Name: Eilleen Moeller ’10
Major: History and Theatre Major
Women’s & Gender Studies and Music Minor
Current Role: Great River Shakespeare Festival Marketing & Sales Director
City Councilperson for the City of Winona
What is your favorite memory of your Winona State University WGSS minor?
It is difficult to pick a single favorite memory of my time as a WSU WGSS minor. Being in that program introduced me to a whole school of thought I hadn’t explored before, and I’m extremely grateful for the instructors I had. Most of my classes were challenging, and it was exciting to be in a group of other students who were excited about learning and eager to discuss and debate with one another. The WGSS program helped me better find who I was as a person – I had been raised as someone with a pretty strong moral compass, but being in a feminist academic program helped to give me the vocabulary to articulate my feelings and values. Finally, the WGSS program led me to some of the best friends I have had; I met strong, thoughtful, and intelligent people who remain my friends to this day, and I’m sure will do so in the future. We have helped one another grow as feminists, thinkers, workers, and people, and I know I can always reach out to them when I need to process things that are happening in my life.
Recently, you were elected to Winona City Council, how did your feminist politics play a role in this decision? And, what policy are you most passionate about in this role?
I don’t think I’d have considered running for city council if I weren’t a feminist. Using intersectional feminism as a lens through which I consider everything from local government to national politics has helped me become a more informed, thoughtful, and passionate citizen. It has made me more dedicated to the preservation of democracy and the importance of community input. With all this in mind, I noticed there was a bit of a history in Winona of candidates running unopposed. After asking around and learning no one in my ward planned to run against the incumbent, I decided to throw my hat in the ring (so to speak – most of my hats are knitted, and I intend to keep them!). Many times, unopposed races are due to the fact that a local representative is well-liked, trusted, and steadfast; those are all good qualities but ultimately, in order for democracy to flourish and to discourage complacency in our representatives, there needs to be a challenge and a dialogue. If there are no new voices at the table, no one questioning the status quo, then the power goes unchecked, and that is a benefit to no one.
Your history thesis was on the Women’s Resource Center of Winona. How did this impact your decision to become involved in Winona after graduation?
As a history student, our final year was spent researching something in American history using mostly primary source materials. As a WAGS (again, dated department name) student, I had become passionate about feminist activism and wanted to focus on how that had manifested in our small city of Winona. I have always been fascinated by local histories, and researching the genesis of the WRC of Winona was a great way to learn about the intersection of a national movement with a local community. Throughout my research, I was in awe of what a small group of dedicated individuals managed to create and maintain. At the time the WRC was founded (in the mid-1970s), there were almost no resource centers for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in the United States. The Winona WRC was one of the first and had some of the most steady and progressive programs in the country. This always amazed me, and it made me really proud to live in Winona. When I moved back to Winona after college and started getting involved in the community, I knew I wanted to go back to the WRC, because I believe the services they offer are so very necessary in our community.
And, what is most critical to be known about their services?
The WRC not only provides crisis counseling for victims of sexual assault and rape, it also has advocates who work with victims and survivors as they go through the process of trying to leave an abuser, the process of acquiring a restraining order, navigating the court system, or assist in finding shelter for a victim and their children. All of these services are critical and essential for assisting women and men as they work through traumatic events. I think it’s important the community know the WRC’s services are available to community members regardless of gender identity, and there is always an advocate available via phone to respond to you.
The character Leslie Knope of Parks and Recreation is a feminist shaking up local politics as a path of greater resistance, do you relate to her political journey?
While feminism and my college experience made me a more passionate and aware citizen, I have to confess, as a pop culture fan, Parks and Recreation did fuel my interest in local government. I relate to Leslie on so many levels – our shared disinterest in salads, love of strong, powerful women, and preference for Harry Potter over Twilight – however, in many ways we are VERY different. Unlike Leslie, I almost always get more than five hours of sleep and I LOVE the library. I also probably dress more like Ron Swanson – much to the chagrin of my sister and my spouse! Ultimately, one of the main reasons I love Leslie and why she is one of my favorite fictional heroines is that she prioritizes kindness, believes in herself, uplifts others, cares fiercely for her community and democracy, and doesn’t apologize for being herself.
