Op-Ed: Don’t Fear the F-Word: Archer’s Feminist Legacy

Athena Schlereth November 11, 2013 16
Op-Ed: Don’t Fear the F-Word: Archer’s Feminist Legacy

I have something to tell you that may or may not be news. You are a feminist.

Skeptical? Maybe you’re thinking, “Well, sure, I think that women and men are equal, but I wouldn’t say that I’m a feminist or anything.”

Why has feminism become a bad word? Why do teenage girls shy away from the movement that has given women so many opportunities, rights, and privileges? Who says it’s bad to be a feminist?

American suffragettes in the early 20th century. Source: The Library of Congress

American suffragettes in the early 20th century. Source: The Library of Congress

Because of feminists, we can go to school, vote, and have careers. Being a feminist does not mean that you hate men, or that you’re “unfeminine.” To boil it all down, a feminist is a person who values women and men equally. Just by attending this school, you are demonstrating that you are a feminist.

In fact, the tenets of feminism are so closely linked with Archer’s core mission and the vision of our founders that without feminism, Archer couldn’t exist. I found an LA Times article  from 1996, the year I was born, reporting on the brand new Archer School for Girls.

The article says, “The school itself is a celebration of single-sex education, of girls, and of the feminist struggle. Banners for the beleaguered Equal Rights Amendment are proudly displayed in rooms crowded with girls born long after their mothers lost the fight for ratification. Girls First! is Archer’s slogan, and its school colors are ‘ERA green’ and ‘suffragette purple.’”

Did you know that the green and purple you wear on your uniform everyday are symbols of the ongoing feminist struggle? Neither did I.

And that’s a problem. Why do we seem to be abandoning our feminist roots? Why don’t we revel in our heritage? With Founders’ Day coming up on Nov. 15, I propose that we take some time to celebrate our sisters who have fought for our rights and consider how their contributions have directly affected us. Maybe we can even bring back the ERA banners around campus.

Or perhaps you think that feminism is obsolete. I mean, we can vote, hold office, get PhD’s, and generally decide our own futures. But that isn’t equality, and the numbers prove it. One in three women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. A woman, on average, makes 78 cents for every dollar that a man makes. The poverty rate for women is 14.6%; for men it’s 10.9%.

It doesn’t stop at that. Gender inequality affects us all, even in daily life. How many of us have had to deal with intimidating catcalls on the street from men driving by? Had our legitimate concerns shut down and played off as a bad case of PMS? We are not taken seriously. We are not valued. The struggle is not over. To call yourself a feminist is to identify yourself as a beacon of change.

And guess what? Feminism is good for you. You should be proud of it, and proud that your school is rooted in these values, because no other school can boast that.

Is this all to say that we should stop shaving our legs, burn our bras, and run naked through the streets, demanding the death of the patriarchy? That’s your choice. But it wouldn’t hurt.

Featured Image: July 9, 1978: NOW (National Organization For Women) organized the women’s march on Washington to protest delays in ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. Photographer: Chuck Aaron

16 Comments »

  1. beth gold November 12, 2013 at 12:55 AM -

    Excellent article Athena and timely tie in to Founders’ Day. What a great idea to revisit the initial news coverage of the opening of Archer. I am often dismayed at the unwillingness of women and girls today to identify with the word “feminist”. I hope your article makes some converts!

  2. Elizabeth English November 12, 2013 at 1:07 AM -

    Great article, Athena; I agree that we should acknowledge and celebrate Archer’s explicitly feminist roots. As further food for thought on why feminism has become an “F-word,” here’s an interesting talk by writer/producer Joss Whedon at this year’s Equality Now benefit.

    http://laist.com/2013/11/07/video_joss_whedon_gives_the_best_sp.php

    And here’s some pushback from the Atlantic Online:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/11/what-joss-whedon-gets-wrong-about-the-word-feminist/281305/

    Let’s keep the dialogue going.

