Student establishes feminist organization on campus

Junior Claire Thompson established a feminist student organization at VCU this semester.

Lindsey FitzGerald
Contributing Writer

The idea for a specifically feminist organization on campus came to junior Claire Thompson in a dream. After failing to find a place for feminist-focused activism, Thompson decided to turn that dream into a reality.

“I just sort of felt like there was this lack of a specifically intersectional feminist space,” Thompson said. “So I had a dream that I started this organization and it was wildly successful … Then I got on Tumblr and was like, ‘VCU people, should this be a real thing?’ And the overwhelming response was ‘yes’ … So, I went ahead and made it a thing.”

Thompson spent the past 10 years in Springfield, Va. before transferring to VCU this past spring to double major in English and gender studies. The influence of Thompson’s mother sparked Thompson’s intersest in feminism, which later developed as a teenager through extensive reading and online resources like Tumblr.

While other student groups like Queer Advocacy address similar issues of intersectionality, Thompson felt the absence of one that placed feminist issues in the forefront.

“(I) was looking for a space where I could meet and interact with other feminists and have a space for activism that was specifically feminist-focused,” Thompson said. “I’ve always been that kind of person that was like, well, if nobody else is going to do it, I will.”

Thompson held an interest meeting where its 13 attendees voted in officers, discussed ideas for the group and addressed concerns of what the organization’s definition of feminism would be.

“I know some people were really concerned coming into the meeting that it was going to be all vaginas and seventy-seven cents and I really don’t want that to be this at all,” Thompson said. “I want to have a range of perspectives.”

Senior Ashleigh Shackelford, a double major in business administration and political science, is the founder and president of the body positivity organization Full Figure Revolution. She was elected to be vice president of FSO at the interest meeting, where she said it was important to establish what definition of feminism the group will target.

“Often times it ends up being a mainstream, very white-oriented feminism that doesn’t really address people of color, doesn’t address the queer community, doesn’t address anybody but able-bodied people,” Shackelford said. “So that was a really big point we wanted to make with the organization as well.”

Maheen Shahid, a sophomore in the five-year education program, is the organization’s treasurer. She said the organization won’t be limited to addressing what’s often thought of as strictly feminist concerns. It will tackle the grey areas where feminism overlaps with issues of privilege, inequality and human rights, she said.

“Feminism isn’t just about women. It’s about all sorts of people,” Shahid said. “We’re not just focused on one issue because there isn’t just one issue that someone’s facing. It’s usually a crosshatch of different issues.”

For Thompson, the goal of the organization is to move beyond dialogue to employ activism in addressing the way these issues intersect.

“I don’t want to just sit and talk about the issues. I want to make change,” Thompson said.

The group aims to raise sensitivity to preferred gender pronouns, hold an anti-racism rally and offer free childcare to single mothers in the community.

By building the organization on a foundation of diversity, the group will combat the misconception that feminism welcomes a certain type of person, Thompson added.

“I feel like a lot of people see feminism and see activism and say, ‘Oh well, I’m not perfect … so I can’t be a part of that.’ No, you can,” Thompson said. “This is why I think it’s important that our group be diverse. I really didn’t want this to be a space where anyone was excluded.”

A feminist community can be found outside the walls of academia for those who seek it, Thompson and Shahid said, both of whom educated themselves on feminist issues online. Shahid said forums like Tumblr shouldn’t be overlooked as vital educational tools.

“Online activism is where I learned about all of this oppression,” Shahid said. “This is stuff they’re teaching in my gender studies class now … but these are all online resources that I received for free, (and) dialogues I’ve had with other people, I’ve had for free. I don’t believe anyone who says that online activism doesn’t do anything. I believe it does a whole lot.”

Thompson said the city and the university’s diverse environment make Richmond and VCU a promising platform for confronting these issues and raising awareness.

“I think it’s such an interesting location to be addressing these things,” Thompson said. “I don’t know why this wasn’t here before.”

Liz Canfield, a professor in the Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies department, said there are other student organizations, such as Safe at VCU, that address feminist issues as well.

