As a woman who has always labelled herself “bossy” and “outspoken,” Emma Staffaroni, Instructor in English, knew during her first women’s studies class in college that she wanted to devote her life to feminism.
Her interest in gender equality was first sparked during her time in high school. Staffaroni noticed at a young age that her male classmates did not endure the same kind of scrutiny that she experienced as a girl.
“I felt like I was treated differently as a smart girl as opposed to my friends who were the smart boys… I definitely faced a lot of harassment and really problematic statements from my male peers in high school,” said Staffaroni in an interview with The Phillipian.
She continued, “Even if I felt like I was above it sometimes—I always felt like I wasn’t as entrenched in it as some of my other friends who were girls—I was just noticing it. It was not one event but an aggravation of a lot of really messed up things that I was seeing as a teenage girl.”
In college, Staffaroni began to understand the injustice she was experiencing. She learned the appropriate words and terms that helped her solidify her experiences into concrete thoughts about what it means to be a woman.
“Even though by definition, [feminism] is gender equality or a world in which the genders are equal, I think that definition has fallen short for me over the years. I now think of it as a way of being where I am trying to bring injustice into the light and help myself and the people around me,” said Staffaroni.
While Staffaroni believes that feminism is crucial in achieving complete equality for all persons, she also feels that there are many other important elements in working towards justice. Staffaroni grew up in a lower middle-class family, noting that her upbringing shaped her perspective and helped her to better comprehend social justice issues.
“I think of feminism personally as becoming something else, growing toward justice. Gender is a big part of that, because it is a social force, but there are also other social forces such as racism and classism and homophobia that put us in our categories and divide us,” said Staffaroni.
At Andover, Staffaroni teaches a Senior elective titled “A Room of Their Own,” a course focused on women’s literature. Through essays, short stories and artwork, Staffaroni strives to highlight the plurality of feminism, and she emphasizes the idea that feminism alone will not achieve justice.
“[The authors read in class] are all women and in their writing they teach us about the history of feminism. I wouldn’t say that their books are necessarily activism, I just kind of put them in a category to study feminist thinking, gender, equality… that includes race and class and a lot of other things too,” said Staffaroni.
On campus, Staffaroni is also an advisor for Women’s Forum (WoFo). She regularly meets with the board of the club to discuss possible issues relating to feminism.
“I love working with WoFo because it is not a classroom: it is just a space to express oneself and for me to get a sense of the field of feminism. Every week in WoFo it is a different topic and different people show up and different people express their own view of a more genderly-just world,” said Staffaroni.
Carmen Bango ’16, a member of the WoFo board, said, “[Staffaroni] has this visible understanding in a way. She definitely shows that she values your input but she also just gives you so many valuable new things to think about and so I think it is a lot about mutual respect, and she is just a really genuinely kind and beautiful person inside and out.”
Among her many role models, Staffaroni praised Roxane Gay, cultural critic, writer and editor, in particular.
“I read [Gay’s] book and devoured it in one sitting. She wants to make sure that feminism fits people living their lives,” said Staffaroni.
Staffaroni especially takes Gay’s advice into account when facing adversity. Although she believes that there will always be a stigma associated with feminism, she has learned to take the high road in these situations and tries to listen and understand where people who oppose feminism are coming from.
“I kind of like having some adversaries, it keeps me sharp… The hard part is figuring out where those people are, what are the biases that are preventing them from seeing that as the case. The stigma here is a little bit like the stigma everywhere, when you have the power you want to hold onto it. When you have privilege, you are blind to it,” said Staffaroni.