BY RACHEL SEIDMAN, Ph.D. One year ago today, a group of students at Duke University launched a social media campaign called Who Needs Feminism that rapidly spread around the world. Still going strong, this creative, youthful movement has been credited with reinvigorating a global dialogue about the role of feminism in young people’s lives.
The initiative started as a final project in my Duke University class called “Women in the Public Sphere: History, Theory and Practice.” In that course we discussed important challenges facing all of them today–sexual assault on campus, restrictions in access to birth control and abortion, limiting constructions of gender. But, when they tried to talk about these issues outside of class, they were often shut down by peers’ refusal to engage, or accusations that they were “man-hating feminists.” Deeply frustrated, they wondered “How can we make any progress on any of these issues, if we can’t even talk about them?”
Determined to open up new dialogue on campus about gender issues, my students came up with the idea for a PR campaign. They recruited friends and acquaintances, young women and men of all different backgrounds, and took photos of them, outside on the Duke campus, proudly holding up whiteboards on which they had written in black marker, “I need feminism because.…” The students designed posters, which they plastered on bulletin boards around campus and posted online, and they published an Op Ed in the Duke campus newspaper accompanying the launch of their campaign.
Although they had set their sights on Duke’s campus, their campaign instantly “went viral,” and took on national and international dimensions. Within days they had thousands of “likes” on Facebook , and young women and men from around the world started sending in their own “I need feminism because” to the Tumblr site the students created.
Today we have close to 29,000 likes on Facebook, and thousands of submissions to the Tumblr. Scores of campuses around the world have held their own Who Needs Feminism photo shoots, and community groups from Pakistan to Australia have organized them as well. People have shared poems, YouTube videos, essays, op eds, and told us about the discussions they have had and the new networks they have created. Professors use the pictures as the basis for lectures, papers assignments, and final exams. A recent article in The Guardian attributed the recent uptick in feminist clubs and organizations in schools and universities around the UK to the Who Needs Feminism phenomenon.
It has been amazing to watch what has happened—and to think about what comes next. We are working now to analyze the information that has come in—what have we learned so far about the issues young people care about? And we are looking forward to seeing what comes next; what will this new network of creative, engaged young women and men do with their potential power? How will they harness their energy and skills and put them to work for the greater good? Join the conversation; like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @ineedfeminism, submit your photos, and let us know what you think next steps should be!
Rachel F. Seidman, Ph.D., is a U.S. historian specializing in women’s history who combines publically engaged scholarship, leadership development, social entrepreneurship, teaching and mentoring. She co-founded and directed The Moxie Project: Women and Leadership for Social Change, and students in her class at Duke University created the worldwide internet campaign, Who Needs Feminism? She is Associate Director of The Southern Oral History Program, one of the premier oral history programs in the country. With a B.A. from Oberlin College and a Ph.D. from Yale, Seidman is particularly interested in connecting history to current concerns through civic engagement and community-based research.