Letter-to-the-Editor: GV Women’s Center defends rights movement in response to Colleran column “Women’s Rights Gone Wrong”

Christine Colleran’s January 14 column, “Women’s Rights Gone Wrong,” provides an opportunity for the Grand Valley State University Women’s Center to more clearly articulate our purpose.

The mission of the Center is to create meaningful learning about women and gender and to advocate for gender justice through the education, engagement and empowerment of women students and the greater GVSU community. At the core of our mission is gender justice, which we define as a commitment to dismantling oppression in all spheres.

The article suggests the current women’s rights movement puts the country in danger of further gender segregation. The danger is in fact the opposite; when oppression exists and goes unaddressed, inequalities abound and people are unable to reach their full potential. The Women’s Center, and feminism in general, does not seek “special” treatment for any gender, but instead strives to eradicate all forms of oppression through education, advocacy and activism. It is not a notion of women, or any gender, being “on top,” but instead a movement for equality of all people, regardless of identity.

Regarding the question about the presence of a men’s center on campus, we want to reiterate that everyone is welcome in the Women’s Center. Every student — man, woman, queer, trans, however they identify —attend and participate in our programs, utilize our Student Food Pantry, spend time in our space studying or relaxing, and receive personal assistance to address a wide range of needs. Specifically for men, a Men and Masculinities Initiative began in 2011 to create opportunities for men to discuss how our society’s beliefs around gender impact their lives. GVSU will host its first Men and Masculinities state-wide conference in fall 2013.

The article also notes men are punished for the objectification of women, while women receive special privileges. On the contrary, men are often not held accountable for their actions by society or the media, especially when it comes to issues of sexual violence in the United States. Details of the fatal gang rape against the New Delhi woman flooded the media within days of the incident. Yet in Steubenville, Ohio, where high school football players are accused of raping an unconscious 16-year-old girl, the media largely neglected to address the issue until months after it occurred.

This delay and denial of the continued violence against women in our culture is reflected in the article’s assertion that feminism is necessary in other parts of the world, but not needed here. In fact, there are many countries were gender dynamics are more progressive than the U.S., including South Africa’s Parliament where 39 percent of its members are women, whereas 20 percent of U.S. Senate is comprised of women. Here are a few examples of other gender inequalities that persist in the United States:

• Positional leadership: In addition to a lack of women in politics, only 3.6 percent of women are CEO’s of Fortune 500 Companies, and only .4 percent are led by women of color.

• Pay equity: Nationally, women make 77 cents for every dollar men make.

• Sexual violence: Approximately 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime compared to 1 in 33 men.

• Labor: Women comprise just under half of the national workforce, but about 60 percent of the minimum-wage workforce and 73 percent of tipped workers.

• Job security: The public sector job cuts that have been largely responsible for unemployment during the recession have fallen disproportionately on women with women of color being hit the hardest.

The Women’s Center hopes that there is acknowledgement of the broad work it does to address gender and oppression by taking into account the multiple and intersecting identities of our students and the complex world in which we live.

The GVSU Women’s Center