Sac State students sound off on sexism

Johanna Pugh

Words have the ability to change meaning over time.

Consider the word feminism. At its core, feminism means advocating for women’s rights and gender equality, but society has given this word a history—a history filled with ways to both uplift and motivate women to strive for change, but also burdening it with a stigma preventing others from understanding what it really means.

Amid these discrepancies, Sacramento State students weigh in on what the definition of feminism means to them.

“I think of it as empowering women to feel bold enough to stand up to adversity,” said Natalie Tramontano, a health science major, 22. “A big part of it is fighting legislature that takes rights away from women and fighting against institutions where women are oppressed.”

To Tramontano, what she believes feminism means and what the majority of the people she encounters think it means varies greatly.

“Most people think feminists hate men and are aggressive, pushy and militant, but really it’s about wanting women to be able to make decisions about their own bodies and health,” Tramontano said.

There are many layers that go into being a feminist and the perception one has, and there are many factors that could be examined, including race.

Women’s studies major Aisha Engle said there are often times where particular groups and activists are concentrated on, while others are left out of the discussion about women’s rights.

“Speaking as a woman of color, there’s this interplay where the mainstream media excludes certain groups,” Engle said. “What about the Angela Davises, the Audre Lordes? Modern feminism has to include all groups. Everyone needs a space.”

Engle, 37, works as a student assistant at the Women’s Resource Center [WRC] on campus and is vice president of the Advocates for Black Feminism student organization that meets Fridays at 6 p.m. in the Multi-Cultural Center across from the library entrance.

“For me, feminism encompasses taking on a state of mind that takes a stand against marginalizing and disenfranchising women,” Engle said. “People need to know it’s not an extinct word and it’s not about women not shaving their armpits or bra-burning.”

The way others react because of what they assume feminism means can hinder some supporters from both being vocal about their desire for gender equality and identifying as a feminist.

“I probably would say I’m a feminist, to be quite honest,” Tramontano said. “But I feel inclined not to because people assume things before they even hear what you have to say. There’s so much of a negative connotation now.”

Engle agrees the negativity can create a gap in awareness.

“People think feminism isn’t a realistic subject matter anymore,” Engle said. “But it’s still an everyday reality that women are being marginalized. They don’t know how important the word is. People need to realize these terms aren’t just terms—they impact society.”

Students said the best way to alter the negative perception of feminism is through education.

“There definitely needs to be more awareness,” said theater major Michael Rico, 20. “I’ve heard people say some really dumb things and I’m like, ‘You should take a sociology class.’ I’ve learned a lot [about feminism] just in one semester of sociology.”

Using education as a necessary tool in combating negative connotations and lack of awareness is an idea echoed by other students, but it also brings to light the importance of keeping it readily available.

“There definitely needs to be education, there needs to be forums of discussion, there needs to be deconstruction of what the negatives are versus what the reality is,” Engle said. “And I think when we’re constantly fighting to keep women’s studies and ethnic studies courses off the chopping block, that’s a problem.”

To overcome these potential roadblocks, Engle advocates for individuals being self-starters and informing themselves on the issues concerning women.

“I have to seek it out,” Engle said. “You can’t just settle for what people are willing to give you and spoon-feed you. You need to be able to go check out a book at the library, go online and find things for yourself because that’s what [feminists] are about—defining your own thoughts.”

There are a number of ways to get involved on campus.

There are courses and clubs as well as the PRIDE, WRC and Multi-Cultural centers which host events and discussions and are available resources for students who seek support and information on these issues.

“For me, feminism has always been an evolving thought process,” Engle said. “My definition of feminism evolves as I evolve as a woman.”