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A personal invitation to embrace feminism

| Thursday, October 9, 2014

I am not a feminist because I hate men. I am not a feminist because I’m Emma Watson (or Joseph Gordon-Levitt, or Lena Dunham, or even Beyoncé), and I’m certainly not a feminist because I’m an un-ironically #blessed Notre Dame student. I’m a feminist because I’ve been granted the opportunity to learn about cultures where women face bigger problems than two sympathy points on the “attractiveness” rating scale.

Still, Notre Dame should attack its misogynistic tendencies with all the ferocity we can muster. The commonly heard “forcible fondling” jokes prove that men and women alike have trouble accepting feminism as a serious issue. In a bubble where we all have the opportunity and encouragement to pursue our dreams, we forget that women still burn in honor of their dead husbands in India. We forget that women are still stolen and sold into sexual slavery at ten years old in Cambodia. We forget that some women are still not even allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia.

At Notre Dame, Yik Yaks make “I have a boyfriend” jokes and I cringe, wondering why girls even have to say “I have a boyfriend” instead of simply “I’m not interested.” At Notre Dame, girls raise eyebrows at the length of other girl’s skirts at the Career Fair and boys make comments about the number of dance floor make-outs “allowed” before a girl becomes a “slut.” At Notre Dame, we are perpetrators of casual misogyny.

Because we tolerate these comments and behaviors at Our Lady’s University, we have excused ourselves from the feminist stage. What would it take for us to decide to take care of each other? Do we need a personal invitation from Emma Watson to “Embrace the F-Word?” Or is it perhaps that our violations of equality are simply too small to warrant our attention?

I’m no Emma, but here’s a personal invitation to join the cause. As privileged students, we get to nitpick these “too-small” gender issues – yet the United States is still ranked 23rd on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index, behind Cuba, Lesotho, and Burundi. So there are 23 countries that treat the genders more “equally” than the United States, based on economic participation and opportunity, health and survival, educational attainment and political empowerment. This also means nearly every other country in the world experiences tremendously less gender equality than we do.

Therefore, I reiterate my point: with our privileged position in society, we are all called to be feminists. We’re not all called to hate men, or sign up for 75 NGOs or read Nicholas Kristoff’s “Half the Sky” every night before bed (although it’s an excellent book). We’re not even called to look up to celebrities like Beyoncé (although if you don’t, are you really human?) We are called to fight for opportunities for everyone to pursue their dreams, regardless of color, sexuality, gender and sex. Here at Notre Dame, we can start by adopting the “feminist” label or at least the label of “brothers and sisters” – meaning we watch our Zahm jokes and think twice about our ND Crushes and Yik Yaks. It also means taking a step out of our bubble to think globally. Still waiting for your personal invitation? Here it is.

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Annie Kuster

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  • Joe

    You came to Notre Dame. The catholic church is a mysognistic institution. You came to the wrong school if you believe in women’s rights. The boys might be arguing over how many dance floor make outs you need to be below them, but our lady believes it only takes one dance floor make out.

    • Meaghan

      That makes no sense. Catholicism does not promote gender inequality. Saying that “our lady believes it only takes one dance floor make out” does not mean that women (or men for that matter) should be marginalized for their actions. As a Catholic, you are called to love and accept others despite their actions, and feminism allows you to do that by encouraging equal treatment towards all. Even Jesus treated women with love and respect although he lived during a time when women’s rights were virtually nonexistent; Mary Magdalene, a women who by all accounts had gone way further than “one dance floor make out,” became one of his closest disciples. The viewpoint above is not arguing that women should be given the upper hand in the Catholic Church or the world, or even that it is necessary for everyone to support “dance floor make outs;” rather, it argues that women should simply be treated with respect, a basic human right. By encouraging love rather than judgement or negativity towards all of its students, Notre Dame is truly following the call of Our Lady.

  • Katie

    You’re missing the point of the article in that feminism is to promote equality. We are a catholic university and with that we are all children of God and should love and respect one another just as God loves us. So i’m sorry but your kind of judgement is just not welcome.

    • Joe

      You don’t understand what feminism considers equality. If you did and you were a feminist, you wouldn’t be here.

      • Katie

        I’m sorry if you doubt that men and women are equals and should be treated as so. I’m not sure you belong here either.

        • Joe

          I do believe that. The point is that if you are catholic then you don’t believe that.

