On teaching in the wake of the 2016 US Presidential Election

I am a Canadian; that means I live my life in solidarity with the human beings living, working, and fighting for social justice across the Americas, from the tip of Patagonia to the top of the arctic. Many of these individuals come from historically oppressed populations; many live still within populations fighting daily oppression, racism, sexism, and deep prejudice based on wealth and class.

The election of Mr Trump on Tuesday evening in the United States tore a very deep gash in my heart. It provided, like Brexit in the United Kingdom in June, an open invitation for those who hate and who fear minority populations to get down to the business of unrestrained anger and violence against them. I felt numb most of yesterday, and had a hard time reading the news. I still have not listened to any of the speeches made in the wake of the result. As with the debates, when I turned toward the video I felt a surge of nausea in my core. I had to look away.

It’s a really good thing I did not have to teach yesterday, then.

In the meantime, however, a number of my friends and colleagues in the US and beyond got down to the business of responding to the result, and of figuring out how to talk to our students in the wake of the election and its emotional fallout. I am enormously grateful to them for doing work I simply could not face yesterday.

We are teachers; we are the keepers of safe classroom spaces where respectful disagreement and debate happen. We are the guides who help to shape strong, thoughtful citizens. We are the ones who must now step forward, to provide the ideas, the tone, the strategies for critical thinking that were so lacking over the course of this election, and which will be the only way back to a shared centre ground in the years to come.

There is an awful lot, fellow teachers, for us to do in the months ahead.

Because we are teachers, with incredible social and intellectual privilege, it is our ethical duty not to get up in front of our students and declare our political allegiances as though those allegiances are the norm or the “correct” path forward. But it is also our obligation to share our all-too-human experiences of sorrow and anger with our students, and thus to make space for our students to share theirs in turn.

It is also our obligation and our ethical responsibility to speak out, everywhere, against hate.

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How can we do this in ways that respect our classroom differences, make way for difference to be discussed honestly and respectfully among the young people in our care, and yet also acknowledge the raw rage and terror many of us are feeling? It’s a very hard task indeed.

To go some way toward a reply to this question, I’d like to share some writing that came across my Facebook feed yesterday morning. It is a letter to her students written by NYU instructor and graduate student Christina Squitieri, and it is reproduced here with her kind permission.

I know what most of you are feeling right now. You’re scared, you’re angry, you’re anxious, you’re confused, you feel betrayed, lied to, devalued, denied your legitimacy and your personhood. Some of you may be rejoicing about your candidate, but others, I’m sure, are angry and afraid of what this means for them, for their friends, for their families.

I know, because that’s what I’m feeling right now. Ignorance breeds fear, fear breeds anger, and anger breeds hate. America is angry and scared and filled with hate right now, and the push of anti-intellectualism has helped, if not ushered in, the rise of Donald Trump. People who have never seen a Muslim, or Mexican, or person of color, are scared that they are taking away their rights; people who feel like they are losing their power over everything – they have lost jobs, they can’t make ends meet, their vision of the American Dream or the way their fathers were “king of their castle” and had supreme authority over their wives and children is rapidly disappearing, if not entirely gone. They are scared and angry, and hate the people who they feel like took their power away from them.

They see, in Donald Trump, an image of their American Dream, that it can still happen. That a repulsive man can be fantastically wealthy and have beautiful women fawn all over him, can have mistresses and wives, and can show that man can still dominate, just as men always have. And he is telling them that people they do not deem as rightfully Americans are the only one standing in their way of achieving that dream. It’s fucked up and desperate, and more than anything, it is not sustainable. Nationalist policies never last long, because the people who come together – the people who the leader said were not worthy of being people – always triumph when they show love and respect for one another. It takes time, but I promise.

But I’m here to tell you that, in spite of how this election played out, education works. The community we build while in college fosters individual growth, fosters community, fosters mutual understanding and respect. Every day, when you go to class, and you are challenged to think beyond what you know or expect, you are becoming wiser and more compassionate individuals. Every conversation or debate you have with a classmate, you challenge yourselves to think better, to be open-minded, not to just hear but to listen to another side.

In our class on Fridays, I watch as you build on each other’s comments, how you agree and respectfully disagree, how you stop yourselves and say, well, I never thought of it that way. How you learn and respect each other, and how you grow as better thinkers, better writers, better critics, and better people.

