Where have all the feminists gone?
OK, so while this might not have actually happened (it seems I have a roommate who cares about my Princeton social future), I was sorely tempted. Now I have nothing against stripper night. I’m more concerned with feminism at Princeton or, rather, the apparent lack of it. Even though I have only been here a few months, I want other girls — especially underclassmen — to know that even though it sometimes may not seem like it, there is in fact a thriving feminist community here.
I get that “feminism” is a scary word. I’ve seen “10 Things I Hate About You.” And yes, I do get my fair share of flak for my open adherence to the F-word. Take last Thanksgiving, after I told my family about my plans to travel to India over the summer and help female sex workers trapped in brothels. My grandmother leaned in close and asked me in complete earnestness, “Caroline, dear, do boys ever find you hard to handle?”
Pssh, Grandma. I find them hard to handle.
Dealing with critics and their feminist stereotypes comes with the terrain. This rings even more true on a campus that, compared to other universities, lacks substantial student activism. But even at Princeton, it is possible to overcome these stereotypes. There is a small but vocal feminist presence on campus. You just have to be brave enough to look for it.
The common, but problematic, perception of feminism at Princeton is perhaps best epitomized by an incident that, ironically, took place right outside the Women’s Center. A few weeks ago, I was printing an assignment in Frist Campus Center when an older guy picked it up from the printer tray and read the title.
“Feminist politicians versus female politicians,” he read. “Sounds scintillating.”
“Yeah, it’s for a women’s studies class,” I said.
He gave me one of those wide, grandfatherly grins: heavy on the condescension, with a sprinkling of sarcasm.
“Aha, so you’re one of those,” he laughed. “But you’re not really. I mean, you’re wearing earrings and you don’t — well, you know.”
No, printer boy, I don’t know.
I can’t be a feminist because I have jewelry on? Because I wear makeup? Because I don’t have hair sprouting out from underneath my armpits? I mean, come on.
While these stereotypes constitute the general perception — or rather, misperception — of feminism at Princeton, don’t be afraid to claim the word for yourself and embrace it on campus in your own way.
According to English and theater professor Jill Dolan, who serves as director of the Princeton Program for the Study of Women and Gender, “Feminism is not a dirty word that only conjures images of man-hating women who are strident, angry and hysterical. It offers a transformative politics of hope that we can imagine, together, a better, more equitable future for us all.”
No bra burning necessary.
This past Friday, the Women’s Center held its first party of the year. The invitation read: “Whether you’re a feminist, a humanist, or a scientist: Come see old friends and meet new ones.” This carefully chosen language makes a good point. While I love the word “feminist,” not everybody does. And that’s OK. Women-centered activities and groups on campus are all about female self-confidence and empowerment. Regardless of what you call it, that’s a universal goal.
In my first couple of weeks at Princeton, I felt like the only feminist on campus. I felt swallowed up by the stereotypes that surrounded the title I had always proudly claimed for myself. But that was before I started to really look for other women who shared my feminist values and interests. While this is a fairly small group, it is also a powerful one.
I soon found the Women’s Center; Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources, and Education; the Program for the Study of Women and Gender; “The Vagina Monologues”; and the Steering Committee on Undergraduate Women’s Leadership. At these activities, I repeatedly see the same faces of the girls who make up the Princeton feminist community.
At the Women’s Center party, I met a bunch of freshmen who wanted to get involved in the Women’s Center and feminist groups on campus but didn’t know where to start. To anyone who is feeling the same way, here is what I did. First, I got on the e-mail list for the Women’s Center. I go to as many events and lectures as my schedule can handle. Second, I befriended older girls who kept popping up at all these women-centered activities. They’ve been through it, and they know how to handle a campus that isn’t exactly shouting feminist doctrine from the rooftops.
So whether it’s a T-shirt or just a feeling, wear your feminism with pride. Own it. Love it. Share it. Trust me: A self-confident feminist is way hotter than any stripper.
Caroline Kitchener is a freshman from New Canaan, Conn. She can be reached at email@example.com.