‘Free to [be]’: a forum for feminism

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‘Free to [be]’: a forum for feminism

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A student-led week of events welcomes idea exchange

Issues on the line: On display in the quad, the Clothesline Campaign promotes awareness of sexual assault with t-shirts decorated by students as part of Free to [Be] week. Ryan Quinn/ Photo Editor

You’ve seen the fliers, banners, and photos around campus; you’ve seen the events and shares on Facebook; now you’re seeing the t-shirts everywhere.  Free to [be] week is here.

Free to [be], started by SLU students Annie Cameron, Liz Vestal and Renee Richter, is a week-long movement with the vision of exploring feminism on SLU’s campus.  While events take place every day, the week features keynote speaker Sandra Kim, CEO and co-publisher of Everyday Feminism, one of the world’s largest feminist-digital-media sites, which hosts more than 4.5 million visitors per month.

Kim started the week on Monday night with her keynote address, “Self-Love and Social Justice: Why They’re Interdependent and How To Do It,” which focused on the relationship between self-love and social justice and  how self-love both complements and strengthens social justice work.    The address opened by focusing on the toxic messages that individuals take in on a daily basis, from friends, media, culture, family, school, and even strangers, and how feminism gives the tools to recognize the ways these messages come about on a daily basis.  Bringing in her own definition of feminism, which encompasses more than just females, to the conversation of self-love, Kim emphasized the “belief that every single person has the inherent self-worth regardless of age, class, gender, sexual orientation…everyone has the right to self-respect.”  Her speech ended on the topic of social justice, discussing how to productively and respectfully learn about other people’s struggles, how to be more inclusive with justice work, and ways to productively start conversations with people who share similar privileges at the marginalization of others.

On Tuesday, March 17, Kim led a workshop that reinforced several of the themes from her speech the previous evening.  Drawing attention to how loving one’s self is important in learning to love others, Kim had participants discuss and contemplate areas of their lives where they practiced both self-love and self-rejection. throughout her two events when people do not love themselves, they often don’t believe that they are good enough to get involved in activist work.

Self-love: Students hold Free to [be]’s signature stylized brackets on Tuesday, which featured a workshop of self-love by Sandra Kim, founder of Everyday Feminism. Courtesy of Free to Be Facebook page

“We chose Sandra [Kim] as a speaker because she emphasized how loving yourself leads to better loving others,” said Vestal. “I feel this topic is often ignored in other workshops and speeches pertaining to social justice, even though it is pivotal to our well-being. Self-care is the best thing you can do in order to be your best for others.”

On Tuesday, Dr. Chryl Laird, of the Political Science department, facilitated the teach-in and discussion, “Who Gets to be Free? The Politics of Self-Identity”, which explored how privilege, discussed in the context of the social, cultural and ideological influence of a dominant group, affects the intersections of identities that don’t always fit the “norm.”  In a discussion that covered topics ranging from the racial issues at play in the Oscars, to “talking black” and who should be the next Daily Show host. Participants discussed the dominance of a mainly white, male society.

Wednesday featured a more intimate approach to discussing feminism, where students conversed in groups.  Wednesday was a student-led discussion concerning feminism’s impact on participants’ lives.  Thursday’s events will dive into the experiences of women in the workplace.  The discussion will feature SLU administrators, faculty and staff, as well as women from the St. Louis community, who will lead the dialogue.

The weekend includes a movie screening of “A Path Appears” at 6:30pm on Friday, March 18. The film follows reporters and actors/advocates as they uncover methods of gender-based oppression in the US and around the world.  The week concludes Saturday, March 19, with a 5K race for “Take Back the Night,” a non-profit that raises awareness and education for sexual assault awareness and prevention; a performance by Get Lit, a non-profit that works to promote literacy through spoken word; and the “Free to [Dance]” party.  Information for the week’s remaining events can be found on the group’s Facebook page, “Free to be.”