Why Today’s College Needs Feminism

Well, ladies of BC, it’s time to shed ourselves of apprehension, and to return to what my mother passionately calls “girl power.”

Consider the term “feminism.” What images does your mind conjure? What does the word make you feel? Perhaps you create a mental picture of powerful women in pantsuits, pounding their fists on podiums as they address an audience on the archaic inequalities that still permeate today’s workforce. Perhaps you see a group of girls, skimpily clad, who claim that the clothes they wear provide them agency—or perhaps you simply feel a sense of apathy toward the idea of feminism as a whole. Regardless of your response (or even lack thereof), it is undeniable that our culture today has imbedded within this term a myriad of connotations, some good, others bad. Let’s discuss.

As a daughter of a bra-burning, 1970s feminist, I have always felt that my sexuality, my gender, and my feminism empowers me. In observing the dynamics of Boston College’s campus, this position tends to make some people uncomfortable. I have surprisingly found that it is mostly women who shy away from the word “feminism” because they are afraid that in identifying with the cause, they will be labeled as some self-righteous male-hater (this may simply be attributed to the topic coming up more often in female dominated circles, but even still, it seems significant). Many of us have worked hard on trying to take out the notion of gender bias in the classroom and the workplace, in the hopes of seeing ourselves in light of our talents, not our gender. In consequence, women will often fail to notice when they are victims of gender bias, be it implicit or systematic, going as far as to reject its reality even when it is clearly acting as an obstacle to their success. Well, ladies of BC, it’s time to shed ourselves of apprehension, and to return to what my mother passionately calls “girl power.”

The stereotypes surrounding gender aren’t just hurtful misconceptions: they are actually powerful mechanisms that propel inequality. Gender bias and stereotypes manifest themselves in the academic and professional spheres in subtle ways—and don’t necessary work through the overt exclusion of women. Our stereotypes are generating an atmosphere of sexism that requires women to subvert their femininity in order to achieve success. Current BC women, particularly seniors, who are in the midst of applying to jobs in the business field will probably attest to this—most of their interviewers are white males, and so is the competition. Knowing this, it is only natural to feel gender bias (not to mention the issues surrounding women of color) in the job application process. From your hair down to your shoes, female applicants are being scrutinized far more on their appearance than on their intellectual capability, particularly when compared to their male counterparts (in a 2014 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences of the United States of America, both male and female interviewers were twice as likely to hire a man over a woman when they only had the appearance of the job candidate available to them). Don’t act too confident, young women are told, because the patriarchy will feel threatened. Don’t act too meek, young women are told, because then you will appear inadequate.

No one is telling women today that they can’t achieve because they are second tier to men. Instead, women are being constantly reminded of their sexuality, always having to align themselves within the context of gender discrimination. We are then subconsciously being forced to use gender stereotypes as an excuse: “I didn’t get the job because I was too nice, I guess.” We can easily see how this is reinforcing the problem.

I encourage anyone interested in learning about gender stereotypes within BC culture to attend the upcoming event “Exploring Gender on Campus,” hosted by the Council for Women at Boston College, featuring guest speaker Katie Dalton. The event will be held on October 21st, from 6-8pm in the Walsh Function Room, and I look forward to becoming empowered together, in the name of girl power.

With such subtle forms of gender bias creating an atmosphere in which women fail to recognize its existence or even blame themselves for falling short, the need to empower femininity is increasingly pressing.

 

Featured Image by Francisco Ruela / Heights Graphics