Shelly Morris Mumma
April 22, 2015
Last night, on our campus, we had a public conversation between bell hooks and Gloria Steinem. BELL HOOKS AND GLORIA STEINEM!! Okay…now that’s out of my system. It was a phenomenal presentation. It was a full house of 850 people and was streamed live online for those that could not attend. It was truly a historic moment. I did not attend the event, but chose to meet with my Leadership Studies class in our classroom and watch online together since most of them were unable to obtain tickets. This allowed me to take six pages of notes on their conversation.
Directly after arriving home, I posted the above quote by Gloria Steinem on Facebook. It was Steinem’s response to the question, “How do you address anti-feminists in one phrase?” Her response, “You have a choice. You’re a feminist or a masochist. There is nothing else.” She went on to say that often people don’t really understand what feminism means.
Not long after I posted her quote, a male colleague whom I like and respect posted a response. “Hmm. That statement sounds pretty divisive. I hope there’s some context around it that makes it not so.” Just reading that last night made my heart hurt a little. But, I guess it proved Steinem’s point. One of her examples was Rush Limbaugh’s use of the word, “feminazi” since the early 1990’s. But, there are so many more examples. Every conservative media outlet, political pundits and most of pop culture portray feminists as man-hating, non-feminine witches. Maybe, “witches” isn’t quite the right word. But, that’s how they’re portrayed. I’m sure it wouldn’t take you more than a few seconds to come up with some obvious examples.
Earlier in the evening, hooks asked Steinem to talk about her opinion on the status of feminism now. Steinem’s response, “We know we’re not crazy, which is huge. We recognize oppression and are less likely to internalize it. We know the system is wrong and we know steps to make change…we understand that the masculine role is bullshit, too.” If I could educate everyone in just one way about feminism, it’s the importance of understanding that the gender binary (masculinity vs. femininity) is socially constructed. Many of the characteristics about men and women that we attribute to nature are really about socialization. One of the examples that Steinem and hooks discussed was that in the 1960s and 1970s, the main reason why women held office jobs was that it was a commonly accepted belief that men couldn’t type because they didn’t have small enough hands or the fine motor skills required. However, when computers came along, all of a sudden, men could type. “That was a revolution…the idea that men could, in fact, type.” said hooks.
As I think about our work with students, these ideas are so incredibly important. I teach a Gender and Leadership course where we spend time talking about feminism and about the social construction of gender roles and how these ideas influence what we view as leadership. Both men and women that enroll in the course come in with this idea that feminism is bad. But, the definition of feminism is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. Equal. For both men and women. And, as I continued to think about that comment on my Facebook post last night, this is what I kept coming back to. How do we educate others in a way that emphasizes this equality? How can we erase the mental picture that comes along with the idea of a “feminazi?” This is what we need to do. Some classes on our campuses help educate students about this, but what are we doing in Student Affairs to help with this education? What are we ALL doing? This isn’t just a women’s issue. It’s a human issue.
Luckily, Steinem and hooks talked a little about what we can do. Steinem’s advice was that it’s important to tell our stories. She said, “That’s how we connect and spread consciousness of issues.” She also said, “It’s not about what you should do, but that you do everything you can every single day. There is no end to the revolution.”
So what else can we do to tell our stories? How can we connect with students and spread consciousness of the issues around equality? Think about what you can do every single day and then do it. Take action.
On Facebook, I offered to have a conversation over coffee with the person that made that comment. I’m happy to say that he said he’d like to have that conversation. I believe that conversation will be incredibly important, because that’s one thing that I can do and I think it can make a difference.
If you’re interested in learning more, bell hooks and Gloria Steinem both recommended some books during their conversation last night.
1. Sex and World Peace by Valerie Hudson and Bonnie Ballif-Spanvill
2. At the Dark at the End of the Street by Danielle L. McGuire
3. Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks
Shelly Morris Mumma, Ph.D. is the Director of Leadership, Student Engagement and First Year Experience and the Campus Center at St. Norbert College in De Pere, WI. Her doctoral work is in Leadership Studies. She is married and has a daughter that attends the institution where she works and she is particularly proud this morning as she watches her social media posts about last night’s conversation as well. You can connect with Shelly on Twitter at @ShellyMMumma.
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