Feminists and equality enthusiasts gathered in 41 Wyllys Ave. on Tuesday, April 8 for the first meeting of the Wesleyan Feminist Art and Thought Collective. The group, started by Isabel Alter ’17 and Tess Altman ’17, aims to foster discussion and creativity regarding feminist thought and practice. The Collective hopes to provide a space for discussion of modern and campus feminism.
“[Coming] into Wesleyan as a freshman, I was interested in feminism and gender issues,” Altman said. “I went to the club fair, and I didn’t really see a defined group for that. I know there are specific groups…[but] there weren’t a lot of things we saw that were a consistent feminist dialogue.”
Alter agreed that despite the generally liberal atmosphere of the University, she felt a lack of feminist conversation.
“I feel like sometimes when I talk about feminism with people, it’s just me ranting,” Alter said. “This would be a space for me to not rant and to get a lot of other people’s perspectives and peer opinions.”
The Collective aims to help create a dialogue on campus about feminism and to give those who identify as feminists a safe place to discuss their beliefs, opinions, and creative projects.
“[I like] the idea of interacting with my own ideas and beliefs,” Altman said. “I feel like if I’m not forced to discuss them, I think, ‘Oh I have these feminist ideas and I’ll set them over here.’ And if someone says something sexist, now I’ll go on my rant, but I feel like this will be a very interesting space to actually interact with these things that I hold as beliefs and possibly change them and get new perspectives. It’s partially a way of us seeking out people we want to talk to.”
Alter and Altman chose to make artistic projects an integral part of the Collective’s activities in order to make it more inclusive and expressive, as well as help spread awareness about the group’s mission. Alter stressed that they are hoping an artistic component will also appeal to those who are interested in feminism but don’t wish to express their ideas through dialogue.
“There is space for discussion; that’s part of what we want to do,” Alter said. “But just a regular, weekly discussion…doesn’t have a thing that sets it apart. We think that the art component allows people to explore how they feel about feminism and gender identity in a way that works for people who aren’t interested in sitting and having a conversation, and also that’s longer term.”
Altman further believes that art will help connect their group with individuals from all types of feminism who may not have otherwise felt like the Collective’s conversation was in line with their own.
“We didn’t just want to have this be a book club,” Altman said. “We want it to be a place where there is dialogue, but the reason that we did include art in the title is that a big thing we’ve noticed is a problem with accessibility of feminism. It does often tend to be cis-gendered, white, female, and we’re really interested in reaching out to these other groups of people at Wesleyan. There are a lot of really interesting mediums that I think would be very useful for reaching out to these groups that might not typically be interested in the umbrella of feminism.”
At the meeting, Altman and Alter particularly stressed the importance of appealing to various types and identities of feminism.
“Our feminism is not everyone else’s feminism,” Altman said. “We are very aware that we are two white girls and that there are a lot of different types of feminism. We know there are people that don’t like the term; there are different feminisms that don’t like being shoved under one umbrella term. We are aware of that and hope to make other people aware of that and talk to people about their feminism as well.”
The meeting also included a discussion of the group’s direction, which Altman and Alter want to be decided by all members.
May Treuhaft-Ali ’17 attended the meeting and stated that she believed a group that helped feminists to actively practice their beliefs would be an extremely positive force.
“There’s a difference between being a feminist as a noun and an identifier and feminism as a practice and how I practice being a feminist in my everyday life,” Treuhaft-Ali said. “I feel like a lot of times I believe in gender equality and feminist values and sometimes I don’t practice them in my everyday life. Sometimes it’s really hard. I think having a consistent group to encourage each other to practice it on a daily basis [is important], and I think art is a great way to do that.”
Anna Bisikalo ’17 expressed excitement about the existence of a feminist group focused on creativity and its potential for activism.
“Academic feminism is really important and has its place, but I also feel like stats and articles can only do so much,” Bisikalo said. “It’s very important to hear people’s stories and perspectives in any way that they feel comfortable presenting them, whether that’s through painting or writing or photography or anything. I think that would really [motivate] people who aren’t normally inclined to engage in feminist discussions have maybe an emotional response and feel more invested in the movement and the ideas behind it.”
The meeting also included a discussion of collaborating to spread feminism on campus with other groups, such as QueerWes and those working to create a Gender Resource Center.
“There’s a lot of feminist groups on campus or groups of women who have clubs that pertain to their own interests, but I think there has been a lack of organization between these groups….” said Yiyang Wang ’15. “It’s great to have an open forum that’s more relaxed where people can just come and go and you just get to see the faces of other people who care about the things you care about.”
Alter emphasized that the group is open to all, and anything related to feminism can be discussed, especially what feminism is and what it means in modern society.
“The idea that we’re working with right now is feminism as equality between all genders,” Alter said. “We definitely are willing to question that definition and even our use of the word, but for now it’s what we mean as feminism.”