Not your mother’s movement

Theresa Bruskin

From dancing the Charleston to burning bras, from securing the right to choose to shattering the glass ceiling, the face of the feminist movement has evolved during the past century. What began as a search for equal rights became a demand for equal opportunity.

Now, in this new century, the feminist movement has taken yet another direction.

“This is not an age where people jump to a cause or movement asking for a change or expressing discontentment,” women’s studies professor Suzanne Holt said. “It is much more personal than social.”

Kristen Tassone, a senior year theater student and founder of the Feminist Union, said because the movement is more personal, it’s important to remind women why they should be part of a group.

“My concept of feminism is being proud that I am a female — just knowing that as a female there are so many things I can do well,” she said. “The movement is to break down barriers, but I know within myself there are no barriers.”

Holt said such sentiments form because women no longer think men are the cause of the problems and oppression found in the world. Today’s women need to find a new cause to rally behind, she said.

“All movements began because there is something that we all share,” she said. “If we don’t have it, we don’t have a reason.”

Current students are pessimistic, she said. They question why they should take a stance that is critical and just brings up problems.

Tassone said she thinks broadening the scope of the Feminist Union is essential to drawing in more members and bringing the group back from its hiatus.

“I’d like to see it involved with the rights of all women, not just white middle-class women, and be accepting of all types of feminism,” she said.

Freshman zoology major Allison Shell said if the Feminist Union were active, she would probably go to a meeting, but said she doesn’t think she would join the group.

“Feminism should be focused on helping women with women’s issues, not putting anyone down,” she said. “If they were negative toward another group, it would turn me off.”

She added that the word “feminist” has a negative connotation.

Freshman pre-nursing major Brenna West said the negative connotation would turn her away as well.

“When you hear the word feminist, you think of protesting and the extreme action of someone who is hardcore. When I hear the word, it’s not something I think I am,” she said. “I’m definitely for women’s rights, but not to the point I would join an organization.”

Tassone said the “hardcore” feminists only get the most attention because they are the loudest.

“You say the word feminism to a lot of people and they think of a godless, communist, lesbian, bra-burning militant,” she said.

Kat Rybski, a sophomore sociology major and president of the Feminist Union, agreed.

“The problem with feminism is that people associate it with burning bras,” she said. “I think it comes down to thinking you are as smart as a guy, period, and that your place isn’t only in the kitchen. I’m not like, ‘rise above the men’ or anything.”

Holt said the term feminism has come to mean many things that have very little to do with the original image.

“We assume that feminism comes along with hate. You always hear ‘I’m a feminist, but I don’t hate men and I’m not a lesbian and I’m not angry,'” she said. “A feminist is someone that we picture as unable or disinterested with relationships with men. It’s kind of isolationist.”

There isn’t any generalized anger toward men, she said. In fact, she’s noticed that many men are angry — some more than women — about what happens to women.

“Quite often, real female-bashing statements come from women,” Holt said.

Tassone said she thinks men can be great feminists.

“They can change the face of feminism,” she said.

Contact student life reporter Theresa Bruskin at [email protected].