Sunday, March 20, 2011

National Young Feminist Conference

Last week, 6 volunteers from SAPAC drove out to Washington, D.C and attended the National Young Feminist Leadership Conference. The weekend was full of amazing, feminist speakers all dedicated to creating a world free of sexist oppression. Over 500 women AND men spent the weekend dedicated to taking their activism a step further. The conference was encouraging and energizing and all 6 of us are so excited about our work at SAPAC! Here are a few words from all of us about our experiences:

Who says feminism is just for women? I certainly don’t, and neither do the men that were at the National Young Feminist Leadership Conference in Washington D.C.  As a member of the Men’s Activism Program of SAPAC, it was encouraging to see the men at the conference speaking out against injustice against women.   There seems to be a stigma attached to men being involved in the movement to end sexual assault, but the conference proved just how necessary men are as our allies.  In our regional caucuses, one participant argued that men participating in programs such as Take Back the Night walks should not do so, as more women are survivors of sexual assault.  While this is true, it is important to remember that ten percent of survivors are males, and that many males serve as supporters and allies to survivors.  Myself and other participants in the caucus made this known, and a discussion about men in the movement ensued.  Many other schools have programs similar to the Men’s Activism Program, which means that men all over the country are standing up, stepping in, and speaking out.   So, to all of you male feminists and activists reading, know that your contribution to the movement is both represented and respected.  Feminism truly can be for everyone.
 -Judith Zatkin, MA Volunteer

Upon attending the National Young Feminist Leadership Conference in Washington D.C., I was given the opportunity to listen to some of the most influential women in our country speak about some of the most pressing issues emerging on the feminist horizon. However, what struck me the most were the words of a student involved in her campus's equivalent of SAPAC. She spoke about how far behind her campus's sexual assault policies were, and how resistant their administration was to change, and the stories that unfolded afterwards made me realize that there is still so much work to do. She talked about the difficulties students went through to jump the administrative barriers that were set almost impossibly high to work towards expanding the definition of rape to be inclusive of and recognize more experiences. She told us that only around 6% of schools nationwide has any sort of amnesty clause protecting survivors who choose to report, meaning a written policy to shield survivors who report their assault from being penalized for underage intoxication. Once the floor was opened for questions, a student from a school in North Carolina desperately asked for help, asking the speakers how they would suggest dealing with a university that denied that sexual assault was even a problem on their campus, and subsequently attempted to drive out the only survivor advocate on campus. The story of their struggles made me feel extremely privileged to go to a University who not only supports sexual violence prevention, but prioritizes it. We are lucky enough to have full-time staff members who do amazing work with survivors and create opportunities for students to educate others. We have campus resources available to the masses, and the opportunity to reach the entire incoming freshman class with our message. We are all extremely lucky to be a part of a program like SAPAC, and I think that this is something we all need to remember when things get frustrating. In order to keep doing the work that we do with as much passion as we bring to the table every day, I think it's important to step back and celebrate our victories. SAPAC staff, interns, co-coordinators, and volunteers, you are all wonderful and appreciated! Peace, love, and SAPAC!
 -Caroline Buck, PE Volunteer

Oftentimes my experience as a feminist activist consists of defending feminism to others. Whether it's convincing people that feminists don't hate men or that we do indeed wear the occasional bra, I've realized most people don't have a clear image of feminism. The more I explain, the more people seem to like the idea, some evening adopt the label. However, I have never been in a room with hundreds of self-proclaimed feminists who celebrate our identities together. That all changed at the conference. 500 feminists from all over the country came together to find a common ground in this movement and to help each other reach our goals. These women and men (yep, MEN :) ) were truly inspiring and helped me see that even though I feel frustration when combating negative stereotypes of feminists, the movement is only growing. This experience was extremely empowering and I see a lot more hope in regards to improving the treatment of women on campus. The six of us have learned so much about being effective campus leaders and dedicated feminists. It was an absolute honor to represent the University of Michigan at this conference and, with your help, I see us making great changes for our campus's future.
-Ellie Howe, NPA Volunteer

