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Feminism Through The Minds of FA Students

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Feminism Through The Minds of FA Students

For many students, the ongoing effort to encourage each other to listen to and consider multiple perspectives and ideas is one of our school’s strengths. Unsurprisingly, learning to respectfully disagree with or actively consider adopting a different perspective is challenging. Though there is always room for growth, FA is making gradual, deliberate progress in this area.

That isn’t to say everything is all rainbows and daisies at Friends Academy, however… that certainly is not the case. Indeed, because our world is far from a utopia, there exists a universal list of topics that seldom culminate into unified head-nods of appreciation, that almost always climax into heated debates where the aforementioned, idyllic rainbows morph into dark storm clouds, and the daisies wilt. Feminism? That topic seems to always remain on the controversial list.

Before I get into the heart of this article, I want to point out something about myself: I do personally identify as a feminist. I am a member of FA’s F-Word (The “F” standing for “Feminism”) club, which works to promote gender equality within our school. However, like just about any ideology that exists, there is a radical branch of feminism with which I do not agree, and do not feel represents me — those who simply seek to replace patriarchy with matriarchy, for example. Though I have my own opinions on this topic, in order to contribute to the ongoing focus on representing various perspectives, I decided to ask various FA students about their thoughts. In order to do this, I sent out an email to my grade, and texted members of the F-Word Club, asking them to answer one or more of the following questions:  1. Do you identify as a feminist, why or why not?, 2. What does feminism mean to you?, 3. Do you think there is a need for feminism at FA? Why or why not?, 4. Do you think the word “feminism” should be changed or re-defined? Explain. The responses I received varied, but all provided insightful comments, some even making me reconsider my own personal beliefs.

In response to the first question, a majority of the students interviewed answered that they do identify as feminists. However, because a few of the students are fellow members of the The F-Word club, this view is not representative of the entire school. In contrast, one individual (who asked to remain anonymous) stated that although she doesn’t identify as a feminist, she “supports equal rights for men and women, and whatever their endeavors are.” She went on to explain that her main issue with identifying as a feminist is the “stigma against feminism,” along with the fact that she “[doesn’t] like labels.” All those who did identify as a feminist grounded their answer in the notion of equality between men and women. For example, Layla Saad, a member of the F-Word Club, stated that she identifies as a feminist because, “…everyone, no matter their gender, should be given the same opportunities to succeed.” Twelfth-grader Cal Stellato reiterated this idea by stating, “Anything that’s for a more equal opportunity for a certain group, I’m for.” So, although not everyone interviewed identified as a feminist, it appears that all support the overarching ideas of feminism.

The answers to the second question displayed varying ideas as to whom feminism is intended for and/or benefits. For example, one student described feminism as something that “[promotes] equal opportunity for women,” whereas another student identified feminism as being a mechanism that promotes “…equality between genders.” It was interesting to note the slight variation in answers, as the notion of whom feminism benefits has currently sparked a great deal of debate. Moreover, a student explained that she thinks feminism is, “meant to empower women, seeing as women are at a disadvantage in our modern world.”

Regardless of identification, the students unanimously agreed on question three, stating that there is a need for feminism at FA. Senior Uma Alagappan traced the issue back to the need for basic respect between all community members (i.e., peers and teachers). Additionally, Cal Stellato argued that feminism can be extended to both boys and girls by teaching them that they, “…don’t have to be a product of stereotypes, that they can be whomever they desire to be.” Furthermore, an anonymous student expressed her support for instilling feminist values at FA, as she believes that, “…a diversity of opinions makes any culture better, so to have more people at FA who are impassioned about things is awesome, no matter what they’re impassioned about.” The student went on to pinpoint key inequality issues at FA such as a “slut-shaming culture,” along with “an adherence to ideals of what it means to be a girl and feminine.” Finally, Layla Saad pointed out how she believes there is “never a bad time to talk about what you believe in.”

Question four is arguably the most hotly debated of all the questions, as many individuals interested in the topic of feminism either feel that the root word “fem” obscures feminism’s true intentions, whereas others argue that these root words are intentional, and should remain unchanged. Uma Alagappan noted the tensions that arise from such root words, stating, “I understand that some people feel that the term “feminism” is, ironically, a little exclusionary because the word itself only directly relates to females.” However, Uma then argued that, “as long as we all support gender equality, the ways in which [we] identify with feminism as a label shouldn’t matter.” This view contrasted slightly to Sophomore KG Foley’s opinion, as she argued that the word “feminism” should stop being redefined altogether, as, “Feminism does not mean that women hate men, or that men are inferior to women. The word simply means the desire for the equality of genders—not one [above] the other.” KG, like myself, agrees that branches of extreme feminism are often the ones portrayed in the media, leading individuals to believe that the feminist platform is largely radical, which she argues is not realistic. Even more, Cal Stellato admitted that “If [the word “feminism”] were to be changed then you would get a wider range of people for it.” The anonymous student who did not identify as a feminist elaborated on this idea, explaining how she believes feminism “should fit under [a general umbrella of gender equality], where it’s for gender equality, but specifically helping women.”

To conclude, it is evident that FA students have varying perspectives in regard to feminism. This diversity of opinion energizes our community. Out of seemingly uncomfortable conversations arise nuanced perspectives that have a better chance of catalyzing positive change. As a student who values the debate of ideas, I applaud the students who thoughtfully contributed to a dialogue that I strongly hope will remain a pillar of our school for years to come.

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