Support feminism? At Westmont you're politically incorrect
April 13, 2006
Applying to Westmont College as a young feminist is a bit like turning up for a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee meeting with a Spiro Agnew button affixed to your muumuu, which is why Katie Gaddini cuts such an interesting figure.
In high school in Palm Desert, Gaddini was in favor of women’s rights and women preachers, views probably in the minority among Westmont students.
At Westmont, students go to chapel three times a week, most often to hear men speak and preach. On the rare occasion that women do speak, some undergraduate men become uncomfortable.
“I’ve heard stories about guys who won’t go into chapel when there is a woman speaking,” Gaddini said, while sitting in the lounge of her college dormitory with a friend. “Or (they) will walk in and then walk out. Just say, ‘Oh it’s a woman speaking.’ “
A couple of years ago, one undergraduate man wrote in to the school newspaper, The Horizon, to protest that Westmont women were dressing too provocatively.
“(T)hose shorts, that spaghetti strap, those low rise pants” were an unhelpful distraction for him and other men on campus. “Help us to be better brothers in Christ by putting that halter top back in the closet and opt for the T-shirt instead.”
Aside from occasionally having to listen to and ogle women, Westmont men have it pretty good. In fact, most of the women are on their side: The place is packed with attractive young Christian women who are looking for a man to be their future family’s “spiritual leader.”
What’s a young feminist to do? Start a feminism club, of course, which Gaddini recently did, calling it Par Vox. At the beginning of the year the club posted pink posters on campus to announce its first meeting.
“Feminism:” some of the signs read, “the radical notion that women are equal.”
None of the posters were “offensive,” said Gaddini, “but just kind of out there, especially on this campus. And the reaction was outrageous.”
She heard that people ripped down the signs and threw them into the bushes and men she knew approached her and asked her to take the signs down. Men, in particular, she says, were “confused” and “offended” by the signs.
Gaddini’s friend, Christen Shaw, piped in, “I think they didn’t get quite past the general idea: hot pink signs, just for women, the word ‘feminism.’ They were thinking, ‘They’re mad at us’ or something. They didn’t even read the signs, probably. Just like, ‘Oh, they’re trying to be separate from us. They’re putting us down.’ “
Shaw paused for a moment. “We weren’t.”
“I think the word feminism also carries a lot of weight with it, especially in the Christian realm,” Gaddini said. “A lot of it has to do with (that) some people interpret scripture to mean that women are supposed to be submissive, they’re supposed to be inferior. They are supposed to be the, quote unquote, weaker sex.”
Gaddini disagrees, which made me wonder what she thinks of being a student at Westmont. Perhaps surprisingly, Gaddini expressed her “love” for the college.
“I feel like it’s been an incredible environment for me. . . . Yes, I have criticisms and there are things that frustrate me and irritate me but I wouldn’t even know to criticize them or be upset with them if I hadn’t come here. . . . I would never even have developed those passions . . . and been given the training to be aware or frustrated.”
And when I asked the obvious follow-up question — whether or not she dates Westmont men — Gaddini laughed. “I do, (even though) it’s not my preference.”