A diverse group of people carry the baton of a century-old movement

Protesters call for a boycott of the Beverly Hills Hotel, citing what they say is the Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei's oppressive human rights record. The Feminist Majority Foundation led the protest across the street from the hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Monday, May 5, 2014. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

Ask a feminist born after the 20th century what they think of a movement that predates their great-grandparents and they’ll give answers as diverse as the millennials who now fly what was once a pink-only flag. The movement has since matured and grown to include blue, green, and other colors which reflect its new, younger more international and male members.

However, as the movement has expanded throughout its more than 100 years of existence to a broader swath of men and women who – although they call the US their home – have an international background the goal has expanded as well.

One of those women is Audrey Aradanas, a first-generation naturalized citizen and president of the University’s affiliate chapter of the National Organization for Women.

She said how today’s feminist view themselves is irrelevant. Because the ones in the 18-34 year-old demographic, are at a crossroad of ideas, that are as broad and far reaching as their home countries.

From the issues of transgender people – equal access to public restrooms – to those of women of color – freedom from pay discrimination, Aradanas boiled down the feminism movement to a simple statement, one that aimed to unite feminist-identifying millennials around the idea that enough is enough.

But now in its current iteration, feminism is about more than equal rights, said Aradanas, who was placed two grades ahead of children her age when she moved to the US.

“It’s about liberation,” said Aradanas, the 20-year-old daughter of two Filipino parents, of the feminist movement.

She said today’s feminists seek liberation from any kind of oppressive force that keeps people from being equal, which includes sexual assault on college campuses and anywhere else it happens.

Santoli, a peer educator with the VEP, has two years of experience educating students about consent, double standards and other issues related to sexual assault.

He said the ideals VEP promotes tends to follow feminist guidelines.

“We teach how not to be bystanders,” said Santoli, a. “And that it’s never the victim’s fault.”

VEP staff have led in education and outreach efforts, according to Cathy Akens, the University’s dean of students.

VEP has taken on a number of actions around the topic of consent and helping people understand the meaning of sexual assault and sexual violence, Akens said in her capacity as a leader of the “It’s On Us” campaign..

VEP is only one component of the campaign, which FIU adapted to after President Barack Obama asked colleges and universities nationwide to liberate female and male students from the threat of sexual assault while campus.

It is only the most visible piece of FIU’s effort to curb sexual violence, according to Akens.

Along with its “pantherized” T-shirts, buttons and other paraphernalia, the University’s campaign has brought together VEP, Psychological Services, Orientation and other departments to educate the community about the impacts of sexual assault.

“It says sexual assault is an issue that is important to all of us,” Akens said. “It’s not saying that women have to end sexual assaults, or men be responsible, or students, faculty or staff but everyone.”

Another of the movement’s male members is Alex Orta, a junior English major, but he like Santoli disagree with the idea of “male feminists.”

“A feminist is anyone who believes in the social, economic and political equality of women,” said Santoli, a junior elementary education major. “I don’t see the point or need in explicitly adding ‘male.'”

Orta said the use of “male” can help ease the mind of some men, but finds it unnecessary.

“It does give the impression that there are men for the feminist movement which makes it easier for other men to follow in support,” said Orta, a 22-year-old born to two Cuban parents. “But gender shouldn’t matter as far who is supporting feminism.”

Orta said the men who shunn feminist-identifying men, for what he thinks are reasons that exist in the subconscious, should accept that women give birth to all people and “everyone has to acknowledge that we live in the world together.”

“They are unsupportive of the status quo being challenged,” said Orta, 22, who is of Cuban descent. “Meninist obstruct the progress of equality.”

Santoli said classifying feminists based on gender leads to the assumption that the default feminist is a female, which he said isn’t true.

“I think everyone anyone can and should be a feminist,” he said.

Santoli, the gay 21-year-old son of an American-born Cuban mother and Italian father, said all people – men included – should wear the feminist label with pride rather than join the “meninist” movement, which he said was created to spite the feminists.

Instead Santoli suggests that those men, which he said are a part of a counter-movement, should advocate for issues and speak out against institutions that have real impacts on men’s lives such racial equality, the rights of transgender men and women and the prison-industrial complex.

Santoli said it was the feminist movement’s overarching goal of equality that appealed to him most.

“At its root it’s about equality of the sexes,” said Santoli.

He said that in a much more connected world it is important to him to find an avenue through which people who are mistreated can speak out against oppression.

“In a global society we need to be aware that our way of living is not necessarily the right way, or the sole way,” Santoli said.

The movement, which also has roots in the late 60s and early 70s, was a fight for equality, but more specifically making white women equal to their white husbands, fathers, brothers and even sons. And although black Americans in the South were in the middle of their fight for equality, it didn’t mean much for women of color, according to Aradanas.

