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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Truth About College Feminism

By Liz - Guest Writer.

I've been waiting to post on here for awhile, to read some of the posts and see how it works, but now here I am! And I am definitely planning on writing more about my experience as a College Feminist and what college feminism looks like to other people I know. Anyway, this is my introduction, my name is Liz and I blog at Our Turn: Feminism For Newbies.

This is me.
From a photoshoot my college's chapter of FMLA
did called, "This is what a feminist looks like,"

I entered college four years ago with high hopes for feminist discourse. So I was initially surprised when the professor of my women's studies class asked the students if they identified as feminists, and I was the only person to raise my hand.

What? I thought. What the heck are they doing in a women's studies class!?

Generally, the response of the students in class was that they weren't feminists but they supported women's rights. This made no sense to me. Hadn't everyone read Susan B. Anthony chapter books when they were learning to read? Didn't everyone watch Xena: Warrior Princess reruns during the summer? Where the heck were they getting their information about feminism? I had heard the "I'm not a feminist but--" line in high school, but I expected college to be some sort of utopian land where everybody could talk about gender stereotypes and feminist scholars in peace and harmony. I was wrong.

It turns out that a feminist identity is somewhat of a rocky road for many women (and men), but college seems to be an important catalyst toward honing ideology about gender and equality, and one's ability to identify as a feminist. A lot of men and women enter college with a base knowledge of feminism: that it means women can vote and work outside the home + sometimes feminists are scary man-haters who want to take over the world. For a lot of students, college is the first time that they can really engage each other about gender, sexuality, and inequality in a classroom setting. And (awesomely) this is something that a lot of people think is exciting. Thankfully for my faith in feminism, by the end of the semester, most of the people in that class identified as feminists. I saw a similar pattern when I was a teaching assistant in the course a year later, but it was interesting to watch the transformation of students who didn't identify as feminists to students who wanted to take more women's studies classes (and in the case of two of them, become minors).

This attitude, unfortunately, tends to be something that women embrace more than men. Personally, I think every student should be required to take at least one women's studies or gender/sexuality studies class in college. And as a women's studies minor, I've found the demographics of my classes really interesting. I have had very small women's studies classes that are all female, where we are able to talk about patriarchy and men quite openly, and students have shared really intimate and traumatic experiences. I've had other classes where the only men in class are bisexual or gay. And I've had a couple classes where there are not only gay men, but straight men. And this is what I love. Talking about feminism with diverse crowds.

There is a perception that a lot of dudes share, that feminism is important and does good stuff (yay equality) but is not particularly relevant to their lives. Well, my good sirs. Feminism relates to everyone.

As feminism is fundamentally concerned with the equality of women, you cannot have a good feminist conversation about gender roles and oppression without talking about masculinity. And even me, uber feminist that I am, when I first started reading about masculinity in my classes thought that it was going to be a bunch of revisionist, sexist-apologetic crap. But no, it's awesome. Michael Kimmel is my jam. But what I find most exciting about reading about male studies and feminism is that a lot of guys in college are open to the idea of feminism, but if I can relate feminism more to their life and situation, they start to see why it's important. All of my closest male friends identify as feminists (this is partly because all my male friends are gay or socialists or both), and we have really interesting conversations about feminism. Could we have had these conversations maybe 7 years ago when we were in high school? Probably not. And for some of them, we probably couldn't have had these conversations a couple semesters ago.

Ultimately, what I'm trying to say is that I think that in general there is tension between adult feminists of an older generation and feminists my age that comes from this feeling that younger feminists aren't serious enough, or aren't on top of it for declaring themselves feminists publicly. In my experience, I know that people's perceptions of feminism change. Freshman year most of my friends didn't identify openly as feminists, but they do now. People change, and I think being open to teens and young adults as they are forming their world views and learning about what's out there is really crucial to welcoming more feminists into the fold. We've got room for everyone.

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