What It Means to be a Feminist in College

“You’re a women’s studies minor? Oh god, are you one of those feminists?”

“Yes, I’m a feminist.”

“So you hate men right?”

Nope. That’s not what that means. Not even close. In fact, the fact that you’re saying that is pretty insulting, boy-at-a-party-who-doesn’t-remember-my-name-but-miraculously-understands-my-moral-values.

I’m way too tired of hearing the same misconceptions about my belief system, simply because I decide to put it under the label of feminism. So I’m here to clear it up: Here’s my interpretation of what it means to be a feminist in college. I don’t claim to speak for all women, or all feminists, but feminism is a huge part of my life and the lifestyle I’ve chosen to adhere to. So I want to share what that means as a piece of a larger whole so that maybe, just maybe, the boy-at-a-party will separate out individual experience from stereotypes that have nothing to do with my ideals.
I’ll tell you about what feminism doesn’t mean. Feminism doesn’t mean that I hate men, my boyfriend can attest. I have male friends, some who even *gasp* aren’t feminists. Just like friends with different politics, we don’t talk about it. But the beauty of this world is that people are allowed to think differently than one another, and although we disagree, I don’t write someone off as a lost cause.

Feminism also doesn’t mean that I can’t wear pink, like dresses, or paint my nails. I do all of the above. I can be in my darling sorority, and enjoy my darling pink dress, and even use the word “darling.” It’s perfectly acceptable. I didn’t have to hand over my pearl earrings when I picked up feminism.

As someone from the south, I hadn’t ever heard of feminism until I heard my studio art teacher use the word. One of the senior, male students was making fun of the movement:

“You’re a feminist? Oh, so you must hate me, right?”

What I wanted her to say was “Yes, but not for that reason”, but instead, she used the opportunity to teach the class something not art related, and in turn, taught me what would become so quickly such a huge part of my life.

She taught the class that feminism is not about inequality, or pushing for women above men, but instead the movement is about recognition of the fact that we live in a society in which life is more difficult for one sex than the other. It’s about not just accepting that we are where we are, but pushing for an equality between all people, regardless of race, sexuality, or gender. Feminism is about making people realize that it’s hard to win the race if you’re starting 100 meters back, and pushing to start at the same line as men.

If you’re one of those people who think that men and women are equal already and my cause is over and done, think again. The signs are all around you. Go onto the T and look around. See how the women are sitting versus how the men are sitting. Who takes up more space? I guarantee there will be a girl sitting there with her legs folded over one another, crammed into her seat, because the man next to her wants to sprawl his legs apart in a manner that can only be described as “unladylike.” Look at the number of male CEOs versus the number of female CEOs of the companies that you use and interact with every day. Women make 77 cents to every male dollar, and don’t use the argument that “that’s a skewed argument, because men hold different jobs than women,” because that’s a huge part of the problem. Yes, men hold different jobs, but doesn’t that ring a bell as a huge problem to anyone? Why does half of the country hold worse jobs because of what they have between their legs?

Studies show that girls are taught differently than boys right off the bat in the education system. Studies also show that girls are more likely to be reinforced for their looks, while boys are reinforced for their intellect, how adventurous they are, and their leadership abilities. Women are less likely to get promotions at their jobs, less likely to get raises, and less likely to be chosen for leadership roles. We’re one of the few countries that don’t legally require paid leave after a woman has a child, nor do we have a state run day care system for working women. Viagra is covered by medical insurance plans for companies, while the same companies fight vigorously against paying for birth control. And who is in the position of power fighting for or against my ability to use birth control, Planned Parenthood, or other modes of reproductive health? Old white dudes. I mean, come on, seriously? I think I know how this stuff works better than they do.  

It’s out there, I promise, and a key component to being a feminist is knowing that it’s out there.

So what does it all mean for me, a 20-year-old college junior? It’s actually really important. When I graduate I have to fight my way in a world that’s already a living nightmare for a poor college graduate, but I’m fighting with a 20lb weight on my shoulders. I’m going to fight twice as hard as the guy sitting next to me in my film classes, just because of my gender, I’m starting to think that Ruby Rose has it right.

It also means that I’m going to learn as much as I possibly can about the inequalities of the world around me before I head out into the world, so I’m not carrying the weight and wearing a blindfold. I’d like to know what I’m facing head on, so that when I confront sexism, I’m well trained and prepared for how to handle it.

Feminism makes me feel powerful. It makes me feel like Superwoman, and the rest of the feminists are like my Justice League, ready to support, protect, and defend what they feel is right and just. It means having a group of strong women that I can talk to about instances of sexism and day-to-day things that irk us about inequalities. It makes me feel okay that I might not want to get married, like I might be enough just by myself. It makes me feel okay that my career is important, and maybe I don’t need to rush into a “Leave It to Beaver” housewife situation. It also humbles me, because I know so much about intersectionality, which is where one oppression (ie. gender) intersects for someone with another oppression (ie. race, or sexuality).

Feminism means that I don’t have to agree with every other feminist. We don’t have to align on every issue, and our values might be very different, but I know that at the core, she believes that women and men should stand together, instead of women sitting with their feet crossed at the ankles.

So, to the boy-at-a-party, to that high school senior, and to every other person who calls me a man-hater, a bra burner, or whatever else, this is what my feminism looks like. You can call it what you want, feminism makes me, ME.