Rapunzel’s Ivory Tower Feminism

How elitism within university feminist circles excludes the general public

 By Kristina Rietveld-Rios Contributor

In honor of National Women’s History Month, let’s take a moment to consider how feminism can be a tool for all women, not just those at the top.

Leaving the tower behind

Much like Rapunzel, feminist circles are often white and isolated. The “ivory tower” is a place for the privileged to exist in seclusion from the real world and is often prominent within academia. According to data collected from the U.S. Census Bureau in 2013, 76 percent of female bachelor’s degree holders are white. In that same year, a study done by Economist found that only 38 percent of American women identified as feminists, but out of that percentage, more than half of them were college-educated women. This data reflects the existence of this “ivory tower” in the feminist movement. It’s something more accessible for educated white women than anyone else.

Making feminism accessible

So how can feminism at the university level make an effort to be less elitist? Here are a few tips:

Limit the use of theoretical jargon

Complex theories can be exciting and informative, but they can also lead to exclusion. If you are writing in a way that caters only to academics then you may never reach anyone else.

Acknowledge the work of a variety of theorists and activists

Instead of quoting Judith Butler for the hundredth time, look to other feminists who can make a similar point in simpler language. Acknowledge a variety of feminist activists, like Human Rights Commission in Pakistan co-founder Asma Jahangir, who are doing great work around the world, not just the few who decided to write books about it.

Criticize with caution

I am not saying that problematic behavior shouldn’t be called out, but consider your motive for doing so. If someone misuses a term, consider how your reaction might affect their willingness to speak up in the future.

Welcome people who are trying to learn

Social justice circles can become cliquey if members don’t check themselves. Actively engage newcomers and encourage them to participate and ask questions. Be willing to listen to their unique contributions.  

Reach out

Access to rights shouldn’t be dependent on higher education. If feminism is to be a universal cause, then there must be a global strategy to accompany it.

The feminist movement doesn’t end just because your gender studies class is over. Consider reaching out to the community outside of campus through social justice projects targeted at people in need. A few projects in the Orange County area include Grandma’s House of Hope, which aids homeless women and children, and Redeeming Love, which rehabilitates young women rescued from sex trafficking.


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