A new media activism program at Duke aims to help young women excel in writing about gender issues.
This Spring, senior Samantha Lachman, media activism intern at the Duke Women’s Center, worked with Women’s Center Director Ada Gregory to launch Write(H)ers, an initiative to create a community of feminist-oriented writers. The 23 members of the program will participate in personal blogging and workshops with professional journalists to discuss gender issues in society and on campus. Senior Sarah Van Name, a member of Write(H)ers and a contributor to Duke’s feminist blog Develle Dish, said the program serves to train young women and better equip them to be activists when they need to be.
“This program was a dream come true for me because I read a lot of feminist blogs and several of the women who write these blogs now have the opportunity to come to Duke and explain to this new community how to follow in their footsteps,” Van Name said.
Each participant in the Write(H)ers program must attend workshop dinners with four visiting journalists and feminist bloggers including Jill Filipovic, Irin Carmon, Heather Havrilesky and Rebecca Traister. Lachman said Traister was the most famous of the four visiting journalists. In 2011, she wrote “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” which discusses gender politics in the 2008 U.S. election.
Each student must also contribute three blog posts over the course of the semester to either the Women’s Center blog or Develle Dish.
“[The Women’s Center] wanted to create a space for students to write about their personal relationships with gender issues to dispel stereotypes and help diffuse the tension around gender on campus,” said Lachman, who also writes a column for The Chronicle.
The program received more than 40 applications and accepted 23 students, including one male student. The goal, Lachman said, was to find writers who were feminist in outlook and already published in different capacities on campus. The students did not have to be involved with the Women’s Center or in gender violence prevention programming—which has become a large focus of the center in the past several years—but needed to show interest in discussing gender dynamics on campus, she said.
Senior Nathan Nye, the only male student who applied to the program, expressed his excitement for being given the opportunity to participate.
“This will be such a positive experience because it gives me a small window into the perspectives of several women involved in fields that still deal with huge gender disparities,” Nye said.
He said he initially became interested in gender issues because of inequities in the media.
“I am fascinated by how women are portrayed and how different this portrayal is from the women I’ve known my entire life,” he said.
Lachman said she has noticed gender inequities through her own personal experience with relationships and power dynamics between men and women in high school and college. She went to an all-girls high school but did not realize she was a feminist until college.
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Lachman credited her experience at Common Ground as being formative in her development as a feminist. After that, she looked for somewhere at Duke to apply both her interest in the media and her feminist outlook.
“For a lot of women, becoming a feminist is about realizing that discrimination does exist and you can do something about it,” Lachman said. “It doesn’t necessarily take much to make that leap, it just takes thinking about ways that you can overcome the patriarchy that exists in our society.”
Although Write(H)ers is primarily for those who openly identify as feminist, another goal of the program includes reaching out to people who might be allies to the feminist movement but have never talked about gender issues openly, Van Name said.
She added that day-to-day activism is about trying to look at the world in a different perspective.
“There are a lot of people here who have never considered what it’s like to be a woman in that you’re constantly told that you have to be on the watch when you’re walking home by yourself, or watch what you’re drinking and wearing when you go out,” Van Name said.