Mount Holyoke News

November 6, 1986

Feminism: once it united us, now it divides us

by Deirdre Drummey

Feminism. Once an issue that brought women together, it is now a term which draws them apart. These changes in the perceptions of feminism are apparent at Mount Holyoke.

The views on being a feminist are as varied as the students who go here and the line between who is a feminist and who is not is hard to draw. Some instantly say yes, they are feminists. Other say it matters where they are as to whether or not they are feminists. And still others echo one student's answer when asked if she were a feminist: "I am but I'm not."

Beth Ryan '87, a member of the women's center and former contact person for the group, is one student who is quick to call herself a feminist. She said she grew up in "a feminist household" because her mother was active in the National Organization for Women (NOW) when it first started.

She said she came to Mount Holyoke because it was a women's college. While her education here has helped her learn how to argue articulately and reasonably about her beliefs, she believes the methods of teaching have not always clearly addressed a women's perspective of the issues.

Ryan feels many students are pressured by men and other women on campus to not be labelled feminist. Because of this fear, they equate feminism with hating men and thus have a reason to deny the label of feminist.

"Feminism is not in any sense man hating," she said. She considers the term too broad to be capable of such definition.

Susanna Bonta '88 says her position as a feminist changes when she goes off campus. "I'm aware of the issues and in some places that's enough but here you have to do something about it."

Bonta said she does equate feminism on this campus with men haters. She said she acquired this view from the pornography and rape rallies she attended her freshman year. Four out of five of the comments at these rallies, she said, were men hating.

"It's very intimidating," she added.

Renee Sentilles '88 agreed. She said she had taken Women's Studies classes and that she had been afraid to talk openly for fear of the reaction she would get because many of the comments were against men.

She thought that some of the feminists ignored the fact that men can be feminists, too. Sentilles was one who considered herself a feminist.

"To me lesbianism explains it all," said one student. She limited this view to this campus, however. She felt that the lesbians on this campus considered men "bad news" but the lesbians she knew outside of this school were not threatened by men.

Chris Ray '88, contact for the Lesbian Alliance, noted that not all lesbians are feminists and not all feminists are lesbians. "The assumptions people make are not true," she said.

"It seems a lot of people are afraid of feminism," said Carolyn Breen '89, current contact for the Women's Center.

She said she didn't think about being a feminist but that she did have her beliefs, which are feminist.

She advocates the Women's Center as a place to go to learn about feminism even if someone's beliefs are not all that strong. She joined the group her freshman year when she still did not know much about women's issues.

"It's a very supportive group when you're trying to understand feminism," Breen said. "I'm still learning," she added.

Barbara Cash '89 became involved with the Women's Center last March when she participated in the March for Women's Lives in Washington D.C. It was there that she first considered that the right to a legal abortion could be taken away.

"I think it hit me that this was something that could really affect my life," she said. She believes people are apathetic to women's issues because they don't realize the laws that keep abortion legal could change.

One student admitted that she was oblivious to the role of feminism on campus and said she had never encountered a feminist here.

Although she believes in equal pay for equal jobs, she said she would not call herself "an ardent feminist" and that she would not violently oppose someone who believes women are inferior.

"If you're a true feminist, you would respect whatever a woman decided to do," said another student. The feminists she had met, however, were not so open because they put down women who chose to be housewives.

"Everybody who goes here is feministic to some degree even if they don't think about it," she said.

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