Annie Oxborough-Yankus – Pitzer ‘12
Hailey Hartford – Scripps ‘12
Alvin Sangsuwangul – Pomona ‘10
Rosa Greenberg – Pomona ‘12
V Day, a campus group that advocates for the end of violence against women, posted life-size paper silhouettes that bore statistics on domestic violence around the 5C’s last Sunday night. By 9:30 the next morning, one of these outlines hanging outside of the south entrance of Frary Dining Hall had been vandalized with the words, “FUCK BITCHES GET MONEY.” On Wednesday night, two days later, a second silhouette was found with its arms taped together behind its body bound to the railing across from Frary’s south entrance. One of these acts is disturbing in and of itself, but this pattern of incidents seems to show clear intent. The second one is particularly visceral in that it attempts to recreate the violence that the campaign was speaking out against by turning the witness into a victim. The flyers attached to the silhouettes contained statistics that 7.8 million women have been raped by an intimate partner at some point in their lifei and that 113 people died due to domestic violence in California in 2008.ii
These are large numbers and it’s hard to conceptualize that each number represents the life and death of a person. Recently in the news, a 15-year-old girl was gang-raped outside of her high-school homecoming dance, in Richmond, CA. As many as 10 individuals were involved, while 10 others witnessed the two-and-a-half hour-long assault without calling police. Fortunately, she survived and is currently in stable condition.iii While this story is receiving publicity, there are many other stories that we will never hear. According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, which includes projections of crimes that were not reported to the police, 232,960 women in the U.S. were raped or sexually assaulted in 2006. This amounts to over 600 women every day.iv According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, women experience 4.8 million intimate partner-related physical assaults and rapes every year.v
This wave of violence directed at women is not a recent phenomenon. Despite the comprehensive data confirming this pattern of violence against women, the issue rarely comes up in the news media or in public and political discourse. This violence is viewed as unfortunate but unavoidable and thus goes unaddressed: these crimes are seen as scattered incidents rather than the consequences of a social trend.
The incidents at Frary in some ways support this trend. It may be tempting to think about this as a joke played by the harmless intoxicated, but is it really more comforting? It seems disconcerting that there are students on this campus that do not consider rape, domestic abuse, and the murder of women as serious issues that also affect our community. Samantha Jones, one of the co-facilitators of the Women’s Union at Pomona, says, “This vandalism is a slap in the face to anyone who has ever been affected by domestic violence which—despite the fallacy that nothing of this sort could have happened to any one on campus—most certainly includes members of our community.”
If you have not already been personally affected by these issues it may be difficult to know how to be active in this struggle. One way to begin is to think about feminism as a way of engaging with these issues and connecting them to your everyday life. Though we have focused largely on violence against women there are other far-reaching implications of gender norms that feminism addresses. As you sit down to eat dinner in at any of the dining halls on campus one out of every five women around you likely struggles with an eating disorder.vi The unrealistic representations of the female body in the media contribute to a culture that encourages this destructive behavior. As graduation approaches, we are faced with the reality that gender and sexual orientation will affect the salaries we receive. Women and gay men can expect to earn 77-78 cents on the dollar that a straight man earns in a comparable position.vii Even among friends both men and women experience pressure to aspire to masculine and feminine ideals, which limits people’s abilities to authentically relate to one another. Feminism works to combat these issues by showing how they are interrelated and dependent on a society that reinforces gender norms and hierarchies. Thus, by taking a stand against daily manifestations of gender inequality we are working to end ideologies that normalize violence against women.
Since feminism works for a more just society for all members, why does it elicit such strong negative reactions? Merriam-Webster Dictionary provides the following definition for feminism:
1: the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes
2: organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.
In contrast, Urban Dictionary offers a different definition. Though Urban Dictionary is notorious for its uncensored and often offensive definitions, these views are often reflective of widely held beliefs. Here are a few Urban Dictionary definitions of feminism:
• “Feminism is a federally funded, politically correct, special interest hate group.”
• “Now it is equal to Nazism in its zealous pursuit to destroy all that is manly.”
• “A movement to promote women’s interests at the expense of men.”
To see how pervasive these negative attitudes toward feminism are, we sought the views of Claremont College students. The first question we asked was, “What first comes to mind when you hear the word feminism?” Here are some of the responses that we received:
“Angry women. The first thing that comes to my mind is a picture of a meeting room with a lot of women being angry about men.”
“It is not worth the time and effort that feminists put into putting down men”
“Women’s rights for equality.”
