Beyond the F-Word: Getting Off the Picket Line to Do Underground Activism without the Confines of Labels

Jeannina Perez
Miami Dade College

[1] At the start of the fall 2009 semester, one of my undergraduate students approached me to discuss her involvement in a mentoring organization I coordinated, the Young Women Leaders Program.[1] She sat down and informed me that she would be dropping YWLP to go work for an alternative, "more political" organization.[2] Taken aback, I asked the student why she felt this way. She informed me that despite knowing that our curriculum and activism center around feminist ideology, the inability to use feminist language made the activism weak, inconsequential, "non-feminist," and therefore "non-political." I reminded the student of all the positive changes she helped make in her Little Sister's life and how important she was to our community of women. However, the student stated that she did not want to participate in a community of potentially "conservative" women and girls because she felt it "too difficult" and uncomfortable to continue. Angered by the students labeling and pre-judging of other women, I reminded the student that making the conscious decision to work in a more visibly liberal organization was "taking the path of least resistance" and choosing to perform activism the "easier" way. [3] The student merely replied that YWLP was "just not the best option" for her feminist activism.

[2] This conversation, like others I have had with various feminist YWLP members, led to my asking a series of questions. Why do our women studies students feel that the program's activism functions outside of feminist methodology? Why is the local women's rights community undervaluing our work? How are the students in the program constructing feminist activism? How are the students self-identifying with feminism? How and from whom are they learning the theory? After thinking through these questions and the implications of this student's conflict with YWLP, I reevaluated mainstream theoretical constructions of feminist activist models and rhetoric to get to the root of how and where these students' understanding took shape. The result of this reevaluation is a call for a restructuring of feminist rhetoric. In this essay, I analyze how "underground" feminism moves beyond the strict confines of the f-word in order to reach girls and women in spaces and communities otherwise widely inaccessible. [4] Underground feminism, working on the principal of conducting feminist activism without using feminist rhetoric, challenges the notion that "subtle" feminism means weak feminism.

[3] As part of the ongoing debate, Biddy Martin and Chandra Mohanty's collaborative essay "Feminist Politics: What's Home Got to do With It?" addresses the need for inclusive rhetoric in the feminist movement. Through analyzing personal narrative, Mohanty and Martin challenge the "terms of totalizing feminist discourse" that support the belief of a universal sisterhood (291). According to the authors, because the varying experiences of women are based on diverse identities constructed through intersectionality, feminism as we understand it cannot exist as "an all-encompassing home" (294). The authors suggest that collaborative feminism will exist in the "interpretation of personal histories; personal histories that are themselves situated in relation to the development within feminism of particular questions and critiques" (294). The writers point to the importance of personal experience, suggesting that the various faces of feminism lie in the different personal activist experiences of individual women, not in a universal sisterhood that asks all women to locate only one theoretical feminist home that works from, and thus perpetuates, a broad definition of woman. Individual narratives (as opposed to generalized "home" narratives) force the recognition of women as subjects, and do so while recognizing the various encounters of women. Making up a collective of women's narratives, the various methodologies situated in these diverse micro experiences are capable of creating local to global change through education and self-realization. The discussion of local to global requires repeated recognition due to the continual reproduction of the universal feminist ideal, as seen in the following "how to" texts. [5]

[4] The popular third-wave "how to" feminist texts of this generation, such as Megan Seely's Fight Like a Girl: How to be a Fearless Feminist, and Jessica Valenti's Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Women's Guide to Why Feminism Matters reproduce the universal feminist archetype. These "how-to" texts, as others following this model, often adhere to rigid genre conventions, offering a strict conversion narrative for the would-be feminist reader. [6] Each text begins with feminist "myth-busting" where the authors argue that, despite the reader's possible lack of self-identification with feminism, "You're a hardcore feminist I swear" (Valenti 5). Once the author has dispelled the myths, each text follows with a discussion of "feminist topics" ranging from popular culture, to abortion, dating, sex, and marriage. The texts close with chapters on activism and a call to arms for readers; essentially moving from the "sin" of not being feminist to "spiritual enlightenment" through activism. These two authors, like some other mainstream contemporary feminists, generate a strict feminist archetype that insists on using the term feminism, creating a feminist prototype based on problematic second-wave ideals that exclude younger girls and women who feel uncomfortable with political labels.

