Let’s face it: the word “feminism” has quite a big stigma attached to it. Even in today’s society, some people still think that feminists are bra-burning, men-hating, humorless women who want to destroy everything regarding traditional femininity and “the patriarchy”. Clearly I’m exaggerating a bit, but you get the point. I believe that this stigma prevails because people don’t really know what feminism is, and, in turn, are afraid to call themselves feminists because of the prejudice attached to the word.
This fear of the word feminism and/or lack of knowledge of feminism’s definition occurs all the time, especially around people our age. So… let’s talk about it. Before this semester began, I was a FROG for JMU’s 1787 August Orientation. For anyone who isn’t well-versed in the JMU lingo, Frogs are First yeaR Orientation Guides, upperclassmen mentors for first-year students that are mostly known for the really awesome dance we do every year. My Frog partner and I had a group of 32 girls, and one of the last events that we went to during the week was We Are JMU, which is a diversity event designed to show first year students what diversity is and how it exists on our campus. After hearing testimonies from various students, it was time for the audience to participate in Take A Stand. In this part of the program, audience members stood up to statements that applied to them, such as “stand if you were born in Virginia”, “stand if you were born in another country”, “stand if your parents are married”, “stand if your parents are divorced”, etc.
After various statements had been presented and the students understood the exercise, the facilitator said “stand if you’re a feminist”. I enthusiastically stood up, as did my male frog partner, giving a little “woot woot!” of excitement when doing so. However, I looked over at my group of 32 girls, and only a handful stood up. This was not unique to my orientation group; most of the groups only had a few people standing.
At first, I was surprised and disappointed that most of my group (of WOMEN) did not take a stand. I mean, after the summer of the Hobby Lobby case, #YesAllWomen, Buffer Zones, and Sarah Butters (which deals with sexual assault in our own community), how can you NOT be a feminist? How could these girls not stand up in support of their own rights? After thinking it over, I concluded that my first-years, along with the thousand-or-so other students in the Wilson auditorium that did not stand, were not anti-feminist, but (most likely) uneducated as to what feminism actually is. Thinking back to my own freshmen orientation, I don’t think I would have stood up for feminism. I didn’t consider myself a feminist at the time, because I didn’t really understand the term and I thought that I would be judged (mostly by boys) if I called myself a feminist. Like me, they may have been focusing on the stereotype of feminism instead of the definition: the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.
Feminism, and other social movements, are ideals that are largely fostered during college. I get why people don’t want to be associated with the stereotypes, which is why I think it’s important to break the stereotypes by educate college students of feminism’s definition and social impact. Who wants equal rights and opportunities for all, regardless of gender? I do! And I think most (if not all) students do too.
To me, feminism is more than gender equality; it’s the fight for equality of all marginalized groups, including gender, sexuality, race, religion, you name it. I’m proud to call myself a feminist, and I’m looking forward to reading more feminist discourse on ShoutOut this semester. College is about finding yourself, so I challenge all students, especially those in their first year of college, to find out what feminism means to you.