Feminism is an increasingly important topic here at BC and beyond. However, the concept does not come without criticism. Many people argue that modern feminism is focused primarily on white, upper class women, excluding different races, ethnicities, classes, and sexualities. This concern has been amplified in recent news, as many at the Women’s Marches argued for intersectional feminism that would empower these groups whose voices haven’t been heard as loudly.
At BC, the Women’s and Gender Studies department plays a large role in how ideas of feminism are discussed and defined in the community. It is important for these courses to be inclusive and intersectional, providing students of all backgrounds and identities with an equal voice in the conversation. The Gavel examined the courses within the Women’s and Gender Studies minor to find out what its faculty are doing to combat this lack of diversity and inclusivity in feminism today.
Once students in the Women’s and Gender Studies program take the required Introduction to Feminisms course, they have the ability to choose from a wide variety of elective classes. The minor is highly interdisciplinary by nature, cross-listing many classes in more than one department. This fact alone highlights the importance of an intersectional feminist lens. Because the subject covers many areas of study and connects to a variety of issues, inclusivity only provides a more well-rounded view of feminism.
For example, multiple classes in the minor are listed under the African and African Diaspora Studies department, including Black Feminisms 101: Harriet Tubman to Beyonce; Versions in Black: Genres of Black Women's Writing; and Race, Class, and Gender. These classes allow for insight into how gender and race interact and intersect with each other, which is an essential step towards recognizing a more intersectional version of feminism.
Professor Regine Jean-Charles, who teaches Black Feminisms 101: Harriet Tubman to Beyonce, stresses the importance of intersectionality in her class. “The idea of intersectional feminism is absolutely central to my Black Feminisms course because you cannot teach black feminism without first explaining and breaking down the definition of 'intersectional' to begin with,” she says.
To Jean-Charles, black feminism can’t be examined in a vacuum, and rather must be studied together with other subsets of feminism. She argues, “The idea that race, class, gender, and sexuality, as well as other locations of identity, form an interlocking nexus of power that inform our experience in the world and that all of these oppressions inform one another is the main contribution of black feminist thought.”
She concludes by noting that “at its core, black feminism is by definition intersectional.”
Beyond the African and African Diaspora Studies Department, other classes work to provide an inclusive and comprehensive look into gender studies, as well. Listed under the history department, the classes Women and Gender in Modern China and Latin American Women Represent Themselves focus on important branches of feminist thought. This examination of different races, ethnicities, and cultures is essential to the nature of intersectional feminism.
It’s also important to think about how religion can inform one’s view of feminist ideals, particularly at a Jesuit school like BC. The Women’s and Gender Studies minor includes a class called Women and Gender in Islam, which is also part of the Islamic Civilizations and Societies department. The goal of the course is “to present women and women’s issues as central to the main narrative of Islamic history, rather than as a side story.” This area of study includes and empowers women of the Islamic faith tradition, while simultaneously teaching others to consider different religions and societies when studying gender.
Overall, the classes in BC’s Women’s and Gender Studies department work to discuss feminist thought in an inclusive and multifaceted way. By examining the intersection of gender with different races, cultures, and religions, students who take these classes will undoubtedly be working towards developing a more holistic and all-encompassing view of feminism.
However, it is essential that these ideas permeate beyond the classroom walls and reach the entire campus community. Not all BC students will take classes under the Women’s and Gender Studies umbrella, but the open discussion of these intersectional ideas is what will bring about real progress on BC’s campus and beyond.