March is Women’s History Month. Across the U.S., there will be marches and demonstrations to mark the struggle of women to establish equality. Students will study the Nineteenth Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. They’ll hear about strong women who made history in the fields of science, medicine, literature and politics; almost every middle schooler will hear about Marie Curie and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and probably Michelle Obama or Hillary Clinton. They’ll discuss feminism, which is the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.
Maybe, they’ll learn about the waves of feminism. First wave feminism got women the vote and property rights. Second wave feminism focused on the workplace, sexuality, family and reproductive rights. Third wave feminism built on both ideas, and celebrated choice, as not all women want something besides a home and family. Fourth wave feminism, which we’re in now, is heavily influenced by technology, specifically social media; the focus of the fourth wave is justice for women and opposition to sexual harassment and violence against women. #MeToo, One Billion Rising and The 2018 Women’s March are all examples of fourth wave movements that began on and gained steam through social media.
Walk a Mile in Her Shoes is a byproduct of fourth wave feminism too, and Tech held its own Walk this week, to kick off International Women’s Week. SAB sponsored a viewing of “Wonder Woman.” The Department of Professional Studies sponsored a lecture by Dr. Tennille Lasker-Scott (Feminism vs. Womanism: Examination of A Sisterhood). There was a Women’s art exhibit this week and tonight, there will be a Women’s Leadership Conference. All of these activities are great ways to raise awareness about women’s issues and highlight conversations and contributions about and by women.
None of these activities were sponsored by women’s organizations. There’s only one women’s organization on campus, in fact, aside from a variety of sororities–Arkansas Tech University Women in S.T.E.M. There is no chapter of American Association of University Women, the collegiate arm of National Organization of Women. There are no local women’s organizations –i.e., ATU Women for Something—and based on the registered organizations of theLink, no political groups solely for women. We have ministries, academic clubs, political organizations, international organizations—we even have a quidditch team and chapter of DU.
But no inclusive, progressive women’s organization.
Is it bad that there are no women’s organizations on campus? Well, yes and no. If every woman on campus feels represented, safe, has a platform for her beliefs and honestly believes that all of her needs are met by what’s available currently, then that’s fine. But we suspect that’s not the case. The S.T.E.M. organization, while a wonderful advancement, is limited to women in the sciences and technology. They need a platform; women in those fields are vastly underrepresented. But, it’s not all inclusive, necessarily so. The sororities on campus, such as Delta Zeta or Phi Mu, are also not inclusive; membership is discretionary, and again, necessarily so. And while there is a service component, they are not necessarily political organizations; their interests are more varied. The academic clubs on campus are linked to a degree field; again, a specific population, and some may only have a handful of women members.
Here’s just one way a women’s organization could help. Tech has a population of 11,191; about 32 percent of students live on campus, which comes out to 3,581. If we assume that half of those students are women, that’s 1,790. 1 in 5 women has been sexually assaulted, according to every searchable database; that number, for the Tech campus, is 358.
358 sexual assaults. In the last three years (2015-2017), there were 6 total reported incidents on the Tech campus, according to the Clery Report. Is it possible that campus is just that safe? We’d all like to think so. But what is more likely is that women who were sexually assaulted didn’t report it. Sexual assault is grossly underreported; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, counted nearly 1.3 million incidents for 2010. Data from the FBI, which gathers its statistics on rape or attempted rape reported as a crime by local law enforcement, counted 85,593 in 2010, according to an article on the Huffington Post. While any organization could—and should—participate in raising awareness, discuss preventative measures, or help teach men not to rape, a women’s organization is more likely to do so, as women are disproportionately the targets of assault.
AAUW, for example, has helped women on more than 100 campuses get access to reproductive health care and held workshops on how to build a better resume or negotiate a higher salary. Why do we need a women’s organization to do that? Because college age women on many campuses, our own included, are in rural areas, where access to birth control and abortion are limited, and women still only earn $.78 for every $1.00 a man earns. And two things happen, more often than not, when those two facts are brought up; someone will say abortion is wrong, and someone will say that women earn less because they don’t do the same work. A women’s organization, with a body of likeminded individuals working toward a common goal, is more likely to address these issues, that specifically relate to women, than any other organization. Not only that, it creates a safe space for women’s voices to be heard.
Where is that organization? One (or more!) that is for and about women’s issues, that looks to make progress across the board? It’s waiting to be founded. Any progress for women on campus must be student led, or it means nothing. The administration can’t tell us what we need, nor can our professors; they can guide us, of course, but if what we want is to use our voices, then we must use them ourselves. Thankfully, it’s easy to register an organization; forming it is a different story. But all it takes is one woman saying to another, “I think we need ___________here on campus. What do you think?” and they’ve got a place to start.