Writer, activist promotes everyday feminism

Veronica Arreola’s business cards read professional feminist, writer and mom.

She said those are the things she wants everyone she meets to know about her and form how she lives her life and goes about her work.

Arreola spoke Tuesday night as a part of the Gender, Women’s and Sexualities program Speaker Series.

She is a Chicago-based writer, blogger, activist and director of an academic support program for women majoring in science, technology, engineering and mathematics at University of Illinois-Chicago.

Even though she has “feminist” engraved on her business cards now, she said she used to struggle with the title and how best to conduct herself as a feminist.

“I was thinking a professional feminist was Gloria Steinem, someone who’s on CNN, someone who has book on the bestseller list, someone who made a living off the lecture circuit,” she said. “That wasn’t me and that still isn’t me.”

She said after working for feminist causes like the National Organization for Women, she eventually reevaluated what she wanted to achieve and came up with the idea of titling herself as a professional feminist.

“The professional feminist is a feminist who does their work whether they are running a women’s shelter or a coffee shop with feminist values and ethics,” she said. “They view their work through a feminist lens.”

This view includes incorporating feminism into any profession.

In her own work at UIC, she tries to increase women’s interest in science and engineering, keep women in the programs and deal with any equality issues that arise.

She said these women can have feminist sensibilities while pursuing science, technology and engineering degrees.

She shared similar stories about friends who are journalists, artists and purse makers by trade, but who incorporate feminism into how they do their work and live their lives.

“Those are the women in my life who are professional feminists,” she said.

“When we think about professional feminism, we have to think about the everyday life.”

While she said that a gender or women’s studies degree can lead people to feminist causes and equip them with the tools to be feminists who understand theories and history, it does not have to be their career for them to have an impact.

“I wouldn’t abandon your passion,” she said.

Arreola also said that the goal should not be to elect more feminist politicians, but to encourage feminism in ordinary careers and lifestyles.

“We can elect all the politicians we want who support feminist ideals,” she said. “But everyday life we can’t change until we have more everyday people who believe in feminism.”

Nina Langheinrich, a freshman exploratory business major, said the talk made her think more deeply about the idea of feminism and reconsider some of her assumptions.

“Before, if someone was a feminist and they were striving to put their views out, I would probably avoid it,” she said. “But now, I think I’ll be more open.”

Stephanie Rosienski, a senior history and political science major, said that while Arreola offered some good points, she discredited the value of a women’s and gender studies background too much.

“I don’t think she really understands the depth of being a feminist critical thinker,” Rosienski said.

“It’s not enough to just be educated. You have to have a women’s studies background to build your social consciousness and really understand the structures involved.”