transcript of BACK TO THE FUTURE . . .

[All photographs from the event by Liz Laser.]

photo credit: Liz Laser

Jen Kennedy: Welcome everyone and thank you for coming.  Before we begin, I should introduce myself Jen Kennedy, and my co-organizer, Liz Linden, and ask you to bear with us for a moment while me make a few introductory comments, the first of which is that we were overwhelmed by the interested and support for this program, and are very happy to have the opportunity to gather you here today to talk about contemporary feminism  – a topic that seems to be on most of our minds yet has somehow felt absent from many of the recent programs that claim it as their subject matter. 

While it is certainly true – and inspiring – that feminism has seen increased attention in the art world in the past few years, the understanding of feminism that is being worked with is so often coded by a body of works, actions, and texts largely produced ‘60s and ‘70s that it has become difficult to talk about feminism in a way that doesn’t tie it to an historical moment.  When we met this fall, the question that seemed to preoccupy both Liz and I was, why? In other words, what is it about the nature of feminism present that makes it so difficult to speak about when it seems that many of us urgently want to?

In saying this, it is not my intention to diminish the significance of history in shaping the present or to suggest that these recent conversations were anything but important on many many levels. Certainly, my own debt to feminist practices of the past is immense. Nonetheless, after independently attending and listening to a number of feminist exhibitions, panels, and symposia, both Liz and I noticed, between us and among our peers, a frustration that our primary concerns were not being addressed.  Very simply, we didn’t recognize our own feminist practices in the commonly deployed descriptions of feminism. Here, I should add that by peers I do not simply mean individuals within a certain age bracket but rather a more amorphous, trans-generational group, that comes in and out of focus through shared experiences, commitments, concerns, and so on…
Today, for example, while some of us in this room identify as feminists, others believe that this is a term that should be left in the past. Certainly, we need consider both of these positions – as well as all of those between – to really grapple with the issues at hand. 
It is with all of this in mind that Liz and I started to think about organizing a conversation on feminism-as-lived-practice. It’s our hope that by sharing and exploring how we each articulate or confront feminism in our day-to-day lives – through the ways we work on and shape the world around us – we might come closer to answering the question: what does feminism look like today? Or to slightly amend this: what are some examples of what feminisms look like today?

Of course in doing so we come against the charge that this model lacks the unity of purpose necessary for a movement to succeed and this may be true.  We also recognize that “lived-practice” is an extremely heterogeneous field and that practices that might be visible to one individual or community might not to another.  Undoubtedly, this discussion would take a different form in a different group, or even if we added or subtracted individuals from this one.

Frankly, it is largely our shared discomfort with speaking on behalf of others that makes the model of lived-practiced so appealing to both Liz and I.  At the same time, we recognize the need to effectively confront these differences – or horizontal conflicts – without allowing them to prevent us from speaking at all.

So, while taking these concerns into consideration we would, nonetheless, like to propose the experiment we are about to begin as a hypothesis for taking seriously a feminism based on our modes of being in the world, not instead of but in addition to traditional modes of activism. How, for example, is feminism meaningfully articulated through one’s quotidian life? How do these moments get communicated, virally or otherwise? Can they become the impetus for larger-scale change? And, what is at stake when we suggest that through moments of community, small scale and among peers – however temporary, spontaneous or constructed – feminism-as-lived-practice may provide a site of critical resistance?

Liz Linden: Hi there.  I wanted to take a moment to do a bit of housekeeping, and clarify our methodology and goals for this experiment.
I would like to start by reiterating something Jen said while inserting my own disclaimer, and say only that the feminism of the past is extremely valuable to me as well.  Our intention in laying out our frustrations with feminist discourse is not to undermine it as a whole, or say that historicized discussions of feminism have no place, or do not enlighten us to a degree on our feminism now.  I completely agree with Connie Butler’s statement at Feminist Futures, which I paraphrase here, that you cannot understand the work of today without examining the feminist work of the past—it is just that I would like to amend that statement with an additional one: you cannot understand the work of today without also examining the work of today.
This task is, however, deeply complicated by the fact that the present seems so difficult to access through the usual vocabulary.  In trying to have a discussion about the present, we’ve often found ourselves hampered by the richness of our language at hand, which cannot be divorced from its historical roots and imperatives.  It is a strange paradox that this richness has become our present poverty, keeping us from moving forward empowered by our presence in our moment.
For us, these precedents contained within language and signs have been partly to blame for the threshold-ing of this discussion, with our positions circumscribed by the past as we attempt to push forward into the future.  We thought, ‘what if we didn’t have to use this language?  What if, instead of calling it “feminism,” we called it “lived practice,” or any other substitute, to see if that opened doors?  Where would that discussion take us?
If we artificially unburden ourselves of these precedents, and with new lightness, advance, what kind of a room might be there, waiting for us?
Well, temporarily, this is that room—it’s a town-hall.  Rather than being stuck at the threshold, looking in, holding onto language from the past, let’s just agree to leave it at the door.  We’ll pick it up again on our way out.
In the place of certain of these problematic signs we have suggested a number of substitutes, listed in the “Dictionary of Temporary Approximations.”  While in essence we probably would have preferred to use empty symbols, like “A” for “feminism” and “B” for “protest,” the difficulty of actually carrying out that conversation alarmed us.
Instead we have chosen temporary semantic replacements, which (we hope) will be easier to use in conversation!  While these words also come with their own baggage, in this case practicality trumped the purity of the symbols; as we said in the call for participants, by taking the emphasis off of the signs, we hope to return it to what is signified by them in the first place.
And now a bit more maintenance: We did not want to have microphones in play for this discussion, since it is nearly impossible to have a dialogue with someone while you are waiting for a microphone to come your way, so please speak up so that we can all hear you, and please be respectful and quiet when listening.  We’ve intentionally chosen a smaller room for this discussion in an effort to be able to facilitate things without a mic, so don’t be bashful about coming closer towards the middle if you are having trouble hearing.
Jen and I will do our best to moderate things from here, so if, for any reason, certain responses go long at the expense of others being able to speak, we may cut you off after a few minutes, in an effort to keep things moving forward.  Please help us facilitate things by deferring to your neighbor if he or she has something they would like to interject.
We have various recording devices sprinkled around the room in an effort to keep some kind of audio document—please just leave those where they have been placed.  Also, our friend, the artist Liz Laser will be taking a few pictures over the course of the event as well—thanks Liz for doing that for us.
We’ll have a 15-minute break for refreshments in the trustee’s boardroom after an hour, followed by a 30-minute dénouement to our discussion after the break.  The boardroom is to the left of the elevators here on the 5th floor, and the bathroom is through the same glass doors as the boardroom. 
I’d now just like to make sure that everyone here has received a copy of the “Dictionary” and knows what words are in and out of play.  We are planning to use the words in all capital letters in our discussion in the place of those written directly to their right.  There are more “Dictionaries” up here, in case anyone didn’t get one…  Do your best to use it—it’s tricky at first, but it gets easier as time goes on… Also, in deference to the abstract expressionists surrounding us in this room, the Whitney asks that we don’t use pens if taking notes…we have a few extra pencils up here though if anybody would like to borrow one.
So that’s about it for me, and my housework.  We wanted to start out by reiterating our initial question from the Call for Participants, which asked you what you think lived practice looks like today, what constitutes lived practice’s activity…One thing that was really interesting about the responses we received was how many of them identified lived practice in small-scale personal activities and quirks.  One person mentioned that holding doors open for men is part of her lived practice…which I thought was great because I do it too!  I mean, I just find it totally hilarious watching them double take with me standing there chivalrously… So, I’d like to start there.  Do you all have small gestures that you make that you think are part of your expression of lived practice?

JK: Well, for me personally when I was talking with someone this morning this experiment and about how lived practice comes into my life….and one of the things that is most important to me, that seems like it may be really antithetical to the notion of lived practice for others, is that I really love to cook for people.  I love to have friends, loved ones into my home and take care of them.  In a way, I feel like this sort of being mindful of life, and [making] my friends’ quality of life, better, through these small gestures is a really important part of my own lived practice.