    Ms. English

  3. Rita Shrestha November 12, 2013 at 1:27 AM -

    I love this article Athena! As young women of the 21st century, we must embrace feminism. You expressed it perfectly: without feminists fighting for our rights, we would not have the opportunities we have today. We still have lots of work to do, and its up to our generation to continue the fight for equality!

    YEAH FEMINISM!

  4. ANON November 12, 2013 at 2:47 AM -

    While I think this is a well-written article, I disagree with some of the assumptions. Going to a school doesn’t necessarily predict what you believe. It can mean that people’s parents simply sent us here. You can go to Archer and disagree completely with its ideals. Wearing purple and green don’t make me a feminist any more than celebrating Thanksgiving makes me a supporter of the pilgrims. I don’t need to be a feminist to be a beacon of change or to identify my own strength. Despite being a girl, I feel valued and taken seriously. I think saying otherwise can exacerbate sterotype threat in females and is a sweeping generalization. Perhaps due to feminists in the past it’s easier for me to feel this way, and I’m grateful for that… but I don’t feel that this necessitates that I identify as feminist. I also think there are some things the feminist movement has done that I don’t particularly care for. If people want to be feminists that is their own deal, but I feel that Archer really pushes that agenda a little too far, and I don’t think that’s okay. There are definitely pros and cons to be considered; there’s an opposite side to the coin, and there’s a reason women these days don’t identify as feminist. Maybe we can present the objective evidence. That being said, I am glad that men and women are getting to an equal state, and I look forward to continuing my personal development and to continue making the world a better place without the label of feminism attached.

    • Sarah Wishingrad November 12, 2013 at 3:17 AM -

      I agree that the feminist movement has had problems in the past, especially in regards to racism and homophobia. But the basic principle of feminism is about ensuring equality for men and women, which you say you support. If our generation of young women distances itself from the word “feminist,” we will undo decades of progress and send the message that we don’t want to have equal opportunities.

    • Marisa London November 12, 2013 at 4:11 AM -

      I think your hesitation to self-identify as a feminist is why Athena wrote this article. So many people are deterred from the term feminism because they do not wish to associate themselves with the radical women of the feminist movement, but we must also remember that those radical actions are the things that made the difference. Sometimes, the only way to get people to listen and be remembered is to do something radical that ruffles a few feather. I think if we moved away from associating “feminism” with historical feminists, but rather associated it with their cause, more people would be willing to claim they, too, are feminists. Feminism is nothing more than “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities” (thank you Merriam-Webster) and if you do not share this belief, by all means, do not call yourself a feminist, but if you do share this belief, I encourage you and others who are in your place to second think your decision to not self-identify as a feminist.

    • Courtney Urbancsik November 12, 2013 at 5:18 AM -

      Just to add on, being a feminist is also a way of thought, and one that Archer fosters. I firmly believe that every Archer girl is influenced by this feminist ideology, which changes how she views her material in-class and experiences outside of class. For example, during your time at Archer I guarantee that you will write at least one English essay focused on gender constructs and gender inequality (I have probably written around twenty…and counting). The culture of Archer, its teachers, and its course-work that the students interact with fuel this independent, confident, and observant spirit that we like to call feminism.

    • Kathleen Kelso November 12, 2013 at 5:49 AM -

      First of all, I want to thank you for this comment; without different opinions, it’s easy for discussions to become agreeable, one-sided celebrations of the same ideas. Everyone’s happy because everything they say is applauded. So, while I disagree with most of what you said, I do still respect it.

      Yes, your parents may force you to go to Archer. You may long for a coed environment, which is fair enough. But, in that environment, would you actively seek out an education that is inferior to that of your male peers? If so, then yes, it seems you “disagree completely with [Archer’s] ideals.” But I doubt that’s the case.

      “Feminism” today does evoke images of dramatic, high-stakes protests and demonstrations, of modern crusaders with their banners held high, fighting the patriarchy for our votes to be counted and voices to be heard. Understandably, you might not want the drama. However, I would counter that feminism can be a static quality. You don’t need to break your back or burn your bra; it’s okay to just have a private belief.

