By Maleigha Michael
My time at UMKC’s Women’s Center has come to a close. For my first internship experience, I’d give it two thumbs up. I’ll admit, I made a LOT of mistakes, mostly due to my lack of knowledge on how to conduct research work, and also just my general forgetfulness (thanks, ADHD). Thankfully, Arzie was in the center for most of my internship time so that I could ask her all of the dumb questions that should’ve asked weeks before I actually asked them.
Working at the Women’s Center wasn’t just a job – it was a responsibility to represent this campus’s women and promote the best image of a woman that this college community should uphold. Whether I was doing that through Facebook and Twitter posts, or while working the Women’s Center table at the Orientation Resource Fairs, it was a greater responsibility than I thought it would be. It also helped me become a more educated feminist, since I had to do daily posts for the social media pages. The resource fairs were more intriguing though, since it involved real interaction with the students and their families. Let me go off on a little tangent about the parents really quick — I found them very interesting. You either got a parent way more enthusiastic than their kid and you could tell they were already getting empty-nest syndrome, or you had a mom come up saying, “Oh, I’m just interested in this for myself. I have a son, so he doesn’t need this!” which is clearly SO wrong. I heard this comment multiple times while working the table with Chris Williams (one of the other workers in the Center), which made this even more bizarre, since he’s a man… You’d think the mom would stop to think, “Wait, if this man is supporting the Women’s Center, maybe it’s important for other men, including my son, to be just as educated on women in order to further promote the equality of men and women!” (Sorry, I don’t mean to exclude those that are non-binary conforming, I just don’t think that this hypothetical-mom would have included them).
Okay, tangent over. Back to what I learned. The majority of my learning came from the actual internship research work I did. This research work was regarding women’s representation in the arts, specifically art museums around KC. I was looking at stuff like how many women artists were represented in museums, how many works of art were created by women in those museums, and how many women were being exhibited in museums versus men. One thing that I learned that stuck out to me was that while there are plenty of women in Missouri art museums that are able to work their way to the top of their fields, nationally and globally, however, women are still insanely underrepresented in those areas. Arzie taught me that this is bad, not just because there’s a lack of equity in this job field (like most job fields), but because when there is no equity in these prestigious jobs where works of art are being decided on whether or not they should be displayed to the public, the women’s perspective isn’t being represented. This means you end up with statistics like less than 3% of the artists in Modern Art sections are women, and yet 83% of the nudes are female (http://www.guerrillagirls.com/). These statistics enforce ideals in their viewers that women are allowed to be used by men, and that their art isn’t as valued or important.
Something else the Women’s Center pushed me to do was to be a better feminist. In my head, I’m a pretty great feminist, but that’s different when you’re out there in the real world. I can think as many progressive thoughts in my head as I want, but I normally don’t take action (like I should) to promote these thoughts, or even seek out new information to learn more about feminism. The Women’s Center made me get more involved in what’s happening with feminists around the world today and it made me share those findings with other feminists to hopefully educate them more, as I have myself. Simply working at the Women’s Center has motivated me to think about feminism much more than I previously had. Don’t get me wrong – I have a very feminist mindset. But for instance, at my job where I work as a waitress, there are so many people there that are such unbelievably regressive-thinkers. And normally, I would just brush them off, maybe make a small comment if they said something that REALLY got under my skin, but that’d be pretty much it. I didn’t think that what I could say could really change what they thought. By working around so many inspiring feminists at the Women’s Center, I have felt empowered enough to speak up at any chance I get to defend feminism and try to chip away at their misogynist minds.
I’m so glad I had the opportunity to work not just in a program that immersed me in the art and art history world (since that is my major), but one that immersed me in it with the perspective of a feminist. While feminism applies everywhere, there aren’t many internships where the focus and expectation is to actually study and promote gender equality. While I try avoiding sounding cheesy at all costs, I’m definitely going to miss being in a place where feminism is the main topic of discussion, AND where I can geek out about art history. I don’t think this is my final farewell though… I’ll probably check in with the Women’s Center every so often to see how they’re surviving without their main star player. (Kidding, of course.)