And I have ideas of how I could expand this into really broad, you know, collective moments of cooking, and hopefully one day I’ll have the means and the space to do that, but right now what I do is I, you know, provide, take care, when I can of my friends and family.  I don’t know if anyone else, sort of, agrees with that as lived practice…Disagrees?  Or if anything in that feels similar…?

Speaker 1:  I mean, I don’t know, I just sort of…when you say small gestures, like, I can’t even really identify with that.  I’m not on your radar.  My gestures aren’t small, no matter what, so, like I don’t know… The field that you speak of in which these small gestures act, I’m not there, somehow.  I feel like it’s grander…grander strokes of the brush.

LL:  Just to make sure I understand you then, are you saying that everything you do is public in some sense?

Speaker 1: No.

JK: I think that actually it’s interesting because I think that maybe we are not on the same page in terms of what we mean by “small,” and again referring to the problematics of these sorts of words, because I certainly think there is a profound effect in these, not only to myself but in spreading them to other people and the gestures that we make and I think that Liz possibly agrees that these are very, very significant.  Maybe local is a better term.

Speaker 1:  Yeah--I just wonder if, like, maybe these small gestures are small because they are existing within hyper-patriarchal moments or super hetero-normative moments…

Jen: Yeah, perhaps…
Speaker 1: You know…that that’s why they are noticeable…

Speaker 2: May I ask, when you speak of grand gestures and grand strokes as opposed to small gestures, um, what do you mean?  Do you mean in terms of, are we making grand strokes in our daily lives outside of what we do regularly as we walk through the day, or do you mean…what do you mean by grand strokes?

Speaker 1: Um…I don’t really have anything specific like holding a door open, I just think about how I move about, how it is probably more nuanced, reactions in conversations…

Speaker 3:  It probably means that a smaller impact as opposed to stronger impact in consciousness.  That’s probably what they mean by small gestures, smaller impact.  Obviously it’s …it’s not that small isn’t feminism or small is negative, it’s not that obvious…

JK: Well, I think that if we, and obviously, sorry, I know that perhaps I’m already taking up too much time, and I know that you’re next.  I wonder if we use the word “local” and we think in terms of space—what can we do in our immediate environments in the place that we exist in and inhabit in the world everyday that we think is a significant, important articulation of lived practice.  That’s kind of what I interpret as this small (and perhaps maybe we used the incorrect word) but maybe that’s where we should go now.  Instead of saying these small gestures we say these really local gestures: how do we impact the world on a day-today basis in a way that we really think about as important in terms of lived practice?  Maybe a spatial metaphor is better to work through these ideas.

Speaker 4:  I just wanted to say I was interested in that example sort of specifically, about taking care of, or hosting, people, because I just recently started cooking and things like that, but while I do it, and this is why I think that maybe lived practice is in general on an everyday level kind of interesting, because basically while cooking or doing these things it takes too long or I get really invested and I start to sort if feel like I’m making a mistake or get angry with myself…so it’s just this minor mental battle…

Speaker 5: I think that something I want to say in response to what K8 was saying is that I think the idea of gesture, or small gesture is maybe confusing when there’s an embodied sense of feminism or when you think of yourself, or whatever, if you think of K8 as feminism, or that there’s a way that you have an embedded sense of feminism there isn’t one act I do that is feminist, or think that any holding a door is feminist because it’s just so ingrained in my being so something, so I don’t know…

LL: That’s interesting, I mean, I was telling Jen about my door-holding example last night and Jen’s response was exactly the same are yours, that for her, it’s such a, um…that she doesn’t even think of it as a politicized move, that for her…

Speaker 5: Well, the thing is that I think that everything is politicized; so it’s not, I mean, that’s the other thing, there’s no separation for me, I couldn’t identify the things that would be feminist or politicized or non, because they all are.

JK:  It’s so interesting to me that you say that, and I think that hopefully other people can comment, because for me what you are saying was originally the crux of issue for Liz and I. We think we live feminism.  We think we embody feminism.  That was very much the impetus behind this model of lived practice, so we’ve really, you know, in this process we’ve struggled with a way to talk about it, and what we sort of did, not to fall into a defense of the project is to think about, well, if every gesture is political, I think I’m political on so many levels, in order to think through those different politics I have to disentangle them momentarily…for me this is just for me…I have to disentangle them momentarily to really understand each and how I’m acting as a political being in the world, and how that impacts other people and how I can then make those politics visible.

So really, actually I agree with you, but this is a system for trying to somehow get at that which can barely be said.

Speaker 6:  I was just going to say that when I’m buying a gift for a little girl, it’s never a doll.

JK: Do you want to expand?


Speaker 6:  I mean, I think that’s pretty clear.

Speaker 8:  I guess just to maybe take it further I was thinking that anyone in here who is, like, a female artist who is practicing like a life journey that is not traditional, and possibly at the sacrifice of traditional home and comforts and possibly finding a mate and having children is all sort of an act of feminism.  And I know that as a woman at my age, in my late 20s, whose looking ahead, looking back, and looking at my life now, like I’m always challenged by it, the things I kind of want for myself that may be more traditional, but at the same time not wanting to regret things that maybe my mom didn’t seek out because she wanted a home and she didn’t do those kind of independent dreams.

So I think in that quest we are all sort of practicing a mode of feminism.  You know, I think that some women can have it all but not everyone can, and not everyone meets the right person that they want to settle down with…and there are all these things…sorry, I’m going on tangents here because there are so many thoughts…

I just think in those ways I see living life, challenging, you know, what maybe our parents have or had, is all sort of this contemporary feminism

JK:  And do you think we need to identify it as such?

Speaker 9:  Like label it?  I don't think I need to label things, at least I don't want to get in that track of always naming something, but I definitely consider myself a feminist and I don’t want to knock that word, because so many people, especially women who avoid claiming themselves as that because of all the baggage or something associated with it, but I think so many artists who work in the realm of feminist art in the 60s and 70s give us tremendous examples so while I’m not denying myself that I don’t always need to name everything.

Speaker 10: I want to acknowledge what she was saying as well, but I also think make an effort of thinking of the future of feminism as lived practice.  There is this idea that as specifically a female artist choosing this other life you are automatically a feminist and she chose another life, but for me, where I’d like to see feminism go is that a woman with a completely traditional lifestyle, I’d like her to be able to identify as a feminist, in that that's her lived practice and that it wouldn't just be this othering that would identify one as a feminist where she looks a certain way or is a certain way.  That every woman would have that sense of self and confidence in decisions that she makes, even if it is a traditional one, in an effort to empower every woman, and equality across the board for everybody…

LL:  One of the reasons to work with lived practice as a substitutive term is very much that kind of notion that it is not programmatic and that everyone’s lives are different, literally, so…what are the implications of that?  And of course I agree with you.  There is no one way to live a life.

Speaker 6: I don’t quite know how to fit it in but speaking of women artists in the 60s and 70s, um, and what feminism was for women artists then had to do with stopping using just initials as an artist, you know, pretending that you are a guy, that you are one of them, and then I guess just having the courage to deal with female issues and topics in their art.  I can’t translate the vocabulary in this moment about that, but I feel like it’s somehow connected.

Speaker 11:  I’m an artist. My name’s Ulrike, I’m an artist and I’m out in many ways: I’m out as a feminist, I’m out as a queer, I’m out as a lesbian.  And I kind of encounter a problem that is quite the opposite of what we seem to be talking about here now in that I also make abstract paintings, and I have people coming to my studio and saying, “where is your feminism?  I don’t see it in your work.”  So I’m more interested in kind of opening that up to more things, instead of zooming into our daily lives and looking for feminism in very specific kind of things…looks like feminism, feels like feminism…

JK:  I wonder by thinking about it through our daily lives, through a field that is so heterogeneous and a field that is so diverse, we might actually explode what this could possibly mean…by thinking about all the many many many things that lived practice does mean.

