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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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