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Women’s Studies alum tells why she needs feminism

| Gretchen Bachmeier, '14 Women's Studies

Although almost five years have since passed, I can still remember during the car ride home from freshman orientation proudly telling my parents I was registered to take a women’s studies course. I couldn’t answer their questions about what a women’s studies course consisted of, but that didn’t discourage me. The course sounded interesting — it sounded like me.

The first day of my WMNS 100 course my professor asked the class to raise their hands if they considered themselves a feminist. I quickly and probably prematurely raised my hand, not fully understanding what a feminist really was. I figured: whatever a feminist is I must be one. By the end of the semester I was glad I had raised my hand the first day, for I was well on my way to understanding what it meant to be a feminist and to being sure I was one.

It’s hard to grasp how much I grew during my undergraduate studies; the women’s studies courses I took were truly transformative. Being raised in Eau Claire, I came into college with a limited perspective and quickly learned that my white, middle-class, Catholic, heterosexual background left much room to examine and challenge the privileges in my life. For me, as for most people, challenging my privilege hasn’t been the smoothest of roads. It’s been a road filled with much guilt. I’ve learned to redirect that guilt and that privilege does not prohibit me from being a good-enough or a true-enough feminist.

I’ve been blessed to have many opportunities as a women’s studies undergraduate. The summer after my freshman year, I attended the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders. I also participated in several student organizations, including V-Day and College Fems. The last three semesters of my academic career, I had the incredible opportunity to intern in the Women’s and LGBTQ Resource Center. My involvement with the center was a vehicle for active participation in educating the university community on issues and concerns facing women.

I feel my presence as an intern for the center allowed me the opportunity to develop unique relationships with the student body. In addition to these experiences, I am immensely grateful for the mentors I had. The Women’s Studies Program has incredible leadership filled with faculty, staff, and affiliates without whom my undergrad experience wouldn’t have been the same.

As I approached graduation, I was reminded that the workforce expects graduates to be able to successfully navigate their jobs while mastering the skill of collaboration. I feel significantly more prepared in this skill due to my women’s studies degree. The program taught me how to relate better to others and to understand that we all come from different backgrounds, perspectives, and lived experiences.

Women’s studies students learn to love the question "What are you going to with a women’s studies degree?" I look at the world through a completely different set of lenses because of this program. These lenses taught me not only what it means to stand your truth but how to actually stand in it. So, my sassy answer to that question is now "What will you do without one?"

In June, I will be starting a job with Target in the Minneapolis area. I would be lying if I didn’t say I was a little nervous to leave the comfort and community I have gained here at UW–Eau Claire. It will be a challenge to find new outlets of activism and a new community. To overcome the uncertainty, I must remember my all-consuming demand for equality and my love of feminism.

I breathe it. I walk it. Some days the walk is lonelier than others and some days it feels as if it would be more comforting to turn around. I refuse to turn around. I will keep pushing forward.