Speaker 11: Well, I guess I’m wondering if feminism is a kind of a label in the ways in which I have described it is limiting and how we can expand it, and explode that and make it bigger.

Speaker 5:  But…I would just say, and then the sort of thing to think in response to that is the evacuating of the word feminism into something so amorphous as lived practice is of concern.

Speaker 12: I don’t think we have the word feminism anymore, we just have to reinvent it…I think the beauty of it is also in terms teaching, no? You live feminism? You have to share it with other people, make them understand. I live with four boys in a big space…I clean up their pubic hairs…it’s a respect thing. Feminism can be a bit of teaching, teaching other people and sharing, you have to find ways to communicate these ideals, I think.

I think it is interesting we are using lived practice although we keep referring back to feminism and I am having a really hard time substituting honestly.  But I just wanted to address the sort of pressure that I think we feel when we work with lived practice and feminism, that there’s a pressure either to be more feminist, and that’s a daily life thing, I mean you are experiencing that in your professional life, that people are asking you where your feminism is in your art.  And then you had mentioned that many women shy away from the term feminism, and this is the stereotypical woman who doesn’t want to assert herself as a feminist for fear that she’s thought of as a feminism from the 70s and this is a certain misogynistic way that feminism is being deployed…and there is the pressure from both sides…that you aren’t feminist enough, or god forbid, you are one of those.

Speaker 13: I was thinking maybe if we introduced the gestures, the everyday, or the mundane we can talk about performativity and how maybe lived practice is, with a view to performance, gender based. And what, if we accept it, lived practice can do to gender, gender performance, gender roles…it doesn’t have to be gender based…But maybe in that register it doesn’t seem so little…But these kinds of resistances and struggles against performance are interesting.

Speaker 5: I think that also, I mean this is my personal understanding of feminism has always been a question of agency, and we should also think about that and what that means…rights and voice…and…

JK: Yeah, I mean it’s interesting because…well, actually does anyone else want to respond or have something to say?

Speaker 14:  I just wanted to say that I think the kind of feminism that is kind of getting a bad wrap is really related to the word of essentialism too, and talking about where does the feminism lie, does it lie in representing specifically female imagery or what is perceived as feminine imagery…or mystic goddess cults…some of these topics and things that early feminist art explored…I think it is important to introduce words like performativity and think about why that word has been demonized, you know, but also to realize that these themes or issues…Ah!  This is hard because I’ve been thinking a lot of about this why this has all bee…I think it is also very dangerous to say that we are beyond essentialism, so I think that performativity is an important word to bring up too.

Speaker 15:  What do you actually mean by essentialism?

Speaker 14:  Well, it’s hard to explain really.  I was thinking of practices of feminism, just to use an historical definition of essentialism which is that, um, and thinking of things like Judy Chicago imagery and things like that, as opposed to a theoretical feminism (and that the two do no necessarily need to be at odds).  But I’m thinking particularly when I say feminism about visual imagery that looks like a woman’s body…

Speaker 15: Okay, I just didn’t know what you meant by essentialism…

JK: Maybe we can think of these things together somehow, this issue of performativity in some kind of acting relation to agency.  Maybe I’ll just propose my own definition of agency, and maybe you could then give your definition of agency and we can work from there.  To me, it’s an important issue and an important work.

When I think of agency, I guess, I’m of two minds…On the one hand, I guess in the most important sense when I think of agency I think of how I act in the world.  And probably everyone in this room who knows me personally is giggling in their head, because it’s something that’s so profoundly important to me and to use a fairly strange example, David Harvey’s suggestion that when we make the world we are making ourselves too. In every action we take in the world, we are making who we are as a person.  And so, in order to act on the world, or do anything in the world you first have to ask what kind of person do I want to be, what kind of world do I want to live in?  We need to, sort of, be brave enough in a way, or maybe that’s a bad word, to think what does that look like?  To me, that’s agency.  And to me, personally, I’m acting that agency when I try and, to revert to the example I have in my pocket, when I cook for my friends or when I make their quality of life better, and hopefully one day I can open that up and do it for a bunch of strangers and we can all do it together, but to me that’s what agency is, it’s acting out this being in the world.  That I think is lived practice.

Maybe someone else has a different understanding of agency or something they want to contribute…

Speaker 5: I think my question of agency is more whether of not we have it, or um… That began for me when I started reading Foucault and thinking about institutions, but then later I thought about it in relation to my feminism, thinking about agency as maybe the things in the world, not so much what I do that allows me some idea of freedom or change in the world, but in the way that the world operates to eliminate agency.  Because your ability to cook for a lot of people means that somebody else isn’t cooking for a lot of people…

JK: Of course…

Speaker 5: So how agency operates, not in a closed circuit, but in some way that is constantly being exchanged.  And I think as women, or in a feminist history, the way that I’ve thought about it is there has to be a lot of reclaiming around where there’s potential for agency.  But on a deeper fundamental level, I’m not sure that I believe in a real idea of agency, but that’s a whole other conversation.  I do think we have to imagine an idea of agency to move through the world.

JK:  So to just make sure I understand you correctly, and I think I actually agree with you, that our agency is always claimed from structures that are beyond our power, we’re always negotiating what are essentially structures of oppression and domination…exclusion…
Speaker 5: It’s about power, yeah.

JK: That in order to claim agency we have to negotiate those structures…

Speaker 5: That’s what I’m saying. It’s always political.

JK:  Yeah, I agree.

Speaker 16: I think that’s actually a very interesting point, and I think that in relationship to that it is very interesting to return to the everyday because that’s where it’s in the most ignored and little gestures where I think we are most subject to the internalization of this kind of ideology of subordination.  And I think that in a certain sense it’s like our most un-thought of actions, our most mundane gestures that embody our internalization of certain kinds of values and conditions in the world so I do think it’s a pretty interesting place to start to think about the ways we would disarticulate those internalized positions.

JK: K8, you had your hand up.

Speaker 1: Oh um…I’ll raise it later…

Speaker 17: I have a question about experience, this conference the experience of the present. I think there is a problem with possessing the present and the now which is a whole other level. Actually that’s a very abstract issue to grapple with – this is where feminism has something to say.

JK: Do you mind giving an example?

Speaker 17: The whole question of ephemerality, things that don’t last, that aren’t monumental, that’s been part of process art, it’s also a difficult philosophical problem, how you possess time. Possessing time is very big in feminism of course so in many ways to possess time so to push the sort of latent term that’s being used very passively, the present itself, the now, is not something that’s just evident.

Speaker 2: I just wanted to say in terms of the subordination idea, in terms of your original examples of lived experience, or lived practice rather, as opening doors and cooking, those are two very opposite things when we think about subordination when think about agency and whether we have agency or not that um opening a door is a traditionally male gesture and that cooking is a traditionally feminine practice and that those two things are, that you’re using these two opposite things as political gestures, I was hoping that we can talk about that at some point, traditional feminine things and reclaiming them or..

Speaker 18: We discussed that a little bit, um, briefly, and I think it is a totally interesting thing. I mean there are obviously all kinds of gestures that aren’t gendered that I consider to be feminist too and yet at the same time some of the more local gestures that I make frequently are appropriating a space that a man would have take up and I think that, I mean, as a technique that’s something that many people share, similarly I think that many people appropriate more typically female gestures, I think it’s pretty hard…well, I think that’s why we’re here, to help start to parse that out a bit.

