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Who needs feminism?

Identify yourself as a feminist today and many people will immediately assume you are a man-hating, bra-burning, whiny liberal. Perhaps a certain charming radio talk show host will label you as a “Feminazi” or “slut.” Even among more moderate crowds, feminism is still seen as too radical, too uncomfortable or simply unnecessary. Feminism is both misunderstood and denigrated regularly right here on Duke’s campus.

We, the 16 women of Professor Rachel Seidman’s course Women in the Public Sphere, have decided to fight back against these popular misconceptions surrounding the feminist movement.

Our class was disturbed by what we perceive to be an overwhelmingly widespread belief among students that today’s society no longer needs feminism. In order to change this perception on campus, we have launched a PR campaign for feminism. We aim to challenge existing stereotypes surrounding feminists and assert the importance of feminism today.

Hanging all over Duke’s campus this week are posters featuring students from a variety of backgrounds and group affiliations, each asserting why they need feminism. These posters feature both male and female students, and include football players, ballet dancers, fraternity members and campus leaders. You will be hard-pressed to define a “typical feminist” in this group because “typical feminists” don’t exist. But atypical feminists are everywhere at Duke. They are in your classes, on the bus, standing beside you in line at Alpine. These are ordinary people of any age, gender or race, who simply believe that women and men are equal. They recognize that this is not merely a woman’s movement, but a human movement. What makes these people different from those who say, “Oh yeah, I support women’s rights, but I’m not a feminist or anything” is that supporting feminism is not a scary thing to them. They are willing to stand by their belief in gender equality even when doing so may make other people uncomfortable.

Demands for gender equality are often laughed aside or deemed irrelevant because of “how far we’ve come” since the 1970s. Many people (especially women) would like to think that equal opportunities exist, and that any difference in what women and men achieve can be explained by the choices women make. However, we must realize individual “choices” are made within a massively complicated social, cultural, economic and political context. Structural inequities and dominant gender norms restrict women from fulfilling their potential, despite hard work and high aspirations. So to Duke women who work tirelessly to graduate from one of the best universities in the country, we’d like to make you aware that statistically, you will have more difficulty getting a job than a man of equal qualifications.

Other facts you may not be familiar with:

  1. Women with a master’s degree earn 72.7 percent of what men with equal education earn in the same position.

  2. In 2011, only 2.4 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs and 6.7 percent of Fortune 500 top earners were women.

  3. In 2011, women made up only 19.5 percent of partners in law firms.

  4. Between 80 and 90 percent of women have been harassed in public. Harassment is a gateway crime that normalizes other forms of gender violence.

  5. One in five women are victims of sexual assault.

  6. The U.S. ranks 70th in women in government.

  7. About one in two people on Earth are women. Shouldn’t they have equality with the other half of the world’s population?

Despite the backlash against feminists in the media and popular culture, where would we be without it? Feminism helped women get the vote, go to the same schools as men, hold the same jobs men do, gain property rights, protection from domestic violence, get a divorce and gain reproductive rights and access to birth control.

But as these posters are up to remind us, the goal of equality is not yet achieved. We found people who told us why they need feminism: “…Because I shouldn’t have to justify my ambitions,” “…Because intoxication shouldn’t mean ‘yes,’” “…Because I still hold gender bias and I don’t want to.” We need feminism because we love and respect our grandmothers, our mothers, our sisters, our friends and ourselves. We need feminism because of the women who fought for the opportunities we now enjoy, and because we must continue striving for equality. One of our poster participants said, “I need feminism because one person can’t fight gender bias alone.” It takes a lot of people to change a stereotype. It starts when one person thinks about the women in their life and decides that it is unacceptable for them to be treated as inferior. And it starts when that person, and another, and another, realize that maybe feminism isn’t so crazy. Maybe it just makes sense. And when all those people start to challenge the status quo on campus and in the world, something can change.

To quote of one our posters, “Equality doesn’t just happen.”

We need feminism.

Why do you?

See more posters and “like” this on Facebook at: The students of Women in the Public Sphere, Spring 2012, represented by:

Deja Beamon, Trinity ‘13, Allison Beattie, Trinity ‘14, Michelle Burrows, Trinity ’14, Grace Cassidy Trinity ‘14, Sunny Frothingham, Trinity ‘14, Amy Fryt, Trinity ‘12, Kate Gadsden, Trinity ’13, Ivanna Gonzalez, Trinity ‘13, Laura Holland, Trinity ’13, Catharine Kappauf, Trinity ‘14, Sarah Kendrick, Trinity ’13, Laura Kuhlman, Trinity ‘13, Melissa Miller, Trinity ’14, Molly Quirke, Trinity ’14, Rose Sheela, Trinity ‘12, Ashley Tsai, Trinity ‘13