Voices of 'Feminist Coming Out Day'

Christopher Z. Husch ’13 hung on the wall of Ticknor Lounge with the following quote beneath it: “I’m a feminist because misogyny is stupid. Apathy too.” Husch’s photograph was one of many powerful portraits and printed statements on display for the second annual Feminist Portrait Project. As a part of Harvard’s Feminist Coming Out Day, the photo gallery—with pieces primarily shot by Radcliffe Union of Students (RUS) co-president Abby J. Sun ’13—offered a rich diversity of feminist identities and stories.

Event organizers from RUS, Harvard College Queer Students and Allies, and the Athena program, a Boston-Cambridge high school female mentoring group, chose the Feminist Portrait Project’s wide range of faces to help move feminism beyond its typical white, middle- class stereotype. While some pieces featured short, universal statements like, “I am a feminist because I believe women’s rights are human rights,” from Hannah M. Bacon ’14, others were more personal. Underneath the portrait of Amanda I. Morejon ’13 were the words: “I am a feminist because when I look at my sister and see how beautiful, powerful, and inspiring she is, I don’t want to see a single thing get in her way.”

The gallery also featured photographs and quotes from Harvard’s professors and teaching fellows. One piece offered a personal statement from Harvard Psychology Professor Steven A. Pinker, which read, “the ongoing liberation of women after millennia of oppressions is one of the great moral achievements of our species, and I consider myself fortunate to have lived through some of its major victories.”

In addition to perusing the walls of the venue, event attendees were also able to enjoy spoken word performances that addressed feminist issues ranging from rape to the use of sexist language. Mariel N. Pettee ’14 specifically expressed her anger at society’s obsession with body image. “She looks to you for ‘Thinspiration’/ Now she’s close to starvation / Her beauty reduced to an extremization / Stripping her of any self-admiration / You shout, ‘You’re fat unless you’re near hospitalization’ / And now her self-worth is just a BMI computation,” she recited.

By linking racial oppression with his role as a feminist, NFN Teake ’12 took a different approach to the Feminist Portrait Project’s theme: “Stand Up, Stand Out.” “Need to connect the dots / See the ideological threads that connect narratives of racism, classism, sexism, imperialism together / In the collective psyche each perpetuates the other / We are all implicated / Only difference is whether or not you see it,” he said.

Audience members were also encouraged to take advantage of the open mic and share their own thoughts. At one point during the evening, an inspired Casey J. Thomson ’13 stood up and declared her love and feminist hopes for the art of rap. “It’s time to use rap or whatever medium you want to spread the message that women don’t just have to be booty and boobs,” she said.

Similarly, Willa P. Zhou ’11 offered feminist tips suggesting, for instance, the use of ‘she’ as the default pronoun in essay writing. While she encouraged female participation in public speaking and classroom discussions, English graduate student Chris Barrett imagined even greater progress, saying, “I can’t wait until half of Congress consists of women.”

With such audience participation, many attendees felt that the Feminist Portrait Project was an effective way of presenting a united feminist front on campus and merging activism with art. “It was nice to see so many people show up in support of feminism ... [it] is often a dirty word that people don’t want to be associated with because they think they [will be] ostracized,” said Sarina M. Patterson ’14. “The speakers were fantastic, and spoken word is a great medium for empowerment for minorities of any kind.”

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