My courses in Women’s Studies have given me the voice and tools to go out in the world and create change to better our society.
by Dr. Liz Ahl
I’d like to thank the President’s Commission on the Status of Women for selecting me as recipient of the 2005 Theo Kalikow award, and the Women’s Studies Council and faculty, for creating an environment in which I have been able to support women in the rigorous and important work of claiming their own education. It’s truly an honor to be among the company of such inspiring women. It was especially wonderful to be selected alongside this year’s POWA award winner, Niki Snover. As I mentioned on Friday, Niki and I have taken a journey together here at Plymouth State, through writing courses, women’s studies courses, and extracurricular activities. She has been a great source of inspiration during the time I’ve known her.
When I was Niki’s age, I hadn’t yet discovered the wonderful world of Women’s Studies. I was an ambitious young writer, getting ready to head off to graduate school, and still thrilling at a recent discovery: one of my very favorite poets, Elizabeth Bishop, had apparently stipulated in her will that her work was not to be included in anthologies of “women’s writing.” She wanted to be one of the fellas, like Robert Lowell. I loved this. I couldn’t get enough of it. After all, it didn’t matter that I was a woman – I was a Writer. I was a Human Being. The women’s movement was over. I was just the same as everyone else. Just like any other writer. One of the fellas.
Only later would I be equipped with the philosophical framework that allowed me to re-examine my insistence that gender didn’t matter to me, had no influence on me, had no significant role in my work or identity as a writer. Only later would I have occasion to really question my privileged status as a college- educated white woman of upper-middle socioeconomic class, especially as it related to my writing and reading of poetry and my insistence on my “sameness.” Only later would I be able to see Bishop’s choice as having political dimensions that equaled the personal ones. Only later would I learn about the tangle of connections between the political and the personal.
It was Women’s Studies which, in graduate school and beyond, gave me what I needed to understand my complex and changing identity as a writer. Women’s Studies helped me gain a sense of identity as political, shifting, and contextualized. Women’s Studies afforded me the historical and cultural frameworks within which to read and understand many women writers from a range of political and aesthetic points of view. And it was Women’s Studies which gave me both the intellectual savvy to more fully comprehend Bishop’s choice and the courage to make my own choices.
And so I happily choose to call myself a woman writer and a feminist. I choose to be a member of the Women of Words, the League of Women Voters, and the Women’s Studies Council. I’m proud to have my poems included in _Times of Sorrow, Times of Grace_, an anthology of women writers from the Great Plains and High Plains. Elizabeth Bishop still dwells in the pantheon of women writers (writers who are women? women who write?) from whom I continue to draw inspiration and courage – Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, Muriel Rukeyser, Virginia Woolf, the list goes on. But I no longer romanticize Bishop’s choice.
And I am happy to be reaping the benefits of women who worked for change so diligently, many of whom also suffered so profoundly. I look around the campus and I see the fruits of their labor everywhere, especially lately. When we speak of “engaged pedagogy,” we owe a debt to Women’s Studies. When we speak of putting learners at the centers of our classrooms and enabling them to be active participants (rather than passive recipients) in their education, we owe a debt to Women’s Studies.
When I imagine Niki in her future middle- or high- school classroom, or when I imagine other young women and men I’ve had the privilege of working with taking what they’ve learned to their offices, their homes and families, their graduate studies, their elected representatives, their neighbors – I owe a debt to Women’s Studies. It’s a debt I plan to be paying back for many years to come.