      When you speak of Archer “push[ing] that agenda a little too far,” I’d like to know what you’re referring to. I try to avoid radical anything in my life, including radical feminism. I find that extremes are rarely a reasonable place to be, so I seek out two sides of an issue and try to stake out a middle ground. It seems you’re similarly inclined, as you note that there are pros and cons in this debate.

      My least favorite thing about feminism is when people misinterpret the concept and try to fight for female supremacy. I’ll allow that some extremity is required when you’re up against a seemingly insurmountable, abstract opponent like “the patriarchy.” However, if we stop fighting for gender equality and start arguing that women are in fact better than men, we become hypocritical, no better than the male supremacists we fight. Here is where I’m confused by your comment: I’ve noticed very little “over-feminism” (i.e., not feminism) at Archer.

      I believe the biggest problem with the debate over feminism today is the disparity between the word’s connotation and denotation. For this, we have the malleability of the English language to thank. And yes, sometimes words do outgrow their meanings. For example, “idiot” used to be a clinical term for someone who was mentally ill. This word was incorporated into the cultural vernacular and reassigned a meaning. Now, it would be unthinkable for a doctor to officially declare someone an “idiot,” and new descriptors have entered medical practices and patients’ charts.

      What I’m trying to say is that I believe we may be fixating too much on making the word “feminism” accepted, when we should be focusing on the ideas the word represents.

      I don’t have a problem calling myself a feminist, but if others do, why are we letting that get in the way of progress? It seems most people are amenable to the ideals of feminism, just not their label. The anonymous commenter certainly felt this way. So, would it be the worst thing to rebrand feminism? Maybe with a label like “equality?” While it may be an unfortunate loss of history, it could be that the label of “feminism” is just the most recent sacrifice needing to be made in a long line of feminist measures.

      P.s. great article Athena, you’re really cool.

  5. Carly Winant November 12, 2013 at 2:58 AM -

    Athena, I love you and I love that you shed a new, positive light on feminism. This was a great article (plus the fact about Archer’s colors was really interesting!).

  6. Ari Eshel November 12, 2013 at 3:12 AM -

    I love this article, Athena. Often I get caught up in the stress of school, but there is a moment at least once a week whereby I pause and think “I love being a feminist” and along with this, I am surrounded by other feminists who give me more and more reasons to be one. In almost every class, Archer emphasizes and pronounces why it is important that we recognize the reasons as to why we are feminist and why we have created such a large movement towards gender equality. Those moments that are fostered by Archer’s curriculum and environment are what prompt my weekly thought of “I love being a feminist”.

  7. LuLu Shamberg November 12, 2013 at 3:33 AM -

    This is amazing Athena! It honestly opened my eyes to the meaning of feminism and shed such a different light on it! Instead of shaking off the notion that I am a feminist, it lead me to truly accept it!

  8. Riel Macklem November 12, 2013 at 4:39 AM -

    Loved the article, Athena! I think it’s really important to address the complete misperception of feminists as man-haters, and to show how we can reverse that misperception. Thank you for writing an enlightening article that we can all relate to, and as Ms. Gold said, I hope it makes some converts.

  9. Mr. Robertson November 12, 2013 at 4:27 PM -

    Well said and well done, Athena… you make me proud to be a feminist (and a part of our Archer community). YOU are the change and the beacon your article addresses, you know… shine on, you lighthouse of enlightenment…

  10. Brian Wogensen November 17, 2013 at 8:30 PM -

    Love the article, Athena, and I am thoroughly impressed with this comment thread.

  11. Shelby Brown November 19, 2013 at 10:12 PM -

    Athena,
    I was happy to see this article. It sometimes seems too common today to think that the world is truly equal, and gender inequality is an archaic concept (since surely the problems are solved). If only! Nice job summing up what girls and women owe feminists. And whatever we call them, they are still needed.

  12. Markus Schlereth April 14, 2014 at 7:24 AM -

    From Germany: “Wohl gesprochen!”