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Foster, Class of 2001
Oklahoma State University
never planned to be a radical feminist. I came to Oklahoma
State with a vaguely liberal mindset, ready to embrace
the leftist politics I thought universities specialized
in. Imagine my surprise: on this visually lovely campus,
with Georgian architecture, wide lawns, and prosperous
but rumpled students carrying expensive backpacks and
cell phones, the politics are anything but vaguely liberal.
It's the kind of campus where the Pagan Student Association
and the Sexual Orientation Diversity Association might
find "Burn in Hell" written over meeting notices; where
a Roe v. Wade anniversary display is vandalized
and almost no one objects; where the university newspaper
runs columns making fun of lesbians and criticizing
be honest, I didn't notice the politics all at once.
I was just glad to be in college, find friends, be reunited
with my high school boyfriend. My friends were either
apolitical or conservative, and we steered away from
topics that would incite argument. I got engaged, then
married at 19. It was too much trouble to make a fuss
about the sexism in the wedding industry. I did decline
the garter throw, quietly talked the minister into not
saying "honor and obey," and kept my own last name.
But when the minister, a fundamentalist Christian, sneakily
inserted something about the boy being "head of household"
into our vows on my wedding day, I just smiled and said,
"I do." I didn't want to rock the boat.
must have known about feminism on campus before I got
married, but it was in the background, certainly not
part of the lives of anyone I knew. There was a NOW
chapter, and I was acquainted with one feminist faculty
member. NOW didn't get much publicity. The feminist
professor worried about my early marriage. I ran into
her the summer after my wedding, and we talked a long
time, standing in the Oklahoma heat. I found myself
saying, without knowing why, that I thought I'd join
the NOW chapter. The next thing I knew, I was in the
public library, looking up the only feminist I knew
of Gloria Steinem and reading her books.
Before getting married, and being radicalized by housework
and the way people I didn't even know took me to task
for keeping my name, I hadn't given feminism much serious
thought. I believed in equality. I thought I was getting
it, and I thought every woman at OSU was getting it.
were getting something, but it wasn't equality. Equally
qualified or more qualified female faculty were sometimes
hired in my department for less money than their male
counterparts. Women's studies on our campus was underfunded,
embattled. We had no women's center.
so, I found that behind the scenes, there were plenty
of feminists. I became one of the radical variety. In
Oklahoma, you experience feminism mainly through books,
since marches, demonstrations, feminist groups, and
the like are rare. I certainly read my way into radical
feminism. I had some questions about the feminist debate
over pornography, and discovered Andrea Dworkin and
Catharine MacKinnon. I liked what these women had to
say, the way they positioned themselves against the
entire stream of culture and what people say is natural
advantage of attending a conservative university is
that while feminism overall is suspect, there's no special
animosity for any particular kind of feminism. People
here don't couch things in politically correct language.
Students and community members are comfortable saying
they are against civil rights for lesbians, that children
are a woman's responsibility, that affirmative action
prevents "more qualified" candidates from getting jobs.
It's easy to see patriarchy at work here, and its proponents
are against feminism in general. The liberals
I've met tend to single out radical feminism, saying
it's anti-male, anti-equality, or anti-free-speech.
But conservatives target all types of feminism equally,
leaving all feminists at liberty to move from one kind
of politics to another without extra scrutiny. It is
an odd, isolated, accidental kind of freedom.
understand that in many places, radical feminists and
liberal feminists don't agree or get along. This is
less true at Oklahoma State-when you're in the same
boat with people working against a hostile current,
it's suicidal to fight over the rudder. Of course there's
friction. During productions of Eve Ensler's The
Vagina Monologues, some of us had problems with
the script: we felt some lines were essentialist, equating
women with their vaginas as if the vagina embodies all
it means to be female. We didn't always agree with the
play's producers, who seemed too concerned about making
men comfortable with a production about women. But these
disagreements didn't stop any of us from participating
in the play during the three years we've put it on-or
from enjoying ourselves. At a school where Jesus Week
is an annual event, getting up on the stage and saying
"vagina" to a crowd of students and faculty is terrifying,
I have seen feminism grow at Oklahoma State. The female
faculty members are now paid fairly. The Women's Faculty
Council, once defunct, is a presence on campus. Women's
studies is growing, students have founded a women's
center, and a new women's film festival is so popular
that getting a seat for some of the films has been difficult.
As the feminist faculty become organized and more numerous,
as things like The Vagina Monologues become a
yearly event rather than a new and shocking one, I know
that feminism is making this campus more progressive.
fact, to say feminism has made great strides at OSU
is to greatly understate the explosion of concern for
women's issues that has occurred in the past few years.
I will always remember the first time the Women's Faculty
Council chair unexpectedly called me, offering to pay
for advertising my group needed, but couldn't afford,
for an upcoming feminist program. I didn't know her,
but she knew the feminist students and wanted to support
us. I almost cried. I don't know if it was relief, or
the thrill of knowing feminism at OSU was so widespread,
I no longer knew everyone involved in the movement
and that even so, we had not lost our instinct to help
each other on the grounds that a feminist action, any
action, is worth supporting. It is something to learn
that feminists can approach their common goals in this
way. Finding that kind of mutuality and shared respect
here may be the greatest gift OSU has given me, the
most valuable lesson I take with me into the world.
eva | kathleen | maria
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