By Abbe Kaplan & Hannah Kubbins
Web Editor, Staff Writer
The Denison Feminists, an organization dedicated to gender and race equality, is becoming increasingly important on campus with current race and gender debates in student media. The group is shaped completely by student participation and all change initiatives are discussed in the weekly meetings.
The history of the Denison Feminists is unclear. Although The Denisonian made several inquiries into the origin of the organization, an article about how the women’s studies program and feminist presence at Denison began exhausted resources on the subject.
According to Denison Magazine’s Continuum series, Denison was one of the pioneers of women’s studies programs across the country. Only two other schools, one in San Diego and one in Buffalo, were also bringing the discipline to college campuses.
Two female professors and one student were responsible for the effort. Joan Straumanis, philosophy, and Ann Fitzgerald, English, along with Peggy Gifford, ‘75, brought gradual change, beginning with a directed study initiated by Gifford. The women’s studies program was started sometime in the 1970s, according to Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Women’s Studies Program Barbara Fultner.
When Straumanis first came to Denison in 1971, she said there was no notion of feminism on campus.
According to the department website, women’s studies now has over 20 faculty members and offers at least three sections of “Issues in Feminism” each semester.
Structure of the group
In their mission statement, the Denison Feminists make it a point to “strive for gender equality through education, awareness, open discussions, inter-group collaboration and activism.”
The group is completely student-run including the executive board members.
The board of officers consists of President Audrey McPartlin ‘15, Vice President Erin Katalinic ‘16, Public Relations Chair Brenda Uribe ‘15, Secretaries Darcey Babikian ‘15 and Charley Treacy ‘15, Treasurer Jackie Tran ‘15, and Activist Chairs Nikki Hurley ‘15 and Ali Jakubowski ‘15.
The Denison Feminists meet weekly on Mondays at 5:30 p.m. in the Center for Women and Gender Action on the fourth floor of Slayter Union.
McPartlin ’15 has been involved with the Denison Feminists since her sophomore year. At that point, she noted that only about three to seven people were at each meeting.
One of McPartlin’s goals for the group, to get more people involved this year, has already been accomplished. “I’m really excited about how many people have been attending meetings,” she says. “I love that there is more acceptance of feminism building on campus.”
McPartlin goes on to point out how active the Denison Feminists Facebook group is. At each meeting usually the first items the members of the group discuss are various articles and postings that have been on the page.
“I am blown away by how much the Facebook group has grown,” the page currently has approximately 200 members, “I have people asking me to join the Facebook page every day. I think it’s also a good way for students to get involved if they can not attend the meetings because they can still contribute to the page. So much of feminism is now internet based.”
After topics from the Facebook page are exhausted, the members go on to discuss different concepts. McPartlin stated in the last meeting issues of black feminism were brought up because of the racial issues that have been in student media recently.
Issues brought up in the Bullsheet, The Denisonian, and other forms of media are brought to the members’ attention during the meetings.
McPartlin also thought it was important to point out that the meetings are “a good place for people to share things they have noticed on campus that others may have looked past. It’s a safe space for men and women to share current issues that are on their mind, especially when you may feel like you are not surrounded by like minded people.”
McPartlin’s personal definition of feminism stems from the dictionary meaning which states “Feminism is the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men,” she says.
“The stereotypes about feminism are very confusing to me as well as why people are so eager to reject it when we have a definition in the dictionary. It baffles me that some people don’t think there should be equality in the sexes,” McPartlin says.
Since there seems to be a negative connotation of what a “feminist” is on campus and in society, McPartin also makes the point that, “I really believe everyone should take a women’s studies class, a black studies course or anything that encompasses rights of human beings. I think freshman should definitely have to take a class with that type of content.”
Erin Katalinic, vice president of the Denison Feminists, agrees that a required class in the field of gender issues is important. “I think we just need to have more conversations about feminism on this campus,” she says, “and I think that the power and justice requirement of our GE’s is helpful, but they need to be conversations that we have freely and often, not just for a semester to get a GE.”
“I think that Denison does a really good job working towards gender equality on campus,” States McPartlin, “that being said, our society and most societies around the world were founded upon patriarchal values. So as much as we’re in a bubble at Denison, it’s difficult to escape those underlying attitudes about women and I think that’s what really needs to change on our campus.”
To help make gender equality more present the Denison Feminists have been increasing their presence on campus this year.
McPartlin recalls that the group hasn’t held events until this year. Events thus far have included guest speaker Alison Bechdel. In the spring the group is hoping to bring Somaly Mam, a human rights advocate who focuses specifically on sex trafficking, to Denison’s campus.
“With these upcoming events, I feel that there will hopefully be more activism. It’s also important to remember that we always accept males into our meetings too,” says McPartlin.
Other ways to get involved include taking a class on feminism or women’s studies, going to campus events regarding gender, or joining the group’s Facebook page.
The Denison Feminists encourage students to have their own voices heard.
Definitions of feminism
Landon Slangerup, a freshman from Memphis, Tenn., sees feminism as a way to “eliminate gender norms and boundaries between the sexes.”
As a male student, Slangerup also believes “feminism definitely needs a larger presence on campus. I feel that most people are unaware of the involvement that feminism has had in all of our lives. One specific issue is that girls often times feel unsafe at parties because of the high potential of being sexually harassed. This has to stop.”
