One of my professors last week asked students to raise their hands if they considered themselves feminists. I proudly raised my hand and looked around the room to see who among my classmates also supported women’s equality. To my astonishment and utter chagrin, none of my 25 or so classmates were raising their hands. The professor, who also seemed unpleasantly surprised by the findings of her impromptu survey, apparently thought that some students may have not raised their hands for fear of being ostracized at the potential of being labeled as a feminist. So the professor re-asked the question. Only this time, the professor first asked students to put their heads down on their desk, close their eyes and then raise their hands if they identified as feminists. But even under the protection of anonymity, I was the only student who raised his or her hand, according to my professor’s observation, which I totally believe.
I wondered why none of my classmates were feminists, or at least why none had raised their hand to identify as such. And I am still wondering. In that classroom, I waited yearningly for my teacher to engage us about the history of feminism in America: from its birth with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s courageous organization of the first women’s conference in Seneca Falls, N.Y., in 1848, and their lifetime’s dedication to the cause of gender equality during a culture dominated by the patriarchal system. I wanted to share with my classmates my beliefs about valuing women on their own terms. I wanted to learn what notions the word “feminism” conjured in my peers’ minds. I wanted to challenge others and be challenged myself; basically, I wanted to be engaged intellectually. But these conversations never happened. Perhaps my teacher did not think these conversations would necessitate a wise use of class time, or perhaps my teacher, who did identify herself as a feminist, felt as dejected as I did about the paucity of feminists in the class and thus decided to skip the subject.
In the time that has passed since that class, I have concluded that my classmates’ entire conversation about feminism, or, more accurately stated, our entire lack of conversation about feminism must be reflective of a broader cultural trend: that of a severe opposition to and uncomfortableness with feminism and feminists. But, why is this? I would like to know how any person can oppose the practice of equal pay for the performance of equal work with respect to women and men. In 2004, American women made only 77.5 cents for every dollar American men made, the U.S. Census Bureau reported. How on God’s green earth can this practice possibly be fair? Does this economic injustice not bother anyone else?
I imagine that the vast majority of my female classmates would like to be able to be financially independent once they graduate from college, or as soon as possible. But perhaps I am mistaken.