Duke Students Ask "Who Needs Feminism?"

The women of Duke University's class Women in the Public Sphere, as taught by Professor Rachel Seidman, created an unusual social media project. While they did post an actual poster explaining who needs feminism and why, the class also used social media in this campaign to bring awareness to a college campus about feminist issues. They're employing traditional methods and the new media of Facebook and Tumblr to spread the word from Duke to all over the world. Recently, two of those students, Ms. Sarah Kendrick and Ms. Rose Sheela, sat down with us to discuss the project, being a contemporary feminist, and the future of this unique project.

LW, Inc. - How did you guys get into feminist studies and decide to major in it?

Kendrick – I’m actually a Political Science major and I’m getting a certificate in Markets and Management. However, this past summer, I participated in this Duke Engage Project where the topic was, like, women and leadership and helping to create activist leaders. So then after that summer, I took a couple courses in that because I was interested in it.

Sheela – I’m also a Political Science major with an Art History minor. I guess in my sophomore year I was involved in a theater production at Duke that coincides with the Women’s Scholars Program. So that’s when I started getting into women’s studies and I’ve taken many classes throughout my junior and senior years. I could probably minor in Women’s Studies, and I took this class because I’m a Political Science major and this was the first time I could fuse Women’s Studies with that major.


LW, Inc.Okay, can I ask you what your favorite class has been in Women’s Studies. I know it’s probably this one where you did the project but…

Kendrick – I would say this one and I took one with Aida who is in charge of the Women’s Center. We did it with our Duke Engage group and we took it with eight people and it was just…it was…I liked the class.

Sheela – I obviously really enjoy this class but I also took Feminist Art of the 1970s.

LW, Inc. – Oh, really cool.

Sheela – Yes, it was wonderful. I took it first semester, and it was probably one of my favorite classes at Duke.


LW, Inc. – Good. So, I know I read the story [about Who Needs Feminism?] from Mashable and some of the other sites like Facebook, but for everyone at home, how did you guys start to decide this in your class? Or come up with the idea, I guess.

Kendrick – Well we first started…well the professor said we needed an idea to change something and it wasn’t just something on Duke’s campus. There were, I think fifteen, of us and we had a lot of different ideas, and we didn’t know how to decide. So I think we decided that, well, some of the ideas were bystander intervention and training like that.

Sheela  –  …Or a campaign for the Women’s Center and I think this is kind of where this came from.

Kendrick – Yeah.

Kendrick  –   So we put something together where we thought…we kind of wanted to get to the root of problems.  So we picked this topic because we were kind of disturbed on campus by the lack of people on campus who believed that feminism was still relevant and the lack of people who thought women’s issues were still relevant. So we thought that if we could address that issue, we could kind of, uh, indirectly benefit things like innocent bystander intervention and other things we were working on and make them more…make people more into them.


LW, Inc – A big part of your campaign is using social media and really using a lot of the tools that kids our age or, well, your age are using like Facebook and social media. Was that something you guys came up with first or were you like…how did you decide to use Facebook and other things to propagate this?

Sheela – I think we all just acknowledged the fact that that is the most popular way to get the word out right now. Everybody is on some sort of social media network.  I mean we did a lot of posters as well, but you see a lot of people walking down the quad and they’re not looking at the posters. They’re on their phones, checking their Facebook or checking their Twitter. And so we all are aware of the power of social media, and I think that was our first go-to.

Kendrick – Yeah, the one with the posters were like in people’s faces but like she said, in case people didn’t see them, we wanted a stable place to put all the posters collectively.


LW, Inc. – So where do you keep the bulk of them [the posters]? Are they on the way to the student union or…

Kendrick – They’re everywhere. All the buildings have bulletin boards.

LW, Inc. – Exactly.

Kendrick – So basically our goal was all those areas.

[img_assist|nid=240|title=Who Needs Feminism Poster Shot on the Quad|desc=|link=none|align=center|width=400|height=276]


LW, Inc. – So I have to ask, was there something endemic to the climate at Duke, something specific, any offenses on campus that inspired this?

Sheela – I think that the gender climate at Duke has been unwelcoming for women for a while. And I think that President Nan Keohane started the Women’s Initiative in, I believe it was 2003?

