Feminism has become a buzzword, and along with the attention comes stereotypes — that feminists are crazy man-haters and women who don’t shave their legs or armpits.
Here on Pitt’s campus, The Female Empowerment Movement, or FEM for short, aims to break these stereotypes and bring feminism back to what it’s intended for — inclusion and equality.
Founded last fall by recent Pitt graduate Juliette Rihl, FEM defines itself as an organization designed to give women in the Pitt community the knowledge and tools necessary to be empowered in their everyday lives through events and meetings.
On campus, the group can be found advocating healthy relationships and safe sex, informing students about the University’s women’s health services in Towers Lobby and creating a dialogue about the wage gap and other issues revolving around women’s rights.
Chelsea Rader, the secretary of FEM and a junior political science and urban studies major, said FEM exists for people who don’t identify with “radical feminism.” She said the club rather focuses on intersectional feminism by creating a space for both men and women of various backgrounds to celebrate and empower women.
“I don’t think one feminist organization can be representative of the entire female population or female supporter population,” Rader said.
Together, the members of FEM work to create a dialogue about feminism through hosting viewing parties for films like “Miss Representation” — a documentary about the history of feminism — events such as Sundaes with FEM and panels on intersectionality and sex and reproductive health. By creating a dialogue within themselves, they hope to carry a positive feminist outlook to the student body.
“A big part of FEM is having a really great connection and network of strong women,” Rader said.
The members of FEM come from a wide range of disciplines and other campus organizations, which Rader marks as one of the best aspects of the organization. And Rader emphasizes that the little things FEM does — like designing their shirts to be long-sleeved so Muslim women can wear them as well — make the organization inclusive.
“It’s important that we move beyond just saying that we’re feminist, and move to action or to be productive in what we’re doing as females to make sure we’re on equal playing fields,” Rader said.
Founding member and current President of FEM Aya Shehata, a junior studying sociology, psychology and chemistry, said FEM was an organic step for her to take in her involvement on campus.
“My mom raised me to be a very strong, independent person,” Shehata said. “And she just instilled that kind of tenacity in me.”
When the organization first started, Shehata was invited to join and she enthusiastically agreed, ready to bring what her mother instilled in her to campus to empower other women.
Shehata said the experiences that the club has provided her with help her merge her career goals with her passion for feminism.
“If you’d ask me what’s the one thing in college that helped me grow as a person and find my calling […], I would say that it’s FEM and the people that I met through FEM,” Shehata said.
Shehata, using the tools and experiences she has gained from FEM, hopes to enroll in medical school and focus on women’s health in her career.
Sydney Harper, a 2017 Pitt graduate, carried her experiences with FEM into her current job at a PR office — a predominantly female office.
“There are some truly fantastic individuals in [FEM] who are killing the game, and to get the chance to plan, brainstorm and work with them has shown me that it’s important to bring that energy to every space you’re in,” Harper said in an email.
This energy and enthusiasm for the feminist movement drives FEM to host events that continue to inspire women both at Pitt and beyond.
“There’s always empowerment to be done, and FEM was a great group with whom to launch what will hopefully be a lifetime of work on it,” Harper said.
Connor Wurst contributed reporting.