On the first day of her “Women in the Public Sphere” course this past spring, Rachel Seidman told her students they would be responsible for a single class project, one they would be inspired to continue even after the course finished. But no one imagined just how far that project would go.
The class designed an online campaign titled “Who Needs Feminism?” that invited contributors to submit a photo of themselves with a note explaining why feminism mattered to them. After a rocky start—which saw some of the campaign’s campus posters defaced with comments such as “Sandwiches don’t make themselves”—the effort went viral, drawing more than 12,000 (and counting) “likes” on Facebook and more than 2,000 submissions through the social-media site Tumblr. (Another 2,000 contributions still are waiting in the campaign’s inbox.) Social-media-monitoring sites Buzzfeed and Mashable took note of the campaign, which also won GOOD magazine’s GOOD Goes Viral Award.
"We wanted to redefine popular feminism, but that wasn't right because it's difficult to define feminism at all."
“We wanted to redefine popular feminism, but that wasn’t right because it’s difficult to define feminism at all,” says Ashley Tsai ’13, a student who encouraged opening up the project to submissions beyond Duke. “So then we thought about how to make this campaign personal to people, how feminism is relevant in people’s lives. And as we conceptualized this campaign, [we found ourselves asking] who do you think needs feminism? And the answer became, everyone. Everyone needs feminism.”
“I was thunderstruck by what they had tapped into,” says Seidman, a visiting lecturer in women’s history. She says the campaign revealed a “very powerful vein of frustration and anger among young women...but also this wonderful, creative, optimistic, and potentially powerful force of what young women are and can be.”
“It’s been an amazing learning experience for me and the students,” Seidman adds. “They definitely all got an A on the final project.”