By Micaela Canales
Are you a secret feminist? I have encountered many Rice students who agree with feminist ideals but are reluctant to label themselves as feminists, and I continually ask myself: why the hesitance?
Maybe it’s because there is persistent confusion about what it means to be a feminist. I cannot offer a concrete definition of what the term feminism means, because like all social movements and philosophies, feminism is fluid. What matters is how you define feminist ideology for yourself. Feminism is something I encourage all people to discover for themselves, especially in the context of what it means to your life. To aide in this quest for the feminist within, I investigated definitions of feminism at Rice. Fortunately for us, as we begin to explore our personal definitions of feminism, we can draw on the opinions and ideas of others to build our own interpretations.
If you are in need of immediate guidance for developing your personal take on feminism, I recommend looking into a current campaign on campus. Duncan juniors Anastasia Bolshakov and Clara Roberts have recently brought the “Who Needs Feminism” campaign to Rice, aiming to promote discussion about gender equality. Participants in the project are given a white board with the heading, “I need feminism because…” and then encouraged to fill in their reasons. When I participated in the campaign, the set-up was pleasantly informal. Anastasia was standing outside the Rice Women’s Resource Center in the RMC with a couple of the whiteboards and a camera. She casually asked passer-bys if they wanted to offer their input, and the response that I saw was impressively positive. The most significant part of the entire interaction was the moment before people wrote their statements, when they paused to think and engage in discussion with Anastasia. Men and women, young and old, took a minute to think about feminism.
According to Roberts, this the precise aim of the project, to get people thinking and to address misconceptions about feminism. “For me, this campaign was really about starting dialogue and getting people to give real thought to the issue(s). I know feminism can be controversial and it works to the advantage of the campaign. Controversial topics catch people’s attention. They cause tension and spark conversations. That’s the goal; I want people to question their assumptions,” Roberts said.
A quick tour of the Who Needs Feminism at Rice Facebook pages confirms that Bolshakov and Roberts’ hopes were realized -people are questioning their assumptions and bravely stating why they personally need feminism. One board states, “In four years of physics classes, I have still only had one female professor,” referencing the lack of female representation in STEM fields. Another reads, “Feminism doesn’t mean I hate men,” boldly answering an accusation frequently made by people who do not understand feminism. “I’m tired of watching movies that are told from a male perspective,” another board reads, reflecting the writer’s understanding of the monopoly the male gender has over media. Dr. Robin Paige, professor of sociology, offered her definition of feminism, “Feminism to me is seeing people as individuals before we see them as women and men.”
Browsing these quotes helped me remember some of the inequity that exists, but that is not in-your-face obvious discrimination. Not all sexism is prefaced with a “No girls/boys allowed” sign; rarely is it that obvious. Rather, these quotes illustrate the subtle sexism that we perhaps don’t as easily identify, like media monopolies, identity restricting gender norms, or the absence of women in the uppermost leadership positions. From this collection of quotes, one could conclude that feminism at Rice is about equality of the sexes and about questioning gender norms. Examining what feminism means at Rice allowed me to reaffirm why I myself identify as a feminist, because I identify with the opinions voiced in the quotes above. But that’s my feminism, and it is by no means representative of what feminism means to others, or what feminism can mean to you.
And now I challenge you, reader, to further investigate feminism and think about how it effects your everyday life. Think about how it affects your grandmothers, your mother, your sisters, your brothers, your fathers, and your grandfathers. Think about how it affects your friends. And finally, think about how it affects you. Are you already a feminist?