Why Feminism Really Means Equality

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If feminism is about equality, why does its name clearly favor women?  I’ve heard many men (and some women) who “totally believe in equality but can’t justify calling themselves feminists” use this question to clinch their argument against the movement.  The thought is usually accompanied by a triumphant snarl and an attitude of having defeated the imagined throngs of screaming misandrists at long last.

My first thought whenever someone self-importantly throws this point at me is of an exchange from Legally Blonde where Enid, an intentional caricature of man-hating feminism, argues semantics with Warner, a textbook misogynist.

Enid from Legally Blonde

“The English language is all about subliminal domination,” she says.  “Take the word semester.  This is a perfect example of this school’s discriminatory preference of semen to ovaries.  That’s why I’m petitioning to have next term referred to as the winter ovester.”

The comedy of this moment lies in its over-exaggerated ridiculousness.  Why would there be a subliminal message, the viewer wonders.  It’s a semester, a session during the school year—that’s just what it’s called.  Even Elle, who is mistakenly dressed in a bunny costume and probably not in a position to laugh at anyone else’s expense, chuckles at the silliness of Enid’s profound objection.

But just how absurd is this opinion?  Sure, turning semesters into ovesters seems like an overreaction.  But much of the English language, on further examination, includes a similar, glaring gender bias.

College freshmen.  All men are created equal.  Every man for himself.  Intentional or not, the lurking bias in these common phrases implies that men are the standard of humanity and are more capable of achieving education, economic success, and independence.

At this point, the argument against these words seems easily refutable—we use these terms because, historically, they make more sense.  Throughout most of the history of university education, first year students have been men.  When Jefferson penned the powerful phrase, women were not even remotely considered equal with “all men.”  And “every woman for herself” would have made little sense in a time when women had few personal freedoms.

In short, many would say that these gendered expressions are acceptable because, at least in their earliest usage, universal ideals often applied solely to men.

Can’t we say the same about the word feminism?

Feminism is a fight for equality, but in terms of historical setbacks the uphill battle has been much less steep for men.  While there are certainly areas of modern culture in which women have an advantage, men have dominated human history as they currently dominate technology jobs, the film industry, and countless academic fields.  No one can reasonably refute the fact that men have traditionally held the power and reaped the rewards of social dominance.

Feminists aren’t building a matriarchal society; we’re building a society that no longer includes patriarchy.  We aren’t scheming to bring men down; we’re working to elevate women.  We aren’t trying to take over the world; we’re just trying to make it fair.

The comedy of the argument against the word feminism lies in its over-exaggerated ridiculousness.  Why would there be a subliminal message, a reasonable person wonders.  It’s feminism, a belief in gender equality—that’s just what it’s called.

Maddi Kaigh (COL ’17) is a member of H*yas for Choice. 

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Hey Academy – Stop Snubbing Women of Color

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It seems even after eighty-seven long years, many of which have seen extraordinarily moving and delightfully engaging performances by gifted actors and actresses of color, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences continues to fail in even the most meager attempts to properly honor the accomplishments of these performers. It is no secret that despite the ethnic and cultural diversity of our immense nation, Hollywood has remained substantially whitewashed, celebrating the talents of African American actors and actresses only within the confines of roles that appeal to restrictive, entrenched racial stereotypes. While there have been exceptions to this rule – African American men have made significant strides in the film industry over the past few decades – women of color are consistently snubbed for leading roles, and actors and actresses of Native American, Asian, and Latin American backgrounds receive even less adequate representation. While this deficiency of racial realism in American media is merely a symptom of a much broader, more sinister reality – the consistent neglect of certain ethnic groups across many dimensions of American culture – it must nonetheless be addressed in full.

Institutions like the Academy seem to walk in lock-step; while approximately thirteen and seventeen percent of the U.S. population are African American or Latino, respectively, the voters who comprise the Academy are almost ninety-four percent white. Over seventy percent of these members are male, with an average age resting just above sixty years old. The AMPAS has, in recent years, attempted to right this dismal oversight, but even the entrance of hundreds of new voters has barely changed these averages. The 87th annual Academy Awards this past month stand as a glaring testament to this fact. While Ava DuVernay’s film Selma, a historical drama depicting the African American suffrage marches of 1965., received nominations for Best Picture and Best Song, no members of its cast, nor its director, were selected for individual awards. I was disturbed, although not particularly surprised to learn, that all twenty of the nominees for acting roles at this year’s Oscars were white.

