VOICE leader chats

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    By MEGAN CHRISTOFFERSO

    In the past, feminists on campus have carried a controversial reputation at BYU and have been criticized for their beliefs and actions. However, Suzanne Kemeny, one of the leaders of VOICE, a club dedicated to women’s issues, in no way fits the “femi-Nazi” stereotype.

    She looks rather unassuming with her bobbed, blonde hair and long, flowing skirt. She definitely wouldn’t categorize herself as “militant.” She said she loves to read and sing. “I love camping,” Kemeny said. “Everyone says they love to go camping, but I really do.” She has a pet dove.

    Kemeny’s views aren’t those of a radical feminist.

    “I see feminism as realizing that there are choices,” Kemeny said. “I see feminism not as saying you have to stay at home or you have to be a career woman. … You have potential, but you have the choice.”

    Kemeny, a sophomore from South Bend, Ind., with a pre-nursing major, said society limits people to arbitrary cultural roles, and people have to conform to those roles.

    “I don’t think there should be roles,” she said. “It has to work for the individual, and in marriage, couples have to work that out for themselves,” Kemeny said.

    According to Kemeny, the mission of VOICE is to promote the status of women through education, service and activism.

    “I’m specifically very concerned with the education aspect,” Kemeny said. “Just getting people at BYU to realize that there are problems and recognize the issues.”

    Club activities range from service projects and educational speakers to rallies and workshops on women’s issues. Recently, the group participated in a literacy night at which they talked about literacy and what they could do to help solve the problem.

    Kemeny said it helped her to realize what an important issue literacy is. “It’s more than just reading great literature; it’s more fundamental, like going to the grocery store and not being able to tell how much things cost.”

    Kemeny’s face lit up with anticipation when she spoke about one of her favorite activities, “Take Back the Night,” during which men and women rally together against violence and crime.

    “It’s not safe to walk alone at night, and it should be,” Kemeny said. “It’s a really exciting feeling to see both women and men march down the street with candles, symbolically and literally taking back the night.”

    Another of the activities she thinks important is “Clothesline,” where victims of rape, abuse and violence can paint T-shirts expressing their feelings.

    “People say this is ugly, and we don’t want to see this, but I think it’s important because it helps the people who make the shirts, and it shows to everyone else that there is a problem,” Kemeny said.

    Kemeny, a sophomore who grew up mostly in the Midwest, was hesitant to join VOICE when she first came to BYU because of its reputation. She said she went with her sister, and then as she learned about feminism she decided the issues discussed at the meetings were things she really believed.

    “I saw the women I loved not living up to their potential because they thought ‘I can’t do this’,” she said. “Society underestimated them, and it hurt me. The more I studied and read about it, I could see it as not something that was theoretical but had an impact on my life.”

    Kemeny said it concerns her that women think they are just at BYU to get married or that they view their education as something to fall back on. “Education is more than a means to support yourself and get money. Education enriches the whole person,” she said. “It makes you a better person and more able to deal with life.”

    Kemeny said she doesn’t believe that all women have to be career women. “Staying home is noble, but you want to be able to teach your children,” she said. “I think strong women are compatible with strong families. If you want to have a strong family you need strong leaders for the family.”

    According to Kemeny, both members in a marriage need to learn submission because the principle extends beyond the home. “By making women and men equal, we are allowing for the same ideology that makes blacks and whites equal and that makes everyone equal,” Kemeny said.

    Kemeny said if people took time to study feminism they would see being a feminist as more acceptable. “The goals we are working for are not controversial. The word feminist is controversial,” Kemeny said. “I think when most people start to listen to us, see the different things that VOICE is doing on campus.”

    Kemeny said she agrees there are some feminists who go too far but that happens in any situation. She believes in a middle ground. If women have groups and services then men should also be able to, she said.

    “I think it’s very important for men to bond. The relationships between men and men and women and women will enrich the relationships between men and women as they come to understand each other better and understand themselves better.”

    Kemeny said there is no typical VOICE member or typical feminist. There are men and women in the group and people from all areas of study.

    Despite the controversy surrounding the club, Kemeny said she thinks it is making a difference.

    “Some of the things we do, like clothesline, make people uncomfortable, but that’s the only way you can change. And the only way you can grow is by dealing with the uncomfortable and making a decision about it instead of just ignoring it.”

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