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Forum Questions the ‘F’ Word: Feminism

Student Participation, Awards Highlight Event

UMass Lowell Image
Imogene Stulken, left, of the Protestant Campus Ministry, presents a Splash! Award to members of the student organization SISTERS – Elena Lafortune, president and senior psychology major, and Thrisha Heaven, also a senior psychology major. Tracy Moore of Student Health Services, right,  advises the group.

By Sandra Seitz

Smart, accomplished women say they are not feminists. What’s going on? Is feminism now a dirty word? Is feminism an idea whose time has come – and gone? 

Women of many ages weighed in on the topic with presentations and opinions at “The F-Word: How Feminism Fits” – the 14th annual Gathering at the Well Forum sponsored by the Center for Women and Work.

“The Cure for Sexualization Is Sex” was the title of the keynote speech by Jaclyn Friedman, a writer, educator and activist. Friedman’s new book, “What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety,” speaks to young women about how to negotiate the hypersexualized, sometimes dangerous, modern world.

Students appreciated Friedman’s straight talk.

“I’ve always been a big fan of Jaclyn Friedman, from seeing her at the Boston ‘Slut Walk’ to reading her books on fighting rape culture and living as a feminist,” says Sophie Hansen, a senior majoring in psychology and criminal justice. “She is a very eloquent speaker and is an unapologetic feminist, but doesn’t push her views on anyone.”

Hansen is also president of UMass Lowell's Students Against Human Trafficking. Members of the group made a presentation at the forum, in which discussion topics ranged from human trafficking and sexual exploitation to sexual assault, including the case of “Denim Day.” 

“The original ‘Denim Day’ incident took place in Italy in 1999, when an 18-year-old girl was raped by her driving instructor and forced to drive home afterwards,” says Hansen. “She took him to court, but the conviction was overturned by a judge who said she was wearing skinny jeans and these could not have been forcibly removed. The women of parliament were so outraged, they protested by wearing jeans to work the next day.” 

After hearing the story at the forum, participants made Denim Day patches with messages like “Consent Is Sexy” and “Clothes Do Not Rape.”

Splash! Awards and Student Improv

Splash! Awards are given yearly at the forum by the Center for Women and Work to individuals who have made exceptional contributions to some aspects of women’s rights, as reflected in the forum’s theme. Students led the category this year, with awards to the club Students Against Human Trafficking (see above); to student Analissa Iversen for her leadership in starting a UMass Lowell chapter of No Woman Left Behind and leading a candlelight vigil for survivors of sexual assault; and to SISTERS (Sisters of Integrity Striving Toward Empowerment, Respect and Success), a student organization that  supports professional, academic and personal development of women on campus. 

A Splash! Award also went to Psychology Prof. Emerita Anne Mulvey for advancing women’s rights and feminist values throughout her professional career, which has included the coordination of the Gender Studies Program and being a founding member of Lowell Women’s Week. 

Dead Serious, Wellesley College’s only improvisational comedy troupe since 1875, performed at the forum on the topic of “The F Word” to an enthusiastic audience.

“I absolutely loved the improv group. I thought they were brilliant and funny,” says Katherine Munoz, a sophomore majoring in philosophy (communication and critical thinking) and English. “As the vice president of the Off-Broadway Players, I know first-hand how hard it is to be confident enough to get up in front of a group of strangers and perform scenes off the cuff like that. To see an all-female improv group was pretty awesome.”

Scholars Share Global Perspectives

Feminism means different things to different people around the world, as described by members of a scholarly panel that rounded out the forum presentations. 

Deina Abdelkader, assistant professor of political science at UMass Lowell, conducts research on democratization, Islamic activism and the roles of Muslim women in the region of the Middle East and North Africa. Sandy McEvoy, associate director of the Consortium on Gender, Security and Human Rights at UMass Boston, investigates the attitudes of women in violent paramilitary Protestant groups in Northern Ireland. Champika Soysa, associate professor of psychology at Worcester State University, studies ethnic and gender issues in Sri Lanka.

The panel was moderated by Andrea Dottolo, lecturer in the Gender Studies program of the Psychology Department.