An "F" Word, But Not a Curse

by Sam Forstner | 2/26/15 8:00pm

As one of the last Ivy League institutions to become coeducational, women have only been members of Dartmouth’s graduating classes for 42 years. For 15 of those years, the celebration of V-Week — now extended to V-February — has sought to bring to light issues of gender equality, sexual violence and various aspects of life that are affected by one’s gender identity to light.

Contemporary feminist discourse and ideology has influenced many aspects of V-Feb, particularly the programming’s emphasis on the intersection of gender with other facets of identity like race, sexual orientation and religion. For example, V-Feb’s “Trans* Women Day of Visibility,” which occurred Feb. 11, highlighted how gender identity influences the discourse of a marginalized group.

As feminist theory continues to develop, it also has begun to address individuals who may identify outside of the traditional gender binary, discussing how transgender or genderqueer individuals are influenced by these various categories of identity.

Julie Solomon ’17, a self-identified feminist, said that dialogue around the purpose and definitions of feminism is most prevalent — or at least most visible — at the College during V-Feb.

Solomon said this isn’t the only time the topic comes to light, however, and she believes that feminism has become more prevalent on campus in general.

This, she said, is a result of American culture’s growing tendency to embrace the ideology of equality among all sexes and genders.

“People in 2015 feel safer saying ‘I’m a feminist,’” Solomon said.

While many students may identify as feminists, there is certainly a discrepancy in how students define the term. This disparity is not limited to students at the College, however, as even within the feminist movement and feminist academic circles, the word seems to cover a broad spectrum of beliefs and ideas. Students, therefore, must often determine for themselves what it means to be a feminist.

Spanish and women’s and gender studies professor and director of Gender Research Institute at Dartmuth Annabel Martin wrote in an email that definitions of feminism vary widely, and in her experience many students who have had academic training in areas that study inequality through a critical lens perceive the term no differently than many faculty. For students without this background, however, she wrote that there can be a much wider gap between how students perceive the feminist movement and how academics and activists view it.

Nicole Collins ’16 said that feminism’s definition differs widely. It can mean anything from being active in various campaigns across campus to believing in equality in the most basic sense. For her, she said that the most important aspect is simply “not not being a feminist.”

Collins said, however, that she sees a divide at the College between what she calls “true feminists” and those who buy into the movement as a fad.

“Being a feminist at Dartmouth can mean anything from ‘I took one women’s and gender studies class, and now I feel really good about myself’ to actually being active in support of various causes,” Collins said.

Still, you don’t have to understand the minute differences between the ideologies of Judith Butler and Martha Nussbaum to wrap your head around feminism, Solomon said.

“Saying ‘I’m a feminist’ just means you care about your own rights and empowerment,” she said.

Collins added that it is only once we get past the various stigmas around the term that we will have the opportunity to show people the perspectives they are not seeing.

“Feminism has an opportunity to show people where their privileges are and what they are blind to,” Collins said.

Amara Ihionu ’17 said she also observes a rift between those who are feminists in theory and feminists in practice.

“Putting our ideas into practice isn’t happening as much as it should,” Ihionu said. “I wish we saw more physical action.”

Margot Yecies ’15 has taken action — she directed this year’s Vagina Monologues.

Yecies said that she firmly believes women have still not reached equality at the College.

“The fact that there are women who say they feel unsafe in certain places on campus, women who experience sexual violence and women who feel discriminated against in the classroom and other places on campus makes it relatively obvious that we have not achieved equality,” Yecies said.

Those interviewed emphasized that there are some spaces on campus that reinforce and inequality between genders.

Ihionu said the simple fact that Greek life separates males and females is problematic, and she believes that having most events that serve alcohol and are hosted in male-dominated spaces are evidence of this problem.

Despite this emphasis on gendered spaces, campus feminists are not necessarily opposed to Greek life or any particular aspect of the system that is in place at the College.

Solomon is a member of Epsilon Kappa Theta sorority, which is local. She said that local sororities do not follow what she called the “outdated” rules of their national organizations.

“A lot of what we do is influenced by our desire to empower women on campus,” Solomon said.

Solomon said that being a feminist might lead people at Dartmouth to believe you have certain preconceived ideas about social life.

She said she has had interactions with those outside her friend group that she considers “shocking and frustrating.”

Collins said she’s seen a great deal of fraternity members who are receptive to and well-versed in feminist ideology — but she’s also seen examples of students whose views stand in direct opposition to those promoted by feminism.

Solomon said there also seems to be a relatively pervasive discrepancy between how people align themselves in public and how they actually speak and behave in private.

“It’s all underground,” she said. “On the surface people are very accepting, but on Bored at Baker and Yik Yak, there’s a lot of underground misogyny.”

For those who do not necessarily align with the ideals of the movement, feminism is also often construed as male-bashing or a campaign for feminine dominance. On this campus, many feminists interviewed expressed a desire to make known that this is not the case.

Chris Gallerani ’15 said he thinks some women and men might be hesitant to align themselves with feminism for fear of being seen as someone who hates men.

“There’s a stigma that all feminists at Dartmouth want to abolish the Greek system and think all men are rapists, which is not true,” Gallerani said.

Though many only consider binary notions of gender when analyzing or critiquing feminism, the intersection of feminism with race and other forms of identity further complicates the movement.

This focus on the intersection of identities and the effects this can have on individuals and large groups, Martin wrote, is an integral aspect of feminism.

Martin wrote that feminist theories link inequality with investigations of how various aspects of identity align with gender. She further noted that feminism also seeks social justice through political movements.

Ihionu, who is black, said she feels that this intersection is almost always neglected at Dartmouth.

“I can’t choose between my womanness and my blackness,” she said. “They are inseparable.”

Gallerani, who identifies as queer, said that in addition to race, it’s important to recognize queer rights and minority rights as they relate to feminism and women’s rights.

Collins said the fact that there are fewer female professors is evidence that women “haven’t been in the game as long.”

“Women have not had a place here for long, and I don’t think we’ve been allowed to forget it,” Collins said.

Solomon echoed the sentiment that progress requires time. She added, though, that she thinks bias toward the status quo can hinder progress.

“It’s just time,” she said. “Everyone loves tradition at Dartmouth.”

An earlier version of this article misattributed the idea that students’ familiarity with technology gives them skills that are often inaccessible to more experienced workers, but may also leave them vulnerable to social gaffes in the workplace. It was Center for Professional Development director Roger Woolsey who said this.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction appended: February 27, 2015

An earlier version of this article misattributed an email about the definition of feminism and the differences among students who have studied the movement. It was Spanish and women’s and gender studies professor and director of Gender Research Institute at Dartmuth Annabel Martin who wrote this.