Where are all the feminists? On a campus as large and diverse as Temple’s, the answer is not so easy to find. With so much going on, events like the recent LGBTQ Alumni Society’s panel discussion of marriage equality and a documentary screening of “Service: When Women Come Marching Home” about disabled women veterans in the military who often get lost in the shuffle of thousands of students.
In honor of Women’s History Month, let’s embark on a quest for feminism on Temple’s campus.
The Temple chapter of the national organization Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance works to unite likeminded students for dialogue, events and education about feminist topics. About a dozen members regularly attend meetings, which involve icebreakers, discussions about recent women-related news, planning for events and often a film screening or presentation by a feminist expert. Meetings are held every Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. in the Wellness Resource Center.
The group organizes several events on Main Campus per year.
Recently, its tampon drive collected several boxes worth of feminine care products for Philly’s Project SAFE. In Fall 2011, the group ran “This is What Feminism Looks Like,” a tabling event that invited passersby to have their pictures taken and ask questions about feminism. The event brought in about 170 participants. FMLA also partakes in “Take Back the Night,” which raises awareness of domestic abuse, and is seeking to organize a panel with professors and similar organizations where students can ask about a timely women’s issue.
One perk of FMLA affiliation is an invitation to the National Young Feminist Leadership Conference, this year held in Washington, D.C. Attendees are invited to workshops and talks about the state of youth feminist involvement in women’s issues around the country and world.
Discussion topics this week included the Steubenville rape case and subsequent media portrayal, the rates for a sexologist to give a talk and the incidence of sexual violence on Main Campus. Contact the group by emailing email@example.com.
Despite the threat of a cut two years ago, Temple’s women’s studies program is going strong.
Class titles include “Women in Literature,” “Black Lesbian Writers and Filmmakers” and “Gender, War and Society.” Students can major in women’s studies, minor in it or earn a certificate – or they can minor in LGBT studies, which falls under the umbrella of the department.
Women’s studies and LBGT studies professor Aishah Shahidah Simmons, who teaches courses like “Gay and Lesbian Lives” and “Audre Lorde: The Life and Work of a Silence Breaker,” notes the importance of college campuses to the feminist movement.
“There are a lot of young people who are involved in it and I think it’s important in terms of growth that you always are having new blood, and the nice thing about the university setting is that every four-to-six years there’s a whole new crop of people who are going to be coming,” Simmons said. “As a result, I appreciate what FMLA is doing; there are young women’s conferences, or they’re organizing emerging leaders on campuses.”
The women’s studies department can be found on the eighth floor of Anderson Hall, recognizable by the wall hangings featuring female leaders like Phillis Wheatley and Frida Kahlo.
Wellness Resource Center
Located on the bottom level of Mitten Hall, the center is an information hub for topics like dating violence, alcohol abuse, stress management and safe sex. H.E.A.R.T. peer educators and professional staff alike can offer guidance about a plethora of mental and sexual health topics – or, if a question is outside of their range of expertise, they can point in the right direction for the answer. Visitors can also sign up for individual wellness consultations or rapid HIV testing.
Of course, it would be wrong to write about the center without mentioning what is arguably its biggest draw: 10-cent condoms.
How do these topics relate to feminism? Sex positivity has become a growing force in the modern feminist movement, “positivity” meaning that sex is seen as both natural and powerful. I can’t think of a better way to promote this than encouraging explicit education about the body. Additionally, H.E.A.R.T. officially sponsors the yearly “Vagina Monologues” performances, which celebrate feminine sexuality through a series of humorous and serious monologues varying in topic from rape to cultural differences to “If my vagina could talk, what would it say?”
Sounds obvious, right? Not so much. In the age of the Internet, I’m under the impression that most people take to the written word – or the .gif, or the blog re-post – to communicate their morals and politics. Maybe I say that because it’s what I do. I know that I can find news stories of interest on my Facebook feed because those posting are limited to my group of friends, most of whom share some of my cares. Why else would we be friends?
However, this microcosm of the public sphere also limits the number of conversations that can be had. One of my professors likes to talk about the good ol’ days of the 1970s when students rallied on college campuses all over the country to protest the nuclear bomb. I can’t see that happening for any subject today. Not only the issues, but the ways we communicate them, have changed – or maybe not.
“I find feminists or independent, political and outspoken women and men all over campus by simply being vocal about what I care about,” said Darragh Dandurand Friedman, a junior communication studies major and women’s studies minor. “Here at [Temple] I think there is a fair amount of discussion from students, but not nearly enough that ignites action. There seems to be a low-hanging fog around taking up the good fight and getting out there.”
Temple feminists have an active online presence, from themed Facebook groups to critical essay sites to blogs.
One group of Temple alumni that started its own feminist Tumblr last May is Foxjuice.
Some of those things, as listed on the site’s mission page, include “honest discussion of feminism, sex, gender expectations, media, and quality cheese and beer pairings.” Administrators post personal stories, such as a first-person encounter with Plan B birth control, a la typical blog style. But there are also statistics, pictures and news stories about feminist issues.
Because the Foxjuice writers united at Temple, they can speak to the state of feminist speech on Main Campus during their four years.
“My first year, [FMLA was] a much smaller group and had a much smaller impact on campus, but by the time I graduated there was a greater interest from people in wanting to join or come to events and it was a much bigger group,” alumna Liz Pride said. “I think part of that was definitely due to the learning curve and FMLA members just getting better at organizing events and reaching out, but the fact that ‘feminism’ became a word that people heard all the time in pop culture rather than something they associated with stereotypes.”
Through Foxjuice, they are doing their part in promoting the acceptance of that word in the mainstream.
So, what of the state of feminism on Temple’s campus as a whole? Simmons, a traveling documentarian and lecturer, offered a comparison to other universities.
“I think it’s really hard [to find here]. I’ve only been here a year in August, so I’m new,” Simmons said. “[But] in comparison to other campuses, I don’t feel a strong feminist presence. I understand this is a huge campus, it’s not a contained campus like a small liberal arts school, but even in some of those larger campuses that I’ve been on like UMass Amherst, I just kind of feel it.”
She also cites Temple’s lack of a women’s center or rape crisis center as problematic.
“Where is the physical location where students can [say], ‘This is the place where we can go’? It’s not here,” Simmons said.
To be clear, this list is not exhaustive. There may be pockets of feminism hidden from public view but making a difference on Main Campus. Hopefully feminist students, female or not, will be inspired to make their voices heard and incite a growth of the movement.
As Shoshanna of Girls puts it so aptly: “I am woman, hear me roar.”
Julie Zeglen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.