Oral History and Feminist Knowledge Production

Lindsay Carlson's Feminist Action

I had never met Lindsay prior to my interview. We connected through a post that I made through my mom’s account in a political Facebook group that the two of them are members of. I had no idea what to expect going into the interview and worried that our lack of familiarity with each other would lead to an uncomfortable, dry conversation. This worry was confounded by my concussion that occurred immediately after I reached out to her. What I thought would solely act as a scheduling obstacle ended up leading to an unexpected moment of transference. Lindsay’s husband played hockey, so she was quite familiar with concussions and the difficult healing process that comes with them. Almost a month prior to meeting in person, we already had a way to relate to each other. 

We met at the West Hollywood Library, where Lindsay would be phone banking for Democrats in Virginia who were running for positions in the House of Delegates. Lindsay had been busy all day and needed to grab a snack before we began. On our walk to a Starbucks around the corner from the library, we had a casual conversation about our experiences in college, our “guilty pleasure” reality TV shows, and our favorite parts of Los Angeles. It didn’t feel like I was talking to a stranger, and I understood why once I learned of our similar life experiences. Lindsay and I both grew up in suburbs known for their prestigious public school programs, graduated from high school early, and went on to get our undergraduate degrees at small liberal arts colleges in our home state. We also are both white and come from liberal, educated families. Unlike Lindsay, I didn’t grow up in the same house my entire life and hadn’t experienced having financial stability or a supportive father until the age of twelve, but the more recent years of my life have put me in a similar position to Lindsay. 

Our main difference in positionality comes from our amounts of lived experience. I am a nineteen-year-old undergraduate and Lindsay is entering her forties as a well-established lawyer, activist, and leader. At certain points, I could tell that she did view me as a kid. She instinctively paid for my drink at Starbucks and took the lead on getting us a private room in the library. Lindsay knew this interview was for a school assignment which seemed to make her inclined to make the interview more professional, as she rarely delved into her personal life or feelings during that hour. I believe this could also be in part due to her training as a lawyer. Even though I was adamant that I could retroactively cut out anything she said and didn’t want to be published, she seemed to be constantly aware that she was on the record. She didn’t appear tense, but her responses were all fully fleshed out narratives and arguments. This practicality was apparent in both the way Lindsay spoke and the way she practices her feminism.

Lindsay wouldn’t describe herself as a feminist theorist. She can’t recall the last time she read a theory piece on gender or feminism. For her, feminism is based not on academia, but in action. As a child, Lindsay was aware that there were differences between boys and girls. But these differences had a minimal impact on her life. Her parents raised her and her brother the same way. She learned how to change a tire, invest in the stock market, and to do all the things boys are traditionally taught to. It wasn’t until her thirties that she became especially aware of the ways that she was treated differently than the men around her. The more she progressed in her career, the more obstacles she faced. 

Lindsay’s professional life has been filled with people attempting to put her into boxes. When she was developing her professional life been expected to put her career on hold to start a family, when she asked for promotions or confronted her supervisors about unequal treatment, she was accused of having an attitude problem, and when she had her son taking any more than the bare minimum maternity leave was considered a sign of an inferior work ethic. I couldn’t help but be reminded of  Joana Russ’s “What Can a Heroine Do” and the “Images of women” Russ describes. People have tried to tell Lindsay who she is supposed to be by shaping entire personas around single aspects of her life. When I asked Lindsay how she responds to this expected one-dimensionality she said "I think that I just sort of dealt with it, um, I mean was just to work twice as hard, really, you know, and prove myself, and um, it’s it has been a very frustrating process like throughout time I don’t think that’s ever really gone away but, but ya I just had to be twice as good as the men around me."

Lindsay prioritizes action over theory. Rather than use her time and energy to examine the inner workings of patriarchy, she confronts its real-life implications. This expands beyond the work she has done to progress as a woman in the hyper-competitive and hyper-capitalist legal industry. Lindsay has always been very politically active. In 2016, she devoted many hours to volunteer work for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. In response to Trump’s election, she and her friends founded the Heart of LA Democratic Club. They postcard for, phone bank for, and endorse feminist Democrats who prioritize the many issues that concern women, “And I say ‘issues of importance to women’ ‘cause I don't like ‘women's issues.’ It feels like that is a little bit limiting, um I think there are a lot of things that are important to women.” 