LW, Inc.  – Yeah, I remember that.

Sheela – I think that’s when people really started thinking about that, the role of women on this campus and how the atmosphere on campus affects the women as they go through their undergraduate education. I also think that---

Kendrick – That recently the administration decided to continue Nan Keohane’s efforts to look over this climate, to look at that experience---the undergraduate experience---so they basically went back and examined everything. I don’t think they have all the results yet but that’s something the administration is attuned to and something they’re aware of and trying to fix. Well there’s just been little things, well, a lot of things, I guess. If you see The Chronicle [school newspaper], these things go back to the gender climate.

Sheela – Last year there was this whole media obsession with the Duke fraternity emails that were degrading to women.

LW, Inc. – Oh, I didn’t know that.

Sheela – Um yeah so I think that slowly so people, I think that, it’s kind of gone in waves. So I guess when Nan Keohane started the Women’s Initiative then people were aware of the gender climate and then it went down a bit and now, I think, it’s more up here.


LW, Inc. – So do you think that could be because traditionally students came to Duke for business---well they used to---and for engineering, which are traditionally male-dominated fields? Sort of like a “boys’ club” mentality?

Kendrick – I don’t think it’s just Duke; I think it’s a lot of other places.  This puts the focus on it, but it’s a lot of other schools.

Sheela – Definitely.

Kendrick – There was something, I think, with the fraternities at Harvard or Yale last year, something where they were publishing bad comments and I think it just happens everywhere. But I don’t know if it’s something were more attuned to here because we’re fighting back against it. I don’t know.


LW, Inc. – Can you tell me whom you’re trying to affect. I know it’s to obviously raise awareness but can you tell us where this is leading?

Kendrick – We had a meeting about that last night actually. The original goal was to bring awareness on campus that feminism was still needed and that issues related to feminism are still relevant today. We thought that was a crucial thing for people to understand in order for more gains for women to be made. Because you can’t make more gains if people don’t think there’s anything for them to gain.

LW, Inc. – Yeah.

Kendrick – So we kind of discussed last night that we wanted to stay with that as our goal. And keep that as our goal but we think that would help benefit other organizations that are doing more particular things, and to also do this on a wider scale outside of Duke’s campus.

LW, Inc. – Good.

Sheela – I noticed a lot of stigma around the word “feminism” and I think that and this goes with what Sarah was saying and that people need to be less afraid to identify themselves as a feminist. I think people are talking about it a lot more and saying “Yes, I am a feminist” and that the people next to them will be encouraged to do the same. It’s just a power by numbers thing here. And, you know, to show that feminists aren’t these bra-burning activists. They can be your best friend, the male football player could be a feminist.

LW, Inc. – I like that because everyone has that stereotype that it’s a woman who never shaves and is this Earth hippie mother type.

Sheela – Yeah.

LW, Inc. – And you can’t be that and be successful or be a serious woman.

Kendrick – Exactly and that was one of our main goals. We looked to for who to put on the posters. We looked for a diverse group; you know, it could be anyone.

[img_assist|nid=241|title=Feminists Can Be Anyone|desc=|link=none|align=center|width=400|height=267]


LW, Inc. – And I noticed that when I looked online that you had men and women of, well obviously, different ethnic backgrounds, which I thought was really cool. And what do you think of how media protects women or media portrayal of women? That’s really what our site is about, honoring portrayals of strong women, which seems not to be around as much anymore.

Sheela – I think that the media representation of women right now is why we need a discussion like this. Often times, it’s very inaccurate. I’m not trying to define “the true female experience” but I just think that it doesn’t represent women correctly. I think that some of the reality television shows that are just projecting these characters that are doing…

LW, Inc. – Yeah, yeah.

Sheela – That are projecting these stereotypes of women so that’s what everyone assumes all women are like.

Kendrick – I think that maybe where our campaign can come in with that is that some people aren’t aware of these stereotypes. They think that’s what’s going on and it kind of influences them. Our campaign is like sending a message to show why people need feminism. I think that goes back to things that the media are proliferating. So it kind of helps to go back to bring awareness that this isn’t for real.

LW, Inc. – That you just don’t fit into “the bitch,” “the slut,” and “the shopaholic” type stereotypes.

