Photo by Molly Looze
This is a guest blog post from our student panelist, Sophia Leenay, from Feministing’s Spring College Tour at the University of Minnesota. She’s a sophomore at UMN and member of the Women’s Student Activist Coalition and the University Pro-Choice Coalition, and we were thrilled to have her.
I remember the first week of school this year. The weather was great; I was pumped for my classes, pumped for my first semester at the Women’s Student Activist Collective, and my second semester with University Pro-Choice Coalition.
Outside of Coffman Union at the University of Minnesota, were giant photo displays of aborted fetuses next to horrific images of Jews in the Holocaust, Native American slaughtering, and lynching of African Americans. They were part of the Genocide Awareness Project, a branch of the privately funded Center for Bio-Ethical Reform. They tout themselves as a project to save human lives, by shaming women for their legal and medical right to an abortion and making grossly offensive comparisons between actual, systematic genocides and the legalization of abortion.
This is a highly negative, very intense note to start off on. However, what does it mean when a ton of new freshman on this campus, the largest group of incoming freshman that the U has ever seen, are greeted outside their student union with such a biased, unfair, and misinformed project?
WSAC and UPCC were able to organize a strong response to the Genocide Awareness Project. We had a ton of people at the first UPCC meeting, which was coincidentally the same day as Day 1 of the Genocide Awareness Project. We mobilized and had banners that said “Keep abortion safe and legal” as well as “Contraception not Condemnation.” It was a pretty amazing thing to have such a well-organized response and presence on campus.
Their defense is that the university is a marketplace of ideas and knowledge. I agree 100 percent. However, it is a clear illustration to my point: the biggest issue in feminist activism today is the conservative drive to eliminate any sort of progressive viewpoint. Progressive groups like the Women’s Student Activist Collective and University Pro-Choice Coalition have never tried to eliminate or misconstrue an opposing viewpoint. We acknowledge that the university is a marketplace of values and differing viewpoints, and that they enrich society.
On a state and even national level, the opposition to feminist and progressive ideas is jaw dropping. Last week I went to the Minnesota State Capitol as a part of Pro-Choice Lobby Day to talk to my state representatives about passing a comprehensive sexual health education bill. While the reps for the area where I live on campus were all for it, the rep from my hometown was an extremely vocal opponent, stating that it was up to local districts to decide what they wanted to teach. At first, I saw his point. Is a mandate really the most democratic way to deal with these issues? I talked to one of my professors about it and his response was, “Is it ever anti-democratic to provide information and education?” To provide choices, and access to those choices? The reproductive justice/pro-choice movement has never been about taking away one’s undeniable right to believe in God or abstain from sexual relations. It is about providing information and resources to people who are ready to engage in sexual activity. Also, providing legislation to ensure that this information is available to everyone, not just by chance of birth into a progressive school district or community.
So often feminism is forced to be reactive such as the case with the Genocide Awareness Project. That is why I think the movement has become somewhat scattered, because we have been attacked from all angles. Last semester, I attended a panel event about the politics and current legislation surrounding abortion. One of the panelists was Dr. Millie Hanson, a vivacious woman who has been providing abortions to women since before the Roe v. Wade decision–side note: today, March 10, is National Abortion Provider Appreciation Day. She said that the best time for women’s reproductive rights was 1973, because ever since then, these rights have been slowly chipped away.
I truly think that this and situations like these are where WSAC and UPCC can step in. We are in the process of creating a series of films called Sex Ed For Everyone. The group decided that there were certain aspects of sex education that were being left out of health education. WSAC and UPCC decided to act pro-actively and create a sex education that is inclusive of all sexualities and genders, one that is sex-positive and comprehensive.
WSAC’s mission is to empower women, transgender, and gender non-conforming people to make positive changes in society by eliminating interrelated inequalities that produce oppression, with a focus on gender and sexuality. bell hooks defines “Feminism as a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” There is not a single word about women being better than men in either of those definitions, or about stifling voices that disagree.
Feminist activism, specifically on this campus, provides alternatives to the sexism, misogyny, and the all around shitty, capitalist way of life that we still see in our classes and in campus society. As for the future of feminist activism on this campus and on a national level, I look forward to the day when all sex can be mutually respectful and consenting; when reproductive health care is affordable, accessible and provided without judgment for all people; when higher education is affordable, democratic, and inclusive of diverse points of view; when gender and other forms of identity is something that can be expressed in a million different ways without societal censure or punishment. This is the direction I envision for us and for a national feminist movement.
What we need to see, at every level, is the desire to uphold democracy. Progressive and minority voices should not be stifled but amplified. Feminism is bipartisan–or dare I say trans-partisan or even queer-partisan–it does not belong to one particular political party or ideology. Feminism is a way of thinking about equality. It is not a dogma to conform to nor is it some end goal. For a normative comparison, it is like a marriage: feminist thinking is the beginning, it is something that must be constantly referred to in order to eliminate oppression, empower women, transgender, and non-conforming gender identities, and work towards democracy and equality.
–Sophia Leenay is a sophomore at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities majoring in French Studies and Youth Studies.
More information about WSAC at the University of Minnesota
For more information about UPCC at the University of Minnesota