This election has been about dividing us, pitting us against one another, and refusing to listen to the other side. As we move forward, I encourage you all to listen, to respect, to try to understand. You’re smart, and empowered, and made more compassionate by your education, by our in-class discussions, by the writing you do and by the listening you do. You learn to be empathetic and understanding, to support your ideas with facts (and textual evidence!), and to listen to the other side. Time and time again, this works. It may not feel that way right now, but it does.

Learn more, read more, speak out more, listen more. And go out into this world with that same respect, empathy, and compassion. It will be difficult, more difficult that debating what Mary Wroth’s sonnets mean, but it’s so important. Now is not the time to riot in the streets, but to respect the democratic process, and to learn where our assumptions lie and how we can begin to dismantle them. I promise to challenge myself to do the same.

This election does not mean we can stop speaking out against hate speech. It does not mean that we can be lazy and allow the nationalist, anti-Muslim, anti-LGBTQ+, anti-Mexican, anti-black, anti-woman, anti-immigrant, anti-disabled, anti-everyone-who-isn’t-white,-male,-Protestant-and-heterosexual language to continue. We need to fight it, we need to speak out against it, but we need to do that respectfully, with each other. Not on Facebook, not on Twitter, not on social media. We need to speak with each other – face-to-face – and listen. Without a doubt, misogyny ran this election. We need to think about how we talk about women and what we take for granted, just like we need to think about how we talk about Muslims, members of the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants, African-Americans, people with disabilities, non-Christians.

I can assure you, while Trump’s rhetoric is disgusting and hateful, not everyone in America voted for that hate. Some did, yes, but others did not. Some want change. An economy that they don’t understand but think a change will work. A future for themselves and for their children that they don’t see happening under “more of the same.”

From a political science perspective, after eight years of one party, the party of the president always switches. We need to have faith that our three branches of government will work, and that some of the most racist and xenophobic policies won’t pass the House and Senate. We need to have faith that our system of checks and balances will prevail. America has weathered some terrible storms, but we have always gotten through them. I have faith that we can get through this one, as well.

Christina finishes her letter by encouraging her students to visit the Wellness Exchange Centre on their campus, and I’ll end here by suggesting we all do the same: remind students they are not alone, however they are feeling, and direct them toward the resources on our campuses that can provide immediate support. We must also not feel embarrassed to seek them out ourselves.

In solidarity with you all, and with thanks once more to Christina for sharing her thoughts,

Kim

 

Relaxed alertness… and big brother.

A couple of weeks ago I received an email blast from Tomorrow’s Professor, a great newsfeed I’ve been following for about 15 years, that discussed “relaxed alertness” as an optimum state for teaching and learning. The post is an excerpt from the book 12 Brain / Mind Learning Principles in Action: Teach for the Development of Higher-Order Thinking and Executive Function by Renate Nummela Caine, Geoffrey Caine, Carol McClintic and Karl J. Klimek. As it explains,

People in a state of Relaxed Alertness experience low threat and high challenge (Caine & Caine, 1991/1994, 2010). Essentially, the learner is both relaxed and to some extent excited or emotionally engaged at the same time. This is the foundation for taking risks in thinking, questioning, and experimenting, all of which are essential to mastering new skills and engaging higher-order thinking.  In this state the learner feels competent and confident and has a sense of meaning or purpose.

I’ve long been an advocate of “low stakes” learning; this means, essentially, that I try to put students at ease in the classroom, and I encourage failure in minor stuff as a route to success in the bigger things. My experience as a student (not SO long ago…and I try to return to learning whenever I can, to stay fresh and empathetic) was one of constant panic around the possibility of failure; that panic produced results, sure, but it also meant I literally threw up before essays were due and tests written, out of the terror of messing up FOREVER.

A big part of me doubts that the throwing up part needs to be correlated to the succeeding part; certainly, failing a test or an essay won’t ruin your life, and it is on us as teachers to remind students of this every day.

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So seeing this TP post in my inbox reinforced for me my pedagogical belief system: I cultivate low stakes (most of the time), encourage students to speak up even if/when they are wrong, and I try to model error as a way of discovering the correct (or a better) answer. Cheering inside as I read, I passed the message on to some of my colleagues who also think actively about teaching and learning strategies; I was in the moment also uplifted by having read some wonderful letters of support from former students (I’m going up for promotion right now) who reinforced for me the value of the low-stakes-high-energy approach in the classroom.

But – …

(There’s always a but.)

