Here at ShoutOut!, we’re always thinking of new and exciting ways that we can discuss feminism in the blogosphere. As with any website, we realize how important it is to keep things fresh and exciting. So this year, we’ve decided to scrap our old features, Mythbustin’ Monday and The Bitchin’ Table, and start a new one, Feminist Roots.
Every Monday, we’ll be discussing the feminist beginnings and beliefs of ourselves, faculty members, or members of the Harrisonburg community. Not only will this be a great way to share our stories, but it will also be a way for our readers to make connections to fellow feminists, find out about exciting classes, and meet some of the amazing professors we have in the Women’s and Gender Studies Program. So, without further ado, I’m so pleased to introduce you to the Chair of our program, Dr. Jessica Davidson!
I was lucky enough to meet Dr. Davidson, or Jessie, as I call her outside the classroom, my very first semester at JMU in Fall 2008. She was the instructor of my Intro to Women’s Studies course, AND a history professor at JMU (in case you hadn’t figured out from my blogger name, I’m a history major). Her course had a MAJOR impact on my feminism, and introduced me to great books like Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. I stayed in touch with Dr. Davidson throughout my first years at JMU, and my junior year she asked me to intern with her to assist with all of the planning for Women’s History Month 2011. That same year I took her FANTASTIC course titled Women and Fascism, and started babysitting her amazing boys. I guess what I’m getting at is that Dr. Davidson has been my biggest mentor in life, especially in college. But more on that later.
Dr. Davidson grew up in Wellesley, Massachusetts and attended Trinity College for her undergrad. While there, she majored in History and minored in Spanish Studies. It was also at Trinity that Dr. Davidson took a class on Intro to Women’s Studies and got hooked on feminism. While she can’t identify a certain “click” moment, she says that she “loved” that course, and since then continues to identify more and more as a feminist every day. She then went to Brandeis University, where she earned her PhD in Comparative History. She did her dissertation on women in Francoist Spain and La Sección Femenina, the women’s section of the Spanish fascist movement. Her dissertation is titled “Politics, Policy, and Propaganda of the Sección Femenina in Francoist Spain, 1934-1977.” She chose to pursue women’s history because it is “interesting, understudied, and completely gratifying.” Here at JMU she teaches Intro to Women’s Studies (her favorite course to teach), World History from 1500, European History, Spanish History, Women and Fascism, and European Women’s History.
As I mentioned, Dr. Davidson is also the Chair of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program. This affords her an opportunity to meet and interact with many of the feminist students on campus. These interactions are great for her because she can “see students change and have their own click moments, and learn about new waves of feminism through students.” She is always encouraging her feminist students (especially me) to “persevere,” even though so many young women at our university and in this country proudly reject the feminist label.
Dr. Davidson feels that two of the most pressing issues for feminists today are the fights for reproductive rights and equality in the workplace. As a woman who works in a male-dominated field, Dr. Davidson knows how important it is to seek equality in the academy. She says that while JMU hasn’t necessarily improved for women in the last decade, because we do have a majority of female students the atmosphere is much better than at other universities. However, she said that, “Students can remind the administration that just because there is a female majority among students, there needs to be a push for female representation in faculty and upper-ranking administration.” But Dr. Davidson also recognizes that the feminist movement as a whole must strive to be inclusive not just of educated, professional women, but women of all colors, income, and backgrounds. She believes that in order to make the feminist movement more accessible to low income women and women of color, feminists must “include these groups in their ranks and their agenda. Broaden the definition of feminism.”
Dr. Davidson also promotes feminism through her relationships. As the mother of two boys, she strives to teach them about equality through everyday issues. She does her best not to gender toys (even though her oldest son has NO interest in playing with dolls, she still reminds him there would be nothing wrong if he changed his mind), and does everything she can to be “a good model of a strong, working, nurturing woman.”
But Dr. Davidson doesn’t just do this with her sons. Speaking from personal experience, she has always been there to guide me through the trials of college while being a strong model of feminism. While I experienced a “crisis in feminism” last year and felt like I could no longer identify with the movement, Dr. Davidson always had her office door (and phone line) open to me, and patiently listened while I sorted through a lot of confusing, conflicting issues. I cannot say enough about her abilities as a mentor, professor, and friend. If I could give one piece of advice to incoming freshmen, especially the women, it would be to find a professor you relate to and let them mentor you throughout college. Having the guidance and influence of a strong woman who has walked the same road as you is simply invaluable. Lucky for me, mine just happened to be one of the greatest feminist professors you could ever meet.