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Feminist Stereotypes Shot Down One Saturday


Originally published in:
The State Press
10/11/2001

By Kathleen Heil, Columnist

I hate "isms." They're dangerous. The moment most people ascribe themselves to a political ideology, reason tends to fly out the window and anger and self-righteousness stroll through the front door.

It's understandable - for smooth psychological functioning, we tend to define ourselves through our self-schemas and stick to them with the utmost consistency. So if Sally supports socialism (and sells seashells by the seashore systematically for a fixed price set by the government), she is likely to ignore any information that challenges her belief system and will seek out information to validate it.

For this reason, I have made a concerted effort to avoid defining myself through any one belief system and am skeptical of people who do. I feel being "label-less" prevents me from taking a stand on issues I am not educated on because I have no platform to refer to.

Granted, this does not render me unbiased, but I believe it does make a difference in my views. For most people I know, no matter how educated, eventually succumb to the disheartening perils of label attachment.

But this past Saturday, my disdain for labeling was effectively challenged for the first time. I spent an entire afternoon with Eve Ensler, playwright of "The Vagina Monologues." She led me and more than 50 other college women in a workshop to talk about V-Day and the College Campaign to end violence worldwide.

I admit I walked into the workshop with certain expectations. Though I believe deeply in the need to end violence against women, I don't label myself specifically as a feminist. So I was ready and prepared for a little bit of anger, a little indoctrination and a little lack of reason from the women who had gathered to fight the cause.

After all, Eve is a poster child for feminist activism. For example, she was recently labeled TIME Magazine's "Feminist Innovator" and is endlessly working on various causes to help women.

But walking into the room that Saturday, I didn't see any labels. I didn't see any anger. I didn't see any soapboxes, self-righteousness or sermons.

What I saw was a group of women who came from every walk of life and wanted, above all else, to stop the violence. Many of the women, like Eve, were survivors of various awful acts of sexual abuse. But despite the remarkable pain and suffering many of the women had endured, all of us came together from a place of kindness and love. These women, the voices behind V-Day, spent a few hours together being people, not political labels.

It was amazing. Eve, Karen and Shael, the heads of the V-Day movement to end domestic and sexual violence, are not fighting to indoctrinate anyone with "feminist values." And neither are the women who are leading college productions of The Vagina Monologues all over the world.

In fact, no one is fighting. As Eve told us, on the advice of her granddaughter, "Just kiss everyone!" Sounds simplistic, but in this current time of war and pain, it is more revolutionary than it seems.

The women I worked with last Saturday have forever changed my view on labels and movements. V-Day is so special and so amazing because it does not recruit people to the cause. It invites people, when they are ready, to stop violence against women in a way that genuinely transcends politics and party lines.

This, to me, is an incredible, beautiful rarity that I will always appreciate. In a world where people shout their ideologies rather than sharing them, it is amazing to see activists like Eve Ensler and Karen Obel - women who are bold, dedicated and open minded. It is an example we can all learn from.

So thank you, Eve. You and the other women at the workshop have taught me that you can wear feminism with pride, love and respect. And that's one label I'm no longer afraid to wear.

Kathleen Heil is a Religious Studies sophomore.