One of my colleagues – though supportive and loving as always – nevertheless helpfully reminded me about the politics underlying the “relaxed alertness” approach to teaching and learning. As she wrote to me,

It concerns me somewhat … that pedagogy talk is increasingly becoming counselling talk, which is tied inextricably to “therapy culture,” which is tied inextricably to neoliberalism’s refusal to recognize that individuals are not solely responsible for accommodating themselves to the direction the world goes in: maybe the world could make some changes and not expect the individual to compensate for the world’s flaws….

 

And she’s not wrong. When I dug deeper into the post I’d received from TP, I discovered this moment in the piece, connecting “relaxed alertness” to “resilience” and “self-efficacy”:

Resilience and self-efficacy have a great deal in common. Resilience refers to the ongoing, deep capacity to bounce back from failure or setbacks. People who struggle against enormous obstacles, say, to survive by struggling to find their way back from being lost in the wilderness, have resilience. The term often is used to describe students who survive poverty or abusive environments. Resilient kids survive and thrive despite the odds (Gillham, 2000; Reivich & Shatte, 2002).

Students with resilience (see Davies, 2002) are likable; they have social skills and are socially competent, have coherent moral or spiritual beliefs, have problem-solving skills, are self-directed, and have a sense of autonomy…

(All emphases my own)

There’s a problem here: on one hand, yes, “relaxed alertness” in the classroom means we are all invested but not overly so; we all can talk without the stakes getting too much in the way (and making us feel sick). If somebody goes offside, that’s fine; the larger conversation includes us all and we all know our value within the community, and the value of our risk-taking contribution.

BUT, on the other hand, if relaxed alertness is meant to cultivate “resilience” and “self-efficacy”, and if the latter two are explicitly connected to the bootstraps-pulling-up that we associate with libertarian independence, then we are in danger of arguing that a low-stakes, shared, empathetic classroom environment is – or could, or SHOULD – work in the service of a neoliberal reality in which everyone is supposed to learn to be resilient because nobody else is, or should be expected to be, around to help.

UGH.

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What we’ve got here is a classic Catch-22. We all, I think, want to teach our students to be active and engaged but not SO invested that they panic and deflate (or worse). But few of us, I imagine, would advocate that we are teaching our students to become resilient in the face of a world in which governments’ abilities to support the citizenship properly are decimated, and it’s every-person-for-themselves… and yet, the rhetoric I quote above suggests that’s a desirable, and somewhat inevitable, outcome. (And frankly, the current US presidential debate suggests it’s a necessary precaution, too.)

I have no resolution, no answer to offer here. But I’d love to hear others’ thoughts. Is “relaxed alertness” something to cultivate, or to be wary of? For me, I’d like to do the former, and yet also explain to my students the logic of the latter, in “teachable moment” fashion. To demystify the strategy while I use it, I guess.

But maybe that’s too much to dream of… or maybe there is no longer any getting outside the text of neoliberal realities. Although that’s an outcome too depressing to contemplate.

On an uncertain note,

Kim

 

A Tale of Two Systems

Herewith, the text of my contribution to the Western “Alternative” 100 Days of Listening Tour. With thanks to all my colleagues who maintain the “Noah Confidenze” Tumblr site, here.

Dear fellow faculty members, staff and students,

I’ve been at Western since 2005, but from 2012 to 2014 I worked as a Senior Lecturer in Drama at Queen Mary, University of London. Queen Mary Drama is, according to the last two REF (“Research Excellence Framework”) exercises mandated by the British government, the top academic theatre department in the UK, and as of last December the top academic performing arts department, including but not limited to theatre. Its researchers are nationally celebrated and internationally respected writers and artists. They are also an amazing group of human beings who truly love each other and spend time outside of work together.

In spite of this exceptional good fortune and warm intradepartmental culture, however, over the last several years my QM colleagues’ working lives have grown harder and harder, the morale in the school of which they are a part dropping further and further. Research money is thin on the ground, but scholars are still expected to produce world-beating materials in time for the regular “dry runs” designed to prepare the college for success in the REF. New research centres are created according to what upper-level administrators think will best support the school’s brand, after only limited consultation with faculty members involved with or impacted by the schemes. Students, rocked by the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition government’s decision to raise tuition rates across the UK to £9000 per year, are themselves increasingly demoralised, anxious, and rightly worried about job prospects on the other side of their degrees. Meanwhile, the REF itself (www.ref.ac.uk) – which requires every academic department in the UK to submit faculty research “outputs” for “quality assessment” according to their national or international “impact” – dominates every aspect of academic life. Thinking of a new book project? Ask first if it will be “REF-able”. Writing a book for students? Think again – according to REF criteria teaching-focused work will have no measurable research “impact”. Taking on a journal editorship? That means you’ll be helping other scholars publish their REF research, but what about yours? Can you spare that kind of time? Or perhaps you’re planning to write about a Canadian topic, or a South African topic, or an Icelandic topic? Careful: that work may be deemed only to have limited, “national” significance.

