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The Scholar & Feminist Online is a webjournal published three times a year by the Barnard Center for Research on Women
BCRW: The Barnard Center for Research on Women
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Issue: 8.3: Summer 2010
Guest Edited by Mandy Van Deven and Julie Kubala
Polyphonic Feminisms: Acting in Concert

On Becoming Educated

Joy Castro

In graduate school in the 1990s, I am introduced to a feminist professor of law. We're in a bagel shop. It's sunny. Wiry, with cropped sandy hair and glasses, she looks exactly like my nascent concept of a feminist.

She's working on an article about a little-known provision in the Violence Against Women Act, which President Clinton has just signed into law. The new legislation makes employers responsible for providing workplace protection for women whose partners have threatened them with violence. In the past, violent men had ignored restraining orders to assault and even kill women at their workplaces. This new legislation requires employers, if notified that a targeted woman is in their employ, to provide appropriate security rather than leaving it to the individual woman to defend herself.

I know about men who hurt women. Our mother had fled the state to escape our stepfather, who had beaten her and us for years. I had run away at fourteen and been on my own since sixteen.

This is marvelous, I tell the professor. Her article will help protect thousands of women—hundreds of thousands, maybe. I think of my mother, my friend Cindy, my neighbor Diana. Battering happens in every stratum of society, but under the poverty level, domestic violence increases by a factor of five. In the trailer park and barrio and rural towns where I've lived, I've seen my share.

But the professor grimaces and shakes her head. Her article, she explains, is for a law journal, an academic journal. Only other scholars will read it.

But since this new legislative provision isn't widely known, I suggest she could write an article for a mass-market women's magazine, one that will reach millions of women. Not Ms., which is hard to find, but the kind of magazine available at drugstores and supermarkets, the kind that sits in stacks at inexpensive beauty salons, Cosmopolitan or Redbook; the kind that reaches ordinary women, women who might be getting beaten. She could save actual women's lives.

Her face wrinkles. That's not the kind of article she writes, she explains with exaggerated patience. Someone else will do that, eventually. A writer who does commercial, popular articles for a general audience.

Her own work, she says, will trickle down.

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