An Ha recently published a co-authored essay, “What Color is My Voice? Academic Writing and the Myth of Standard English” through Writing Spaces. With her co-authors, Kristin DeMint Bailey and AJ Outlar, Ms. Ha’s work brings much-needed attention to the intertwining of language, identity, and power within the context of racism and “standard” English. Reflecting on their own writing for college courses, Ms. Ha and Mr. Outlar invite students to ask themselves,
“Whose voice do I hear in my writing, and why? What does this voice reveal about my identity as a writer, and how do I feel about what I uncover? What might I want to do more or differently?”
The following is an interview with Ms. Ha regarding her research, writing, and feminist theory.
What is “voice,” and why is it important?
“Voice is essential to the human experience. It is an amalgamation of our lives and a means of storytelling and connection. We acquire voice as we grow; slowly, the internal voice translates to the external. Voice is culture as it is privilege. Some of us have voices that get lost in translation. Voices that fall on ears that are closed to stories that don’t center their own, that don’t center Whiteness. This. This is why voice is important. Black voices, brown voices, loud voices, soft voices, all voices — deserve to proclaim their existence. When we center only one voice, we lose so much richness, and we silence the marginalized in their declaration of space.”
What did you find meaningful about this research and publication?
“This topic has yet to hit the mainstream. There are still thousands of BIPOC in schools that believe they are ‘bad writers.’ This chapter, however profound, is still only a baby step in the change that needs to happen for students everywhere. I am immensely grateful that I had an English professor who used her Whiteness to amplify BIPOC voices. I am also grateful for the creative freedom I was given at 19. Reading the chapter back now, I can hear my 19-year-old voice, her excitement, her passion, her spunk, and that’s precisely what this chapter should do.”
What would you say to a Hope undergrad who is considering doing research with faculty?
“Partnering with a faculty member to dive deep into topics that make you think is an incredible opportunity. You work alongside someone who acts as a guide, a mentor, a peer, and an investor in your education. I had no idea where this Writing Spaces chapter would take me, but I’m so glad I took a chance to learn along the way.”
How do you see feminist theory connecting with this research?
bell hooks reminds us that ‘Work by women of color and marginalized groups of white women (for example, lesbians, sex radicals), especially if written in a manner that renders it accessible to a broad reading public, even if that work enables and promotes the feminist practice, is often de-legitimized in academic settings.’ For this work to impact our audience (students in college-level English classes) we must understand that valid writing does not have to be ‘scholarly’ or ‘academic’ or any other thinly veiled pseudonyms for White. ‘What Color Is My Voice‘ allows for this space in writing, where making these concepts more accessible to the general public enables the faculty and students to enact social change.”
This year, four students showcased their research at the annual Celebration of Undergraduate Research & Creative Activity (CURCA). Moving beyond the classroom, these students applied feminist methodologies to answer pressing research questions pertaining to body positivity, leadership, health and advertising, and climate change. Their research abstracts are excerpted below!
Hope Students and Body Positivity ~ Sutton Steensma
Fatphobia is woven within the fabric of our society. This form of sexism is a tactic of control, manipulating women’s bodies and their perception of self. This control fuels our patriarchal society. The current study used mixed methods, studying the lived experiences of students at Hope College. I found that fatphobia shows itself to be a gendered issue among this demographic–where weight bias has taken form in many ways–specifically impacting and targeting women. Every participant had been impacted by fatphobia in some way, and expressed that the “Body Positivity Movement” is exclusive and requires revisions to make it representative and accessible to all bodies. Additionally, participants expressed a desire to relate to their bodies in holistically healthy ways, which they saw as the intended purpose behind the “Body Positivity Movement.”
Beyond the Binary: Leadership, Gender, and Femmephobia ~ Nicole Galloway
Discourse surrounding gender and leadership varies considerably. This study uses the Business-focused Inventory of Personality scale to assess measures on power and leadership motivation through a self-report survey. With data collected from the survey, this study showcases the perceptions individuals have of their own leadership qualities and how such perceptions may be related to gender. Though discussions on gender and leadership are often focused on difference or the lack thereof, this study argues through the lens of femmephobia that we must move beyond conversations about difference and into conversations about oppression when striving to create a feminist impact on leadership occupancy.