During my two years in London I saw first-hand the human “impact” this neoliberal quest for profit-driving, brand-oriented research has had on brilliant, politically engaged, activist teachers and writers. Everybody is tired; everybody is anxious; everybody is worried about their job, the health of their department, the possibility of future funding (all of these things are tied, in different ways, to REF outcomes). Faculty members fretful about their basic job security, hopelessly overworked as they try to shoehorn “world leading” research into the space between measuring impact and trying to teach the citizens of the next generation, have precious little time for political protest about what has rapidly become the status quo. And that, of course, is exactly what neoliberal governance models hope for. If we’re all too tired to think, smart and critically engaged professors become far less of a threat. And we become far more likely to take the soothing words fed us on faith.

I came back to Western last August, knowing that I had seen our future at Queen Mary. I had witnessed, and (barely) survived, the world in which we will all end up if we do not mount a sustained, vigorous protest against the corporatization of higher education in Canada, and against the decimation of critical inquiry as the university’s major contribution to the public good. The scandal that has blown up around Dr Chakma’s salary provision has given us a precious opportunity: a clarifying object around which to mount a clear and public debate about the future of Canadian universities, their increasingly slavish devotion to neloliberal governance models, and the very real dangers – for students, faculty, the public, and citizenship itself – of their appetite for power and profit allergic to thoughtful challenge. I urge us all to hold tight to this fight, even after the flames of Amit Chakma’s scandal burn out.

Yours in solidarity,

Kim

On the power of academic protest (take academia back!)

If you work in the Canadian university system you have probably heard about what’s recently been happening at my school, Western University. Our president, chemical engineer Amit Chakma, is at the centre of a scandal about administrative pay: his contract permitted him to take home double his pay packet at the end of his first term in office, in lieu of the administrative leave he was due. (What is administrative leave? It is a sabbatical given to scholars after several years in major administrative jobs in order that they may catch up on their research work. Since university administrators are traditionally drawn from the faculty, the assumption is they will return to active teaching and research once their admin gig is done.) Admin leave is not a holiday with pay: it’s a chance to get back up to speed in the job for which you are normally paid, and from which you had been seconded in order to do administrative labour for the university. Dr Chakma’s poor choice, to take a huge bonus instead of leave, sent the opposite message: that research leaves are a kind of “free money” opportunity, paid for by the suckers who hold the public purse.

As a result of Chakma-gate, as this event and its aftermath have become known, my colleagues and I find ourselves exhausted and frustrated, as we constantly defend the nature of our work to friends, family, and beyond. The other week, to offer just one example, I found myself explaining to the farmer who produces my weekly veg box what sabbaticals are (essential, concentrated research time, during which the books and papers needed for tenure and promotion get written) and how difficult they can be to afford for many ordinary faculty members (at Western, you take a pay cut when you’re on sabbatical). I just wanted to buy my veg on my one free day that week! But when you’re confronted by (a totally kind, generally ethical) somebody who is pretty sure, based on his reading of recent events in the papers, that you are an overprivileged fat cat, well… it’s hard just to plunk down your $20 and walk away.

Professors – elitist ivory-tower dwellers blah blah blah – are easy targets at the best of times; now, Chakma-gate has got us mixed up in many minds with the bankers and politicians who cravenly screw the public over for money and power. The really sad bit, though, is that President Chakma’s contract provisions are only one very visible symptom of a much larger, systemic problem: university governance models, including at Western, rely increasingly on excessively paid career bureaucrats who dictate neoliberal policy from above to diffuse and vulnerable students and faculty below. As Terry Eagleton recently argued in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the impact of the problem is wide-reaching and most devastating for the liberal arts disciplines whose daily work is hardest to link directly to the profit motive. In other words: under Dr Chakma’s presidency, many of us in the ordinary faculty have felt left out and screwed over, too. And many, many of us have not reaped anything like the benefits he has – quite the opposite.

