Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Feminism still alive in Whitman community

The debate over a woman’s reproductive rights is once again at the forefront of public consciousness with the introduction of new legislation in the House of Representatives that would cut federal funding and subsidies for abortions.

The bill, called the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act”, has received significant criticism for its redefinition of “forcible rape,” excluding cases of coerced rape or incest; Washington senator Patty Murray called it a “a step back in history,” according to a National Public Radio report.

Debate over the proposed bill has reverberated across the country to the Whitman campus, and has been a hot topic of conversation for members of the Feminists Advocating Change and Empowerment (FACE).

A student-run club that has grown from three to over a dozen active members since senior and club president McKenna Milici’s freshman year, FACE discusses a broad scope of national feminist issues at their meetings: from reproductive rights, to representations of female celebrities in the media, to workplace discrimination.

FACE is chiefly concerned with feminist issues specific to Walla Walla and the Whitman campus, advocating for greater awareness of casual sexism and acceptance of feminism as a non-radical way to promote gender equality.

FACE is joined on campus by another advocate for feminist issues, Voices for Planned Parenthood (VOX), which focuses specifically on women’s health and reproductive rights. VOX does community service work with the STEP women’s shelter in Walla Walla and is in the process of hosting a lunchtime lecture series with Whitman professors about reproduction and sexuality.

The two groups often work together to promote feminism on campus, co-sponsoring the Vagina Monologues and hosting a screening of the film “12th and Delaware” about tensions between an abortion clinic and pro-life crisis pregnancy center.

Kate Kight, a sophomore and FACE member, emphasizes that Whitman students are typically less aware of sexism on campus than on the national level.

“I think that people are generally aware of feminism as a broader out there in the world kind of thing, like that the redefinition of rape is bad, and the types of issues that were tackled by 1970s feminism, but are less receptive to cultural feminism,” she said.

Kight points to casually-used terms such as “chick” and “hooters” as the kind of cultural sexism feminists on campus are trying to combat.

Sophomore Avery Potter defines cultural feminism as a less tangible, but equally vital facet of the movement toward gender equality.

“It’s not in the forefront of anybody’s mind, it’s subtle now. Sexism is casual. People make jokes about it and if you don’t laugh along with it you don’t have a sense of humor,” she said.

Professor Melissa Wilcox, associate professor of religion and director of the gender studies department, notes that cultural sexism is also present in the classroom.

“Women professors on average get lower course marks than male professors,” said Wilcox, noting that female professors who appear more “masculine” often receive better evaluations.

She points to comments made on evaluations by students about female professors’ physical appearance, clothing choices and personal life outside of the classroom as manifestations of implicit sexism, demonstrating that female professors are usually judged by a more rigid standard.

“I don’t think students consider themselves sexist, but it’s how many of the -isms are working in society. Few would admit that their behavior is outwardly sexist or racist,” she said.

Wilcox also describes other instances of sexism on campus; such as Whitman’s maternity and family leave policies.

“Whitman does not have a strong parental leave policy compared to most corporate settings and also other academic institutions,” she said.

According to the Faculty Handbook, the standard maternity leave policy covered under “short-term disabilities” is six weeks leave or one course reduction. Family leave, often used for the caring of an infant, allows several options for tenure-track faculty members: from one course reduction to a full year of leave but with cuts in salary. Non-tenure-track faculty members and staff are allowed up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Additionally, Wilcox points out that there are no on-campus daycare options for children under 18 months of age.

Despite these criticisms, Wilcox finds that students on campus are engaged in gender discourse, her classes inciting the interest of both male and female students. While men are usually in the minority in her classes, the department graduates at least one male gender studies major every year. However, there is still the nagging belief that the study of gender issues and the label of being a feminist are reserved for women.

“Men are not seen as having gender, much like white people aren’t seen as having race,” she said.

Seth Dawson, a junior, admits that while he personally identifies as a feminist, there is the general feeling among male students that mainstream feminism is exclusively for women.

“Freshman year I thought FACE and VOX were women’s only clubs,” he said.

Dawson also feels that embracing the label of feminism can be challenging for men who do not want to make judgments about women’s issues.

“As a guy who will never have to deal with these issues, like having an abortion, I don’t want to presume to have all the answers,” he said.

FACE members admit that their club’s homogeneity, being made up mostly of white women, is problematic, and something they talk about on a regular basis.

“I think probably one of the main reasons we have so much difficulty having men as well as women identify as feminists is that if you take on the term there is an implied activism. But there are lighter ways of doing feminism just like environmentalism. For example, even though I’m not involved in environmental clubs, I do recycle. We think about ways you can ‘recycle’ as a feminist,” said Milici.

Milici suggests this “light feminism” can be as simple as being mindful of casual comments made in daily conversation.

“Don’t make the joke, but also don’t laugh at the joke, and maybe take issue with the joke when someone says something offensive,” she said.

The Vagina Monologues, FACE and VOX’s most popular annual event, will once again be shown on campus this weekend, with proceeds from ticket sales going toward the Walla Walla Planned Parenthood, YWCA and STEP Women’s Shelter. The Monologues, an episodic play written by Eve Ensler in 1996, has stood the test of time at Whitman due to its unabashed, and at times humorous, portrayal of women’s relationships to their own sexuality in the face of societal pressures.

FACE members hope that the Monologues will spur discussion about female sexuality and encourage men and women to talk about these issues. In the past, the Monologues have been attended by men and women in equal numbers which is not true of FACE’s other lectures and events.

“There’s a buzz around campus about it. It’s really special for our club since we aren’t BSU or Club Latino with tons of members and as recognizable on campus. It’s cool to be able to have that much of a voice on campus,” said junior Ellie Newell, a FACE member and actor in the Monologues.

The Vagina Monologues will be shown this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. All showings start at 7 p.m. in Olin 130. Tickets can be purchased from noon to 1 p.m. in Reid throughout the week or at the door for five dollars.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All Whitman Wire Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *