College students offer their own definitions for the word ‘feminism’

Jay Johnson
Oxford Stories

What does it mean to be a woman today? What exactly is feminism? I asked a group of young women with different backgrounds these questions, and these are their answers.

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Sally Gairhan. Photo by Jay Johnson.

University of Arkansas freshmen Sally Gairhan is a soft-spoken young woman who is not your “typical” feminist. She enjoys reading, writing, crafting, and grounds her work in Christ.

“To me, feminism means seeing all people as equal, all capable of achieving what they set their minds to,” she said.

Gairhan said she was most concerned with the media and how the media portrays women. She blames unrealistic beauty standards and dislikes the subconscious effects they have on women regarding the way they view themselves. Sally desperately longs for the next generations of women to be fully confident.

When it comes to feminism, she looks to the movement to encourage future generations of women to be grounded in the understanding they can achieve great things.

“To me, being a woman goes beyond a label and represents being part of a community that holds each other up,” she said.

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Natalie Sakaan. Photo by Jay Johnson.

Natalie Sakaan is a University of Tennessee senior pre-med student. Natalie comes from a multi-cultural family. Her mother is Polish, and her father is Syrian.

Sakaan grounds herself in feminism, prouder than ever to be a woman during a Trump era. She said feminism means understanding and consequently practicing equality through physical actions, not only words.

This involves advocating total equality among both sexes, men and women of all races and ethnic grounds. She said feminism is truly believing women are not less and men are not more capable of a job, skill or ability.

“My greatest concern regarding feminism is that public figures have made it more openly acceptable to express derogatory and anti-feministic speech/ action,” she said. “This influence pours into the average American and has made men and women more susceptible to divisiveness.

“Also, the degradation of women based on their appearance must stop, so that we can finally value women beyond their faces and bodies, for their accomplishments, intelligence, and contributions to this world.”

She wants women to understand women. She wants men to understand women. She asks future generations of women to have a greater say in the politics of their own bodies, choices, and job opportunities/pay.

“I want women to not degrade one another for how they appear externally or how they choose to dress. Men, of course, I hope will not do that to our future generations of women either.

“I want there to be a general understanding of the progressive time that we are in and that we do not fall back on traditional, oppressive mindsets regarding the roles of women. I wish for further progress in nations that continue to oppress women based on ancient cultural values.”

“Being a woman means being capable of anything in the world. Being a woman means having an intelligent/essential impact in society. Being a woman is an expression of the most beautiful part of life, as we are the bearers of it. Being a woman means progress.”

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Sarah Cull. Photo by Jay Johnson.

Sarah Cull is a San Diego State University student and a vocal feminist who believes feminism is about taking the title back. She wants women to claim what they rightfully deserve. She said society still fails to acknowledge the cries of women, and women are still not considered equals.

“My biggest issue regarding women now has to do with business and being taken seriously,” she said. “Women are still not being taking seriously in the workforce. I can’t even count how many times a man has been inappropriate on a professional level to me, and I just have to shrug it off.

“For an emerging and aspiring entrepreneur like myself, it’s frustrating when male counterparts don’t think I’m prepared for a job on that scale just due to my gender and appearance. If you’re a woman, and you’re pretty, you will have a much harder time (being) taken seriously in a business environment, especially as you go up the ranks.

“My mom was a top person at this huge firm and she was one of two women out of a group of 200 at the level. She ended up leaving the company because men made inappropriate comments and left her out because she was a woman. They’d take credit for her work and delegate work to male counterparts over her, even though she was more qualified.

“People think this isn’t as big of an issue as it truly is. I plan on being an executive of a big company one day, and I already know I’m going to have to work that much harder just because of my gender.”

Cull challenges ideas of what “femininity” and “masculinity” are, noting women have been silenced for most of history. Feminism is a movement to her that allows women to freely indulge in sex, beliefs, hobbies, and the list goes on.

She is tired of the double standards. She encourages women to stop appropriating ideas of what a female is supposed to me.

“For the next generation, I want women to be able to do anything they want to do without wondering who will see or what people will say.

“Men have the ability to be wild and free and do whatever they want without any repercussions. There’s a huge double standard with that since a woman who will do the same act will be scrutinized for it while a man will not.

“A woman, in this Western society, cannot be openly sexual as a male can. The ‘mother/wife’ stereotype is still very significant as well. I’d like to see a generation of free women who are carefree in terms of what people think of them and do what they really want to do.”

Cull thinks being a woman is being tough and independent. It’s about going that extra mile to have the same opportunities and be taken seriously. She said many women have to deal with other women’s criticism on top of male criticism.

“Women have to put up with catcallers, and when we don’t respond with submissiveness as expected, we are dealt harsh words, and in some unfortunate cases, actual violence. Being a woman is being strong and not taking shit from nobody. It’s also about proving everyone wrong and showing the people around you that a girl can do everything a guy can.”

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