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Gender Justice group aims to combat gender discrimination

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Calvin’s new Gender Justice student organization hopes to raise awareness for female inequality — one t-shirt at a time.

Using sharpies on t-shirts, students wrote ways that they saw gender discrimination at Calvin.  The t-shirts were then hung on a clothesline and displayed on commons lawn last Wednesday.

Student response was better than expected, according to current member Erin Smith.

“We originally just had one clothesline with t-shirts and then we added another,” she said. “Then we had to start changing them out because we had too many and we had to start putting them in bags on the ground; we couldn’t hang them all.”

This March, three Calvin seniors — Erika DenHoed, Jess Rinaldi and John VanderPloeg — decided to start a student organization dedicated to gender equality and justice for women.

Moved by the 2012 documentary, “MAKERS: Women Who Make America,” DenHoed spearheaded the creation of the definitively feminist group at Calvin.

“They watched this documentary and Erika was so inspired and she looked on the Calvin student orgs list and there [weren’t] any groups at Calvin that are specifically for women’s issues… so she decided to start one,” said Smith.

Since DenHoed, Rinaldi and VanderPloeg are all seniors, Smith, a sophomore, will lead the group next year.

The group displayed the t-shirts again Wednesday as part of the Spring Arts Festival.

Although the Gender Justice organization is only two months old, students have already raised several issues of gender inequality through meetings and the clothesline campaign.

“One [thing] that we talked about right off the bat was conversations involving violence against women and how Calvin addresses rape,” DenHoed said.

Smith noted gender discrepancies between majors, the gender distribution of professors in different departments and the portrayal of women in certain dance guild dances as other areas of concern.

Smith was quick to emphasize that, while discussing such issues is important, the group also wants to take specific actions to improve gender equality at Calvin and beyond.

“Academia, education can only take you so far before you start doing stuff,” Smith said.

While the group members are distinctly feminist (their promotional poster encourages students to “Join the Fourth Wave”), Smith emphasizes the importance of integrating their Christian faith.

“This is something that’s very important to me: showing that it’s so possible to be a Christian feminist…” Smith said. “Christianity and women’s rights can go hand-in-hand and they should go hand-in-hand.”

DenHoed agreed. “Women are God’s children and He wants all His children to be respected.” She said that, if we consider the dictionary definition, “God is the ultimate feminist.”

Acknowledging that feminism has negative connotations for some people, especially those who are politically conservative, Smith emphasized the group’s non-political focus.

“I think it’s very important to us not to be crazily political and just flinging words around but instead taking action in a community-based, loving environment,” she said.

DenHoed added, “This is an inspired group and we’re trying to do change in the right and just and loving way.”

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