There is no universal answer here, no singular definition of feminism. Rather, feminist theory offers strategies for analyzing the power imbalances of any particular site.
To be thoroughly sarcastic, Jane Juffer sure paints the most hopeful picture in Millennial Feminism at Work doesn’t she? If I wasn’t depressed before about the state of academic careers, feminism in the workplace, and the stereotypes on working women… well, she sure did a wonderful job. I have half-a-mind to rescind my application to Cornell for the PhD if these are the instructors they’ve got bestowing hope to the future. And yet, I shudder when I imagine the state of world without us brainy academics alive to force a handful of individuals to learn how to think critically about select subjects.
Most of them have struggled to make ends meet, have changed jobs at least once, or have deliberated about whether to continue working for nonprofits that minimize risks to their workers’ mental and emotional health.
Staying in the same job without changing at least once seems to be a thing of a by-gone era. If my generation ever gets to that point, I would not be surprised if it’s not until our mid-thirties to early-forties. And, interestingly enough, I’ve worked in the for-profit legal field, and I know that it’s also incredibly taxing to workers’ mental and emotional health. Few actually point out the real cause of the problem: capitalism. It’s not the individual worker but the repeating systemic patterns triggered. Imagine drinking a little drop of poison every day for years, do you think it might get you sick eventually? Like my nephew Aaron says sometimes, “Common. Get real.”
Ideally, students would have the opportunity while still in college to “try out” theory in a workplace, so that there is time to return to the classroom and consider how the engagement redefines the theory.
Jane Juffer uses the stories of some of her former students to analyze how feminist theory manifests itself in their daily lives. Any theory we try out will inevitably conflict with making money. That is why so few continue to have the courage and interest in it. In the case of feminism, some sexist patterns are so entrenched that to change them at least one woman needs to explode like an atomic bomb before others get the fucking point – usually men. Been there, done that.
I learned one thing very well: feminists aren’t always popular in the workplace. My values and approach to the work caused a lot of conflict with my peers in management who were uncomfortable with having to talk to people whom they perceived as difficult or challenging (read: homeless or formerly homeless).
“Feminists aren’t popular anywhere,” I would venture to say at my most jaded moments. It takes having a sense of British humor to take a poke here and there about some antifeminist comment or another. And, from my experience socializing at Buffalo Wild Wings talking to a lot of blue collar workers, it usually also takes a pint and a cheeky smile. But, take away the alcohol and put on your Voldemort face, and here comes trouble.
However, she said, she soon realized that networking was another form of activism in which she had always engaged and a way to ask the question, “What does it mean to reach out to people you might want to stay in touch with for the rest of your life?”
When it comes to networking, Juffer knows what I’m talking about. What does it mean to stay in touch with someone long-term? What forms of connection (i.e. social media, in-person, email, etc.) are the most helpful? It’s not always about what can this person do for me, but what can I do for them that would be helpful to their goals. In many ways, it’s a love language alla Gary Chapman. It’s not so much about individuals being resources, but it’s about intimacy. And, how individuals build it varies greatly in my experience. I’ve had friends that are social climbers, superficial. Those are difficult to handle for the sensitive heart that like genuine connections. Other friends are the fast and furious kind; they go deep fast. It can trigger a best friend phase or – worst case scenario – the run-like-hell phase. (It’s a trauma reaction.) Then, my personal tendency: the slow-and-steady-wins-the-race-with-a-few-breaks-inbetween.
Writing that thesis shaped my understanding that feminism could be inconspicuous, pleasurable, and everyday.
I went to Niagara Falls, Canada with my mom recently. (We were on a break from our relationship for a while; she hasn’t been that nice to me.) Anyway, I went into this random store called “For Shits and Giggles,” I think. It sold graphic t-shirts. In my opinion, that made it the best store in the entire town. A Harley Quinn shirt caught my eye. It says, “Daddy’s Lil’ Monster.” What can I say? I’m a fan much like Kevin Smith. And she had to sour the mood by saying, “I don’t know how you guys like those things.” Well, I do. It joins another Harley Quinn shirt in my collection that says, “The crazy things we do for love.” Ain’t that right daddy?
I was dedicated to quieter, personal ones – expelling misogyny from my life, investing in female friendships, breaking down my perceptions of acceptable femininity, and questioning concretized histories of sexism – without thinking much about whom these acts benefited.
The truth of everyday feminism is that it’s a subversive hobby for most women. Discrete, underhanded. It takes real balls to bring it to the surface and not mince words … or action. It’s not convenient. It’s expensive: try translating the energy the feminist man or woman exerts in upholding those ideals into money. It’s not for the fainthearted. But, I also want to point out, that it does not mean living without privacy. Being a feminist does not mean being an open book, people. Some pains and griefs – whether from personal or work experience – need to be handled independently. (It’s called maturity.)
Whom do we choose to grieve and why? What does public mourning say about the person grieving and the person being grieved? Though grief can be intimate and solitary, Butler also remarks on the community that can be formed in sharing loss.
Whenever I’m asked why I wear so much black, I like to say, “Because I’m eternally grieving my soul.” #whatevernevermind Unless you’re in the mood for communal, feminist therapeutic talk in the vein of “Chicken Soup for the Soul,” this book is a skip it. If you’re in college and want a glimpse of the worst-case-scenario for your future, dive right in kid; this is your jam, right here.
Juffer, Jane. Millennial Feminism at Work, Cornell University, 2021.
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