Yes, films starring actors and actresses of color have secured awards at the Oscars in recent years, but not nearly enough. The majority of films nominated for Best Picture and other coveted decorations continue to be those that depict the trials and tribulations of white male heroes. Despite Selma’s undoubted success at the box office following the media circus surrounding its snub, the film stands as a failure – not of DuVernay, but of ourselves. When we do not challenge racial axes of oppression, do not insist that such a significant collective as the Academy celebrate our country’s talent in such a manner that reflects the ethnic and cultural diversity from which we as citizens derive so much pride, we are committing a cruel injustice.

HFC Paige

Paige Bradley (COL ’17) is a member of H*yas for Choice.

In Case You Missed It: Sexual Health Resources Panel

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On Monday, February 23rd, H*yas for Choice invited four guest panelists from Georgetown’s Health education Services, Planned Parenthood and Advocates for Youth to answer our most pressing questions about sexual and reproductive health, and the resources available to students. Below is a recap of the expert’s answers to the questions we brought to the table.

Q: What is sexual health?

A: Sexual health is anything related to relationships, body parts that are gender specific, gynecological health, mental health and reproductive health. Sexual health is broader than we think, for sex and sexuality encompass more than the penis and vagina (i.e. sex after menopause, sex after kids, etc.). Sexual health resources are anything that helps you achieve sexual fulfillment safely, a fundamental human right.

Q: What are the resources provided by your organizations?

A: Planned Parenthood serves both men and women, providing reproductive health services such as STI testing and treatment, breast exams, birth control, abortion services, walk-ins for UTIs or yeast infections, any problems relating to breast or genitals.

Georgetown’s Student Health Center run by MedStar conducts STI screenings and general check-ins for any concerns. According to Day, they are used to the college-aged population and are non-judgmental. In terms of how STI tests and birth control prescriptions appear on one’s insurance bill, it varies depending on one’s insurance. Whether or not a doctor will prescribe birth control solely for contraception depends on the doctor, but because the Student Health Center is run by the religiously-affiliated university hospital, a prescription is not guaranteed. With that said, birth control can be prescribed for reasons other than contraception, such as irregular or heavy periods.

Day offers counseling one-on-one and is available to discuss various options regarding reproductive health with students.

Q: What effects did the Hobby Lobby ruling have on access to reproductive rights?

A: The Hobby Lobby ruling has granted loosely-held corporations of five people or less to not follow through on the Affordable Care Act birth control mandate on the basis of their religious freedom. Many employees no longer have coverage for birth control, IUDs, and the morning-after pill. IUDs which are considered to be both a cost-effective and reliable birth control option are more difficult to access for employees through the Hobby Lobby ruling. In conclusion, many people are affected negatively through the ruling that a corporation’s religious rights trump a woman’s rights to comprehensive reproductive health.

In addition to these barriers, the Hobby Lobby has broader implications for the LGBTQ community. Now, anti-LGBTQ groups are using the religious freedom and liberty clause to expand the rights of loosely-held corporations. For example, an Arizona bill has attempted to grant businesses the right to deny service to gay and lesbian customers on the basis of their religious beliefs.

Q: What role do NGOs play in promoting reproductive health?

A: NGOs should promote sexual health resources and comprehensive sex education. In addition, they should promote policies that provide access to resources for adolescents. They play the role of the watch-dog by pushing policy makers to do the right thing. As the young people are the most effective advocates, NGOs should also provide youth with training to talk and advocate on behalf of their reproductive rights.

Q: What tests should we be getting on a regular basis?

A: You should be regularly tested for Chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, HIV, hepatitis if you’re sexually active. When getting tested, be specific about what you want to be tested for. There is always the possibility that providers will make assumptions based on your race, sexual orientations, etc so it is in your best interest to be clear about what you want.

At Georgetown, the first and second most diagnosed STIs are genital warts and Chlamydia. It’s important to be tested because many STIs are not symptomatic. It’s important to know your body—if there’s a noted change in your body (i.e. discharge), it is something that should be checked out.