Sheela – And that virgin/whore dichotomy that’s really everywhere. I do think that the media is making some progress. I do think that there are shows that have women in very powerful roles but I don’t think it’s in reality [tv].


LW, Inc. – Do you have any shows that you like that have good portrayals of women?

Sheela – I think a personal show…I think 30 Rock because it focuses around Tina Fey even though…I just think that having her be a leader on the show is a big deal. She wrote the show, she produced the show, and I think it’s a great step.

Kendrick – Can’t think of anything off the top of my head right now except that.

Sheela – I’ll think of one.

Kendrick – (laughs) Yeah.

[img_assist|nid=242|title=Tina Fey as Liz Lemon from 30 Rock|desc=|link=none|align=center|width=400|height=264]


LW, Inc. – I’ve seen in The Chronicle a backlash as well. I think it was an image they defaced so it read “I need feminism because sandwiches don’t make themselves.”

Kendrick – It wasn’t in The Chronicle but there was another one that said that “I need feminism because I get tired of watching girls try and play sports.”

LW, Inc. – I heard about that one too. So how do you handle that [the backlash]; how do you relate to that.

Kendrick – I think we kind of decided that the backlash helps to show and prove our point: that we still do need feminism. For people who were saying that women’s rights and issues weren’t relevant that someone just put it up on our campus so, yeah, that’s relevant. That transfers over to the Facebook page. We’ve seen comments and people have been attacked, just groups. It shows people who don’t know that there are these people out there, and this like creates a culture, the culture we have today.

[img_assist|nid=243|title=Defacing the Message in a Backlash|desc=|link=none|align=center|width=400|height=247]


LW, Inc. – Why do you think people do the hate speech? Why do you think they’re so reactionary to the idea of women trying to be strong? Or at least be equal?

Sheela – I think…I think sometimes people, not offended, but by any group making a powerful statement.  I mean, I don’t know the type of people who defaced our posters.

Kendrick – I think, sometimes, a lot of people are uninformed which is what we’re trying to do here. They don’t know why women are at a disadvantage or this and that. They need to be informed, and, like, out of ignorance they do stuff like that. Part of the goals of our campaign was not just to target people who were feminist but to also target people on the fence who come to feminism and realize why women’s issues are still relevant. But I don’t really know…

LW, Inc.  – No, that’s fine. It’s funny because people are like “Oh that’s funny!” I feel if it were a different type of group in certain ways, hopefully people wouldn’t deface it, like if it were based on religion or race, those types of beliefs. Again, some people are always going to be jerks, but I think it’s more acceptable to make fun of women.

Kendrick – Yeah, that’s interesting because on our site people were saying…people don’t say that religion or other ideologies are unimportant but people are always saying that feminism is unimportant or target that, but I don’t see the same target toward religion. And there are extremists involved in that [feminism] but there’s also extremists involved in religion, in anything. It’s funny as you were just saying because I feel that feminism gets treated differently than other ideologies.

LW, Inc. – Exactly.

Sheela – I think that it’s because those other ideologies are for both men and women.


LW, Inc. – Let’s see. So what do you think that being a feminist means to you all, like as your own personal ideology on it? In your own lives, I mean, what you do as yourselves?

Sheela – I actually never realized I was a feminist before I came to college because I grew up with my parents…my mother is the leader of the house and the breadwinner of the family---

LW, Inc. – May I ask what your mother does?

Sheela – Yeah, she’s an attorney. She’s the sole supporter of our household and so I always knew that that wasn’t the norm but I didn’t think that that was so unusual. And so I just assumed I could do anything I want and not face discrimination because my mother has been able to do that, but she has faced discrimination. I guess I was just pretty naïve. And so, at this point, being a feminist to me means that I will always stand up against discrimination based on gender and I will also fight for equal rights. I want to pursue a career in law and I realize it’s an uphill battle and sort of a men’s club, so I believe that my identity as a feminist will help me really break some barriers for my future career.

LW, Inc. -  And you [Ms. Kendrick]?

Kendrick – I think when I was little my mom was a feminist but my brother, sister and I were always treated the same. I never realized any gender issues like in our family so I think I was raised away from those values. Then when I came here, I did a Duke Engage project that was basically structured around feminism. I feel as though I am a feminist. I don’t know where it came from or why I have it but I feel I just need to stand up for things related to these issues and I think that’s just in my everyday life. If I hear something my friends say, I try to like challenge them or something like that. I just think that by being a feminist I can do it in little ways. You don’t have to be a big activist or anything like that.

