Photograph by Steven Higgs

Cara Berg, president of Raising Awareness in Sexual Encounters, says feminists, despite their divergent points fo view, must recognize their common ground to overcome apathy and negativism toward the women’s movement.

Women today are apathetic to their rights and feel entitled to the privileges they have, a panel of young feminists agreed on April 18. But with that entitlement must come the realization of how recently everything has changed and that these rights are not guaranteed.

Titled “Feminism: What It Is and What It Should Be,” the discussion at the Indiana Memorial Union brought four student feminists and about 15 audience members together.

“Feminism is one of those great movements that dares to stand up to ‘the Man,’ with a capital M, to change social norms and to level the playing field for everyone,” said Anna Pointek, president of the campus Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance (FMLA).

And history shows the movement has had remarkable success since the 1960s, when many thought that women attended college to obtain an “MRS Degree.”

According to the 2005 Census, women made up 56 percent of the undergraduate student population and 59 percent of graduate students.

But few young women have a sense of feminism and the history behind the movement, the panelists said. They gathered to present a critique of feminism in the 21st century.

Joining Pointek on the panel were Indira Dammu, incoming vice president of the Women’s Student Association; Cara Berg, president of Raising Awareness in Sexual Encounters (R.A.I.S.E.); and Amy Gastelum, president of the Women’s Student Association.

Pointek set the tone when she noted that critiquing feminism is an all too common exercise these days.

“I am hesitant to criticize feminism because everybody criticizes it, for all the wrong reasons,” she said. “It’s so misunderstood, and people bash it from all sides.”

But critique it she and the other panelists did, as she put it, “from the inside because I love it and because I think feminism should be more prominent in today’s society.”

Berg noted that feminism is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “a doctrine that advocates equal rights for women,” an approach few would argue with.

But many associate feminism with the extremes, giving the movement a man-hating reputation, rather than one of support and equality, the panelists said.

To Berg, this is similar to the association of Christianity with extremists who promote more hate than love, the true meaning behind Christianity.

While proud to call themselves feminists, the panelists expressed frustration with the today’s movement.

Dammu said feminists must “examine the weakness from within (the movement).” She noted that she was going to title her speech “The Reluctant Feminists” because that’s what she was.

Berg agreed, saying she had a difficult time identifying as a feminist herself, even though it was clear that her beliefs aligned with those of feminist organizations. She said this is because “no one really knows what feminism is,” which makes it difficult for others to embrace it.

Berg said she has a friend who “believes in women in the work force, but she thinks she is an anti-feminist because she is pro-life and Catholic.

“We do ourselves a disservice when we focus on one specific issue,” such as abortion, she said.

“A real strength is to be able to see all sides of an issue,” Berg continued, “especially when we are talking about feminism, which is such a multifaceted issue.”

Gastelum agreed, saying “I am so proud to be a feminist, and I also claim to be a Christian. I am a Christian. I love my church.”

Berg stressed that “feminists must remember that there is common ground” among all the subsets of feminism.

“We need extremists on both sides for discourse,” she said.

Her hope for the future of feminism is that “we remember the common ground between all of those various opinions, that we remember that feminism, as it’s stated, is not just the issues and rallying but also daily behavior and that it’s about supporting women and supporting all people.”

Today’s apathy is associated with the lack of education within the school system, Dammu said.

“Apathy among students on IU’s campus is apparent and frustrating,” she said.

Pointek agreed. “People don’t question anything, and people only care about stuff when it affects them,” she said.

This apathy may be caused by the fact that most women learn little to no women’s history in grade school.

“Traditionally, in elementary school we are taught by women this white male perspective,” Gastelum said. “You are not taught (about women’s history) unless you take a gender studies class in college.”

The apathy could in the long run severely hurt the feminist movement and the rights women have today could always be taken away tomorrow, she said.

Pointek worried that the movement will have to regress to get people’s attention before it moves forward again.

Dammu cited “the absence of real leadership. There is no one to look up to in our generation.”

Pointek agreed, noting that those who run the country and make the decisions are still white men, or people who think like white men.

“I think it’s really important that we revamp our criticisms of power,” she said.

Kathleen Huff can be reached at .