[5] Constituting the face of feminism in popular national chain bookstores, the "how-to" feminist texts are the primary books available to average readers. Seely's guide addresses a current generation of girls who, according to her, "deny" feminism while reaping its "rewards" (4). Seely adopts the universal sisterhood methodology, insisting that women readdress their hypocrisy and perform her brand of feminism. Seely's first chapter focuses on breaking down the negative myths of feminism, suggesting that feminism is all-encompassing and works for all women. However, as the text progresses, she does not provide an inclusive view of feminism. In fact, Seely often excludes the views and labor of marginalized feminist groups. [7] For example, in her chapter "Knock 'em Up...Knock 'em Down," Seely purports that feminists should stop focusing on abortion and take responsibility for women's education and creating "women-centered health care" (147). However, immediately after her statement, Seely proceeds to discuss abortion for most of the chapter. Not only does she ignore her own advice by overlooking the need to discuss women's access to healthcare, but she also constructs feminism as purely pro-choice. While demonizing and stereotyping anti-abortion activism, she never mentions or provides access to the Feminists for Life organization. [8] As a result, Seely declares a universal feminist view while simultaneously alienating self-proclaimed feminists who do not fit her archetype and perpetuating a system that privileges some women's efforts over the efforts of other women. In doing so, Seely runs the risk of distancing women from feminist activism and from exposure to feminist ideals.

[6] Jessica Valenti's Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman's Guide to Why Feminism Matters reproduces the same archetype as Seely. Advertised as the cool, "smart-ass," real life guide to feminism, Valenti's text prides itself on making young women feel comfortable with feminism, and encourages readers to define their own brand of feminism based on individual identity. However, the text persistently stereotypes and insults women who question the feminist label. Like Seely, Valenti begins her text with a similar process of breaking down the myths of feminism, stating that she "gets so angry at younger women who are nervous about feminism because they're afraid that boys won't like them...Part of me wants to say, 'Yeah, someone's going to call you a lesbian...Suck it up'" (14). [9] Valenti also produces a feminist prototype following this section, arguing that feminists love sex and are "quality women" (15). Statements such as these, which persist throughout the text, privilege feminists as women. For example, what if a woman chooses not to practice intercourse for whatever reason? According to Valenti, "Feminists do [sex] better 'cause we know how to get past all the bullshit" (19). Not only does this assume that sexual liberation occurs only through feminism, but it pressures women to quickly "get past" negative body image, sexual abuse, childhood abuse and more in order to be the right kind of feminist.

[7] Thus Valenti and Seely, like so many others, ultimately continue to reproduce the strict and even oppressive definitions of feminism. Women are expected to get on the picket line and wave a one-size-fits-all feminist flag that may not represent them, alienating both themselves and other women. I want to provide a different model of feminist activism that works when feminist rhetoric fails to achieve the desired results. Underground feminism works on the principal of performing feminism without using the term. When the doors slam in our faces for using feminist language, instead of breaking the front door down, sneak in through the back door. While it is problematic that there would be repercussions for using political language within some spaces, such as the public school systems, as feminists our focus here should be to reach women and girls in various communities. Using the theorists Charlotte Bunch, Nieto Gomez and José Esteban Muñoz, I will illustrate how underground feminism allows activists to radically practice feminism within spaces otherwise barred to them.

[8] I am calling out to the feminist community and suggesting a paradigm shift in current feminist models of activism. The third-wave "how to" feminist texts taught in Women's Studies classrooms are simply not enough, because they polarize and ignore the labor and thoughts of women who question or refuse to self-apply the feminist label. The texts' oversimplification of the women's rights movement hinders complex discourse about feminist theory, resulting in the under-theorizing and simplification of feminism. Students may leave the class believing that although they agree with elements of the feminist movement, they cannot simply "suck it up" and give up their social conditioning to be the ideal feminist. There is also the risk of cultivating a feminist community that is not sensitive to the views of other women and thus perpetuating a cycle of social aggression between groups of women. As an activist community, we have to be willing to get off the picket line and engage with communities and individuals who reject the feminist label in order to facilitate the radical change women seek in the world. Current feminist theories provide an excellent starting point that has proven effective in the past, but the theoretical models are largely limited to a second-wave methodology in a growing third-wave climate. Extending theoretical praxis to include alternative rhetoric and methodology would enable alternative models of feminist writing and activism.

