Barnard on Feminism in the 21st Century

Recently, a representative of Barnard College reached out to me with the details of a new initiative that explores what it is to be a feminist in the 21st century. How do young women engage the notion of feminism in art, ideas and activism now? In an effort to explore this question and many others, Barnard College is beginning a new podcast called, Dare to Say the F-Word. In it, issues from identity and perfectionism to why many young women today hesitate to identify as “feminist” will be explored.

At a time when there is so much contention over what the word “feminist” even means, I think this sort of initiative is incredibly valuable, if only as a means to explore, and possibly even attempt to redefine, the word for a new generation.

Rather than go on at length, however, I’m going to provide a link to post written by Barnard President Debora Spar, author of Wonder Women: Sex, Power & the Quest for Perfection. In it, she explains that while many women today struggle with the idea of perfection, they also struggle with the concept of feminism itself, which is one of the many issues that will be addressed in Barnard’s new podcast, Dare to Say the F-Word, which I mentioned above. Here’s the link:

Read President Spar’s thoughts in this exclusive post.

While I have my own thoughts on what feminism is and how it functions (or fails) to now, I am personally, very heartened by any effort to explore an ideological issue from a discourse-driven point of view, and it seems to me that Barnard is attempting to engage feminism from just such a place. As a result, I applaud their efforts and very much look forward to seeing what comes of it.


9 thoughts on “Barnard on Feminism in the 21st Century

  1. Those whom the article’s author cites, who push at the very definitions of sex, gender, and identity, would be well-served to make sure they’re still having a conversation with everybody *else* in the room while they do it, or else they wind up in a little bubble trying desperately to understand not only why they’re not successfully selling their ideas, but even why nobody defines any of the issues or terms at hand the same way they do.

    Exempla Gratia: “feminism.” “trigger.” “patriarchy.” “mansplaining.” “rape culture.”

    • (said not just from my own arguments, but having been a prof in a classroom dominated by women who were feminists, and women who outright rejected feminism because they explicitly rejected said definitions and could therefore come to no fruitful discussion at all, let alone agreements on various goals)

      • Fair enough, for certain. It’s difficult territory, which is why I think so many young women (and men) reject the label “feminist”. Personally, it doesn’t sit particularly comfortably with me either. But I do think that it’s important to keep trying, and yes, that definitely includes listening to and receiving opposing points of view.

  2. Yeah. You’d have enjoyed being a fly on the wall for a FARK convo for way back, part of what inspired one of my old blog posts…. “yes, I did look at your boobs. I’m a man. Don’t judge me for having a Y chromosome. Judge me by how I treat you *after* I’ve looked at your boobs.”
    — Having-a-convo-with-everybody-feminist? Chuckles. Snarks. Conversation happens.

    — Living-in-an-echo-chamber-feminist? RAGE.

  3. What if feminism is just a cover for manufacturing gotcha moments? Sort of like having a hundred different knock knock joke openings that all end with “You don’t know who? What a dumbass! Hey! Everybody! This guy just said `Tuba who?’ Ha ha.” Tons of different definitions, arguments, observations, leading to dozens of conclusions, but one single emotional state achieved every time.

    • Thanks for commenting, Andrew. I honestly had never considered it from that angle. I’d love to say that what began as a pivotal movement aimed at equality in the late 19th century hasn’t devolved to such a point, but honestly, the rhetoric in some corners makes your knock-knock joke suggestion ring true – particularly as regards that righteous emotional state you mentioned. Kind of depressing, really.

  4. That was an interesting article, and I’d be curious to see how some of the research develops. As a mum to two very aggressive young women(34 and 17), I’ve seen first hand the ‘entitlement’ feminist mindset. While the older one may see some of her lifestyle having roots in the feminist movement, the youngest one doesn’t. It’s all just ‘there’, and Don’t You Dare Tell Me I Can’t!”. Which I have to admit will do her a great disservice if she continues her quest to join the military. Due to all the various media hypes and general attitudes, she will be unprepared for the military male mindset. And yes! Wolf and I have done our best to try to educate her that there is a difference. However, her worldview just does not incompass that possible reality. The media of today is often far more persuasive than dear mum and dad.

    In that young women increasingly do not see the historical linkages, there soon may be a rather rude awakening. I’m not certain as to what form it will take, but I believe it is coming. And rather than a ‘well, you should have seen this coming!’, I see it more as a ‘we did too good a job on one side and too poor a job on the other.’ That young women will perhaps be a victim of their own success.

    • A sense of rootless entitlement does seem to be pretty prevalent in the generations just coming up into the world as adults. I’ve seen it in guys as well as girls, but the link you made between the effects of traditional feminism and that attitude in young women is interesting. I hope for the best, but I suspect that there will be an inevitable clash at some point between their expectations and reality.

      • I’ve seen the entitlement thing with my sons as well, but it isn’t half as nasty in terms of betrayal. Men have felt entitled far longer than women. When that bit of culture clash hits, I think we are going to see a very intense bit of social response.
        It also made me think of this Heinlein quote…
        “Whenever women have insisted on absolute equality with men, they have invariably wound up with the dirty end of the stick. What they are and what they can do makes them superior to men, and their proper tactic is to demand special privileges, all the traffic will bear. They should never settle merely for equality. For women, “equality” is a disaster.”
        ― Robert A. Heinlein

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s