Student Activism at Purdue: Dana Smith and Caleb Pirtle for Student Government

Since all of you are working on your final Community Action projects, I thought you could use a little inspiration from other student activists at Purdue who are working to create change by running for Purdue Student Government on a progressive platform that highlights many of the issues that student activists, particularly members of the Purdue Social Justice Coalition, have been working on for the past couple of years.

Dana Smith is a WGSS minor at Purdue. Do you notice anything feminist about her campaign?


Feminism’s Third Wave: New Tactics, Old Lineages


“[w]hen has it ever been a good idea to trust a master narrative?” – Lisa Jervis

What we call third wave feminism (the wave we are theoretically still riding) began in the late 1990s (though some say inklings began as early as the 1980s) and is sometimes framed as: 1) a response to the shortcomings of second wave feminism; or 2) as a generational feminism (i.e., the daughters of second wavers now turned activists in their own right). There is some truth to both of these, but these are often overly simplistic and problematic ways to think of the third wave.

Let’s turn to the Third Wave Foundation and a quote from Rebecca Walker’s (the daughter of African American writer and feminist Alice Walker) foundational article in Ms. Magazine:

“So I write this as a plea to all women, especially women of my generation: Let Thomas’ confirmation* serve to remind you, as it did me, that the fight is far from over. Let this dismissal of a woman’s experience move you to anger. Turn that outrage into political power. Do not vote for them unless they work for us. Do not have sex with them, do not break bread with them, do not nurture them if they don’t prioritize our freedom to control our bodies and our lives. I am not a post-feminist feminist. I am the Third Wave.”

– Rebecca Walker

(*In 1991, Anita Hill, an African American attorney and professor, alleged that then-Supreme Court nominee, Clarence Thomas, had sexually harassed her when he was her supervisor at the U.S. Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Despite these allegations, Thomas was appointed to the Supreme Court anyway. The “dismissal of a woman’s experience” that Walker here refers to is the dismissal of Anita Hill’s testimony. However, Hill’s public testimony focused national attention on issues of workplace sexual harassment for the first time.)


Third wave has exploded how we think of feminism and its goals, how we collaborate and define ourselves as feminists – particularly as young feminists – how we approach activism, and how and where we publish, debate, and organize as feminists around the globe. While second wavers grew up with John F. Kennedy, the Civil Rights movement, and the Vietnam War, third wavers have grown up amidst almost constant armed conflict, the Internet, hip hop, and punk.

Third Wave Feminism:

  • Continues to challenge essentialism: the argument that by virtune of one’s biological sex, one also possesses certain inherent characteristics or tendencies often associated with that sex (e.g., weakness or kindness in women; aggression in men); and the assumption that there is a universal female identity around which we can (or need to) create solidarity.
  • Sees all binaries (black vs. white, male vs. female, good vs. bad) as artificial social constructs that limit possibility, not as just “the way things are.”
  • Has worked to reclaim negative terms (e.g., cunt or bitch) and change the context of such language rather than censoring it. For example, the feminist publication Bitch magazine.
  • Recognizes greater diversity through intersections of gender, race and ethnicity, sexuality, and class (thanks to the work of second wavers like bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Maxine Hong Kingston, Gloria Anzaldua, and others).
  • Is transnational, forging intellectual, artistic, and activist links with women around the globe.
  • Has given rise to Third World Feminisms and increasing dialogues among women about what feminism looks like around the globe (and how women around the globe can help one another).
  • Embraces sex positivity; that is, sees sexual identity and sexual expression as a positive aspect of one’s life; argues for a broader definition of sex and more complex analyses of the relationship between oppression and empowerment where sex is involved (e.g., in relationships, but also in pornography, sex work, etc.).
  • Has opened new fields of study and dialogue like queer theory* (the study of queer identities, which includes bisexual, transsexual and transgender, gay and lesbian identities); post-colonial theory (the study of colonized or previously colonized peoples and cultures, e.g., Native Americans or Filipinos or the Irish, etc., and intersections of imperialism and militarism with gender, race, and class oppression); and masculinity studies.
  • Embraces technology and uses blogs and other social media to dialogue, publish, and organize around the world.

