College surveys indicate that one in four women are victims of rape or attempted rape. This is a fact that many students are told before entering college and hear many times throughout their college experience.
Everyone can agree that this is a problem, and everyone can agree that this is bad. But, if I were to enter into a discussion with the average student about the gendered nature of sexual violence within the context of feminism, I believe that I would have a lot more difficulty getting them to acknowledge or agree with these facts and ideas.
I believe that there is still a stigma surrounding feminism and that it stems from two connected issues: the perpetuation of myths about what types of individuals are feminists and what they believe and a lack of education about the feminist movement.
Even at this point in history and even on a campus as liberal as Stanford, one of the most common reasons I hear about why a student does not identify with the feminist movement is because it is “too radical.”
The image that most people conjure in their minds upon hearing the word feminism is of a bra-burning, man-hating, lesbian separatist who doesn’t shave her legs and spends all of her time embracing the term “Feminazi” at extreme political rallies.
While you may think that my description of feminist stereotypes is an exaggeration (despite the fact that some people really believe those ideas), the underlying sentiments of this extreme depiction still hold true for many people.
Even if you take my stereotype description to be a dramatized and antiquated activist persona from the 1960s and ‘70s, many individuals still believe that identifying as a feminist is “too radical” in some way. But what does “too radical” really mean in this situation?
Well, in some cases, I believe those people do not feel that the feminist movement is relevant at this point in history. Why should they take an active interest in the fight for gender equality if it has already been achieved?
In other cases, I believe those individuals still fear that an association with feminism labels them with some version of the stereotype described earlier and means that they automatically agree with any and every idea of the women’s movement.
Finally, I think that some individuals just feel that feminism has no impact on their life.
It is these stereotypes, myths and ideas that come from a lack of education about what feminism is and also create a barrier for those who want to learn. If you take any class with the Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies department at Stanford — or many other departments for that matter — it becomes apparent that many gendered issues still exist in our society today despite the progress that has already been made.
It also becomes clear that feminism is a broad movement with universal goals. Feminism is about the intersection of various hierarchies of power; it is concerned with not only issues of gender, but also race, class and sexual orientation and how these issues interact to create a unique experience for every human being.
Feminism is about building coalitions between various activist groups and promoting greater equality for all individuals.
It is with these ideas in mind that the Stanford Women’s Coalition decided to launch a campaign this quarter to increase campus awareness about gender inequality and demonstrate how feminism is still relevant today. We want to dispel the stereotypes surrounding feminism and show that the goals of the movement are inclusive and universal.
Our campaign will build off this model and also include an option for individuals who are not comfortable with identifying as a feminist but support gender equality. People who want to participate will hold a statement of “I need feminism because…” or “I’m not a feminist, but…” with their personal reason, and we will take their picture. We want everyone to feel comfortable participating in this campaign, and we hope to show that feminists and non-feminists alike have the same underlying beliefs and goals. Pictures will be taken at the Women’s Community Center Tuesday, Oct. 29 from 6 to 8 p.m and in White Plaza on Wednesday Oct. 30 and Friday Nov. 1 from 12 to 2 p.m. The photos will be uploaded to the Women’s Coalition Facebook page and become a part of the larger global discussion about what feminism means to each person.
If you believe that segregation should exist…If you believe that someone should be beaten or harassed for his or her sexual orientation…If you believe that a woman could ever be “asking for it” as victim of rape…If you believe that racism, homophobia, sexism or any other kind of discrimination fundamentally improves humanity…then no, you’re not a feminist.
But, if you believe that greater equality should be a goal of our society, then you should have no problem identifying with the movement.
Contact Haley Fitzpatrick at haleyf ‘at’ stanford.edu