As you may know, this month marks Feminist Coming Out Day 2011, a holiday which encourages awareness of issues affecting the feminist community. We're super excited and honored to be a part of this year's festivities, and we recently spoke with organizers Lena Chen and Abby Sun to find out more. Read on for their answers!
Tell us a bit about Feminist Coming Out Day (FCOD). What does the project entail?
Abby: Feminist Coming Out Day is a campaign to spread awareness about gender equality. It was started at Harvard in 2010 by a queer students organization and a feminist group as a way of encouraging conversation about gender and demystifying feminism on campus. We made shirts and buttons that said "This is what a feminist looks like" and exhibited photo portraits and testimonials in an exhibition called the Feminist Portrait Project.
This year we wanted to bring FCOD to schools across the U.S. A lot of feminist blogs have been supportive of FCOD (which we're very grateful for), and we reached out to many colleges and schools. The majority of schools have found us, though! To support these schools and everyone who wants to participate, on feministcomingoutday.com there are links to buy the "This is what a feminist looks like" shirts, buttons, and stickers, and information for FCOD events around the U.S. Anyone can and every feminist should submit a portrait and a statement for our online Feminist Portrait Project. In support of feminist media, proceeds from the merchandise will go to Bitch! (ed.'s note: THANKS!)
A portrait from the project. Submit yours here!
Why do you think it's important for people to "come out" as feminist?
Abby: When the label "feminist" is abstract, it's easy to vilify feminists and believe that the feminist movement is irrelevant. Putting a face to feminism is powerful and empowering. When young people "come out" as feminists, it shows that young people believe the movement to be engaging and relevant today, and that they too have a stake in gender equality. When people of color identify as feminists, it pushes back against the portrayal of feminists as a white woman's movement. And so on. When the face of feminism is diverse, compassionate, and inspiring, it shows that feminism is diverse, compassionate, and inspiring—that there are indeed many feminisms and feminists in every community.
What is your ultimate goal with the project?
Lena: Our initial goal was a pretty simple one: to replicate on other campuses the amazing vibe and energy that Harvard students experienced when we did the pilot version of Feminist Coming Out Day. We've been blown away by the response, which has really exceeded our expectations, so perhaps it's time to reassess and come up with even more ambitious goals for next time.
Was there a pivotal moment in your own life when you came out as a feminist? What happened?
Lena: My own feminist awakening happened during my sophomore year in college. I started writing Sex And The Ivy, a blog about my sex life and my experiences as a Harvard undergrad. In retrospect, I should have anticipated the incredibly sexist backlash. At the time, however, I really didn't think that anything I blogged was terribly controversial, and as a straight, cisgendered woman, nothing about my sexuality is even outside the norm. I quickly learned that even in this day and age, transparency about sex will make you a target for slurs and insults, which have little to do with your prose and everything to do with the fact that attitudes about female sexuality remain quite conservative. It took me a long time to learn how to deal with the criticism I received (both on campus and from the press), and that process is what led to my identifying as a feminist.
Everyone here at Bitch is really excited to be the charitable partner for FCOD this year. When and why did you decide to have a charitable component to FCOD?
Lena: We knew we wanted to make t-shirts available, since they were really popular when we did Harvard Feminist Coming Out Day in 2010. But if we were going to go through the trouble of getting them made and sending them out, then we figured that all this time and energy should go toward a good cause. That's why we decided that we should give away the proceeds to a feminist organization that represents the sort of movement we hope to build—one that's inclusive of the multitude of voices within women's rights.
Are there any events coming up that our readers can participate in? How can people get more involved?
Abby: Check out our events page, which we will keep updating with events happening on different college campuses throughout March! Some schools had spring break during the week of 3/8, so there will be more FCOD events event though our official day of celebration has passed. We love it when people hold their own FCOD events at their schools and in their communities—whether it's a t-shirt making party, a dessert discussion, or general awareness-raising. We also still have shirts, buttons, and stickers left. If anyone has an idea or questions, please email us at [email protected]
How do you see this project continuing beyond the end of March? What's next for FCOD?
Lena: We've learned so much and met a ton of really enthusiastic student activists as a result of organizing this year's campaign. We want to make this project even bigger and better now that we have momentum going and allies on our side.
Abby: FeministComingOutDay.com and the online Feminist Portrait Project will remain up, and we encourage everyone to continue to submit to that project. We can't be happier with the positive response to FCOD and are excited to coordinate FCOD again next year!