*Note: “queer” is still a controversial term and not everyone in gay and lesbian communities embraces it.


Third wave feminism has sought to bring attention to and change an even broader range of issues than the second wave, who built the foundation on which these contemporary activists have expanded, which include tackling:

  • Gender-based violence (intimate partner abuse, rape, “femicide,” as well as violence against those in gay, lesbian, and transgender communities).
  • Reproductive rights: access to adequate healthcare, contraception, safe and legal abortion, and information about choices regarding sexual health, family planning, and sexual pleasure.
  • Negative images of women in pop culture and media, including in music, art, film, and advertising.
  • Increasingly unrealistic (and unhealthy) expectations regarding weight and beauty (e.g., issues like body image, cosmetic surgery, dieting, eating disorders, etc.).
  • The glass ceiling, maternity (and parental) leave policies, and childcare and support for single parents in the workplace and through public policy.
  • Both domestic and global labor practices, including the feminization of poverty, sweat shops, unionizing, and liveable wage.


Eve Ensler & The Vagina Monologues

In the 1990s, Eve Ensler interviewed countless women for what became The Vagina Monologues, a play still performed all over the world and linked with V-Day activism (V for Valentine’s Day, but also for vagina appreciation or celebration day, and for ending violence against women). Ensler originally performed the play solo off-broadway and it was an instant hit. The monologues chronicle individual women’s stories about everything from their first periods and pubic hair to war-time rape and lesbian sex work to giving birth.  Here is Eve Ensler performing one of the funnier monologues, “My Angry Vagina”:

The Radical Cheerleaders

Turning a traditionally feminine, sideline activity in pro-woman feminist activism. A Chicago group of the national phenomenon Radical Cheerleaders performs one of their pro-girl cheers. For more cheers, visit Radical Cheerleaders.

Women Artists Unite: The Guerilla Girls

The Guerilla Girls formed in response to an exhibition of global artists at the famed MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) in New York, a show which had only 13 women (and even fewer artists of color) out of 169 artists invited. The curator stated that any artist who had not been included in the show should rethink his [sic] career. Guerilla Girls challenge racism and sexism in the art world. All of the activists are anonymous, donning gorilla masks during their exhibitions and protests and assuming the names of famous female artists (like Frida Kahlo). Here is one of their posters, displayed on sandwich boards and carried around during one of their protests in Shanghai in China:

A Guerilla Girls poster challenging the place of women artists in the art world.

A Guerilla Girls poster challenging the place of women artists in the art world.

Women in Music: Riot Grrrls

The Riot Grrrl movement took off in the 1990s and embraced a punk, DIY (do it yourself), and anti-capitalist/anti-corporate philosophy. Riot Grrrls advocated to help women artists gain and maintain control over their voices and their artistic expression in music and visual art and generated countless underground zines. They also focused a great deal on the issues and needs of adolescent girls. All-girl punk bands like Bikini Kill (below) were part of the Riot Grrrl movement.

Protest Movements: Slutwalk

A more recent phenomenon, which showed up on Purdue’s campus last fall in the form of FACT’s Clothes (are) Not Consent Walk, is Slutwalk. Now an international phenomenon, the first SlutWalk was held in Toronto in April 2011 in response to a police officer who stated that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order to not be victimized.” Women marched through the city dressed like “sluts” to challenge this tired blame-the-victim rhetoric. On Purdue’s campus, both men and women participated.

A photo from the first Slutwalk in Toronto, April 2011.

A photo from the first Slutwalk in Toronto, Canada, April 2011.


