“I’m not sure I identify as a feminist,” Jessica Danforth told a crowd at Barnard’s Event Oval Wednesday night. “I’m not even sure if I know what that word means.”
Nevertheless, Danforth, who founded an organization that promotes sexual health for Native-American youth, discussed feminist activism with other “20-something” feminist activists at a panel sponsored by the Barnard Center for Research on Women.
The women in the panel, which also featured Julie Zeilinger, BC ’15, and Sydnie Mosley, BC ’07, among others, spoke about their own experiences with activism in reference to the challenges of the current feminist movement.
Danforth, a self-proclaimed “multiracial indigenous hip-hop feminist reproductive justice freedom fighter,” spoke about how the feminist movement seemed to exclude people of different gender identities, educational backgrounds, and races. She suggested that a movement divided into factions could be just as effective as a united movement.
“I’m interested in hearing about different kinds of feminisms,” Danforth said. “I don’t understand why there just has to be one.”
“We’re singing different songs, but we’re singing them in unison,” she added.
Zeilinger, the author of “A Little F’d Up: Why Feminism Is Not a Dirty Word” and the feminist blog FBomb, agreed that some variations of feminism could be limiting, citing the academic jargon that often dominates activism.
“I really am a big believer of taking a feminist lens to our daily lives,” Zeilinger said, adding that she started her blog to reach out to high school students who felt isolated by a movement dominated by the academic elite.
Zeilinger also discussed how some young people are reluctant to call themselves feminists, citing a stigma about the word.
“Our generation does grapple with feminism as a whole,” she said. “It’s really about considering what feminism means to us.”
Mosley, a dancer and choreographer, admitted that her path to feminist activism was an unexpected one.
“I have to be honest. Up until two years ago, I wouldn’t have identified myself as a feminist,” Mosley said.
But after growing tired of being harassed for her looks on the streets, she established the Window Sex Project, a series of dance performances.
“Suddenly, I was doing activist work,” she said.
Mosley also acknowledged the difficulties of including a diversity of voices when discussing the challenges of the movement. She said that this could be resolved by having more conversations with a multitude of people—something she did after a production of her show.
“We had the best conversation—it was heated and productive,” she said.
The panel also touched on the use of social media in the feminist movement and the role of the family in promoting positive values—messages that resonated with some members of the audience.
“I think they said a lot of powerful stuff,” Michelle Chan, BC ’15, said. “I liked how specific everyone was with their own experience in activism.”
Nicci Yin, BC ’14, said she found Mosley’s message particularly inspiring.
“As an art and gender studies student, I thought it was really pertinent how they talked about using art as activism,” she said.
Danforth acknowledged that it was great to have the panel to communicate with like-minded individuals, but that it may not be the best way to expand the movement.
“We’re preaching to the converted,” she said.