Theory and Methodology: Figuring Out How to do Underground Feminism

[9] To extend underground feminism's theoretical tenets, I begin with Charlotte Bunch's essay "Beyond Either/Or: Nonaligned Feminism." Bunch argues for "nonaligned feminism," a feminist activism that "requires careful attention and debate" when conducting women and girl centered community service (49). She defines nonaligned feminism as feminist activism and theory without the subset labels, such as Marxism, psychoanalysis, liberal. For example, when organizing a project for women's access to healthcare, activists would listen to the views of both pro-life and pro-choice feminists, evaluating the long-term consequences for women at the micro, meso, and macro levels. The subset labels of pro-choice or pro-life set aside, those involved in the discussion can ideally generate a more complex conversation. Activists would have to consider how this issue interacts with gender, race, class, education, ability, language, and location. Bunch suggests that nonaligned feminism challenges activists because the activism works from a local to global level, examining all the complexity and encouraging a wider understanding of women. Underground feminism operates on similar principles, extending Bunch's nonaligned tactic to the feminist label itself.

[10] Bunch also explores how the various types of feminism (radical, liberal, leftist, and so on) are separatist, preventing advocates from "reshaping the political, cultural, economic, and spiritual structures of our world" (50). While Bunch focuses on particular factions, the feminist label itself is exclusionary in forcing women to fit another social label. As women activists, feminists are constantly trying to get out of the limiting and oppressing categories of slut, virgin, homemaker, and Other. Why should the feminist label be questioned any less? In forcing a stringent definition of feminism, the movement removes the option of choice by pushing women in the campaign into the binary of "feminist" and "not feminist." While theorists like Jill Rudd and Loreen Olsen argue that the rejection of the f-word is the root cause of disunification in the women's movement, like Bunch, I argue that the disunity stems from our inability to dethrone our brand of theory from its sacred place. [10] In repositioning the f-word in our efforts, we will recognize the labor of women that the how-to books label as feminists, "even if [they] don't know it yet" (Valenti 15). Extending nonaligned feminism, underground feminism "is not a withdrawal from politics," but a novel understanding of activism that refuses to privilege some over others (50). Underground feminism provides a space beyond the label, bridging the gaps between women rather than accentuating them. Feminist ideology is present, yet women are allowed to make choices beyond being forced to fit a particular brand.

[11] Underground feminism predates the name. As Anna NietoGomez points out in her article "Chicana Feminism," first-wave women did not invent the women's rights movement (52). Defending chicana feminism as part of the mainstream movement, Gomez argues that women centered activism predates the creation of the term: "You can find roots of women's struggle to end oppression of people and of themselves as far back as 200 years before the birth of Christ, in Viet Nam, in China, in Gaul, in Africa, and in the valley of Mexico" (53). Women queens, leaders, soldiers, and scholars broke boundaries and wrote for women's liberation before the feminist stamp of authenticity. In illustrating pre-label feminism, for lack of a better word, NietoGomez points to the life of Sor Juana. A Mexican nun who fought for women's education and the rights of prostitutes, Sor Juana chose the nunnery as an "opportunity to study" (54). She campaigned for women's rights, challenging the local bishop through letters to prove that improving women's education would strengthen women's love for god. While NietoGomez only provides one example, women such as Abigail Adams (First Lady of the United States who advocated equal educational opportunities for women and property rights for married women) and Deborah Sampson (American citizen who successfully acted as a soldier in the American Civil War by cross-dressing) show a long herstory of groundbreaking influential activist women. NietoGomez uses this premise of herstory to question the feminist archetype, suggesting many times the impossibility of a strict model.