Speaker 19: I’m having problems relating to this term, lived practice, just to echo what some other people are saying.  With all due respect, it sounds very upper-middle class, like white-bourgeoisie, like a hobby. You’re using hobbies as your lived practice, I mean cooking…What about an African American women living in the ghetto and getting beaten by her husband or something who doesn’t wake up in the morning and think “what’s my lived practice?” And there are no African Americans in this group of 50 people who responded to this event, which is too bad… I guess [there is] some detachment in the fact that you’re saying what’s my lived practice. When you asked that question in the questionnaire I felt that hopefully feminism should be so internalized that you don’t think of it as something separate. You don’t wake up in the morning and think what’s my lived practice.  And also, like this gentleman said, just the fact that we are asking ourselves, the things that have the most power over us are the thing that have normalcy. Just the fact that we are asking ourselves, what’s our lived practice shows that its not hegemonic ideology. We don’t have to ask ourselves how we submit to patriarchal structures, that’s just a given.  But we’re asking ourselves this suggests to me that it is something detached from us…

Speaker 11: I want to follow up on what my neighbor said before about the everyday and actions and our implication in the culture that we live in which is a patriarchal culture and a capitalist society and a racist culture, so to me the question that you are asking about daily actions is more interesting if I reverse it and say where am I sexist? Where am I racist? Where am I implicated, you know, in part of capitalism and then the question of agency can come back and be asked in a different way, then I’m talking about my role and not my being outside and knowing better and being able to make decisions that will effect the world, in the same way that I think cooking for my friends will effect the world…

Speaker 18: I think complicity is always an interesting thing to think about and definitely something that’s come up frequently, ways that you submit and that people submit.  It’s also very, very difficult to sort, though I think that that’s worth exploring here too.

Speaker 11: As a feminist, I think Yvonne Rainer said that we all just recovering racists and that’s the best we can hope for.  Like that as a feminist I can only hope to be a recovering sexist. I know how society works, I’m part of it…it’s not that I’m outside of it…

Speaker 20: One thing that I noticed when I was looking at all of these words and thinking about the switch that was made from the old version to the new version is that gender was completely taken out and in the new ones anything that has any prefix that has to do with gender is gone and something that I think about choosing to use the word feminism or not is that in order for me to move on to a different word like lived practice it would have to be like mission accomplished, like it’s not a problem anymore, so, I can just like live, it feels like totally evolved. It’s assuming that equality is already here and I’m just going to live in this enlightened way and think that, um, I don’t think we’re there yet.

LL: I just want to clarify something about the operations of the dictionary, which is very much that we’re not offering them as alternatives, viable alternatives for "feminism". We both feel really committed to feminism as a term and everything it signifies and identifies for feminists.  Our effort was really to try and avoid some of the stickiness in it by just sidestepping it and using as a placeholder lived practice.  I think it’s interesting in a way of course that assumes that lived practice because it contains a model, because it isn’t just a symbol like asterisk or “A” or whatever, we’re getting into a discussion of is lived practice a viable alternative which I think is also a totally interesting discussion. Um, but I just want to be sure that we’re clear that these words were chosen in a way specifically because they are more universal in a sense, that as symbols they seem to be easier to use than something totally empty like asterisk, square, triangle, so forth…

Speaker 13: What I’m kind of worried about, to respond to what someone said over there, is this that there is sort of a life-styling of feminism and that the rhetoric kind of parallels styling kind of recycling sort of rhetoric, like show that somebody that you bought your own bag, or show somebody, you know…there are these little gestures but it does kind of have that capacity to become this default lifestyle and I think that’s what we’re trying to resist, it’s just to always kind to keep it off balance where it’s not just these kind of micro-gestures but to keep it outside of a magazine or something..

Speaker 21: And what I would also like to add to that is that I do think that the gestures do have an impact but I think that unless it’s a decision that’s aware it’s not a political gesture, right?  It will affect people even if it’s not aware, just like rain will affect people, you know, when it rains it effects people. But I think that politics of course has to do with society and the public and it starts with awareness, I think that’s the first step.  So I do think that opening the door if you are aware is part of your political gesture but if you just open doors, just because you are a nice person, that doesn’t make it a political gesture. Um but then what you said with the gestures I do think that they have impact on people and I very much appreciate people being aware of doing these things but I think that there is a danger that this becomes a pacifier in the sense that one doesn’t really step out of the comfort zone and become more active in the political, meaning public, sphere and um I see that a lot outside of lived practice as well, oh if I buy this cleaning detergent then my contribution in done or whatever…

JK: Can we not do both, though? Can we not think of these politics and actions and lived-practice on both levels? Both the sort of macro level you are talking about if I understand you correctly and on a local scale at the same time and negotiate them.

Speaker 21: I mean, of course ideally everything would have integrity and I think that these can go into the public, the private sphere like how you interact with your friends and your small circle but I just would like to warn against stopping there and only focus on the local gestures…

LL: I would never advocate for that personally

JK: Neither would I

LL: Just to be clear -- but I agree with you very much. Maybe it’s worth, since we’ve sort of been discussing the lived-practice model, maybe its worth considering something that we were originally veering towards and actually asking for if lived-practice doesn’t feel necessarily like a viable model, what would?

Speaker 22: I would suggest some sort of term that implies more.  It seems like there are a number of people in agreement that the term lived-practice does not imply a sense of feminism being embodied, that um it seems to only refer to the daily gestures but not a more holistic philosophy or the fact that one’s being is feminist. I think certainly as one is determining who she or he is you start to be conscious of these gestures perhaps in the beginning as your trying to figure out your way in the world and then at a certain point it’s completely woven into all the decisions that you make and it stops being about small gestures.  So lived practice seems like daily exercises somehow as opposed to that sort of core, essential part of who you are.

Speaker 4: I was just going to say that I actually kind of like lived practice because I thought of it as something I embrace, which is just in terms of being extra aware of power dynamics.  Also the daily – larger, or smaller – discussion…So I thought of it as embracing something that seems maybe where you can absorb all these things and take it as a general approach, and not get so hung up, in a way, on the specific details of it. It’s just sort of a…
Speaker 3: For sure, artists and feminists in the 60s and 70s…they did it for us, so we don't have to do it.  I still think though that on a day to day basis we can express our feminism.  It’s about not being afraid to say, “I’m a feminist.”

Speaker 23: Maybe it would be a good idea to talk about how feminism’s different, just literally, like how was it and how is it now and then maybe we can sort of go beyond that because we’re really talking very intellectually about it but how is it that different, you know? What makes it so drastically different that we have to change the word?  That would be helpful to me.

LL: How is it now? That is very much our question.

Speaker 23: I’m asking a question.

Speaker 24: Can I summarize a little bit of what I’m hearing? I think I’ve been observing a shift from sort of women like Lee Krasner who changed her name from Lenore to Lee to be less of a female sounding name – like using initials – and not having children, having an alternative kind of life-style to be like men and then shifting towards embracing that which makes you uniquely female to this sort of daily small practice which keeps reminding me back of “the personal is political,” that old phrase. So it seems like there is going from large scale to small scale in a way or from public to private – reclaiming the private, reclaiming things that are traditionally female, I suppose.

LL: Do people…I mean, that’s a really interesting thing, reclaiming the traditionally female. Is that something that people here generally, I guess, identify as their feminism? As their lived-practice? Or is that something you recoil against?

Speaker 25: What is that? I think we have to define the things we’re saying? You know what does that mean? What is a traditional female, whatever, a traditional female practice? I don’t really know what that is.

Speaker 26: I think getting married and having kids…

Speaker 27: Accepting patriarchal roles

Speaker 29:…Patriarchy and the status quo we get back to the question of what is essentialism. I mean you explained it in an interesting way but just to give a, whatever, dictionary definition essentialism means that there is an actual essence to what is a man and what is a woman, goodness, justice, truth or whatever as opposed to them being socially constructed, which is what I thought was the whole point of feminism, a woman is not born she’s made in the sense that these terms uniquely female or the traditionally female, accepting them as transparent can be really problematic…

Speaker 18: I suppose one area that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is the way that emotion and vulnerability is traditionally associated with the feminine and that there’s a certain embarrassment that I associate with it at least and, that’s just one areas that I’ve really focused on, that that kind of display of emotion also has an aggressivity, I think, in it that can complicate matters because there is this ambivalence already embedded in it and that’s one area that I’ve thought about it quite a bit, emotion.

