The View from Venus (November 1, 2011)

3 Nov

Below is this week’s “The View from Venus” article written by a founding member of the Women’s Initiative, Grace O’Shaughnessy. 🙂

By Grace O’Shaughnessy

The Saint Rose Women’s Initiative began as an answer to a question: Why are there no spaces for women’s issues to be discussed on campus?

It can often be hard for women by themselves, particularly of college age, to identify what advocacy roles they can take. By coming together and discussing their experiences within the social-historical context of twenty-first century college life, ideas about how women can advocate for themselves and others becomes more clear.

I was among the founding members of the Women’s Initiative. Teaching others about women’s issues taught me all the ways women embody feminism. Some women eschew the label, relegating it to a relic of 1960s bra-burning radicals (which, I should note, is a myth. They didn’t actually burn bras in the ‘60s). Through discussion, they often found that they had not yet realized the term “feminist” could encompass their feelings of oppression and desire for liberation. Others embraced it loudly, taking to the streets, the web, and the classroom to spread the women’s movement.

In other words, we found that feminism is a big tent. Two cases embody the scope of this ideology.

First, I can recall meeting a member of the Women’s Initiative several years ago who joined because she contracted the human papillomavirus (HPV) and felt that it was a huge women’s public health concern. She joined solely to promote this message and we embraced her. We affirmed that all issues had inherent worth and told her that she brought a dialogue to the table that many could not.

Similarly, I remember a more radical feminist at one of our first events, a women’s resource fair. At this fair were various women’s health organizations that focused on reproductive justice issues. One group represented a pro-life stance, another was pro-choice. While at the event I saw a student raging against the pro-life representative, conveying what it meant to have a pro-life organizer at a historically Catholic college. I saw that energy as an opportunity and encouraged the radical to join the Women’s Initiative.

The group offered a space for her to harness her rage. We discussed on a personal level what reproductive issues mean to women, and feminists, of all kinds. There were those that felt comfortable with the issue and those that didn’t. More than anything, it served to demonstrate how the Women’s Initiative could bring together a diverse group.

I took my experiences of organizing groups around themes of social justice at Saint Rose to pursue a Master’s in Social Work in Nonprofit Management at Columbia University. Today, the struggle is different. I am faced with my feminist identity in ways I have never been. Simultaneously, my workload means I don’t have the time to lead and organize in ways that I once did and am not actively a part of a women’s community on campus. This is a difficult tension. Furthermore, living in New York City, amongst millions of people, I see how gender disparities are intersecting with class and race more than I ever have. It challenges me to think more critically and re-examine all of the assumptions I have had.

The artist Chuck Close said, “I have been married for forty years. It’s not one marriage. By then you’ve had four or five totally different marriages.

This is exactly how I feel about feminism. As we get older, the concepts of our ideologies evolve, but that is no reason to discount the authenticity of what we think or what we have thought. The most important thing is to think critically and discuss widely.

It is my hope that the Women’s Initiative is still and will continue to be that place for growth.

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