I just started college this semester, and so far I’m loving it. Since my high school was very homogeneous and conservative, it’s a breath of fresh air to be in a tolerant, open, accepting, and diverse environment.
One thing that has struck me so far is that even though most of the kids who go to my college are relatively liberal and generally supportive of women’s rights, I’ve experienced a number of people who rebel against the term feminist and are surprisingly insensitive to sexual assault.
For example, I was sitting in my dorm room with some of my roommates, just talking. Somehow or another, my involvement in women’s rights advocacy came up, and one of my roommates said, “Oh, I’m not a feminist.” Of course, the first thing I did was try to make her realize otherwise (don’t you support equal pay for equal work? Oppose violence against women? And so on), and I think I did manage to at least make her think twice about what a feminist is. I guess I was expecting this sort of reaction, since I know how bad of a rep feminism has, but it was still a little disappointing to have to have this kind of conversation.
Another time when I was hanging out with a group of friends, the topic of women’s safety on campus arose. “Yeah, we had a speech about safety in high school, and they said that 1 in 4 college women and 1 in 15 college men are raped. When they said the statistic about guys, all my friends nudged me and said that I probably raped them,” one girl said jokingly. I was really taken aback by the vulgarity of the joke. Although I don’t know her that well, this girl seems nice enough, and I do like her. But making a joke like that was, at least to me, really gross. I strongly doubt that she would have thought a joke from the other perspective – a guy laughing about being the rapist for the 1 in 4 sexually assaulted women on campus – is funny. Why is there this double standard about rape against men? And why would a liberal undergrad not question such a double standard?
Yet another experience I had was this past Shabbat (Sabbath), when I was sitting in a friend’s room on Friday night. The girl, who knows that I want to major in Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality and am a dedicated feminist, mentioned the recent performance every first year student had to watch about consent and sex. “I don’t agree that we should automatically believe women who say they were raped, though,” my friend said, referring to a common refrain of the play. When I questioned her lack of sympathy and challenged her with the low statistics of women who lie about sexual assault, she still refused to consider my perspective. This made me really sad and upset. If someone who I respect as a friend and know is highly intelligent thinks this way, what do others think?
Overall, though, I’ve had a pretty positive experience as a feminist. Many of my peers are up for discussions about feminist theory and equal rights activism, and everyone I’ve encountered so far has been really supportive of me being a feminist. I just wish more were willing to label themselves with the word, and were more open-minded about sexual assault.