Bucknell is home to many passionate feminists. Anyone who doesn’t believe that should take a closer look at the Letters to the Editor in a recent issue of the Counterweight. Several groups on campus are dedicated to feminism. Student groups like V-Day and Sirens espouse feminist ideology, as do university offices like the Women’s Resource Center (WRC), which remains the most entrenched part of Bucknell’s feminist establishment. But sadly, most feminists at Bucknell (especially those in positions of power) have a narrow view of what constitutes “acceptable” feminism. Such a situation does little to promote honest discussion on campus and is unfair to the women of Bucknell.
One need not look far to find examples of feminist bias at Bucknell. In the Counterweight, you can read about the WRC’s rejection of Christina Hoff Sommers as an appropriate speaker (Cliffs Notes version: she is a conservative! *gasp*). Perhaps even more telling is V-Day’s response to my last column (a critique of The Vagina Monologues). The most common response was that I would appreciate and understand the Vagina Monologues “if I had just seen the play.” Such a response is not only a false accusation (I have seen the play twice and read the entire script) but also a very arrogant statement. To suggest that I, or any other critic, hasn’t seen the play is to say that anyone who saw the play must like it. This position hardly allows for debate. Bucknell feminists thus either don’t understand or purposefully ignore the other side of feminism — a feminism to which I and many other women subscribe to: equity feminism.
Many terms can be used to describe the different ideologies of feminism. For the purposes of this article I shall use the terminology of Christina Hoff Sommers. The brand of feminism promoted by the WRC can be termed “gender feminism” and the underrepresented side “equity feminism.” Sommers best captured the essence of equity feminism when she wrote, “Equity feminism demands for women what it demands for everyone — fairness and equal opportunity.”
Equity feminism reflects the spirit of the original feminists. The godmother of the feminists, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, said the following to the New York State Legislature in 1854: “We ask for no better laws than those you have made for yourselves. We need no other protection than that which your present laws secure to you.” That’s a far cry from the WRC/V-Day crowd, isn’t it?
The history of equity feminism is a success story. Its adherents fight for women where legitimate oppression exists. Its victories are easily seen in every aspect of American life. Women can vote, they have more career options than ever before, they are more likely than men to attend college, and they hold some of the most powerful positions in our government. But these victories are not enough for gender feminists.
To the gender feminists, American culture is an oppressive patriarchy, built to systematically oppress women. They are certainly entitled to that opinion. But the key is to recognize that it is just that — an opinion. Problems often arise because gender feminists tend to take their opinion as fact — with little or no room for debate.
During my freshman year, one of my friends was upset over a low grade she received on a paper in her intro women’s studies class. Normally an “A” student, she got the first “C+” of her life. Her mistake was not in quality, but in challenging the underlying premise of patriarchal oppression in American life. Her assignment was to discuss the ways in which she had been oppressed by men. She was unable to come up with any examples and wrote her essay about why she felt she hadn’t been oppressed. The teacher responded with a low grade and the comment that my friend has been “subconsciously oppressed” throughout her lifetime and “didn’t know it.” I’m not one to judge other’s feelings. It is your prerogative to feel oppressed if you want to. But don’t tell someone else that she is oppressed and doesn’t know it. It is a perfectly acceptable position to reject the victimology of gender feminism. We need not all agree.
Bucknellians would be better served with open debate about feminist ideology, not to mention a politically balanced WRC, which, as a reminder, is supposedly a university office serving all Bucknell women (as opposed to an ideologically based student group like Sirens). If you are put off by gender feminism, remember that there is another side to the story. There are plenty of great feminists who reject the notion of an oppressive patriarchy, who refuse to sit back and be labeled victims, who emphasize research and scientific data over feelings, who are willing to admit that boys and girls are different, and who want to recapture the legacy of Elizabeth Cady Stanton — which has been tainted by the modern radicals now carrying the banner of feminism.