What is Feminism?: Women’s Empowerment Organization hosts panel

This past Thursday, April 7, 2022, the Women’s Empowerment Organization (WEO) held a panel on feminism in VanderWerf Hall at 7:00 p.m. The topic for the night was, broadly, “What Is Feminism?” The panelists spent an hour discussing the different education that they received on feminism, the opinions they had formed on it during their lives and their definitions of intersectionality within feminism. The panel was led by Alexia Tanner (‘23), a member of WEO’s executive board. This week, the Anchor sat down with Tanner to learn more about WEO’s mission on campus and the panel of last Thursday.

WEO is an organization dedicated to informing Hope College students about what it means to be a feminist. “Our current mission is talking about intersectionality within feminism, dismantling constructs of the patriarchy, which is a very large undertaking, and talking about stuff like myths and misconceptions and the ways this impacts people day-to-day,” said Tanner. In service of this goal, they have spent the past year hosting events like this one, including “The Vagina Monologues,” a reoccurring yearly event, as well as educational talks about breast cancer, sexual violence awareness and sex education. 

“We focus on women’s issues, but we’re also trying to branch out to how people at large are impacted by feminist problems,” Tanner said. “We heard from around campus that not a lot of our student body identified as feminist, so that was our encouragement to make the event. We’re an organization about feminism, and we were a little bit concerned that people weren’t interested in it, so we wanted to show what it’s really about, to combat the misconceptions.” The panelists that they selected for this event were chosen to help them in this task.

The panelists were Dr. Carrie Bredow, a Hope College professor of psychology and women’s and gender studies, Dr. Lauren Janes, a Hope College professor of history, and Shannon Wendling, a master’s student. “We wanted to get a diverse point of view because even within the same demographics, there are a lot of different ways that feminism works for people with different degrees and jobs,” Tanner explained. “We wanted someone who could speak to a psychological, women and gender studies perspective, and we had a history professor to speak about feminism from a historical perspective. We wanted to get someone in STEM, as well, but that fell through, so we had a substitute come in at the last minute to save the day!”

These panelists answered eight questions prepared by the WEO executive board:

  • What are some of the different types of feminism that exist? Do you find your beliefs fall under one or more of the categories?
  • How does your faith interact with the way that you practice feminism?
  • What are some common misconceptions about feminism?
  • What are the “waves” of feminism?
  • What does intersectionality mean?
  • How have you benefited from feminism?
  • How does feminism interact with your career/career goals?
  • Who is impacted by feminism?

All of the panelists agreed that what is commonly called “feminism” is in fact a wide variety of belief systems held by a diverse group of people, though most of these people do hold one common belief: that gender inequality exists and is not a positive thing. They also acknowledged a historical context to different types of feminism, noting that though people who fought for women’s right to vote are now considered “feminists,” most of them would have relatively little in common with people who use that label today. Another topic was misconceptions surrounding feminism—some of the most notable was the idea that all feminists hate men, that all feminists agree and that all feminists are women.

The panel’s most prevalent topic, however, was intersectionality. Intersectional feminism emphasizes the fact that gender inequality is not a monolithic experience—different people go through it in different ways, and their other identities (race, socioeconomic status, sexuality, gender identity, disability) have a lot to do with how this happens. They also agreed that not all feminists are women, an idea that Tanner strongly agreed with: “I think that it’s assumed that everyone at Hope is going to be the same kind of person: rich and white and straight and Christian, and that’s not the only kind of feminism we want to represent….And WEO is not just for women, by women—it’s for people, by people, to represent feminism and dismantle the patriarchy.”

While they have mostly finished their events for this year, WEO plans to continue their work in the school year to come. “We hope to do a lot of partnerships with different organizations. I’d love to see us work with WOCU and LSO and Prism to really further that goal of intersectionality,” Tanner said. Their executive board is currently accepting nominations, and if you or someone you know is interested in applying, email them at weo@hope.edu. Applications close on April 21.

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