A panel of five staff and faculty members recently gathered in Kresge Auditorium to answer student questions about the state of feminism today and its manifestation at Bowdoin.
Jackie Fickes ’15 and Anissa Tanksley ’14 organized the panel, “What the F is Feminism and Who Needs it Anyway?”, with Melissa Quinby, director of the Women’s Resource Center. Fickes and Tanksley also moderated the event, which took place during the student organized Uncommon Hour — a Friday lunchtime talk that falls between regularly scheduled Common Hours.
“We unanimously agreed that [the panel] was important because the word ‘feminism’ really has become an F-word of sorts, and we wanted to talk about that,” Fickes explained. “We wanted to take a look at the murky connotation the word has and then go beyond that to examine where feminism applies and how it affects us.”
Fickes said she and Tanksley purposely invited five people to speak about feminism who are not involved in either the Women’s Resource Center or the Gender and Women’s Studies program. “We decided to opt for panelists for whom gender and feminism were not the principle objects of their study and who hadn’t had a particularly great deal of practice or conditioning talking about them,” she said. “We thought this sort of perspective could relate well to the student perspective.”
The five panelists included Assistant Professor of Music Tracy McMullen, Assistant Professor of Africana Studies Brian Purnell, Director of Student Life Allen Delong, Assistant Professor of Sociology Ingrid Nelson, and Senior Staff Clinician Shelley Roseboro.
Following are excerpts from the panelists:
What does feminism mean to you: what words, behaviors, acts, or adjectives do you associate with feminism?
Tracy McMullen: For me, feminism is anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic, anti-heteronormative. That sounds like a negative project with all of those “anti’s” but I believe we can take joy in it — in our efforts to make the world a more livable place for everyone.
Shelley Roseboro: The first words that came up for me when I thought about feminism was just pride. I’m proud to call myself a feminist. …The second word that comes up is gratitude. Everyday I operate on the backs of women all around the world who have done amazing work. It’s also about equality — social, political and economic equality. Everyone has the right to have access to opportunities, equally.
Brian Purnell: Feminists possess courage to defy conventional wisdoms about women, gender identity and gender roles. Feminists resist practices that degrade, debase and devalue women in all forms. Feminists develop radical intellectual approaches on fundamental social, political, economic and cultural questions. Feminists fight for justice for women, and therefore, for justice for everyone.
Ingrid Nelson: For me what came to mind was equality, power and access to power — but also diversity. Feminism shouldn’t mean having to be one particular women or one particular man; it should be the opportunity to be a lot of different kinds of people. And the opportunity to make choices about your life, about who you are and how you operate in your life.
Allen Delong: Feminism is a way of interacting with the world in which you consistently ask the question, “Why I get to do this thing, or who gets to do this thing, based on gender, power or resources?”
Given the descriptors that you provided in your answer to the previous question, would you describe yourself as a feminist? Why or why not?
TM: The question is why people don’t call themselves feminists. I think men don’t call themselves feminists because they think it’s a women’s thing, and that’s wrong. … I do feel like a lot of women feel left out of feminism because they feel that it’s not their movement, which breaks my heart. I think we should all be feminists.
BP: If I were totally honest, I would say no, because I have been around too much misogyny and patriarchy for the 35 years I’ve been on this planet that I would have to come to grips with — and I haven’t. I am not a feminist but I want to be one. As I think about feminism — it is so dynamic, radical, powerful and beautiful — my best hope is to aspire to be a feminist. I see it as a process that I want to be engaged in, and I can’t say that I am engaged in it enough to completely identify with it, and that is probably because of my privilege as a man.
IN: I am a closet feminist, because I am wary of the connotation the label provides, the historical connotations of feminism. I think of my mother’s generation and how the movement in her generation was really a movement, and perceived to be about white, middle-class straight women. I know feminism has evolved and there are contemporary feminist movements and that they have expanded to encompass globally, regionally and socioeconomically a lot of different people — but I think the label makes me shy still in some cases.
Has your relationship to feminism changed or evolved over time? If so, what events, people, etc. have influenced this change?
AD: Shelley [Roseboro] provided me with one. I’m an adopted dad; I have two boys who are almost 13 and just 10. Shelley and I were talking about being adoptive parents at one point, and she lovingly and assertively said, “You know, you’re going to get all the press because you’re a man doing this, even though women have been doing this for a really long time, being a single parent. But, as a single man, people are going to bring you things and praise you for doing this.” And that is exactly what has happened! …Feminism suggests I need to be grateful for all the women who did this before me and showed me how to do it.
IN: I became a feminist in college. I went to a women’s college and all the students speaking in class were women, not just some of them. They came from a lot of different places. That experience of being around a lot of women without a lot of men made it clear to me that feminism was relevant and that it needed to be diverse, that it needed to speak to the needs of a lot of different people.
After watching what members of the Bowdoin community had to say in response to our question [a video was shown at the panel of students responding to question 1], was there anything in the video that interested you or caught your attention?
SR: What I hear a lot from women is, “I don’t feel like a feminist; I don’t define myself as a feminist; I don’t take women’s studies classes.” …Feminism feels like a dirty word. People are like, “Well, it means you’re angry; it means you don’t like men; it means you’re a lesbian.” …Those are the kinds of things I hear. Let’s think about where did that come from? Do you think that maybe that came from a patriarchal power to make women feel that if they’re powerful, they’re not feminine? That is pretty clever; that is a really good way to disempower people!