Last Spring, students in a class on women’s leadership compiled a photo campaign with people from diverse backgrounds holding up signs that read “I need feminism because...” followed by a reason that was special to them. The photos were displayed throughout campus, and posted on Facebook and Tumblr.
Six months after launching the “Who Needs Feminism?” campaign, seniors Ashley Tsai, Ivanna Gonzalez and Kate Gadsden, as well as Rachel Seidman, visiting assistant professor of public policy, gathered for a forum Thursday to discuss the combination of backlash and support they received with their venture and the changes they are making to the project’s website.
Now, the team’s focus has turned to improving what they have already created. The students devoted the month of October to submissions on politics and the women within them, Gonzalez said. She emphasized that the creators want to facilitate a discussion atmosphere and keep their opinions separate from the opinions of the website.
“We’re not the ones who need to say something about it,” she said. “We don’t want to alienate people.”
The campaign’s Tumblr has received over 200,000 views since its launch—58 percent of those views were first-time visitors. Although the majority of viewers are in the United States, the site has received hits from individuals in over 120 countries.
When the campaign’s Tumblr first hit the internet, it was met with more attention than the creators had anticipated, both positive and negative.
“I was writing a paper and I couldn’t stop looking at the Facebook page,” Gonzalez said. “I couldn’t stop looking at the page because there were these horrible, horrible things being commented.”
Gonzalez noted that a particular group of international bodybuilders launched an effort to flood the website with mocking imitation photos, such as one reading: “I need feminism because my dick doesn’t suck itself.”
But the campaign also received support from students and others interested in the subject.
“What made me keep coming back to the page was that [it] wasn’t trying to describe what feminism was,” said a student from Singapore in attendance. “My society is relatively patriarchal, so every time a guy popped up and posted something, it was very new to me.”
The students have also had to deal with the often debated issue of the effectiveness of online activism. Seidman said that her opinion, which previously leaned towards the negatives of online activism, has now changed with the response to the “Who Needs Feminism?” project.
“Much of what young women are writing about would be difficult to fix through policy or politics,” she said. “Much of it is about changing hearts and minds.”
The venture was inspired by the final project for Seidman’s Women in the Public Sphere class. The only two guidelines for the assignment were that it had to promote social change and be something the undergraduates were very interested in. The group began to discuss gender differences at the University and from there the idea sparked.
“We wanted to detach the negative stigma that existed with feminism,” Tsai said.