21st Century Feminism in the Twin Ports

So I occupy an odd position in my academic home — a department in which seven of nine faculty are men, but seven of ten undergraduate majors and graduate students are women.

So gender dynamics are a part of every class I teach, nearly — it could be as simple as teaching students what the Bechdel test is in a tangential aside as part of another class, or working through the implications of European art traditions for contemporary gender representations in advertising.

(The Bechdel test: to pass the test, a movie or TV show must have:
at least two named women in it,
who talk to each other,
about something besides a man
for at least 90 seconds)

There is always friction — it takes a while for anyone, student or otherwise, to grasp that to succeed, it’s not so simple that women must “behave more like men” — that there is a double-bind in being a woman in the workplace. To be too traditionally feminine disadvantages them, but to be too masculine also can cause dissonance in their supervisors and co-workers (and can result in them being called “bitchy,” for example — something that is [almost] never claimed of men who behave similarly.

When I talk about women’s issues in Duluth, I do so from a very limited perspective. I lived her for three years before I recognized that we were home to an internationally recognized model for understanding domestic abuse (the Duluth Model). So I know I am myopic.

But it’s on my mind lately. Saturday is the next bout of the Harbor City Rollerdames, an organization I would call “feminist” — I wonder whether every member would accept that description of the organization.

At that bout, the local feminist zine Minerva may have its next issue ready for distribution. This is a clearly feminist project, and one with ties to the Dames.

But what is the state of feminism in Duluth? What do I, as a teacher trying to do well, need to know about the state of feminism as an idea and as a thread running through some community organizations in Duluth/Superior?



about 10 years ago

@rhetoricguy  Thanks so much for being aware of Minerva Zine! 

I am not a spokesperson for the Harbor City Roller Dames but I can give some information since I am involved. We do not "label" HCRD as a feminist organization. If you go to harborcityrollerdames.com you will find our mission is focused on giving back to women and children non-profits in our community and is a skater (female identified) owned and operated business. All my teammates are a fantastic bunch of strong, smart, athletes. Many do identify as a feminist or have feminist beliefs but not all. 

I see tons of work for feminists in our area. I would like to see us deconstruct the misconceptions in the community regarding the label "feminist." Often, it is still seen or used as a derogatory term that women and men are afraid of being associated with or using. 

I know plenty of feminist-theory-minded folks but I feel the major gap is achieving effective communication between all of our great minds. To find a way to work together rather than compete toward common goals. 

Personally, I feel judged as a feminist by other feminists I've met. I hope eventually to see a collaborative effect take place (without my leadership as I have many other obligations) to improve these relationships and cultivate a more supportive feminist climate in the Twin Ports.


about 10 years ago

Hi Rhetoricguy, this is a great post. What I wonder is, can you discuss, in an academic setting or on a post like this, whether there are fields where men/women are better suited?  I would have screamed if someone had said to me, 25 years ago, that it was legitimate to raise this issue.  Now I can say it is true, at least in my field:  as a lawyer, a female has to learn to be more assertive but a male cannot enhance his god-given, if he has it, ability to empathize. So,I think females are better lawyers, and that leads me to think men might be better in fields.  

The other issue -- people are afraid to admit there is gender discrimination, but there is. I hear my male colleagues refer to "hot little bodies" of young females, and see other male colleagues resist female bosses. I hear male colleagues wonder why a female hasn't reported a "so-called" rape (why would she, given how she is treated).

It's not huge, but it's there, and no one wants to talk about it.

[email protected]

about 10 years ago

Cletah, first, you rocked tonight.  The whole team did, of course.  Those Fargo girls skate with their shoulders.

That said, you make me feel old:  a female-owned business whose mission is: "focused on giving back to women and children non-profits in our community" would have been, when I was a younger teacher, the definition, nearly entirely, of a feminist organization.

But we live in a different time, right?

Whatever work you are doing, whether through Minerva or through HCRD or other venues, though, keep it up!


Emmadogs:  by biology, I would say no, no career is more suited to one gender over another.  That said, the climates of each profession prefer some behaviors and traits, and the climates continue to be unintentionally hostile to some participants (including categories of participants, like genders).   Sometimes, you have to tell someone whether they are about to dive into a pool of piranha -- though that says nothing about their ability to swim.

What I wonder:  is the fear or discomfort admitting that there is gender discrimination related to the fear or discomfort of identifying as feminist?


about 10 years ago

A few of my female friends and I have started a women's group in Duluth that we are calling the Duluth Women's Union. We plan to have monthly meetings that feature a speaker who identifies as a woman.We had our first  meeting last month with a local print-maker who has lived in the area for around 40 years. We had around twenty attendees. 

Our goal is to bring women of different generations together to talk about and learn from each others life experiences.

We have a page on Facebook that we are still working on where you can find out about our next meetings and what we're up to. Message us with any questions!


[email protected]

about 10 years ago

Woot to the dames -- we loved the wings at BWW tonight.  And double-thanks to Jilli Willi for saying hi at our table.  We owe you guys a lot for being tough yet graceful, wild yet family-friendly entertainment.

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