Home2017-2018Feminism and social capital at Willamette

Feminism and social capital at Willamette

By Ryleigh Norgrove
Features Editor

Sitting in the Bistro on any rainy Oregon afternoon, you can spot any number of socially conscious stickers decorating water bottles, laptops, notebooks and the like. Among these there are messages such as “Cats against Catcalls” “Girl Power” and “The Future is Female.” From the looks of things, feminism is a supported, almost integral component of the average Willamette student’s views. Despite the overwhelming sticker support, clubs like “Students for Feminism” which boasts an email list serve of 152 members, have little support on campus.

As a new voice in this community, I am aware of how feminism has been presented on this campus in previous years — thus the decline in active membership. That being said, Willamette’s feminism is an interesting case study in social capital and performative allyship. At what point is it socially dictated to participate in an ideology just to avoid becoming a social outcast? At what point is a cause reduced to benefit the individual rather than the collective?

In this day and age, we are tasked with quantifying our relationships. Your number of followers on LinkedIn determines your credibility as a worker, just as the number of likes on your facebook posts quantify your status as a socially adept individual. Through this began the concept of one’s “social capital.” Your social capital — or status as a functioning member of society, can be quantified by your presentation on the internet.

We see this trend in the paradox of social media activism. On one hand, it has started important conversations and the internet has allowed voices to transcend distance and language barriers. Take the influence of student voices after the recent Parkland Shooting. Without social media activism, that movement wouldn’t have been as influential. On the other hand, the Parkland Shooting spurred a number of internet “activists” to take to their keyboards in rage. Instead of supporting the cause in a tangible way, they offered opinions on the event, rather than fostering healthy discussion.

When looking at the role of feminism on the Willamette campus, there are many valid complaints and concerns. Many say it’s not intersectional, its performative at best. Others view it as a means to advance their social standing. Due to these factors, it’s understandable how feminism takes a backburner to other causes. Despite this, we as a community have to set an example and participate in the change we’d like to see.

We also exist within the well documented “Willamette Bubble,” meaning some opinions are deemed less valid than others, and most everyone (at least those comfortable speaking up) are liberal leaning. As Features Editor for the Collegian, I have seen numerous groups bring in articles about various forms activism on WU’s campus — it’s been a central discussion on this campus. From Bishop, the Women’s March and the march against gun violence, we as a community place value in young people’s ability to create change. I’ve also heard the flipside, that WU students carry a reputation of being involved for the sake of being involved, seeing activism as more a resume builder than an opportunity to create change.

Now, I’m aware of our limits, we are small in number, and a majority of us need to be reminded of our tendency to take up space. That being said, most any female identifying individual on this campus, POC and otherwise, has been mansplained to, and talked over in classrooms. We still have issues with the Title IX process and with sexual assault on this campus. This community is still failing women, and quite frankly, though these issues seem small, they perpetuate larger systemic issues.

Not only are we failing our community but each other. If we don’t hold each other accountable for our (lack) of action, how will it change? I am not advocating for loud, angry feminism, or the WU campus to take up arms against the patriarchy — but why don’t we start with protecting, supporting and defending each other? In order to dismantle the systems we disagree with, the least we can do is not participate.



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