Texas-Style Feminism

22 Jan

by Vail Kohnert-Yount 

My relationship with my home state of Texas is a complicated one. I often quote the late, great Texan writer Molly Ivins: “I dearly love the state of Texas, but I consider that a harmless perversion on my part, and discuss it only with consenting adults.”I was frustrated by much of what I experienced growing up as a young woman in Texas. One of my high school classes once debated whether or not women should “be allowed” to work outside the home. In 2011, only seven of Houston’s 200 highest paid executives were women, and it was hailed as a great success. I would list the anti-woman antics of the Texas Legislature, but I don’t want to ruin your day.

However, there is a storied tradition of Texan women who dare to buck the patriarchy: Barbara Jordan, Ann Richards, and Beyonce, to name a few.  I believe the country would be a better place if we exported more of this Texas-style feminism and fewer of our governors. But even though I had lots of strong female role models in Texas, especially among family and friends, I wanted out. I dreamed of greener (and politically bluer) pastures where women wouldn’t be treated like prize livestock.

And so I arrived in our nation’s capital at the age of 18. Just like Texas, I dearly love Georgetown, but it’s not exactly a feminist wonderland. While I think Georgetown can be a great place for women, it has its faults. The fact of the matter is that Georgetown unapologetically affiliates itself with an institution that tells me and my fellow women that there is no place for us in its leadership.

Thus, I feel conflicted as a woman leader on this campus. One one hand, I am inspired by incredible women on this campus every day. But on the other hand, I wonder why I give $50,000 a year to an institution that would rather force a student to have her ovary surgically removed than allow her to be prescribed the hormonal pills she needed to manage her polycystic ovarian syndrome. (For what it’s worth, Georgetown has since acknowledged that it was a mistake.)
I once had a male student tell me that if I didn’t like Georgetown’s policies toward women, then I shouldn’t have come here. I was disappointed that a member of the esteemed Philodemic Society would resort to such an argumentative fallacy, but maybe he was right: maybe I shouldn’t have. But that doesn’t mean I don’t care about this institution, and it doesn’t mean I won’t fight like hell to change it.
Being at Georgetown has showed me more than ever that we need feminism, here and everywhere. Why?
Because a friend of mine was sexually assaulted, and the email that alerted the campus community to the incident was the laughingstock of the whole school. Because when I was elected to serve as the vice president of GUSA on the first ever all-female ticket, a representative of another campaign posted a Facebook status lamenting the demise of the “boys club.” Because I told a friend that I had been sexually harassed by a DPS officer, and she said, “Me too.”
Women have made a lot of progress–we weren’t even fully allowed into Georgetown until 1969–but we have a long way left to go. This is why I feel so frustrated when young women who enjoy the freedoms and fruits of feminism, especially young women at Georgetown who owe their first-rate college education to the feminists who fought before them, say things like, “I’m not a feminist, but…” But what? You like going to Georgetown? Thanks to feminists, you can!As the feminist writer Caitlin Moran said, “What part of ‘liberation for women’ is not for you? Is it the freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? ‘Vogue’ by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES? Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF THE SURVEY?” Not that there’s anything wrong with being drunk at the time of the survey.There are easier places to be a woman than Texas or Georgetown, and I know that it’s tempting to want to give up and fly the coop. I remember hearing a feisty feminist friend say once after a particularly frustrating experience with Georgetown’s patriarchy, “I should have just gone to Smith.” I know women who have left Georgetown because they couldn’t take it anymore, and I can’t blame them.

But places like Georgetown–and Texas, and really everywhere else too–need women like us to stand up, speak out, and fight back. When Ann Richards, the former governor of Texas, was asked about what she might have done differently, she answered, “Oh, I would probably have raised more hell.” In honor of Ann and all the women who came before us, let’s go raise some hell.

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