The circle of chairs at the inaugural meeting of The Future is Feminist: A Feminist Theory Book Club on Sept. 23 kept getting bigger and bigger as more people arrived, until the Buffalo Street Books Annex was full. Many brought copies of “How We Get Free” by Keeanga Yamatta-Taylor, distributed free to the first 25 people who signed up, but with approximately 40 people attending, copies ran out.
Participants included Cornell staff and faculty, undergraduates, community members, and Cornell doctoral students in the fields of history, plant biology, sociology, performing and media arts and natural resources.
“We had nearly 500 people say they were interested on Facebook, but we were still surprised by the turnout,” said facilitator Durba Ghosh, director of the Feminist, Gender, & Sexuality Studies Program (FGSS) and professor of history.
Hosted by FGSS, the club will meet on four Sundays this semester. In addition to Yamatta-Taylor’s book, the club will read “The Second Sex” by Simone de Beauvoir and “The Politics of the Veil” by Joan W. Scott, books Ghosh is examining with her Feminist Theory class.
Seated next to signs on bookstore shelves for “History, U.S.,” “Gender Studies” and “African-American Studies,” Ghosh guided the discussion as it delved into those fields and more. One of the first questions she posed to the group was: Can you separate theory from practice? In response, participants raised the question of what is the right way to be an activist.
“I wanted students to have conversations with folks in the community so they could see that education is a continuing process,” said Ghosh after the event. “What they do in classes, community members are doing at a different pace; this shows them other ways of learning. It was nice it was so big. It worked well.”
Lauren Griffin, a doctoral student in the field of sociology, said Ghosh “did a great job ensuring that we heard from a lot of voices. We were able to dig in to key issues and people got to ask questions.”
Ithaca resident Monzia Moodie was already familiar with Yamatta-Taylor’s work, and said he found the event a “meaningful discussion.” He added: “I wanted to learn. If I hadn’t encountered these feminists before I would never have come because I wouldn’t have thought I belonged in this space. But I felt very comfortable.”
In addition to personal reminiscences – such as one woman recounting her family’s involvement with communism and the civil rights movement – the discussion encompassed contemporary politics. “When I chose these books months ago I had no idea that they would be so current,” said Ghosh.
The next book club meeting will be Sunday, Oct. 21, at 3 p.m. To participate, sign up via this form.
Sponsors of the book club and book give-away include the Society for the Humanities, the Africana Studies and Research Center, the American Studies Program and the Women's Resource Center.
This article also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.