Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Adventures in Women's Studies 101

I have two little anecdotes to share:

Last week, I asked my women's studies class how many of them consider themselves feminists; one student raised her hand (out of 60). When I asked them if they believe women and men should be equal in society, everyone raised their hands. This was a perfect set-up for talking about the antifeminist backlash, but also extremely depressing.

Earlier today, I asked my students to discuss what needs to be changed in terms of gender equity/inequity in society today. A guy in the back of the room who has barely made a peep so far this semester responded (this is an approximation of what he said), "I think it's really important that women have the right to abortion because from my perspective, as a guy, it's my job to support her decision no matter what because it's her body and not mine. And I don't think it's right that society makes being pro-choice look so bad and that some people, like the religious right, think it's okay to make decisions about women's bodies for them."

I now love this guy...although he still didn't raise his hand when I asked if anyone considered themselves a feminist. Peer pressure? Cultural denigration of a term that should be more neutral than it's often presumed to be? Any other theories?


Anonymous said...

I do think that today's society does lend itself to take the term "feminism" in a negative light. Many a time, after telling people "I am a feminist", I am met with uncomfortable silences or "Oh, well, uh... does this mean you hate men?" Particularly since feminists online tend to be very vocal about their opinions on certain issues without any wiggle room, there is the worry that we may lash out and attack.

However, I don't think that just because someone associates themselves with the idea of supporting the equality of women or the idea that women should have control over their own bodies automatically makes them a feminist. It is only if they decide to consciously label themselves as such can we say that they are. It's not our decision, as a community, to say what is and is not feminism and what, indeed, makes a feminist.

Leila@LittleCatholicBubble said...

My theory is that abortion is the best thing that ever happened to irresponsible men who like to use women. Not hard to guess why a young college guy would think abortion is a great choice. Do you think he'd be so quick to support her if her "choice" was that he marry her and raise the child together? Unlikely.

Women deserve better than abortion.

Aviva DV said...

@seashellontheshore: We certainly can't assume or label people as feminists against their will, but I think it's important for people (especially women's studies students) to understand that the most basic definition of feminism is, quite simply, "the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men" (and that's the dictionary definition. By the definition, a lot people who wouldn't say "I'm a feminist" would still probably consider themselves feminism. It's worth considering that disconnect.

@Leila: Yeah, that's not really what being pro-choice means to me. Nor was my student expressing the idea that abortion is a "great choice." Pro-choice doesn't necessarily equate to pro-abortion, and what he was saying is that it's not his business to choose what a woman should do with her body.

I think women deserve to have a choice.