And there’s just one other thing I want to say was that this way we keep referring to these gestures as small, and I’m starting to think it’s debasing it to a degree because I think the repetition, um, having some awareness of the way you shape your own habits has a large impact, because it’s the way that your interacting…

Speaker 30: I guess one thing that I keep thinking about is the idea of questioning and, um, that it’s that “why do I have to question if I want to have babies whether or not I’m a feminist.  Why do I have to question what it means to be a feminist?” And it is important on the one hand to define those things and on the other the fact that I’m questioning them is so frustrating to me.  I mean the fact that I’m questioning what do I do everyday that makes me a feminist and what if I don’t do something one day does that mean that I’m not and if I do this does it mean that I’m not? If I do this does it mean that I am, and…and what actually, and this is then the question – what would define me as different from someone who doesn’t consider themselves a feminist? What kind of questions, there so much about…it’s so obvious that we haven’t reached a place of equality that we haven’t broken these you know blah blah kind of stuff and I think that something that’s really exciting about these terms is that they’re not maybe right, but there’s an attempt to have a real conversation about you know, if you have babies does that mean that you’re not a feminist? Why is it that people who are trying to be doctors are working all these hours and there’s no structure in our society to help people to rear children and that it’s our responsibility as females to quit our jobs, have less hours, and it’s a choice for us. Why is that still a choice for us? And all of these questions I feel are so much about feminism, I mean there are a million more, I mean I’m just talking about a little pod.

I mean when we start talking so theoretically it doesn’t allow people to have access and I think, I think that you know it is interesting but it’s also we have to ask the questions about the grit the day-to-day really answering some stuff and really get into some fights about what it means how to really talk about it in a solid way.  And I’m just responding to the kind of theoretical, “are we going to talk about this term or that term,” and I don’t care. What about the stuff what are we really trying to say? What are we really trying to talk about? How do we include people, how are we not including people?  And I don’t have any answers to that but I certainly noticed that there are no African American women here, why don’t they feel like they are part of this conversation? I have conversations with African American’s who don’t feel like they are part of this and why has it become this sort of white middle class conversation and why is it something that when you get on the edges of culture, artists, people embrace it more and people who stay home and take care of their kids feel like they can’t have it be part of their own experience? And I think that those really hard, like let’s talk about what’s happening and um sort of facing those questions is so much more important than what is the word feminism because it’s something that’s happening and we have to grab onto it.

Speaker 1: But it’s so different for every person.

Speaker 30: But I think that’s so interesting.

Speaker 1: It’s different for every single woman, you know…

Speaker 30: Absolutely.

Speaker 1: It’s like, we’re going to go through the dirty gritty of every woman who decided to stay home and have babies and decide if that’s feminist or not?

Speaker 30: No, I just think that it...

Speaker 1: It’s not interesting to me.

Speaker 30: My point is that these questions of how do we include people, who gets included and who doesn’t…

Speaker 1: Why are we the gatekeepers, why do we have to include people?

Speaker 30: I don’t think we are but you just said that it was boring to talk about if women who stay home and have babies are feminist

Speaker 1: No. To get into everybody’s nitty gritty, of their personal acts and like-styles, like…

Speaker 31: I think she’s just saying that we can think in this little box but there are other ways to extend it like beyond the racial issues like you know she was talking about the demographic in the room – this body of people right here.  I think she’s just posing questions for people to think about because sometime we just…she’s just putting things out there…

Speaker 1: And I’m to trying to answer, I’m just trying to get away from…

JK: I’m just going to interject because we have so many responses to this question.  Ilya, then Ulrike, then Klara.

Speaker 16: I thought it was very interesting to point out questions about work, questions about race.  In relation to what you said earlier about this relationship capitalism, racism, feminisms, all of these questions, I mean, by broadening the terms it’s helpful to understand. I mean, I was a little curious to ask why we must have this essential core. Somebody brought up earlier this essential core that one must identify oneself with when clearly the forces of subjugation operate on a multiplicity of levels and we are interpellated in so many problematic situations and I just think it’s helpful to broaden it up and to understand the points where that different subjects have commonalities in terms of the ways in which they’re oppressed.

JK: I agree, sorry we have sort of a speaking order

Speaker 11: Listening to you made me think that I forgot to list homophobia in my list…One thing I wanted to say is sort of feminism 101 it was realized a long time ago that we have a hard time when we talk about feminism and it’s often helpful put an “s”, to add an “s” to that word then we don’t have to sit around here and feel like everybody has to have the same notion of feminism and we can talk about individual experiences in a different way. The other thing that was brought up about race and exclusion, um, was a big topic at the feminist futures conference, and I don’t know how many of you have attended, but it was pointed out and I think that it’s very helpful that the lamenting, lamenting one position that was actually absent has the effect of actually masking the different that is actually in the room and I don’t think that everyone in this room is white, I don’t think that everyone in this room, no, I know that everyone in this room is not a citizen. I doubt that everyone is middle class or comes from a middle class back ground so I think its more interesting to think about what’s going on in this room rather than fall back on saying that’s what’s missing…

Speaker 21: Yeah, um, I guess it’s similar to what the two of you just said because this whole white middle-class self accusation is something I keep hearing every single time I have a political discussion and um, find it more helpful to think about why is it, because definitely we are privileged, on not on the scale of the society we lived in.  But the question is why is it that privilege actually breeds not agreeing with what brought you to the privilege and um so why, why doesn’t privilege lead to wanting to continue that path of privilege and wanting to hold on to that, and protecting it and excluding yourself even more from the others. And maybe we can…

Speaker 22: Most people do hold on to privilege

Speaker 21: Well they do, but why is it that those who don’t to a large proportion come out of the privilege classes right…And the answers, some answers are very easy and simple, if you are subjected to working 12 hours a day you just dot have time or the, you know, energy to continue educate yourself or go to meetings and so on, but maybe we can talk about why it is for us, um, an issue at all.

Speaker 32: I just wanted to add on to what Klara was saying and also Ulrike’s point which I think was very important that Adrienne Rich wrote in the ‘70s that women are often feminism’s worst enemy, that they are often so concerned with in fighting and blaming each other.  In an article she wrote called Notes on Lying she actually talks about that we are constantly trying to think about who we include in the we…but no one else care about that, it’s actually very patriarchal, it’s the function of patriarchy that sets up this situation where it doesn’t have to be have to be dealt with because it’s eroding form the inside. So, I think these questions that Ulrike brought up earlier about thinking about our own racism and our own homophobia and sexism and the really important ones and I think Klara is right, this interesting aggression towards privilege is one that shuts down conversation.  On the other hand, it’s important to acknowledge as well.  But I do think for somebody like Rich its precisely within this sphere of so-called feminism that often feminism is dismantled completely.  And I can feel that happening in every conversation around feminism, people get very impassioned but also very aggressive about the terms. And I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be aggressive – I can be pretty aggressive myself a lot of the time – but I think that thinking about the stakes of that aggression is important at least in a self reflexive way.

JK: I hate to revert to the role of timekeeper although that’s what I’m going to do now.  Although, I’m really excited about this idea that…making more explicit the suggestion to reverse this question so we kind of have a 15 minute break – there’s wine in the board room as Liz mentioned so, refresh yourselves. And maybe when we get back we can reverse this question and see if that actually proves to me a more productive model.

photo credit: Liz Laser

LL: I wanted to start out with just a brief acknowledgement that we were interested in introducing the dictionary in an effort to get away from semantics, the difficulty of finding a shared language as so forth.  It was intended to be a kind of effort to, um, excavate a bit about what these terms that we are loyal to actually mean.  That said, the irony is that in an effort to avoid semantics we have fallen back into that trap.  So instead, I wanted to take actually the suggestion of Ulrike and just try and invert this a little bit. So, we want to now ask the question, what are the ways that we are implicated in sexism/misogyny so forth. Let’s try to get at it from that angle and see how that works instead.

Speaker 1: Well I’d like to start with your dictionary of temporary approximations and in terms of like our participation in relation to sexism every word that you have suggested has taken out the sex or female sex or subjugated sex experience within that word so from misogyny you go to prejudice, um, from motherhood you go to parenting, and from feminism to lived practice, and patriarchy to subordination, um, and it’s, you know, it’s something at as feminists y’all did to try to change the language to make it more open but in a simple way I see that, um, the specificities of sexism in a patriarchal culture that denotes sex and gender were removed in an attempt to make it easier for us to talk, I find that questionable.

