Since FemSex’s birth at Berkeley in 1993, it has offered discussions ranging from the spectrum of gender violence to analyzing the depth and scope of an orgasm. FemSex is shorthand for Female Sexualities and is a semester-long not-for-credit, peer-facilitated seminar. It is bringing Columbia the chance to explore the momentous charge of challenging the social dynamics of the spaces that once resisted feminism. It has had a rich history of radical thought that hasn’t crept up on the gates of Columbia until this semester—but it has at Harvard, Cornell, and Brown. Many of us who have had the privilege of planting FemSex within our own gates do so as seniors and intend to start this first of two last semesters with the voices that were hushed or altogether absent these past three years. In gratitude for the strength we have found and in celebration of our convictions, we write this here and now to set the tone for a tremendous year.
As much as we’d like to see ourselves as the most activist of all the Ivies, Columbia began admitting women in 1983—the last of the Ivies to start doing so. Meeting a great deal of campus resistance, over the last 33 years stirrings of women’s groups and feminist-minded spaces (with a variety of feminisms) have been part of a fragmented body of students who have had to often use their enduring sister school to stand behind the “f” word. Despite the fact that Columbia has sponsored many activist programs on this side of Broadway—including Take Back the Night, Everyone Allied Against Homophobia, and GendeRevolution—that bring feminist issues to our attention, the general population doesn’t see much of a “feminist scene.” Ask the average Columbia student, and he or she probably won’t be able to name more than even one feminist group on campus, but will conclude that if there were one, Barnard would host the space for these “bra-burning,” “hairy-legged,” and “loud-mouthed” women—or so the typical stereotype of feminists goes.
What is far more difficult to answer is, why does FemSex exist? Although we have never been outright asked this question, misinformed declarations that “Feminism is dead!” (and trust us, we have heard it in many a CC class during the Wollstonecraft and Simone de Beauvoir readings) imply the belief that gender equity and inclusion, sexual liberation, and misogyny have either been sufficiently achieved or appropriately eradicated.
May we remind you of the Kingsmen flyering incident of 2010? A picture of a young man dressed effeminately had the caption “RAPE ME” over his head and was hung indiscriminately all over campus. Ensuing discussion on Bwog was at times as hurtful and insensitive as the flyer itself.
May we remind you that the joke “Columbia girls to wed, Barnard girls to bed” is still not funny? Barnard women have been immortalized as sluts and sex objects that aren’t worth a guy’s attention for a serious relationship, and the tradition is passed on every year to the next generation of students.
May we remind you that the Rape Crisis/Anti-Violence center is actively used every year on Columbia’s campus? In just 2008, a Columbia journalism student was horrifically raped for 19 hours. In May 2010, Spectator published an op-ed about a young woman who experienced sexual assault but whose aggressor was allowed the privilege to remain on Columbia campus housing. Yet plenty of people are still quick to say that the organic chemistry exam “raped them” or “I took advantage of Columbia like I rufied it.”
FemSex would like to remind everyone that we—and Columbia—are not post-sexism, we are not sex-positive, and we most definitely have yet to discover the limits of sexy. For this reason, FemSex strives to explore sex as pleasure, sex as genitalia, sex as an act, sex as a form of acrobatics, and sex as a thick hem on our social fabric. We aim for discord, discussion, respect, and inclusiveness at Columbia while debating a range of topics down to why the word “cunt” should be publishable.
The FemSex Facilitators—Kia Walton, Andrea Folds, Sarah Camiscoli, Lauren Herold, and several other potentially bra-burning, hairy-legged, loud-mouthed women.
Kia Walton is a senior in Columbia College majoring in women’s and gender studies. Andrea Folds is a senior in Columbia College majoring in sustainable development. Sarah Camiscoli is a senior in Columbia College majoring in anthropology. Lauren Herold is a senior majoring in anthropology and women’s and gender studies.