Folks are always surprised to learn that I am not a feminist. After all, an A.B. from Smith College is usually, in the eyes of U.S. academic theologians, a dead giveaway for a thoroughgoing, Gloria-Steinem loving, Vagina-Monologues-performing feminist (I did read in the Vagina Monologues, but I still don’t call myself a feminist). My experiences at Smith College do not represent the experience of every woman of color who has attended the institution. Also, I do not wish to make any claims about how Smith College as an institution fosters any particular dynamic, but only to recount, from a distance, some of my personal classroom and social experiences with white feminism and how this influences my decision not to identify with this movement. Indeed, feminist thought and theory is the zeitgeist at Smith, an almost mythical land where women and women’s issue form the core of the curriculum in every major. While male students are allowed to take credit courses at Smith, the institution stands strong in its commitment to fostering women’s voices and leadership. Smith, like many other outstanding women’s schools, thus presents a tremendous opportunity for its students to piece together their voices, weaving colorful canvases of beliefs and ideas held together with the firm conviction of the fundamental dignity and equality of all people. Other institutions can learn much from Smith, and her many sisters, about the necessity of accounting for women’s experiences in any serious contemporary scholarship. Overall, I must admit, Smith was pretty awesome.
But my time at Smith was not perfect. Being a racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, cultural, and religious minority at Smith wasn’t easy. My studies were unfettered by gender inequality in the classroom, but the subtle, and sometimes overt, discrimination of more-privileged women who identified themselves as feminist filled this ideological and power vacuum.
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