LL: It wasn’t really an attempt to make it easier to talk; it was just an attempt to make it easier to associate those terms that were just intended to be placeholders I mean a-symbolic placeholders…

Speaker 1: Exactly.

LL: So, I mean, we are very much interested in…

Speaker 1: I mean, are they a-symbolic if they…

LL: No, of course not, that’s what we’re discovering here – that it’s not working to use them.

JK: I guess I would also like to say that, I mean, taking the specific gender implications out of these terms was something that we really really struggled with and we have so many versions of this dictionary and, I mean, also, we all know, and Liz and I would be the first to admit that it’s flawed but we’re just proposing it as a hypothesis and what’s so interesting for me to hear are the reasons why it doesn’t work, you know? Reasons, like I mean, not only why it doesn’t work but also suggestions on how we could maybe tweak this experiment and make it more productive.

Speaker 5: Well, I mean, sort of earlier when Ulrike brought up that she would get critiqued for not having more feminism in her work or whatever and I respond to this sort of, I agree, or I don’t agree, but I think it’s interesting that you wanted to, that you were interested in changing the word – which I may or may not agree with that decision, but I think that the evacuation of the specificity around the words is something to think about and I think that oftentimes it happens where we move into spaces that are supposed to be encapsulating or whatever where everyone fits under some umbrella term and often that lacks the specificity…Look, I don’t know how lived practice would be without feminism, if you just said it somewhere for something. So I guess I can say that.

Speaker 3: Well, I understand that you are just trying to trick us like, you know, that we’re still talking about feminism using something else

Speaker 5: No, I know, I know, I know.

Speaker 3: To remove the whole pressure around that word, I don’t think, it’s not really a problem.

Speaker 22: But what she’s talking about what that word means, and and and I think it’s ok. It almost like lived practice is this word that you put there alongside feminism and we’re all talking about feminism and we all know that and um we don’t have a problem with it and I think that somewhat implicit in the dictionary is that these terms are problematic for many people, but the purpose of being here and talking about them is to unpack the meaning of the words so it’s not counter-objective but it is really like there are the words themselves and the watered down words, the potentially non-offensive versions alongside um but we really know what we’re what we’re talking about.

JK: You had a comment.

Speaker 33: I think it’s already passed.

JK: So…

Speaker 34: I think we should change the word to femanism. I was saying at the cocktail hour that it could be fun, everyone would like it. Or maybe it could even a word that would denote free-self because you know capitalism has worked really well and people feel like they’re getting stuff all the time and then it feels a reward a membership reward type of…but, um…I will go to the other part of what you proposed now.  I don’t know if this will work but I just had an incident that happened that I can summarize very quickly hopefully. So I usually collaborate with people a lot as an artist and often it’s women, usually women, or trans, transgendered people, and I happened to be somewhere where I was at a dinner and we all came up with an idea and it happened to be three guys, and whatever, so that’s cool.  So we were all really excited about it and I got back and I started working on the proposal that we were all really excited about and immediately I got an email from a guy who wasn’t there but apparently he was talking to people and I got an email saying “how dare you steal my idea, um, I cannot even believe you did this.”  And I was like “what idea? I don’t even know what idea you’re talking about.” This person outside the circle of these three other guys thought that because everyone was talking about the same thing, collaborating on a show doing a response to another art show we were all joking about that.  Apparently he felt similarly to the way we all felt and he was like “I had that idea.” And I’m like “I’m never working with men again.” [LAUGHTER] See? You see? It just goes to prove.  And I’m like, “it’s terrible, it’s not just a man, it’s capitalism that made that happen and then I was like, if you’re using capitalism, like, or is it like just that everyone’s in a financial panic? Is it the financial crisis?  And it’s not even an idea, I was like this has never happened before, it’s not even an idea, it was a feeling, like we all had this same feeling and we’re like let’s make a response and this person out of the blue was like “that’s my idea to have anger, that’s my idea to have a response.” So is it…partri…on one level it because he works alone and he’s a guy he’s used to owning ideas and because he had the same feeling he’s like “I own that actually.”

So is that ownership, is that proprietary idea so much a part of our interactions? But I didn’t like my response and I’m still trying to formulate how to react to it because don’t want to dismiss it but I want to say that it’s all these things: it’s non-collective, patriarchal, it’s you know, you shouldn’t think this way, I try to check myself when I think this way, you know you did do that blah blah blah…I still figured out how to respond.  So there’s a lot of, all the discussion before was about all these inferences do we have…Are we feminists? Yes, we’re all feminists, no matter what we do, we’re feminists.  There’s no way out of it, you know? But, um, and hopefully everybody in the world will feel that way one day but, if we call it femanism, that’s, that’s my, that’s my solution.


JK: Thank you.

Speaker 35: Just to follow on that, I would love, just because, I’m an artist and I’m a man, to know to whether there’s this connection between man and authorship.  I would to…my opinion…

Speaker 34: My opinion? Yeah.


Speaker 35: There is?

Speaker 34: There is.

Speaker 35: I would love to see ways of countering that.

Speaker 36: Oh, it’s interesting though because I feel that women are often more competitive with each other, that, you know, I mean, I find myself having more men friends.

Speaker 34: The competition, the…I don’t want the discussion to become whether it’s your masculinity or it’s your gender and your friends, I think that, again, that’s the sort of path one shouldn’t go down.  I think that’s it’s admitting to the bad reaction of that person, my bad reaction and how those reactions play into the system that keep us in these patterns. Next time you do it, all I can say to you is the next time you do it just say “I just fucking did that, why did I do that?”  Because, you’ll do it! I’ll do it to.

Speaker 35: What do you mean? To claim?

Speaker 34: Yeah.

Speaker 35: To claim authorship?

Speaker 34: Yeah. Right. It’s not that there’s an answer like I don’t do that and you do.  But the next time you do it you have to ask yourself why you did it and when it happens with me, it’s a different situation.

Speaker 35: But that’s what I’m interested in, is in how somebody, so many people here are artists, and I guess they have to deal with issues of authorship.  I mean this is…very connected to patriarchal kind of positions.  How can that be countered? How can we actually counter that, I would love to learn from everybody here…

Speaker 6: I just wanted to remind everybody here that these words like patriarchal came about in the ‘60s and ‘70s when there wasn’t a word for all the things that were going on, to explain why women weren’t getting the opportunities they should get, blah, blah, blah.  So, it’s kind crazy that we’re trying to get rid of those words.


JK: Oh, but we’re not trying to get rid of those words. This, um, is a hypothesis, an experiment, temporary…

Speaker 3: I want to go back to people talking about us, like, our position as white female, like, why are we more concerned with feminism then African American women or, you know, that question about…there’s a sense of history that we have to look into to.  Actually, the idea of society revolving around men, the patriarchal system, started with the Romans. It very, it’s a white concept.  It didn’t start in Africa. Africa, the African population, you know, there’s a lot of tribes of people around the idea of the woman and the woman decides a lot of things. So I think there’s a sense of history, we carry that with us, it’s in our DNA in a way, we constantly work with, you know. That’s where it started…in religion…it didn’t start in Africa, it started in Europe with all these white male societies that started to say that women are just a procreation machine.  They started it. That’s why we have to fight the idea…

Speaker 37: I would just like to say that historically speaking maybe that’s a little bit of a difficult argument to make. I mean obviously our culture has a lot to do with Roman society and so forth but, you can also make the argument for instance, that Mary became really important in the Middle-Ages because of, like, European ideas about spirituality and femininity, but that doesn’t mean that any of that has anything to do with contemporary ideas of feminism or that it even has a place in this discussion.  It’s really complicated to all of a sudden take up how we could work any of that in, and I would almost say step away from it just because it’s such a big, broad topic and sexuality and gender in Roman society and antiquity is also, like, incredibly complicated and, like, to try to extrapolate all of that is a little much, I would say, for this discussion.

