Tuesday, October 1, 2013

One Foot in Both Worlds: Being a Feminist at Colgate


When I originally began to think about a topic for my capstone praxis project, I tried to think about feminist issues that I could truly be invested in. As someone who is very critical about the world she lives in, I found it hard to narrow the topics down to something I could really focus on and that, to be honest, hadn’t been so overdone. I finally realized that, although I am very much a feminist and that I care about so many different feminist issues, I have never before been pushed to really DO something about them. It then hit me that a feminist issue I truly care about, and that affects me at a very deep level, is the negative backlash against feminism. While there have been many brown bags conducted about feminism as the “F word” and things of the like, I really never thought that this issue affected everyone. All of the people involved in Women’s Studies always seem so courageous and unafraid of what people think. I, however, did not see myself that way. My capstone began as a selfish endeavor to make feminism less threatening so that I could feel more comfortable expressing my own feminist identity, but throughout the first half of this semester, I have come to learn that this isn’t an individual issue: many men and women are in the same position I am in.

As a student on Colgate’s campus, I find it close to impossible to ignore what others say and/or think about me. I am usually a very confident and independent woman but, for some reason, things just seem different here. There is enormous social pressure be a certain person and, in my case, a certain woman. I especially feel pressure as someone who is actively immersed in Greek life. I am not in a sorority, but I do attend parties and am in a relationship with a man that was a member of a fraternity. I feel very much attached to that aspect of campus, which brings both its costs and rewards. While I do feel this enormous social pressure, I do also feel a sense of belonging. I enjoy going out and associating with members of Greek life. I have never felt forced to be their friends or to do things at their parties I have not wanted to do. The issue, however, is that I feel like I can’t be my full self in that I can’t be overtly feminist. 

Feminism for many people on campus is threatening and carries with it a negative stigma. It makes it very difficult to negotiate the tension between being a feminist and being part of the mainstream on campus. While the two do not have to be mutually exclusive, there is this perception that they are. This perceived separation makes it very difficult to claim one’s feminist identity without feeling a sense of judgment or embarrassment. As I have spent more and more time in the Women’s Studies Center this semester I have come to realize that many people struggle with this tension. I am not the only one who feels this way and something needs to be done to fix it.

I have been challenged by my capstone to DO something and, for now, I think talking about this issue is one major step in the right direction. I am still considering ways in which we can make feminism part of the mainstream culture on campus and would love it if people who identify with what I am saying would offer suggestions on how to go about this. I am only one person but, if everyone comes together and challenges him/herself to DO something, perhaps we can in fact enact change on campus. 

-Ariel Rivera '13


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