On Femininitea

On Tuesday, Dean Eileen Galvez, Director of La Casa Cultural, sat down for a “Femininitea” at the Women’s Center about her values, her path to Yale, and her beliefs about womanhood.

While the Yale Women’s Center’s Facebook event described the event as an opportunity to talk to Galvez about “her life, her work, and her feminism,” Galvez questioned even the label of feminism, bringing up the tensions — especially in academic institutions — between theory and experience in the politics of womanhood.

“Am I a feminist? I don’t know. Am I a mujer? Yes, and I think I own that more,” Galvez mused to about twenty students seated in plush couches in the Women’s Center. Despite the relative absence of the word “feminism” in Galvez’ upbringing, the support and power in the framing of modern feminism was easily recognizable in the experiences she relayed to us. “My mom ran the show,” recalled Galvez.

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For many women of color, the language of feminism has only recently been added to a culturally accessible vocabulary, and yet it describes the same sentiment of ownership and strength that has long been present in their lives.

And while the uncertain affinity that Galvez expressed on Tuesday for the term “feminism” is shared — often silently — by a large swath of women across the country and the world, it feels insulting for many others who take the theory and goals of feminism for granted, especially in predominantly-white academic institutions like Yale.

In practice, feminism is not always supported at selective institutions, but in theory, it nearly always receives loud backing, particularly by administrators and figureheads who can’t afford to be seen as dismissive of gender equality. Among college-age students, the assumption is even more stark. It raises more eyebrows if someone doesn’t identify as a feminist than if they do, regardless of gender. At Stanford, the Women’s Community Center distributes stickers visible on laptops and light poles throughout campus, declaring “Of Course I’m A Feminist” over a glittery silver background. Whether or not it’s displayed, the messaging of liberal college culture is nearly identical wherever you look.

The often-taboo doubts regarding feminism that Galvez openly discussed raise powerful conversations about unity among women. Does the solidarity that the word “feminism” provides outweigh the complicated white origins — and largely white path — of feminist theory? Are we at a point where we can share this word and put our full, collective energies behind it? And is the new language and focus of “intersectional feminism” an afterthought or a genuine, long-term shift in priorities?

As feminism continues to evolve, these are the questions that, if left unaddressed, could build a worldwide coalition with a fractured foundation. Galvez’ Femininitea serves as a timely reminder that we must constantly check the assumption that women in higher education, whether students or faculty, are unanimously on board with feminism — and whose feminism we are referring to, anyway.