LL: But I think that touches on something really difficult, which is that we did try to artificially limit this discussion to today and that’s every much what the structure of the event was intended to do and yet of course we’re rubbing up against the fact, the true and difficult fact, that of course we don't, which is right back to Connie Butler, that we don’t understand where we are now without having some understanding the past and this is very much our effort to start to try and investigate our present in a way that is really invested, a bit more invested, in the present than some other discussions that we been at, but the methodology to reach that place is really hard to hit upon. I think that’s why we’re kind of casting about now…

Speaker 38: Um, I that there’s, I think that we should try to agree on something.  I think that fundamentally, people are, we’re trying to reposition ourselves, like, I not somebody who like believes in the waves, you know? I think believe in not always trying to make the distinction, but I think there are some differences that bring us to the room today.  Um, I think that I would like to take a vote.  Let’s just see what’s happening here…I think that I don’t ever associate the word feminism with, sorry to be confrontational, with DNA.  I think that is there’s a difference between what we, the idea of essentialism and some of the very important, like um, works of art and the statements that were made in the ‘60s and ‘70s that are absolutely foundational to the reason we are all here that if we feel like there’s been a movement since then, let’s define what that is.  To me that’s that anybody can be a feminist.  It has nothing to do with your body, it’s a choice and that it reverberates in every part of your life. So, you want to vote on this?


Speaker 38: Do you agree with that? Say “aye”...

Many voices: Aye


Speaker 38: This is progress, there’s a real pleasure in that.


Speaker 3: Actually I was not talking about DNA as just like women.

Speaker 38: No, no, no, I understand…

Speaker 3: I was actually just trying to put forth, intellectually, that we are more inclined to that about that because it comes from this society which is ours…

Speaker 38: But I think that in order to really bring both of our feet forward and to, like we all decided to come here like we want to be here, right? I say let’s talk about feminism, you know, we responded to the email and we talk to each other about feminism, let’s tell it like it is.  Let’s say, if there’s a difference, what is that difference, and let’s um, you know? Okay…


Speaker 39:  Well, I think that we can all agree that feminism is supposed to be about the equality of our choices. Like, we can all make the choices in whatever way we like, but the problem is that women suffer repercussions for their choices while men don’t necessarily suffer the same repercussions. Like whether it’s a women deciding to live a traditional lifestyle and being judged by women who think that you should be more open minded about your career or whatever, or if it’s choosing to have children and then re-enter the workforce and have difficulties with childcare or even how to take time off and not have any space left for you in the workforce.  So, I feel that there are repercussions for women just based on their basic life-style choices that…

Speaker 1: And there are repercussions for men who decide to become flaming feminists and, like, and deconstruct patriarchy all and time and move around looking like women – there’s repercussions for everyone that chooses feminism or that try… that are working through that, it’s not just biologically limited…

JK: We have an order, sorry.

Speaker 40: I’m just curious, as to whether in a society that everyone seems to agree is patriarchal and capitalistic and, and, you know, subjugational, if feminism, if one can be a feminist and live in that society or if by allowing yourself to live and participate, and not be a rebel rejecter of that society you are inherently giving up the cause of feminism.

Speaker 5: Well I’ve been thinking a lot about that and I mean to even imagine that we can live outside of this is sort of a fiction so I don’t know… I think that this goes back to what we were saying before that there’s an activism, which is one of the words on the sheet, about feminism and those words are inherently linked for me and I can’t separate them. But also I think about what Emily was saying, like where, um, what this conversation has become about what feminism is…if we’re trying to open it up and not think can I have kids and go to work, I just feel like that’s an old conversation.  I’m not interested. I personally don’t have those questions anymore.

Speaker 1: But a lot of people are really focused on them.

Speaker 5: All I mean is that the conversation is bigger than those things and if we want to define, maybe, some terms about maybe synonymous feminist practice, that could be a useful thing, cause for me activism or, um, critical, criticality those are words that go with feminism…

Speaker 40: Not to interrupt but that’s precisely…I’m exactly asking if we can have that conversation that you are saying is a waste of time. I mean what’s bigger than can I have kids, can I go to work?

Speaker 38: Yes you can!

Multiple voices: No you can’t!

Speaker 41: That’s my answer!

Speaker 40: Those are two very different answers.

Speaker 42: So, so just in terms of vocabulary, I thought maybe, which I thought that was great that you brought it up a really, that was great when… To me feminism, and maybe I’m a late feminist because I feel like I really discovered the need for feminism the past three, four years and it may be my age, it may be my experience, it may be my ignorance but, um, I think feminism for me is inherently a form of activism and I would love to see it die, actually, but I don’t think it ever will.

Speaker 43: See what die?

Speaker 42: Feminism.  The need, I mean, the issue, you know?

Speaker 43: It becomes obsolete

Speaker 42: Yeah, it becomes obsolete.  But I think and to me, so feminism is a form of activism and protest is a form of lived practice – it’s one way that you can go out and, you know, make your voice heard.  That said, I’m, really, I feel like, whether a woman wants to go out and have kids, whether a woman wants to be an artist, those are, those are some of the issues amongst many many that absolutely are different for everybody.  And I don’t really know whether there’s an answer for that, but I think, I think a worthwhile question is to ask, well, so we’re here, most of us are artists, we’re all sitting in this room, and I want to know is anyone bothered by the fact that, I would say, and maybe this is a gross assumption, I would say that 80 percent of the time I see male art, men making…

Speaker 11: You mean in this room?


Speaker 44: Exactly.  How appropriate!  Even the more I notice, the more I see, I mean in the film world how many women directors are there? How many writers are women? So where is women’s cultural voices? So, okay, men, we accept men who write stories about women, what happens to women writing stories about men?

Speaker 3: But that’s our duty now.  That’s what we are here for.

Speaker 44: It is but I feel that re-defining the language takes away from much more concrete issues, from that.

JK: We have a response here then at the back

Speaker 13: I actually think it makes it more sophisticated. Like, when I got the email I thought oh this is interesting you’re setting up a dialectic between particular struggles…like between particular and universal so I thought the talk would be this exercise in placing feminism or any kind of struggle in that dialectic both global and local, and how can you incorporate difference, how can you incorporate lived-practice, lived-protest or lived-strike, how can we do gestures, strikes in that dialectic… So I wouldn’t abandon the ideas.  You are not just painting over feminism but you’re really opening up this question of how you can locate critical practice in the universal or the particular.

LL: That’s very much what we had in mind…

JK: We had one more question there.

Speaker 38: Yeah, I guess I just want to go back to this thing where we all take a vote because…[LAUGHTER] No, I’m actually really curious because we all decided to come here and I want to see where we stand.  I want to see if there’s difference let’s proclaim that. I, um, what I want to know is…let’s take a vote on whether or not we think feminism is about women.

Speaker 45: I think so.

JK: Should we say is feminism specifically about women?

Speaker 46: Is it only about women, not necessarily, but I think it is about women.  But also the issue…

Speaker 47: What about the idea of women’s liberation?

[Many voices]

JK: You, you go ahead and say the terms of the vote…

Speaker 38: I think it’s really hard once we specify because then we could have another six or seven hour conversation but I think that if we want to accept this term, that we all want to identify woman and female as being something specific in the history of feminism, if we want to accept that or if we want to say that there is something else that feminism can be has been and that that’s a project of defining and moving forward so, I’m not sure if people like this idea of voting but I certainly, we can’t all talk and we can’t all talk for ten hours so it’s good to…maybe somebody else can pick up on that. I don’t want to be a fascist.


Speaker 34: Your need for a vote is very patriarchal so I would like to…


Speaker 38: Or democratic!

Speaker 34: It’s similar answer to a very complex problem.  And monotheism also created that God is man… 

But, um, I would also say, related to you, that Monique Wittig, some people might have read her, she wrote a book called The Straight Mind and she said that the gendered mind is actually the problem.  She said that a lesbian is not a woman also, and that was another layer of it which caused a lot of ripples at the time.  But they’re two very important ideas and I don’t think we can get that deep into them. But it’s intrinsically a part of this discussion and without knowing those parts of the discussion it actually makes it hard to have the discussion because thinking in terms of gender even linguistically, as in semiotics and all of these things, create, as we can see, they create many many questions that take a long time to be answered.