  • 1981: Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua publish the book This Bridge Called My Back, an edited collection of feminist writings by women of color exploring intersections of gender and race.
  • 1990: philosopher Judith Butler publishes Gender Trouble, a challenging text challenging the notion that women need an essential feminine or universal “woman” identity on which to build feminist solidarity.
  • 199os: four women were elected to the U.S. Senate (and joined two already there); the second woman was appointed to the Supreme Court (Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who joined Sandra Day O;Connor); we elected the first female Attorney General and the first female Secretary of State; and we saw the first First Lady (Hillary Clinton) to have her own independent political, legal, activist, and public service career.
  • 1991: Anita Hill accuses Clarence Thomas (a Supreme Court nominee) of sexual harassment at work, bringing the issue into the public eye and sparking conversations about gender and race in the workplace.
  • 1991: the Senate votes overwhelmingly to open combat positions for women aviators.
  • 1991: Feminist writer and activist Naomi Wolf publishes The Beauty Myth, arguing that the booming beauty industry served to reinforce impossible standards as a form of social (and economic) oppression for women.
  • 1992: Rebecca Walker (daughter of author Alice Walker) and Shannon Liss start the Third Wave Direct Action Corporation and commence the Freedom Rides to register voters in poor communities, focusing especially on women.
  • 1994: Violence Against Women Act becomes law (allotting funds for the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women).
  • 1996: The Vagina Monologues premiers in New York, starting a movement.
  • 1996: the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the male-only admissions policy of the state-supported Virginia Military Institute violates the Fourteenth Amendment (it was on of the last strong-holds).
  • 2004: the March for Women’s Lives was held in Washington, D.C., to support the right to abortion, access to birth control, scientifically accurate sex education, and information regarding sexual health, and to show public support for mothers and children.


Our New Congress

As of this past November, the 113th U.S. Congress now has record numbers of women and minorities.

The House now has 81 women while the new Senate includes 20 women. There will be 44 African Americans in the House and one in the Senate. We voted in nine new Latino members, making it the largest Latino class in history (28 House seats and three Senate seats). We also elected the first openly gay senator, Democrat Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, and the first openly bisexual representative, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. We swore in our first disabled member of Congress, Ladda Tammy Duckworth, to the U.S. House of Representatives; Duckworth was also the first female double-amputee in the Iraq War, sustaining her wounds while serving as a U.S. Army helicopter pilot. We also have more religious diversity in our Congress, with two Buddhists, a Hindu, and several Muslims.

For the first time ever, white men will be a minority among House Democrats. Thank the ongoing efforts of activists for such diversity.

113th US Congress

Students Fight Back Against Campus Rape Culture just published this article, “Why Naked Pictures Aren’t Harmless,” that discusses not only the growing comfort with which young men on college campuses, particularly members of fraternity culture, openly express their misogyny as a means of male bonding and as a joke. As we’ve discussed in class, these behaviors that fuel a wider rape culture hurt not only young women, in very obvious ways, but they harm, young men and destroy relationships between men and women before they’ve even got started.

But here’s the GOOD NEWS: the article also addresses the ways that students on these campuses have been fighting back – and successfully too. Click the link above to read more about how students taking action to protect their rights has made strides in educating others and sending a loud, clear message that campus rape culture will not be tolerated.

An image from the "Pink Loves Consent" campaign by FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, which spoofed Victoria's Secret ads (the real VS campaign featured panties with messages like "Unwrap Me"), in 2012.

An image from the “Pink Loves Consent” campaign by FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, which spoofed (and challenged) Victoria’s Secret Pink ads (the real VS campaign featured panties with messages like “Unwrap Me”), in 2012. For more on the movement, visit




Campus Activism: Purdue’s Anti-Racism Coalition (PARC) Demands Not Just Diversity but Equality

As some of you know, Monday morning, a group of almost 200 people, including mainly students as well as faculty, marched through campus and up the steps of Hovde Hall to the Office of the President to demand that administration effectively address, publicly and in a real way, the racism that pervades Purdue’s campus.

Students stand on the steps of Purdue's Hovde Hall on Monday, demanding that administration act to combat racism prevalent in the campus community.

Students stand on the steps of Purdue’s Hovde Hall on Monday, demanding that administration act to combat racism prevalent in the campus community.

The march was a moving event, but it has also stirred the fires of those made nervous by the students’ activism. One of the march signs, left in front of Hovde Monday afternoon along with candles, was defaced with racist hate speech and was accompanied by the image of a body hanging from a tree, evoking America’s dark history of lynchings.


