Two UI students create feminism advocacy group

BY REBECCA MORIN | MAY 16, 2013 5:00 AM

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After enrolling in the U.S. Feminism Rhetorics course at the University of Iowa, students Paige Pennigar and Madeline Fitzgerald mulled ideas for a new advocacy group that could help eliminate common gender stereotypes.

Started nearly two weeks ago, the two say Unbuttoning Feminism is an outlet for spreading their beliefs.

“[Unbuttoning Feminism] started when a classmate and I started talking about both the stereotypes and the stigma that is associated with feminism and calling ourselves feminists,” said Pennigar, a UI senior in communication studies.

Natalie Fixmer-Oraiz, an assistant professor of communication studies and the instructor for the course, said that feminism is a term that is loosely defined because of the large number of issues it addresses.

“We tend to collectively forget the richness and the diversity of feminist movements; we tend to forget that feminism has never been one singular cause, but that its legacy includes work on behalf of fair wages, workers’ rights, free love, peace, educational and economic opportunities, working to bring an end to gendered violence, colonization, and the prison-industrial complex,” Fixmer-Oraiz said.

The group has held two button-making workshops at the Women’s Resource Action Center in the last two weeks. Because of the available resources at the center, the group does not have to pay to create the buttons. To date, nearly 170 buttons have been made.

However, the group does accept donations and has earned up to $100 to give back to the center.

“We thought of what we could do to create a movement that is tangible but also incorporate social media, and we thought why not buttons; everybody likes them,” Pennigar said. “By wearing a button, people will spread their different stories of feminism.”

While the movement has created a physical presence in the community, the group is also developing an online presence on the group’s Facebook page. Their goal is to recruit members and to share the presence of feminism in the media.

“The [Facebook] page is more about knowledge and redefining feminism,” Pennigar said. “It’s like a feminist knowledge hub where people could share videos and articles.”

The group is also hoping to use the Facebook page to stay connected with people throughout the summer to keep the movement going.

Although Pennigar will graduate this semester, Fitgerald hopes to continue to move the group forward with the help of the Feminists Majority Leadership Alliance. They also hope to establish relationships with downtown businesses. 

“Whenever [the alliance] has a meeting or when it has an event, we hope to keep the button thing going,” said Fitzgerald, a UI junior in communication studies. “We are also looking at places downtown that will be willing to display the buttons rather than just wearing them.”

While the group’s goal is to create a larger presence in the university and Iowa City, the members are also looking into mailing the buttons throughout the nation.

“We are like Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, but with buttons,” Pennigar said.

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