[12] Since feminist efforts existed before the label, they can exist now without the tag as underground feminism. Often extending from the belief in universal sisterhoods, much of the current feminist rhetoric neglects a history of women's political activism, including activist writing. In overlooking this history of non-label women's activism, the feminist movement risks ignoring the views and labor of the very women it seeks to represent. Womanist scholars and women's rights/human rights organizations often do not associate with feminist rhetoric, yet work in the interest of women and girls in the process. Underground feminism, an activism-centered model, operates by using feminist methodology and ideology without using polarizing rhetoric. By un-aligning with the feminist label, we can encourage a process of consciousness-raising in female audiences that can translate into further feminist study and activism born from a basic understanding of feminism. However, risk is involved in classifying non-identified feminist activism as such. Feminists become so through experience and study. Being a woman does not grant the automatic privilege of being a feminist, because just as men can be feminists so can women be sexist. Toril Moi discusses this in connection to women's writing in "Feminist, Female, Feminine," where she argues that feminism primarily aims to represent women, but that "being female does not necessarily guarantee a feminist approach" and that not all "women writers exemplify anti-patriarchal commitment" (246). As a result, it is essential to note that underground feminism must show a dedication to women's rights. This method of activism then acknowledges a women's history without posthumously labeling historic female figures as feminists and acknowledges a women-centered history that stands outside the canon. As part of the how-to feminist generation though, how do we re-evaluate the methodology and our own constructions of feminism?

[13] Our reevaluation can begin with what José Muñoz classifies as disidentification in his text Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics. As a "survival strategy that works within and outside the dominant public sphere simultaneously" (5), disindentification allows for fluidity in activism. Mun҃oz's term reacts to Freud's notion of identification as the collections of another's attributes used to model the self and intersects with Foucault, allowing an individual to discover elements about identity and work against the confines of ideology. Mun҃oz offers three models: identification, counter identification, and disidentification. Disidentification, as the third model outside of normative ideas of identification, neither identifies nor completely rejects dominant social ideology, but molds and changes central belief systems by acting subversively within macro social structures:

Instead of buckling under the pressures of dominant ideology (identification, assimilation) or attempting to break free of its inescapable sphere (counteridentification, utopianism), this "working on and against" is a strategy that tries to transform a cultural logic from within, always laboring to enact permanent structural change while at the same time valuing the importance of local everyday struggles of resistance. (11-12)

Disidentification does not simply follow hegemonic norms (such as heternormativity and the beauty ideal) or rebel against the entire system, but enacts change within the system. This "survival strategy" promotes a discourse that alters the norms and macro system without espousing emotionally laden, polarizing terms that force either identification or non-identification. Identification represents the myths of the f-word and counter identification represents feminists completely rejecting the mainstream views of feminism. By flying under the radar, one can alter minds and break down norms without showing allegiance. As a result, underground feminism must practice disidentification in order to disrupt norms in meso and macro communities unaccepting of feminist rhetoric.

[14] In order for feminists to work with communities that reject political rhetoric and terminology, women's rights activists must disidentify with the label. In doing so, feminist activism can "work on and against" systems of oppression by getting an initial foot in the door (11). In using the theoretical tenets, instead of the language of feminism, activists can practice and spread the ideology unnoticed by individuals and communities that would write them off at the first mention of the f-word. However, studying the possibilities of underground feminism from an academic theoretical perspective is not enough if we intend to have practical application.

[15] If feminism continues to be explored solely in scholarly terms, even underground feminism, we have no hope to gain power as a movement. Privileging academia results in the exclusion of women who may not have access to a college education or younger girls that have yet to receive a collegiate education. Using covert feminist discussion provides an opportunity to reach the communities who may not know of Irigaray or Cixous and still elicit a feminist dialogue without the requirement of a college degree. An underground feminist methodology enables the use of relatable language and images that take abstract feminist concepts and simplify them for audiences unfamiliar with theory. In entering advocate dialogue that disidentifies with the label, feminist activists can better involve women and girls in discussions about women's rights whether or not they ever reach the women's studies classroom. More importantly, activists can involve young girls in feminist methodology before they ever even hear the word.

[16] If we understand as a movement that feminist rhetoric and theory can be overwhelming to new students of the movement, then why not introduce the ideas earlier with a less intimidating approach? Although feminist theory is accessible to older women in the movement, it is unlikely to find a middle school girl reading Chandra Mohanty or Judith Butler. While there are children's authors who show a dedication to teaching feminism, such as Tamora Pierce, these are unfortunately few in numbers and often not as popular as the Twilight or Harry Potter books. [11] As a result, alternative tools and models that employ underground feminist tactics are needed so that mothers, sisters, aunts, and mentors can teach even the youngest of generations about feminism by bringing it down to their level. Fortunately, a working model is already accessible in the Young Women's Leaders Program, a girls' mentoring program adapted by the UCF Women's Studies Program from the program at the University of Virginia (Tweed).

