Thursday, January 29, 2015

Brown Bag Reflection: Feminist Organizations

On 27th January 2015, the Women’s Studies Center held a brownbag introduction to some of the feminist organizations on campus. Present were Advocates, Lambda, Sisters of the Round Table (SORT), Vox, The Network, Organization of Asian Sisters in Solidarity (OASIS) and Anti-Racism Coalition (ARC). Providence Ryan from Advocates, a lgbtq+ and ally student group, started the talk off with her description of the club, and its new trajectory of intersectionality. In fact, intersectionality remained a central theme throughout the brown bag. SORT chair Christelle Boursiquot talked about the progression of the women and women of color organization; Chrissie Chen of OASIS, an Asian women support group, talked about bridging gaps between women at Colgate; and Michelle Sagalchik of ARC elaborated on intersectionality and its central place in the mission of the organization—the interconnectedness nature of structural oppressions of patriarchy, racism and heteronormativity. Julia Hooks, the president of Vox, the student branch of Planned Parenthood talked about the need for more conversations regarding pro-choice and abortion rights on campus, and Kendall Murtha, co-president of The Network, the sexual assault and relationship violence awareness group on campus, explained the origins of the club and the events they conduct each year. The brown bag ended after opening up to individual questions and passing of sign-up sheets.

One issue that bugged me throughout the brown bag was how none in the panel really talked about what feminism means. Given that the brown bag was held in Women’s Studies, all the panelists seemed to implicitly assume that everyone present would already know the meaning, which is unlikely. Not to mention, not everyone understands and relates to ‘feminism’ in the same way. Perhaps the panel could have touched upon their idea of what it means and how they practice it within their groups. In their defense however, 5 minutes is perhaps too little a time. I couldn’t shake the question away though: Can a club even claim to be feminist unless organized explicitly as such? Especially if not all of its members might identify as feminist? As a founding member of OASIS, one of the clubs in the panel, I know that not all members in it identify with the word; the concept of equality for everyone perhaps, but not the word itself. Yes, I realize that that means they are feminists because ‘equality’ is quite literally what the word means, but identifying as a feminist is also an inherently political stance. So, even if the club primarily works with feminist issues and advocates for them, does it get to put its members in the political position of identifying as a ‘feminist’, especially if they do not wish to do so? After all, the club is only the sum of its members, and thus, as feminist as its members.

The issue of non-identification with the word ‘feminism’ but identification with the concept is not a new phenomenon at all. Take, for instance, the ‘I don’t need feminism’ and meninist backlash (which, just so we’re clear—is utter um, BALDERDASH.) The refusal to call oneself ‘feminist’ stems manly from ignorance of what the word means, but more and more, I have been confused about the word myself. Make no mistake, I identify strongly as a feminist, and have for a long time, but the more I learn about it, the more I realize that it is subjective. (Note our plural form of the word in our blog title for instance.) A person’s individual experiences and identities are inherently a part of their feminism—at least in my iteration of it. Does that mean that if a person believes in eradication of sexual and gender oppression and/or all other oppressions but does not feel inclined to take a political side in any of the bullahalloo of women’s and other marginalized groups’ rights, is that their own non-identifying-as-such feminism? I most likely wouldn’t count it as such, but more and more I’m not sure. Does explicit identification with the word matter more, or even as much as, standing up for its beliefs?

Overall, the brown bag did not answer my question, but it provided for an excellent opportunity for students to connect with some of the most progressive and activist groups on campus, and feminist-identifying or not, to perhaps find an intersectional space for themselves within those organizations. Considering the sit-in and other events of last semester and the angry backlash that followed, our campus desperately needs it.

-Liza Paudel '15