Hollie Davis, a first-year student from Chicago, Ill., offers a female perspective on what feminism is. “Feminism is the idea that women want to have the same privileges as men do,” she says. “The idea that women are trying to beat and destroy men is the complete opposite of what feminism is. All we want is equality.”
“We try very hard to bring men into our meetings, but I think they are afraid that we will be yelling at them the whole time which is very untrue,” Davis says.
Davis also thought important to remember that feminism is extremely important, but her view of a typical feminist is “white and middle class. I’m sorry, but that’s how I see it,” she explains. “We need to get more races and backgrounds involved. I do have optimism that feminism can cross racial boundaries, but I think it is a work in progress. Even on a small college campus it is hard to bridge racial relations. Denison is a microcosm of what the real world is actually like.”
Slangerup views a feminist slightly different when he defined a feminist as “she looks like any other person in the world. Feminists should not be defined by physical characteristics.”
Katalinic agrees. “A feminist can look like whatever they want and I am tired of this generation of feminists saying that feminists don’t have hairy legs and aren’t lesbians,” says, “because, hello, some of us are angry hairy lesbians and damn proud of it.”
Mia Manfredi ‘14, a French major from Chagrin Falls, Ohio, has a short and sweet definition of feminism. “To me, feminism means fighting for the equality of men and women in all aspects of life,” she says. “Simple as that.”
Despite her own simple understanding of feminism, Manfredi feels that there are still major misconceptions about people – particularly women, even though men can identify as feminists, too – who believe in feminist ideals.
“Many view feminists as radical, bra-burning, man-haters,” Manfredi says. “People also associate feminism with sexual promiscuity among women; however, a woman does not have to be sexually active to be considered a feminist. To me, a feminist is someone who acknowledges that men do still dominate this society and who wishes to change the way American society views women.”
Student perspective: does Denison need more feminism?
When asked if there needs to be a bigger presence of feminism on campus, Davis says “I think we have a branding issue when it comes to feminism. People think because we have women like Hillary Clinton and Beyoncé that there’s equality of the sexes, but there is still a lot of work to be done.”
Certain issues on campus have prompted Davis to believe that Denison needs more feminism:
“I know girls who have had their underwear stolen, the rape jokes on social media accounts,” she says. “I even have spoken to some guys that believe that if a girl is wearing a short skirt or dress that means she wants to have men talk to her…I hear guys refer to having sex with a girl as ‘piping a girl.’ It’s rape implication and it needs to be stopped.”
Slangerup is in agreeance with Davis when he states “while not exhibited to an extreme extent, Denison does have a patriarchal dominance.”
Davis also notes that “we need more feminism on campus because women are not empowered to use their voice. There should be no need to shrink who you are to make other people comfortable. I know some great crusaders for gender and race equality on campus, but they are afraid to discuss it with other people unless they have similar values. A lot of women are feminists without realizing it.”
Manfredi thinks that it is perhaps partly because of misconceptions about feminism that sexual assault and sexism are such big problems on our campus. She also believes that feminism needs a stronger presence in our community, and could help target our gender-related issues.
“Compared to the rest of society, I do not think that Denison has a huge patriarchal dominance,” she says. “However, as I mentioned before, I still do not think that equality has been completely reached,” she said.
Manfredi sees specific causes for this inequality. “I think that Denison’s hookup culture and party scene contributes to a lot of the sexism that we see on campus,” she says. “Sexual assault and the objectification of women by men is something that we see happen quite often, and this is not acceptable. We are always talking about sexual assault, but we’re not really doing anything about it. We need an action plan.”
Students seek solutions to gender issues on campus
Slangerup thinks that by making people more aware of the “genderization” that occurs at youth and the problems it brings, we can make gender equality more prominent.
Davis has similar thoughts as Slangerup when she states “I think we have to stop reinforcing gender roles. When you look at the campus in general you see guys hanging out with each other and girls doing the same. There’s definitely a gender conformity that structures the social atmosphere of the campus.”
Davis went on to reflect on a “gender bender day” that took place at her high school in Chicago.”The girls would dress up as guys, and the guys would dress up as girls if they wanted to,” she explains. “It was very interesting because the girls would call out the guys on the street, similar to what some guys might do to women. I’m hesitant to bring it to campus but it was definitely helpful. I also believe the Denison Feminists and other like minded people can help spread individuality and the refusal to conform.”
Manfredi believes that our campus is taking steps in the right direction with programming directed toward gender equality and feminism, such as “Sex Discussed Here,” and Alison Bechdel’s recent lecture. However, she has noticed that the events she goes to do not usually have an equal ratio of women to men in attendance.
“Denison Feminists and the Center for Women and Gender Action offer an array of great programs and presentations throughout the year that focus on gender equality, but the majority of the people consistently attending these events are women who have an interest in feminism,” she says. “I think that by reaching out to people who are less likely to attend these events, we can more effectively bring these issues to the table.”
Manfredi suggests reaching out to athletic teams in particular to help spread the ideas of feminism to a more broad audience on campus.
Student media this year has acted as a discussion board for issues in feminism, gender equality, and racial boundaries. Organizations such as the Denison Feminists that put such an emphasis on the voice of the student have been rising in importance on campus when issues like the above are brought to the students’ attention. Plenty of solutions have been presented, it’s just a matter of putting these solutions into action to help solve gender and racial inequality.