Profit and Empowerment: Period Products on Social Media ~ Kaylee Stanton
Instagram posts from mainstream and alternative menstrual product companies showcase varying styles of branded advertising including product placement, education, and artistic expression. Through an analysis of a collection of the most liked posts from Always, Tampax, U by Kotex, August, and The Divacup, I argue that the combination of environments between Instagram and femvertising results in contradictory and often ineffective messaging about periods where companies struggle between capitalizing on period stigma to sell products and facilitating authentic empowerment. These unique positions of the brands reveal a need to reshape empowerment and display the pitfalls of feminist advertising on neoliberal social media.
The Storytellers of Climate Change ~ Anna Whittle
The evidence of environmental and gender inequalities is clear. Not only are poorer countries affected the most by the pollution from wealthier countries, but climate change affects women in the Global South the most through overlapping layers of oppression. By exploring the intersection of gender and climate change through a diversity of disciplines, this project seeks to develop a sustainable, feminist approach to mitigating climate change. An intersectional lens, storytelling by women, and the inclusion of women in all levels of climate action are critical in the development of a non-hierarchical, polycentric approach to climate change.
As a senior at Hope College, WGS major Chloe Long (’21) conducted research with Dr. Sarah Kornfield.
Recently published in Sexualities, their research analyzes television portrayals of femininity and femme resistance on The Bold Type (2017-2021). Read below for an interview with Chloe Long.
What is femme?
“As Dr. Rhea Ashley Hoskin explains, femme is historically linked to feminine presenting lesbians; more broadly, femme is a presentation of feminine defiance. As ‘culturally unsanctioned femininity,’ femme is a direct act of revolution.”
What did you find meaningful about this research?
“This research was an absolute joy to explore. I believe the research to be not only meaningful, but impactful as gender and the study of gender evolves. This research highlights injustice in a way that demonstrates how normal and pervasive injustice can be: through television. Television and media as a whole are clear indicators of social values, so using it as a medium of analysis is incredibly important to understanding our culture and its injustices.”
What would you say to a Hope undergrad who is considering doing research with a WGS faculty member?
“DO IT! Working with Dr. Kornfield was an absolute delight to say the least. I was extremely pleased to work alongside her and learn from her along the way. It is an amazing opportunity to not only see the rhythm of research, but also to expand your own thinking, writing, and learning with the guidance of someone who is experienced in the field. I cannot recommend it enough!”
How are you using Hope WGS major in your career?
“My career currently isn’t overtly related to Women’s & Gender Studies, yet I find myself utilizing the skills I learned in the WGS program. I currently work at a technology and project management company in Kansas City, and it was definitely a learning curve to be working in a male-dominated field. I’m on the leadership team for my project, so it’s given me a big opportunity to be an advocate for other women in my company, as well as fight to change processes that currently work against women and people of color. I was also able to get connected to local organizations in Kansas City, like Black Lives Matter KC, as well as women’s groups that lead protests in the downtown area. I’m so grateful for all my studies at Hope, as it gave me a voice and agency in understanding and recognizing injustices in my community and even my workplace.”
When will it be enough for women to decide the fate of their bodies?
With dress, behavior, contraception, movement, parenthood, intimacy, or expression?
The facade of choice has always been monitored and encouraged towards a White supremacist, patriarchal agenda.
We are always made acutely aware of the organs that motivate assumptions and expectations.
I know I have a uterus, thank you.
I know what it is capable of, thank you.
I do not want you inside of me, thank you.
I do not wish to nourish this unwanted fetus, thank you.
I feel like I am speaking but nothing is being heard.
Imagine how our Black sisters must feel, producing rich evidence of pain and tailored abuse from a system crafted to control and manipulate.
Endless evidence of use of female body cavities to achieve power and maintain structures that are rooted in oppression.
Who matters in all of this?
Is it the man who just wanted to know what sex would feel like without a condom?
Is it the woman who is imprisoned within her reproductive capacity?
Is it the child born into a family system that is unwanted even before conception?
Or is it the person in the big office chair, lubricating their black pen to sign the paper that determines the choice for bodies that they have never respected, while proceeding to kneel behind a pew and pray to a God that they believe condones their control over bodies.
Autonomy must be granted back to the bodies that experience the implications of narrow laws.
Leverage must be provided to Black feminists who have been engaging in this work for centuries.
Encouraging belonging to all options must be granted for reproductive and parental agencies.
The fluorescent lights filter the dust on book covers.
