Five Ways to Make Your Graduation More Feminist

A week ago, I graduated from the University of Minnesota. While I am grateful for the people who helped me get there, I credit my fierce feminism for the fact that I did well in school and remained true to myself during the process of graduating. However, I find it can be difficult to remain feminist in family-related gatherings, especially during celebrations which put the corresponding gender expectations accompanying your future success in the center of everyone’s attention.

So, as a treat to all of you out there either in the process of graduating or planning to graduate from something at some point, I bring you a list of ways to make the graduate season more feminist. Let’s hit it:

1. The Planning

While graduation is meant to honor your accomplishments, the fact of the matter is that you need to plan. As the female, the expectation is that you will not only juggle finals week and prepping for graduation, but your apartment and general living space will be in pristine condition. As the female, the dual expectation is that you will be the best in your studies while also prioritizing your personal, private life (hello, separate spheres) above these studies.

But we all know that’s not going to happen. Like I said, it was finals week. It was your last shift at work. You had a total of ten hours of sleep in the past five days, and sometime between writing your last final and eating scrambled eggs at 4:30 in the morning, you remember that you did not clean, and obviously you panic. The family is coming into town in less than five hours, and they have all of these expectations, subtle or not. They expect that you, the graduate, must also have your apartment organized and ready for guests because your lady bits dictate that your home will also be as clean. But like your pubes, your apartment has been unkempt for the last five weeks leading up to this moment.

How to resolve this: make sure that, at all costs, the family does not go into your apartment. Pretend your place is being fumigated. Say that the landperson doesn’t allow visitors. Say that your roommate’s cat is feral. Just say anything so no one steps foot into your disgusting apartment. And if they do, prepare yourself for a barrage of comments which suggest you cannot take care of yourself because you cannot be bothered to pick up the one sock that’s been on your otherwise clean living room floor for at least three months.

photo by Max Liboiron

2. The Gown

What is the one thing that really defines traditional, patriarchal graduations? The gowns. Well, actually, it’s the outfit you wear underneath the gown. As resident lady, you are expected to wear something business casual which is also pretty which is also sensible which is also flattering which is also classy.

But you and I both know that no one is actually going to see the outfit you wear underneath your gown. Those gowns are plastic sheets cut up into shapes to resemble something like a gown, and they’re hot as hell. You’ll be sitting in the auditorium for hours waiting for your name to be called, but what is the expectation: that you wear something pretty with pretty shoes and my god look how pretty you are. So, how to resolve this: just wear whatever you want. Because in the end, all the graduates look like human trash bags with tassels.

3. The (Class) Ring

Oh wow, you also didn’t spend 300 dollars on a gaudy, mob-style ring that you would never actually wear in public? Good, because no one ever does. That’s reserved for college sports, which, you know, is cool…Go Gophers!

4. Giving Away…Your Hopes and Dreams

During this time, many people will marvel at the idea that you, a woman, will be going off by yourself into the world. While this marveling should be taken for the compliment it is intended to be, it also calls into question your ability to be a functioning human being. Because of this inexplicable idea to your family that you not only are a functioning person but also have no qualms moving for a job or graduate school, you will be asked a series of repeated questions, such as: “Are you nervous?”, “Are you scared?,” and my personal favorites, the backhanded compliments. “It’s really amazing that you would go off and do that, but I always thought you would be the one to stay at home.” You know this subtle sexism is simply a way through which the people who love you unconditionally are trying to express their excitement and fear for you. However, the real issue is the soul-wrenching repetition of this genre of questions. You will be asked this by every single person at your graduation. Every. Single. Person. And some of these people will ask it five or six times in the span of three hours.

The solution to this: when you feel yourself ready to scream at this subtle sexism, find the nearest, darkest room and close the door and sit. Take a few breaths, and remember that the weekend is almost over. If left untreated, your head will implode.

5. The Party

Your family will be coming in from your small town in wherever the hell you grew up, and so majority of your family will experience culture shock. Despite the party’s location in a rather affluent suburb of your city, you will field many slightly racist concerns about “undesirables” coming into the garage where you’ve held this party. The Party is another site for the endless series of questions mentioned in item four, but the added expectation is you will help plan your party. In the grand scheme of life, this is not necessarily a terrible expectation, especially if you got a party without planning a damn thing like I did (thanks mom!).

But still. Would they expect the same thing if you were a boy? Would you be able to use the “I’m a man, so I don’t know how to plan anything” excuse if you were in fact a man? Not always, which is why this type of sexism is super subtle. There’s an unspoken set of expectations placed upon you, in that you must prioritize the superficial things like the party and the ceremony over the actual accomplishment of graduating college. So, you will end up dealing with guests and helping your mother, who was also roped into this form of sexism via the “you’re the mom and, therefore, must be in charge of party things” bit. So, you and your mother, victims of the patriarchy, will spend your time arranging beautifully homemade place settings. The solution: I suggest heavy drinking. My vice is caffeine, but feel free to get tipsy. It’s a party, after all.

In the end, the real life things like extraordinary debt and moving five times in four years won’t seem that daunting after dealing with graduation weekend. So…congrats on graduating! Prepare for imminent doom.

*The inspiration for the style of this post is from an Everyday Feminism article titled “How Can a Wedding Be More Feminist? Here are 6 Ideas” by Alice Williams. Click here to read.*
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