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That’s the depressing bit. The GOOD news is that Chakma-gate has also proven to be a truly galvanising force for faculty and students at Western who are fed up with a budget model that plays favourites among faculties and presses the arts and humanities to accept increasing austerity measures while lavishing money, support, and bling on STEM and the school of business. Protests, votes of non-confidence, and lots of discussion in the media have prompted Dr Chakma first to pledge to give back his “bonus” pay, and then to engage in what he calls “100 Days of Listening” as he speaks with different constituencies about our ongoing concerns. Looking out across our university’s rapidly decaying forest from the top of this particular tree, a number of my colleagues have chosen to take Chakma-gate as a real opportunity to try to arrest what sometimes feels like our intractable slide into a “new normal” – in which higher education is reframed as “job training”, with no room for the arts, social sciences, or any discipline in which the debating of ideas takes precedence over skill and content delivery in the service of increasing corporate profits.

This fight is a long time coming, and I can’t tell you how proud I am to be part of an academic community that is so geared up for it. For the two years I was in the UK, I lived and worked in the shadow of the dystopian endgame toward which schools like Western are marching. (I’ve written about this on the blog before; see here and here for two representative posts.) While I was part of the truly incredible Department of Drama at Queen Mary, University of London, one filled with brilliant community activists and scholar-artists, too regularly we felt like protest against the neoliberal hierarchy in which we were trapped was pointless and the system more or less immovable. The best we could do was keep calm, keep writing and talking about the problem, and then find a way to manage the workload amidst the gloom.

At Western, right now, I feel like we still have the chance to fight this fight and win – but the window is closing. As part of the ongoing protests in the wake of Chakma-gate, a handful of my colleagues have created an “alternative” 100-days-of-listening tour, in which faculty and students share their perspectives on the larger issues at stake via blog posts on social media, primarily through a dedicated tumblr account and the superb Facebook group, Take Academia Back. I recently contributed a blog post to the “alt” tour; it will be up shortly, and I’ll reblog it here at that time. For now, I want to urge all of you to click on the metadata links I’ve built into this post, read a bit about Chakma-gate and the protests in its wake, and follow similar stories on your home campuses and in your communities.

I also want to urge you, if you have not already, to join Take Academia Back on Facebook, to follow “Noah Confidenze”, our online protest alias, on tumblr – and to share in the comments below (or anywhere you think most productive) your own stories of fighting back against higher ed’s reductive and damaging new normal(s). Keep talking, and if you can, start mobilising! I know it’s extra work, and we’re all tired – but that’s the point, I suspect. The new normal wants us to be too tired to mobilise against it. That’s what makes it so dangerous.

'I love to come here because it reminds me of how I became a capitalist.'

This fight is too important to give up on. Our futures hang in the balance – and I know from my time abroad that it is not a future any of us would choose to live or work in.

In solidarity!

Kim

On walking my feminist talk

I’ve just finished writing a book; it’s called Theatre & Feminism, and it’s part of the excellent “Theatre &” series edited by Jen Harvie and Dan Rebellato, and published by Palgrave. Like all Theatre & books, it’s written accessibly for a wide (and primarily student) audience, and it’s short and punchy (not like a stodgy academic book at all). In my first paragraph, I describe the book like this:

Theatre & Feminism tells the story of the movement known as Feminist Performance Theory, the critical lens through which scholars understand theatre and performance practices that take gender difference, and gendered experience, as their primary social and political focus. This story, then, is about women and theatre, women at the theatre, and women in and of the theatre; but it is also more than that. Above all, it is about how feminist theatre theory and practice allow us to understand the way all gender is constructed and reinforced in performance, for better and for worse, and for all human beings on the planet – be they men, women, transpersons, or others. “Feminism” remains a contentious term (more on that in a moment), but for me it is the best and most accurate term to use when thinking about gendered experience from a human rights perspective. Any human being worried about discrimination on the basis of gender or sexual orientation will have some affinity with the term, whether or not they realize it; similarly, this book aims to demonstrate the many ways that feminist scholars and makers of theatre and performance have enabled, and continue to enable, productive discussions about women’s (and others’) experiences of gender, sexuality, political power and human rights, both on and off the stage.

I grew into my feminist identity during what’s known in the academy as the “third wave“. That term describes a period (beginning roughly in the 1980s) during which feminist scholars and activists thought a lot about how gender is constructed by social expectations, and also by our mundane performances of self every day (for example: by how I dress when I leave the house in order to register as a “woman”, as an “attractive woman”, as a “professional woman”, and so on). As part of my third-wave education, I came to understand feminism as implicitly connected to my gender identity, not just my identity as a female person; I’m thus, as a feminist, less focused specifically on women’s experiences and women’s rights (as opposed to gendered experiences of all kinds, and human rights broadly imagined) than many feminist writers, critics, and activists tend to be. I consider men’s experiences of their gender identities to be an important part of my feminism, and I know well that men can be victims of patriarchy, too (though they are, of course, far more likely to benefit from its assumptions and prevarications than women are).

