“I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all,” quips novelist Roxane Gay in her most recent published work, “Bad Feminist.” This sentiment was echoed many times over this past semester as the Margaret Boyd Scholars stepped out of the classroom and into the homes of OHIO administrators and faculty members to discuss Gay’s powerful essay collection.
For scholar Darragh Liaskos, participation in the book discussion was a no-brainer.
“I am a media and social change major, so any chance I get to discuss feminism or social change in general, I’ll do it. Also this is Jenny Hall-Jones’ house. That’s kinda cool,” said Liaskos, as she took in her surroundings — the back porch of OHIO’s interim vice president for student affairs and dean of students.
Liaskos was one of seven Margaret Boyd Scholars to attend Hall-Jones’ book discussion, an event marked by lively debate as well as carryout from Kiser’s Barbeque. The gathering was among six book discussions hosted by the program’s Faculty Advisory Board during the spring semester:
- Geneva Murray, director of the Women’s Center, engaged with scholars over pizza at the Women’s Center.
- Miriam Shadis, an associate professor of history, invited scholars to her home for Salaam takeout and homemade cookies.
- Gerri Botte, Distinguished Professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, hosted dinner at the Athens Country Club.
- Jennifer Bowie, executive director of development, advancement communications and marketing, served up sushi at her house.
- Peggy Pruitt, retired senior associate director of athletics, and Cindy Anderson, professor of sociology and anthropology, hosted an ice cream sundae bar and book discussion in Bryan Hall.
- Elizabeth Sayrs, interim dean of the College of Fine Arts, co-hosted the event at Hall-Jones’ residence.
Not your average book club
Named in honor Ohio University’s first female graduate, the Margaret Boyd Scholars Program was launched during the 2013-14 academic year and serves as the University’s first and only women’s leadership program. “The concept is that women from different backgrounds come together and empower each other to do great things and build a huge network and a community,” explained scholar Nora Kornelakis.
Whereas many of the program’s events are led by guest lecturers, book studies allow for academic-focused conversation between scholars. “Since we are all from different academic backgrounds, we rarely are going to have a class with more than one person in the program. So the book club has been a more formal way for us to share opinions and share time together,” said scholar Anna Bekavac.
To date, the scholars have read Izzeldin Abuelaish’s “I Shall Not Hate,” Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In,” and Rebecca Skloot’s “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” The scholars plan to follow up “Bad Feminist” book discussions by reading “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls next fall.
According to Patti McSteen, director of the Margaret Boyd Scholars Program and associate dean of students, selections are intended to be thought-provoking and allow for a lively exchange of discussion. “Each person brings a different perspective, depending on her academic and personal background, and the books give us the opportunity to learn and grow from one another,” she said.
Chosen for their intellect, curiosity and leadership potential, scholars at Hall-Jones’ event didn’t need much prompting before launching into a spirited conversation about the rewards and challenges of modern-day feminism. Topics included self-shaming rituals among women, workplace collaboration, and the group’s #EqualPayDay initiative, among many others.
Nearly all agreed that they identified with Gay’s guilt over occasional “bad” feminism.
For Sara Sand, that moment came while watching The Vagina Monologues at Ohio University. “I didn’t identify with it at all. I didn’t know how to tell my friends that that is just not how I identify with feminism even a little bit,” she said.
For Bekavac, a music therapy major, pursuing a decidedly “pink” career path sometimes feels like a betrayal to the feminist movement. “It’s easy to feel like you’re letting someone down … I thought I had to do something that an everyday woman doesn’t do,” she admitted.
Hall-Jones was quick to relate.
“I felt like a bad feminist this year because I didn’t want to be the vice president for student affairs. I wanted to go back and be the dean of students, and in a lot of ways, I felt like I was letting down my entire sex,” Hall-Jones said. “A lot of women on this campus came up to me and said, ‘You should apply.’ I felt like I needed to be at the table; I needed to represent, but I didn’t want the job. And I felt guilty about that.”
According to McSteen, this type of type of open, honest dialogue with women in leadership roles is what makes the Margaret Boyd Scholars Program so meaningful.
“These book discussions have not only enriched the students’ academic experience but have connected them with mentors and role models on campus who are truly committed to their development,” McSteen said. “I appreciate the willingness of the Faculty Advisory Board members and friends of the Margaret Boyd Scholars Program to engage with the students in this very meaningful way.”