Q: Why should you not lie to your doctor about your sexual history?

A: Health professionals are looking out for your best interest and if you’re not honest with them, they cannot help you as much. It’s unlikely that you will surprise them with anything you say—they’ve heard everything. If you’re not comfortable with them, you should find another provider. If you feel discriminated against, you should find another provider. There are many affordable options in the DC area such as the Whitman-Walker Clinic and Planned Parenthood. Whitman-Walker is a great resource for all individuals and especially queer youth. They offer free counseling, free group conversations, treatments regarding the intersections of drug use and sexual health. It is important to remember that if you don’t like your doctor, you can leave—it is your right to have a provider that respects you and your confidentiality.

Q: How do reproductive health politics differ state by state?

A: Since 2010, there has been more anti-choice legislation state by state than we’ve ever experienced. In Virginia, the biggest barrier is parent consent laws which restrict minors from confidentially obtaining an abortion. The mandatory ultrasound law also forces individuals to undergo a mandatory ultrasound before the abortion. You must also do counseling and wait 24 hours before you have an abortion. Finally, public funding cannot go towards abortions with exceptions in life-threatening cases or instances of rape or incest. DC laws are less restrictive, but also restrict the use of public funding. And then there are states, such as Tennessee, that are passing laws which gives the state a right to not guarantee access to abortion at all.

Q: What about unprotected sex on the pill?

A: The bottom line is that using two forms of birth control is more effective. If you are going to have unprotected sex on the pill, you should consider the number of partners the two of you have had and how well you trust your partner. Just because you are asymptomatic does not mean you are healthy—HIV takes up to three months to show up in a healthy person’s body. You should always protect yourself against pregnancy and STIs.

Q: Will Student Health refer you to an abortion clinic?

A: It depends on the provider. The law requires that health providers provide the best information available. However, because the university is a Catholic institution, some providers will not compromise their beliefs.

Q: Are health records confidential?

A: Student Health and other providers do not share records with parents if you’re 18 and over.

Q: How invasive is an STI test?

A: It depends on the test and can range from peeing in a cup, drawing blood or taking a swab from your cervix.

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Yijin Yang (COL 2017) is a member of H*yas for Choice.

H*yas for Choice Challenges Georgetown to Live Up to Its Ideals

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Leading a conversation on reproductive justice isn’t always easy, and that’s especially the case at Georgetown University. That’s why I’m expressing my appreciation as an alum for the spectacular work led by the students in H*yas for Choice. Participation in this group is in itself an act of leadership in the struggle for human rights and dignity for all people, especially women, LGBTQ people, and people of color.

Whether tabling and providing condoms to students, attending a meeting and educating one another about sexuality and systems of oppression, or joining in coalition with advocates in equality movements on campus and beyond, your efforts make a substantial difference toward creating a world where sexuality is not used as a weapon to disenfranchise people.

In doing this work, H*yas for Choice by necessity challenges Georgetown to live up to its status as a first-rate institution of higher learning. In advocating for reproductive rights and justice, H*yas for Choice provides an alternative view to the official teachings on women and sexuality provided by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. One of the important things that means is that H*yas for Choice is tasked with coaxing the university toward greater freedom of expression and inquiry on campus.

In so doing, H*yas for Choice is not just advocating for a better world, but also a better university community. The freedom to speak alternative points of view strengthens the quality of education and inquiry at Georgetown, and with that, the benefits of belonging to the Georgetown community more broadly – no matter what an individual’s conscience may tell her or him.

These are just a few of the reasons why this alum feels that the students in H*yas for Choice make her even more proud to be a Hoya. Please know that your efforts are noticed and appreciated by many alumni, and we stand eager to support you in your work.

erin matson

Erin Matson (COL 2002) serves as an interviewer for the Alumni Admissions Program, and a mentor for the WAGE Fellowship through the Georgetown University Women’s Center. Recently she served as a judge for the Philodemic Society’s 2014 Richard T. Merrick Debate.  

