At Columbia, you’d be hard-pressed to find any woman afraid to call herself a feminist.
In contrast, I remember hearing a common and ignorant paradox throughout high school: “I support equal rights for women, but I’m not a feminist.” This statement always seemed rooted in the misguided idea that feminism entailed rampant bra-burning, a belligerent hatred of men, unshaven armpits and legs, or any of the other classic stereotypes. But I knew that I would never encounter such a misinformed contradiction on this campus. Whether that’s because the former stigma around the word “feminist” has dissolved, because times have changed and people have grown more educated, or because people are just different at a sharply left-leaning Ivy League University in New York City, I knew that Columbia is unabashedly, intensely, flagrantly feminist.
So, why are we as women sometimes so bad at being feminists? We have a women’s college across the street, we show up in crowds for activist events like the Women’s March, and we have a number of sororities and women-focused groups on campus. And while I have yet to hear anyone voice the previously mentioned silly paradox at Columbia, I’ve found a different kind of contradiction.
We’ve all been witness to it, and we’ve all been guilty of it: Behind Venus symbol laptop stickers and Grl Pwr pins, we often claw at each other with malice—tearing other women down over their appearances, attitudes, grades, internships, clubs, friends, and romantic partners. We’re still calling each other names for the pettiest things, slut-shaming and sneering at each other’s social media, and fighting mercilessly to come out on top. When we could be standing in solidarity during some of the most formative years of our self-esteem, our values, and our lives, we continually divide ourselves instead.
Hypocrisy and faux feminism are not new, nor are they unique to Columbia. Society and pop culture have called out Lena Dunham and Taylor Swift repeatedly for preaching, then deliberately not practicing, their brands of self-serving white feminism—for shunning women who date their exes or for accusing an alleged victim of sexual assault of lying. In the national conversation, women of color are still overlooked and undervalued, and femmes are left out of contemporary conversations. How can we, as part of such a righteously progressive student body, fall into the same flaws?
It’s unrealistic, I know, to expect everyone to get along. But when we lash out at each other and try to bring other women down out of jealousy or pettiness, especially over trivial issues such as looks, material possessions, or romantic partners, we play into centuries of patriarchal and misogynistic behavior. We hold ferociously onto the idea that feminism demands men to respect us, but forget that we should respect one another as well.
This is a strange and significant time—a man who was recorded bragging that he could grab women by the pussy is the president of the nation. Every day seems to bring another attempt by conservative governments, both federal and state, to dismantle reproductive rights for women, clipping away our control over our own bodies. In the last few weeks, the news has been inundated with women’s reports of sexual assaults and sexual harassment by powerful men, allegations that are only surfacing now, after years of intimidation and silence. Similar allegationshave come into sharper focus on our own campus, though they’ve been festering for years, as have the administration’s handling and alleged violations of Title IX in these cases.
And, to top it off, one female popstar who preaches feminism, yet hypocritically knocks other women down, has reemerged stronger and more popular than ever, her face and new album plastered across every UPS truck I see puttering down Broadway.
It is a critical time to be women, to be feminists. Let’s be better ones.
Monica Gu is a sophomore in Columbia College studying history and political science. She is well aware that, realistically, everyone throws shade in conversation. Write an op-ed instead. MoHi With Monica runs alternate Mondays.
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