Sunday, March 1, 2015

College, History Class, Misogyny, and Feminism

I have been having a rough time in one of my classes for something, I'm really shocked about. I'm taking a history class in which we discuss prominent ideas throughout different periods of American history. Undoubtedly, women's rights do come up, even during the 18th century. Why? Because women are half the world's population and they were one of the many groups being oppressed. I wouldn't think this would really be a point of argument, because in the historical context, we are talking about a time when women had literally no rights. Women during the 1700s and 1800s could not seek a divorce, could not seek action against an abusive husband, could not take or share custody of their children if a divorce was sought by the husband. Women could not vote, hold a major career, could not work in politics, could not take part in the legal system.

Amazingly enough (to me at least) this perspective of womanhood in this period is sparking controversy in the class. I am the only female in the class of 8 students. The (male) teacher is primarily a philosophy teacher and therefore loves playing with ideas and seems to be very open to feminism and I feel very comfortable discussing the topic of women's rights with him. 2 of the other students very openly support feminism and are almost as loud as I am about it, because I have been cautious in that class not to anger or hurt the feelings or masculinity of the males in that class.

However, my voice has gradually grown louder in that class because I do enjoy discussing ideas (especially controversial ones in a safe environment) and I do feel passionately about many of the subjects we discuss - feminism, racism, slavery, equality, education, etc. I have tried to talk specifically about the articles we're reading and not attack anyone personally. I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings and think it's important when discussing ideas to make a division between the idea and the person and I have been trying to keep an open mind on everything and with everyone.

Despite all of my efforts to not upset the men of my class and stay open, I have been getting harassed by 2 of the male students. One of the students is a conservative and voiced in one of the classes that he thinks all of the female writers we read were just complaining about the same stuff and didn't understand why they weren't changing anything. Obviously, with 3 feminists and a teacher who appears to be for women's rights are going to challenge that ideology. He clearly felt attacked, and I understand feeling attacked when your ideas are being challenged. His frat brother who is also in the class backed him up and said women say they want feminism, but then they go fulfill the stereotypical roles of gold-diggers and sex objects by dancing at clubs. This was a rough class period for them, I get it, but that doesn't excuse their hateful and rude actions since that day. Last Tuesday, the conservative used what I said in class - a comment made about the text - to harass me as we walked out of class. He tried to play it off as joking, but it was easy to see the hate/misogyny behind it. On Thursday his frat brother who sees women as perpetuating their stereotypes used the c-word in the context of a phrase that their fraternity says. I remember no one else laughing at the use of the c-word (twice) except for the two frat buddies. The teacher immediately addressed the inappropriateness of the statement, had him apologize to the class before dismissing us, and had a private chat with him after class. 

Their behavior has been deeply troubling me because 1) they are harassing me on the grounds of my gender 2) their fraternity is obviously condoning or promoting the misogyny they are expressing in class and 3) women who go to their parties could honestly be in danger if their physical actions match their verbal behavior. I've told my roommate about it and we walk home from that class together anyway. I told my mother about it - even though she is against feminism because of a misunderstanding of it and religious reasons - and she was shocked and deeply concerned.

I don't want to bring this up to the teacher for fear of that making it worse. However, if it does not improve by the end of this next week, I may talk to him in private about the matter because their behavior is certainly not okay. In the meantime, I'm going to summon my inner Beyonce Padthai (Mindy Project lovers will get that).