While a student, Morgan Hopkins ’10 conducted research over the course of two years culminating in “The Impact of Hostile and Benevolent Sexist Attitudes on Acknowledgment of Male Privilege.” Now, as a graduate student, Hopkins is featured in the Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) in an article about a feminist immersion program that took place this winter in New York City.
The article focused on the weeklong “Feminist Winter Term,” organized by the activists Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards which the CHE describes as “part boot camp and part support group.” The days were each assigned a theme and included visits to representative sites around town. After describing the itinerary and the women’s impressions along the way, the article discusses possible careers.
“After graduate school, Ms. Hopkins hopes to return to New York as a feminist organizer,” the article notes, quoting her: “People can do this with their lives and still pay the bills, and be on the ground and not in the academic bubble.”
Hopkins earned a B.A. in psychology from William Smith College and minored in women’s studies. Last summer, she conducted research while writing a chapter for a book co-edited by Susan Pliner, associate dean for teaching, learning, and assessment and the interim director of the Centennial Center for Leadership; and Cerri Banks, dean of William Smith College and assistant professor of education. She is currently a master’s student in social psychology at the University of Houston-Clear Lake.
An active member of the HWS campus, Hopkins was involved in various clubs, charities and women’s rights organizations. She was the president of Hip~NotiQ’s Step and Dance Team, as well as a member of Women’s Collective, College Democrats, and Student Movement for Real Change. She has taken trips to various ally conferences for social justice.
The article follows.
Chronicle of Higher Education
In Feminist Immersion Program, Students Bond and Strive
Sara Lipka • New York City • January 23, 2011
When Catherine Weingarten was about to meet her boyfriend’s grandmother, he blurted a warning: “Don’t say you’re a feminist.” Ms. Weingarten, a sophomore at Bennington College, cringed, but she got it.
“I like being honest about being a feminist. It’s really important,” she says. “But it’s also a risk. It’s like coming out.”
Unless you’re at Feminist Winter Term, where Ms. Weingarten joined more than two dozen like minded students and recent graduates this month. The weeklong program here, part boot camp and part support group, drew self-declared, stigma-snubbing young feminists in piercings, pigtails, and peacoats.
On a Monday morning on the Lower East Side, the mostly female group sprawled on couches and the floor of a cozy living room. One by one they shared their “click” moments: when, in a college course or a relationship, they suddenly knew they were feminists. Over vegan blueberry muffins and bread pudding, they affirmed one another.
This “transformative week of feminist immersion” marked the fifth Feminist Winter Term organized by the activists Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards. Each day had a theme, such as reproductive justice, and a full slate of visits around town. After evening events-a screening, for example, of Ms. Baumgardner’s film I Had an Abortion at the radical bookstore Bluestockings-the campers, as they called themselves, retired to a hostel, 10 to a room.
Ms. Baumgardner and Ms. Richards, both in their early 40s, aren’t trying to resuscitate feminism, which they say is thriving. Writing Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000) allowed them to travel to college campuses-about 300, they estimate-and meeting students made the authors want to show them “feminism in action,” Ms. Baumgardner said.
In the 1960s and 70s, young feminists challenged the establishment, including their university administrations. Now students are seeking institutional aid for activist training-and getting it. The program here costs $800, which about a third of colleges cover, at least in part, Ms. Richards said. Emily Mente applied for a grant from Marlboro College, unsuccessfully. Still dying to go, she got the money for Christmas, from her mom.
Many students in the winter term (or, as of 2010, in a summer camp) come looking for internships and jobs, or ideas for campus projects. Most are fervent. “Sometimes,” said Ms. Richards, “we get a friend who was dragged.”
Sex Day, BUST Magazine
After breakfast on Monday-Sex Day-the group walked to Babeland, a female-friendly sex shop. No lecture, just shopping. That afternoon they met lawyers and other advocates for, in the program’s parlance, sex workers. On Tuesday-Media Day-the campers visited the City University of New York’s Feminist Press, and BUST Magazine (“The magazine for women with something to get off their chests”). “Ahh, to see the next issue!” one camper gushed.
The morning of Professional-Development Day, in the luminous conference room of the Ms. Foundation for Women, they listened to feminist professionals share their trajectories. The panelists dispensed standard advice (make business cards, join LinkedIn), while urging the job seekers, as women, to buck convention and advocate for themselves. “If someone offers you a certain salary, you must negotiate,” said Kara Elverson, a filmmaker. “They’re not going to take it away.”
