Feminist textbooks from class.
Feminist textbooks from class.

‘For Who Could Ever Learn to Love a Beast?’: Finding My Feminism

I never liked Beauty and the Beast.

In fact, I hated it. I remember the first time I saw the Disney film and watched Belle tend to the Beast’s wounds after the wolf attack. Unlike Belle, I could not so quickly forget that he locked her away, refused to feed her, and yelled at her for venturing into places he didn’t want her. It was a crushing disappointment to see her refuse Gaston but accept the Beast! My opinion hasn’t changed. I still think it was sick for her to fall in love with her imprisoner. But my frame of reference has grown. I can name that feeling now, the question that piqued my girl-mind. I can identify it as an itch of feminist thought.

Now, to be totally honest, I didn’t begin to understand feminism until now, but I lived my life like a lot of girls and young women live their lives: feeling like the world wasn’t right. And all along I questioned whether or not I was being too sensitive, or crazy, or petty. This semester, I can say none of those words defined me. For that reason, “Feminist Theory” with Dr. Ana Maria Garcia has been more than just another college course. It has connected me to other young women, and a few young men, who have recognized the oppression of women from different perspectives. It has given me a place to talk things through, to have a voice that is heard and not invalidated. I’m not just learning about feminism—I’m claiming a place in it.

It has presented me with the space to explore my identity with an Honors adaptation, meaning I’ve extended the course material to receive Honors credit when my final grade is determined. For this project, I chose to read Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf and Women and War by Jean Bethke Elshtain. I am using these books to gain an understanding of militarism, and this will culminate in a reflection on the identities of men and women that are formed as a result.

The course also has given me with the opportunity to learn about and get involved with a critical social issue. Our class helped gather materials and media for the “Human Trafficking Symposium: Lifting the Veil” on April 3. The event brought the perspectives of academics, law enforcement, social workers, faith organizations, and nonprofit organizations together to raise awareness and facilitate discussion around the issue of human trafficking. It was an enlightening event that centered on an important topic, and I hope it will grow bigger each year.

Overall, the course has been about so much more than drudging through theory and getting a grade. We’re taking it seriously. I’m taking the little girl who scoffed at an animated movie seriously. And I’m going to advocate and act because I know what my instincts were about. For instance, I’ll enter senior year knowing what I want my thesis to explore: the barriers women with low socioeconomic status face when, or if, they seek treatment for perinatal depression. Before taking “Feminist Theory,” I recognized this as one of an astounding number of ways in which society fails women. Now, I see how systematic it is. Now, I can theorize on how women’s experiences in this area connect to their experiences at work or in politics or with their romantic partners. And now, I know that when I rejected Belle, I was rejecting the idea that a woman has to forgive and be kind no matter how a man has treated her, that she has to, ultimately, love him. That instinct never quieted. It just got louder.