Li: Active Classroom Feminism

Women should take classrooms from men through identity politics.

by Lucy Li | 2/28/17 12:30am

In my government classes at Dartmouth, there is always “That Guy.” He speaks too loudly, he leans so far back in his chair you wish he would just tip over, he thinks he speaks God’s word and his monologues are long enough to make the professor cut him off.

At least in my experience, That Guy is always a male student. While not every male student is That Guy, there is a level of ease that male students manage to achieve in class that I see very rarely in female students. Male students speak not only louder but with more assertion and with fewer qualifications than their female counterparts do. The socialization of male confidence is even obvious in body language: male students generally raise their hands higher and keep them up longer, hold their chins up and lean back in their chairs. It sends the message that they are confident in their ability to express their views without much concern for what others may think.

Meanwhile, I see many eloquent and intelligent women in my classes speak softer and hold their bodies with more caution. They raise their hands halfway, and they make insightful statements but rarely forget to qualify them or consider arguments that could refute their point. I’ve met several women who have recounted the times that they made a point in class only to have a male student mirror their exact argument in different words, with fewer qualifications and in a louder voice.

This dynamic is one that will follow us into the professional world, where women face a myriad of hindrances, driven by our oppression and socialization to submission. This is ostensible in many career fields, where women fight uphill battles to gain a leg up, especially in traditionally male-dominated occupations. Women balance the precarious tightrope of being viewed as shrill and unfeminine when being assertive and being viewed as incapable or unintelligent when we fail to be vocal enough.

In 1920, female suffragists left their legacy for the future women of America by winning the battle for the right to vote, for representation in what was claimed to be a democracy. This was a legal victory that altered our Constitution and gave us something tangible to wave in the faces of our opponents.

However, political progress is by no means equivalent to social progress. We can create new laws, change the Constitution and make Supreme Court decisions in favor of women’s rights, but this won’t teach men who were socialized to believe themselves to be better than women that they are wrong. Nor will it teach women who were socialized to be submissive to live up to their potential. Currently, we are fighting a battle for equal vocalization. We are fighting a battle to be heard, and this is a battle that women cannot fight alone.

At Link Up’s 2017 Proud to Be a Woman Dinner at Dartmouth, professor Reena Goldthree gave a talk entitled, “Another World is Possible: Intersectional Feminism in an Age of Trump,” where she discussed the precarious balance of being a feminist in an age where even feminism has become dangerously exclusive. Even as I write this, I recognize that I have described a world in which gender is dichotomous, failing to acknowledge the experiences of those who are agender and transgender. I recognize that my experiences are responsible for my limited worldview; however, I do not discount the struggles I have not seen firsthand. I understand that as I argue for gender equality, I am not just fighting for equality for the heteronormative female. I understand that my argument for improved women’s rights encompasses those who may or may not have female genitalia, who may or may not always identify as a woman, who may or may not be straight. We cannot fight oppression without fighting all kinds of oppression.

Part of overcoming the problem is being able to identify it. In Goldthree’s talk, she spoke about prefigurative politics, the idea that we can shape the world around us and create the society we envision through participatory democracy, as well as identity politics, the idea that the most revolutionary politics comes out of ourselves. Goldthree discussed how, by studying prefigurative politics and identity politics, which emerged from the Combahee River Collective, we can create a revolution that transforms us, not just the legislation and semantics that build our political system. In modern times, we spend so much time talking about social injustice through policy and legislation that it makes us shortsighted. How do we fight the way we have been socialized through words and documents?

Society needs a new normal, and that can only happen through ourselves. Men must be socialized to listen to women, and women must be socialized to stop apologizing and speak up. We live in a reality in which social equality exists on paper, and people have forgotten that there are institutional problems in our society that take more than legislation and policy to fix. This is why unaffected people like Michael Flynn, Jr., the son of President Donald Trump’s former national security advisor Michael Flynn, somehow believe that women’s desires are irrelevant. In classic “mansplaining” fashion, on Jan. 21 he tweeted: “What victory? Women already have equal rights, and YES equal pay in this country. What MORE do you want? Free mani/pedis?”

What more do we want, you ask? We want those equal rights to manifest on more than just paper. We want less mansplaining and less ego-fluffing. We want to be heard in class, and we don’t want to be made to feel inadequate when we pursue our careers. We don’t want to be talked about like inanimate objects, and we want to end the epidemic of gender-based violence. We don’t want to have to work twice as hard to be considered worthy enough for this world, but if we have to we will. Because we are not raising the future generation of women under a glass ceiling, and we want to be quantified as more than just manicured mannequins to decorate your patriarchy.