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In your heart, you already know...

rmeyer's picture

Dearest Zen calendar,

Let’s see, where shall I begin…?

I am a freshwoman from South Portland, Maine, and to be quite frank I have never even considered myself a feminist, nor have I even given the issue much thought. I consider myself to be a rather naïve and non-political person. Yet, here I am at a women’s college, in a course titled Introduction to Critical Feminist Studies. Hmm. If you are half as confused as I am, you’d maybe understand just how out of place I might feel here. Most days, I find myself wondering why I am here…and why I am in this class. But, as my Zen calendar said the very first day I arrived here at Bryn Mawr, “In your heart, you already know.”

I specifically remember the first class I went to. After being ‘lotteried’ out of a Global Ethics course at Haverford, I noticed that this course was still open and on a whim decided to register. So, I trudged out to the English House for the very first time with my Bryn Mawr campus map in hand (you all were new to the campus at one time! Don’t judge!)on the Tuesday of the second week of classes and arrived fairly early. Okay. Really early. 9:50 AM. I took a seat and waited as people leisurely came in and filled the seats around me. I hadn’t yet finished Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas (gasp!) nor had I even tried to figure out what the word “feminism” really meant. Finally, the class started and we began to talk about things that seemed way over my head. Of course I was asked to read this highly sexual poem out loud in front of the class, which actually wasn’t as daunting as I thought it might be. Then, someone mentioned first and second wave feminism, which I had never even heard of before. I embarrassingly “googled” the terms later that week…

For the next few classes, I came into class having done the reading, but found myself with nothing to say. I was initially just blown away by the different degrees of knowledge that everyone in the class has and how obvious their backgrounds and personal feelings on the issues of feminism are. I am a science person--I like math and I like going to chemistry labs…and yet here there were English majors all around me. It was wonderful, yet I felt like the black sheep (or shall I say black swan?). I specifically remember reading Linda S. Kauffman’s essay against personal testimony and absolutely agreeing with everything she had written…but it was undoubtedly out of inexperience. And then, of course, I came into class where the majority of the people were outraged by it. I guess that was the first moment of realization as to why I am here and why I am taking this course.

Anyways, feminism has a new meaning to me. I like to label Tuesdays and Thursdays as my “girl” days, mostly because the two classes that I have on these days are centered around females. My CSem happens to be titled “Females at Risk” which is scheduled immediately after this one. Essentially, the word “FEMALE” is shoved in my face for about three hours, which can be a tad bit overwhelming, especially when I have never paid much attention to the various issues surrounding women. But, it has potentially been the most empowering experience I have ever had.

Our most recent read in my CSem has been “My Year of Meats” and while I shall spare you from the entire summary of the book, seeing as how it touches upon several different themes for women in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, I have never found it so hard to finish a book in my life. It makes me mad to read it, because the characters in the book don’t seem to ever stand up for their rights. Perhaps it is because I am starting to form my own opinions about various issues (my my!) or perhaps it is because I really do have an intense pride for being a women. (I remember telling someone about how insane it was for me to be in this class when I did even consider myself a feminist…and she replied to me, “If you go to Bryn Mawr…if you are a woman who is getting a higher education, you are a feminist.”)  Oh.

At any rate, I know that I am taking this class for a reason and although I don’t necessarily have much to contribute at this stage in the semester, I have found that things are starting to stir. I am particularly excited (and intimidated, might I add) by the idea of having upper-classmen along with us four freshman because it really allows us to find some insight in these intense ideas and theories that we continue to discuss. I suppose that I am interested in perhaps finding some issues that are…well, more in tune to issues that women face today. What does the modern feminist theory say?

On another note, thanks to all who have taught me so much thus far in the class.



your Zen calendar reader


Anne Dalke's picture

Zen feminism

So, rmeyer/Zen calendar writer--

I'm having something of the Zen experience here, belatedly reading your's elusive for me. I keep grasping, but I think not quite getting: what was it that you realized, in your moment of realization as to why you are here? What was it that you understood, when you came to know why you are taking this course? What is the reason you know, now that you know you are taking this class for a reason? What have you learned, from those you thank for teaching you so much thus far?

As I re-read my questions, and hear how insistent they are, I wonder if you'd be interested in exploring the relation between a different kind of feminism than my sort of always-questioning, always-prodding mode. Might you want to find out about zen feminism (is that an oxymoron?), to figure out what it might mean to get to a place of "not judging"? And still be a feminist?

I remember reading a piece in the journal of Buddhist-Christian Studies years ago, Jay McDaniel's "Self-Affirmation and Ego Transcendence: The Encounter of Christianity with Feminism and Buddhism" (you could access this through JSTOR, from Canaday library; the year is 1987). Want to go exploring in that direction? It's not the "modern feminism" you reference @ the end of your piece, but it might be an intriguing way to dig more deeply into this notion that "in your heart, you already know...." and perhaps to move through some of the confusions you describe so vividly...

gammyflink's picture


 Dear Zen Calendar Reader, 

I am glad my message spoke to you.  Since I am not in class and can't get to know all of you, I often feel I am sending useless information into cyberspace.
Don't be intimidated by the level of language and knowledge of your classmates.  You are a very real and genuine person.  That is probably related to your Zen perspective.  When you eventually leave the ivory tower of Bryn Mawr, where admittedly you will learn a great deal, you will find that your personal qualities are far more significant than your intellectual knowledge.
There is no need to spin your wheels over whether or not you are a feminist. Labels, even positive ones, often impede heartfelt communication.  The important thing is what you believe and value, and how you translate that into your presence in the world.


   Barbara  '57

gammyflink's picture

Here is the letter you referred to


 I am posting my comments at the end of the list but I wish I had the time and energy to respond to each of your essays.  My message is meant for all of you and I hope there is a way that you can know that.

I am in awe of what you have written and feel privileged to have access to your thoughts.  Your essays are filled with questions and uncertainties.  What could be better than that? This is the time for you to feel free to challenge everything you have learned before as well as what you are learning now.  It's a time to be confused and to live comfortably with that confusion. 

 I love being a woman.  The only thing I envy men for is that the world is their bathroom, and this is based on traveling in countries where toileting has no privacy!  I have always considered myself a feminist but in later life have become more of a humanist.  I ache for the ways in which we all suffer, men and women, in a culture that increasingly devalues people.

Many of you described coming into this course not knowing much about feminism.  My hope and expectation is that you will leave this course knowing more about yourselves.  There is no better learning than that.

   Barbara  '57

Rhapsodica's picture

Hey, I just wanted to say


I just wanted to say that I can totally relate with everything you've said... I, too, felt really out of my depth in the beginning (and heck, I still do a lot of the time), but now I'm starting to realize how great of an experience this class has been and will continue to be. I'm glad that we're two of the four freshmen in the class, and just as glad that we're among so many amazingly intelligent & eloquent upperclassmen!

I also wanted to make sure you know to tag your paper as Critical Feminist Studies Webpaper 1... it came up on the new blog entries page thing, which is how I found it, but I think it should also be listed on the specific page for our papers... so yeah. :) (if you look at the top of your entry when you're logged in, you'll see a link to Edit it, where you can add the tag)

And er, I hope it's okay for us to comment on each other's essays? Well, if it isn't, then I suppose it's a little late... oh well.