Last week, three young women from the Feminist Majority Foundation visited the large Intro to Women’s Studies class that I work as a TA. They did what I take to be a standard invitation:
FMF member: Okay! So who here is a feminist? Raise your hand!
(a smattering of hands go up)
FMF rep: Okay! So who here believes there should be equality between men and women?
(A lot more hands go up, but slowly.)
FMF rep: Okay then! That means you’re all feminists!
This is a group of young women and men, taking a Women’s Studies class. A large portion of the students were women of color. And they did not identify as feminist. If I was an FMF representative, I’d be curious to know why. Perhaps we could talk about their ideas about feminism. What was it about feminism, or perhaps just the term “feminist,” that they did not find relatable?
They FMF members smiled a lot, and seemed like nice enough young women. But they were also arrogant, and their blithe dismissal of any concerns the students had — oh yes you too are a feminist! — made me angry.
When I met with my students in discussion class, I asked them about why they didn’t raise their hands. Some said it was just because they were uncomfortable with the term.
A number were upset about FMF’s support for the invasion and continued occupation of Afghanistan. One student used the term “colonialist,” and another said it was attempt to “save brown women from brown men.” These were first- and second-year students, quoting Spivak. I almost cried.
Others took issue with the second question, the facile “equality between men and women.” One Chicana student recalled the racism leveled at her father, her brothers, and her boyfriend faced every single day. Another student brought up Devah Pager’s “The Mark of a Criminal Record,” a matched-pair experiment that showed how white men with criminal records still received higher job callback rates that Black applicants with similar work experience but no criminal record. What men were the FMF reps referring to?
In the end, we did get a good discussion out of the FMF visit. And I did learn a lot about and from my students. The FMF reps might have too, had they bothered to ask questions and listen.