Ponnada: Pushing buttons

BY SRI PONNADA | MAY 15, 2013 5:00 AM

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A few days ago, I wrote about the visibility and misunderstanding of feminism. Many people have inaccurate ideas about what feminism is.

I just found out yesterday that I’m not the only one in Iowa City who’s bothered by this ignorance — thank goodness.

Two students at the University of Iowa have paired up to educate members of the community about what feminism really is in an absolutely fabulous way — through hand-made buttons. Their project, “Unbuttoning Feminism,” is a campaign to eliminate the negative stereotypes surrounding feminism, to show people why it’s important, and to hopefully make more individuals in Iowa City comfortable with “coming out” as feminists.  

It’s a unique feminist movement. It may be one of the most successful, too.

“The idea came up during a casual conversation over coffee about our U.S. Feminism Rhetoric class,” said UI senior Paige Pennigar, one of Unbuttoning Feminism’s creators.

UI junior Madeline Fitzgerald, the project’s “other mother,” quickly jumped on board.  Before the two ladies knew it, Unbuttoning Feminism was born.

Over the past couple of weeks, Pennigar and Fitzgerald tried to attract people to the sessions they held at the Women’s Resource and Action Center through their “Unbuttoning Feminism” group on Facebook. Anyone who was interested could come in and use the button-maker to make buttons that display what feminism means to them.

“The moment I realized I was a feminist and was confident in saying ‘I’m a feminist,’ was [to her] the equivalent to how some people describe finding God,” Pennigar said. “I just wanted to jump on a table and tell everyone.”

I wish she would.

We’ve all seen the generic “This is what a feminist looks like” stickers and T-shirts. For many people, they’re nothing special. With Unbuttoning Feminism, however, each button is different and handmade. These buttons allow their makers to reclaim the definition of feminism and reach out to others, showing them that feminism isn’t just an abstract thing.

There are so many different aspects of feminism and so many issues it’s battling. Not every feminist looks like “this.”

“I think [the buttons] show that people do care about [feminism] because they took the time to do all these cutouts and make their buttons,” Fitzgerald said.

When the campaign grows more in Iowa City, the women plan to spread it across America by mailing the buttons to family and friends who might value the buttons’ messages.

Kind of like the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants — except they’re pushing buttons.

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