When the peer reviews for Theatre & Feminism came back a few weeks ago, one of my readers took issue with the conception of feminism in my opening paragraph. The reviewer (who is anonymous, which is best practice in academic publishing) resisted both my conception of feminism as about “more than women”, and also the way in which the paragraph described the book to come (s/he felt the book was more woman-centred than I was accounting for – and s/he is probably right). I grumbled; I felt like my sense of feminist self was being challenged by an old-school bra-burner who didn’t understand the position I was adopting. I resisted making any changes as a result of the critique, and my editor backed me up. But, the more I’ve thought about the reviewer’s challenge over the past little while, the more I’ve wondered if they were correct – and, moreover, what their* critique of my stance might say about me, and about the way I walk my feminist talk.

As a result of a number of significant changes in my life this past winter, I’ve been spending a lot of time with my terrific psychotherapist, Andrew. I’ve known Andrew since 2001; I am where I am today in no small part because of his support (and his extraordinary nose for bullshit). But we’ve clashed a few times over the value and premise of feminism. Andrew received his medical degree in the 1970s, and his sense of the movement is rooted in the second wave – the moment, stereotypically speaking, of the bra-burners. Recently, Andrew and I have spent a lot of time talking about my relationship with the important men in my life, and not long ago I had a realisation in his office: that my relationship with my long-term partner was far, far more conventionally gendered than I would have otherwise imagined. This isn’t to say that my partner and I sought convention; far from it. We would both describe ourselves as fully committed to a feminist purpose. Rather, as Andrew pointed out, we fit snuggly into convention, because we were both raised in “conventional” families, which in the 1970s (when we were born) meant families in which dads went to work, moms stayed home and raised kids, and both resented the other for their labour (rather than celebrating the hard work of working away and working at home, respectively). I hadn’t recognised, until then, that although my partner and I worked, on the surface, very differently from our parents (I went to work; he worked from home), we were effortlessly replicating normative gender patterns nevertheless (I did the cleaning; he walked the dog) – and hating each other for it.

Call me gobsmacked! How could I be a feminist in a Stepford relationship? Well, ok: it was hardly that bad. But I’d obviously been long denying (or simply accepting) the things that I knew, intellectually, were bad and wrong for me, most likely out of a combination of habit and familiarity. After all, most behaviour is learned; what did I learn in my first home, and from the vast majority of the cultural influences that hit me each day for the first forty years of my life? On balance I can’t really be surprised that my partner and I struggled to surf the tide. And this was an important (if, in hindsight, obvious) revelation too: being a feminist today is freaking hard work! Because there is nothing – NOTHING – obvious about a feminist position to the majority of human beings in most human cultures. Which makes living a feminist life a daily challenge.

Something else troubling and enlightening spurred me to think this problem through recently – the problem of how I live my feminist identity every day. My friend Jessica makes fantastic, superbly empowering athletic headbands for badass women athletes; she’s made me a few. I asked her for some more this past week, with various bespoke phrases printed on them; she dropped some samples by my office on Tuesday. Among those I’d asked for was one, bright fuchsia, that read simply “feminist”.

I saw it, and I balked.

I will tell anyone, and everyone, that I’m a feminist – loudly. In theory. But will I walk the walk, in practice? Will I really? Will I put on the headband and wear the label proudly, regardless of the context? I was surprised to realise, faced with the headband, that I wasn’t exactly sure. Sitting in my office, I thought about passing the “feminist” sample back to Jessica, citing a resistance to wearing it in mixed workout company. Boys at the gym, etc. (No, really.)

Then I thought again. What was I afraid of? That I was going to have to explain that I wasn’t actually a Beyoncé fan? That I was going to have to offer a potted history of the third wave? I’m not sure, but I think I was afraid that the term is just too toxic now; that I want to be a modern, easy-going girl. Just like in my partnership: I didn’t want to rock too far from normal. Funny how normal gets under your skin, and stays there.

It’s hard work, man (woman!): walking this feminist talk. Just ask the unbelievably talented Roxane Gay.

But I kept the headband. I’m trying harder next time.

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Kim

*Grammarians! I’m using “they/their” as a neutral pronoun in the singular here, as per best feminist/queer practice. See here for more details.