Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are! Feminist Coming Out Day Q&A

As you may know, this month marks Feminist Coming Out Day 2011, a holiday which encourages awareness of issues affecting the feminist community. We're super excited and honored to be a part of this year's festivities, and we recently spoke with organizers Lena Chen and Abby Sun to find out more. Read on for their answers!

Tell us a bit about Feminist Coming Out Day (FCOD). What does the project entail?

Abby: Feminist Coming Out Day is a campaign to spread awareness about gender equality. It was started at Harvard in 2010 by a queer students organization and a feminist group as a way of encouraging conversation about gender and demystifying feminism on campus. We made shirts and buttons that said "This is what a feminist looks like" and exhibited photo portraits and testimonials in an exhibition called the Feminist Portrait Project.

This year we wanted to bring FCOD to schools across the U.S. A lot of feminist blogs have been supportive of FCOD (which we're very grateful for), and we reached out to many colleges and schools. The majority of schools have found us, though! To support these schools and everyone who wants to participate, on feministcomingoutday.com there are links to buy the "This is what a feminist looks like" shirts, buttons, and stickers, and information for FCOD events around the U.S. Anyone can and every feminist should submit a portrait and a statement for our online Feminist Portrait Project. In support of feminist media, proceeds from the merchandise will go to Bitch! (ed.'s note: THANKS!)

FCOD portrait
A portrait from the project. Submit yours here!

Why do you think it's important for people to "come out" as feminist?

Abby: When the label "feminist" is abstract, it's easy to vilify feminists and believe that the feminist movement is irrelevant. Putting a face to feminism is powerful and empowering. When young people "come out" as feminists, it shows that young people believe the movement to be engaging and relevant today, and that they too have a stake in gender equality. When people of color identify as feminists, it pushes back against the portrayal of feminists as a white woman's movement. And so on. When the face of feminism is diverse, compassionate, and inspiring, it shows that feminism is diverse, compassionate, and inspiring—that there are indeed many feminisms and feminists in every community.

What is your ultimate goal with the project?

Lena: Our initial goal was a pretty simple one: to replicate on other campuses the amazing vibe and energy that Harvard students experienced when we did the pilot version of Feminist Coming Out Day. We've been blown away by the response, which has really exceeded our expectations, so perhaps it's time to reassess and come up with even more ambitious goals for next time.

Was there a pivotal moment in your own life when you came out as a feminist? What happened?

Lena: My own feminist awakening happened during my sophomore year in college. I started writing Sex And The Ivy, a blog about my sex life and my experiences as a Harvard undergrad. In retrospect, I should have anticipated the incredibly sexist backlash. At the time, however, I really didn't think that anything I blogged was terribly controversial, and as a straight, cisgendered woman, nothing about my sexuality is even outside the norm. I quickly learned that even in this day and age, transparency about sex will make you a target for slurs and insults, which have little to do with your prose and everything to do with the fact that attitudes about female sexuality remain quite conservative. It took me a long time to learn how to deal with the criticism I received (both on campus and from the press), and that process is what led to my identifying as a feminist.

Everyone here at Bitch is really excited to be the charitable partner for FCOD this year. When and why did you decide to have a charitable component to FCOD?

Lena: We knew we wanted to make t-shirts available, since they were really popular when we did Harvard Feminist Coming Out Day in 2010. But if we were going to go through the trouble of getting them made and sending them out, then we figured that all this time and energy should go toward a good cause. That's why we decided that we should give away the proceeds to a feminist organization that represents the sort of movement we hope to build—one that's inclusive of the multitude of voices within women's rights.

Are there any events coming up that our readers can participate in? How can people get more involved?

Abby: Check out our events page, which we will keep updating with events happening on different college campuses throughout March! Some schools had spring break during the week of 3/8, so there will be more FCOD events event though our official day of celebration has passed. We love it when people hold their own FCOD events at their schools and in their communities—whether it's a t-shirt making party, a dessert discussion, or general awareness-raising. We also still have shirts, buttons, and stickers left. If anyone has an idea or questions, please email us at [email protected]

How do you see this project continuing beyond the end of March? What's next for FCOD?

Lena: We've learned so much and met a ton of really enthusiastic student activists as a result of organizing this year's campaign. We want to make this project even bigger and better now that we have momentum going and allies on our side.

Abby: FeministComingOutDay.com and the online Feminist Portrait Project will remain up, and we encourage everyone to continue to submit to that project. We can't be happier with the positive response to FCOD and are excited to coordinate FCOD again next year!

Comments

4 comments have been made. Post a comment.

A few peoples' take on this on tumblr

"This is the thing that makes me itch raw red holes in my skull. Is THIS what *f*eminism really and truly is???? REALLY??????

"As it stands, this relentless drive to prove that feminism really and truly is inclusive—this is a movement of self-vindication. This is a movement to prove all the years of critique wrong. This is a movement TO ABSOLVE WHITE WOMEN OF THE TRUTH.

"THIS IS NOT ABOUT ENDING GENDERED VIOLENCE IN ALL IT’S FORMS. THIS IS NOT EVEN ABOUT FUCKING “GENDER EQUALITY.”

