The Personal is Academic, The Academic is Personal

The temperatures have finally dropped, there is a chill in the morning air, and the humidity that was so choking a week ago has finally dissipated. Fall, my favorite season, is here, bringing with it crisp mornings and evenings, crickets chirping in the too-tall grass along the side of the house, tiny strawberries in my herb garden, and a new semester at UMD.

Two weeks in I have almost memorized my 50 students’ names, and we have covered the units that introduce them to feminism (“Feminism is For Everyone” by bell hooks, and selections from “The Guy’s Guide to Feminism by Michael Kaufman and Michael Kimmel).  I am teaching two sections of a class called “Women, Art and Culture.”  Now that they can define feminism we are diving deeper into topics around women’s poetry and art, and soon will watch the movie “!Women, Art, Revolution.”

This is always the hardest part of the semester, when students don’t yet feel comfortable speaking up in class, push back against the concepts we are discussing around women’s inequality, and I am not yet in my teaching groove. But it is also exciting because we are getting to know each other, these ideas are new to them, and I get to watch the beginning sparks of their changing consciousness.

Today we talked about the way that feminists in the women’s liberation movement challenged the use of male-centric language like “policeman” and “fireman.” One of the students said that she hadn’t even thought about language being important, but when she read about it (from a chapter in TV Reed’s book “The Art of Protest.”) she remembered being a little girl and thinking she couldn’t pretend to be a policeman, because that meant she would be a “man.” Moments like that, when students connect the theory we are reading with their own lives, are my favorite part of teaching. I love being a witness to the struggle to understand, the aha moments, and the growth through the semester, as the class coalesces and students begin to question the systems of inequality around us.  Teaching is one of the most rewarding parts of graduate school for me and is why I am working towards my doctorate.

One of the main concepts of the class that I want students to take with them is the importance of writing our own stories and making our own lives visible. We will read Alison Bechdel’s “Dykes to Watch Out For,” Dorothy Allison’s “Two or Three Things I Know For Sure” and Gloria Anzaldua’s “Letter to Third World Women Writers” which all emphasize the importance of writing, especially about that which is not usually spoken.

Thinking about these upcoming readings, and writing in general has made me reflect on this blog space.  Recently I have been unsure how to approach this blog, what its purpose is, and how to negotiate the fact that it is not an anonymous space, and yet holds a lot of personal information and difficult stories.  As I move through graduate school I am thinking more about my online presence, wanting to be careful about what I write, and being aware of who is reading: family and friends, but also possibly students, and future employees.   And yet, I do not want to completely censor myself.  This has been an important place to talk about graduate school, and loss, as well as travel experiences, childhood memories, and poetical moments.  As Dorothy Allison writes, ” [T]wo or three things I know for sure, and one of them is that to go on living I have to tell stories, that stories are the one sure way I know to touch the heart and change the world.”

I am going to keep writing here, and telling my story as it happens, sharing what is important to me, knowing that what we create and write will always be partial, will always be shaped in particular ways by people in our lives, the systems within which we work, and our allegiances and politics.  I want to continue writing about graduate school. I want to write more about my research. I read so many blogs on gender creative and transgender children, and comment on them, and yet my own research/reflections/thoughts about queer children and lgbt family is rarely written about here.  I want to change that.  I want to write about this summer, trips to England, and time spent with family.  I want to write more about loss and its continuing presence in my life.  And I will, even as think carefully about who is reading, and continue to think about how to negotiate the personal and academic, the personal and professional.  As feminists have argued about the personal and political, these are not separate spheres: just as the personal is political, the personal is academic, and the academic is personal.

Photo credit: me. UMD fall 2015.


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