A word most often heard in history classes, associated with bra-burning and the revolutationary times of the 60’s.
Many students at Michigan State University have misconceptions about the feminist movement and are unaware that it still exists.
“I haven’t heard anything about it on campus. I never hear anything about it, ever,” said Kelsey Hansen, a telecommunication and criminal justice junior. Hansen refers to feminism and her experience with it at MSU. She said the only thing she knew about feminism’s purpose was the effort to equalize the rights of women to the rights that men have.
Hansen is not alone, and that is the general notion that most students have. However, there is an organization on campus that is fighting to bring awareness and clarification to what feminism is.
The MSU Women’s Council is a progressive feminist organization on campus, said Chelsea Gladney, a junior who co-chairs the council. The group meets once a week and has approximately 35 regular members.
“‘Feminism is the radical notion that women are people too,'” said Gladney, quoting the slogan that the MSU Women’s Council has printed on their t-shirts.
Many of the weekly meetings held by the MSU Women’s Council focus on the stereotypes that members and feminists in general face. According to Gladney, the portrayal of feminism as an aggressive and negative movement is inaccurate.
“It’s supposed to be strong and it’s supposed to be empowering, not in any way demeaning to anyone,” she said.
Gladney pointed out that while feminism is characterized by activism, it is also a belief system that can be held by anyone and is an international concept.
“Feminism is for everyone, it really is for everyone. It’s not just for middle-class white women who have all the opportunities. It’s for black, Asian, Hispanic, men, women, lesbian, gays, transgenders, it’s for everyone. It’s not just for people of this country. We have a very different form of feminism than [other nations] do somewhere else, but they still have their own forms of feminism. It’s international,” Gladney said.
A fact that students may be surprised about is male participation in feminism. Gladney said that the MSU Women’s Council has three male members that attend the weekly meetings, and if a man believes in women’s equality he is a feminist.
Killian Lynam, a general business and pre-law junior, said that he believes that feminism belongs at MSU and society in general.
“I think that [feminists] are advocates for women’s equality. I don’t think that they are any different than people who advocate for racial equality. I think there is definitely a place for [feminism],” said Lynam.
Lynam said that misconceptions, such as all feminists are lesbians, is the result of ignorant thinking.
“I think that feminism is a really misunderstood concept. I think that the sort of radical element pierces through most people’s minds, when really it shouldn’t be taken as threatening,” Lynam said.
Kristina Banister Quynn, a visiting assistant professor who teaches WRA and IAH classes at MSU, uses women’s texts and feminist ideas in the way she teaches and the readings she assigns to her students.
Dr. Quynn explained that feminism might not be as prevalent and visible today as it has been before, but that it does still exist. She cited the Take Back the Night event, hosted by the MSU Women’s Council, which occurs on campus each year as a strong example of feminism on campus.
“The Take Back the Night march here on campus, which I think is very well attended, and it’s about women getting together and having a candlelight march through spaces where they would feel uncomfortable walking alone at night, and say ‘We won’t be afraid, we will take back the night, and be able to walk on our own,’” she said.
According to Gladney, the Take Back the Night (TBTN) occurs annually at MSU and will be held on Apr. 20 of this year. The event is held to support survivors of sexual assault and encourages them to stand up and tell their stories. Workshops for both men and women are available during the day.
“These events help women and men heal and come together as a community. TBTN lends strength, and I like to think that it lets everyone know that they are not alone and that people are still working for their cause… Working to end violence against women comes along with feminism. We want to end violence towards all people,” Gladney said.
Feminism has not transformed, but rather, transitioned into a more inclusive movement of women from all backgrounds, Quynn said. There are now multiple types of feminisms, such as pro-choice or lesbian Chicana feminisms. This inclusiveness moves toward including all women, not just middle-class Caucasian women.
According to Quynn, although the negative stereotypes regarding feminism still exist, it can come back into a positive light.
“Nothing shuts down conversation or makes people more wary than claiming to be [a feminist]. I can, however, claim to be studying and interested in issues of sex and gender, and immediately people’s ears perk up. All in all, I think labels come and go, fading in and out of popularity, and who knows maybe ‘feminism’ will make a come back,” Quynn said.