So why aren't you a feminist? (4/7/00)

I'm glad that it's time, once again, for the VU Women's Conference. I really enjoyed the event last year, and this year they even have T-shirts that men can wear, too! (For some reason, the guys weren't snapping up the "Another Phenomenal Woman" shirts last time.) Plus, there's that all-important college student consideration: it's free for students.

I'm actually kind of surprised that Valpo has a Women's Conference, considering. Considering that it lacks a women's center, a common feature on so many college campuses. Considering that a woman was first allowed to give a sermon in the chapel only two years ago. Considering the surprisingly pervasive negative attitude towards feminism that I have encountered here. I've talked to a frighteningly large number of students, both male and female, that say they "don't like feminists" and that feminism is unnecessary.

"Why?" I ask.

"Well, they're hypocrites, because they discriminate against men, and they won't let women be feminine. And women aren't oppressed any more, anyway." Okay, no one's said that to me in those exact words, but that's along the lines of the general response I receive. Usually, I don't even argue, because I'm too busy staring at the speaker with a sort of transfixed horror. (I'm still trying to figure out how a female engineering major can dislike feminists.) Since I have been so remiss in my duties as a feminist, let me try to clear up some of the mess here.

One of this country's tragedies in the 20th century is the history of the feminist movement. From the beginning, the media sought out the most radical looking speakers in the movement, then contrasted them with "nice, normal," traditional housewives who weren't involved in women's liberation. There were plenty of feminists who shaved their legs, wore dresses, felt free to be feminine, and stayed home with the children. They just weren't interesting enough for the media to recognize them as feminists. Only the most sensational events - like protests at the Playboy Mansion and the Miss America pageant - were reported on. Everything possible was done to emphasize the movement as something only for bitter, man-hating, "unfeminine" (and therefore defective) women. And we're still feeling the effects, today.

The black civil rights battle of the sixties was a long, honorable, bloody struggle, and the progress that activists made are some of the best things America accomplished in this century, even though the issues are still not resolved. But where the civil rights struggle had sympathetic reporters and horrific footage of attacks on peaceful protests, the women's lib movement met with ridicule and a country that refused to even acknowledge that there was a battle that needed to be fought. Why are women fighting so hard for these rights, quipped the pundits, when they can already make men do anything they want?

Feminism isn't about man-hating, it's about liking and respecting men so much that you try to make a better world, where they can meet with and appreciate women as equals. It's not about being unfeminine, it's about not wanting to have to be feminine to be considered a "real woman." Do you really think that there is no longer a need for feminism in this country? Then I suggest you carefully consider the statistics regarding women's wages and violence against women. Do a little research on the history of the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment, a slam against women's rights that occurred within our lifetime. And think carefully about how likely it is for a woman to be voted into the office of president.

I hope I've cleared some things up. But please don't think that you're now adequately informed about the history and nature of women's rights. Go do a little reading on your own; it's okay to wander into the "Women's Issues" section of the bookstore. And go to the Women's Conference: like I said, it's free, and how often do you get a chance to be educated for free here? Go learn about why women's history is the U.S.'s history, and their struggles our present.

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