College sophomore Lindsey Falkenberg is a self-proclaimed feminist.
And she knows that immediately after she tells you that, you may assume that she is an “angry, man-hating bra-burner,” as she said, or some other stigmatized stereotype.
That is why Falkenberg, the president of Emory’s Feminists in Action (FIA), led the organization to join the “Why We Need Feminism” movement, which began at Duke University in April.
The national college campaign is a collection of photos posted on various social platforms.
The photos are of students holding up signs that answer that very question.
But the campaign unexpectedly snowballed, Falkenberg said, from merely campus signs and Facebook posts, to an exhibition in the library.
Since Friday, FIA’s photos have been on display at the Emory’s Center for Interactive Teaching Gallery on level two of the Robert W. Woodruff Library next to Falkenberg’s short explanation of the campaign’s purpose.
FIA first set up a Wonderful Wednesday booth on Sept. 17, asking passersby to create signs regarding why they support feminism. FIA took about 50 photos of participants holding signs and posted them on the FIA Facebook page in order to spread the word.
The photos were posted on the national “Who Needs Feminism” Facebook page last week.
In addition, in the beginning of October, Emory Libraries Exhibitions Manager Julie Delliquanti saw some of the photos re-posted on Director of the Center for Women Dona Yarbrough’s Facebook.
Delliquanti enjoyed the pictures so much that she decided to present them in an exhibition– which will be on display in the library till December 28.
FIA Publicity Chair and College sophomore Cara Ortiz said she found the Wonderful Wednesday event successful and effective because of the dialogue it sparked between passersby and the organization’s members about the meaning of feminism.
However, she said she would have liked to see more student participation.
“I think everyone needs feminism for one reason or another, so in an ideal world, I would have everyone at Emory tell us why they need feminism,” Ortiz said.
FIA member and College sophomore Camille Barton helped run the Wonderful Wednesday booth.
She described the event as an enjoyable and open way to have conversations with strangers about the importance of feminism.
“People are still talking about it and asking me questions about it, and now that it’s being displayed in the library – which will become more of a hot spot as finals approach – it will get even more attention,” Barton wrote in an email to the Wheel.
For Falkenberg, understanding these feminist themes requires looking at more than just the signs.
“I want to … get people to think beyond what’s written on the signs and think about why it needs to be written there, why we need to think about it, and what we need to do to make that true,” Falkenberg said.
Falkenberg said she doesn’t think anyone would disagree with the words written on the signs. But, for her, the signs are meant to signal something more than that.
“The key link is to [understand] that there are social, political and economic power structures in place that can keep that from happening and we need to change them,” Falkenberg wrote in an email. “I’m committed to keeping this momentum and channeling the energy surrounding the project into the rest of our work.”
Although Falkenberg tries to fulfill her duty in her everyday life, she acknowledged that feminism and her project can be the “butt of jokes.”
But, according to her, people should be confident and respond to such comments while the discussion is open.
For Falkenberg, the fact that some of the signs were torn down, ripped or written on with “snide” comments gives her more reason to continue her fight.
“These negative responses are just as important to examine as the positive ones are to appreciate,” Falkenberg wrote in the exhibition’s summary. “They are a manifestation of the discomfort, defensiveness, and hostility our beliefs can evoke.”
Falkenberg also said she saw that some participants were uncomfortable with being presented in the exhibit. Her advice is to simply stop apologizing.
“If you don’t support it in that moment, you are just going backwards and perpetuating it,” Falkenberg said. “I welcome the opportunity to respond to that.”
Many students said there is an especially strong stigma associated with men supporters of feminism.
Falkenberg said she needed to give male students more prompting than she did for female students to get them to participate.
But once she related feminism to the males’ sisters or nieces, they were more inclined to make a sign, she said.
College junior Adam Braun is an exception to that observation.
He said he has thought about why he needs feminism for months, maybe years, before he created a sign at the Wonderful Wednesday event.
Even though Braun said he does not think the event or gallery will make an impact on the whole Emory community, he said he enjoyed the event’s “calm yet poignant” style because it did not pressure people to show their beliefs.
“It could be the starting point of a growing feminist sentiment, but Emory needs big spectacles, with lots of interaction for it really to impact the community,” Braun wrote to the Wheel.
College junior Michael Goldberg, who participated in the event and was posted on the national “Who Needs Feminism?” page, said he definitely sees a stigma associated with male supporters of feminism.
“As a guy, it’s tough to understand something when you haven’t gone through it, per se,” Goldberg wrote in an email. “I will be honest. I still don’t completely understand the feminist movement, but I am definitely learning from those that are passionate and a part of the movement.”
That is the very essence of Falkenberg’s goal: to keep the momentum going.
Overall, though, Falkenberg received overwhelmingly more support than backlash as she saw a flood of appreciation over social media, she said.
“Social media now has changed these conversations because it can reach a broader audience so quickly,” Falkenberg said. “It’s powerful to see that no one is alone in this.”
FIA is in the process of creating their next annual event “Vagina Monologues,” an annual production about sexual violence against women.
“I really don’t want this to be an end in and of itself,” Falkenberg said. “I think it should be something that keeps [us] moving forward and keep the dialogue going.”
– By Karishma Mehrotra