Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Students Must Ensure the Future of Feminism at GU

There’s something I haven’t been exactly forthcoming about with you all since I started writing this column about women’s issues: I’m not a women’s studies major, or even a minor. I’m just your usual government major in the College who cares a lot about social issues on the side – although sometimes I think part of the reason why I write this column is to atone for the fact that I didn’t pursue women’s studies.

I really started writing this column, though, because I was afraid that women of my generation had become complacent. We weren’t around when the only way a woman could be a member of Congress was if her husband died, or when women weren’t allowed to attend colleges like Georgetown. A lot of people don’t even realize that Title IX isn’t just about sports. (Indeed, one of its most important aspects was that it made it illegal for schools to expel pregnant students – a situation that ended academic careers for many young women during the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, while the young men who got them pregnant faced no repercussions.)

But because many barriers have been broken for us already, we seem to think that we are on an equal playing field.

We’re not.

Women my age don’t seem to want to admit that being female is different or an obstacle. We keep our mouths shut too often and work twice as hard because we think we’ll just show them that we deserve our shot by overextending ourselves.

What particularly concerns me, though, is that young, middle- to upper class American women like many of us are made to feel like our problems aren’t as important because they’re often (but certainly not always) psychological. Symbolic violence is just as powerful as more overt harassment and discrimination.

In fact, when I think about the whole uproar-over-the-uproar over the GUGS T-shirt, it brings me back to the concept that I had to learn in one of my French philosophy classes abroad. The shirts deliver a message – a message that belittles a large group of people – and are worn in order to show off the wearer’s values.

The thing that really bothers me about the controversy now, though, is how the anti-feminist reaction fits into this larger idea of how other people define feminism, or what is “good” for feminism.

One of the things that people have been saying in defense of the T-shirt is that it’s “trivial” and that feminists should learn to “pick their battles.” (In fact, one of the comments I got on my column online was that I used that phrase myself. I haven’t.) And while I understand that there are much worse things that happen to women, like domestic violence, rape and female genital mutilation, to name a few, that does not mean that “smaller” issues like the ones on campus have no value. Women are never going to be on an equal level with men as long as it’s OK to disparage us right in front of our faces.

I was also taken aback because many of the objectors are saying “learn to take a joke.” It’s basically telling us what we should think is and is not offensive. That’s not how it works. And really, if this were a joke about some other group of people, it never would have made it onto a T-shirt. Women are too often made to be an easy target and told to get over it.

It does concern me, though, that people think that it polarizes feminism when women get upset over something like this. I don’t want to scare anybody away, but there is a ground rule in life that we must treat other people with respect, and I don’t think that is too much to ask.

There are a few other things that have been on my mind, though, that I was never able to present in this column. A few female students have told me that they have felt uncomfortable in the competition for fellowship nominations on campus, but I could never get them to talk to me because they were afraid that the Office of Fellowships would reprimand them.

Sometimes I also look back and think that I could have been more clear about what I meant or chosen better examples. But I am appreciative of the people who took the time to write to me when they disagreed. What I really wanted to do with this column was to get a dialogue going, and the people who wrote in were always willing to talk it out in a civil way.

There also are a lot of people on campus whom I really admire for trying to give women a bigger voice at Georgetown, like Flavia Menezes (COL ’08), who organized Take Back the Night this year, and Dr. Dan Porterfield, who has been a great source of encouragement for this endeavor and has truly always been an advocate for students at Georgetown.

Jen Schweer, the sexual assault and health issues coordinator in Health Education Services, is one of the coolest and most understanding adults that I’ve met at Georgetown. And professors Maria Donoghue and Kimberly Sellers, who both came to Georgetown last year, are major assets to our science and math departments.

A group of students and university staff also came together this semester to discuss how women fit into leadership roles and the academic scene here on campus, and I am particularly grateful to the people who got this discussion started between students and administrators and organized the program: Molly Keogh (SFS ’08), Katherine Boyle (COL ’08) and administrators Allen Gill, Erika Cohen-Derr, Sonia Jacobson and Maryam Mohamed.

There is just one thing that I ask from Georgetown as I step down from my soapbox: Keep the dialogue going. Keep it going in the dorms, in THE HOYA and in discussions with professors and university staff. Most importantly, keep it thoughtful and positive. Equality for all people can only be a reality if we sincerely listen to each other.

Emily Liner is a senior in the College and a contributing editor of THE HOYA. She can be reached at This is the final installment of SKIRTING THE ISSUES.

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