Feminist Conversations is a weekly column at Feminists For Choice, where we talk to feminists from across the interwebs to find out what feminism means to them. Today we are speaking with Feminists for Choice writer Andrew Jenkins. AJ is a full time student at CSU Long Beach double majoring in Communications and Women’s & Gender Studies. He is vice president of the Speech & Debate team and Director of the first Choice USA chapter at CSU Long Beach. AJ is currently interning in the public affairs department at Planned Parenthood Los Angeles and is also in the middle of a yearlong fellowship with Young People For. AJ is also the Communications Director at Textbooks4change, a student-led fundraising program that enables college students to raise money for progressive causes through textbooks purchases.
1. When did you first call yourself a feminist, and what influenced that decision?
Although I have always held very strong feminist values at my core, I didn’t really start calling myself a feminist until I was a freshman in college. To be honest, I didn’t even know that feminism existed prior to that. Growing up in such a conservative community removed me from all things progressive, let alone feminist. Despite the values instilled in me from a very early age, I didn’t have a feminist language and worldview quite yet. That changed when I left for college. After years of internalizing my queer sexuality, I finally decided to come out of the closet when I arrived in Long Beach. This experience, both internal and external, is what really brought me to feminism. I began to see connections between my own personal experiences of homophobia and the exploitation that women face on a daily basis. This pushed me to look deeper into what social and political structures shape human relations and it is precisely this journey that brought me to feminism and gender studies.
Once there, I finally had a language to describe a feeling and a sense of self that I had always had.
With that being said, I have to credit my mother for really showing me, through her actions, struggles, and triumphs, what feminism really means. Her balancing of motherhood and professional adventures really showed me what women are capable of. Her successes, despite all of the odds against her (ie: single motherhood, wage discrimination, a history of domestic violence) are what really informed my feminist politics.
2. What does feminism mean to you?
Feminism, to me, is first and foremost about making gender political. It’s about de-naturalizing rigid categories of race, gender, sex, and sexuality, and mounting social, economic, and political resistance to power structures. Feminism is a constantly evolving movement aimed at dismantling patriarchal social constructions of gender and sexuality. It is a movement that functions both in theory and practice as an effort to increase consciousness, deconstruct male privilege, and put an end to sexism, racism, homophobia, classism, ageism, and other various forms of discrimination that continue to permeate themselves within social and political relations.
3. I know you have a long history of involvement with speech and debate. How do you see this activity connecting to the feminist movement? What about this work are you passionate about?
For starters, debate totally radicalized me. It was in the speech and debate community that I first began to see myself as an agent in a global context. Researching about domestic and international politics opened my eyes to the various injustices happening around the globe; injustices that I could no longer pretend I wasn’t a part of.
Debate also taught me a lot about what it means to be a responsible producer of knowledge. I learned to always question authority and challenge epistemological assumptions about neutrality and objectivity. In a sense, debate really gave me a community and space to redefine my worldview and engage in constant criticism of the system as is. Now that I have been able to develop this critical lens in debate, I can carry that lens into every space that I occupy.
Debate, at its core, is about dialogue and communication. It’s about challenging preconceived notions while creating radical new visions for the future. That to me is exactly what feminism is all about.
4. You were recently very involved with the get out the vote effort in Long Beach. Can you tell us more about what you did and why you got involved?
I got involved with get-out-the-vote work primarily because I have a passion for civic engagement. I believe that one of the most fundamental problems with the politics of the status quo is that marginalized people have been dislocated and disenfranchised from the political system. This is particularly true for young people. Despite the fact that over 50% of the worlds population is made up of people under the age of 25, youth are consistently and routinely sold out and under represented.
Comprehensive sex education, health care reform, immigration, job security, environmental sustainability, affordable access to higher education, and reproductive health are all issues that speak to the lived experiences of young people, yet, no one is actually engaging them on these issues. That is why I decided it was time to get proactively involved in GOTV work. The midterm election offered us a unique opportunity to engage, educate, and activate students on campus to hold their elected officials accountable, increase our electoral power as young people, and begin to see themselves as agents of social and political change. At the end of our campaign at CSU-Long Beach, our Choice USA chapter was able to register and turn out over 800 young people to vote, and educate over 1,200 students on the local and federal battle for comprehensive sex education.
5. When you’re not busy studying, working with campus clubs, blogging, and participating in other forms of activism what are some of your favorite ways to take care of yourself?
I’m glad you asked this question because self-care is something I am very passionate about. In fact, this is an issue that we discuss a lot in my fellowship program with Young People For. If we aren’t taking care of ourselves outside of the work that we do, we will end up doing the movement a disservice in the long run.
That is why it’s important for me to spend a little time each week focusing on my emotional, physical, and spiritual health. One of the ways that I accomplish this is through yoga and rock climbing. Every week, with a few exceptions, I commit to climbing the rock wall at the University Wellness and Recreation Center. I have found this to be a great way to challenge myself in a unique way, get physically active, and re-center my thoughts. This small adventure each week really does make a significant difference in the work that I do. By the time I’m back in action, I’m completely rejuvenated and ready to kick some ass.
Janice is a Virtual Assistant, aspiring doula, and long-time feminist activist with a passion for women's history, nonfiction, nature, and wearing flowers in her hair. She is the Founder of The Feminist's Guide, a women's history travel website, which can be found at www.thefeministguide.com.