Wednesday, May 1, 2013

My Experience With Feminism

About a month ago, Elizabeth Marino contributed a courageous article to the Maroon News in which she discussed “The Definition of Feminism.” I will not recount all of what she said as anyone who wants to can simply look it up online (for those of you who haven’t read it, I encourage you to do so). I will, however, mention her main point, which was this: feminism isn’t defined by radical ideals; it is defined by the desire for equality. Despite the simplicity of the concept, many people continue to harbor ill feelings towards feminists, and feminism as a whole. These ill feelings, albeit sprung from ignorance, are feelings that have significantly influenced my own identification with feminism, especially on Colgate’s campus.

I have had a difficult time negotiating my identity as a feminist because of the negative stereotypes that are associated with feminism. As Elizabeth mentioned, feminists are commonly stereotyped as angry, man-hating, hairy, butch lesbians and are thus viewed in opposition to traditional notions of “normalcy.” As a woman who enjoys accentuating her femininity and participating in the mainstream culture at Colgate, it was hard for me to identify as a feminist. Many of the women I interacted with at the Women’s Studies Center were so comfortable in their identity and were so unafraid of speaking up for what they believed in. Witnessing the fervor with which they voiced certain beliefs that I did not share made me question whether I was truly feminist enough.

I was also hesitant to identify as a feminist because I was afraid that people would judge
me. Of course there are many individuals on campus that are accepting and have nothing bad to say about Women’s Studies as a concentration or feminism as a whole. Unfortunately, however, this is not the norm. I cannot count the amount of times that I have been met with an ignorant comment, a condescending question, or a stupid joke simply because there are too many to count. With each comment, question, or joke, I became more and more introverted about feminism. I am a dual concentrator with English and Women’s Studies, but I found that, when asked my major, I would never mention my Women’s Studies concentration. It could be argued that my experience simply highlights my own individual weakness, something I am genuinely embarrassed of. After becoming more involved in the Women’s Studies Center this semester, however, I have come to realize that this is not simply an individual issue.

As a society we are often taught to question ourselves, not the society in which we live. It is because of our society, however, that many, like me, fear expressing feminist beliefs. The issue isn’t the people who are uncomfortable with identifying as feminists; the issue is the stigma associated with feminism. Elizabeth addresses this stigma in her article, but I would like to reiterate that there are many forms of feminism and that you don’t have to be radical to be a feminist. Gloria Steinem eloquently states, “The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.” Feminism is a collective effort and if you believe in liberty, justice and equality, all fundamentally American beliefs, then you too identify as a feminist.

This being said, my original belief that I wasn’t feminist enough was completely wrong. I have found that I can participate in the mainstream culture on campus while still maintaining my integrity and feminist beliefs. I believe that having a foot in both worlds actually gives me a bit of an edge whenever I find myself in debates with others. I am an everyday feminist: a non-radical feminist who performs feminism throughout the course of her everyday activities. It wasn’t until recently, however, that I came to terms with my own feminism and my transformation is owed in part to my Women’s Studies Capstone. Without a supportive group and without the motivation to step out of my comfort zone, I can’t say that I would have had the courage to openly identify as a feminist as I have done here. Support is a strong motivator and is something that defines every great movement. With this being said, I would also like to acknowledge and thank the WMST bloggers for their contributions and for their courage to speak up. As Professor Loe told me, “All feminists need support for what they do!” It took me four years to find my feminist voice, and to openly support others as I hope to have done here for Elizabeth. Now, I challenge you to do the same.

-Ariel Rivera '13


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