Young Women Leaders Program: Underground Feminism in Action

[17] The Big Sister mentoring program provides the physical proof of underground feminism's success. The Little Sisters of YWLP are seventh-grade girls in the middle who receive little individual attention. The middle school girls are often average students, managing to "get by," but who are not fulfilling their potential academically, socially, or behaviorally. Designed to help girls negotiate tough choices and to encourage them to think for themselves, YWLP provides resources and critical thinking tools for the Little Sisters to excel. By promoting a non- socially aggressive environment and by providing positive role models, YWLP supplies additional encouragement and resources that Little Sisters need to become women leaders who give back to their local communities. As I discussed earlier, it was my involvement with this program that led me to first consider the benefits of covert feminist activism. Analyzing YWLP with my discussion of the theory in mind, I will consider how underground feminism facilitates the growth of feminist ideology by helping young girls identify with feminist ideas before they are approached by "overt" feminism in the future.

[18] YWLP reaches a larger community of women and girls by disidentifying with the feminist label. Working within the public school system and maintaining relationships with these schools is possible thanks to our non-political affiliation, specifically by disidentifying with the feminist label. As these schools are in a highly politically conservative area, any mention of progressive politics could end our program indefinitely. As a result, the facilitators and working program coordinator extensively prep Big Sisters and meet every week to decide how to address sensitive topics with Little and Big sisters. The facilitators (prior Big Sisters who are promoted in the program) are two group leaders per school who are responsible for the lessons. Unlike the Big Sisters, group facilitators do not mentor a particular Little Sister, but make themselves available to all Little and Big sisters. The facilitators, most of whom are self-proclaimed feminists or Women Studies minors, are the students primarily responsible for discussing feminist topics.

[19] The ability of the facilitators to discuss feminism with the group occurs under the major goal of the program, girls' leadership. The main YWLP objective is to find each of the girls' leadership strengths and help give them tools to maintain and develop those skills. During the semester, YWLP facilitators explore what women and girls do as leaders, considering what helps and holds girls back from using their own voices. The sessions meet for an hour and a half after school every other Wednesday. Each meeting includes various elements, as discussed in the frequently asked questions section of the website: "1) an introduction to the day's special topic by the group facilitator; 2) time for each Big/Little Sister pair to discuss the topic one-on-one; and 3) group time to talk about and participate in creative interactive activities" (Tweed). This structure enables the mentors to talk with "Little Sisters" about important issues, such as the nature of leadership, friendship, self-sufficiency, body awareness, managing pressure, making connections, and looking ahead. The variations between group and pair work accounts for various learning styles, helping the girls understand that each person has different leadership styles and ways of learning. The development of girls' leadership through confidence raising and critical thinking exercises allows YWLP members to discuss feminist ideology, relating it constantly to leadership. YWLP facilitators take the abstract notion of girl's leadership (which facilitators define around feminist theory) and bring it down to simpler terms that the middle school girls can understand. By moving the conversation to focus on leadership and not the term 'feminism,' YWLP has been able to teach girls feminist principles without compromising the program's relationship with the middle schools. The step-by-step explanation, conducted with fun exercises and challenging group discussion, initiates a deeper level of processing for both mentors and the middle school girls. Not only do facilitators need to have a strong grasp of feminism for the figurative breakdown, but Little Sisters also interact critically with feminist ideas that may make them more open to feminist theory in the future. In discussing women's issues and using the lessons learned from those conversations daily, the girls will be more likely to interact with feminist organizations and do feminism in the future because they already did so as young girls.

