ASU freshman Claire Cohan says feminism is a very deep-rooted part of who she is.
“I didn’t always know that it was called feminism, but I’ve always had that part of me that’s been a very big influence on my actions,” she says.
Those actions include getting kicked out of private Catholic school for standing up for what she believes in.
“I didn’t like to be put in pretty little dresses or told to go to dance class. I wanted to play basketball with the boys instead of playing house on the playground with the girls,” she says. “I would always get in fights with the boys because I would mouth off to them and they would throw a fist at me and I would throw a fist right back. Eventually I got kicked out for that — for sticking up for myself and speaking my mind.”
When she was transferred to public school, her attitude didn’t change. When she came to ASU, she discovered the Womyn’s Coalition, where she is currently a communications intern.
“I started to learn what feminism was,” she says. “I always knew it was there — that warm feeling I get in my stomach when I talk about it — but I didn’t know what to call it.”
That “warm feeling” of fighting for female rights and empowerment is a common thread among the members of the organization, which is one of seven coalitions on campus that aims to unify the student population, celebrate equality, spread awareness and create a safe space. The executive board members of the Womyn’s Coalition have similar stories about when they discovered their own feminist identities.
Alexandra Wyroba, the coalition’s director of communications, says she was inspired in fifth grade when she chose Susan B. Anthony to profile for a school project.
“Even as a little kid, I picked someone so vital to changing history and giving me the right to vote,” she says.
Erin Rugland is the group’s facilitator, responsible for overseeing the logistics, operations, leadership development and organizational structure of the coalition.
She says she learned about feminism through YouTube videos and Tumblr posts in middle school, which eventually introduced her to social justice issues and activism.
“I consider myself a feminist but even more so, I consider myself a social justice activist,” the senior justice studies and public policy major says. “I’m here for the cause, whatever it might be.”
Megan McGuire, the club’s director of marketing and social media chair, grew up in a predominantly male family, which she says made it difficult to develop an identity. She identifies as a feminist because she doesn’t always fit into traditional female roles.
“People judge women for not shaving or not wearing makeup or high heels,” she says. “I played lacrosse, I want to be an engineer, I like carpentry, I like to use tools… You can be whatever you want. I want to make people aware that being a feminist doesn’t mean bra-burning or not shaving. Feminists are just people who want equality for both sexes.”
The Womyn’s Coalition, colloquially referred to as WoCo, also aims to promote positive relationships between other women’s organizations on campus.
“We’re like an umbrella organization,” McGuire explains. “We’re like the mother, and all the other organizations are under our roof.”
Though the Womyn’s Coalition is an organization dedicated to and run by women, its members want all genders to be part of the conversation.
“We spell it with a ‘Y’ because men don’t have to be a part of everything we do,” Wyroba explains. “It doesn’t mean we completely exclude men.”
Cohan finds it inspiring when guys are interested in what they’re doing.
“A lot of what they see in the media is the stereotype of this big angry monster and they don’t want to get their heads bit off because they’re a dude,” she says of feminist stereotypes. “It’s cool that it’s slowly shifting to where it’s more accepting.”
The coalition seeks to provide information about feminism to squash stereotypes and spread love.
“Feminism isn’t about women being better than men, it’s that we’re equals,” Wyroba says.
McGuire acknowledges the important role social media plays in broadcasting feminist ideals. But there’s also a slew of misinformation out there about feminism. The group agrees this can be combatted by practicing feminism in small ways every day.
She believes society scrutinizes women more than men. Her form of feminism is leading by example and leveling the playing field in her own perceptions of people, in an attempt to eliminate the double-edged sword stereotype.
“People say, ‘This girl slept with two guys in two weeks.’ Meanwhile, men get high fives for sleeping with two girls at one time,” says the biomedical engineering major. “If men can do as they please and it’s socially acceptable, then so should women. I don’t judge women for sleeping with guys and I don’t shame a man for wearing eye shadow.”
Rugland says her version of feminism includes empathy for all people, especially women and women of color, which includes acknowledging there are social disadvantages.
“One of the ways that I practice a version of feminism every day is opening up a space for love and acceptance in a society that is really judgmental,” she says.
Though the group is a testament to the great strides women have made in the last few decades, the women of WoCo admit there is still a long way to go.
“I think people downplay and have always downplayed the struggles that women face,” Rugland says. “I think we’re going to see a resurgence of people truly seeing the need for feminism.”
This desire for empowerment and action is fueled by reaching out to the community and creating a safe space to not only get educated, but to get involved. McGuire says the first step is creating an inclusive, encouraging environment.
“Women like to compete against other women,” McGuire explains. “We’re bringing each other up. We’re not bringing each other down or competing or trying to be better. We’re helping each other. We preach love and we want people to feel welcome. Our doors are always open.”
Rugland says her favorite part of leading and being a part of the Womyn’s Coalition is helping other women. The coalition holds general body meetings every month and hosts informative events regularly. The group is gearing up for Women’s Herstory Month in March, which will feature events and activities that celebrate and embrace female heritage.
“I love the process of not only learning how to put big events together and work with different people, but that we host events to hear from people with experiences that may be different than yours or that you maybe haven’t considered,” she says. “We are letting people learn different skills and self-empowerment… and reaching across different lines to learn about different experiences.”
For the Womyn’s Coalition, creating a change starts on campus with peers, professors, neighbors and friends.
“We’re all equal… I don’t care what color you are, what you identify with, whatever you do, we’re all human beings,” Wyroba says. “Feminism is equality.”