Empowering and celebrating women

"I used to always hate my body and hate the way I looked," said junior mathematics education major and women's and gender studies minor Paige Hageman. Like a lot of girls, Hageman grew up reading magazines and comparing herself to the models she saw on the glossy pages. "I was always like, 'Why can't I just be this stereotypical girl and fit into all this?'"

That was before she learned about feminism. "When I found feminism, I just gained an unbelievable amount of confidence," said Hageman. "I felt like I didn't need to live up to someone else's standards. That was really powerful."

Feminism is both a movement and a set of beliefs that aim to empower women and establish gender equality. UNI Feminist Action League (FAL), UNI's feminist student group for which Hageman serves as group facilitator, raises awareness of these issues and empowers women at UNI.

Additionally, UNI's Women's and Gender Studies (WGS) Program gives students the opportunity to learn more about women's history and feminism through the WGS undergraduate minor and graduate programs, as well as through hosting regular events.

The WGS Program will partner with groups on campus, including FAL, to host a number of events throughout March in celebration of Women's History Month. According to Catherine MacGillivray, director of WGS, Women's History Month has been celebrated at UNI for many years. The theme of this year's events is Feminisms & Diversity Inclusion.

"One of my goals as director is to build coalition here on campus with other diversity, inclusion and social justice programs and organizations," said MacGillivray. "We decided on this theme as a way to sort of put our money where our mouth is and say, 'Let's everybody do diversity and inclusion events together.'"

This year's Women's History Month keynote speaker is Latina author and journalist Daisy Hernández, whose work often focuses on gender, sexuality and other issues that affect young women of color. Her lecture, "Feminists, Comadres and Maybe Beyoncé: Models for Leadership Today," will empower future leaders, a goal MacGillivray is particularly passionate about.

"The young generation really needs to step up," she said. "Whether you want to take to the streets or the Internet, it's your generation's turn."

One way the next generation of activists can step up is by getting involved at UNI, whether it's through attending Women's History Month events, going to FAL meetings or joining other activist groups.

"If the big picture overwhelms you, pick just one issue," said MacGillivray. "It doesn't have to be big, but find one thing you feel you can honestly commit to."

Hageman echoed this sentiment. "You don't have to march on Washington to be considered a feminist," she said. "I think it's all about your beliefs and what you think of the world."

For more information about WGS and FAL, as well as a complete list of Women's History Month events, visit www.uni.edu/csbs/womenstudies.