Jody Lisberger, Gender and Women Studies program director and associate professor at the University of Rhode Island, was recently awarded the Susan Currier Visiting Professorship for Teaching Excellence at California Polytechnic State University. She will travel to the school this fall to teach courses in feminist scholarship and memoir writing.
Lisberger, who has worked as a writer, journalist, editor, and grant writer, won the URI Diversity Award for Faculty Excellence in May 2011. She holds a Ph.D. in English from Boston University, an MFA in writing from Vermont College and a B.A. in anthropology from Smith College. She has a published short story collection, called “Remember Love.”
PBN: How did your professional experiences – as well as any personal ones – lead you to become a teacher in the field of gender and women’s studies?
LISBERGER: I grew up thinking girls/women were just as capable as boys/men partly because my father died when I was 8 years old, leaving five children to take on the jobs of the household. Writing about people acting courageously to assert human rights educated me about how silently the socialization of gender takes place, and how the political, social and economic status quo perpetuates gender boundaries. I am keen for my students to seize their voices and become educated in diverse ways, so I give them the thinking and writing skills to speak up.
PBN: Why do you think it’s important for women to document their life stories? In what ways do you think that serves future generations of women?
LISBERGER: Stories that counter restricted views of gendered behaviors benefit everyone. Documenting the lives and words of women is as key for women as it is for men. Girls need to see and read examples of girls being leaders and boys being compassionate as much as boys need to see/read girls as being leaders and boys as being compassionate. In a similar vein, economists see that a strong human development index and gender development index always strengthens the GDP. This reoriented view speaks to how having the freedom to speak women’s stories and having the opportunities to see their stories is key to prosperity for everyone.
PBN: What common themes exist in women’s narratives? What does this say about this genre of literature?
LISBERGER: Women’s narratives have always had and still have everything in them. To say there are only certain kinds of women’s narratives, or a limitation to “this genre of literature,” is something one might have expected to hear people say 30 years ago. Today, readers and scholars recognize and expect that women’s narratives have previously and will continue to assert the right of women to speak honestly and complexly about their lives in every kind of way you can imagine. •