In response – and to maintain the productive energy rallied by Monday’s march, PARC (Purdue Anti-Racism Coalition) will be holding a meeting TONIGHT, in BRNG B323, at 5:30pm, right after our class. I would strongly encourage those of you who wish to help make our campus a hate-free, accountable environment to attend. People of any race, gender, etc. are welcome at the meeting. For more information, check out the “The Fire This Time” Facebook page.

War on Women Teach-In at Purdue!

war on women teach-in

This coming week, several student organizations have come together to offer a campus teach-in on the recent “war on women” in America. Teach-ins are an effective activist educational tool, designed to educate the public about an important issue or group of issues and get them involved in further actions.

Because this event combines both important content as well as activism/activist tools – something you can learn from in addition to your service learning – I’ll offer 10 points of extra credit for those who attend one of the teach-ins and turn in a write-up in response to the experience, including what you learned. Try to tie in what you’ve learned from class, as well as the reading from Grassroots, in your writing about this event.

Sending Support to the Young Woman in Steubenville, OH

Today, all of you filled out postcards to send to the young woman from Steubenville, OH whose case has reignited a nationwide conversation about rape culture in the United States. Know others who might want to send support?

Let’s see if we can send her 1,000 messages of love, hope, and support for her bravery.

Send a postcard or letter to the following address. Though the name of the young woman has not been released, the attorney general who prosecuted her case will receive your much-needed messages and make sure that they reach her at this hour.

General Mike DeWine                                                                                                        30 E. Broad St., 14th Floor                                                                                       Columbus, OH 43215

Outcry Launches a Protest Movement in Response to Rape Case in India

Back in December, a horrific gang rape in India brought the issue of violence against women to the forefront. A 23-year-old woman, accompanied by a male friend, was brutally raped, disemboweled, and then thrown from a bus in Dehli. She was a physiotherapy student, the daughter of laborers and the first in her family to work toward a college degree – and in a country where many skimp on their daughters’ education, saving their money to educate their sons (this is also a class-based issue).

The protest movements that have risen in response have not only been outspoken but have also included a large number of men, something that doesn’t necessarily occur (at least not yet) in the western world.

Read the article from The New York Times and watch the short video, here: “Urging Action, Report on Brutal Rape Condemns India’s Treatment of Women.”


One Billion Rising: Protesting Violence Against Women on Feb. 14th, Flash Mob Style

one billion risingOn Feb. 14th, women all over the world will walk out into the streets and dance to celebrate life and to protest their rising up against global violence against women. Feminist activist and author of The Vagina Monologues Eve Ensler is behind the movement, and you can be part of it locally on our very own campus.


The Purdue Contemporary Dance Company is gathering with other dance groups and interested students at Purdue to perform a flash mob around campus throughout the day on February 14, 2013.   If you or anyone else wants to get involved, we have scheduled another teaching of the flash mob:

Wednesday, February 13 at 8:30pm in PAO 1179.

For more info, check out the Facebook page for Purdue’s One Billion Rising and find out how you can participate.

As of now, there will be four performance times on Valentine’s Day, all of which are during power hour passing periods:


With the help of dance department faculty member Sally Wallace, Amberly Simpson is organizing this event: she writes, “As a young woman who has been
directly affected by the type of violence that this organization is rising up to
prevent, I realize how incredibly important it is to increase this sort of
awareness and, most importantly, end it.  But I am not the only one, in fact, it
is likely that a third to half of your female students have had a similar


This protest movement is directly linked with our upcoming discussions about violence against women (starting Feb. 11th) and our engagement with social justice and activist tactics. If you participate in the flash mob and write a one page response about your experience in this event, you will receive 5 points of extra credit. I would also encourage you to have a friend record video or take pictures of you in the flash mob! I am happy to post them to our blog and they will also document your participation.

I hope that all of you will participate.

