This past Wednesday, Nov. 2, feminist activists Amy Richards and Jennifer Baumgardner visited WCU as part of Contemporary Issues’ Activism Days. I attended the lecture, as well as the informal dinner gathering with the two guests before the program.I was inspired by their intelligence and the positive messages they conveyed, which were well received by some otherwise skeptical, non-feminist identifying people in the audience. However, I also found myself questioning the meaning of feminism, as well as my own ideals and morals. This is brought on by my feelings that the people who are chosen by the media to represent a specific group or movement are not necessarily the most accurate and true spokespersons.
The phenomena I am referring to can be seen with Cindy Sheehan, the mother- turned-activist who lost her son to the war in Iraq and camped outside the White House, demanding that President Bush meet with her. The media loved this and Sheehan soon became a new icon representing the anti-war movement.
I’m sure that there were other mothers who lost their sons or daughters in Iraq and who were protesting in one way or another. Why was Sheehan the one who the media chose to highlight? Was it possibly that she was just in the right place at the right time?
Although Sheehan’s intentions were once true, it makes me wonder whether or not the means meet the ends. Does becoming a part of the media frenzy accomplish the goal that Sheehan once set out for? Will her face and name soon become blas and old?
What’s more, she is now a wellknown figure and representative of the anti-war movement only because the media chose her over other mothers and fathers. What happened with Sheehan is, in a way, an example of my view of Richards and Baumgardner.
These young, feminine, welldressed, Starbucks-hailing white women from New York are two of the biggest names in what some consider to be the fourth wave of feminism. Truth be told, I am sad that they are our representatives. Certainly not every spokesperson really speaks for everyone, but by putting themselves into the media, writing books and going on speaking tours, these women are not remiss in knowing that they are representing modern-day feminists by being as prominent as they are. The public will assume that all modern-day feminists are like these two women.
What’s more, the exact messages that they were sending (touting “redefining privilege,” wearing what they want and being “everyday activists”) are only applicable to other white, middle-upper-class people.
I’m not saying that Richards and Baumgardner aren’t feminists, I’m just sad that their image is what is being upheld as admirable among some young girls. It is true that one may be able to consider her/himself a feminist, wear thongs and have shaved legs, but that does nothing to question those exact cultural standards that oppress women Richards and Baumgardner may be doing what some call using the “master’s tools” to dismantle the “master’s house.” However, if society has this image in mind of what feminism is, and although it may challenge the stereotype that feminists are scary, hairy, butch man-hating lesbians, at the same time this image only upholds the fact that one must be feminine and adhere to society’s norms to be accepted in the media and therefore the public.
In short, although Richards and Baumgardner inspired me in some ways, I was also disappointed in the content of their rhetoric, aside from their appearance and values.
However, Richards and Baumgardner would supposedly applaud the same feelings I have: I am “owning my own politics.” I am also being more “comfortable with ambiguity.” I do not profess to know all the answers or even know how I feel about all the issues. I realize that I may not agree with everything other feminists say. For some reason, be it by my innate morals or the values I have acquired over the years, I do not agree with some ofthe things touted by Richards and Baumgardner.
Nevertheless, I love the fact that I was able to see these two famous feminists, and am very grateful that the Contemporary Issues program (SSI), the Women’s Studies Department, the English Department and Robin Garrett from the Women’s Center brought this program to WCU.
Whether someone disagrees or agrees with something, it is important to be able to be exposed to these people. The intelligent conversation is hopeful in itself, and works to provide young college students such as myself with opportunities for education and contemplation.
Sally Cramer is a senior majoring in studio arts with minors in communication studies and women’s studies.