Sarah Blugis: Why we need feminism at GW

The other weekend at an off-campus apartment party, I eavesdropped on a small group of guys huddled and talking about feminism. “Why do girls still talk about feminism? It’s not like they need it anymore. They’re equal, anyway,” I heard them saying.

The consensus among those not particularly interested in women’s issues, depressingly, is that feminism is irrelevant.

Many of us shy away from the word “feminism.” In fact, even though many people support women’s equality, only 14 percent of the population consider themselves “feminists,” according to an April YouGov/Huffington Post poll. Frustratingly, that number is a mere 9 percent when only men are surveyed.

Feminism is a word with negative connotations and those who subscribe to it are often viewed as extremists. That’s a disturbing misconception, considering how far women’s equality still has to go.

But for those of you at the party this weekend – and for anyone else who might be confused – here’s a quick lesson: “A feminist is someone who stands up for equality and speaks out against injustice,” Rachel Riedner, associate professor of writing and women’s studies, told me.

It means nothing less and nothing more.

It is the solution to the problems that women experience every day, including but certainly not limited to sexual assault, domestic violence, salary disparities and underrepresentation.

As the nation’s capital, you’d think District would lead the country in equality and progressive policy. But although it is ahead of the game on issues like gay rights and medical marijuana, it is behind the curve on gender equality.

In January, the Human Rights Watch released a study declaring that D.C. Metro Police have mishandled as many as 170 rape and sexual assault cases, including some that were ignored completely. Without external oversight, advocates argue, District police can get away with picking and choosing which sexual violence crimes they want to investigate.

Yet, one in four D.C. women are expected to experience domestic violence in their lifetimes. And the 89 women in Congress make up a meager 20 percent of the Senate and about 18 percent of the House.

D.C. isn’t leading the nation in the feminist movement, but neither is GW.

To be fair, there are some promising signs.

The University has a very active Feminist Student Union, a female Student Association President and many progressive, tuned-in students dedicated to bettering the welfare of women. Additionally, GW has recently reformed its sexual assault policy, giving survivors an unlimited time to report crimes.

But as one of the most politically active universities in the country, this simply isn’t enough. Underrepresentation is one of the biggest issues that women face, and it is alarming that our university is participating in an overwhelming problem.

The University has a serious problem with inequality among administrators as well as professors – and inequality in leadership reflects poorly on GW’s reputation.

The Hatchet reported in April that GW is slowly making gains as it attempts to hire more female as well as racially diverse professors. But as of last year, only 40 percent of professors here were female. The University does hire a fair amount of female professors, but many of our older and more experienced professors are male.

This is frustrating given that today, females account for more than 50 percent of Ph.D.’s from American universities, but on average, only 41 percent of undergraduate and master’s level college professors across the country are female.

GW should be ahead of the curve instead of merely being average. A way to do this is by creating more endowed chairs for female professors: Female faculty only hold 14 percent of GW’s 80 endowed slots.

And is an even more serious problem with the University’s administration. Out of the top 15 highest paid administrators in 2012, only two were female.

Just as leaders in Congress should be working harder to lead the country in the right direction on women’s equality, it’s essential that our administration is a trailblazer in the eyes of universities and administrations across the nation – and it’s disheartening that strides on this issue haven’t been made already.

So we need feminism.

We need our administrators to start the dialogue about women’s issues. And as students, we’re ignoring a huge problem if we don’t encourage them to do so.

The writer is a sophomore majoring in political communication.

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