What's a Modern (College) Girl to Do?

This short essay was originally written in response to Maureen Dowd's New York Times thought-piece on modern feminism. 

When I entered college a few years ago in 2015, things were looking pretty good for college aged women like myself--on paper that is. There was a notable increase in women graduating with science and engineering degrees, same sex marriage was finally legalized throughout the United States, the “free the nipple” campaign was in motion, things were changing. However, I entered college in 2015 in the wake of the Rolling Stones article that described the brutal alleged gang rape of an undergraduate UVA female student. While many facts of the article later turned out to be fabricated and the article was ultimately retracted, it propelled a major discussion about the rape culture on college campuses. I entered college in 2015 knowing that there was a one in five chance that I could be a victim of sexual assault during the next four years, but only a 30% chance that I would report the assault, and less than a 10% chance that the perpetrator would be legally punished, even if I did press charges. This was a time when college women were carrying around their mattresses on campus to protest their universities’ lack of response to punishing their rapists. While the New York Times and Washington Post were telling me that this was the age of new feminism, a time of sexual liberty and opportunity for women my age, the statistics were telling me that I was vulnerable.

Growing up in a politically cohesive and liberal area, I always felt comfortable discussing important social and political issues with my peers, especially because most of us held the same views. However, this changed when I came to Wake and realized that I had entered a mixing pot of personalities and political preferences. I was afraid to speak up about my opinion on the news in class because I didn’t want to come off too strong and scare away potential new friends. First impressions are crucial for a freshman, and I wanted mine to be perfect. I became hypervigilant about my every move, both on social media and in person. I was so obsessed with being liked by everyone that I consciously suppressed many aspects of my personality and opinion. Through this process of adjustment, I felt myself distancing from my strong opinions and political standing and gravitating towards the politically-neutral norms of my peers. It was not until my sophomore year, after Trump’s election that I could no longer stay silent, and I finally began to openly discuss feminism with my friends. In reflection of these months early in my college career, why was I so afraid to speak up about social issues that were important to me? Why did I so avidly avoid being labeled a feminist? I entered college aware of the sexual violence statistics, but did little to discuss and engage in conversation about this topic with those around me. While I have loved my time at Wake Forest, I have also seen how many of these stereotypes and urban college myths that we hear about in the news, play out in the arena of frat basements and freshman dorms. I’ve also seen how the workings of new age feminism have clashed with the paradox that is the college dating scene.

I entered college a few years ago with a car full of furniture, decorations, clothes, and a set of expectations for the college life ahead of me. As a Wake Student and as a modern woman, I’ve learned that it's hard to navigate our way through these minefields of double standards and gendered rules. I grew up in a house with two working parents and a mother who always told me that while it may be a man’s world, we can still learn to adapt and thrive. As a married mother of two, an MBA, and woman in finance, she demonstrates to me everyday that some women can have it all; the degree, the husband, the children, and the career. Maybe she is just an exception to the rule, but maybe her life reflects the market changes that have allowed women to be professionals and homemakers. Feminists say that we are “not yet there” in regards to gender equality in the classroom, boardroom, and bedroom. Yet, how will we know when we are finally there? When we elect the first female president? When women earn the equal amount on the dollar for doing the same jobs as men? When we finally stop obsessing over the time it took him to respond to our last text? While society is still structured in a way that makes it hard for women to “have it all,” this does not mean that we should stop trying. Once we move past the stigma around the word “feminism” and start to accept that it is a movement aimed towards gender equality, rather than gender superiority, maybe then we can get closer to the there we have been trying reach for so long.