Lady Lessons: Learning About Feminism

ryan gosling hey girl let's smash patriarchy
One of my goals this year is to learn more about feminism. Sure, I call myself a feminist because I am one (please see the definition of the word here). But how much do I actually know about the history of feminism? How much do I know about famous and influential feminists? And how good am I at intelligently explaining what I don’t like about strip clubs (it has nothing to do with nudity!)? The answers are not a lot, not much, and not very. And that’s pathetic.

So, to work on this glaring, embarrassing oversight in my education, I’m working on reading some books about feminism. But first, I thought I’d share my only formal feminist education experience with you because it was a doozie.

The year was 2007. I was a junior in college and I decided to take an Intro to Women’s Studies class because that’s what you do when you’re young and a liberal arts major. Also I figured it would be interesting.

Exactly one dude was in the class, and he looked so much like one of my brothers (and even had one of his shirts) that he distracted me most of the year. Anyway, it was an almost entirely female environment, which normally is something I would love. But somehow, someway, this turned out terrible.

You know those “This Is What A Feminist Looks Like” shirts? On the first day of class, I thought I saw a girl wearing one of those, and I thought to myself, “Cool! What a fun group of like-minded ladies!” Turns out it was a “This Is What A Phi Beta Kappa* Looks Like” shirt, which, like, who cares? No one cares about a stereotype for your sorority. Ugh.

On the first day of class, our professor asked us to raise our hands if we were feminists. I honestly don’t remember if I raised my hand or not, which kills me. I mean, I should have! But then again, I didn’t have a really good handle on a lot of my own thoughts back then, so I may not have. Anyway, I do remember that almost no one did, which was another bad sign.

I did learn things that semester (we read lots of interesting articles and learned about various important figures of feminism), but I can only remember the truly terrible things. Like the girl who told me she would’ve wanted to be a feminist in the 70’s because “they still had long hair and looked feminine.” Or the time I gave a presentation on women who choose to be childfree and multiple girls in the class said, “But what if they change their minds?” because they truly couldn’t believe any woman in the world would want to not have children. Or the time we had to do a group project and one of the girls in the group spent every work session crying and screaming at her boyfriend on the phone.

My experience was so awful that I didn’t pursue any other Women’s Studies classes at Miami. But now I feel like I missed out on a lot. There are so many important books I haven’t read, important concepts I don’t understand, important women I don’t know much about.

So this year, I’m going to read more books about feminism and female leaders. Feminism is a big, broad, exciting thing, and it’s something I truly love learning about. However, my knowledge is definitely slanted towards pop culture. As much as I love pop culture, feminism is about a lot more than Lena Dunham’s body acceptance, the are-women-funny bullshit, and how awesome Beyonce is. Not that those things aren’t important, because they are. But it’s also important to learn about the less fun, more upsetting issues that affect women all over the world. Like sex trafficking, rape culture, domestic abuse, and lots and lots of other things.

My first book this year is Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks. The title is great, and I figure you can’t go wrong with bell hooks. But what else should I read? I’d love to hear your suggestions! I’m open to reading anything about feminism, women’s issues, or influential women. I’m thinking about nonfiction, but fiction’s great, too! Let me know in the comments or send me an e-mail at

*I made this up. I have no idea what sorority it was because I know nothing about sororities.

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3 Responses to “Lady Lessons: Learning About Feminism”

  1. Lucy

    Kerry, I also took an Intro to Women’s Studies class in university! I had a feminist professor for English Lit. in my first year and I think it led me to unconsciously select the Women’s Studies class in the following year. I was lucky enough to have a great prof and enjoyed the class so much that I took more Women’s Studies classes after that (although not all of them were great, I think the professor makes all the difference).

    I remember reading Feminism is for Everybody for the Intro class, so good! You’re making me want to start reading all these awesome books again 😉

    Btw, one of my most vivid, soul crushing moments was when a prof said that Finding Nemo was anti-feminist and super patriarchal and awful because they kill off the mother at the very beginning so the whole story is about men. I had this prof for Women’s Studies and Literature and she was the most radical prof I ever encountered. We also made zines for that class, and then she graded them (really harshly). Agh, I should stop blabbering on now. Great topic! Cheers!

  2. Courtney

    I know how you feel! I really think I need to brush up on some feminist writing myself. I had a pretty crappy Intro to Women’s Studies course during my undergrad, and only ever took the one class. (Love the subject, but my prof was not very good.)

    That said, I remember several years ago I read The Female Thing by Laura Kipnis and really enjoyed it. If you want to go really old school there’s A Vindication of the Right’s of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft. I haven’t read that one yet, but it’s sitting on my bookshelf, whenever I decide to tackle it. One of my favorite feminist novels (if you can call it that, it was written in the early 1900’s) is The Awakening by Kate Chopin.

  3. Kaileigh

    I feel the same way. I took a few Women Studies classes during college and I had such terrible experiences in all of them that I missed out on learning the broader concepts. I consider myself a feminist, but I don’t feel educated enough to discuss it at length with others. I’ve got books on my reading list and I’m trying to get around to them.

    I definitely want to read the bell hooks book. I have No Turning Back by Estelle Freedman on my Kindle that I can’t wait to read. And Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions by Gloria Steinmen.

    Good luck!


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