          • Katie

            I think you should look at Meaghan’s comment above and brush up on your study of the Catholic church and its social teachings as well as feminism. Also if you’re saying you believe that, then you are also saying yourself are not a Catholic? Am I getting this right?

            “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”- Galatians 3:28

          • Anaon

            If you want to be quoting bible verses there are plenty misogynistic ones. “A marriage shall be considered valid only if the wife is a virgin. If the wife is not a virgin, she shall be executed” Deuteronomy 22:13-21

          • John

            If Feminism means supporting abortion and contraception then yes the Church is against this. But this article shows a different side of feminism that the church strongly agrees with: the belief that women have dignity and deserve to be treated with respect. The world objectifies women constantly and this is wrong. This article is about women’s rights of course, one of which is giving women the respect they deserve.

          • João Pedro Santos

            Feminism means support the right to do what people want with their own bodies. So yes, feminist support the right to have sexual activity without catching an STD or getting pregnant when someone doesn’t want to get pregnant. Not using contraception leads to STD’s and unintended pregnancies, which by its turn may lead to poverty. Moreover, the Catholic Church is against abortion even when the life of the mother is at risk… and this is obviously misogyny.

      • Kim

        I think the only person who doesn’t understand what feminism is is you. Much like how you are missing the point of the Catholic Church, you are missing the point of what it means to be a feminist. It is about acceptance and tolerance, love and compassion. I think that you are looking at feminism with a narrow mind. The true meaning of feminism is equality. It is about seeing similarities instead of differences. I don’t know what kind of warped definition of feminist equality you have conjured in your mind, but it certainly is not the same definition that most feminists agree with.

        • Joe2

          The church has been called the single biggest enemy of women’s rights. Take a moment to think of the major women’s rights movement of the last 50 years. Abortion, Contraception, the right of spouse to say no, the right of a women to leave the domestic sphere?

          How many of those does the catholic church support?

          • Kim

            At the same time, the Catholic church was based upon a doctrine about love. While I do not agree with everything that the church supports, I do believe in a Catholic church that supports love and that’s how I’ve based my faith.

            Every day, we are one step closer towards change. The church itself has been changing and progressing, much like how society progresses as a whole (because what would be of us if we did not progress?). Look at Pope Francis, for example. And again, much like how society is not perfect, the church is not either. We need to accept that neither God or the Church is perfect. As a result, we need take on the task of bringing justice to a flawed earth and even a flawed humanity. And if you are willing to settle with your view of a Church as a misogynist church, then you’re not doing yourself or anyone any favors. That attitude is the attitude that stops progress and the growth of humanity. That attitude is the attitude that perpetuates the issues.

  • Student

    You raise really good points. Striving for gender equality is the responsibility of both men and women. It’s a shame how prevalent, subversive, and culturally accepted (both here at Notre Dame and in society as a whole) the stereotypes regarding men and women have become.

  • Come on, man

    I hate this idea that people perpetuate, that Notre Dame has a specific set of rules, and if you don’t like it you should leave. Notre Dame isn’t perfect, and they don’t make the rules. If you don’t like the way things are, fight for change. Notre Dame is a UNIVERSITY, and the whole idea of a university is the exchange of ideas and knowledge. Instead of just telling everyone “you can’t be a feminist and an ND student” let’s have a discussion about feminism at ND.

  • dude

    No thanks

  • Ali

    I seriously love this and wanted to write something similar. So glad you beat me to it great job!

  • Nathan

    Just a side note, but I think the “forcible fondling” jokes have more to do with the administrations absurd euphemism than with actual downplaying of the event. It’s like in high school when our principal was fired for having “inappropriate adult images” on his computer.

  • mensrights reddits

    I’m going to limit my comment to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index,because the techniques they used to hide their antimale discriminatory reporting is so insidious and so clearly seen when you know how to read it.

    My image here http://i.imgur.com/flgIiS9.png, taken directly from the 2013 report, has some notes I added to demonstrate the problem: Nations in which women and girls far outperformed men were ranked higher in the “equality” index, for that performance, than nations in which males and females performed equally. In the original report, see table D9, “Enrolment in Tertiary Education.” See place 91, Guatemala. Ration 18:18 F/M, reducible to 1:1. Then see place 1: Qatar. That ratio: 31:5, F/M. Why would it be in an “equality index” that a nation scores higher for having a ratio of 31:5 F/M successes in a given category?

