Valenti opened her lecture by asking the audience, “What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word ‘feminist’?”
“Bitch,” came a call from the audience. “Feminazi,” came another. “Hairy.” “Bra-burning lesbians.”
Valenti listened to the adjectives with a laugh, and then proceeded to demonstrate to the audience how these negative portrayals of feminism have existed since the suffrage movements and have become internalized in how we perceive the movement.
“There’s an awful lot of effort put into discrediting feminism,” she said. “My work is aimed at making feminism more accessible to young feminists and exposing the double standards so common in society today.”
Valenti proceeded to diffuse the common perception of feminism as being moot simply because women already had the right to vote and work for equal pay.
“Let me give you the reasons why I’m a feminist ... this month,” she said.
She proceeded to give the audience recent examples of sexism in society: women being objectified in advertisements, unpunished instances of hate crimes against transgender women and laws allowing hospitals to deny women abortions even in life or death situations being considered in the House of Representatives. She also brought the issue closer to home by bringing up the issue of campus rape -- she revealed that 95 percent of campus rapists are not expelled from their institutions.
Valenti explained that many of these things occur because of the double standards concerning female sexuality as portrayed by the media and anti-feminist organizations. She tried to demonstrate, through newspaper headlines and snapshots of her blog, how society is obsessed with demonizing female sexuality, while bombarding people with highly sexualized images of young women.
“These double standards actively and tangibly hurt women,” she said, reading out sections of one of her books, “The Purity Myth,” and exposing the audience to the many tragedies feminism aims at addressing.
The audience received Valenti well, laughing appreciatively at her commentary on the outrageous sexism visible in modern society.
During the question and answer section that followed, she debunked many of the common rumors and stereotypes concerning feminism, even clarifying the definition of feminism itself.
“Feminism is fighting for social, economic and political equality of the genders,” she said.
The session featured a number of young men who were inquisitive about the nuances of feminism and how feminists perceived certain traditions, such as men paying for dinner on a date.
“I wish there were more like us,” said David Baird ’14, when asked how it felt to be one of the underrepresented male members of the audience “I enjoyed it a lot, probably more than I’ve enjoyed any speaker at this college.”
The conference was organized by Keemi Ereme ’11 and the Sexual Health Educators.
“I’ve recently started reading a lot of feminist blogs, including feministing,” explained Ereme, when asked how the idea for such an event came about. “When I saw an option on the website to bring feministing to your school, I was so excited.”
Ereme’s hope was that the event clarified the common misconceptions about feminism and sparked pro-feminism activism and dialogue on campus.