MIT wants you to know what a feminist looks like


Nothing makes me cringe like hearing an otherwise intelligent woman say, “I’m not a feminist, but —”

What comes after “but” doesn’t even matter. Because if you think that women and men should be treated equally, you’re a feminist. It’s that simple.

But as often happens in social movements, the loudest voices at the dawn of the women’s movement were not always polite and pleasant. Women who don’t relate to the approach of early feminists are quick to distance themselves from a word associated with man hating or (gasp) lesbianism.

Time to let it go. The fact is that despite the loud voices and federal EEOC laws, women are a long way from equal treatment. Sexism may be less obvious, but you need go no farther than a cursory review of media coverage of Hillary Clinton‘s campaign (and Sarah Palin‘s, for that matter) to know that women have a long way to go, baby. (Sorry.)

A few weeks ago, the MIT Women and Gender Studies program set up a photo booth at the school’s 2011 open house as part of an effort to diffuse the negative stereotypes of feminism.

Professor Sally Haslanger explained:

Many people accept the basic principles of feminism (anti-sexism!?) but resist the f-word. Our thought is that by showing that feminism is a broad-based movement that includes people of all kinds, we can defuse some of the anxiety about the word and build connections and coalitions more easily.

More than 175 people participated, including MIT president Susan Hockfield.

Here are a few photos from the MIT Women & Gender Studies Flickr stream. I know the idea is not brand new, but these pictures still make me really happy.

For us as les/bis, the lesson goes beyond the obvious one. Don’t think for a minute that the end of DADT or DOMA or the legality of same sex marriage will end discrimination. More than laws have to change for equality to happen. And the first step toward equality is the belief that we are, in fact, equal.

Of course, the pictures got me to thinking that I’d love to see a similar stream of photos that say, “This is what a lesbian looks like.” And, wouldn’t you know it? Somebody beat me to it. More than one somebody, in fact. Enjoy.

Do you think projects like MIT’s are effective in breaking down stereotypes? Are you comfortable with calling yourself “feminist?”

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