Campus needs a more mature feminism

Allison Mollenkamp

I am a feminist. As I’ve grown up, I’ve measured my progress by how well I can articulate the reasons behind my gut feelings of injustice. This learning can be greatly helped by other people, and on a college campus, there are a myriad of organizations to not only address what the problems are but also how we should react.

I recently attended a workshop hosted by a couple of such organizations at the University. It was, as is characteristic of things put together by smart college-aged women – a fantastic event. It drew a large turn-out and flowed nicely between different topics and issues. However, there were a few moments of that workshop that seemed off. Between being told how long our skirts should be and to make sure our nails were clean, it seemed like something out of A League of Their Own. All these rules for being a woman in a professional setting are of course good advice. It pays to look and act like a professional. However, at 18 or 19 or 21, most of the women there had heard it all before.

It’s time for college feminism to grow up.

At the end of the workshop there was a very brief discussion on strategies to move towards a future where such workshops were not necessary. In general the question was skipped over for the answer that we should always have these events. In part I agree. Getting together with other women to talk about our goals and strategies as well as our problems is one of the best things we can do as feminists. However, the conversation needs to change.

Conversations about the lengths of our skirts or how many drinks to have at a networking event are focused around avoiding negative stereotypes about women in the professional sphere. Even worse, being told not to cry in a meeting seems to treat a grown-up woman like a child. These workshops should be centered on proactive strategies for practical success. Networking is much more complex than your outfit. We should be focusing on the work we plan to do, whether it’s scientific, artistic or academic. As a woman, I want to be defined by what I’ve done rather than what I’m wearing.

My roommate, Alison Farrar recently attended a conference for women in physics. Some might be surprised to hear that there are even enough women in physics for a whole conference, as only roughly 20 percent of bachelor’s degrees in physics are awarded to women. However, it did happen, and when she arrived home she had mixed feelings. She was thrilled to have met so many cool people working on topics she finds interesting. However, the vast majority of her weekend had been taken up with tales of exactly how bad the state of gender equality in science is. For instance, how in the entire history of the United States of America, only 89 black women have gotten a Ph.D. in physics or a related field. Alison felt conflicted. “It’s important to tell those stories, but it’s even more important to give us a path forward – what strategies can we use to get those tenure-track positions in academia? How can we better support our female colleagues? It seemed wrong to focus on the problems of the present when we were all there to create a better future.”

My roommate, like me, wanted to know about the boots on the ground work that was happening. This comes in two forms. The first is the work being done by these amazing women in their fields. She wanted to hear about physics. I wanted to hear about the connections that my mentors made and how they made them. The second is how to fix the problems we all know are there. Pay inequality and gender and racial gaps in academic fields are social problems. They will likely not be fixed by a workshop or a two day conference. However, they can be fixed by the women who attend those meetings.

College feminist organizations are important. They sponsor the future for women in America, which makes it all the more important that we not sell ourselves short. Let’s focus on real issues. Let’s learn the strategies to succeed and then let’s fight tooth and nail to make sure other women, no matter their background, succeed right along with us. We also must not deny our role in issues outside the traditional domain of feminism. A feminist perspective is necessary in almost any political issue. The rights of transgender women and women of color are vital to true equality. For that matter, the rights of refugee women are too. Those are big, grown up conversations.

I am a feminist, and I’m ready to grow up.

Allison Mollenkamp is a sophomore majoring in English and theatre. Her column runs biweekly.