The students jotted notes in pink and purple ink; one doodled a chain of female gender symbols in her composition book. They flipped through charts from the U.S. Department of Labor on women’s lagging earnings as Ms. Baumgardner and Ms. Richards served crackers and fruit.
Colleen Damerell, an English major at Kenyon College, was encouraged by the prospect of a job with an advocacy group. Everybody assumes she’ll become a professor, she said. What else? Well, there are many possibilities in the feminist movement, she said, hopefully.
That afternoon she set off for a mini-internship at the radical bookstore. Two other students visited the nonprofit RightRides and then ventured out into Brooklyn, posting fliers about its free, late-night rides home. Samantha Lange, a photography major at Bard College, stayed at Ms., choosing and formatting photos to run on its Web site.
Three young women and five Ms. employees later sat chatting about career paths. Ms. Lange’s voice wavered as she introduced herself, fiddling with her rings. As she went on to describe her work at a domestic-violence shelter, the employees listened attentively, and she grew poised. (Gloria Steinem used to meet the group for tea, but the students were too star-struck, Ms. Baumgardner said, for a productive discussion.)
When the campers traveled from one place to the next, they clustered, chattering. “It’s kind of funny when we get into a subway car and totally dominate it with feminist conversation,” said Jessa Baker-Moss, a sophomore at New College of Florida.
That night, at a Venezuelan restaurant in the East Village, four campers debated the role of morality in discussions about female genital mutilation and the question of whether sex work could be a tool of change (“You’d have to get rid of pimps, at least male pimps,” one said). They decried gender binaries and false dichotomies and second-wave feminism, born in the 1960s.
“The second wave is sex-negative in a way that really bothers me,” said Ms. Baker-Moss, who maintains that some sex workers are empowered, not oppressed. There were other gripes, including from Ms. Lange, feeling more at ease than she had at Ms.
“I always say I’m a women-and-gender-studies major because I feel like I am, but Bard only has a [expletive] concentration!” she grumbled. “At least they have classes!” countered Tiffany Straley, a senior at Northern State University, in Aberdeen, S.D.
Monica Lewinsky Era
But academic study isn’t as central a path to feminism as it used to be, the activist Shelby Knox, 24, told the group the next afternoon. “We don’t need a $35,000 college with women’s-studies classes,” she said. “We can just read blogs.” Ms. Knox smiled apologetically at Ms. Baumgardner, a third-wave feminist, as she called her generation “fourth wave.”
“We grew up in the backlash,” she said: Monica Lewinsky and Desperate Housewives. Campers nodded. Our peers didn’t inherit a feminist consciousness, Ms. Knox said; they’re forging a new one, largely online.
The students hashed out their challenges, in particular how to introduce feminist ideas to friends who are unaware or apathetic: “You bring up Judith Butler [the gender theorist], and they’re like, ‘Aaaah!'” said one student, feigning terror.
Laying off academic jargon is key, the group decided, as is resisting the urge to pounce. A boyfriend might ask, “Are lesbians biological virgins?” somebody offered. Several students groaned.
“You have to remember not to get too angry when people ask you questions that seem ignorant,” said Ms. Damerell, of Kenyon. Morgan Hopkins, a master’s student in social psychology at the University of Houston-Clear Lake, agreed: “You have to remember, none of us knew until we knew.”
As the campers started to disperse, several lingered, passing around Pop Rocks candy as they shared stories and sounded off. Still ahead of them was a trip to Planned Parenthood, workshops on body image and self-defense, and a party.
Each participant left the week with a green nylon tote that said, “Feminism is my bag.” Some will write reflection papers and get academic credit. Lucy Doyle, a sophomore at Montclair State University, said she would apply some concepts to Femvolution, a six-day festival she is organizing on her campus this spring.
Ms. Baumgardner rattles off where alumni have ended up: Michelle at Paradigm Shift (a feminist community group here), Susan at Girls for Gender Equity, Carly at Soapbox Inc., the organizers’ speakers’ bureau.
After graduate school, Ms. Hopkins hopes to return to New York as a feminist organizer. “People can do this with their lives and still pay the bills,” she said. “And be on the ground and not in the academic bubble.”
Of course, an activist community can still stand apart. Some viewpoints, at feminist training, didn’t come up. With an itinerary full of progressive organizations, Ms. Richards occasionally gets questions, for example, about the anti-abortion group Feminists for Life.
“I think it’s a misuse of the term ‘feminist,'” she said. So no, the students don’t go there.
“At the end of the day, I’m not sure of how much benefit it is for them to be in conversation with people who disagree with them,” Ms. Richards said. “You can create tremendous change by knowing who your tribe is.”