The Heart of LA Democratic Club works to maintain an awareness that not all issues affect every woman in the same way. Many white Western feminists promote an essentialist narrative of universal sisterhood in which all women share the exact same struggles. This leads to the centering of issues that concern the white, educated, upper class, and heterosexual women who have historically been centered in mainstream feminism. Chandra Talpade Mohanty critiques this false sisterhood narrative in “Through Western Eyes” stating that it leaves the issues faced by less centered women neglected. By including a wide range of topics under the category of “Issues of concern to women,” Lindsay and Heart of LA acknowledge that each woman’s experience is unique and needs to be accounted for. Homelessness may not be the first topic that comes to mind when one thinks of feminist issues, but it’s one that Heart of LA frequently asks candidates who seek their endorsement about. They also frequently work with Stonewall Democratic Club which focuses on issues of concern to the LGBTQ+ community, as both groups find a lot of overlap in the work that they do. As president of the organization, Lindsay hopes to grow it to become even more diverse.

While Lindsay is very passionate about the Heart Of LA, she’s aware of the toll that her work takes on her emotionally. The 2016 election was traumatic for many women, Lindsay included. With the 2020 elections coming up, she and her club are doing everything within their ability put a Democrat back in the White House:

"I am looking forward to a day when I do not need to... feel like I need to be watching the news and hyper-obsessed with what’s going on in Washington DC. Um, I was always really involved before and I think I’m not one of those people who was like complacent until the 2016 election but it really would be I think better for... my mental health as well as everybody else’s to, you know, have a government that is functional again and um, you know is, is focused on um making society better for all people and not just a few.'

This is the one instance where Lindsay directly referred to her mental health. Throughout the interview, she did refer to her experiences as frustrating, but the stress caused by the current political administration is what appeared to actually cause her pain. Later she added that she couldn’t even think about what will happen if Democrats don’t win this coming presidential election. The fact that this was the only time that she alluded to being truly upset shows the gravity of it on her. Despite the great emotional weight she carries from her work, she continues to persevere. Lindsay’s mother is an important force in keeping her motivated.

Lindsay studied abroad in France and considered returning to teach English to elementary-schoolers instead of going to law school. Her mom talked her out of this, saying that she should instead finish her education:
"At the time she was about 55 and just getting her masters degree and it was something she always wanted to do then she had kids that kinda got in the way and so she kinda said that 'I wish that I would have pursued my education more, uh, before I started down the path of having a family' so that’s what I ended up doing.'

With the help of her mother’s advice, Lindsay decided to go to law school at UCLA. This proved to be the right choice for her as she absolutely loved it. She found some of her best friends in that program and went on to find great success in her career. Lindsay is now a board member for the National Association for Women Layers and now is council to a large firm where she works to improve the legal industry from the inside by uplifting women and people of color in the firm that are junior to her. 
Like her mother, Lindsay’s lived experiences have a great influence on how she is raising her child. At the time of our conversation, Lindsay’s son was 22 months old. He had already met several politicians and been to many political events, attending the California Democratic Convention in San Diego at only seven weeks old. Lindsay’s life of political involvement made it very important to her that she raise a politically aware son:

"It’s important to me that I integrate him into these sorts of activities and, and raise him with the sense of understanding, um, I mean, you know I think about that sometimes like I’m raising a white man, right? And like a very, like, you know, northern European looking white man. You know so I wanna make sure that he is sensitive to the privileges that he will be growing up with just by virtue of that and, um, you know develop a real sense of social justice himself and care about people around him that, look different than him and have different life experiences.'

Lindsay is very active in her feminism. She acts upon her feminist ideology in her professional, personal, and familial life. She is constantly involved and constantly engaged in actively promoting her values and beliefs. She does more than ponder the intricacies of gender as a construct. She confronts the concrete manifestation of patriarchy.

I couldn’t help but feel somewhat hypocritical in using a theoretical lens in my examination of the story of someone who implements such a practical, concrete form of feminism. I was reminded of Sherner Berger Gluck’s “Has Feminist Oral History Lost its Radical/Subversive Edge?” More specifically, the critique that oral history doesn’t do enough to promote real-world activism. As a scholar of social issues, it can be easy for one to become so caught up in analyzing problems on a theoretical level that they end up neglecting to implement their academics as a catalyst for change. I remember one of my professors once said that a lot of CTSJ majors put too much emphasis on the critical theory part and not enough focus on social justice. In writing this oral history, I hope to take a step towards breaking that pattern. I ask myself and other students of social justice what we are choosing to do with the education we are privileged enough to have on the causes and implications of social issues.

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