Interview with Dr. Mazzarella

BrunetteBloggr: I wanted to start this off by saying thank you so much for your time, it’s very exciting to have you back on the blog after some time now. For the readers who don’t know you, do you mind introducing yourself as well as some of your educational background? 

Dr. Mazzarella: My bachelor’s degree is from Northwestern University, just outside of Chicago, and it was in radio television film. So I actually started off as someone who was planning to go into the media industry, but then I realized I liked studying and talking about media and pop culture a whole lot more than I did about making it. So then I went to an intro Ph.D. program at the University of Illinois in communication research, and I started out as a very traditional children in media researcher like you know how the media affects kids, but then I switched more into critical cultural research, looking at youth culture and that kind of thing, and I always had an interest in gender and gender issues so that’s how I got to where I am now which is my focus on girls and girl’s media and pop culture.

BrunetteBloggr: So to go a little more into depth about girls’ studies, do you mind explaining what girls’ studies are and what makes girls’ studies so important?

Dr. Mazzarella: So it’s actually an offshoot of what used to be called women’s studies and is now women’s gender/sexuality studies, it’s much more inclusive, so it’s an offshoot of that in part because a lot of women’s study scholars, and feminists in general in the culture, ignored girls and oftentimes felt the issues in girls lives were trivial, and that adult women had a whole lot more serious stuff that they were dealing with and that’s where the focus should be. So researchers ignored girls and feminist activists ignored girls for decades. But then, gradually both researchers, like myself, activists, and girls themselves started getting more active in claiming that identity of a girl and talking about girlhood as a distinctive and important life stage that was worthy of discussion and protection.

BrunetteBloggr: So I think based on your interests in girls’ studies, it’s safe to say you are a feminist.

Dr Mazzarella: Yes, and I claim the label.

BrunetteBloggr: Absolutely, and as we all should. How did you first become interested in feminism?

Dr. Mazzarella: That’s a great question because I honestly don’t know the answer. I think it was just through the process of life and seeing the issues that I as a girl and a woman were dealing with and some of the barriers that are put in front of you, and the stereotypes, and that type of thing. Honestly, I can’t point to any specific thing, but a lot of it had to do with my education which was starting in college and taking women’s literature classes and feminist philosophy classes. It just kind of was like “these sound interesting, let me take them” and then learning more and more. I’m the first in my family to go to college, I didn’t know what to expect or anything so I was just picking what sounded interesting to me and I guess I ended up picking a lot of gender focus classes which at the time were women’s studies. I was in college in the late 70’s early 80’s so I think it was just life and education that brought me to that.

BrunetteBloggr: Going back a little bit earlier to what you said about barriers that we have as women, what do you think are some of the biggest feminist issues today?

Dr. Mazzarella: You know honestly one of the biggest issues I think is the word itself and how that word has become so demonized by right-wing politicians and right-wing media. It’s become something that women of your generation have been very reluctant to claim that label. I see students in my classes all the time that will raise their hand say I’m not a feminist, but and then they’ll say something that’s very feminist. But that label, they’ve been told that that’s not a good thing. You don’t want to be a feminist because feminists are all ugly, man-hating, hairy leg, lesbians, right? But this is the assumption that all feminists are bad and that that’s not what you want to be. Cultural discourse is making it difficult for you to claim that label. But also, another thing that’s facing feminists, is this whole kind of post-feminist mentality. A lot of people have this kind of post-feminist mentality like, well, you know, we’ve already achieved everything. We don’t need to fight anymore. So both kind of rejecting the label and this belief that there’s nothing left to fight for on the agenda front. I think these are really big issues because they will keep people and keep newer and younger girls and women from being activists. 

BrunetteBloggr: What do you think you would say to someone who is like in this position where like they want to learn about feminism, but they’re afraid to because it’s so stigmatized?

