It’s time to talk about feminism.
On our campus, we spend a lot of time talking about the right words to use when discussing feminism, and how to avoid more passive forms of sexism. These conversations are undeniably important. But sometimes they obscure broader issues, issues that we need to be talking about more if we want to encourage a feminist environment, both on our campus and globally.
There is an idea on our campus that the majority of people are feminists, but is this really true? Members of our campus community may have the language to talk about feminism. However, we think the community needs to focus more on actions. Our words matter, but it is ultimately our actions that carry more weight. It’s too easy for someone to talk about being a feminist without actually acting like one or believing in feminism’s core ideals.
Feminism has been defined numerous ways, but we believe the best way to operate within a feminist ideology would be an approach that is conscious of how different identities pertaining to nationality, race, gender, religion, sexuality and socioeconomic class work to shape experience. We should mention that Patricia Hill Collins, a sociologist and theorist who authored “Black Feminist Thought,” coined this as Intersectional Feminism or “intersectionality.”
Our campus ought to work from this perspective rather than a perspective that ignores the effect of the convergence of identities.
Our campus needs to work towards finding and learning about sexism through dialogue, even among students, staff and faculty who identify as feminists. We can’t let language obscure a real problem of sexist actions on our campus.
We’re not saying that every feminist needs to be an activist. We do think that those who support the cause need to work on advancing the feminist ideology, through words and through actions. Otherwise, reconsider identifying as a feminist, and think instead about being a supporter of others sincerely involved in feminism.
It’s important, too, to consider what feminism means on an international scale. We should take steps to educate people on this approach, and especially on the struggles faced by women all over the world.
Globally, women face problems like domestic and sexual violence, human trafficking and genital mutilation, but there are significantly fewer resources for women in developing countries. Issues like human trafficking and genital mutilation occur at much higher rates in other countries. It makes sense to take a relativist approach, where we consider how problems on our campus and in our nation compare to those faced by women who have less privilege. While working to fight these problems in the United States, we must also take action to help struggling women in other nations.
The first steps toward doing this work start on our campus. Let’s put more emphasis on the importance of action and intersectionality in feminism and on the initiatives we can take to help oppressed women.