When I first attended an IC Feminists meeting at Ithaca College, I was looking for a safe space to share the frustrations I felt as a woman within a patriarchal society. I found that safe space as we explored beauty standards, slut-shaming and other surface level–oppressive norms that used to define feminism for me. I felt comfortable and included at those meetings.
When I joined the executive board last year, I was determined to open the space to anyone else who sought a safe, feminist community. Until then, I had never taken a step back to examine my privilege as a white, middle class, heterosexual, cissexual woman. As an e-board, we had also never collectively entered this process of self-reflection. Resultantly, we faced critiques of exclusivity and were identified as members of privileged groups that lacked diversity in opinions, ignorant to crucial and intersectional points of view. The e-board sought to understand and react constructively to these critiques.
With the help of others, along with acts of individual and collective contemplation, we attempted to move away from this negative but understandable public perception, toward one of inclusivity and trust. Feminists United, a new Ithaca College club that combines IC Feminists and Students Active for Ending Rape, formed this fall to attract new members, while also bringing deeper, more complex intersections of identity to light.
A debate within feminist theory is whether it’s worthwhile to remain connected to the movement’s oppressive past. Historically, the voices of women and men of color, those with othered sexual identities and folks belonging to varying socioeconomic classes have been left out of crucial feminist conversations. Some argue that a new social-justice movement would be more powerful than a continuity of the same elitist “feminism,” while others argue an oppressive history is no reason to discount the fundamental values of equity and solidarity, which are at the heart of feminist thought.
The e-board of IC Feminists had to make a similar decision last spring as we sought to mend our negative perception. Should we seek to reclaim our group as inclusive? Or should we start over, making sure to recognize and incorporate the complexities that we had overlooked?
I have gone through an excessive cycle of emotions over the past year, some more useless than others, ranging from guilt and embarrassment to sadness and anger. My involvement in the feminist community of the college has thankfully helped me understand the structural, cultural and historical reasons behind my own individualized emotions.
Feminists United is neither a perpetuation of the past nor an entirely new beginning. It is a chance for all like-minded folks — not limited by one’s sex, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, class, ability, size or any other individuating factor — to come together in solidarity. As we build a community against sexism, rape culture, racism, exclusion and devaluation, we seek also to build a community for solidarity, advocacy, empowerment, self-worth and open dialogue.