The Impact and Legacy of Ms. on Feminist Scholarship and Teaching

The following is a conversation between Ms. authors and Co-Chairs of the Ms. Committee of Scholars, Carrie N. Baker and Michele Tracy Berger.

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MD: How did you get involved in writing for Ms.?

CB: I’ve been a fan of Ms. since my early 20s. I always thought, “I’d like to write for this magazine!” Early in my career, I had to focus on academic writing and getting established, but as soon as I got tenure in 2010, I looked for ways to get involved. It just so happened, Ms. was offering its Writer’s Workshop for Feminist Scholars—a program to teach feminist faculty how to write for the magazine. I signed up immediately. What a surprise that was! In graduate school, we learn to write long sentences and use academic jargon. The workshop taught me to write in a more snappy way, to use engaging stories—to show not tell—and to get smart quotations. The training improved my academic writing! How did you get involved in writing for Ms.?

MTB: My book Transforming Scholarship: How Women’s and Gender Studies Students Are Changing Themselves and The World was published by Routledge in 2011. It was the first book in over a decade to explore women’s and gender studies students’ career pathways drawing on empirical data. Ms. approached me to write the Fall 2012 featured article “So You Want to Change the World?” in the 40th anniversary issue of Ms. The article highlighted the amazing things that women’s and gender studies students do with their degrees and the evolution of women’s and gender studies as a major. I got to write an article about something I care deeply—how 40 years of women’s studies has transformed students, the academy and feminist communities. Distilling a 40-plus-year history into a smooth 1500-word article was challenging, but I had great editorial help from Karon Jolna and the late Michele Kort. And, as you say, Carrie, writing for Ms. has toned my scholarly writing. How has Ms. fostered your feminist scholarship?

CB: My first feature article in Ms. turned into a book! In 2010, I wrote “Jailing Girls for Men’s Crimes” about sex trafficking of girls in the United States. I interviewed cool feminists around the country like Rachel Lloyd of GEMS and Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin. The article made me curious to learn more about how activists have organized against abuse of youth in the sex trade over the last fifty years. My book Fighting the US Youth Sex Trade: Gender, Race and Politics will be out next year from Cambridge University Press.

MTB: What keeps Ms. in critical conversations of feminist social and political movements?

CB: The magazine was commercial for many years, but in 2001 became a non-profit published by Feminist Majority Foundation. Freed from the demands of corporate advertisers, Ms. can publish on the most important feminist issues, no matter how controversial. Since 2011, Ms. Blog has provided up-to-the-minute coverage on reproductive justice, violence against women, politics, labor rights, the environment and more. FMF’s grassroots organizing, especially their campus activism, keeps the magazine deeply connected to feminist activists. That’s one reason I use Ms in my classes—it not only helps my students understand the issues, but it also shows them how to fight back! What issues do you look to Ms. reporting for coverage?

MTB: Ms. is my go-to outlet for reporting on the impact of war and conflict on women and girls. Over the last five years, Ms. has led the field in covering the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses, and national activism on this topic. How do you use Ms. in your teaching?

CB: At Smith College, we like to assign primary source materials from the 1970s women’s movement so our students can hear the voices of feminists at the time. As it turns out, many groundbreaking feminist ideas appeared first in the pages of Ms., like Johnnie Tillmon’s famous 1972 essay, “Welfare is a Woman’s Issue” and Lois Gould’s beloved 1972 essay, “X: A Fabulous Child’s Story.” I use current articles for cutting edge political analysis and the latest on feminist campaigns around the country and the globe, and use the Ms. blog for breaking news. My students love their Ms readings—much of the same depth as academic articles, but much more engaging to read. How do you use Ms. in your teaching?

MTB: In 2012 and again last year, I used Ms. in teaching my department’s Intro to Feminist Theory course. In choosing to use the Ms. in the Classroom program, which gives students access to all past issues of the magazine, I wanted to expose students to feminist-inspired journalism that would connect them to current information on feminist social movements and activism, show them that feminist theorizing happens in many different arenas, and provide a pathway for their own discovery about issues that are of concern to them, especially ones that might not be covered in-depth in the course.

It met my needs beautifully. On the first day, I asked students to look at the Ms. article index, which has over 15 categories, and choose 2-3 areas that they were interested in reading more about that weren’t covered on the syllabus. Then they had to rank their top three choices. I reviewed their choices and integrated articles and materials from Ms. that corresponded with their interests. In doing so I broadened out my materials and included articles on media, sexual harassment, and the law. I also created an assignment for them to follow their interests in feminist theory and activism using the Ms. digital archive.  They each chose three articles from the magazine that sparked their interest and wrote a paper on their topic.

On their end of the semester evaluations, students overwhelmingly mentioned how much they enjoyed using the Ms. materials and found it important to their learning and grasp of feminist theory. They also valued the opportunity to co-create the syllabus.

CB: Tell me about your new Ms. in the Classroom digital reader. What were your goals in developing the reader?

MTB: The new reader is titled, So You Want to Change the World? Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies. In creating an intro to women’s and gender studies reader I tried to imagine the needs of both students and professors. Professors generally look for readers that are well-organized, offer thought-provoking articles that are clear, accessible and engage students, and showcase a mix of interdisciplinary approaches.

The extensive Ms. archive allowed me to be creative developing this reader. So You Want to Change the World has 12 sections. There are sections that are a standard in many WGST readers—for example, violence and health, but also there are innovative sections on feminist leadership, creative interventions, peace and security, and gender and technology. Students will find material presented to them through a diversity of lenses that include policy reports, personal essays and opinion pieces, as well as research-driven articles. I think they will be intrigued by how journalists and scholars have analyzed and reported on various issues in Ms. from its earliest days to today.

CB: I’m so thrilled to be co-chair of the Ms. Committee of Scholars with you. Please tell our readers about the Committee and what we do.

MTB: Ms. created its Committee of Scholars to develop a deeper relationship with women’s and gender gtudies—to bring feminist scholarship to Ms. magazine and a mass media audience—and Ms. magazine to the feminist classroom. Committee members are faculty interested in building bridges between academia, feminist media, and activism, and play an active role in the planning of Ms. magazine by suggesting ideas and writers, as well as contributing themselves. Exciting about our work together too. As co-chair, what are your goals for Ms. in the future?

CB: We are working now to connect Ms. authors with teachers and students who use Ms. in the Classroom. We hope that Ms. authors will soon be skyping into classrooms to tell them more about their research and answer students’ questions. We are also working with Ileana Jiménez to get Ms. in high schools! Do you have a birthday wish for Ms.?

MTB: My wish is that Ms. continues to be the leading voice on gender equity through feminist journalism and develop the next generation of leaders.

baker_130Carrie Baker is Associate Professor and Director of the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College.

 

 

Michele Tracy Berger is associate professor of women’s studies and adjunct professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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