SRU panel discusses feminist movement

Published by adviser, Author: Jonathan Janasik - Rocket News Editor, Date: February 28, 2013

“This is what a feminist looks like,” president Cheryl J. Norton said, while introducing herself as the moderator in Thursday’s “This is what a feminist looks like” panel discussion.

The women’s center and women’s studies sponsored discussion was held in the Bob Smith Student Center Theater in order to talk about the stereotypes surrounding the feminist movement, as well as to explain why feminism is still needed in today’s society.

Panel members included senior mathematics and professional studies student Grace Evans, assistant professor of history Dr. William Bergmann, associate director in Enrolment services Michael White, online design and communications specialist Kayla Hersperger, and assistant professor of communications Dr. Christine Pease-Hernandez.

White admitted that when he first received the e-mail asking if he would like to be a panel member, he wasn’t sure if he could be because he did not know if he was a feminist. He asked most of his friends if they considered him to be a feminist, and they all told him that they didn’t think that he was.

After somebody suggested to him that he should look up what the word means, he decided that he was a feminist. White stated that anybody can be a feminist as long as they believe in equal rights for men and women.

“One of the main reasons why I like to consider myself a feminist and proclaim it loud and proud is that many people are afraid to use the word,” explained Evans. “It’s become the new ‘f-word’. The main reason I consider myself a feminist is because I like to continue to move along the path of

progression as far as gender equality. In doing so, you really have to own it, and you have to speak up for what you believe in.”

“Because of the backlash of the feminist movement that started in the early 90s, what we’re seeing today is a cultural misconception of the word ‘feminist’ and what feminism stands for,” Hersperger said. “Many young people today will identify with feminist goals and values but they shy away from calling themselves feminists. The popular phrase is, ‘I’m not a feminist, but I believe in pay equality, or reproductive health, or the right to choose.’”

Hersperger explained that many of the musical idols that young people might look up to such as Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, or Katy Perry have stated that they are not “absolutely not feminists”. Hersperger stated that the pop culture’s negative view on feminism could be one of the leading causes of younger women shying away from the feminist movement.

“I asked my class, ‘how many of you believe that women should have equal rights?’” Pease-Hernandez said. “Everybody but one raised their hands. My next question was, ‘how many of you identify as feminists?’ Two out of one hundred and six people raised their hands.”

Pease-Hernandez explained that when she asked her classes why they don’t consider themselves to be feminists, they gave her a variety of answers that portrayed feminists in a negative light. She said that students considered feminists to be man-haters and bra-burners.

Bergmann stated that one of the biggest issues that feminism currently deals with is moving away from the male dominated social and political structures that our country has always run on.

“Essentially what women are expected to do is accept this patriarchal world, enter into it, and play by its rules,” Bergmann said. “We might point to cultural problems, but I think there are deep structural problems within our society that many of us don’t even think about as being rooted in patriarchy, we just see it as the world.”

According to Bergmann, most of these issues are so complex that they are primarily studied by elite academic circles. In order to make better progress towards equality, these academic groups must figure out an effective way to communicate about these problems to the general community.

Pease-Hernandez explained that one of the most important things that people can do as feminists is to speak out.  “If you do not speak, others will speak for you,” she said.


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