"Men seek to take up space; women disappear." Multiple students connected with this idea, and we discussed it from several angles. This semester a student shared a "feminist poem" with me, a piece by Lily Meyers that won the "best love poem" at the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational at Wesleyan--
This spoken word piece illustrates this idea artfully. Her piece also echoes the stories I tell about my parents, and the legacies about bodies and space that we all carry from our families.
The other thing that students really connected with was a poem that I wrote called "The F Word." Students especially liked the end of the poem, a call to "fearless/fucking feminists." Students thought that this should be the title of my book and joked about how they would publish an underground version of my book with this title. For them, this is the truth that my writing spoke.
The fact that my students really connected with this title brings up some interesting points about language. Anyone who has had a conversation about feminism is familiar with the argument: why don't they just change the name? If "the f word" is so packed with misunderstandings, why don't we just call it humanism? Such conversations are short-lived in my classrooms. Once students begin to understand exactly how feminism emerged and grew, once they realize the impacts it has made on our collective and individual lives, they start to embrace--or at least understand--the term.
Claiming a feminist identity or ideology is another act of taking up space, refusing to set aside a word that has transformed the world just because of the ignorance and backlash that surrounds it.
Perhaps it was the "profanity" connected to both fearless and feminist that resonated with students. We are not used to hearing such words in our classrooms. One of my online students in my intro to American studies course has remarked multiple times after watching the recording of the class discussion that she has never heard so much profanity in a classroom. She says that she can't watch the class video when her children are around. The other students were surprised to hear this complaint. Perhaps when students discuss subjects that they are passionate about, they do not censor their language as much. Perhaps such passion has become so common place that I don't hear the "profanity" anymore.
Maybe this is what will happen to "feminism"; we will hear it so much that it will cease to register as "profanity." It will cease to offend those who prefer the softer, fuzzier idea of humanism (which is not at all the same as feminism). The word will not lose its weight; it will sink in and settle. It will take up space.