I’m drawn in,
into the sea of women’s melodies, words, wisdom.
Their voices call out, needless of response, just breathing in time.
And yet she finds me
and I find her.
Her life, a canvas of smudges and struggle
wrapped in the beauty of lavender petals.
Her poignant and powerful words cut deep,
releasing my ear from the bonds of thy master to the wild, to the feminine.
It’s not a clean cut.
The cord tangles, gnashing at freedom,
but the voice pierces it with the force of the women before her. The women after her, refusing to be silenced.
We sit at the table alone, the ink and I.
We have no reason for numbers or scales,
our conversation is proof enough
without the scaffolding of 19th-century quills.
Honest and raw, I am enough.
We time travel together to times of pain and rejection
and times of unity and comfort.
I melt into her lyrics of “Angry Atthis”, oh how soft, oh heartfelt. My ear listens but my body feels a spark.
The twinge. My shame.
My ear has been comfortable in captivity for far too long.
I invite this emotion in,
to sit at the table with us, my heart and head on the wood.
The spark sets the table on fire but we bask in its warmth. No water quenches the flame.
Her verses reckon with me, responding:
I know of who I am
I know my being to be joyful.
They see my heart and call it vile,
I see my heart, a lily of the Nile.
I buckled under the weight of fear,
our hands pressed only in the dark of night.
Feeling the world veil our hearts,
they hide us in glass closets for
“God forbid we reveal who we are.”
But hear our anthem rise
Collective strength, our voice.
Proud of who we are
Shattered glass, breath full, rejoice.
I find peace with this ink.
We have met before by another name, sharing the lines on the same page.
In her song, I find the answers
And they find their home.
I wrote this poem in response to the research by Jo Reger on the politicization of women’s music through Maxine Feldman. It is both a representation of the researcher journeying through research as well as honoring the feminist methods of research and an ode to Maxine Feldman’s song “Angry Atthis”. I was taken aback by the way Reger utilized both intellect and emotion to support her research, which I have never seen in this both/and way in research. To have permission to use emotion grounds the work in a way that using high theory can not. Reger’s research explains the concept of the “masculine ear” and how we have been taught to listen with this frame, similar to the male gaze. I really enjoyed the way she utilized this throughout her paper to reveal how women’s music created a new ear to listen, which I kept in mind throughout the poem. To me, rhetorical analysis is both beautiful and terrifying because it allows the researcher to claim power and authority within themselves which I represented with the spark of emotion turning into a fire before the researcher. In the same light, feminist rhetorical analysis usually doesn’t rely on dead white theorists to legitimize their work. Reger continuously emphasized how she had a conversation with Feldman’s lyrics, interviews, articles, etc., so I wanted to reflect that with the response of Feldman, inspired by the song which Reger analyzed. Overall, there is a theme of connection between the researcher and their work reflected in the poem as I was moved by the way feminist researchers refrain from severely separating themselves from their research, viewing it as a possible strength rather than something that would discredit the research. At its heart, Fully Searching is an ode to feminist rhetorical analysis research.
In “Criticism and Authority in the Artistic Mode,” Bonnie Dow (2001) make the point that textual or discursive research–especially rhetorical criticism–is more comparable to art than science. That is, knowledge is created rather than uncovered or discovered. This emphasizes the researcher’s (creator’s/artist’s) authority and responsibility.
Dow’s mention of “authority” over our own work reminded me a lot of feminist grounded theory. Instead of research being some far away, out of touch concept, it should be something that is personal. We are able to have a say and authority over our creations, and we are also able to have authority over how we use our own lives in grounded theory.
This artistic presentation channels the artistic value of creation that Dow talks about in the article. Thinking of rhetorical criticism in this way very much changes the perspective from something that is found (and thus, out of my control) to something that is created (and under my full authority). Part of my creative understanding, in this way, was the actual process of creating something through my own authority (partaking in the act that Dow describes), as well as the final created object. I understand my piece of art is more literally a piece of art than rhetorical criticism is, but I tried to highlight a similar idea.
The Women’s Empowerment Organization, a student organization at Hope College, recently placed baskets of period products in the bathrooms across Hope’s academic buildings. This serves a felt need on Hope’s campus providing access so students can make it to their classes on time when the unexpected comes up.
As a professor at Hope, I was surprised by the start of my menstrual cycle one day. I had no period products with me and had to drive home, canceling the rest of my meetings for that day.
