feminism: 1. The theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.
2. Organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests.
Activism: A doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue.
(Source: Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary)
In my work towards a bachelors degree in Feminist Activism through Fairhaven College at Western Washington University I have been continuously inspired. Every time I get that rush to run out into the world and just do something, I know that I made the right choice in deciding to be a ďprofessional activistĒ. One of the things that has inspired me the most over these few years has been reading the stories of all the women who came before me, and all the women working alongside me. I absolutely love hearing about all of the incredible things people have done for the feminist movement through time. One of the many reasons these stories are so inspirational to me is that they just give me so many ideas for my own activismócopy-catting successful tactics is great because activism is needed all over the country, even all over the world(!), and just because an idea was used in one place, doesnít mean someone else canít use that idea in their own community.
This is the whole point of this columnóI want to inspire some copy-catting. I want to share with all of you out there the awesome feminist activist endeavors in my life, in hopes that you will share yours with me. I want to create a space where college grrrls can turn to for inspiration, where we can share ideas, steal ideas, and help the movement flourish.
Summer is the perfect time for college grrls to go for those activist ideas that have been churning in their heads all year. You donít have to worry about school, you have more time on your hands, and the sunís out, so you feel more active and motivated. Summer is also a great time for growth and personal reflection, and activism is a perfect way to illicit growth and change for the better.
This summer I am pursuing lots of activist projects that should lead to many personal revelations. Some may criticize activists for being self-indulgent, but my philosophy is that every one is self-indulgent in one way or another, and helping yourself by helping others is a more admirable way of expressing this side of ourselves than going on shopping sprees or overeating. This summer I am most excited about starting the volunteer training program for my townís local Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Services (DVSAS). I will be doing around forty hours of training over the course of a month to prepare myself to work at their hotline. In addition to the hotline, the organization offers volunteer positions as on-call sexual assault respondents, medical advocates, and legal advocates. For all of the volunteer positions, our focus is training is to learn how to be an effective advocate who truly knows how to help rather than rescue.
I am also working with the coordinator of my schoolís Crime, Abuse, & Sexual Assault Services (CASAS) to develop a debriefing statement for a mandatory sexual assault education program that will be offered to all of the dorm residents in the fall. A social change theater group called Will Act for Change will be performing scenes for the residents to prepare them mentally for some of the sticky situations one may encounter in dorm life. I am a part of a group on campus called Womenís Empowerment & Violence Education (WEAVE) that offers workshops on various gender and violence related issues (we collaborate frequently with a menís group called Men Against Violence), and our advisor is also the coordinator of CASAS. I asked her if there was any work that could be done over the summer and she set me up with this debriefing project, and well as organizing a self-defense class to be offered in the early fall.
As a side project to this, I am also working with my WEAVE advisor to take a close look at my schoolís sexual assault policy. Inspired by Amy Richards and Jennifer Baumgardnerís book Grassroots, I originally asked my advisor if we could take a close look at the policy to make sure it was up to speed and pro-woman, but she was two steps ahead of me and told me that the policy is as good as it legally can be. This prompted me to revise my project. Instead of attempting to change my schoolís policy for the better, I decided to look at it to see what makes it so good. This is partially for my personal knowledge, but also so that I may develop some written materials that I may send to Womenís Centers at schools across the country that would contain a model sexual assault policy to measure their own schoolís policy against. Ideally, this will give them a jumping off point to start from, and I hope it will inspire Womenís Centers across the country to make their schoolís sexual assault policy the best it can legally be.
Another sort of self-education project Iím undertaking is a research paper on rape and the United Stateís culture of violence. It is really important to develop a theoretical background to approach oneís activism with, and because Iím doing so much activism surrounding domestic violence and sexual assault this summer, I thought it would be a good idea to investigate some of the possible reasons why rape occurs at such an alarming rate in the US. My hope is that this process will better equip me to tackle this issue. They say that identifying the root of the problem is half the battle, and Iím thinking that if I can formulate some personal theory as to what the root of the rape problem is, I wonít feel so powerless to do something about it. I plan on putting the final paper into a zine and distributing it on campus, probably during Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Speaking of zines, right now Iím working on a zine thatís in response to a zine I received. One of my best friends gave me a copy of a zine a good friend of hers made that was all about her experiences with sexual abuse and assault as well as dating violence. I am a survivor myself, and was profoundly struck with the idea of distributing oneís story. It is an incredibly brave act of activismóshattering the silence. I was inspired to make a zine of my own for distribution, with a special copy Iíd like to send to the girl who made the zine that inspired me. I havenít decided whether or not to remain anonymous or not, but at this point I donít think that really matters that much. Iíll admit, Iím nervous about itóIíve been kind of putting it off a little bit, thinking a lot about what Iím going to write, but never actually writing it down. But I will do itóitís one of my summer goals. And with this summerís apparent focus on violence against women, Iím sure Iíll have no problem coming up with material.
There is a limitless amount of possibilities for activism during the summer. The idea, as always, is to take a close look at your personal skill set and at the resources available to you, set some goals, and go for it. And I want to hear about your activist plans for the summer and beyond. Shoot me an e-mail, and we will compile a rich database of ideas for feminist activism.
Brooke N. Benjestorf is a senior at Fairhaven College, an interdisciplinary concentration design program at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington. Her chosen concentration is Feminist Activism and it includes study in writing, film, womenís studies, and social change. When she is not being a feminist activist extraordinaire she loves to hang out with her girlfriends, make art, and take good care of her dog (her best friend), Paytah.