I am calling for a moderate, inclusive women movement at Swarthmore. I’m not talking about bra-burning, dick-hating, Freidan-worshipping womyn (a common perception of feminism here at Swat), but Swatties who believe in thoughtfully working towards gender equality. If we go with the most basic definition of feminism, as the belief that men and women should be equal, then I’m going to go out on a limb and say most Swatties are feminists to at least an extent. However, most Swatties I know actively avoid anything that uses the word “feminist”, assuming it would also be radical and weird. Using my own experiences, then, I’m going to make the leap that most Swatties support gender equality, they just don’t feel like the approach to gender equality on campus is productive, inclusive, or moderate.
It’s time for us to engage feminism and gender equality in ways that we all think are productive, inclusive, and moderate. Ideologies like feminism can be diverse and welcoming, especially at somewhere like Swarthmore. Our feminism should account for multiple definitions of equality and ways to reach it. It should accept the contradictions that occur when we try to resist something we’ve internalized (why is it kind of cool when James Bond is an ass to every girl always?). Our approach to gender equality here can include all of this because we represent different backgrounds, ideologies, and perspectives that may not fit into our stereotype of “feminist.” And since gender inequality is a problem that is relevant to everyone regardless of gender, culture, origin, race, major/minor, class, or anything, Swarthmore’s approach to women’s issues and gender inequality should be–by its nature–for everyone. Think about it: Swarthmore’s feminists and supporters of gender equality could just be Swarthmore.
Swarthmore is a school for action and resistance. Our alumnae include the first woman to receive a PhD, one of the leaders of the movement for the nineteenth amendment, a slew of radical student activists in the 60’s, a former NOW president, and the founder of Radical Doula. I mean, Lucretia Mott is one of our founders. I’m not saying we should protest outside the White House until we’re detained, but our college’s history should be a motivation to mature our lackluster approach to gender inequality. My academic experience has consistently involved feminism in my classes, but it’s way too easy to argue one perspective in class and live a totally different reality. It’s time for us to take action and engage feminism in our own way.
Where to start is a tough question, and that’s a decision that needs to involve our campus community. However, a place worth considering would be the WRC, which is already trying to include all genders into women’s issues. This semester, the WRC is hosting a Women’s Week that will run from Friday, March 22nd to Thursday, March 28th (see wrcwomensweek.wordpress.com). Women’s Week is having 10 student groups plan individual events on women from their perspectives. They’re using spoken word, movie screenings, and panels to cover topics like women and water in the Jewish traditions, depictions of Latina/o women in the media, and women in politics. The idea of Women’s Week is easy: every Swattie should feel relevant and think at least one event is relevant to them. Hopefully you can feel involved and interested in women events on campus, even if you never have before.
I’ll be honest. My goal of debunking the myth that women’s movements are radical, exclusive, and useless is to take away your excuses. Just because you shave your legs, think women in high heels look beautiful, inexplicably enjoy Desperate Housewives, or think Barney from How I Met Your Mother is both awesome and hilarious doesn’t mean you can’t be “feminist” or engage with gender equality on campus. On the contrary, I’m urging you to redefine Swarthmore feminism. So come to a Women’s Week event. See the WRC. And start considering what it really means to be at Swarthmore and want equality.
Op-ed submitted by Kassandra Sparks ’15