“This isn’t the first feminist organization at VCU by any stretch, but it’s the first organization that has called itself such in a couple years,” she said.

In the past, VCU has had student organizations associated with the Feminist Majority, Planned Parenthood and Feminist United.

The group’s hopes for the organization extend beyond the college campus. For Thompson, feminism is about creating a more equal society.

“I think it’s important to be conscious of inequality and injustice. Standing idly by and watching injustice occur just isn’t who I am,” Thompson said. “I care about feminism because I care about creating a better, stronger and more just society.”

1 Comment

  1. I don't agree with this 3rd Wave of Feminism. While the so called 1st and 2nd Waves of Feminism were about rights and equality under the law, it seems this 3rd Wave has taken it too far off course. The Wave my mother or grandmother, for instance, might identify with dealt with these issues of the right to vote, to own property, to hold public office, and so on. These were once actions in which women could not participate on the grounds that they were women, and/ or were simply not thought of before as necessary for society. What I see all around me, in such websites as Tumblr, and other social media, is a plethora of people putting their ideas out there, and latching themselves onto a movement or collective grouping of ideas. In regards to Feminism, it is a shame that which we might call 'Radical Feminism' has taken such precipice in the minds of our peers. These people (typically young teenage girls to young adult women, and the occasional male) seem hell-bent on calling those against such a movement 'Rape Apologists' for even so much as bringing up the concepts of evolutionary biology or hormones. To me, the 3rd Wave of Feminism is a movement which has severed itself from ever understanding the so-called 'male perspective' in that it will not consider the male's own concept of what it is to be a male, yet it preaches so fervently that women and women alone have the ability to define 'femininity'. Personally, these movements are truly divisive to a society once they begin discussing definitions, generalized attitudes, or even tacking hypotheses onto society without proper and undeniably strong evidence. Mind you, this is to say nothing of the 1st and 2nd Waves of Feminism, which fought for the ability of women to have the choice to respectably live how they wish, to make their own place in society, and to fully participate in that society. While I am hopeful that this FSO is able to wipe away the radical and vitriol, I am still quite skeptical given the current multitude of social sources which have marred the name of Feminism time and time again. Besides, Secular Humanism, which are those ideas of humanity produced by the Enlightenment, already provides a means of securing the equality of all humankind, we need only to pay attention to these concepts to value them and ensure they are being met in our society. In this way, it is Secular Humanism which is for everyone's rights, not Feminism. Feminism is for women's rights, just as the NAACP is for the rights of 'colored people' (as opposed to non-colored people…), and there are many other groups as well which fight for group specific rights. Perhaps it is a good thing we have these groups, as they have secured many rights for their groups, however they have also secured many privileges for specific groups, which is not what our nation should have anything to do with. In our nation today, instead of addressing problems from the beginning, having to do with education and so on, we see Affirmative Action in schools where, because of your skin color or gender, you may be permitted into that particular school or, in the workplace, you may be given a job based on skin color or gender entirely because your company must meet a specific definition of diversity. In this way, if we are ever to have this concrete, beautiful, transcendent notion of equality in our nation, then we must wipe away these distinctions as best as possible, while valuing ancestry (that which came before us). We must address the problem where it began as best as possible as a society and if you look at our society, it has been improving tremendously over the past fifty years. To hear as well that this FSO will address the overlaps of privilege, inequality, and human rights is good, these are fine topics to discuss. The strange notion, however, that the group would still operate under the name Feminism if it were to discuss such general topics is strange, however, given that these topics may relate to Feminism and females, but it does open the door to the question of whether their approach will be prejudiced or biased towards their own group's motives. The best thing a group called the Feminist Student Organization could accomplish without opening themselves up to more criticism is tackling any further problems regarding women's rights or women's inequalities in our society. While it may seem progressive and overall good to say such a group will not fight strictly for Feminism, why then, is it named FSO instead of Student's Equality Organization? As I said before, however, if we are to achieve this holy grail of equality, then we must not tint the windows, we must not put up walls, and we cannot ignore each others' words, for if we do, then to what have we changed the definition of equality?

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