Lesbian, bitchy, man-hating, angry, ugly women. So the stereotypes are out there. Now let’s talk about feminism.
Feminism takes on many forms and can mean different things to different people. Leah Swartz, social work senior and director of MSU’s production of The Vagina Monologues, considers feminism “just believing in the power of women. Period.” Kim Drotar, social relations senior and co-president of Womyn’s Council, also explained her thoughts about being a feminist. “I believe all women should not be oppressed or persecuted or subject to any kind of discrimination. We come in all shapes, colors and sizes. I have to also include the racism and homophobia and things of that sort that some women face.”
[wave] One thing feminists agree on: women are oppressed by patriarchy and they feel this is wrong; a pretty basic concept, which shows that there’s not much that all feminists agree on. There are many types of feminists: radical feminists, Marxist feminists, black feminists, liberal feminists and separatist feminists, to name a few. According to sociology professor Toby TenEyck, there is a wide range of feminist perspectives. On one end of feminism there is the view that all men are bad and the radical thought that men and women should be separated. On the other end are the feminists who want to be treated equally and want no special privileges placing them above anyone else.
The term “feminist,” much like the word, “cunt,” has become almost a swear word, and is sometimes labeled the “f-word” for its use as a negative term. According to Sarah Steele, intradepartmental social sciences senior and member of the campus feminist group the Radical Femmes, feminism has become a backlash of sorts because individuals have made it a faux pas term. “People are not willing to take on the patriarchy that tries to prevent women from moving forward,” Steele said. Swartz warned about this mentality, where many are afraid to identify as feminists. “People shouldn’t be afraid to call themselves feminists. It doesn’t mean that you are liberal or pro–choice. You can have your own ideals and your own agenda but still believe in the power of women.”
Feminism is about women but is not and should not be restricted to women. Some men regard themselves as feminists or supporters of feminism. “Men can definitely be feminists,” Travis Reed, biochemistry, biotechnology and microbiology senior, said. “Men can fight for equality because of all of the gender inequality in our society.” Swartz currently is organizing a group called MSU Men Against Sexual Assault. “There is no reason a man can’t believe in the amazing powers women have. I think any kid with an amazing mother that they look up to is a feminist.”
[femme3] But not all feminists agree with Swartz’s viewpoint. Drotar was perplexed over the idea and hesitated, then concluded, “Men can be feminist supporters or sympathizers, but they can’t be feminists. As a white woman, I can never be black, so I can never feel like I’ve experienced those oppressions. So, [men] can be allies to feminists.”
According to TenEyck and women’s studies professor Dr. Penny Gardner, feminism has been split into three different “waves.” The first wave is typically mentioned briefly in history classes and corresponds to the suffrage movement and the first nationwide assembly of women fighting for a collective cause. Once women received the right to vote in 1920, their fighting was far from over, yet activities waned until the second wave. However, Alice Paul, a first wave feminist, wrote the 24-word Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) which would show up during the second wave in the 1960s. Across the United States in the 1960s and ’70s feminists fought for women’s rights across the board, TenEyck said. This movement was about equality all around, including the ERA and wage equality based on the fact that women made approximately 70 cents to every dollar men made in similar positions. The second wave, commonly referred to as the Women’s Movement, made a “vibrant, strong push for women’s rights to put it on the social agenda,” TenEyck said.
Today there is rumor of a third wave of feminism, but according to TenEyck, it has been only individual splashes of feminism, not waves at all. “Now women are concentrating on their own rights,” TenEyck said. “They don’t want to talk about it. They want to be able to do their own thing and not necessarily on the public stage.” This has created some tension because the second wave feminists argue if women aren’t making their fight public then they are not taking care of the problems of oppression and inequality.
[women3] Gardner looks at the third wave a little differently. She claims feminists are playing on a defensive mode and are protecting the rights they have gained already. Now their concentration is on a woman’s right to have control over her body.
Steele views feminism today as a bigger picture. “Feminism is against racism, capitalism and grander issues with the feminist perspective involved,” Steele said. “Some of the feminists I know are part of an anti-sweatshop movement, whereas in the ’60s and ’70s it was a straight up feminist movement.” Steele recognizes Condoleeza Rice’s promotion as a step forward for womankind. “Women continue to break the glass ceiling,” Steele said. “Like Condoleeza Rice, even though her politics are bad, she is still breaking the glass ceiling within the system. We are progressing gradually.”
According to Steele, the systems of capitalism and patriarchy cause feminist oppression. “The main oppression the system causes in my opinion is the concept of traditionally female characteristics,” Steele said. “They claim these things have always been traditionally female, which restricts equal pay. Typically, upper-class white men control the government and the media and essentially poison the minds of the people in the country who follow that shit.” Gardner sources feminist oppression to the highest powers in the nation. “Feminists are being scapegoated for what’s called family values,” she said. “Feminism has taken a backseat to other supposed needs and concerns.”
So where does this leave feminists? Women and men are still fighting for equality. On the MSU campus alone there are many organizations with that goal in mind. Womyn’s Council and Radical Femmes are two groups that concentrate on raising awareness. Radical Femmes is focused on direct action rather than simply holding discussions, Steele said. MSU Men Against Sexual Assault is still in the works. “When people join they aren’t going to realize that they’re being feminists,” Reed said of his group. “We want guys to realize that 98 percent of perpetrators are men. We want to tell men not to rape women.”
[penny4] MSU’s presentation of The Vagina Monologues is another example of feminist action on campus. “It’s about taking back the language and being able to speak openly about vaginas, sex and giving birth,” Swartz said. “Women should be proud to speak openly and not be ashamed of what distinctly makes women women.”
Spurred by an increase in reported rape cases this year, the new Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Task Force on campus has joined the ranks of feminist action. The task force has been split into four groups which look at various parts of campus and the level of awareness about sexual assault. “On the college level there are some people in the administration who don’t want to talk about sexuality at all,” TenEyck, a faculty member on the task force, said. “They just want to prevent it by saying women shouldn’t drink alcohol if there are a lot of men around or shouldn’t go somewhere in the dark alone. But that says that women are different. Women should be able to do the same things that men do. Women should have control of that.”
Feminism is not confined to just the United States. “With the tendencies of globalization and the different perspectives on cultural levels and the different ideas of what females are, it should be interesting to be exposed to those cultures to see how that plays out,” TenEyck said. “I don’t think feminism will go away. As it becomes more radical or more mainstream and other cultures hear what women are doing, they will see how to do it. We still have a long ways to go.”
Gardner, a long-time feminist and queer activist and scholar, lives her life and teaches in a way that will carry the movement on to her students. “Feminism endures, it is powerful, it is right,” she said. “It is unstoppable. Feminism has endured; it will continue to enlist and engage many more women and men to further its goals of equality for all women, the world over.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *