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Making Sense of Diversity:
A Series of Friday Noon Conversations at Bryn Mawr College

February 25, 2005

Anne Dalke (Co-ordinator, Feminist and Gender Studies),
Katy McMahon (05), Michelle Mueller (05),
Jessie Payson (06) and Gilda Rodriguez (07)

What's In a Name?: Re-defining Feminism at Bryn Mawr in 2005


Prepared by Anne Dalke
Additions, revisions, extensions are encouraged in the On-Line Forum

Does feminism in 2005 require laying down that word--because it keeps some folks out of the conversation, out of engaging w/ the issues (indeed, even seeing the work as being about their issues, rather than about well-to-do white women getting a piece of the action)? Does the word "feminism" prevent some folks from coming to the table and having an open conversation (and so hamper feminism from doing what all intellectual work needs to do continually: interrogate its own presumptions)?

Or does the proposed re-naming of the Feminist and Gender Studies Program to Gender and Sexuality signal a move away from activism, from engagement in the practical work against women's oppression in which academic work in gender began, and where it continues to be focused? At a woman's college, do we want to claim the word, and the actions, of feminism?

We began our discussion of these issues by describing what feminism looks like to us today, why we use the word, how we enact it on campus-- or refuse to, or question its usefulness...

Feminism at Bryn Mawr today includes

Feminism is important here:

Feminist theory is being taught here. But is it "not feminist to have feminism in the title" of the program? Is setting the word aside a healthy action for the feminist movement, one that would enlarge its scope? Or does removing the name undermine what the program is trying to do? We want those who have felt alienated from feminism to be part of the discussion, but attempts at accomodation and compromise might mean that the movement loses its commitment to ending the oppression of women. Will changing the program's name to "Gender and Sexuality" signal that Bryn Mawr is "not going to be feminist any more"? Will the removal of feminism from the title lead to the interpretation that Bryn Mawr is saying feminism is not significant here? Or will removing feminism make the program and the work it fosters more inclusive, more accessible, more open to exploring various points of view?

There has been a conflation of identity activism with academic discipline throughout this discussion; feminism is a methodological approach, as well as "deeply off-putting" to some black women. Some women could not relate to this conversation, didn't understand the stereotypes or know "what it means to look like a feminist." It's very important to reclaim exclusionary terms to make them inclusive (think "queer," think "black"); it's empowering to use ourselves the words that have been used against us. Would "Feminism, Gender and Sexuality" be a more appropriate name? Or does increasing the numbers of categories listed in the title increase awareness of all the categories not included there? Using "Gender and Sexuality" makes the program seem more inviting to psychologists and biologists (who may however feel no obligation to teach or enact feminist theory). How much is the program invested in policing a certain line or kind of thinking?

The discussion adjourned in order to continue at a meeting with Cherrie Moraga. It is invited to continue further in the on-line forum on "Making Sense of Diversity," and will resume in person at noon on Friday, Mar. 18, when Yinnette Sano (05) and Chris MacDonald-Dennis (Office of Intercultural Affairs) will lead a discussion about "One People, Many Stories: Latina Identities."

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