September 19, 2021

ONONYE | Is Womansplaining Activism?

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In my first Womansplaining column last year (and first ever Sun column!), I went semi-campus-viral for calling the campus sexist in “It’s 2020: Stop Calling Martha ‘Martha’”. This week my night was made when my mom told me that that same column was reposted this week (over a year later) in the Cornell Facebook Parents’ chat. Spoiler alert: your parents agree that we should refer to her as President Pollack. 

The first time I really started getting noticed on campus was through my Womansplaining columns. That was also the first time that people started calling me an activist. A lot of things were happening simultaneously in my life: at that time I was serving as Cornell’s Student Advocate, serving publicly on She’s the First’s Girls’ Advisory Council and beginning my College Scholar Research focusing on feminism and social media. However, when people referred to me as an activist, it was almost always in reference to my columns. 

My entire life, I have always been “that feminist girl.” I’m the person who brings in my favorite feminist scholar when they aren’t mentioned on the reading list, reads The Lily, listens to BBC Women’s Hour every morning to get my news, and has a laptop covered in feminist stickers. I talk about (and write about!) feminism a lot, but I’m not sure that that makes me a feminist activist rather than a feminist enthusiast. 

I went to a really meaningful talk hosted by the Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender departments last week, “Trans-Generational A Dialogue on the Evolving Meanings of Gender and Sexuality” which sparked the topic for this article. When several of the panelists described how their academic lives work tangentially to their activism, I asked where the line is drawn (and if there even is a line) between activism and academia? In the context of my question, I wondered about my professors who I consider activists for their teaching and writing in the FGSS and Africana departments. But, this can extend to so many of the departments and professors on campus who shed light on marginalized people and meaningful topics. The general consensus was that “that was a hard question” and different panelists drew their line at different points. 

What is the line between academia and activism? Or the line between caring and feminism? Or the line between passion and work? 

In honesty, while I will be the first to say that Womansplaining is (definitely!) my favorite part of being a Cornell student, it doesn’t actually take me a lot to write my columns. I write most of them in an hour or two the Friday before they’re due to my editor. I prioritize my own experiences and thoughts (key my apt title: Womanplaining) and most of those experiences happened the week that I write: e.g. this week I went to a talk and now I’m writing about my thoughts from that talk, the week of the 2020 election I wrote about the election, when I ran for Student Assembly I wrote about Student Assembly. Obviously my opinion writing is different from writing my thesis or a class paper, but a lot of times they come from the same space. And the crux of the question is whether or not a writing about feminism is feminist activism. 

All that being said, it was an adjustment when people began referring to me (and introducing me) as a feminist activist at talks, in letters and in professional spaces. I consider myself an activist, but my activism looks so different than what I consider activism in other spaces. It’s writing rather than protesting and setting up mutual aid funds. My activism is rooted almost entirely in my personal experience and the topics that I care about, calling into question who I’m really serving.

At the same time, I don’t want to downplay the influence that this column has had. It made it to the notorious Parents’ Facebook Page! But, beyond that, I have had emails from professors saying that they’ve discussed my arguments in their courses, a few weeks ago I was invited to speak about Womansplaining to a freshman writing seminar, and I have received emails from professors at other universities, deans at Cornell, students and alumni who love and hate my writing. It has sparked discussions (no matter how small) on and off campus, and that has always been my goal. 

Which leads me back to my original question? Is Womansplaining Activism? 

Anuli Ononye is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. Womansplaining runs every other Monday this semester.