Battle in State Press at ASU Centers on Female Columnist Confession: ‘I Don’t Get Feminism’

A fascinating feminism battle royale of sorts has played out in recent months within The State Press at Arizona State University. It boiled over again this past week, sparking some impassioned arguments and related reader and social media reaction.

A pair of new columns in the A-list ASU campus newspaper deliver starkly different lines of thought on feminism in 2013. Both can be summarized by their headlines. The opening shot: “Feminism is Just Not for Me.” The counterpunch: “Feminism is for Everybody.” Game on.

ASU student and State Press columnist Annica Benning begins the back-and-forth by admitting upfront, “I don’t get feminism.” As she sees it, the movement has spurred “reverse discrimination” against men, in part by pushing companies to superficially “seek out women for the sole purpose of appearing diverse.”

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She also declares many social and sexual parts of the modern feminist movement silly, including rants against old-school male chivalry (such as picking up the first-date tab); the rise in the female-empowered hook-up culture at the expense of committed relationships; and the growing fights among women on the career fast-track.

As she contends about the latter, “I know it’s a tough economy, but there are plenty of jobs to go around. If women helped each other out and worked together they could accomplish great things. Instead, they push each other down. … If feminism focused more on building up women, I might give it a chance. Until then, the last thing I want to be called is a feminist.”

Benning’s bent boasts almost 600 Facebook likes and nearly 60 site comments penned by both fans and foes. As one critic contends, “Feminism. You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

That is the main line of attack unleashed by Benning’s fellow ASU student and State Press columnist Christine Truong in her full column retort, published two days later.

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At the baseline level, Truong’s take: Inequality for women is not made-up fodder for mindless rants. It is REAL, existing for hundreds of years on a scale so massive it turns the stomach and in parts of the world that fall far outside the “small circle of already privileged women whose social positions will almost always ensure their comfort and protection.”

As she writes with an inspiring amount of gusto:

“Perhaps those who are fatigued by ‘rants about equality’ consider it exhausting because they’ve never had anything about which to rant. … If the issue of inequality exists for them, they’d realize that bigotry ranges from the subtle, sometimes imperceptible patterns that only emerge after systematic research, such as wage inequality and glass ceilings, to the dangerously hostile. It is every time the media tells the story of a rape with sympathy to the rapist: ‘What was she wearing? How many sexual partners does she have, and why was she out so late at night?’ … Feminism has always been about getting people, whether male or female, to recognize women as fully developed human beings in their own right, and not as a complement to the other sex. It is certainly not about getting a free meal with the added bonus of ‘putting down men.'”

This feminism-themed tête-à-tête follows a somewhat similar State Press debate last spring, spurred by a female student’s “anti-feminist” column. In the buzzworthy piece, headlined “Men, I Feel Like a Women,” Haley Mills outlines the consequences of what she sees as women’s increasingly careerist priorities:

“We insisted on being allowed in the workplace only to find out that now we are stuck there. … We try to have careers at the expense of our children, who then have to be watched by Amber, the 13-year-old down the street who feeds them candy for dinner and lets them watch ‘Teen Mom’ before bed. On the flip side, we are having careers at the cost of not having children … And that is why I am an anti-feminist. Men don’t know if we want them to hold the door or if we can hold it ourselves. Men don’t know if they can ask us to marry them or if we consider that some sort of sexist slavery. Men don’t know who pays when we go out (let me clear that up while we’re here: they do). The lines are blurred. The movement is over. We’ve taken it too far.”

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Others disagreed. In one State Press response column, headlined “Sorry for Leaving the Kitchen,” Isabelle Novak explains, “[F]eminism teaches that embracing feminine characteristics is acceptable. The modern feminist is not a radical, bra-burning hippie who instigates volatile protests. The modern feminist can be a businesswoman unafraid to wear high heels to work, or a man who respects consensual sex. I am a modern feminist, because I believe my destiny is as significant as any man’s. It isn’t predetermined by sexist gender roles.”

The debate continues.

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