Taking a cue from elementary classrooms, a handful of students at Cal Lutheran University have taken to using a fill-in-the-blank approach to activism.

It goes like this: Feminism is ________.

(Hint: There is more than one correct answer.)

But unlike most school teachers, they’re not looking for a textbook definition.

Feminism Is… open ended and evolving, as is the five-year-old club by that name at the Thousand Oaks college.

“It’s not one thing to everybody,” Jennie Metzgar, president of the 20-member club. “It’s different for every person, so that’s why it’s called Feminism Is … Define it for yourself. Define it how you want to.”

Metzgar, a 22-year-old senior from Camarillo, defines feminism as the empowerment of women, without the denigration of men.

“There’s a common misconception that feminism is about belittling the role of men in our society, and that’s absolutely not what we’re about,” she said. “We’re not some man-hating, bra-burning club.”

Several men are members of the club and contribute to dispelling stereotypes that surround feminism, Metzgar said.

She feels the club addresses societal needs in Ventura County and helps students take an active role in bringing about change.

“For people of my generation, they think feminism is no longer needed,” Metzgar said. “They think it’s this old, antiquated bra-burning movement that has no necessity in 2008, but it is still very important and very applicable.”

Cheyanne Anderson, vice president of Feminism Is… and president of the school’s Gay Straight Alliance, said she has experienced sexism and stigmas associated with being a feminist at the college.

“Sexism is ingrained in everything that we do,” the 19-year-old Ventura native said. “There’s always a joke about being a feminist, and before I even tell people sometimes I have slurs thrown at me accusing me of this, that and the other in terms of my sexuality.”

Although some club members face ridicule from other classmates at CLU, the school environment is more welcoming than last year for the club, Anderson said.

The murder of 15-year-old Lawrence “Larry” King at Oxnard’s E.O. Green Junior High School in February is an example of the extreme reactions people sometimes have when gender norms are crossed, she added.

“It’s so sad that Lawrence King was so criticized for doing things like wearing women’s boots and makeup
to school,” Anderson said. “He was ridi-culed because he was expressing his femininity. I’m not sure if Lawrence King was trans[sexual] or not, but regardless of that, the fact that femininity in males is so disgusting that they would become violent is so sad.”

Senior Ashley Medley, club secretary, said gender inequality can result in violence.

“When one gender is better than another and when that gets confusing, people react dangerously, and sometimes that can be filled with hate to the degree of killing,” Medley said.

“That just shows that we are far from gender equality.”

Although Feminism Is… is based at CLU, the club encourages outside participation and holds a community event about once a month.

“That’s a huge goal of ours, to get more people from the community to come to our events and engage in the discussions with us,” Anderson said.

The group’s next event, “Take Back the Night,” designed to empower victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, will be held April 9 from 7 to 9 p.m. at Kingsmen Park on the CLU campus. The free event will feature informative displays set up by community groups, entertainment, and a walk of the cycle of domestic violence.