Simone Messer, ’15
When I saw the signs at the club fair announcing BHSEC’S new feminist society, STAGE (Students Taking Action for Gender Equity), my first thought was, “Why didn’t I think of that?” As a liberal school in a liberal city, and with the ratio of female to male students currently at around 2 to 1, BHSEC, believe it or not, has a huge feminist population. As cofounder Isabel Cristo (Y2) puts it, “There is a pretty active and vocal feminist presence in this school. [Cofounder Priya Dietrich (Y2) and I] wanted to mobilize it and organize it and get everyone in the same room.” With the idea that feminism is pertinent to everyone and thus a conversation that is necessarily all-inclusive, STAGE has created a forum that is organized and clear in its objective, yet open and extremely accepting of a vast variety of ideas and viewpoints, where students can work out what feminism means to them as individuals and what it has the potential to mean for their generation.
One way in which Cristo and Dietrich have communicated this all-inclusive idea of feminism is by reaching out to different clubs and groups both outside of and within the school. STAGE maintains a blog, has participated in the national “I Need Feminism” Project, and is in the midst of establishing relationships with several organizations such as Hollaback!, which works to eradicate street harassment.
Within the school, the club has already held a “hesitant feminists” meeting that attempted to address what about feminism is problematic for those who are ambivalent about adopting the label, and a meeting focused on the LGBTQ movement and culture and how it overlaps with the feminist movement. “One of the most important things that I’ve learned about is the idea of intersectionality, which is that lots of different structures of power are related to each other, so it is impossible to just talk about gender structures without including a discussion of race or class,” says Cristo, reflecting on the importance of incorporating as many different groups of people as possible into the conversation of feminism.
When faculty members were invited to the club to share what feminism has meant to them and their generations, the conversation seemed to resonate particularly strongly with all those present. The discussion both situated feminism today as the product of a multi-generational struggle that, at least for me, really drove home the concept that feminism is now my generation’s to take and run with, and yielded some extremely insightful comments from both teachers and students. The conversation centered mostly on gender dynamics in the classroom and, more generally, the role of men in the feminist movement. Perry Bleiberg (Y2) summed up a point of view that I heard echoed by quite a few male students at the meeting: “I joined STAGE because it came at a time when I was becoming aware of problems my female friends were having that I hadn’t noticed before and, in some cases, had trouble understanding.”
That a male-dominated system is damaging to everyone is something that STAGE really aims to highlight, and hearing that so many men in attendance acknowledge this idea was comforting. On an even more basic note, the sheer amount of males present was great to see. I had never really viewed feminism as something pertinent to men before, nor, for that matter, had I viewed men as particularly pertinent to feminism. However, as Mojique Tyler (Y1) put it, “Just as you can’t stop racism without talking to white people or anti-Semitism by only talking to Jews, you can’t stop sexism by only discussing amongst women.” Overall, the general feeling about the meeting was well encapsulated by Lilly Donlon (Y1), who remarked, “Leaving that meeting was probably the most proud I’ve ever felt to go to BHSEC.”
Despite all this, a few Bardians still remain on the fence about, and are even overtly uncomfortable with, the feminist cause. States one Year 1, “Although I do agree with everything feminism stands for, I think the word has negative man-hating connotations and that’s why I don’t call myself a feminist.” While I agree that the word “feminist” has become a fairly loaded term, the fact is that it is now becoming up to us where feminism will go and what it will stand for. With this comes the power to determine and tailor those connotations to fit our generation’s needs. As STAGE emphasizes, feminism is a broad idea and a conversation, and we as individuals can adopt the aspects that speak to us. “The [feminist] movement is massive and imperfect, but it is also incredible—so you make the effort to understand both its strengths and its failures and you identify with the particular parts of the movement that feel powerful to you,” says Dietrich.
Future STAGE plans include coordinating with BHSEC’s film club to screen Girl Rising, about the education of women around the world, as well as more targeted meetings similar to the “hesitant feminists” and faculty-involved ones. A lot of what lies in store for STAGE remains up in the air, however. “We’re figuring it out as we go along,” confesses Cristo. “We want people to take initiative and bring what they’re interested in to the table, so we’re just planning for the next week or two weeks at the most.” Says Dietrich, “I can’t even guess what this club will be doing this spring or next year or later, but there are a lot of passionate, wonderful people involved in it and I have really high hopes.”