Aradanas, a dual-degree seeking student – one in women and gender studies – pointed out a difference between who the movement officially recognized decades ago, and who it has in the last five, 10, or even 20 years, which could be considered its third wave. But she also said it is difficult to compare the feminist movement’s different waves in terms of their objectives because people of the first wave faced different socio-economic problems than those of the second and third.

She said the first wave of the movement recognized Western-born white women, but today’s feminists are focused on the rights of all women but pay special attention to women of color.

“It’s a recognition of more than just a certain group,” said Aradanas, a 20-year-old born to two Filipino parents. “Women of color are finally being recognized.”

TruLe’sia Newberry, 20, a senior double majoring in international relations and political science, said the movement’s previous waves “excluded some of the pertinent needs of women of color.”

“In the beginning it was pretty exclusionary,” said Newberry, a newly hired program assistant in the Women’s Center. But she has been a student leader at the office, working without pay, for two years.

Newberry said there was a big paradigm shift that occurred in the early 90s that eventually forced the movement to include the women of color.

The people who have chosen to be feminists are united in their diversity as they wave the flag of a movement that originally started with the purpose of making white women equal to white men – with the right to vote, own property, and other equality issues.

Among them are women’s reproductive rights, which has been a fight for the childbearing gender and the world’s majority population since the late 1800s, before the Titanic was ever designed. Feminists continue to fight for access to procedures and medicine related to the reproductive rights of women; even as Gov. Rick Scott prepares a measure that will make it harder for women in Florida to have an abortion.

Orta believes in the feminist movement because he knows and sees that women struggle in society, whether it be in their careers or otherwise. But he also believes there are certain pockets of the feminist movement who seek power, rather than equality.

“Instead of equalizing their idea is to take over,” Orta said.

He said those women should focus more on shedding light on women’s issues, but added that it isn’t wrong to propose solutions.

“They shouldn’t suggest and say that’s the only option,” Orta said. “But they should be careful in suggesting solutions to problems.”

Akens said the University will launch in summer B an online educational training course that all incoming students are required to take. The University used student-athletes, personnel from Residential Life and Orientation and peer advisors as part of a pilot program before it decided to make the course mandatory for freshmen and transfer students.

Sexual assault, despite having existed long before feminism’s first wave, is only one of 21st century feminists’ battle cries; another one is the struggle for gay and transgender rights, not only in this country but the world.

“It’s also about being able to have choice,” Aradanas said of feminism. “To be who you can or want to be.”

However, there is still a debate among these women and men about whether gay rights is a feminist issue.
While Aradanas does think gays and lesbians are a part of the movement because it is a broad ideology that empowers all minorities.

“Gay rights do not only apply to lesbians,” she said. “But transgender gay rights as well, and others. All of this, affects women.”

But Newberry disagrees with adding the rights of gays and lesbians under feminism.

“That’s not on the list of priorities,” Newberry said. “Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, asexual and intersexual people can be a part of the movement but the things they hold as a priority do not intersect gender equality and feminism.”

Although Student Media was unable to find a transgender University students to comment as of this writing, FIU is on course to make itself more friendly to people who currently identify as female or male regardless of their gender at birth.

Access to gender-neutral restrooms and the option to sort through dorm rooms based on open housing, which allows any student to room with another regardless of gender identification are potential issues to the transgender community at FIU.

However, according to staff from the University’s Student Affairs division, the completion of a transgender bathroom on the first floor of the Graham Center, and the open housing option in a few of the University’s residential facilities – are tentatively set for fall 2015 and fall 2016, respectively.

For Akens, who was an undergrad at the University of Toledo studying communications and later a graduate student at Michigan State University studying college and University Administration during her first experiences with the feminist movement, it is both a female and male empowerment movement on issues that are important to them, like ending sexual assault.

“It’s about empowering women and men to make positive systematic changes about issues that are important to women and men,” said Akens, who is also one the University’s leaders in their “It’s On Us” campaign.

Akens said the University is engaging in other areas to empower potential victims of sexual assault, which has also become a rallying cry for feminists throughout the country.

“I was fortunate to be able to engage in discussions around topics of human rights, diversity and feminism,” she said. “Those conversations helped shape my thoughts on these issues, as well as how I saw myself in relation to the world around me.”

As someone who lived through the movement’s first and second waves, she offered some advice to young men women to remember what the previous waves did if they want to someday see change in their lives.

“The history of the movement gives context to where we are now,” Akens said. “And helps us, hopefully, appreciate the voice that we have to advocate for the changes that have to happen.”

She said students should take advantage of where they are to help themselves become better people and take on issues that are important to them.

“In a University setting it’s an ideal opportunity to become more educated about issues, to become involved in actions or activities to increase their own awareness,” Akens said. “What better avenue than on a University campus to be involved and do those things?”

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