“Not to say that public service isn’t sexy, because it definitely is, but that’s not why we do it. We do it because we get the chance to work hard at work worth doing alongside a team of people who we love.”
“The right to vote is fundamental in any democracy and this is bigger than me or anyone. I don’t care if I lose. No one prevents people in my town from voting. Not on my watch.”
“Hey Leslie, it’s Leslie. Hang in there. I love you.” – Leslie Knope
In Living a Feminist Life, Sara Ahmed discusses her “feminist killjoy toolkit” to survive and fight patriarchy. Who are your feminist killjoy mentors and inspirations? Must read books or shows?
This is such a great question. I truly believe every female-identified person who is awake and cognizant needs to have some tools for fighting the patriarchy. And if you are a person who thinks about the patriarchy all the time, you probably also need some things to make you feel better, because tbh it’s fricking exhausting. My first feminist killjoy mentor was Dr. April Herndon. She was one of the best instructors I ever had, and to this day remains a trusted mentor. April is one of the most brilliant, whip-smart critical thinkers I have ever met and is funny as hell. I’m so grateful for her classes and that she is willing to continue to share her time with me now that I am an “adult”. (I will probably still put “adult” in quotes even when I am 70). As for inspirations, we mentioned Leslie Knope already! Other inspirations include Georgia O’Keeffe, Janelle Monae, Patti Smith, Lizzo, Maria Bamford, and Jessica Williams.
There are many writers who have influenced my thinking over the years – Roxane Gay would probably be at the top of the list. I’ve been an avid reader since I was a child, but I’ve always tended to seek out fantasy and science fiction. I was fortunate enough to work at the Winona Public Library in the Youth Services section and have since become obsessed with Young Adult fiction. I think, much like “chick lit”, it often gets written off but some of the most fantastic work I’ve read in the past couple of years has been “YA Fiction”. There is a multitude of diverse young writers out there who are tackling issues relevant to young people (not just high schoolers) and doing so in a thoughtful and very feminist way. If you like magical realism, I highly recommend A.S. King, Katrina Leno, and Benjamin Alire Sáenz. The last few years, I have made it a priority to select books written by women and people of color over what is typically on the “bestseller” list (straight white dudes). I make exceptions for Michael Chabon and Neil Gaiman almost always. You can find my lists here!
As far as recommend shows, oh my gosh. I love comedy, and as we all know, comedy has a rough history with feminism. A lot of shows I used to love are frustrating now because they are homophobic, sexist, racist or transphobic. However, there are a lot of great comedies who don’t use that kind of lazy comedy. Current favorites include Parks and Recreation (obviously), The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, One Mississippi, Schitt’s Creek, Grace and Frankie, Brooklyn 99, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmitt. As far as non-comedy, I recently burned through Killing Eve, which was a really intense thriller with some fascinating queer overtones…I have watched Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette several times now and believe it is a must-watch.
I could spend all day talking about TV shows, movies, podcasts, and books, because, let’s be honest, real life can be exhausting. Being a feminist and an activist and a person is really tiring and media is a great way to let your brain take a little break from that. While I try to make sure the media I consume is in line with my politics, sometimes even weeding the stuff out can be a WHOLE other THING. So, please remember, always remember that the things in your “feminist killjoy” survival kit don’t have to be 100% perfectly non-problematic. Maybe, like me, sometimes you just want to sit on your couch, pet your dog, and watch 30 Rock or Psych for the 20th time. It doesn’t make you a lazy feminist – it makes you a complex person!
Ultimately, I think my feminist killjoy toolkit consists of a few simple things: a few trusted people (friends or family) with whom I can be my full self – confident or vulnerable or sad or excited, an open mind and access to individuals, books, blogs, and media that expand my worldview, a willingness to learn, and something I do for myself (knitting, keeping chickens, and gardening), and time in which to do it.