“The first two things that come to mind are extremism and radicalism only because society and history has shaped it that way.”
“The first thing that comes to mind when I think of feminism is a liberal mindset bent on putting down men for no reason to further progress an already progressed sex.”
“Striving for equal treatment.”
“Scripps, and women that don’t need or have any time for men. ‘Independent women’ in the words of Destiny’s Child.”
The second question we posed was, “What is a feminist? How do you describe a feminist?”:
“Sexy or a lesbian.”
“Woman who believes in equality and sometimes in women’s superiority.”
“Women who wish to break free of inherently sexist society and western patriarchal paradigms through forms of self expression ranging from physical appearance to literature and community organizing, or a male feminist who speaks out in support of women.”
“A feminist is a woman who only lives to give men a hard time about things that they’ve never done.”
“Someone who unnecessarily banters about female rights and equality.”
“I don’t think you can classify what a feminist is in a definition because there are so many different kinds of feminists out there. Somebody who wants to empower women and stand up for women’s rights.”
It is apparent that while some of these responses reflect the Merriam-Webster definition, many others reflect attitudes similar to those seen in Urban Dictionary. These characterizations of feminists as butch, lesbian, aggressive, and man-hating women, reflect the perception of feminism as an extremist form of “reverse sexism.” First, arguments that feminism “put[s] down men for no reason [except] to further progress an already progressed sex” ignore that while women are now regarded as equal before the law, advances have not been experienced universally. Women who are from lower classes and/or identify as transgender, queer, or part of a racially marginalized group continue to suffer from increased gender discrimination and violence. Second, arguments that feminism is only about women fail to recognize the ways in which it is beneficial for all genders, including men. Masculine norms force men into rigid “macho” behavior of masculinity based in power and strength, limiting agency and opportunities for development outside of societal control. Feminism addresses the ways that gender norms impact all of us, not only women.
Feminist activism can be personal or structured. There are a set of organizations that directly address issues of gender equality and feminism on the 5Cs. However, you don’t have to be involved with a structured group to be working towards gender equality. Feminism can be anything from a public awareness campaign to a conversation you have with a friend about gender. If you do want to get involved in a group on the 5Cs, here are a number of organizations that directly address issues of gender equality and feminist activities. These include, but are not limited to:
Pitzer: Feminist Coalition, Meetings Mondays 9pm, Grove House (email@example.com)
Scripps: The Feminist Majority (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Pomona: WU—Women’s Union, Pomona College located on the 2nd floor of Walker and open 4-11PM Sunday through Thursday and 12AM – 7PM on Friday and Saturday, Litany for Survival Weekly Discussion Group, Thursdays 9pm in the WU (email@example.com)
Advocates for Survivors of Sexual Assault, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.advocates.aspc.pomona.edu Voicemail Hotline: 909-607-1778
CMC: The Women’s Forum (contact through the Dean of Student’s Office at (909) 621-8114)
Harvey Mudd: PRISM—People Respecting Individual’s Sexuality at Mudd, Meeting Thursdays 5:30pm Mitchell PDR the Hoch (email@example.com)
5C: V Day, Meetings Sundays 5pm at the Queer Resource Center on Pomona’s Campus, (Vdayclaremont@gmail.com)
WOW—Women on Women, Meetings Thursdays 10pm the Queer Resource Center (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Queer Resource Center, located in Walton Commons on Pomona’s campus and open 2 pm–9 pm Monday–Thursday, 2 pm–6 pm Friday, and 7 pm–9 pm (Study Hours)
i. Costs of Intimate Partner Violence Against Women in the United States. 2003. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Centers for Injury Prevention and Control.
ii. California Department of Justice, Criminal Justice Statistics Center.
iv. Bureau of Justice Statistics (table 2, page 15), Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2006 Statistical Tables, http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/cvus0601.pdf
v. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Understanding Intimate Partner Violence (PDF), http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/dvp/ipv_factsheet.pdf
vi. National Institute of Mental Health’s (NIMH) guide, Eating Disorders: Facts About Eating Disorders and the Search for Solutions.
vii. “Gay Men Face Discrimination, Pay Imbalance in Workplace,” New York Reuters, Oct 25, 2007. http://www.canada.com/victoriatimescolonist/news/life/story.html?id=0f83cd5e-e92e-4a6e-b13b-2b39fb21e309
“The Gender Wage Gap: 2008”, Institute For Women’s Policy Research Fact Sheet, September 2009, www.iwpr.org/pdf/C350.pdf