Some of the “Who Needs Feminism” signs were defaced hours after they were posted around campus.
Some of the “Who Needs Feminism” signs were defaced hours after they were posted around campus.

A campaign to expose the diverse faces of feminism has attracted a mixed response from the Duke community as well as starting a dialogue on the subject.

Sixteen female students launched the “Who Needs Feminism?” campaign Wednesday in order to fight back against popular misconceptions surrounding the feminist movement. The students created this project to show how feminism crosses all demographics, as the posters show students of different genders, races, sexual orientations and backgrounds sharing statements on why they need feminism. The campaign has sparked a campus-wide and national dialogue, though it has not escaped its share of backlash.

“The goal of equality is not yet achieved, and these posters recognize that this is not merely a woman’s movement, but a human movement,” said senior Rose Sheela, a founder of the campaign. “There are many different shades to feminism.”

Since its launch, more than 7,000 people have “liked” the “Who Needs Feminism?” Facebook page, and 274 people have started following “Who Needs Feminism?” on Twitter. More than 27,000 different people from around the world have viewed the Tumblr page, which has been accessed from more than 120 different countries. The campaign also earned mentions by Yahoo! News and, an online news site dedicated to covering digital culture.

“Right now, we’re aware of the power of social media and the Internet, so we focused our energy on those sources,” Sheela said. “None of us were expecting it to be this big.”

Several hours after the campaign began, however, the posters were vandalized. The vandals added their own signs reading, “I need feminism because sandwiches can’t make themselves,” or “I need feminism because it’s funny watching them try to play sports.”

Junior Kate Gadsden said she was not surprised by this reaction, adding that the campaign participants expected backlash because people are uncomfortable with notion of publicized feminism.

“To me, it validated the project,” said Gadsden, another founder of the project. “We’re getting people talking about feminism in any way possible.”

This reaction also points to the larger need and some of the motivations behind such a campaign at Duke. There have been a number of anti-feminism comments on the campaign’s Facebook page, which is also receiving international attention.

“The gender climate here is very unwelcoming for women,” Sheela said. “A lot of people needed this campaign to restore their faith in gender relations here.”

“Who Needs Feminism?” is a final project for the class WOMENST185S: “Women in the Public Sphere,” taught by Rachel Seidman, associate director of the Duke Center for History, Public Policy and Social Change. One of the main aims of the course is to change preconceived notions about feminism through conversations. All 16 students in the class were involved in creating this project.

Seidman noted that through the project, her students want to share what they have learned this semester—that the feminist movement is not only comprised of “radical, bra-burning women.”

“My students began to understand the wide range of issues, concerns and tactics that women had brought to activism,” Seidman said. “They didn’t understand that [feminism] incorporated black women and poor women and women of all different religions and classes.”

Seidman also noted how social media has propelled the students’ project, adding that their strategy is one unavailable to previous generations of feminists. Seidman’s class will meet today for the first time since the campaign launched.

After watching the campaign spread beyond campus, Sheela said the students decided to create a how-to guide for those interested in starting a campaign at their own school.

“We’re not going to let this just die—we’re going to keep going with it,” she said.