Alison Piepmeier returns from NWSA’s annual conference to reveal what’s hot in feminist books and scholarship, the joy of gender-neutral bathrooms, and what it’s like to work out next to Angela Davis at the gym.
The National Women's Studies Association Conference
that took place this past weekend in Denver has become exactly the conference those of us on the Governing Council hoped it would become: the place to be. If you're a scholarly type with an interest in feminism, and/or a writer with a penchant for women’s literature or feminist critique, then you don't want to miss this conference. (She Writes’ Director of Content and Community Deborah Siegel missed it this year and hasn’t stopped emailing us about how left out she felt! You can bet she, for one, will be joining us in Atlanta come November 2011.)
For those of you who are new to NWSA and its annual conference, here are the top five reasons why those of us who go, do:
1. We go for the books.
A huge exhibit hall was filled with books, editors, and authors, and most of us prowled around in there between panels to see what publications were new this year--books about everything from helicopter parenting
to reality tv
. Jenn Pozner
, Elline Lipkin
, Courtney Martin
, Amber Kinser
, and Beverly Guy-Sheftall--among others--had signings this year.
2. We go for the scholarship.
This year, I got to hear a number of truly outstanding scholars--Andrea Smith
, Astrid Henry
, Juana Maria Rodriguez
, among others--present work that wasn't familiar to me and that introduced me to new ideas. Equally important, I heard newer and emerging scholars trying out their works in progress, folks like Amanda Richey, Kimberly Robertson, and Michael Gill. It was so exciting! I had the opportunity to connect with colleagues from around the country whose work I admire, and we all marveled at the scholars who are now regular attendees, scholars like Chela Sandoval, Banu Subramaniam, and Angela Davis. Yes indeed, Angela Davis, who was a keynote speaker last year
, was so impressed that she decided to come to this year's conference as a regular attendee. You don't get to be much more of a feminist rock star than Angela Davis, and the fact that my friend Astrid was working out in the fitness center next to her was super-cool for all of us. We tried to pretend it was no big deal, though.
The issues scholars were taking up at this conference were rich and diverse, but here are a few that I noticed coming up again and again:
Obviously feminist scholars have been examining motherhood since the 19th century, but this is a topic that's recently become pretty popular. Most of us who are feminist moms are well aware that motherhood is overburdened and under-recognized, even today, and so we're having a closer look at how it's structured and how it functions--with an eye toward making things more fair.
Girls' studies is a significant field emerging in feminist scholarship, and it's based on the obvious, and yet still sort of radical, notion that girls' voices, experiences, and creations matter. My Girl w/Pen colleague Elline Lipkin
is one of the leading names in this area, and she and I discussed, among other things, whether girls' studies is linked in some way to motherhood studies. Is it a coincidence that the two seem to be especially popular at the same moment?
This is not new, but it's finally getting more attention--the recognition that every person's identity exists at the intersection of multiple categories (race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexual identity, bodily ability, etc). None of us is simply anything, so it was exciting to see session after session (and book after book in the exhibit hall) examining who we are in complex ways. In fact, this was less a topic that scholars were addressing and more a foundational assumption underlying much of the scholarship being presented.
3. We go for the energy.
The conference energized me in exactly the ways I hoped it would. I got useful feedback on my own presentation, in which I took issue with memoirs written by parents of kids with disabilities.
4. We go for the connection.
Multiple friends made connections with publishers. And most importantly, I felt surrounded by a community of people eager to think, question, and examine the world in the ways I do.
5. We go for an opportunity to view the world differently.
For instance, I was reminded of how much I love
a gender-neutral bathroom. Perhaps by the time next year's conference comes around, I will have learned how to make use of a urinal.
Alison Piepmeier is author of Girl Zines, director of Women's and Gender Studies at the College of Charleston, and an editor at Girl w/Pen.
Feminist scholar Andrea Smith at the National Women's Studies Association Conference
NWSA and Books by Women (2009)