Feminism: Our Past, Present and Future


For this blog post, some of the interns at the Women’s Center decided to share our personal history with feminism. We have all had different experiences and there isn’t a singular theme among our stories, but we hope that our experiences encourage others in the Duke community to explore what feminism means to them.


From Colleen O’Connor (Community Building and Organizing Intern): `


From a very young age, I was aware of gender dynamics.  My first ‘feminist puzzle piece,’ so to speak, came when I was in preschool and I approached my friend Pablo playing blocks alone.  As I went over to join him, Pablo pushed me away and told me that I was not allowed to play with the blocks because I was a girl and blocks were for boys.  At the time, I recognized how unfair it was that I was excluded from doing something because I was a girl.  I received a similar reaction, although without physical pushing, when I told my peers and adults that I wanted to be the first woman president.  Oftentimes, the reaction was one of “Hmm. Girls can’t be presidents though” or “I don’t think you want to get involved in politics, honey.” I realized that my friends and family were making judgment calls about what I could and could not do and it just felt wrong.  

Fast-forward a few years to when I arrived at Duke. My first year seminar was Gender and Sports with Professor Donna Lisker, and she challenged me to think about my gender and how I live it out in my everyday life. During this semester, I collected many puzzle pieces, questioning why there are only male priests in Church and why in my social life I felt as though I was in a bind where neither sexual activity nor sexual inactivity was right.

It was not until the fall of my sophomore year, though, that I began to think about power and privilege dynamics beyond my gender. That semester, I took Feminist Art in the 1970s, a course on the exhibit The Deconstructive Impulse, and I participated on Common Ground. I began to realize that feminism is much bigger than gender issues, but really focuses on systemic oppression.  I became conscious of the privilege I have in being white and suddenly noticed the extreme heteronormativity in my daily life. It was like wearing glasses for the first time. For me, feminist activism became a strong desire to create change in something bigger than myself, focusing on the intersectionalities of oppression.

I declared a Women’s Studies major, participated in The Moxie Project, and began to engage in activism on campus. I became more confident in myself and felt comfortable opening up a dialogue when I heard sexist, homophobic, or racist language. I have come to realize that I have been a girl activist all along, and I can effectively make change in our community.  Like a puzzle, there are still many pieces that are yet to be found. Yet piece-by-piece, the whole picture is coming into view.


From McCall Hollie (Gender Equity and Leadership Intern):


I used to shy away from the term "feminist" as one with which to describe myself. I saw it as the inaccurate stigma I fear many misinterpret it to be: man-hating, bra-burning (did you know that never actually happened? Bras are too expensive to burn, anyway), preachy, angry, and unreceptive to modern culture. Where these confusing stereotypes came from I don't think I could tell you, but I can say with confidence I no longer associate feminism with aforementioned negatively-connoted ideas. Being a Duke student, and one affiliated with the Women's Center, has enabled me to develop a far more accurate and positive image of feminism that I now strongly identify with. Being a feminist means believing in equality--for everyone. Feminists fight not only for the rights of women but also for marginalized populations such as racial minorities or LGBTQIA community, among many others. As a feminist, I actively make an effort in my daily life to make the world around me a welcoming and accepting place for all. I don't hate men, I don't burn my bras, I do not preach my ideas, nor am I unreceptive to those of others. I'm also not angry, but instead I am empowered and motivated to make positive change.