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Defining The Modern Women

Feminists celebrate Women’s History Month

BY LAUREN KEATING|

The Poet, Activist, and Performer, Stacyann Chin
The Poet, Activist, and Performer, Stacyann Chin

To celebrate Women’s History Month, the Women’s History Committee and the Brooklyn College Women’s Center presented “The F Word: What is Feminism Today?” on Tuesday, March 5, held in the Bedford Lounge in SUBO. The event featured a reading with poet, activist, and performer Staceyann Chin, and a discussion about feminism and being a woman in today’s society, led by Rosamond S. King, PhD, a professor here at Brooklyn College who teaches courses in Caribbean Literature, Creative Writing, Sexuality in the African Diaspora, Performance in the African Diaspora, and Immigrant Literature.

“We celebrate the impact women all walks of life have had on history both on a large and small scale. We celebrate the women in our lives who have shaped us and we celebrate the unsung heroes of the past,” said Anna Theodora, president of the Women’s History Committee, as she opened the event. “Most importantly we gather to make our voices heard, which brings me to the F word—a word you might not say in public or in mixed company.

She described “the F word,” or feminism, as a type of word that “at its core is just misunderstood.” Feminism has changed since the days of the women’s suffrage movement and today has included reproductive rights and LBGT rights.

What defines the role women play in today’s society is very ambiguous. We have come a long way from the Suzie Homemaker ideologies and, more importantly, we owe homage this month to our foremothers fighting for our right to vote that was finally granted in the 1920s.

But has the concept of feminism changed? “All terms continue to evolve. Terms evolve as people come together,” said Professor King.

However, being a feminist appears to have a certain stigma attached to it. The biggest misconception about feminists is that they are these women who are, as student Dominique Young described, “mad,” much like the common image of the “women who don’t shave,” or the “man-hater.” In reality, feminists are fighting for “equality for not only women, but for all races,” said Young. The message a feminist stands behind is “give me what I deserve.”

Young, a member of the Woman’s History Committee, introduced Chin at the event, noting that the author “is known for her role and powerful messages through her writing and activism” and fights for LBGT equality by sharing her own experiences.

Chin read two excerpts from her book “The Other Side of Paradise,” a memoir of her life growing up as an abandoned child and finding her way in her homophobic homeland of Jamaica.

Chin, with her curly brown and copper hair and thin, strong frame, brought energy to the room. At one point, she even stood on a chair, reciting her poetry passionately to a full of crowd of mostly women, but also men.

Her powerful words of being a woman and embracing who she is as a woman struck a chord and pulled on the heartstrings of the captivated audience. “We all have to come to terms with who we are/ with who we have been to others/ to ourselves/ we are only unfinished poems/ still being edited/ everyone shouldn’t like/ every draft is different.”

Stacyann Chin speaks passionately to the crowd of eager listeners.
Stacyann Chin speaks passionately to the crowd of eager listeners.

Women have been encouraged to think positively about their sexuality, an aspect that is included in the modern definition of feminism. “Similar messages have not been sent out to men about how to understand masculinity and how to understand that masculinity does not have to be aggressive, does not have to be hyper-sexualized itself, does not have to be about the conquest of women,” said Professor Mobina Hashmi, who teaches about gender and the media in the TV/Radio Department in an interview separate from this event.

“When we think of women’s history, the ways in which the women’s movement has fought to have women recognized as equals, and really recognized as people first in many ways, and then as women, and to change what it means to be feminine so we have greater ranges of ways being feminine, of being sexy, or being beautiful all those things. What we haven’t really done is change notions of masculinity,” stated Professor Hashmi.

 She argued that the message that men and women are equal includes women in a power structure that is itself masculine orientated in some ways. Women today can be career orientated, not want a family, not know what they want in life, or want it all. We are accepted wearing different hats and playing different roles. Consequentially, our culture encourages women to be proud of their choices and encourages us to feel like we are in charge of their lives. Even if this is true, Professor Hashmi believes that we aren’t “necessarily offered a wide range of options.”

That is why women should come together and take a stand. Lifting our voices just as Staceyann Chin did in artistic expression resulted in this strong presence of empowerment. Defining whom a woman is, what femininity is, or what feminism is not cut and dry, but rather multidimensional. Just as Chin stated while reciting a verse, she cannot be outlined and boxed into any definition. Instead, there are a variety of things that make her who she is, and, just like ice cream, she does not come in one flavor.

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