'Feminism' is not a dirty word: UB Undergraduate Society of Feminists work toward equality for all
Seven community agreements govern feminist conversation at UB: Ouch, oops, explain; Don’t yuck my yum; Move up, move back; Las Vegas rule; Speak from “I;” Enough, let’s move on; One MC, one mic.
In other words, members are expected to speak clearly and from personal experience, respect each other’s perspectives and sensitivities, let others speak, keep conversation confidential and stay on topic. The rules highlight the importance of respecting one another and helping others’ voices be heard. They also summarize the values of the UB Undergraduate Society of Feminists, both in and out of weekly meetings.
The Undergraduate Society of Feminists, or Undergrad SoFem for short, began weekly meetings at the beginning of this semester. They meet at 5:45 p.m. every Thursday to discuss important and often sensitive issues surrounding feminism, including consent, sex education and even religion.
Each week, the girls arrange 15 to 20 desks in a circle. The seats almost always fill quickly, with undergraduate students from every walk of life. Attendees introduce themselves by name, year, preferred pronouns and another fun fact about themselves, which have ranged from favorite ice cream topping to fictional doppelganger.
The officers facilitate with discussion questions that keep conversation respectful and focused. Members share opinions, perspectives and personal anecdotes, educating others and making their voices heard.
But involvement doesn’t stop in Clemens 103. Undergrad SoFem extends its reach through activity both on campus and off.
They can often be found volunteering with Planned Parenthood, offering information in the union on voter registration, safer sex and birth control and handing out free condoms and lube.
They are focused on educating others on women’s experiences and ending the stigma surrounding female sexuality. They also raise awareness on Planned Parenthood as an organization, which is mainly known for providing abortion but also offers breast cancer and STI screenings, birth control and other valuable services.
Members of Undergrad SoFem also participated in Take Back the Night, an event focused on ending sexual, relationship and domestic violence.
Undergrad SoFem has been making strides toward a world of equality since the spring, even though they didn’t become an organized club until this semester.
The Society of Feminists had a graduate school chapter, but it wasn’t until Emily Rieger and three other girls, all named Nicole, joined together to form a more laid-back club for undergraduates to gather and discuss feminism.
Nicole Blidy and Nicole Jones have since graduated. Nicole Caine, a global gender studies major, still attends meetings when she can.
Rieger, a senior global gender studies major and president of the club, has had a long journey with feminism. She attended a progressive elementary school that educated her on world injustices and made her socially aware from a young age.
When she got to college, Rieger’s experiences with both internal and external misogyny led her to “eat, breathe and sleep” feminism.
Early meetings of Undergrad SoFem were disorganized and sparse. The original members wanted to establish the club through the Student Association and the paperwork was daunting. The group didn’t have a real following.
A couple members, however, stayed committed and came to every meeting to discuss issues important to them.
Brittany Cantor, a senior biological science major and secretary of Undergrad SoFem, became involved while she was Rieger’s roommate. Rieger introduced her to feminism, something she always felt connected to but never had a word for.
“I didn’t understand the concept of [feminism], but as a woman I don’t see myself below or above anyone,” Cantor said. “My decisions are my decisions.”
A lot has changed since the group’s genesis. Topics are established well before meetings and posted on the club’s Facebook page, which currently has 149 members.
Katie Weaver, a junior legal studies and philosophy major, heard about Undergrad SoFem last year, but was never able to attend meetings. She was happy to hear that the club was continuing to meet and has been attending weekly meetings since the beginning of the semester.
“What initially attracted me to [the club] last year [was] this organized environment for conversations I was already having, with both like-minded friends and family members I vehemently disagreed with,” Weaver said. “I liked the prospect of going beyond discussion and actually engaging in action to address concerns on the feminist radar and the potential to focus that action toward my university community.”
The group celebrates progress made by second wave feminism during the ’60s and ’70s on issues such as bodily autonomy and gender roles, but primarily emphasizes the third-wave ideology of intersectional feminism – equality across all genders, races, classes, abilities and sexualities.
“[Feminism] definitely maybe started as a white women’s movement, but there have always been women of color in the background that haven’t had their stories heard who have also been active,” Rieger said.
The club’s mindset is that feminism is for everyone and draws the attention of not only women, but men as well. They have discussed toxic masculinity, a societal mindset that demonizes femininity and synonymizes manhood with stoicism, violence and sexual aggression.
Andy Moran, a senior physics major, started coming to meetings because he was friends with the club’s officers. He kept coming because he believes feminism can be just as beneficial to men as it is to women.
“The interpretation of feminism that I have is sort of informed in my life as [that] just as there’s pressure on women to be a certain way, there’s also pressure on men to be a certain way,” Moran said. “I think feminism kind of liberates you from having those societal pressures of being one way or the other.”
The club has bigger things in the works for the end of this year as well as next semester.
“We just really want everyone’s stories to be heard and everyone’s identities to be considered,” Rieger said. “And hopefully we’ll be able to not only discuss these topics that intersect and can relate to a lot of people, but do activism that also helps.”
Grace Trimper is a contributing writer and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org