But I think in it’s essence, the gendered mind which we all also struggle with is extremely problematic because it enters our everyday decisions and our everyday thinking and, um, her statement that “lesbian is not a woman,” is also a very interesting idea because the idea of women is created as we also kind of discussed, and there’s also ideals of women outside of the scope of the feminine and what that means… and it’s very interesting to think about it. If you’re neither a man nor a woman and you’re something else, which could be any word, then your automatically being placed very much always on the outside of these questions that people ask for instance about children, about maternity leave, then you can float in and out of these conversations because you don’t have one choice or one situation and those situations should never be implicated into everyone’s lives.  Having agency is not only making decisions but also not even considering them. 

People keep saying, you know, but about working or about babies and stuff, and it’s like, the idea that that has nothing to do with this conversation is an interesting idea because those are intrinsically decisions that one has agency to make in the world no matter what you are, no matter what word you put to it.   So it doesn’t have anything, in a way, to do with feminism, but it has to do with a way of existing in the world that we are trying to claim, and we are trying to explain to the rest of the world what that claim is, so that they think, “oh logically, yes!  That seems to make perfect sense.  I don’t know why I didn’t think of that before.”

Speaker 1: And it’s not essentialist, it’s not attached to biology…

Speaker 34: Right. It’s attached to our collective unconscious.

Speaker 22:  It’s self determination, that one can have that agency and determine for one’s self what those choices will be.

Speaker 34: Well, that you have any choice! Not what the choices are, but that you have any choice.

Speaker 4: But then also to keep in mind that this agency is a limited position.

JK: I don’t want to disrupt this conversation.  Thank you so much for that, but I do want to let other people speak.

Speaker 48:  I’m just going to add a footnote here.  You were talking about why African Americans were not here.  My hypothesis is that they find fighting racism is so important that it trumps feminism in terms of urgency, as a bond with their male brethren and that white feminists are still part of white society.

Speaker 3:  But it’s about priorities.  Perhaps we are privileged to have this as our priority…

Speaker 4:  I also think it is about power dynamics.  For me the reason I always and unapologetically attached myself to feminism is that for me it’s a way to identify power dynamics.  And then that, in general, in any political, racial…that’s the main concern.  And so we have to be aware of power dynamics. And most of the people in the US work in corporations so it’s harder…you mentioned maternity leave as well…

Speaker 49:  Or gay marriage.

Speaker 4: Yeah…

Speaker 50: I just want to say something that you’ve brought up that I think is important.  I would like to see feminism move forward, to get out of this mode of “strategy” or have it be a strategic position.  Gayarti Spivak talks about “strategic essentialism,” to go back to essentialism.  And, I don’t think it has to be about strategy, like, to encompass one particular set legislative goal, you know? I mean that’s they way I would like to see it move forward and that’s a question I think we’re trying to get at.

LL:  The heterogeneous field, moving forward and acknowledging that that exists and that we all operate within it, that is an essential question.

Speaker 5: Just to go off from that, what she was saying but also what Emily brought up before. Feminism clearly means a lot of things, I mean in this group itself. Some people believe it is not about women, and some people think it is about women.  Do we event think, or could we even have consensus around the idea that we need to move beyond that word. Or something that I’ve been thinking a lot about is that the state of conflict or tension being brought up in this room is really productive, and this is where we need to stay or where we continue thinking and if feminism is going to bring up this much conversation then.

Speaker 34:  Can we re-curate the room for another meeting? …Can we meet here in this room for another meeting?

LL: We will put in a request.  I just want to clarify one more thing but we are very much not advocating getting rid of the term feminism. Although this is an interesting question, my position is, for the record, no.

Speaker 5:  No, no, I’m not saying that you support it or not.  I just think that’s the implication of this event, of this panel or conversation is about and I think that we’re just trying to see whether or not its what we should try to move toward.

Speaker 11:  I’m just curious.  I sent in 3 terms to apply to participate today and there are 50 people in this room, so there is somewhere a list of 150 terms that people in the room thought were important for a discussion of contemporary feminism or that needed to be re-evaluated. Where is that list?  What’s going on?

LL:  The interesting thing is that not a single term appeared multiple times and also not everyone chose to answer that question because I think it’s an extremely difficult one.

Speaker 5:  I could bring up mine.

JK:  I think that is a great idea, but we actually have to wrap up.  But we were thinking at the break that it would be interesting to have people come in and share their answers to the dictionary, so if you are interested in doing that, go ahead.

Speaker 5:  I wrote “woman of color,” because it was a class at Smith when I went there and I refused to take it because I had a problem with the name actually.  Being, I’m Cuban and for me it was too closely liked to “colored” still and also had this sort of amorphous quality that groups a bunch of people and specific experiences into one, sort of…I had, I have a problem with words that evacuate the histories of particular people in their experiences.

LL:  Which an essentialist problem.

Speaker 11:  But I wrote “essentialism,” because I think we totally have to rethink essentialism and I think that Judy Chicago’s Dinner Part is a great piece of art. When I walk in there and look at all these pussy plates I cannot, the one thing that comes to my mind is not biology equals woman. I can have a lot of different fantasies with that piece of art. And I think we have to redo art history also we have to move beyond essentialism and we have to stop thinking that “performativity” is the newest thing because…that’s 20 years ago!  Come on! Let’s move on.

Speaker 13:  No, I’m not going to defend “performativitiy.”  I evoked it knowing it’s a totally 90s thing. But a way of moving away from this kind of lived experience as this idea of a lax feminism, that you need to bring the heat back, you know, you wake up and get a baguette and go home…I’m and Asian-American and blah, blah, blah.  I’m just thinking of the way you can be mindful in the everyday as a Asian American, as a New Republican…but I know it’s an old school idea…

Speaker 51: I want to …re-writing art history, because I’m a writer and a critic and that’s what I wrote on my questionnaire so I want to ask …so tell me, how do we do that?  It’s the biggest problem…

Speaker 11:  I think it is continuously happening; I don’t think it’s something we have to invent. I think it’s something you have to be mindful of, to examine the terms that we are using.  It’s very easy to stay within the cannon of certain received ideas but then it’s also really important to examine them in terms of what we see, what are our experiences, what we are doing…I don't know if that’s an answer…

Speaker 51:  Good…it’s more to think about…

LL:  Well, I think unfortunately we are really at the end of our time and of course we’ve only scratched the surface, but I think the notion of re-writing history and how we deal with our history is exactly what we have been struggling with, we, as individuals, and all of us together. 

Your patience with our experiment has been great and I think a lot of fascinating things have been said, and it is certainly likely that we will try to develop this, so if you are all open to continuing this discussion, that is fabulous.

Speaker 6: Get a bigger room!

Speaker 52:  I think this has been great.  I think this should happen more often!

Speaker 34:  I just wanted to make sure that everyone is allowed to use the word re-dyke-ulous to confront certain patriarchal absurdities.  Re-dyke-ulous is free to use.

Speaker 1:  Can you just let us know what is happening to the documentation of this event, and how it will circulate, who will own it, or be responsible for it?

LL: We will…well, to be honest I don’t know the answer to the question of what will happen to it, but certainly we can let everyone know when we have an answer—for sure.

JK:  Oh, do you mean the images, because I can certainly email those if…

Speaker 1:  I meant more the video and the audio.

JK:  Oh—that’s just for sound, and these are sound too, so we can definitely share them, if you want and if they work.

Speaker 42:  Are you going to transcribe the material at all?

Speaker 1:  You just never know when something is going to get transcribed and printed…

LL:  Yeah, well, at this moment we don’t have plans to print it but we do hope to transcribe it if we can triangulate between the three audio recordings.

Speaker 1:  So you have all our emails.

LL:  Yeah, exactly.

JK:  Thank you so much.