On Thursday, April 21, the Boston College Women’s Center celebrated its annual #WhyFeminism Day. Although this was the event's fifth year in action, it was previously known as Feminist Coming Out Day.
According to Amirah Orozco, MCAS ‘19, who helped plan the event, the name change was a response to student feedback last year. “We want to fully validate the experience of many women across many communities across the globe who occupy space on campus and do not have the privilege of talking about these issues, and therefore do have to reveal themselves as anti-sexist proponents and may face backlash,” Orozco explained. “Using the term 'coming out' invokes the reality of a certain experience and is directly appropriated from queer communities.”
On Thursday, the Women’s Center set up a table on Stokes Lawn from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., encouraging students to discuss #WhyFeminism is important at BC and pick up stickers, buttons, and cake pops. According to Orozco, this day “is at its core a discussion on the importance of feminism. The only assumption we will all make at this event is that sexism, homophobia, racism, etc. exist.”
“Is feminism the right answer? Why is it important to talk about it even if one thinks it is not? Why is historical feminism facing such a backlash? These questions are things we want campus to grapple with and we hope this event will be the first step,” said Orozco.
At 5 p.m., the day concluded with the "This Is What a Feminist Looks Like" event, featuring a panel of five students who shared their personal ideas about what it means to be a feminist.
Chair of the GLBTQ Leadership Council (GLC) Anne Williams, MCAS ‘17, began the event by stating that feminism ought to include all groups of marginalized people.
“It is important to probe into what it means to identify oneself publicly as a feminist,” said Williams. “What, if anything, is there to be gained? What, if anything, is there to be lost? What does the fight mean for you personally within your position in society? And which groups of people are you advocating for as you practice feminism?”
Rachel Simon, CSOM ‘18, shared her personal journey of grappling with what it means to be an effective feminist after attending the Women’s March in January. After this event, she learned to recognize the importance of allowing women from marginalized groups to have their voices heard in the feminist movement.
Simon shared that she first joined the movement “thinking that I understood and was doing the right thing, and I had to come to terms with the fact that the movement that my family [and I] had been such a part of...was inherently flawed,” said Simon. “I started to realize that while my heart had been in the right place, I had been failing to do as much as I could to elevate all women around me.”
Orozco, the third speaker, discussed her concerns about feminism becoming a marketable quality that allows people to feel good about themselves for calling themselves feminists. However, this brand of feminism does not address the social barriers holding back women from marginalized groups.
Brian Kouassi, MCAS ‘17, acknowledged many of the privileges he has as a man and emphasized the importance of using those privileges to uplift those who do not have them.
Kouassi continued to explain his journey toward understanding feminism, which he credits to the example of his mother and sister and his experiences working to fight sexual assault with the Bystander Intervention program at BC.
“My mother and sister are prime examples of what it means to be strong, black women,” said Kouassi. “I grew up admiring their strength, brilliance, determination, and love for everyone. They never let racism and sexism hold them back. They constantly had to fight for their seat at the table, because they had to live with the reality that black women today have to work twice as hard to get have the respect they deserve.” Given the injustices women of color face everyday, Kouassi argued that these intersectionalities must be acknowledged as playing a crucial role in the feminist movement.
The final speaker, Schesca Araujo, MCAS ‘20, continued the discussion of intersectionality. “One of the biggest faults of white feminism that we hear a lot about is that we think that we have to be the voice for people,” said Araujo. “I think that is completely false. We don’t have to be the voice for people. We have to uplift their voices.”
Araujo mentioned the experiences of women of color at the Women’s March and referred to one Native American woman who posted on Twitter after the march. While marchers wanted to take pictures of Native women in their traditional clothing, they were not willing to listen to their thoughts on the Dakota Access Pipeline and other injustices facing Native people today.
“My point in saying this is that the way we frame the conversation about intersectionality needs to be altered,” said Araujo. “We need to be intentional in our words, be comfortable with being uncomfortable, and acknowledge that white feminism is not just exclusive, it is oppressive.”
The uncomfortable truth, according to Araujo, is that there are systems in place in society that lead to our oppression of women of color, transgender and gender-nonconforming people, and those living in the Global South. For this reason, the feminist movement must allow conversation on issues such as climate change, wage inequities, and other social justice issues in order to represent all women.
The event concluded with an invitation for all present to join the Women’s Center over refreshments, in hopes that this event had inspired them to continue the discussion on feminism.