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Holding Space with 'Feminist Spaces'

By Dakota Parks for Inweekly

Amid a political landscape marked by persistent threats to women’s and LGBTQ+ rights and the suppression of different narratives through book censorship, platforms that amplify and center diverse voices are more important than ever. Enter, “Feminist Spaces”—an international journal of women’s, gender and sexuality studies published by the Department of English at the University of West Florida (UWF).

Rooted in a mission to cultivate and uphold spaces for feminists and womanists across the globe, this publication is a megaphone for the marginalized, and a space where research, theory, activism, writing and art intertwine.

“I have been a fan of ‘Feminist Spaces’ since 2014, when members of the UWF Women’s Studies Collective took on the formidable project of launching the journal,” Dr. Robin Blyn, a UWF English professor explained. “My former colleague, Kathy Romack, and UWF alumni Taylor Willbanks and Becca Namniek conceived of a journal that would be a forum for deeply informed provocations about the issues facing women around the world.”

Originally established in 2014 by the Women’s Studies Collective, “Feminist Spaces” was once the beating heart to a sprawling curriculum and discourse of feminist theory, philosophy, sociology, history and study at UWF. The collective published six issues of the journal and hosted 17 annual Women’s Studies Conferences with notable keynote speakers such as Angela Davis, Dr. Anne Fausto-Sterling and Andrea Gibson. Although the conference has now gone dormant and the once bustling women’s, gender & sexuality studies program has been downgraded to a minor degree offering, the journal lives on.

“The need for the journal was more urgent than ever,” Blyn explained. “Undisguised misogyny had become part of public discourse, our country had elected a president who boasted about assaulting women and the ‘Me, Too’ movement had led to the highly publicized trials of Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein. In spite of Christine Blasey Ford’s heartbreaking testimony, Congress confirmed Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. So many of us were appalled and frustrated. We marched, we protested, we organized. But we also wanted to create spaces for difficult conversations, rigorous investigations and creative, generative projects.”

After a four-year publishing hiatus, and with Dr. Blyn’s guidance, a group of graduate students in the English department worked to relaunch the journal in 2021—partnering with Department of Art and Design’s student TAG Team to design the journal. Issue 9, released this summer, marks their latest publication.

Contributors from across the globe use the journal as a platform to engage in critical discourse on topics including abortion, rape, women in war, pornography, drag, gender and sexuality as well as feminist perspectives of film, art and literature.

“I don’t want women to be complacent,” said Sydney Mosley, the co-editor-in-chief. “I want us to have a voice and a place where we can learn about ourselves and fight against injustice. ‘Feminist Spaces’ is an opportunity for us to give women the tools to better understand themselves and how to help each other in this world. The journal allows all of these voices to come together and not just teach American feminism, or white feminism, which is important because many of our problems in America are still very privileged in comparison to other places.”

While the journal welcomes submissions from UWF students, faculty, activists and artists within the local community, it maintains a discerning selection process that ensures global viewpoints and prioritizes a mix of national and international contributors. As Mosley explained, this selection process helps the journal serve as an entry point for readers into the myriad issues facing not only women, but also LGBTQ+, gender nonconforming individuals and feminists globally.

The latest issue of “Feminist Spaces” is centered on the theme of the feminine body, delving into topics such as bodily autonomy, motherhood and sexuality.

“We wanted a theme that people could apply to their lives,” said Natalie Duphiney, the co-editor-in-chief. “The feminine body is constantly on view—critiqued and policed. Politically, it’s very important, because we’re seeing bans placed on women’s bodies, attacks against trans healthcare and women facing prison sentences for having an abortion. It’s a terrifying time to be a woman. We embraced this ambiguity and bodily autonomy on our cover which features a naked woman with a hand between her legs—either covering and hiding her body or masturbating depending on how you view it.”

As Duphiney explained, the provocative and ambiguous cover image received some criticism and pushback, reiterating the importance of the theme of women having control of their bodies and narratives.

“What I love about this image is that it begs the viewer to ask themselves why they assume that a woman just existing in the world with her legs open is automatically doing something sexual,” Duphiney said. “Meanwhile, we never interrogate a completely nude male statue; we just call that art.”

Conversations like these are at the heart of “Feminist Spaces,” which invites readers to question preconceived notions and actively works to destigmatize topics such as masturbation, menstruation and abortion. One such art piece, “Save for Later” by Kristin O’Connor in the issue illustrates an egg cracked open inside a Ziploc bag, evoking themes like fertility, diet culture and even women’s healthcare.

“Like many of the pieces in the issue, it has so many interpretations, implying that you don’t have to eat your eggs now or that you can save your eggs to have children later,” Mosley said. “It could even be the rejection of motherhood or coping with infertility. But it also has healthcare implications, like the way women’s bodies are treated in American society— as flippant as a disposable Ziploc bag, put on the backburner in healthcare.”

Other works within Issue 9 explore topics such as challenges faced by intersex individuals navigating the confines of the gender binary, unraveling the myths encircling menstrual blood and childbirth in Chinese culture and exploring the relationship between the Catholic church and gender norms.

“The conversation about women and women’s place in the world is never ending,” Mosley said. “The journal is intentionally intersectional, actively publishing pieces about trans and gay rights, not just women’s rights. I just hope that ‘Feminist Spaces’ continues to help people find and share their voice, and maybe inspire others to do something about it.”

“Feminist Spaces” publishes an annual issue every summer and actively accepts work throughout the year. To read the latest issue of the journal or submit work, visit feministspacesjournal.org. To learn more, follow the journal on Instagram @feminist.spaces.

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