A feminist reflection on Solstice
On December 21st of this year was the longest night of the year, and many cultures around the world celebrate this time by gathering and telling stories, honouring the dark and cold space that allows us to go within ourselves and welcome the light as the the Earth begins to spin closer to the Sun, stretching the days out longer once more.
As a feminist scholar, Solstice is a time when I contemplate the intersections between feminism and spirituality. While many feminist schools of thought oppose religion as the strong arm of patriarchal power that has historically oppressed people and in particular reinforced gender binary systems that have positioned womyn as subordinate.
Still, I do see both a revolutionary and emancipatory power in having a spiritual life, which for myself takes place outside of organized religion. This path of spiritual growth has in many ways been a lifeline for me as a grad student in some of my darkest moments of discouragement and despair.
Since becoming a graduate student in September 2009, I’ve also had the pleasure to meet my spiritual teacher and connect with a variety of feminist allies who have supported me on a spiritual path and in turn, sustained me through my studies. Graduate studies can sometimes be a very dark and isolated place where you are alone with your work. Solstice night reminds me of the long and dark stretches of time where I sit facing my computer, waiting for the light of inspiration to dawn on me and bring me the energy to write about this work I am so passionate about.
I had a conversation with a friend who recently defended her thesis and confided how inspiring and humbling it was to see her complete her work. She had always seemed so disciplined to me, which positioned her as a role model for me. When I confided in her how impressed I was with her completing her work the conversation evolved into a discussion on how grad school is sometimes beyond a question of capacity and ability to do the work. Indeed, we both agreed that we had never doubted our own capacity, passion or commitment to the work. But what comes to the surface in the isolation of writing a dissertation is the struggle with your own inner demons.
Solstice night reminds me so poignantly of how these demons can obscure the spark of inspiration and sometimes make you believe that you will never see the end of your project. But even the longest night does come to an end, and as the days begin to get longer from our limited perspective on this planet, I know that with patience, dedication and belief in myself I will be able to complete my degree.
As a feminist, I have found tremendous empowerment and inspiration in turning to the immutable laws of the Universe to remind me of my place in the greater scheme of things. Ultimately, this paradox requires both that I believe in my capacity and also surrender myself to a higher purpose. In other words, while these long hauls in isolation facing the inner demons challenge me on my path as a graduate student, I know that once I complete this process I can make important contributions to social justice, inspire those I meet along the way to do the same, and do my small part to making the world a better place, hopefully sharing a bit of light and joy along the way.
You’re not a feminist are you?
If you’re going to be reading my blog, you should know right off the bat that I am a feminist. This will at times seep into my analysis of a situation, and at other times be blatantly obvious in the content matter. So I hope you’re comfortable with, or interested in learning more about, feminisms. Yes, it’s plural here because feminism is not by any means monolothic in my view and its plurality here highlights the diversity of practices, tactics and positions that feminist movements can embody. I take a post-structuralist position when it comes to knowledge and cannot claim I know everything about feminisms, but my years as a community organizer and activist have informed my practice and allowed me to (un)learn so much - and I’ve only just begun.
I haven’t always strictly identified as a “woman” nor been properly gendered, though I generally pass as a woman and identify myself as such in public settings. I’ve been called “tomboy”, “mistaken” for a boy, called “masculine”, at times androgynous, or at least not the most generic brand of constructed femininity and sometimes left people wondering. Lately I’ve been more feminine, or femme, exploring aspects of femininity I had previously ignored within myself, and reclaiming the identity of “woman” as part of my social location. The first time I had heard about Women’s studies I sensed it was something that would peg me into an artificial femininity, that I had to more fully identify as a woman to be included in this space, and dismissed an entire wealth of activism and scholarship that later helped me unpack and understand my complex relationship to sex and gender.
After completing a Fine arts degree at Concordia University, I navigated towards the University of Ottawa where I am currently completing my Master’s in Women’s Studies. I began realizing some of the discrepancies between academic feminism and street/activist feminism while simultaneously being confronted by some of the oppressive structures of academia that are being challenged and upheld simultaneous by feminisms inside and outside academia.
One of the spaces that has been instrumental in supporting my journey through academia and where I can put into practice the theories I learn in the classroom - while also learning and unlearning so much that informs how I read what I am exposed to in that same classroom - is the Ottawa RebELLEs collective. This local feminist collective is an offshoot of the pan-canadian (this word irks me with its colonial implications, but I won’t get into that here) decentralized young feminist movement Toujours RebELLEs. While not being strictly a campus group, this collective is a UOttawa OPIRG action group and has already been active on UOttawa campus, marking the start of the semester with a presence at ALT-101’s social justice fair on September 9, 2011.
Our most recent event took place on UOttawa campus Thursday October 6th, 2011 entitled . Partly inspired by bell hook’s book titled “feminism is for everybody”, this public event “You’re not a feminist are you? (…but feminism is for everybody)” invites participants to a discussion on what feminism means to them, what feminist issues play out in their lives, and how feminism is still totally relevant for everybody.
We booked Café Alt for this event before the Occupy Mouvement insipaded the city and Occupy Ottawa usurped, it seems, campus activist energy for that day. We had a number of attendees present at our event and cut our discussions short so that people could join in on the Occupation. This raises some important implications for campus activism and feminist oganizing alike. The haste to ditch existing discussions on the continuining relevance of feminism is not only reflected in some of the sexist, racist and colonialist (to name a few) implications of the Occupy Movement, but it it supposes that feminist discussions should be set aside rather than included as a part of broader anti-capitalist struggles like Occupy Movement.
Meanwhile, as campus radicalism joins beautifully into a community-writhing mosaic of working towards a better world by making it happen right now, some of the principles that underlie this movement fall short. The analysis of Occupy Together forgets the political constituency of 51% of the 99% that it stands for.
Stay tuned for more posts on feministy fun at UOttawa by following this blog, or visit the Ottawa RebELLEs at ottawarebelles.blogspot.com.
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