November 24, 2010

Diana Wiener Rosengard, ’04

I am a feminist.

It is difficult to describe how my work in the Lewis & Clark Gender Studies department has impacted my life in just a few paragraphs.  When I was studying history at L&C, I thought I’d become a historian or work in historic preservation.  When I went to law school, I thought I’d become a lawyer.  Any time you choose to take on a new educational direction, the question people always ask is “What will you do with that?”  The implicit underlying inquiries seem to be: “How will you use that education professionally?  Who will you become within the professional definitions of modern society by way of that educational path?” 

What I’ve come to realize in the years since I graduated is that, though I am not currently a historian or even a practicing attorney, the one thing I am, in everything I do, is a feminist.  My understanding of feminism – of the multiplicities and vicissitudes of the layers of patriarchy, sexism, and, more generally, oppression and privilege that run throughout social structures  – informs my work, my hobbies, my relationships, and my dreams. Being a feminist informed my reading of the law as a law student . Being a feminist shapes my professional life, my pro bono work, and my philanthropy.  Being a feminist has changed the way I write, I think, I interpret.  No book or song or movie or even advertisement is encountered without the Gender Studies parts of me adding some comment or critique. 

More than that, being a feminist has made me brave.  I grew up in an environment where feminism was used to describe any activity that was deemed socially inappropriate for a woman.  Feminism was a bad word.  My education in the Gender Studies department provided me the opportunity to finally figure out what it meant when people called me a feminist, hurling the word at me like an insult.  Learning what feminism truly was – the basic and fundamental belief that gender, as it was commonly constructed and understood, did not have to be a barrier in my life – freed me in ways I never anticipated.  It made me braver.  It made me stronger.  It made me fierce and fiercely independent and gave me courage to do things I would not have otherwise done, to demand things from my life and my relationships that I might otherwise have never been able to ask for because I could not find the voice to do it.

In all that wondering about what I would do and who I would become, I didn’t realize that becoming a feminist, with a deep and thorough understanding of the work feminist foremothers and fathers had done and the obstacles still facing us, would be the most valuable and frequently accessed part of my education.  Right now, I’m making a film. I’m writing a book. I host a blog where I collect and review perfume and talk about feminism in the beauty industry.  I work in the legal services industry.  I am a volunteer domestic violence and sexual assault advocate.  In each of those things, I am a feminist.  And no matter what I choose to do in the future, I will still be a feminist. 

And I have Lewis & Clark and the Gender Studies department to thank for that.

Diana Wiener Rosengard