JMU Students Fight Back!

Elizabeth Hogan, who heads up the NOW chapter at James Madison University/Harrisonburg, was fed up with the sexist garbage the school newspaper was printing. This is the response she and Meredith Burns wrote, which was published today. Elizabeth is a senior history major;  Meredith is a senior anthropology major.

This is What a Feminist Looks Like
October 26, 2009 – By Meredith Burns and Elizabeth Hogan,

Bra Burners Stereotype No Longer Applicable
Do you believe in equality? Do you believe that people should be able to make decisions about their own bodies? Do you believe that men and women should be paid the same? If you answered yes, you just might be a feminist.

Don’t be fooled by misleading rhetoric or trite myths. Despite recent press, real feminism is not dead. Feminism is not about sitting around complaining, it’s about choice and achieving equality. A feminist is simply someone who supports true equality for everyone.

However, many stereotypes about feminism and feminists exist. To clear some things up, bras were not burned and feminists aren’t hairy Sasquatches intent on destroying men. The feminists of the 1960s and 1970s were known as second wave feminists, and some of these were “radical” due to the need for a revolt against the entrenched sexism and systematic oppression of women in that era. Indeed, many elements of that sexism still exist. But, the movement has changed, as have the people, creating the third wave. They place greater focus on multiculturalism, class differences, the role of racism, LGBT rights and the rights of women all over the world.

Those anti-feminist myths are meant to distract people from the bigger picture of systematic oppression. We live in a system with an unequal balance of power. This hegemonic system is known as patriarchy in which women, minorities, LGBT folk, etc. comprise the subordinate groups. By distracting oppressed groups with insignificant issues or debates, we allow ourselves to ignore the issues really concerning feminists: domestic abuse and sexual assault, inequitable wages, human trafficking, feminization of poverty, reproductive freedom, discrimination and segregation in the workplace, and education. In such a system, no one wins.

We must realize our personal actions have far-reaching consequences and are results of a larger system at work. When one woman is raped, it is not solely the rapist’s fault, but that man playing into society’s hyper-masculine role coupled with the overall devaluation and objectification of women. The combination of all institutions —the media, science, education, religion, advertising — devalues, objectifies and dehumanizes women. The process of stripping individuals of power transforms them into objects for male violence. In societies where women have higher social status and value, the occurrence of rape is much lower. Men are not inherently bad, but rather, the system of patriarchy is harmful for everyone. In fact, women usually indoctrinate their children into patriarchy. We all play roles within this system, which is why we must all take action.
 
If one really wants to know what a feminist looks like, he or she should consider taking women’s studies courses and joining feminist organizations on campus such as CARE, NOW, Sister Speak, Her Two Cents or the Take Back the Night Coalition. Feminists are not a homogenous group with a monolithic doctrine but rather diverse individuals who believe in equal human rights for men and women with differing perspectives on how to achieve that goal. Both the stay-at-home mom and the Fortune 500 CEO can be feminists.
 
Apathy toward such rampant inequality has to end. We must stand strong in our convictions without compromising ourselves, or our ultimate pursuit of equality, on an issue much bigger than us. We must empower ourselves and one another, recognizing our actions and those of others as the deciding factor in whether or not we maintain this system.

Awareness of our choices and the ability to choose what is right on an individual basis must be raised to a larger scale. Ultimately, we must ask ourselves, what do I want for myself, for my children and for the world? If equality is the answer, then you too can say, “This is what a feminist looks like.”
 
Contact Meredith Burns at burns.meredith@gmail.com
Contact Elizabeth Hogan at hoganel@jmu.edu

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