Philanthropy vs. Social Activism: "Patria Es Humanidad" (The Only [Real] Nation is Humanity)

“The world is full of miserable places. One way of living comfortably is not to think about them or, when you do, to send money.” – Tracy Kidder, Mountains Beyond Mountains

For many of us, particularly here in America, we sometimes equate activism, or at least action, with donating money to causes. What’s wrong with that?, you might ask. Donating money can absolutely be a lifeline for important causes and the organizations that endeavor to create change. Here’s a quote from a good friend of mine who works for a non-profit organization:

“I think [what matters] is how the money is ‘thrown’ so to speak. I work in the nonprofit world–and philanthropy literally saves lives. I think it really depends on how and where the money is invested. It is a complex problem…”

Yes, it is a complex problem: donating money without an understanding of the interested and effected parties and the institutions involved can sometimes actually dig the hole deeper. In other words, philanthropy can just as easily reinforce the “ideology of domination that permeates western culture” (Lorde again) by continuing to fund problematic institutions that are responsible for gender, race, and class oppression throughout the world.  So here is the most important distinction I want to convey: philanthropy, or donating money, is NOT the same as social activism though it is frequently offered to us as if it were a way for us to act in a world in which we feel disempowered.

For example, the “Swipe Out Starvation” campaign, which encourages us to spend money on food here to feed the hungry out/over there, encourages us to solve world hunger problems by engaging in more consumerism…which is part of what contributes to so much economic disparity in the world to begin with. While donating money helps those  who act on our behalf, it allows us to maintain a safe distance from the people that need our support and resources and from the situations that need real reform – and this can be understood as a form of privilege (just as not having to think about awful social problems like poverty or racism or gender-based violence is also a form of social privilege if we have the luxury of not being directly affected by such issues).

Activism, on the other hand, requires our direct and compassionate involvement with the people, communities, and problems at hand, and a complex understanding of our interconnectedness. In Grassroots: A Field Guide for Feminist Activism, Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards define activism as:

“…consistently expressing one’s values with the goal of making the world more just. We use feminism as our philosophy for that value system; that is, we try to take off the cultural lens that sees mostly men and filters out women and replace it with one that sees all people. We ask, ‘Do our lifestyles reflect our politics?’…An activist is anyone who assesses the resources that he or she has as an individual for the benefit of the common good. With that definition, activism is available to anyone…we are challenging the notion that there is one type of person who is an activist–someone serious, rebellious, privileged, and unrealistically heroic” (xix).

Here, I think back to Mitch Daniels’ speech about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., his introduction to Melissa Harris-Perry’s talk, in which he repeatedly invoked the ideology of the activist or social mover as the one-in-a-million, lone hero. But Harris-Perry began by challenging this ideology, offering a criticism of the new statue of Dr. King, which image draws on that same idea of the individual hero arising out of nothing (neither backed nor supported by anyone in particular).

King memorial

For Baumgardner and Richards, the activists of the world are not lone individuals, not the ones-in-millions but the millions themselves. Dr. King, Harris-Perry argued, was also one of those millions during his lifetime. He was the voice of a whole movement full of individuals who supported and facilitated his work, and who challenged and shaped his ideas.


Here’s a quote from Paulo Freire from his famous book Pedagogy of the Oppressed:

“Any attempt to ‘soften’ [or deny] the power of the oppressor [e.g., the wealthy] in deference to the weakness of the oppressed almost always manifests itself in the form of false generosity; indeed, the attempt never goes beyond this. In order to have the continued opportunity to express their ‘generosity,’ the oppressors must perpetuate injustice as well. An unjust social order is the permanent fount of this ‘generosity,’ which is nourished by death, despair, and poverty” (Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 44).

So the women from the Ladies Betterment League in Brooks’ poem unwittingly contribute to perpetuating the injustice of the poverty that they claim to generously aid; both the oppressors (here, the well-meaning wealthy women) and the oppressed (the poor living in slums) are caught in and ultimately dehumanized by this “charitable” interaction. While charity reinforces the idea of the privileged who “come down” to help the less fortunate, thereby demonstrating their own goodness, social activism works to help us realize the no one is served unless we are all served equally, unless we all have equal access to basic rights and resources.

So it’s deeply problematic, for example, whenever we enter into philanthropy with the mindset of “helping the less fortunate” without also calling into question how we may be part of or complicit in a system that ultimately keeps us separate from them, or that maintains a divide between the haves and the have-nots.