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Kate Fritzsche '10: Feminism is not dead

During our four years on campus, many students create new identities, and they find themselves drastically changed by the time of graduation. One of the experiences most central to my identity change in college has been coming out as a feminist. It sounds simple, but there are many reasons why I hope that other Brown students will come to the same realizations that I have.

I'm pretty sure I was born with feminist beliefs, but it wasn't until recently that I was able to articulate them clearly and wanted to tell others about my views. My parents always made it clear that my sister and I were every bit as capable as my brothers, and that being female didn't make us weak, stupid or worth any less than any boy was.

The first time I remember realizing that what my parents told me was not the same as what everyone else believed was when I told my parents that I wanted to be a secretary when I grew up. My mom immediately responded with horror, "You can do so much more than that!"

Don't get me wrong, there's absolutely nothing wrong with being a secretary; the problem was that I thought that since I was well-organized and a girl, a secretary was the only job for me. I had seen women doing more than that in my own family, but the mothers I read about in books and saw on TV weren't always high achievers.

Since that time, I have always pushed myself to work hard to achieve everything that I can. I have realized that a well-organized woman can do anything; I could get a Ph.D., I could become a lawyer or a doctor, I could lead an international NGO or I could be president. Or I could work locally on anything that's important to me. There is nothing that I have to do by virtue of being female and there is nothing I cannot do because I am female.
But feminism's importance to me is predicated on much more than my personal goals and ambitions. Last fall, I saw Jessica Valenti, founder of Feministing.com, speak on campus. That hour or two in MacMillan started something in me that is now irreversible.

Through reading Valenti's books, "Full Frontal Feminism" and "He's a Stud, She's a Slut and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know," talking to the three girls I knew who stood up for themselves as feminists and noticing the world around me, I began to see just how pressing the issues of feminism are today. I have heard plenty of Brown students say that we live in a "post-feminist" world, but I don't believe it for a second.
Feminism is not about hating men. Being a feminist means believing in the social, economic and political equality of all genders. In practice, this idea of equality applies to all realms of our lives, including reproductive and sexual rights, pay rates and employment, behavioral expectations, political parity and even problems as simple as the language used to describe men and women.

There are many double standards that hurt women, and it's imperative that Brown students stop promoting them. When groups advertise parties, they shouldn't exploit women's bodies to appeal to students, like the 2011 Class Board's proposed Lingerie Fashion Show did last spring. When students get involved with labor negotiations like they have with Brown Dining Services employees, they should fight to ensure that women and men are paid at the same rate.

When we consider future occupations, we should encourage women in our lives to aspire to great things, especially in areas where women are underrepresented, such as politics. And, most easily achieved, we need to stop using gendered insults. Calling someone a "slut," "whore" or my personal least favorite, "pussy," is insulting to all women. The mere fact that the term "man whore" exists shows that a "whore" is necessarily female, and we all know it's a derogatory term. So next time you want to insult someone, can't you use a word that doesn't make generalizations about women?

And if you need any further motivation to understand that feminist issues are crucial, consider the 2006 shooting of 10 young girls at an Amish school in Bart Township, Pennsylvania. The shooter arrived at the school with three guns, two knives, and 600 rounds of ammunition, and allowed the boys to leave unharmed. He then lined up the girls, putting handcuffs on them and binding their feet, before shooting them in the back of their heads. The police later stated that the shooter "wanted to exact revenge against female victims."

When people like this 32-year-old killer, Charles Carl Roberts IV, target women and girls simply because of their gender, it is clear that feminism is still necessary. When it is not universally believed that women should not be killed on the basis of something fundamentally out of their control, feminism is still necessary. And when women face less violent, but even more pervasive daily taunts, exploitative advertising, unequal opportunities, and unfair reward for their efforts, feminism is still necessary.

Kate Fritzsche '10 is an applied math-economics concentrator from Kennebunk, Maine. She can be reached at katherine_fritzsche@brown.edu.




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