Wilma and Roswell Messing Jr. Award: Feminism and Activism in Turkey

| November 6, 2013
Kate Parsons headshot

Kate Parsons

Since 1977, the Wilma and Roswell Messing Jr. Faculty Award has been presented to a full-time faculty member for a summer activity that strengthens his or her curriculum and that improves the teaching/learning experience.

As a Messing Award recipient, Kate Parsons spent three weeks in Turkey during the summer of 2010 to research attitudes of feminism and activism.

“I was really interested in getting a sense of how the Turkish — mostly women, but men too — thought of those terms,” said Parsons. She wanted to discover the context in which the terms were used and those in which they were disregarded or shunned — and why.

Parsons, an associate professor in the philosophy department, interviewed a range of people in Istanbul and outlying areas of Turkey, including academics, small business owners and people involved with organizations that helped women or identified themselves as feminist organizations.

“When I went on the trip, I went expecting a way to test cultural differences with this notion that there’s a conception of feminism and a conception of activism in the U.S., and then I wanted to compare it to what those mean in Turkey,” Parsons said.

What she discovered was that there are many different concepts of the terms in Turkey, and that helped her understand that there are differing concepts of the term in the U.S. as well. “It took getting myself out of my own culture and having people tell me what their definitions were and why they rejected certain versions for me to really see how the guiding conceptions I had for both activism and feminism in the U.S. were also pretty limited,” she observed.

Parsons teaches courses in women and gender studies, as well as contemporary moral problems. She says her experience in Turkey has had a significant impact on her teaching. “It’s always been important that we talk about the fact that there are different conceptions of feminism, but I would say that since the Messing trip, it’s become much more central than it was for me before to really talk about the different conceptions and why there might be resistance.”

Parsons tries to make sure that class discussions avoid the temptation to assume that the resistance is just due to ignorance or misconceptions or stereotypes. “Sometimes the resistance has been for very serious reasons of racial and ethnic status or class status,” she said.

Applications for the 2014 Messing Award are being accepted through Nov. 11, 2013. For more information, see The 2014 Wilma and Roswell Messing Jr. Faculty Award [PDF] announcement.

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