[20] The lessons also incorporate feminist pedagogical methods, including tools from Sherry Linkon's essay "From Experience to Analysis: Using Student Discomfort in the Feminist Classroom." In the essay, Linkon discusses the need to vary the setup of the classroom to break common teacher-student hierarchies. According to Linkon, general classroom structures "recreate and reinforce long-standing cultural assumptions about the nature of knowledge, persistently sending the message that teachers 'own' knowledge and students 'receive' it" (2). Linkon encourages questions and answer sessions, roundtable student discussion, and varying the seating arraignment in the classroom. Often facing resistance from students, Linkon exposes the difficulties of both teaching feminist material and using related pedagogical methodology. Students often fear and dislike the changes because they deviate from the typical student/teacher hierarchy, disrupting a student's sense of comfort in the classroom. Student resistance, according to Linkon, exists beyond students' discomfort with feminist ideology, but stems from their ability to claim "power in traditional classrooms" (57). Once the students have learned the rules of educational hierarchy, "they resist feminist pedagogical techniques in part because such practices remove those small liberties" (57). Feminists are the students in the YWLP classroom who are uncomfortable with the lack of feminist rhetoric. Having grown accustomed to a new educational hierarchy in which feminist rhetoric is acceptable, the students become nervous now that the rules have changed again. Linkon insists that discomfort enables students to think outside of the box, changes that can exist in this case by removing the f-word from discussion.

[21] An example of feminist activism without labels, Linkon's techniques have been permanently included into Facilitator training and YWLP lessons. When the term feminism is absent, a feminist pedagogical methodology can reproduce the benefits of activism on the behalf of women and girls. For example, during the first week of meetings, we have the YWLP group, made up of both Little and Big Sisters, generate ten ground rules for the group. Facilitators ask the Big and Little sisters what rules they want included on the list. The activity often produces resistance and occasionally hostility from the Little Sisters. The girls often provide ideas instead of rules, hoping that a Facilitator or Big Sister will make it into a rule thus preserving the classroom hierarchy. While facilitators help Little Sisters develop their ideas, the girls soon become frustrated upon realizing that the rules require their full commitment and involvement. While the girls often face anxiety conducting this first activity, by encouraging the girls to create their own rules, YWLP breaks the hierarchy of the teacher (facilitator).

[22] The activity also encourages independent thinking that, as Linkon suggests, initially invites resistance. As the semester progresses, the Little Sisters often inform us that teachers rarely ask for student opinions. On the contrary, Little Sisters often feel their ideas have no value in the classroom. For example, one Little Sister informed us that her science teacher rarely called on girl students, because according to him girls cannot do science. In encouraging the girls to generate their own rules and discussion topics, YWLP provides a girl centered space, filling the gaps created from gendered discrimination. By using feminist pedagogy, YWLP can disrupt the oppressive hierarchies and gendered oppression while still working within the limitations of the middle school system.

[23] In enacting underground feminism, YWLP also avoids the separatism incumbent in strict definitions of feminism. As a result, YWLP attracts a wide variety of female college students from many different fields. Few of our Big Sisters are familiar with feminism and are introduced to feminism for the first time in YWLP. While the program does not publicize itself as feminist, the college members often ask about feminism at least once in the program. For example, although political language cannot be used with the Little Sisters, a minimal amount of political conversation can occur in the Big Sister meetings. At the beginning of the semester, YWLP conducts a training session that includes activities on cultural sensitivity, such as the stereotypes activity. Each Big Sister receives a stereotype card on their back, only able to see the stereotypes on other students' cards and not their own. Participants are asked to interact with each other by reacting to the card with what they believe are the stereotypes of that archetype. There are 30 stereotypes, including pregnant girl, lesbian, band geek, Muslim girl, well-developed girl, feminist, white trash, reservation Indian, and ghetto girl. This activity enables a discussion about various stereotypes that forces participants to acknowledge their own cultural biases. The feminist stereotype, discussed in depth every semester, facilitates a discussion about feminism. The trainees rarely acknowledge that the myths of feminism are actually stereotypes, wanting to prove that these stereotypes have real foundations. As a result, each training day includes time for breaking down the myths of feminism without identifying the program as such. In doing so, YWLP conducts the same myth-breaking procedures as the how-to feminist text without pressuring YWLP members to become feminists by labeling the program. Although limited in its use of feminist rhetoric, YWLP uses underground feminism to introduce the theory as an option to larger communities of women. If YWLP advertises itself as a feminist organization, the students who firmly believed in the stereotypes of feminism would have been unlikely to participate in the program and therefore would have never broken down the f-word. Thus, feminist ideals, which are arguably more important for the movement than the label alone, would fail to proliferate.