"It is a movement to prove white women don’t have exclusive domain over feminism—and it is a movement LED BY WHITE WOMEN. (speaking generally here, I don’t know who the person is leading the “movement” in this article—thinking about the years and years of blog posts saying how important it is to call yourself a feminist and how “i’m not a feminist, but…” is the single most important problem facing feminism, etc).

"that feminists spend SO FUCKING MUCH TIME on this—and then donate their money to good causes—instead of asking people who are on the brunt end of gender what is important to them and then working together to share resources/knowledge/skillz to *achieve what is important*—just proves the irrelevance of feminism in the lives of people who need a gender based movement.

"half the women in my life are on welfare, working multiple part time jobs, have sole custody of the kids based on absenteeism rather than denying custody to fathers—they want to know why men don’t have to pay child support (yeah, working under the table means you don’t have to pay), why they can’t ever find child care, why they’re treated like shit at the welfare office, why they have to take days off of work to be subjected to asshole treatment at the office—they have amazing gender based critiques of the way they are treated and their lives—

"and *F*eminists want to be *sure*. Extra special 100% SURE—that the women in my life remember to call themselves feminists. be SURE of that. while you’re hustling some second hand cheap off brand fucking peanut butter at the local charity for dinner. that the feminists just gave all their donations to.

"where’s that GIF of the chick eating lemons cuz she’s a bitter bitch??"

(via bunnehears)

"Reblogging for ALL OF THAT BADASS COMMENTARY ABOVE. EVERY WORD OF IT.

"And can I ask, while I’m here, that people please stop fucking appropriating “coming out” for experiences that have nothing to do with queerness? I know it’s tempting and all to think that telling someone something about yourself that’s generally invisible is the same as coming out as a queer person, but as someone who has gone through that both with my sexual orientation and with things like having an invisible disability (and, yes, in the past, with being a feminist), I can tell you, they are not the same goddamn thing. They may look similar on the surface, but they are not similar. No hetero cis person is gonna be able to “get” that experience the way they so often think they do, and they have got to stop appropriating my language."

(via alliterate)

"^Commentary.

"Looking on the bright side: I got lumped into “And so on.”. I’ll call that luck (I could have choked otherwise. Either from laughter or from the rising bile.) And while I’ll happily advocate for many things feminism stands for (or claims to, at least) and will try and show my friends why equality matters I will not tell or ask anyone to call themselves feminists.

"Not as long as there are Feminists that keep denying me my right to exist, to self-identity, and to participate."

(via abigq)

Its March 21st...

How come this has been posted now? I did not know about this event, and I am a little sad that I missed it....

It's all month long!

Hi Crystal,

Not to worry--these events are taking place throughout the month of March. That means there are ten days left!

____________
Kelsey Wallace, contributor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

A Note From Feminist Coming Out Day

Hi there,

Lena here from the Feminist Coming Out Day/Feminist Portrait Campaign. First of all, just want to say that I appreciate these comments being made available to us. I share a lot of the same opinions expressed by those in the comments above, though I think there are some misconceptions about who is organizing this project and what its goals are. First of all, my co-founder Abby is a full-time student and I am a writer. We're both doing this on a volunteer basis and we are literally a two-person team so there are some limits to what we can do.

Oftentimes, mainstream feminism isn't inclusive and "diversity" is just a tag line that people tack on without creating any substantive change. Part of the reason why we started this project is because we wanted to actually DO something to give ourselves and our fellow comrades an opportunity to discuss the ways that gender manifests itself in our lives. We wanted to create an accessible and democratic platform especially for those who aren't typically heard: those who can't work in feminist media or organizations, those who might not have the time or resources to organize, those who are considered "too young", etc. And we count ourselves within these groups. No, this project does not mean that the lives of poor women are going to be radically different (and trust me, I know this firsthand as a first-generation American and a first-generation college attendee), but it's our small contribution to the dialogue. It's not meant to be representative of the entire feminist movement before us.

We do not work for feminist organizations, we do not have grant money, our participants are primarily students, and my co-founder is not even old enough to legally drink. We do have plenty of privilege, but whiteness is not one of them, and we don't feel like we represent or are represented in the feminist "establishment". We created the project because we felt frustrated that gender inequality is frequently only brought up in the context of issues affecting straight, white women. We know that feminism has historically excluded and even harmed marginalized people, but we're not responsible for what other feminists have done in the past. What we want to do is to take that history, learn from it, and do something to remedy it. (And while I disagree with plenty of feminists who do things like deny people the right to "exist, self-identify, participate", I find myself disagreeing with a lot of political liberals as well, and I'm still personally comfortable calling myself a feminist and a liberal.) We don't expect everyone to adopt the feminist label, nor are we saying that labels ought to be priority #1. Ultimately, labels are secondary to the goal of ending oppression in all its forms.

We're very much open to feedback and have encouraged people to email us with their concerns. For example, the original title of the event used "coming out" because of the involvement of the Harvard queer student group in its conception, but we decided, in response to concerns about queer appropriation, that we ought to change the name of the national campaign for next year. That change, however, wouldn't have happened without open dialogue and the willingness of our critics to work with us in collaboration. We can be reached at [email protected] (though we're running behind on answering messages right now) and would be happy to address these and any other questions/concerns/etc.