This past weekend I attended the Southern Connecticut State University's 18th Annual Women's Studies Conference, participating on a panel with Kate Eichhorn and Kelly Wooten.
Sessions I went to:
- Negotiating Authority and Voice in a Feminist Girls' School
- Zines and Magazines: Girls Resisting and Mainstreaming
- Dinner performances: including Flamenco documentary about three young women, two of whom were Barnard students
- For Colored Girls, Track 1: "The ABC's of Colored Girls"
- Lunch performances: including SOLHOT
- Grrrls in the Library: Documenting Third Wave Feminist Activism through Zines
Plus I had some random thoughts.
Negotiating Authority and Voice in a Feminist Girls' School
The Linden School in Toronto is a feminist girls school. By the end of the session, I think every person in the audience, including me, wanted to work there. They totally need a librarian!
Alana Bell, co-principal (one of three)
- While the school is explicitly feminist, and the f-word is used in in-person discussions, they don't use it in their written materials. This decision is under constant debate.
- The structure of the school--collaborative, non-hierarchical, consensus based--also follows feminist principles
- They work toward a solution to problems, not punishment
- Admittedly, they have a hard time adhering to feminism when it comes to pay and benefits. Teachers don't make what they could and have no pension plan.
- The three principals do not divide their responsibilities (e.g. by grade levels) even though that would be easier for them. This is so that members of the community can feel free to go to whichever principal they feel comfortable with on any given day or topic
- Thinks there is a feminist girls school in Brooklyn, or one of the other boroughs of NYC. (Anyone know which one she's talking about, and if they need a librarian?)
Beth Alexander, Math, Science & Technology teacher
- She identified ways that girls learn differently from boys and illustrated how she teaches to girls' needs with slideshow/photographs
- She emphasized learning by doing
- Letting the girls be comfortable, by sitting on the floor
- Critical thinking
Ruthie Cowper Szamosi, alumna and Board Trustee
- Respect without compliance
- Mouthy is okay, as long as it isn't rude
- Since students are listened to, they learn to make what they say worth hearing
- Modeling instead of teaching
- Students can question their teachers' methods and assignments
- At approximately 22 years old, Ruthie struck me as more having better communications skills and sharper analysis that others her age. She was pleasant and poised and yet seemed totally willing to take on her former teacher (Ms. Bell) if necessary.
Zines and Magazines: Girls Resisting and Mainstreaming
The only disappointment with this panel is that it wasn't actually about zines at all.
Dinner performances: including Flamenco documentary about three young women, two of whom were Barnard students
Caroline Kaltefleiter, State University of New York-Cortland, "Riot Grrrls and Bois: Gender Contestation in (Trans) Zines and Performance Sites of Resistance"
- Described YouTube videos as video zines, other peer to peer online networks as well.
- Identifies as an activist first, academic second. (I had an interesting discussion with Dr. Kaltefleiter about this later on. She did her dissertation on Riot Grrrl in 1995--having been a member of the DC chapter--so you can imagine that she had done some thinking on the separation of resistance and research!)
- Mostly about transgender
- Lots of video clips shown. My favorite was Riffing in the Round, #1
Amy Pattee, Simmons College, "A, B, or C? Teenage Girls' Magazine Quizzes"
- Admitted to a guilty pleasure reading teen girls' magazines, but that she also evaluates them critically
- Discussed the encoding inherent in teen magazine quizzes for structure, theme, and transparency
- Conducted a psychometric analysis of one year's worth of quizzes from CosmoGirl and Seventeen
- The magazines manipulate their readers to reinforce norms (the "middle balance" toward the B answer.
- The "correct" answer for every quiz in her sample was the middle choice, B
For Colored Girls, Track 1: "The ABC's of Colored Girls"
Sintia Molina discussed Nicholasa Mohr's Nilda, a coming of age novel about a Puerto Rican girl in the NYC barrio (upper west side) during World War II.
- She also mentioned Down These Mean Streets as an important Puerto Rican rite of passage story.
- Spanglish for police is "la hara" for all those Irish O'Hara cops back in the day.
