We Should All Be Feminists

I sat in the Chapel flanked by girls on both sides—understandably, as we had all walked together from Paul Revere. In front of me sat a row of all boys, who had most likely done the same from their own dorm. I cannot say that I walked into the Chapel particularly enthused about having woken up early and trudged through the snow, but when Professor Lani Guinier took to the podium, I perked up. The boys, however, did not. They rolled their eyes, exchanged knowing smirks, and rested their heads in their hands—hardly the picture of attentive, eager academics. When Professor Guinier brought up her findings about the contrasting leadership styles of men and women, noting that women tend to listen more, I nudged the girl sitting next to me. In front of a row of alert, straight-backed girls, was a row of apparently uninterested, unconcerned boys who did not share our capitivation with what Professor Guinier had to say. They were not listening. It was one of these same boys who later remarked in a class we share that he felt Professor Guinier’s speech did not appeal to the male half of the audience. He said he could understand how the speech might have pertained to an audience of only females, but that it was not especially relevant to males. I gaped. Was it possible that he did not understand one of the central analogies in Professor Guinier’s speech? That women are the canaries in the coal mine—their plight indicative of not only a noxious environment for themselves, the canaries, but also for society as a whole, for everyone else in the mine? Over the course of the next couple of days, I heard similar sentiments echoed in the student body surrounding me—that Professor Guinier’s speech was alienating, irrelevant to the significance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, or that it was—and here I could not contain my astonishment—too feminist. The Oxford English Dictionary defines feminism as the “advocacy of the rights of women (based on the theory of equality of the sexes).” “Too feminist” would indicate that the general attitude is too tuned in to the notion of equality, and I am not entirely sure that something can be too equal. Unfortunately, the parenthetical part of this definition is often glossed over in our colloquial definition of the term, as well. Feminists, as a significant part of the student body at Phillips Academy seems to perceive them, are radical man-hating, bra-burning seekers of female dominance. On this campus, the label “feminist” is now an insult, not an indication of one’s belief in equality of the sexes. Why does inequality to women matter? Because if roughly half the human race is being mistreated, that is not just a problem for women; it is a problem for everyone. In “A Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Dr. King wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” You heard it if you were alive during the Civil Rights Movement, you have heard it if you have studied the text itself in any History or Philosophy course, and you heard it if you were present at our All- School Meeting this past Monday. Dr. King was not only a champion for racial equality, he was a proponent of justice and equality for everyone. Not only did Professor Guinier’s speech apply to every single person in the Chapel, it was directly relevant to all of the work that Dr. King is famous for. The society we live in is not post-racial, nor is it post-sexist. This is apparent in everything from the makeup of our governing body to what we see and hear every day in the media. Even if we argue that men and women at Phillips Academy are roughly equal (which is questionable, even only considering the gross imbalance in the ratio of male to female student body presidents since The Academy became co-ed,) that by no means reflects the views of the rest of the world. We have to acknowledge that we live in a community of around eleven hundred students, which is not necesarily a representative microcosm of the population of almost seven billion that we will take our place in once we graduate from our haven on the hill. We cannot ignore the fact that we do not only belong to the society surrounding us, but to the human race, and inequality anywhere affects humans everywhere. Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s 2009 New York Times article, “The Women’s Crusade,” examines the role of women in undeveloped countries. In their study, they found that improving the condition and education of women was a direct way to help the community as a whole—that “these investments have a net economic return” that produce the most “bang for the buck.” Empowering women helps everyone, not just the women themselves. That is why women’s rights are important for everyone and that is why feminism matters. It is my sincere hope that Professor Guinier made you think and consider why we should come to understand as a community that we should all be feminists. We should all, in the true spirit of Non Sibi, be proponents of equality and justice everywhere. Here’s to you, Dr. King. Nikita Lamba is a two-year Senior from Mumbai, India.