My experience as a feminist at BC has been defined less by my own convictions and more so by the assumptions made about the cause by those around me. Feminism, at its heart, is a multifaceted concept and one that extends far beyond the ‘BC bubble.’ I might argue that the cause becomes even graver in context of the world at large. But as a student here, I’ve found that many of my peers are enthusiastic about the ideals of feminism and equality as a whole. However, there is still a prevailing male-dominated culture on campus that often deters the growth and spread of feminist ideals.
“Feminist culture at Boston College is a work-in-progress; that is to say feminism here is slowly but surely progressing. At a university with the demographic makeup of BC, it is easy for feminism to be misunderstood, sidestepped, homogenized, or rejected.” These powerful words spoken by Maggie Haesler, LSOE '19, encapsulate commonly shared feelings amongst the BC community.
Feminism is about acceptance, equality, growth, love, and determination—all things that a BC student typically strives to emulate. After all, we are men and women for others, aren’t we? The ideal BC student cares about and respects all, so why does it so often feel as if the voices of the female, P.O.C., and LGBTQ communities are being silenced? Issues of gender are very real at this school, but it is important to understand that fighting the good fight doesn’t mean doing it for generalized feminism, but rather for intersectional feminism.
Feminism is about being present, active, involved, and staying informed. The ideal feminist is not selective. Contrarily, intersectional feminism—the understanding that there is a difference in power and privilege depending on identity (i.e. race, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc.)— is the goal. The experiences of a heterosexual white woman are not the same as the experiences of a lesbian black woman, but both demand and deserve equal representation and advocacy under the umbrella of the new feminist age. Those who call themselves feminists need to fight for the equality of all women.
BC is not an overly diverse place, but still there are stories to be told and voices to be heard from many different people from many different backgrounds on this campus. Our time at BC should be spent learning, taking in information, creating our own ideas about the world, and abiding by the values we hold dear.
Professor Lori Harrison-Kahan, who teaches Human Rights and American Women’s Writings 1850-1920, explains that in an academic setting, BC students seem to be interested in gender issues. “From the academic perspective, students at BC appear to be more interested in feminist issues than they were in the past, particularly the women, taking all sorts of classes on gender studies. You rarely see men in women and gender studies classes, but I don’t believe it is because they’re unwilling to have the conversations. Presented with the opportunity, male students will actively participate in discussions on gender. They just don’t seek them out.”
The Lynch School has a requirement on women’s writing, and gender issues are discussed at length in seminar classes like Courage To Know and Perspectives; however, it too often feels as if there is a time constraint on these conversations. A group of 30 students can only dive so deep into gender-related issues in a 50-minute class period. As soon as those Stokes Hall doors are closed, so too, largely, is the conversation.
It doesn’t help that the administration tends to stay neutral on social issues, and in particular those relating to race and gender. Support from the administration is selective, which is exactly the problem with feminism today. There is too much picking and choosing of which feminist topics to develop a rallying cry around. This is why it is so important for students at BC today to continue the conversation, even after we leave this place.
Feminism is what you make of it. Sexism is a very real, very prominent part of the world. It is hard and it hurts, but it happens every day. The experiences I have had with sexism and gender discrimination are few compared to the many experienced by other women, but they have lit a flame inside me nonetheless. I can say definitively that these feelings have made me excited to be a part of the change I want to see in this world.
In my time at BC, I have learned to stop lying down in the face of injustice. Speak up, speak your mind, and speak your truth. Jenna Greig, LSOE '19, shared some similar advice about how to be a feminist at BC: “[H]ave open conversations even if you know that someone doesn’t share your viewpoint—you have to plant the seed.” There is a lot to be learned from people on this campus, and never again will we be in a setting where we can exclusively engage with peers of our own age. The scope of the feminist mission extends far beyond what we are exposed to here at BC, so be a feminist for all those who don't have the academic or social opportunities to luxuriate in the richness of discourse.