- Leading the Way: Young Women’s Activism for Social Change ed. by Mary K. Trigg
Leading the Way: Young Women’s Activism for Social Change is an anthology authored by American women, all in their twenties, who are redefining what it means to be an agent for social change in our complex social and political moment. As health care providers, scholars, marriage equality activists, corporate employees, community leaders, educators, and artists, the twenty-one voices that constitute this volume reflect a myriad of professional paths and activist causes. Moreover, the women writing here represent a diversity of identities along the lines of race, nationality, class, and sexuality. Their differences, however, are unified by one common fact: all contributors are graduates of the Leadership Scholars program sponsored by Rutgers University’s Institute for Women’s Leadership. Editor Mary K. Trigg, who is also the program’s founder and director, explains that Leadership Scholars is a “two-year certificate program in women’s leadership that draws on the rich scholarship in women’s studies to train young women to reimagine leadership, to accelerate their own leadership, and to prepare them to make a difference in the world” (4). The twenty-one essays in Leading the Way are not only a testament to the program’s success, but also to the continued importance of women’s studies in the academy and the necessity of equipping young women with the skills to become competent, confident leaders beyond the walls of the classroom.
Today’s youth are frequently figured in popular imagination as apathetic slackers who are uninterested in politics. This misconception is accompanied by the belief that feminism has long ago achieved its goals and is thus no longer relevant. The young women in Leading the Way resist this generational characterization and offer us a different narrative that insists they are motivated, passionate, politically aware, and engaged in feminist activism. Significantly, this collection highlights that leaders are made, not born, and that this cultivation of future leaders occurs unevenly across genders. In her foreword, Mary S. Hartman, the director of the IWL, asserts “that leadership is not a quality that you either have or you don’t, that leadership is not a capacity confined to members of the male sex, and that leadership can be learned” (xiii). Young women are not typically socialized from a young age to become leaders, and conventional [End Page 165] understandings of leadership emphasize the acquisition of power, money, authority, and notoriety. Rejecting such androcentric definitions of leadership, the women writing here refashion leadership as self-reflexive, collaborative across lines of difference, rooted in social justice, and committed to addressing the material conditions of real people.
Leading the Way is organized into three parts. The first, “Learning Leadership: From Life to Activism,” revisits the famous feminist adage “the personal is political” in its thoughtful consideration of how our personal experiences are both invaluable resources for and inseparable from our lives as activists. Kristy Clementina Perez begins the anthology with a powerful account of how the inequalities she witnessed in her community and family as a young Dominican woman inspired her to become an educator. She reflects, “Over the years, I have learned that it is my story and personal struggles with education, identity, and self-worth that have led me to be an advocate for young people of color. My experiences are the source of my commitment to empower and educate Latino and African American students” (26). From women’s studies classrooms and internships to local communities and family members, the contributors in this section also highlight the various places and people that imbued them with the desire and skills to become leaders.
The essays in part 2, “Reimaging Leadership: New Models,” demonstrate critical examinations of the relationship between theory and practice, research and action. The young women writing here are invested in constructing new models of leadership and activism that innovatively and effectively address contemporary concerns, bridge differences, and remain committed to local problem solving. In her essay, Allison M...