  • Doug Lefelhocz

    So I ran across this article via Matthew D’Emic’s response to it. I don’t accept the invitation for various reasons, but I do think that women should get allowed to serve as priests in the Catholic Church.

    • Curious

      Why not? The author’s invitation and Emma Watson’s speech seemed pretty harmless.

      • Doug Lefelhocz

        Did you read Matthew D’Emic’s piece? http://ndsmcobserver.com/2014/10/embrace-the-mens-rights-movement/

        I guess my response was hard to find there, so here you go…

        I don’t like quoting the Kanin study. I don’t really know if it’s a
        good study or not (NOR do I know if other studies of false rape
        accusations are good studies methodologically or not).

        That said, the author’s point here does not hinge on the issue of false rape
        accusations. There exists MUCH, MUCH more to male disadvantage, and
        even discrimination against men and boys. As some more examples:

        The death penalty in practice usually only applies to men, and oftentimes
        *legally* can only get applied to men. Men make up the majority of
        victims of violence in the world. In the U. S. men don’t have an
        explicit right to genital integrity, while women do. Men have to
        register with the Selective Service System and face penalization if they
        don’t do so. Women don’t have to do so. Men don’t have a right to
        legal parental surrender *even when raped*, while women do via abortion
        *or adoption*. Men die earlier on average. Boys suffer from corporal
        punishment more often than girls. Male rape victims get classified as
        something other than rape victims by the Center for Disease Control… http://www.avoiceformen.com/mi

        The U. S. has a National Council on Women and Girls. The U. S. does NOT
        have a Council on Men and Boys in spite of a several year proposal to
        create one.

        To reiterate one issue mentioned above… men are disproportionally the victims of violence.

        Those who want to cavalierly dismiss the Men’s Human Rights Movement, would do much better to read books such as The Second Sexism by David Benatar, The Myth of Male Power by Warren Farrell, Men on Strike by Helen Smith, Spreading Misandry, and Legalizing Misandry by Katherine Young and Paul Nathanson.”

        Also, here’s a fairly good description of what it takes to qualify as a feminist: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/09/not-a-feminist-move-on-men-women

        With respect to “who is disadvantaged more by gender inequality” I would either respond “men” or “disadvantaged equally in different ways” or “this question makes me uncomfortable”.

  • FriendlyNeighborhoodSpiderman

    The thing about feminism is they ignore the duties men are required to do. I am all for gender equality, but until I hear feminists complaining about not getting drafted for the army, not getting to fight on the front lines, winning custody battles in 85% of cases, etc. then I cannot take them seriously.

    Men and women need to be equal. But equal rights also means equal responsibility. I want women to get equal wages, but also get drafted as well and so on and so forth.

    • João Pedro Santos

      So patriarchy tells men to go fight in arms but who are you blaming for that? Feminists, of course. Makes all sense. And by the way, nobody is going to fight for the right to die in a war. In fact, throughout history feminists fought against conscription, even though that didn’t affect them directly.

  • A Concerned Student

    As a fellow female feminist, I appreciate how much discussion is being generated by this viewpoint. However, I do think that a lot of the generalizations and examples given, gloss over critical aspects of feminism. The author brings up privilege, but shies away from actually defining it in this context. I agree that ND students are privileged, in that we have an opportunity to be educated, which correlates with future higher SES and continued access to social and cultural capital. However, gender inequality in America is not just about the payment gap. The intersectionality of feminism in the U.S. is critical, too. That is, women’s rights are not the same for every person that identifies as a woman in America. It’s great that we’re talking about how this affects males, but part of acknowledging privilege is also asking ourselves how this trendy feminism also affects those who are poor, nonwhite, or nonqueer in this country. It’s great that celebrities are taking time to weigh on feminist issues, but let’s be honest, they should not be people we look up to, since they’ll comment on whatever is the hottest topic. We’re critical thinkers here, so let’s push past what’s taboo. When President Obama was elected in 2008, a lot of people accepted that this was evidence of a post-racial America. Does that mean if Hillary is elected in 2016, it will signify a gender equal America, too? An international awareness is important, but charity starts in the home.

  • João Pedro Santos

    Teaching chastity is slut-shaming. Chastity is harmful and people should only not have sexual activity if they don’t want to. People need to be taught to use contraception and understand what consent means, not to repress themselves.