Defining feminism


The feminist movement has come a long way. Though, despite the fact that women’s status in society has improved since 1848, many feel there are still hurdles that stand against true equality.

As part of Women’s History Month, the USF Office of Multicultural Affairs sponsored “Stop the Madness: Feminism, Womanism and Sexism” on Tuesday. Hosted by Fanm Kreyol Inc., an organization for Haitian women at USF, the event tried to define the essence of the feminist movement.

“The importance of feminism on campus, and everywhere actually in the community, is equal rights,” said Willy Lafond, ambassador of Fanm Kreyol Inc. for the Office of Multicultural Affairs. 

“That’s what feminism is for, it’s not about men-bashing like most people think,” she said. “It’s about women trying to get the same rights as men and trying to fight for fairness. In some countries, women don’t have the same fairness.”

Aside from focusing on feminist issues in the U.S., the event aimed to shed light on the struggles of women around the world. 

“If you’re looking at the Caribbean cultures, women in the past and some now too are seen as the lower class,” Lafond said. “When they look at us like this, they’re saying that we don’t deserve to do certain things. That was the main basis for every woman, everywhere around the world.”

Feminism is a term that has had several interpretations throughout its history and is sometimes misunderstood. Diane Price Herndl, a USF professor of women and gender studies, addressed the legacy of the feminist movement and what it has represented throughout time.

In the 1970s, inter-discrimination arose among women in the feminist movement, particularly among races as white women and women of color divided in the fight for equality. Some felt the feminist movement didn’t do enough to acknowledge racial equality and only focused on what suffrage could do for white women. From this divide, she said the term “womanism” arose.

“Womanism is a version of feminism,” Herndl said. “It’s a kind of feminism that takes the concerns of women of color seriously and recognizes that women of color often do not have as much common cause with middle class, upper class white women as they do with their brothers.”

In modern day, Herndl said women who traditionally called themselves feminists are now calling themselves “womanists.” They believe that in order to combat one form of discrimination, it’s imperative to combat all forms of discrimination. 

“You can’t raise one group on any other group’s back and hope that you’re fighting a movement of equality,” Herndl said.

Much of the conversation of the evening centered on terminology and conceptions associated with these terms.

One male audience member said the event taught him a lot about the true definition of feminism, adding that the term always sounded like a man-hating radical movement full of negative connotations.

“We need to make men aware that feminism is not about men-bashing. While some people believe that only men-bashers become feminists, that’s not true,” Lafond said. “We’re fighting for equal rights, anyone can do it … if we bring more attention and awareness to it, especially to the men that will be the next leaders in the future, that will make our jobs a lot easier. Instead of us just fighting by ourselves, we will have them fighting by our side.”

As part of a student panel, USF students from different cultural backgrounds, all of whom identify as feminists, addressed issues such as lack of education and women’s roles in Asian, Caribbean and North American societies.

One audience member who grew up in Haiti described her experiences as a woman in a country that views women as simply functional beings. 

“The first thing they taught you is how to clean, how to cook and they tell you if there’s one chair at a table, the men have to sit at the table first before the woman can sit at the table,” she said. “The woman has to stand … that’s how I grew up.”

One panelist who was raised in the U.S. responded that one’s view of feminism “depends on how you’re raised,” adding she wasn’t raised to see any difference between female and male roles.

The remainder of the events this month focus on the idea of feminism and women’s roles in today’s society, as well as being an active feminist.

“We want to be seen as people, we don’t want to be seen as minorities like we always are,” Lafond said. “We’re women, we’re made just like men too, we can do the same things they can do. Why think of us as minorities?”

 Tuesday’s event was just one of many, including “Shades of Womanhood” on Sunday at 1 p.m. in the MSC Ballroom, “Gender Bending Science Fiction” on Monday at 6 p.m. in CWY 107 and “I Support Women” on Tuesday at 10 a.m. in the MSC Atrium.