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Purposeful clubs at the school fight for feminist values
January 24, 2017
Multiple clubs at the high school have an underlying feminist agenda. These clubs include the Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA), the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL Pro-Choice) and Students Against Human Trafficking (SAHT).
All three provide a space for students to discuss feminist issues and get involved combatting problems women face. They hold popular events and fundraisers but have also encountered problems with recruitment.
Gender Sexuality Alliance
According to freshman Vlad Pawlowsky, a member of the club, The Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) is a place “to inform people, have fun, include everyone, try to make new friends, and just learn more about the LGBTQ+ community.”
Massachusetts became the first state to recognize same-sex marriage in 2004, 11 years before it became legal throughout the country. The LGBTQ+ community continues to fight for rights like these, and GSA is a part of this effort.
The club organizes events that range from the Day of Dialogue to Transgender Day of Remembrance; inside the group, they learn about LGBTQ+ literature and speak to GSA alumni about their experiences after high school.
GSA is important for educating young people on issues pertaining to the LGBTQ+ community, according to junior Isabel Wetzler.
“Having groups like this that help educate students like us so we are educated when we go out into the world and actually make contributions to the government is, I think, really important,” Wetzler said.
Freshman member Hayley Bos said the club is a great opportunity to meet older people with more experience in the LGBTQ community.
“It was just really nice to find a group of people that are like me early in the year,” Bos remarked. According to Wetzler, feminism is important to the GSA, as the members fight for equal rights for all.
“We’re fighting so hard for equal rights for us, and it would be deplorable to just be like, ‘we want equal rights for these people but not these people,’ so we tend to fight for a lot of different things, not just LGBTQ rights,” Wetlzer said.
Wetzler says that the community is growing and gaining support from many, and the club encourages students to join the movement.
“The LGBTQ community is an up and coming group in the world and we’re getting bigger; we’re getting more support,” Wetzler said. “It may seem like a daunting task, but it shouldn’t be, and we’d love if you’d come.”
NARAL Pro-Choice at Brookline High School
NARAL Pro-Choice is a new club this year dedicated to the pro-choice movement, according to junior Alison Keenan, a member of the club. They are connected to a larger organization working in Massachusetts and across the nation.
“We are trying to promote education and awareness as well as do some fundraising and lobbying for pro-choice issues,” according to Keenan.
In 1973, the United States Supreme Court ruled that abortion would be legal throughout the nation (with certain conditions) in the Roe v. Wade case. The landmark decision is still debated today, even in the 2016 presidential election. NARAL is working to fight a potential overturning of the decision.
The group has hosted and been a part of numerous fundraisers, events and campaigns. Some of these include hosting a screening of the documentary Trapped, participating in a phone banking event for a pro-choice candidate, a photo campaign of people holding signs stating why they are pro-choice (similarly to the viral “I’m a feminist because…” campaign), raising money for Brookline Women’s Health Services, and others. In addition to these events, they have also personally written letters to Governor Charlie Baker over his proposed budget, which would cut funding for family planning services.
Junior Stella Shiffman, another member of the club, says the advantage of their connection to the larger organization of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts is their ability to actually get involved and make a difference.
“If we were just a pro-choice club and we weren’t connected to a larger organization, I don’t think we’d have as many opportunities to do things like fundraisers,” Shiffman stated. “We wouldn’t have as many connections and resources, so I think it’s important to have this kind of space and these kinds of opportunities for students.”
Feminism is a vital concept for the club, since reproductive rights are often seen as part of the core of feminism, according to Shiffman.
“Pro-choice, I think, is one of the most important parts of feminism,” Shiffman said. “Everyone, no matter their race, what gender they were assigned at birth, or their sexuality, should be equal.”
Students Against Human Trafficking
Students Against Human Trafficking (SAHT) is a well-known club that works to reduce world-wide sex trafficking through a variety of fundraisers and education efforts. Events include a Day of Awareness, selling shirts with their logo, and other fundraising.
According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, there were 69 cases of human trafficking in the state of Massachusetts in 2016, and 50 of them were of sex trafficking.
Senior Avery Grace says SAHT works to bring attention to the issue of sex trafficking while \ working with organizations.
“The goal of our club is to raise awareness about the issue of commercial sexual exploitation and to raise money for an organization called My Life My Choice that works to fight the industry through education and awareness and their mentorship program,” Grace said.
Grace says that, although many do not realize how close to home the issue is, sexual exploitation is seen in Brookline and Boston, too.
“I think it’s an important club because this issue is really important, and it’s something that affects us here at Brookline and in Boston more than people necessarily think,” Grace said.
Being focused on such a specific problem allows the group to actually make progress instead of taking on the whole issue of sexism, according to senior Ian Roberson.
“There can be tangible things done about this issue and so that’s one of the things that I think made me so intrigued,” Roberson said. “We work on a very specific issue, and it falls under a really huge ideological umbrella, but it’s definitely doable.”
This year the group has dedicated more time to discussing feminism and sexism because of how pertinent it is to sex trafficking, according to Roberson.
“We’ve been a lot more focused on feminism in general in terms of talking about rape culture and how it is such a huge part of sex trafficking,” Roberson says. “It’s the fact that women are objectified that is why we feel like we can sell and buy women, so I think sexism is the root cause of our issue.”
Despite being a well known club, SAHT is finding it difficult to find male members, although they have had boys join before, mostly due to being labeled a “feminist club,” says Grace.
“I think part of it is just the label of a ‘feminist club’ that men aren’t necessarily receptive of, just because it feels like maybe it doesn’t apply to them in the same way or there’s an emotional connection that’s missing, and there’s nothing wrong with guys for not wanting to join this club,” Grace said. “We definitely have had men in the past and have a few boys in the club now. I don’t want to label it as ‘all men don’t want to do this,’ but I think it’s easy to say ‘oh, that’s a club for girls’ and to get stuck in that cycle.”
Roberson wants people to understand that although SAHT discusses sad themes, it is to secure a future with less sexual exploitation.
“SAHT doesn’t want to be the buzzkill of the school that makes everyone come to these really depressing assemblies,” Roberson said. “I think we see hope in understanding these really depressing things in that by understanding them, we can work to change them and live in a much better culture. We really want to motivate people to make change.”
Roberson says that in order to make any real progress, both men and women must collaborate to create solutions.
“We abide by a definition, by a principle of feminism that is about working together,” Roberson explained. “It’s not just women; it’s all of us working together.”
All three clubs are similar in their desire to make some change in the world, however big or small the impact may be. According to many club members, feminism is an important part of this change.
To Shiffman, feminism is a method of addressing the negative impacts of sexism within society.
“Feminism is important because I think sexism affects everyone negatively, even though people may not realize it,” Shiffman stated. “It’s dictating a lot of the way that we do things in society, and feminism counteracts this oppression.”