Being Pro-Choice at Georgetown

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Many of our peers — some accusatory, some simply curious — have asked us, “Why would you, somebody who claims to be pro-choice, come to Georgetown? Don’t you know that this is a Catholic institution?” A few of our members have chosen to address this so-called “quandary,” and their voices serve as our humble response.

Yijin Yang (COL ’17)

As a pro-choice individual, I chose to come to Georgetown for a number of reasons — the academic and extracurricular opportunities, the Jesuit ideals, the location, and the community’s commitment to reflective and relevant dialogue. I did not choose Georgetown because it was perfect. I came to this school knowing that there would be policies with which I would not agree, people with whom I would not share the same views, and things I would like to change. This is the case with any place that values positive change and healthy debate, and Georgetown is no different. We are all working to make Georgetown the best place it can be, and change and discourse are natural for any community that shares this goal.

Abby Grace (SFS ’16)

My decision to come to Georgetown was largely motivated by the Jesuits’ remarkable tradition of academic inquiry. Georgetown’s focus on the whole person, and its subsequent emphasis on professors that not only produce great research, but also are invested in their students’ individual growth, drew me to this campus. Boiling down the Jesuit tradition to a blind acceptance of the Catholic Church’s stances on reproductive health is simplistic. I’m thankful that I have had the opportunity to be a part of this tradition, and I know that my educational experience has been enriched by Georgetown’s Jesuit identity.

Sarah Rabon (COL ’16)

My personal religious beliefs inform my pro-choice advocacy. As a prospective Hoya, I was always told that my religious convictions would be tolerated and respected at Georgetown.

Lily Westergaard (COL ’15)

I came to Georgetown because, to me, it is evident that cura personalis is in line with my pro-choice views. In a perfect world, “care for the whole person” would extend to sexual health, reproductive justice, and bodily autonomy. Our Jesuit identity should serve to bolster these principles, not as a reason to repress an important part of the human experience. Reproductive rights are human rights.

Paige Bradley (COL ’17)

Although I knew Georgetown was Jesuit, that facet of the school’s identity did not factor into my decision to come here. I did not believe it fair to have the religious affiliation of the student body play a significant role in my college choice. Thus, I had to come to terms with the fact that Georgetown is a Catholic institution and that I would have to respect the choices and beliefs of many peers with whom I would not see eye-to-eye. That being said, I think groups like H*yas for Choice serve an especially important purpose here. Not every Georgetown student — or even a majority (I believe) — is Catholic, and even students who are Catholic need adequate access to sexual-health resources. If the school cannot provide this — an unfortunate reality, but an understandable one, considering Georgetown’s strong religious affiliation — then it is the job of the students to fill that important void. The health, safety, and happiness of our peers depend on it.

Gabi Emma Hasson (COL ’17)

I chose to attend Georgetown because of — not in spite of — its Jesuit values. Georgetown was not originally my top choice, and I was pretty ready to submit my deposit to the University of Pennsylvania two years ago — until I actually visited Georgetown during a GAAP Weekend. I was completely inspired by Georgetown’s core, Jesuit values, and I remain wholly unconvinced that Catholic doctrine and pro-choice feminism are fundamentally incompatible. Specifically, Georgetown’s ethics of cura personalis and being “men and women for others” support the logic of reproductive justice. Seeing H*yas for Choice members commit themselves to upholding the sexual health of their community and to clinic escorting on a weekly basis further vindicates me — that is truly caring for the whole person; that is truly dedicating yourself to the good of others.

Emily Stephens (SFS ’17)

Silly me for thinking I could choose a school based on the merits of its international relations program rather than based on its antiquated policies on contraception and birth control! I chose to go to Georgetown for the same reason I’m choosing to study abroad in China next year, even though its government routinely and systematically censors the Internet and news: because the benefits outweigh the injustice of free-speech repression. That doesn’t mean I don’t have the right to criticize the Great Firewall, and it doesn’t mean I don’t have the right to put condoms on my door and table in Red Square.

Matt Healey (SFS ’18)

Reproductive-rights issues are among several topics that I knew I disagreed with Georgetown’s administration on when I chose to attend the university. However, I believe that the many benefits of a Georgetown education are worth pursuing. Ultimately, I know that my own opinions will be respected and listened to here — as long as I speak up. I hope that my voice can help move Georgetown forward over time.