School is here again! As I entered my second year at college, I looked back at my freshman year and the experiences I had. One memorable experience was my encounter with the f word. Yes, feminism. Recently, feminism has received somewhat of a bad rep, mainly due to ignorance of what feminism actually is. See this article from TSM for reference.
Due to this and other issues surrounding the f word, I've decided to create this beginner's guide for feminism in college.
You're on your own.
For many freshmen, their first year at college is their first experience on their own. There is usually a woman in everyone's life that has previously been their model of the ideal woman, whether that is a mom, grandmother, teacher, etc. Now you are on your own! Shaping your identity, trying new things, making new friends and simply growing. It can be scary, but college is the time when most people encounter new ideals, feminism being one of them. Feminism in part deals with independence and the ability to express it. How will you express yourself on your new campus? It's your decision whether or not you want to claim the title of "feminist" in college, but before you do, let's explore what that entails.
Can you say the f word?
Merriam-Webster defines feminism as "the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes." Feminist interest traces back centuries. Yes, there's a chance that your great, great, great, great grandmother was a feminist. It has made major contributions to politics, music, art, culture, and more, but what is it really?
It's a theory, a movement, and an ideology. There are different subcategories of feminism that focus more heavily on different topics, but generally I believe that you can break it down into two questions: Do you believe that there should be equality amongst the sexes? Do you think that it's wrong to discriminate based on sex?
If you answered yes to those two questions, then you are a feminist. Of course there is more to feminism than this, but this is the foundation. Feminism is equal parts belief in the cause and equal parts activism.
Bra burning, Men hating, and Inequality.
Despite the validity of the feminist movement and the positive achievements it has made in the past, feminism gets a bad rep. There are many misconceptions. No, you do not have to burn your bra, grow out your body hair, or hate men to be a feminist. In the exception of hating men, those are very valid expressions of feminism, however those are not requirements. The great thing about feminism is that the only rule is that you advocate equality. There will be critics, and that is simply because this great movement has attracted different strains of people that advocate feminism in different ways. If after reading this article, you do more research, talk to more people, and decide that yeah, bras are a construct made to bring down women, sure, take it off! But if not, don't worry. This doesn't keep you from being a feminist. Like everything else in this world, feminism has diversity.
There is one point to be made though. Feminism is not a movement that advocates shaming, hating, or prejudice against men. This is a movement of equality, not one of gender domination. In fact, men can be feminists too! As stated before, this is equality, and men can advocate for equality as well. Men can be great allies to the feminist movement.
Sexism on campus.
Another thing that became apparent to me when I got to college was sexism. It was no surprise that sexism existed in my home-sphere, but I was positive that it couldn't exist in a place of higher education. These people were smarter than that, right? Unfortunately, it is everywhere, and that is why there is a feminist movement in the first place. As an incoming student, you are the new kid. It is easy to want to fit in and "feel cool" and often times these urges lead us to ignore present issues. You will see other students, groups, media, and even professors on campus that encourage sexism. If you have found your way into the feminist movement, it is important to realize that sexism has existed a lot longer than feminism, and that feminism has a lot of catching up to do. Your role as a freshman is to be educated in what you believe in, and affirm it. Be the student that isn't afraid to back down from their beliefs and let everyone know it. It can be quite contagious in fact, and might earn you some respect from your peers. It might even change a few minds.
All of this information is VERY general. It's the frosting on the cake that is feminism. The many layered cake filled with different flavors of righteousness. However, if you find that you want to learn more before putting on your feminist battle armor (which comes in both male and female sizes) then college is the right place to be. A great way to find out more is to take an introductory Women Studies/Gender Studies class. You can also speak to feminist groups on campus, read a campus publication advocating the issue, or just talk to other students around you! My imparting advice is this; take the initiative and learn for yourself. No one can tell you what to believe in, it is your own experience. Freshmen have this advantage in that every experience is a new one. Make them count.