My favorite session that I attended was “Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know about Abortion and Birth Control.” The speaker was Dr. Beth Jordan, a physician and Medical Director for the Feminist Majority Foundation. This was the last event I attended and was a nice final touch on the observations I had been making throughout the conference- that people working for women’s rights are amazing! All of the women who spoke at this conference are involved in an organization or field of work that is working towards obtaining more rights for women. It truly was empowering hearing about how there are so many people who care about these issues.
There were two elements that mainly attracted my attention during this workshop. The first involved Dr. Jordan’s presentation and the way she presented herself. Dr. Jordan particularly inspired me by her sureness of self and quickness to respond correctly, or even honestly admit that she was not entirely sure about an answer. She was so confident in the face of all types of questions related to the difficult topics of abortion and birth control methods.
The second thing I noticed was that many listeners had many misconceptions about these issues. Either they had received false information or they never had the opportunity to ask or discuss with a willing listener. I feel that this is a recurring theme with all issues involved with feminism. The general public simply does not know about resources or concepts as much as they should. I strongly believe it is because of a societal censorship of issues it does not want to admit to having.
Relating this back to SAPAC, from this workshop as well as the rest of the conference as a whole, I was inspired to want to know the answers immediately when a question arises about sexual violence.  I was proud to think of SAPAC as an organization that is working to create discourse on the issues involved with sexual violence, which have previously been hidden and repressed from discussion in our society.
-Lindsay Walker, NPA Volunteer

I loved every part of the National Young Feminist Leadership Conference, but one session really stood out to me. It was the session on Social Media and Feminism. While the session itself was really interesting and informative there was one thing about it that made it stand out from all the others. I had just asked a question about how we can get our information across to a younger audience, primarily middle school, and people gave me a lot of good ideas. My question stemmed from an article my little sister Haley had written about formspring for the teen blog The FBomb (which got picked up by Jessica Valenti, my sister is so cool), and she had gotten responses from middle school aged girls. After my question was answered a girl sitting up front raised her hand to ask her question. She said that she was in fact 14 years old and she values feminism in her life, but doesn’t know how to get people to take her seriously because of her age. It was amazing to see that this 14 year old girl, who was in a room with pretty much all college aged women and men, was so strong. No one had a clear answer for how she could be taken more seriously, which I find distressing. Why is it that we value age so much in our society, and why do we tend to dismiss young female views? As this girl sat back down, with no clear-cut answer, she looked very defeated. She wanted so badly to help spread the views of feminism to people in her community but because of her age, no one would listen. These young girls and boys are passionate about the issues that we are all passionate about, but we exclude them. We need to do a better job of incorporating the younger generation into our fight for equality. Letting everyone who wants to stand with feminism be able to do so, and do so vocally and without consequence, is something that can only make us stronger.
-Becca Schreier, PE Volunteer

The conference brought so many issues I hear about on the news and in class to life. It is easy to watch protests on TV and read about strikes in newspapers, but it is completely different to come together as a HUGE group of people and spend a weekend taking these issues head on. There are huge changes going on in our country and they all affect each and every one of us. My favorite workshop was one that focused on combating homophobia on campuses. Although the hour was spent talking specifically about homophobia, the way we discussed activism was relevant to the work at SAPAC. The most common reaction I get when I explain what I do at SAPAC to someone who does not know about the organization is something along the lines of, "Really....?" or "Oh.... okay...". People immediately assume that because I call myself a feminist, I must only adhere to all the stereotypes that go along with the label. During this workshop, we talked about the importance of recognizing intersectionality within each and every activist. You do not have to leave any part of you behind during your activism and embracing individuality only makes you stronger. Once you become a part of a movement, it is also important to check yourself and reflect on why you are still involved. With the climate of activism constantly changing, we all must evaluate what part of our cause keeps the little fire inside of us going. This idea really stuck with me because I have been working with feminist issues for a long time and there are so many different aspects that keep me passionate about the issues. It is really exciting to go back in time and remember the things you have accomplished and to look back at how activism has affected your life! Try it! The last thing that stuck out to me was when the speaker asked which school had any form of queer studies and it was only me and one other school who raised their hand. I am so grateful for everything Michigan has to offer and we are so lucky to go to a school that puts human right issues on the forefront of the agenda. I want to go back next year!!
-Lauren McIntosh, NPA Volunteer

No comments:

Post a Comment