Lemon Project’s second ‘porch talk’ features Teresa Younger

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Dr. Teresa Younger discussed her company’s efforts to promote gender equality across all racial and ethnic backgrounds. EMELY AVALOS / THE FLAT HAT

In their second Porch Talk of the spring semester, The Lemon Project: A Journey of Reconciliation hosted an informal panel where students and community members engaged in discussion with Ms. Foundation President and CEO Dr. Teresa C. Younger on her company’s efforts to promote gender equality across all racial and ethnic backgrounds. The talk was held in association with the College of William and Mary’s 100th Anniversary of Women Committee, the Africana studies department and Africana House. 

 Younger began the panel by providing a brief background on her personal experiences working as an activist for gender and racial minorities in the private and public sectors. She also discussed the history of the Ms. Foundation and her role within the organization. 

 As the United States’ oldest women’s foundation, the Ms. Foundation seeks to support and build the collective power of women by raising awareness on critical issues affecting women and advocating for women’s economic justice.

More recently, the Ms. Foundation’s efforts have included a launch of campaigns funding investigations of sexual assault within the prison pipeline and various philanthropic endeavors to establish economic opportunities for low-income young women and girls.  

“The work of the Ms. Foundation is to amplify and lift up voices of women who are doing work on the grassroots,” Younger said. We believe 100 percent that women have the answers to help and heal their communities, and they need to be given the supports to make that happen.”  

“The work of the Ms. Foundation is to amplify and lift up voices of women who are doing work on the grassroots,” Younger said. We believe 100 percent that women have the answers to help and heal their communities, and they need to be given the supports to make that happen.”  

In acknowledging the power of language in the feminist movement, Younger and the Ms. Foundation launched the #MyFeminism campaign. This multimedia campaign features a compilation of testimonials that reevaluate what it means be a part of the feminist movement. More specifically, it attempts to expand what it means to be a feminist, breaking out of the gender binary by defining feminism in an intersectional manner as “a social, political and economic equality of all genders.” These efforts are in acknowledgement of the movement’s historically limiting terminology that has had a tendency to exclude and alienate certain demographics, particularly those of minority genders, races and sexual-orientations, from participating or identifying as being a “feminist.”  

“Language is really important, and it carries a history with it, so what we said is that it’s not important whether or not you call yourself a feminist,” Younger said. “It is important whether you believe in the value of feminism.”

“Language is really important, and it carries a history with it, so what we said is that it’s not important whether or not you call yourself a feminist,” Younger said. “It is important whether you believe in the value of feminism.” 

Younger conceived the idea for this campaign after assuming her position as Ms. Foundation president and CEO. She realized that while she was well-acquainted with women’s issues and attitudes toward feminism at the local level, she was largely unfamiliar with perspectives at the national level. This prompted Younger to conduct a listening tour, in which she traveled across the country educating herself on the current state of the feminist movement by asking a diverse range of people from various backgrounds and regions how they defined “feminism.” Furthermore, she inquired whether individuals classified themselves as a feminist and inquiring about the reason behind their hesitation to be labeled as one. 

“Men said to me,You don’t want us in this movement.’,” Younger said. Young women said,You don’t listen to us.’ Trans folks said,We don’t feel safe with you.’ Women of color said,We don’t believe you actually want us there.’ Older white women said,We don’t see a problem, why isn’t everybody a feminist.’ The list went on and on and on, and as we came out of that conversation, I realized that there was a need to define and use language more strategically.” 

In changing the language surrounding feminism and reevaluating how the movement is defined, Younger hopes to create a more inclusive environment by placing women of color at the movement’s forefront. She also aims to challenge the country’s historically exclusive philanthropic traditions; according to Younger, in the United States, less than seven percent of philanthropic dollars go to women and girls, only about four percent to African Americans and less than two percent to African American women and girls.  

“We specifically say that we center our work around women and girls of color as a point of inclusion and not as a point of exclusion, so really it opens up a conversation about … how do we define women of color,Younger said. What does inclusion look like, why has philanthropy been so white-male centric, patriarchal and capitalistic in its approach? How do we center the conversation and how do we challenge them to move more dollars?” 

Continuing to discuss the powerful implications of language used within female advocacy movements, Younger suggested that the language in the Equal Rights Amendment should be adapted to erase any unconscious bias contained within it to shift underlying national culture, narrative and policy 

You don’t have to straight out critique in a negative way our own history, you have to acknowledge what that history looks like and then engage in how to change it to make it more relevant today,” Younger said.  

Mya White ’21 found Younger’s perspective on feminism and the Ms. Foundation’s efforts to shift philanthropic efforts and make feminist discussion more inclusive enlightening.  

Hearing [Dr. Younger] speak from her lens of feminism was completely different,” White said. I think generally we see feminism under a lot of different guises, but here I was able to see it in a way that I could connect to.”  

Hearing [Dr. Younger] speak from her lens of feminism was completely different,” White said. I think generally we see feminism under a lot of different guises, but here I was able to see it in a way that I could connect to.”  

Meg Jones ’22 similarly appreciated Younger’s perspective on feminism and her work at Ms. Foundation’s to extend the conversation.  

“I thought that this presentation was really important,” Jones said. I think that a conversation on feminism is something that’s kind of always shadowed over and I think that she did a really fantastic job at displaying what she believes in and it was just inspiring.