[24] While YWLP participates in the myth-breaking of the f-word in the college setting, feminist rhetoric is never present again. In the weekly lessons, activities about women's leadership place women's issues at the center of discourse. For example, with both the Big and Little sisters, YWLP conducts an activity titled "The Ten Ways Women Lead." The activity encourages women and girls to think about how they, their community, and women globally lead at the micro, meso, and macro levels. First, girls are asked to think of leadership at a micro level, enabling them to understand themselves as leaders. When our Little Sisters first talk about leadership, they project a political understanding of leadership, firmly believing that leaders are only people in government. YWLP facilitators strive to show Little Sisters that there are various ways to lead, such as completing homework, working in a student organization, helping take care of siblings, and even helping parents around the house. In constructing leadership as the "little" everyday acts, leadership becomes less abstract and more accessible.

[25] Within the activity on women's leadership, facilitators also often have to break down stereotypes about women's leadership. For example, a Little sister, when asked about how she felt women led, replied that women lead by being "lady-like." Upon hearing this, part of the lesson time was spent deconstructing the gendered notion of the lady. Little sisters were asked critical thinking questions about what they believed lady-like meant. The facilitator, through a series of questions, connected the notion of lady-like to systems of privilege between boys and girls, facilitating recognition of how these gendered norms construct gender and pressure women and girls. Little Sisters often, through these discussions, are able to recognize the inequities of gendered oppression, telling their Big sisters that they are tired of the expectations of being girly and want to dress comfortably. By breaking down gendered stereotypes without the use of feminist rhetoric, YWLP's use of underground feminism facilitates a larger understanding of gendered oppression within the girl community. Again, by framing these activities around a feminist-informed discussion of girls' leadership, YWLP can practice underground feminism simply through empowering younger women by pledging a responsibility to feminist activism and not feminist semantics.

[26] Not only does YWLP teach college women and middle school girls feminist ideology, but it teaches self-proclaimed feminists to conduct activism in a non- feminist friendly environment. Despite YWLP's history of self-proclaimed feminists leaving the program due to the lack of feminist rhetoric, YWLP has also been successful in teaching activists how to work in non-political communities. YWLP facilitators attempt to teach women how feminist activism will require them to work in communities where feminism is taboo. Oftentimes, our self-proclaimed feminist Big Sisters experience difficulty adjusting to an environment where they practice feminism without the rhetoric. For example, one of our most currently successful Big Sisters, when initially beginning the program, was angered at the inability to talk about sex education or feminism. [12] Through various responsibilities in the program, such as practicing parent sensitivity, the Big Sister was able to disidentify with the term feminism while consistently practicing feminist ideology and methodology with her Little Sister. By the end of the semester, this Big Sister, never using feminist rhetoric, developed a relationship with her Little Sister, provided wider opportunities for her, successfully helped her Little Sister return to her normal grade level, and helped her understand feminist theoretical concepts. [13]

[27] This Big Sister, despite almost leaving the program due to the constraints on language, continues to be active with the program. Feminist Big Sisters have later confessed how using theory in YWLP helped them take feminism to other non-political communities when they were otherwise unable to do so. By framing their discussions around womens' leadership with family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, and other organizations, they have been able to initiate conversations about feminism without the negative confrontation often produced by use of the rhetoric. By using underground feminism, YWLP members have been able to discuss feminism in various communities, inciting radical change outside of typical feminist methodology. In disidentifying with the feminist label as underground feminists, Big Sisters became more open-minded with non-feminist Big Sisters, often entering into political discussions without either party losing their temper, creating an inclusive community of women that values the opinions and efforts of all its members.

[28] YWLP facilitates a subtle activism that is capable of replication as the initial "in" to feminism. Even bell hooks, in her text "Feminism is for Everybody," admits that her "conversion to feminist politics had occurred long before" she entered feminist classrooms (21). In being open to feminist ideas already, she was more likely later to accept feminist theory in the classroom. In order to get to a point where women activists no longer need to disidentitfy with the feminist label, we first need to create and nurture spaces in which women have already comfortably interacted with feminism. YWLP creates a space where girls can discuss feminism so that one day when they become exposed to feminism they will already understand the theory and likely agree with the core politics. More importantly it can help both self-identified and non-identified feminists participate in more complex discussions of feminism. Having been exposed to feminist ideas in novels and music myself before I learned about feminism in college, I was much more understanding and open to listening to the views of women who felt anxious about the feminist label. It was in being exposed to feminist ideology before I was introduced to the rhetoric that made me much more accepting of the ideas. Furthermore, it helped me later in YWLP when I was confronted with an environment in which I could no longer use the rhetoric. As a feminist activist, I have often worked with other feminist activists who become socially aggressive with women who are afraid to identify as a feminist. This is simply not enough. How can we expect women to join the movement if we are unaccepting of their feelings and provide a limited model of feminist activism? If, as a movement, we are willing to occasionally let go of the label and develop a more empathetic understanding of the "I am not a feminist, but..." generation, feminist activists can enable a radical conversion in the unwilling would-be women's rights activist, and in doing so, enter into a much more intricate dialogue as self-indentified feminists.