- Overwhelmingly white faculty at St. Francis College where she teaches
Tania Carrasquillo, who along with Molina addressed the theme, "Niña y Mujer: Memories of Puerto Rican Girls," talked about Esmerelda Santiago's When I Was Puerto Rican using forceful language about the US and how immigrants are received (e.g. imperialist, hegemony).
The last speaker was Yaisa Mann, with a talk entitled, "The ABC's of Girlhood: Attitude, Beauty, class, and the Outward Self Esteem of Black Girls in Popular Culture."
- She talked about her own experience growing up black and working class in a predominantly white community and discussed race, class, and privilege in The Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Soulja and Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans.
- She had a need for attention and reinforcement, mostly from boys.
- The idea of "dem girls" to describe black girls with (or striving for) the ABCs--Attitude, Beauty and Class.
- Different levels of self-esteem in black girls vs. white girls. The former are less anxious about their bodies and whatnot, but it's really just a front.
- Girls Studies is predominantly white. (me talking--glad to see this POC track at the conference)
- Reference to All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, but Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women's Studies
- The concept of "N-word damage"
Lunch performances: including SOLHOT
SOLHOT: Saving Our Lives Hear Our Truths, "an arts-infused space that is dedicated to documenting the lived experiences of Black female students (from middle school to graduate students) for the purpose of producing knowledge that is relevant, action-oriented, and collaborative."
- Entertaining, empowering performance by Dr. Ruth Nicole Brown, Chamara Jewel Kwakye, and Candy Taafe, with an especially touching piece remembering Sakia Gunn.
- When asked if they'd take their show on the road, like to other colleges, their answer was an enthusiastic yes.
- When asked if they'd replicate the SOLHOT project elsewhere, they seemed hesitant, which I appreciated. Different communities and groups should develop their own projects, right?
- The performance was very well shared--I didn't get the sense that any one performer was more dominant than any other. The performers weren't--needy--the way other performers and presenters can be. I feel like this project satisfied the participants on a very deep level, so that they no longer needed the attention Yaisa Mann mentioned in her talk about black girlhood.
Grrrls in the Library: Documenting Third Wave Feminist Activism through Zines
I think our panel went well, though it wasn't all that well-attended. There were eight sessions during our slot, so I don't feel too badly about it.
- My talk
- I need to check out the Olympia Zine Library to see their ziney management style.
- Kelly Wooten described zines as "etiquette manuals for how not to fit in."
- Note to self: read Sara Marcus's Out of the Vortex zines (We have issues 5 and 7 in our collection, not yet cataloged.)
- Note to self: try to get a hold of Grrly Show
- An SCSU student told us about her collection of "book objects" (books made in different forms in order to hide their content) from Chile. Follow up.
- I say this not in a challenging, but a pondering way--What are men doing here? What would I be doing at, for example, a Black Studies conference? I suppose they could be women's or gender studies faculty. One man identified himself as a male feminist and women's studies major. There was at least one other male women's studies major in attendance, but he didn't feel the need to ask a question during the plenary--a question that didn't seem to me to be based in anything but the need for a pat on the back.
- Learn about the Sadie Nash Leadership Project
- Many panels included a "respondent" to ask the first question. I believe the respondents were all undergrads, which I think is very cool.
- In general, although this conference seemed to be less well attended, perhaps of a lower prestige than the National Women's Studies Conference I went to a couple of years ago, I found SCSU to be richer than NWSA, and I'm not just making an oblique reference to the greater diversity, although SCSU did seem to have a high percentage of people of color.
- I met Shelby Knox on the shuttle bus and saw one (of her three) presentations. It turns out she's friends with some Barnard grads. In the four years since she finished filming the documentary about her crusade for sex ed in Lubbock, TX, Ms. Knox has graduated from college (agitating for a women's studies major at UT) and moved to NYC, though she doesn't seem to spend much time here. I found her to be smart, ready with her statistics, strong, inspiring, and really nice.
- This conference being about Girls Studies got me to wondering if there are any Gerontology Studies majors, or even concentrations anywhere outside of the health sciences. I'm guessing not, which I think is kind of sad.
- Of 5 plenary speeches and performances, all of them featured at least one person of color. I think all but one were entirely or majority POC.