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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Journalist explores feminism

Published: November 19, 2010
Section: Front Page

Multimedia journalist Nona Willis Aronowitz presented her book, “GirlDrive, Criss-Crossing America, Redefining Feminism” Tuesday. “GirlDrive,” is about her road trip with Emma Bee Bernstein across the United States to discover how their generation of young women relates to feminism and ideas about gender justice.

Aronowitz called “GirlDrive” a travel diary and a social history of feminism in young women in her talk sponsored by Women’s and Gender Studies, the Tillie K. Lubin Fund, and the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life.

“GirlDrive,” profiles women in their twenties from across the United States and is the blog that Aronowitz and Bernstein kept while traveling through the country. It has since sparked three other “GirlDrive”-related road trips and blogs. After her greatest influence, her mother, died in 2006, Aronowitz began research for her book, and started to travel shortly after in 2007. “Feminism isn’t other women’s realities,” Aronowitz said, “so we wanted to come to them to hear their stories. We wanted to meet other women who were doing kick-ass things, to let them speak for themselves. Twenty-something women rarely have the space to do that.”

The first woman profiled was Amalia, from Chicago, Illinois. As the executive chef at a burger joint, Amalia felt it was her duty to be strong and independent yet, to Aronowitz’s surprise, Amalia did not think she was a feminist. As Aronowitz stated, “Amalia has gender consciousness, because she is pissed off about sexism.” Aronowitz concluded Amalia’s profile by describing the disconnect she felt with her, because Amalia thought, “to be a feminist was to be a man-hating dyke.”

As Aronowitz continued her journey, she spoke with Siman, a woman from Phoenix, Arizona. A single mom, Siman did not identify herself as a feminist, because she felt that race and culture divided the world. As a Muslim woman, she expressed how she constantly felt attacked. Siman even said, “I feel marginalized as a woman of color and as a Muslim.”

Countering feminism, Siman said ,“women and men are better at different things, that’s what makes humanity interesting.”

As Aronowitz and Bernstein continued to speak with women from Texas, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Massachusetts, they found that since they interviewed a broad range of women, each woman had a different view of feminism. While one woman had declared herself a feminist in the seventh grade, another had never heard the word before. Some women believed the concept of feminism was created by middle-class white women, and chose to identify as women of color instead.

Other women, who were pro-choice, said they felt they had to tone down their strong beliefs when fighting anti-abortion legislation in conservative cities.

Aronowitz and Bernstein found their “eureka” moment, when they realized that blogging was not enough. They realized that while the Internet was useful for starting conversations, it was not a successful mode of encouraging face-to-face conversations between women of different ages and cultures. After completing their road trip, Aronowitz and Bernstein came to realize that they found comfort in having face-to-face conversations with women they would not have typically spoken with. They found from their conversations, that women from the millennial generation have not learned how to hold conversations across culture and age lines. “Consciousness-raising has less to do with vocabulary, and more to do with just having discussions,” Aronowitz said. “People think you need to be a serious, focused activist to be a feminist, but if that’s not what’s in your heart, you can be a feminist in other ways. As long as you’re talking and aware of issues, you can call yourself anything you want.”

At the conclusion of her presentation, Aronowitz expressed how rewarding it was to hold conversations with women who were not politically or religiously the same as herself. “All of these women,” Aronowitz concluded, “are a good example of what I hope for the future of feminism.”