By Klarke Stricklen
“More than Feminism,” an event held by the Bairnwick Women’s Center, encouraged Sewanee’s faculty and students to explore what it means to be a feminist in various cultural, racial, and gender aspects. The event was held in Convocation Hall, which displays many of the University’s historic figures around the room, all of whom are white males.
Eunice Muchemi (C’19), co-director of the the Wick, facilitated the roundtable discussion. She began the event by asking the group, “What activists come to mind when you think of feminism?”
While many students tended to focus on celebrities, Spanish professor Arturo Márquez-Gomez introduced the activists who many tend to overlook: those in a domestic space. He explained that his view of feminism began by seeing grandmothers and mothers create a movement out of their own domestic environment.
Livia Karoui (C’20) also spoke of her experiences with women in Uganda and explained that women in other cultures use what they have to articulate their point, “advancing liberation in their own context.”
Muchemi expanded on this point, explaining that it’s easy to judge someone for doing what others personally consider too little. For Western women especially, it is easy to disdain a woman of another country for simply sticking to a role Westerners feel is outdated. “We rarely speak of forces of empowerment,” said Muchemi.
Márquez-Gomez’s point of women in domestic spaces creating their own movements led the group to discuss the history of feminism and how it has turned a blind eye to certain groups of women. For example, those present discussed how all women rallied for the right to vote in the early 20th century, but only white women gained this privilege.
The group suggested that understanding the early history of feminism can be useful to the modern day feminist if he or she is willing to understand the past and make the commitment to prevent the same mistakes in the future.
Muchemi then prompted, “How have you been able to navigate your intersecting communities?” In other words, how does one prioritize their race, religion, and gender alongside feminism?
“I prioritize my blackness because I have the platforms as a woman, but not a platform for my blackness,” said Amanda Bell (C’21) in response. She further elaborated that Sewanee has readily available platforms for women but lack in those for the black community.
Davonya Flythe (C’19) further explained her personal opinion in regard to the question, commenting, “I have to say black feminist.” She said that the black community often understands the term “feminist” in a weary view. This is because of feminism’s constant betrayal of black women, she said, such as with voting rights and most recently the #MeToo movement.
“I am not the typical Asian woman,” said Puja Basnet (C’21), explaining that most Americans believe most Asians to be at the top of the spectrum but fail to see the complexity in the term “Asian” and who it represents.
As the conversation began to wind down, students discussed the relationship between women and religion. Gayle Manacsa (C’21) said, “Pope Francis allowed women to take the blood of Christ.” She spoke in context of the Catholic church being a strong believer in the fact that women who choose to have abortions should not be allowed to take communion. Pope Francis’s action displayed that “religion is evolving,” according to Manacsa.
Chandler Davenport (C’19) went off of Manaca’s thoughts, discussing the interpretation of the Bible regarding relationships, especially those that deal with the idea of women being submissive. Davenport emphasized the importance of recognizing to what extent the Bible meant by submission and the ethical values that go along with it, highlighting that submission is far from consenting to domestic violence.
She left the group on a final note, explaining that feminism isn’t about trying to get ahead or set another group back. “Feminism is about levelling it,” said Davenport.