A few weeks ago, author and activist Naomi Wolf arrived at Colgate’s substantially male-dominated campus to discuss modern day feminism with its students. She was invited to speak by Colgate’s Panhellenic Council and was greeted with a packed Persson Auditorium by an audience comprised almost entirely of upperclassmen women, ourselves included.Wolf is the author of several books, including the bestseller, “The Beauty Myth” (1991) and has also made a career as a political consultant, most recently working for the Al Gore campaign in 2000. Wolf is one of the most well -known faces and voices in the “Third Wave Feminist Movement” which is centered on the notion that there is no universal female identity that can represent a single definition of feminism. Something that has contributed to Wolf’s success, and that has resonated strongly with us, is the way in which she compliments her own strong-willed feminism with plenty of well-mannered femininity, always remembering her manners in her role as a
We were surprised, however, to see her momentarily exchange her calm and complaisant decorum for a much more poignant and outspoken response when she was informed that there is no Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) nurse within twenty miles of our school and that a rape victim is forced to be driven thirty-five minutes by Campus Safety to receive
Before arriving at this point, however, Wolf delivered a wonderful lecture dressed in a flattering but conservative dress/tights/boots combo, solidifying her relatable image. In her lecture, she explained that many college-age students shy away from the word “feminist” due to some of the negative stigmas attached to it. She then explained how we are at the dawn of a new era of feminism known as Third Wave
Feminism. Her strategy of relating and encouraging young feminists such as ourselves
to understand the historical contexts of our predecessors, while also looking for
solutions to today’s problems, was refreshingly supportive and subdued.
After an encouraging 45-minute lecture in which she credited Third Wave Feminists for being more “inclusive” and “sophisticated” than previous generations of feminists, the question and answer session began. We clearly found her praise and fresh approach appealing because, unlike many lectures at Colgate, hands flew into the air. One of the first issues raised was the two to one ratio of fraternities to sororities that persists despite the ever-increasing female interest in Greek Life at Colgate. This particular dynamic of Colgate’s social scene confused Wolf and led her to question how and why Colgate women tolerate such inherent inequality.
Finally, one student’s comment brought up Colgate’s lack of a SANE nurse and the hoops one must jump through to have a rape kit administered properly. As an attempt to justify the University’s system, a Campus Administrator in the audience pointed to the relatively low number of officially reported rapes on campus. Apparently, Colgate does not see three officially reported rapes on campus as sufficient enough to bring a SANE nurse to campus. One of the most shocking things that this comment brought to light is that not only is this system flawed, most of the student body knew nothing about it. Wolf was horrified by these circumstances and passionately urged her audience to continue to take action towards changing this and improving the overall
atmosphere for women on campus.
While we as senior women are very aware of the many layers of gender inequality that prevail on our campus, it was not until we saw how appalling Naomi Wolf found Colgate’s policy on rape kits that we truly understood its implications. If a woman who is often identified by her unshaken poise and composure regarding feminist issues is so disappointed by Colgate, imagine how a rape victim must feel when her or she actually experiences the circumstances created by this system.