As most Clarkies know, Cynthia Enloe is a well-known political scientist and gender analyst. She was a professor at Clark and is still an integral member of the Women and Gender Studies department. Now she is even more well-known on campus for her vivacious lectures on gender analysis that can be applied to so many sectors of life. I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Enloe to discuss her journey in becoming a feminist. I asked her what we can do to promote gender equality at Clark. The state of women has changed quite a bit throughout her life experiences. Professor Enloe went to Connecticut College in the 60’s when it was still a college for women only. “I deliberately went to an all-women’s school because I felt that I would be free from social pressures in that kind of environment. The striking thing about that was that I had almost all women professors which would not have been the case at most other co-ed schools at the time. The second striking thing was that there was no women’s movement on campus. I never heard the word rape. I never said it out loud or even in conversation. I had seen it written and would recognize it but it was never talked about. And of course, the words domestic violence and sexual harassment were not part of our vocabulary at that time.” She said that even though she was in an all female environment, men and men’s history were still the focus of study.
In the early 1980’s things changed quite a bit when one of Professor Enloe’s colleagues made her sexual harassment experience public. There was an uproar that was sparked on the Clark campus. Women started coming out and realizing that the experience of sexual harassment was a lot more common than most would think. So many women didn’t have the word to describe what they were experiencing and were feeling very alone.
As the conversation went on, I asked her what we as college students can do to promote gender equality even further on our campus and in our world. Her response was a little surprising. “The best thing that you all can do is to call yourselves feminists. So many people are afraid of using that word because of all of its loaded political meaning, but all it really means is that you are pro-equal rights for women. If more people start calling themselves feminists, more people will be aware of the true meaning of the word, and change will start there.”