Letter from the director

Women's and Gender Studies has a magazine called Cheek that we publish once a semester. (And I should note here that, regrettably, my dad came up with the name--a fact that he will never, never let me forget). I write a letter from the director for each issue. Since Biffle and I don't have anything blogworthy to write about this morning, I thought I'd share the letter for the upcoming issue of Cheek. It's a bit overwrought, I think, and quite advertise-y at the end, but it says some things that are worth saying:

In the first issue of Cheek, I wrote about community—about the fact that what Women’s and Gender Studies is doing in Charleston is creating feminist community on campus and off. We’re creating spaces of solidarity and support, spaces where we can challenge the oppressive categories that keep all of us from achieving our full humanity.

In the time since I wrote that article, a lot has happened. South Carolinians overwhelmingly endorsed an amendment to the State Constitution which states that the only kind of family we’ll recognize consists of one man married to one woman. No other model of family—and by extension, of personhood—is valid here. As I am writing this, bills are coming before the state legislature that would extend full civil rights to a fertilized egg (rights, it seems, that the state is unwilling to accord to lesbian and gay couples). Another bill would allow pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions for any drug they disagree with—the kind of bill that nationally targets contraception. And just this spring, a friend who works with rape victims outlined the ways in which the local criminal justice system routinely fails her clients, by belittling their cases, chastising the women themselves, or losing their medical evidence.

These policies, these decisions, hurt people. My colleagues and friends suffer because they are living in a state that tells them that the way they are is not acceptable. Others suffer because of lack of information: I talked with a group of eighteen-year-old women recently who didn’t understand their own reproductive systems. Many of them were taking birth control pills, but they didn’t have any idea how they worked. And I’ve had at least a dozen students in the less than two years that I’ve been at the College of Charleston tell me about their own experiences of rape.

In an anthology of young feminist essays called Listen Up, editor Barbara Findlen describes the experience of encountering injustice: “The moment when sexism steps into your path can be disappointing, humiliating, shocking. It can take away your breath, your hope, your faith in yourself, your faith in humanity. The impact is even greater if you’re not expecting it.” For many of us who were raised on a rhetoric of equal rights under the law, equal opportunity, a level playing field, recognizing the injustice of a homophobic constitutional amendment or a policy that equates an embryo and a woman can have the effect Findlen outlines.

She goes on to say, “Feminism is what helps us make sense of the unfairness by affirming that it’s about political injustice, not personal failure. The feminist movement offers us the combined strength and wisdom of people from all walks of life who are fighting for meaningful equality.” She’s saying that we have feminist community so that we can stand up against injustice. Feminism gives us a framework for understanding inequality and tools for addressing it. And it gives us a community to work together with.

It’s part of our job in Women’s and Gender Studies to do our research, find out the facts, and then speak out. It’s our job to take on controversial issues and be a voice demanding feminism and human rights in the Lowcountry.

As I’ve done some of the behind-the-scenes work for this issue of the magazine, several different South Carolina printers have told me that they’re unwilling to print Cheek if we have articles that advocate for abortion rights, or that discuss the play The Vagina Monologues, or that feature art like that featured on the cover of the last issue. Speaking out is a dangerous business. Some people may refuse to work with us. Others may send us hate mail. But that makes it all the more important that we do it.

Particularly us.

Particularly here.

And we’re doing that work. This spring, Women’s and Gender Studies put on our seventh annual production of The Vagina Monologues. This play, which was performed at more than 1120 college campuses this February, is part of an international initiative to combat violence against women. This year’s Charleston performances reached around 600 viewers and raised more than $7000 for People Against Rape and the YWCA of Greater Charleston.

We have also initiated a College of Charleston/Burke High School collaboration. Girls from Burke have been paired with Women’s and Gender Studies students to write essays on the subject of “My Life as a Girl.” The winning girl will be featured in Skirt! magazine, and we will have a banquet and awards ceremony for all the participants and their families this April. Conseula Francis (assistant professor of English, faculty affiliate of WGS) has spearheaded this effort, which we hope to expand in the fall to bring girls from Burke and Ashley Hall together.

This spring ten Women’s and Gender Studies students will travel to Chattanooga, TN, to present their original feminist research at the Southeastern Women’s Studies Association Conference. They will meet with other feminist scholars from the region and will demonstrate the outstanding work being done in Women’s and Gender Studies classes at the College of Charleston.

In April, Kate Bornstein will be our final speaker of the semester. Bornstein is an author, playwright, and performance artist, with well-known (and widely taught) books, including Gender Outlaw and Hello, Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws. She's also a male-to-female transsexual and a lesbian who talks about the ways in which her own identity challenges our society's traditional gender system. She's interested in providing support for students who feel that they don't fit in (LGBT teens are much more likely to commit suicide that their straight peers) and in educating any student who is confused about what "LGBT" means and what it means to be a transgender person.

We are speaking out, and we invite you to do the same.


The Dad said...

Hi Alison

After reading your article/blog it appears to me that you are in the right place at the right time. (Much as I want to think that the right place for both of you is Cookeville)

You have ALOT to offer that community. We think it was Einstein or somebody who was asked by a friend:
"What makes you think that a small group of dedicated people can change the world?"
His answer was:
"Because it is the only thing that ever does"

Now as to the name of your magazine, all I have to say is:
Yea Me, Yea Me...
I am the king of the magazine naming people...

The Dad

Conseula said...

Not at all overwrought and just the right amount of advertisement (it is the leter fromt he director after all). You should take a moment to take comfort in the good work you're doing here.

Rachel said...

Came here via Tiny Cat Pants, and appreciated your post. Do you plan to name the printers who have refused to do the work? I think, if it's reasonable to do so, that it would a valuable service to other feminists in your area to speak out on this so they can avoid taking their business to those print shops. Keep up the good work.

Alison said...

Thanks, Dad. That quote about changing the world is by Margaret Mead--it's one of my favorites. And yes, you are the king of the magazine naming people.

And thanks to Conseula, too. I do feel like this is a place where I can make a difference, and I definitely take comfort in that.

jaz said...

Ah, see, as you said, ya'll "...do our research, find out the facts, and then speak out."

Sad to say, that's not the in thing in our nation right now.

Right now, some of the loudest voices in the land seem quite certain that speaking out should come first and that "research" and "facts" are liberal hogwash.