In a society that shames menstruation, I felt inadequate and embarrassed. And I felt like a bad feminist for feeling inadequate and embarrassed!
These baskets are here for you and for me. They’re here to promote access to education, to decrease stigma, and to make our lives more livable.
WEO launched a donation drive (thank you to everyone who donated!!) and worked with Student Life and with Hope’s Physical Plant to ensure these baskets of emergency period products would not disrupt custodial work.
WEO is thrilled by the support for this project from across Hope’s students, admin, and staff.
Women’s Empowerment Organization hosted an intellectual consideration of Michigan civics.
As Election Day nears and the intensity surrounding the midterm election grows, Proposal 3 seems to be on the forefront of many of the debates in Michigan. Proposal 3 asks voters if the state of Michigan should add an amendment to the state’s constitution protecting reproductive rights. A “Yes” vote adds an amendment to the state’s constitution protecting reproductive rights, while a “No” vote would prevent such an amendment at this time.
The “What is Prop 3?” event was hosted by the Women’s Empowerment Organization on October 27th in Cook Auditorium in the DePree Art Center, and the auditorium was at full capacity as candidates Larry Jackson and Kim Nagy, as well as Rivka served as guest speakers. All the candidates drew from their personal experiences to discuss the importance of this issue.
Rivka had a unique perspective, because having grown up in a strict, fundamentalist household, she formerly held traditionally “pro-life” views. She worked for organizations such as Right to Life and various pregnancy crisis hotlines. She was able to speak on how she has since learned the falsehoods of those past views, and she was able to expose the false narrative that anti-choice supporters push forward.
Nagy told a deeply personal story about a family friend who had to receive a late-term abortion due to a severe genetic abnormality. The family had already picked out a name and was super excited to welcome a new baby boy to their family, but after hearing about how much their son would have to suffer in pain with no chance of survival, they had to make the difficult medical decision that they felt would prevent the most suffering. Nagy spoke about how difficult their grief was, but how if they had been unable to make their own choice, it would have been even more difficult.
The trio also rebuffed anti-choice rhetoric that regards abortion as similar to slavery. The event was the first they had ever heard of this analogy, and all three were taken aback by the comparison, discussing how it was illogical and extreme. Nagy was also honest about how the rhetoric was a stunning example of white privilege.
All three also reflected on their personal experiences of parenthood, with Jackson having five children, Nagy two, and Rivka four. They reminded everyone that no one is “pro-abortion” and that everyone is “pro-life”; simultaneously, the government has no right to make medical decisions for individuals and their families.
The event also served as an important reminder to read through your ballots and do background research before voting. As Kim Nagy noted, other proposals on the ballot require voters to understand the existing precedent before voting on a possible change.
Overall, the event was a wonderful forum to address misconceptions about Prop 3 and the deep significance of the opportunity that voters have to make a difference this election season. It was also a wonderful opportunity to meet candidates in a more personal setting and have the opportunity to learn more about them as individuals and ask questions. Local elections and midterm elections truly matter, and it is up to voters to stay informed to make important decisions while exercising their right to vote. “What is Prop 3?” truly showcased how education, community, and politics can intersect in a productive way.
This week in WGS 350: Feminist Vision of Justice, we began reading The Politics of Everybody: Feminism, Queer Theory, and Marxism at the Intersection by Holly Lewis. Lewis makes the goal of her book very clear. She hopes to bring together Marxist theorists, feminist theorists, Marxist practitioners, and queer and trans feminist activists into dialogue that informs each group of the intersections between feminist and Marxist thought and practice.
Before reading this, I had not explicitly considered how the word “everybody” can be politicized in a way that is both unsettling and provocative because of how the system of capitalism is rooted in ideological individualism that displaces blame onto “everybody” at the consumer level instead of on the capitalist system. I feel personally responsible for climate change when I use single-use plastic, when I eat large amounts of meat, or when I travel by plane, but Lewis makes me question whether my individual feelings of responsibility (and the small, specific actions I take to try to live more sustainably) are actually valid and helpful for real change. It makes sense that this is my primary framework for understanding issues, because like Lewis explains, capitalists not only control the means of production itself but also the means of communication. The power in the hands of capitalists reinforces the capitalist ideals that undergird society.