LW, Inc. – That’s a good point to have too. People think it has to be a march or a bra-burner, but it can be as simple as saying “I don’t like that comment. I don’t really appreciate you talking that way.” Or something similar.

Kendrick – Yeah, exactly.

Sheela – The individual protest is the most important sometimes. The individual standing up to friends or choosing not to follow a specific role that, you know, you don’t have to actively be on the picket lines to make a difference.

[img_assist|nid=244|title=Feminists Come in All Kinds|desc=|link=none|align=center|width=400|height=249]


LW, Inc. -  I think I saw in The Chronicle and even in the Facebook that some of the girls who were majoring in Women’s Studies had their parents saying “Why are you majoring in this? Why aren’t you taking a real major you can get a job with?” When people talk about Women’s Studies, they think about it as a flight of fancy or something trivial. So what’s your take on people saying that women’s classes aren’t worthwhile?

Kendrick – People say the same thing, that cultural anthropology classes are a waste of time. That and African American studies or Latin American studies. It’s all studying history and it’s all studying a certain part of our culture that needs to be studied and if someone’s not studying it, then it’s going to go ignored.

Sheela – (chuckles) And this might be a really biased answer, but I think that you know a lot of the academic discourse is rooted in a patriarchal society so why not step over the line to a Women’s Studies class so that you can analyze things more critically. Because you have different perspectives, and so I don’t think it’s a waste of time.

Kendrick – I think going off our class, we’re like studying in a patriarchal society. I know that, like personally, I never studied any issues related to women or women’s history in high school. It’s like you kind of have to go out of your way to learn that stuff. Unfortunately, main stream classes aren’t really addressing it.

LW, Inc. – Well, I feel like with history, you have to unlearn history when you get it in middle school and high school because it’s very much a patriarchy story.

Kendrick – Over this summer was the first time I really learned about these topics, and I remember feeling kind of like robbed, like what? This is the first time I’m learning about this? I’m like twenty years old so I think these classes are necessary. I think we’re stressing that.

Sheela – I think that, intellectually, some of my most challenging and intellectually stimulating classes at Duke have been some of my Women’s Studies classes. We’re studying feminist theory and it’s not easy.

Kendrick – You get back from class and you’re like over thinking things and trying to figure things out.

Sheela – (laughs) Yeah.

Kendrick – It really is---

Sheela – Thought provoking and inspiring.


LW, Inc. – And where do you see this campaign going beyond this school year? I mean, how do you hope you’re going to be able to keep it up, those of you who are still around at Duke, or if you’re not, how you can help out via the social media and remain in contact?

Kendrick – I think we decided last night that we definitely wanted to keep it going. We’d just seen so many comments, people saying “Please don’t let this end.” But basically we just want to continue our goal as I told you before. Right now we’re looking to contact Duke Communications to get contact to some press that are bigger like The Huffington Post and The New York Times something like that. Try to really get our name out there. Right now we’re mainly targeting Facebook and blogger type people.

LW, Inc. – Yeah, exactly.

Kendrick – And we want to get it out to more people because we think it’s a good message and that it’s going to be beneficial to a lot of organizations that are tied to women’s issues.

[img_assist|nid=245|title=Another Message of Equality|desc=|link=none|align=center|width=400|height=267]


LW, Inc. – Cool and do you have any last words our readers or anything else you would like to get out there?

Kendrick – We’re working on a website. We bought a domain name last night.

Sheela – Yeah.

LW, Inc. – That’s amazing.

Sheela – We’re working on a website and we hope to have it up and running kind of as a hub so that people who are not avid social media users can visit our site and be directed other places, and it should be up and running in the next couple weeks.


To find out more about this movement, check out their Facebook, Twitter, and their Tumblr, which contains more posters. When they get their site up, we'll be sure to add that link to our recommended link section and let our readers know.

Also, the image of Liz Lemon is owned by NBC-Universal and is not property of Legendary Women, Inc.

Similarly, all the images from the "Who Needs Feminism?" campaign are property of their creators.