"You are about to embark on a most enjoyable journey." That's the Chinese fortune cookie slip (from God knows how long ago) I found this afternoon when I emptied out all the crannies of my wallet. I'm back in Conway again, and I'm in major cleaning mode.
My roommate from last semester moved out to study abroad in Costa Rica, so I've taken the liberty of covering her empty bed with stacks of papers and piles of stuff. Things always get messier before they get cleaner.
I sorted through my notes and papers from last semester, recycling everything I know I'll never look at again. Books have been re-shelved, clothes sorted, drawers reorganized. I have a whole bag full of stuff to take to the Couch Hall Free Box when school starts again in two weeks. Then I ordered textbooks for next semester, did some research for an article I'm writing, backed up all the new files on my computer, uploaded some very old photos to Facebook, burned my friend Jordan a CD I said I'd send to him 14 months ago, changed the sheets on my bed, went to the gym ... you get the point. I'm doing basically anything I can to procrastinate on working on my thesis.
The best procrastination technique, the most time-consuming of all, has been planning the road trip my housemate Ashley and I are going on for the rest of Winter Break. We took Dr. Barth's Gender, Sexuality & American Politics class this past semester, and it changed our lives. I had always considered myself a feminist, but the class made me consider for the first time what exactly "feminism" meant and which issues were most important to me. Ashley and I started reading outside of class -- Reviving Ophelia, Full Frontal Feminism, Cunt, etc. -- and talking almost non-stop about what it means to be a young woman in the 21st century. Living in a house with seven other women, we had plenty of discussion material and lots of other voices to involve in our conversation.
The road trip plan crystallized when I went home for Thanksgiving break and read a book my sister had bought, Girldrive: Criss-Crossing America, Redefining Feminism. After reading about what Nona Aronowitz and Emma Bernstein did, driving across the U.S. and speaking to more than 100 women, I told myself, I could do that. And moreover -- I should do that. I was inspired by their search to understand the female American experience. In the introduction, Aronowitz describes their ethos like this:
“We had no idea what other women around the country were thinking, women who didn’t post on blogs or put themselves in the media’s spotlight. … We were dying to know: What do other twentysomething women care about? What are their hopes, worries, and ambitions? Have they heard of this nebulous idea of ‘feminism,’ and do they relate to it?”
Reading that, I thought, That is exactly what I'm dying to know, too! The book was a great consolation to me, because that very week my plans to go to India had gotten cancelled. The trip my friend Caelan and I have been planning since freshman year, which got postponed last winter because of the attacks in Mumbai, was officially cancelled because of continuing security concerns and logistical roadblocks. It was particularly a shame because Caelan and I received a grant from Hendrix (similar to an Odyssey grant, but different) to support our travel. Thankfully, for some blessed reason, the College has been very flexible about how the grant may be used. So I've gotten permission to put the funds toward the road trip instead.
The nitty-gritty planning is just now taking place. One of the piles on my roommate’s bed is all the travel gear I expect to need – GPS, inflatable travel pillow, suitcase, etc. The past three days has been a flurry of phone calls and Facebook messages, talking with Hendrix friends across the South about whether I could stay with them, speak to them, and meet their friends. Everyone has been quite enthusiastic, so I've got plans in Lafayette and New Orleans, La.; Hattiesburg, Jackson, and potentially Columbus and Starkville, Miss.; Sulligent and Birmingham, Al.; Peachtree City and maybe Decatur, Ga.; and Nashville and Memphis, Tenn. We've got two weeks to cover all that ground and speak to as many people as possible to try to answer the question, What is it like to be a young woman in the South?
I'm looking forward to the opportunity as a test of my reportorial skills. I excel in one-on-one interviews, and I will consider it a professional success if I can convince reserved Southern young ladies to open up to me about their relationships, families, career goals, religious beliefs, political views and sex lives. Most of all, though, I want to see what kind of common ground we share and how I can learn from the other women's experiences. Realistically, I'd be better off academically if I stayed in Conway for the next two weeks and worked to prepare for the hellish semester that's ahead of me. (Two theses? Four classes? Two jobs?) But I can't say no to this plan.
I don't need to get Odyssey credit for the experience, since I already have more than enough credits to fulfill the requirements, but I am going to anyway so that it will show up on my Odyssey transcript and impress all my future employers or graduate schools. I’m thinking that the title will be Ladylike: Searching for Feminism in the South. The only hitch in the Odyssey credit plan was that I didn't have a project supervisor -- until I ran into Dr. Leitz at the WAC (the gym) yesterday afternoon. Dr. Leitz will be teaching the Sociology of Gender and Family class I'm taking this spring, so after we chatted about the class for a little bit it occurred to me that -- duh! -- she'd be the perfect person to advise us.
The plan -- subject to the approval of Dr. Leitz and then the Odyssey office -- is to apply for Global Awareness credit. My other GA credits have come from immersion experiences in England and Mexico, but the Odyssey handbook specifically mentions that you don’t have to leave the U.S. to experience a different culture. Given that we’re doing several home-stays and talking to women specifically about their experiences in the South, I think the trip will be very immersive. GAs also require a reflection component, so in our Odyssey proposal Ashley and I promise to keep daily journals, record some of the interviews, and give a presentation next semester. I’ll be sure to post some of my journals entries here.
Here’s to a most enjoyable journey!