“Marxism requires a group from everywhere – which is also to say from nowhere in particular – to end a foundational historical injustice. In Marxist terms, everybody is a somebody and everybody belongs everywhere.”
Holly Lewis in The Politics of Everybody
In the next section we read, Lewis explores how Marxists view capitalism as a system of social relation that values profit over everything else. She distinguishes between proletariat’s (or laborer’s) exchange and capitalist exchange. Marx described the proletariat’s (or laborer’s) exchange as beginning with a commodity, which becomes money, and then turns back into a different commodity (C–M–C). For most laborers, their labor is the first commodity as mapped in this exchange. The money is their pay check, and this turns back into the second commodity–such as food, housing, entertainment, etc.
In contrast, the capitalist exchange begins with money, which becomes a commodity, and then turns into more money (M–C–M).
The capitalist exchange seeks to maximize profit and the commodity itself is the disappearing middle variable, which reinforces the importance of money and profit in a capitalist model.
When reading about this, I immediately thought of how education functions within the capitalist system. Students “invest” money to receive an education (the commodity) in order to extract profit (anticipated higher wages after a college degree). The learning experience itself is turned into the commodity of a degree. Students attend college because a college degree is an investment that can lead to maximizing profit through an increased salary that is offered to college-educated applicants. This exemplifies how capitalism is present in our educational systems and even expands to practically every aspect of society.
I think it’s interesting to consider the Hope Forward model in this context, as it is a new funding model that seems to challenge the capitalist exchange in some ways, while still functioning within the larger system of capitalism that is fundamental to higher education. The Hope Forward model is a tuition-free model in which current students’ tuition is fully funded by the generosity of donors. Hope Forward students make an open-ended commitment to “paying-it-forward” after graduation with the expectation for these students to make an annual financial contribution to Hope after graduating. However, there is no required amount or contract that holds students accountable for this exchange of money after graduation, instead the model emphasizes gratitude and generosity as the impetus for donating.
The Hope Forward model aspires to prepare students to pursue positive impact after college, instead of being weighed down by the burden of student debt. It implies that instead of pursuing increased salaries to pay off debt, students will be free to pursue meaningful endeavors.
Additionally, the Hope Forward model wants a student’s college experience to be a transformational relationship, not a transactional exchange. Each of these aspirations are very counter-cultural and seem to go against the capitalist system by making the exchange of money between students and the institution less of an emphasis, but the reality of higher education is that it still functions in a capitalist system. This model is not a “free-tuition” model that gets rid of the exchange, it just alters what the exchange looks like and the time frame of the financial exchange. Someone is still paying for a student’s education, it just isn’t the student herself. In this case, it is the donors and the profit extracted (via the capitalist exchange) from Hope’s endowment (i.e., the stock market). Then, once that student has graduated, she will pay for the next generation of Hope Forward students.
During the original application phases, this new model was advertised to prospective students as the “Pay It Forward” Program, which sounded very transactional because, in the capitalist system we live in, the word “pay” makes us think about money. I like that it was renamed “Hope Forward” because I do think this better represents the underlying values of the program and the aspiration to move away from a transactional model of a college education. However, I think it is interesting to acknowledge that it is still, in many ways, a transactional model, even though it emphasizes gratitude, generosity, and positive impact over profit which is definitely a step in the right direction. This is not meant to merely be a critique of the entire Hope Forward model, as this new model is definitely a step in the right direction that has the potential to positively impact the lives of students at Hope College and change the financial model of higher education. However, I think it’s important to understand how unless there is a more widespread and explicit rejection of the capitalist model, capitalism will continue to affect our educational systems and all aspects of society.
Solidarity with queer, trans, and intersex people is non-negotiable when it comes to the international solidarity of the working class.
Holly Lewis in The Politics of Everybody
Connecting back to feminism, I think it is necessary to think deeply about whether changes implemented actually accomplish what they hope to. It’s important to consider whether the way we think about things are still embedded with inherently capitalist ideals. I see Holly Lewis’s book being important in expanding everybody’s understanding of society so that real changes can be created, as she hopes to bridge the gaps between Marxist and feminist theory and practice by creating meaningful conversations between groups. Real societal change – whether it’s rooted in feminist activism, Marxist activism, or other activism – requires collaboration between all of these groups. It requires interaction between the systems, institutions, and individuals that make up society and thus affect how society functions. As Lewis argues, change requires everybody.