Works Cited

Bunch, Charlotte. "Beyond Either/Or: Non Aligned Feminism." Passionate Politics Essays, 1968-86. Boston: St. Martin's Press, 1988. 46-60. Print.

hooks, bell. Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics. New York: South End, 2000. Print.

Linkon, Sherry L. "From Experience to Analysis: Using Student Discomfort in the Feminist Classroom." Transformations 3 (1992): 57. Gender Watch. Web.

Martin, Biddy, and Chandra T. Mohanty. "Feminist Politics: What's Home Got To Do With It?" Feminisms an Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism. Revised Ed. New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers UP, 1997. 293-309. Print.

Moi, Toril. "Feminist, Female, Feminine." Feminisms. Ed. Sandra Kemp and Judith Squires. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997. 246-50. Print.

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[1] The Young Women Leaders Program (YWLP) I am referring to is a mentoring program sponsored by the University of Central Florida (UCF) Women's Studies Program. YWLP promotes middle school girls' leadership abilities by pairing collegiate women with middle school girls. In mentoring pairs, they focus on learning competence, autonomy, empowerment, positive self-esteem, and on participating in a larger girl community.

[2] "Student Feminist Conversation." Face to face. Sept. 2009.

[3] At the time, the student was taking the Introduction to Women's Studies course in which one of the assigned readings is Johnson's "Patriarchy, The System," which defines the "path of least resistance" as essentially taking the "easy way" out. For example, just following systems of oppression instead of trying to fight them. In this particular instance, I was arguing that the student wanted to work in an organization where she would feel sure that her opinions would not be challenged.

[4] The "f-word" refers to the negative connotations attached to the word feminism, suggesting that feminism is often seen as a "bad" word.

[5] While these authors do not actively identify their texts as "how to" books, they do identify them as "guides" on how to "effectively" engage with feminism. However, the organization and methodology present in these texts (as I discuss in later paragraphs) expose the popular "how to" feel of these feminist guides.

[6] Other feminist how-to texts that follow similar patterns include It's A Jungle Out There by Amanda Marcotte and Manifesta by Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards.

[7] These groups are marginalized within feminism, seen as the "bad" feminists that support conservative rhetoric and values. Seely's definition of women-centered healthcare also primarily supports a white middle class feminist perspective of healthcare, ignoring the concerns of women of color.

[8] Feminists for life is a "pro-life" feminist organization that supports making changes to education and healthcare so women don't have to make the choice for abortion.

[9] While this does occur with some women who are "nervous" about claiming the feminist label for themselves, to suggest that women should simply "suck it up" shows an underestimation of the impact of the very socially constructed gender norms feminists hope to challenge. The tone only further distances women instead of creating the more nuanced conversation that would lead to a conversation on the benefits of feminism.

[10] Olson, Loreen N., Tina A. Coffell, Eileen B. Ray, and Jill Rudd. "I'm all for equal rights, but don't call me a feminist": Identity Dilemmas in Young Adults' Discursive Representations of Being a Feminist." Women's Studies in Communication 31.1 (2008): 104-33. Print.

[11] With the onslaught of adolescent fiction (books such as Gossip Girls encouraging heteronormativity and "princess" superficiality) Peirce provides an entire series of novels that empower girls and put feminist issues at the center of discourse. Pierce's texts are girl-centered fantasy novels in which female heroines overcome great adversity.

[12] Orange County is an abstinence only school district in Orlando.

[13] This particular Little Sister, because of grades and age, was significantly held back in school, lacking confidence and embarrassed by her academic level. The Big Sister worked on helping her confidence level and tutoring her on the weekends. By the end of the school year, the Big Sister helped her little sister improve her grades radically allowing her to move back up a grade.