Dr. Mazzarella: It doesn’t hurt to learn about something and to learn history. If you’re learning about it from those sources that are saying this is bad, that are creating the stigma for it. Why not get the other point of view? Why not learn about it from different sources and get different perspectives on it, and then make that decision by yourself. How does this fit me? Do I see myself as this type of person? Are these my beliefs? Do I want to be active in this regard? And so I think that way of like kind of getting a balanced perspective, because those voices in the media especially are so strong, so powerful, so loud, and it makes it really hard especially for the girls and young women who are just kind of struggling with who they are and who they’re going to become. Especially in a culture that tells them that you’re valuable only for how you look and that you have to look a certain way, and that kind of thing. If claiming this identity the culture was telling you makes you less valuable. You know, it doesn’t hurt to find out just to learn. Learn, as opposed to say, you know, you have to go out there and start marching, a little baby step, right like kind of what you’re doing.

BrunetteBloggr: Do you think that the meaning of feminism has changed over the years, and do you think it’s changed for better or for worse? 

Dr. Mazzarella: Yeah, I think it’s changed and it’s definitely changed for the better. Because, you know, one of the problems with the wave metaphor is that those early waves that have been defined like the suffragette movement, the first wave, and then the women’s rights movement of the 60s, and 70s, were so focused on white women, and primarily white middle-class women. And so they were focused on a very narrow range of issues and goals, and really ignored women of color, ignored immigrant women, ignored poor women. And it kind of conflated women with white middle-class women. And so the biggest change that newer feminists coming into the movement have made, the third wave feminism, has been to really understand that there is no one singular woman, no one singular experience, and to include: sexuality, gender, identity, race, ethnicity, social class. So that’s a better change.

 BrunnetteBloggr: So speaking of the intersectionality of like feminism, Who do you think is a good feminist icon that we have today?

 Dr. Mazzarella: I’m thinking of the organizers of the Women’s March, you know, that kind of thing so that it’s a collective as well. That may be another big change is that we don’t necessarily have the icon, you know, like a Gloria Steinem kind of icon, but rather collective organizing. The women’s marches were organized by three women of color. It’s a good question, and I think, you know, maybe that’s one of the changes is that its become less hierarchical. 

BrunetteBloggr: So before this interview, I looked up the seven most Googled questions about feminism and I wanted to see which ones you and wanted to answer.

  1. Why are feminists so angry?
  2. Why do feminists hate men?
  3. Why do feminists not shave?
  4. Does a feminist have to be female?
  5. Do feminists get married?
  6. What does a feminist believe in?
  7. Will feminism hurt your career?

Dr. Mazzarella: So I wanted to briefly start with the first three myths, myths, myths, right? It was like feminists are angry, hate men, and don’t shave right? That was kind of like what I said. Those myths come from that kind of toxic cultural discourse that has defined them that way. So four and six I feel like those are not philosophical questions, but like really legitimate questions that don’t arise from myths- maybe even seven. But what my favorite thing to see is a man in a t-shirt that says this is what a feminist looks like. I think that is so powerful because no, you don’t have to be a woman to be a feminist. Just like you don’t have to be black to support black lives matter. You can be an ally, you can believe that women are equal and should have equal rights and identify as a man. Six, What do feminists believe in? So that’s a good one. So like in this day and age, what does it mean to be a feminist? That’s like a legitimate question. The last one, would feminism hurt my career, is really interesting because I think that gets a bad idea of that label. If I claim feminism, if I post things on my social media that can be interpreted as being feminist, if I participate in women’s women’s marches, how is that going to be received by power? Power being the people who have the power to hire me or fire me. So this, I think shows that reluctance to claim feminism, that kind of anxiety about it. I think that list is interesting because you’ve got the ones that are blatant myths, and you’ve got the ones that kind of show fear, like, “I don’t know if I want to do this”. Then you have a couple that are like really asking for information, what does feminism stand for and what does it mean?

Interview with Dr. Mazzarella

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