I’m a feminist.
Here at UCLA, I have been very much under the impression that I was one of a handful of undergraduate feminists. Although I am aware that there are active groups like Bruin Feminists for Equality, I personally have never heard about their actions in any capacity on campus.
I also only have one or two friends who self-identify as feminists, and oftentimes when I bring the subject up with others, at least one person rolls their eyes.
However, there has never been a more critical time to be a feminist, particularly if you fall in the 18-25 voting bracket.
This year’s election is among the most pivotal in terms of women’s issues, and will hopefully inspire UCLA’s feminists to come out of the cracks.
This past Sunday, feminist icon Gloria Steinem spoke in the Broad Art Center, leading to a substantial volume of feminist activity on campus.
For those who have never heard of Steinem, she is perhaps the most popular and influential figure of the second-wave feminist movement, which began in the early 1960s.
Her resume includes activism on behalf of a litany of political causes, as well as the infiltration and exposÃ© of women’s working conditions in Playboy nightclubs in 1963 and the founding of Ms. magazine in 1972.
At Steinem’s speech Sunday night, I witnessed a feminist outpouring the likes of which I had yet to encounter as a UCLA student. While middle-aged women certainly comprised a portion of the audience, the majority of the crowd appeared to be, surprisingly, college students.
That there were this many people even interested in seeing Steinem speak indicates that perhaps feminism is as alive and well now as it was 40 years ago.
Steinem spoke on a variety of topics related to feminism, stressing repeatedly how essential this election is.
At stake this November are fundamental rights which affect all women, including access to family planning as well as bodily autonomy.
According to Steinem, more anti-reproductive rights legislation has been proposed in the past two years than at any time in the past decade, and this year’s Republican party platform even features a proposal for a constitutional amendment known as a “human life amendment.”
This amendment not only outlaws abortion, but also outright disregards a woman’s right to control over her own body.
Threats like this, which degrade the historical importance of family planning in terms of helping women integrate into the work place, demonstrate the necessity for a resurgence in feminist activism on campus.
There is no greater impetus. It is perhaps because young feminists have grown complacent that outrageous ideas such as these are even allowed to become legislative proposals.
In her talk, Steinem also touched on manners in which women can bear unfair burdens within our system of higher education.
“So many students graduate in debt that it’s outrageous,” said Steinem in her lecture. “It’s especially challenging for women who are going to earn, on average, $2 million less over their lifetime, to pay the debt back.”
It could be that many college-aged women disregard feminism because they think it’s a dead issue. Perhaps they ignore it because of the label and caricature now commonly associated with the ideology.
Or maybe popular perception of an equalized gender platform has warped the belief in the need for a feminist push: Because women can vote, attend college, work and have safe (though not necessarily easy) access to family planning methods, people assume that all women have reached equal footing with men.
But the statistics alone state otherwise. According to a White House statement of administration policy, while white women only make 77 cents to the white male dollar, black women make 64 cents, and Latina women make 56.
Feminism isn’t over.
As college students, as young women and men, it is our turn to bear the burden, our turn to fight against the ignorance that continues to surround women’s issues. If anything, statements like the “forcible rape” comments made by Congressman Todd Akin (R-MO) should only serve to demonstrate how dire the situation is.
“Reproductive rights (is) the most important issue facing women today,” said Ellen DuBois, professor of history and the organizer of Sunday’s event. “Making it clear that there is no way to turn back history, and respecting women’s choices, is still as essential as ever.”
I’m willing to bet that if you asked a group of college-aged women whether or not they were feminists, the majority would answer “no.” However, if asked whether they agree with the tenets of feminism ““ equal rights, equal access ““ most would answer yes.
There’s no shame in being a feminist, to come out and support the autonomy and freedom of women. Our votes have never mattered as much as they do now.
Email Tashman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Send general comments to email@example.com or tweet us @DBOpinion.