BY EMILY HARRISON
"We believe that women have a right to be on earth as free human beings and to thrive. On that we all agree, though we disagree on practically everything else," said author Barbara Smith '69 (right), one of four "founding feminists" who spoke at MHC on International Women's Day. Smith, Gloria Steinem, Gwendolyn Mink, and Marysa Navarro are four of the five coeditors of The Reader's Companion to U.S. Women's History.
The discussion--titled "Does Feminism Have a Future with the Next Generation?"--ranged widely and included comments on everything from affirmative action and welfare reform to defining feminism. It is just one example of the College's commitment to fostering lively debate featuring diverse viewpoints.
Asked about the present state of feminism, University of California professor of politics Mink said, "The challenge to feminism is to get people to look beyond their own circumstances and find ways to act in solidarity with other women." Smith also talked about the need to join forces, with feminists being just as concerned about racist and homophobic attacks as about antifemale bias. "We need to be concerned with justice on a broad scale," she said. Dartmouth College history professor Navarro added, "A sense of solidarity is still needed at home, but must also be extended to the rest of the world." The great challenge, according to Ms. magazine cofounder Steinem, is "right-wing, antiequality, homophobic, racist backlash," but added that we're experiencing antifeminist backlash because there was a "frontlash"--a move in public opinion away from hierarchical thinking.
Panelists were asked to name the most important battle women will fight. "Life presents you with oppositions and opportunities you can't control," said Steinem. "The art of activism is understanding that you can't control what happens, but you can use what happens." For Navarro, the fight for reproductive rights is top priority. And Smith cited protecting the environment and ending violence as most important. Steinem acknowledged the panelists' sometimes mutually exclusive answers by saying, "You don't want unity [within feminism]; you need a community."
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