Writing for the World to Change

JavaciaA different kind of movement. 

By Javacia Harris Bowser


Sometimes I feel like a fake feminist. 

I’ve never started a petition in support of Planned Parenthood. I didn’t do anything to help push the passing of the Lilly Ledbetter Act, and I’m not a card-carrying member of the National Organization for Women. I don’t even get into intense political debates with my friends.

Sometimes I feel like a fake feminist because I’m not doing much to bring about the systemic changes needed for women and men to truly be equal. I feel like a fake feminist because I’m not involved in politics or policy change.

I just write.

I write about reconciling my feminist ideals with my religious beliefs, publishing blog posts to show that the term “Christian feminist” isn’t a contradiction. And I write essays to show that “feminist wife” isn’t a contradiction, either. I write about body image and self esteem. I write about what happens when fashion and feminism collide and how they can peacefully coexist.

I write. I encourage other women to write, too. In 2011 I started an organization through which I host workshops, panel discussions, conferences, and networking events for Birmingham-area women who write and blog.

I believe every woman has a story and I believe that there is great power in a woman sharing her story with others. This summer I attended the annual BlogHer conference and saw this firsthand. Katherine Stone, the blogger behind the website PostpartumProgress.com, was honored by BlogHer founders with a video. The presentation featured dozens of women telling Stone that they were certain they wouldn’t be alive today had it not been for her blog, which speaks openly and honestly about postpartum depression and seeks to help women and families suffering because of this disease. By writing, Stone not only changed women’s lives, she saved them.

Sheryl Sandberg, who spoke at last year’s BlogHer conference, is using her words to change lives too, even though she’s a woman some feminists love to hate. In March of 2013, Sandberg, who is COO of Facebook, published Lean In, a book she says is a bit like her feminist manifesto. The book discusses the ways women are held back and are holding themselves back in the work place. According to the website LeanIn.org, “The book challenges us to change the conversation from what women can’t do to what we can do and serves as a rallying cry for us to work together to create a more equal world.”

But many feminists feel that Sandberg is ignoring the need for systemic change and is putting the burden and the blame on individual women. And when she partnered with the Girls Scouts of the USA to launch the Ban Bossy campaign, which seeks to encourage leadership skills in girls and discourage the practice of calling girls “bossy” when they take charge, this initiative was met with a proverbial eye roll by many.

Nonetheless, I am a huge fan of Sandberg’s work. And I believe Lean In is another example of how words can change lives. This spring I met weekly with a group of women to read and discuss the book. One woman in the group who felt as if she wasn’t being challenged or fairly compensated at work built up the courage to ask for a promotion and a raise. She got both. And she admitted she would have never stepped up had she not first “leaned in.”

I believe every woman has a story, but our voices aren’t being recognized enough. According to a recent Women’s Media Center study, at the nation’s 10 most widely circulated newspapers, men had 63 percent of the bylines, nearly two for every one belonging to a woman found in the first section of the papers. And at three major papers, including The New York Times, and four newspaper syndicates, male opinion-page writers outnumber female writers four to one. And each year, women affiliated with the organization VIDA dedicate thousands of combined hours to comb through literary journals and tally gender disparity in major literary publications and book reviews.

So perhaps writing is a form of feminist activism. Perhaps each time I share my stories and encourage other women to share theirs, I’m doing something to close the byline gender gap and to end the disparities VIDA reveals year after year. When it comes to sexism, racism, homophobia, or any other type of discrimination, of course, systemic change is absolutely necessary. But in the meantime, the people being discriminated against must live their everyday lives. I believe that just as there are movements to bring about systemic change we need movements to empower people to live their best lives while waiting for that change to come. I believe this can be done through writing.

This is my movement.

One Response to “Writing for the World to Change”

  1. What a great article! I do think writing is a form of feminism. Historically, women’s voices have been suppressed, so the mere act of writing–especially writings works that express our opinions–is an act of asserting ourselves in a world that for so long tried to quiet us. And, as you mentioned, women’s voices still don’t share an equal stage with men, so it’s important for us to lift our voices. If we don’t, no one will do it for us.

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