Author Archives: Mary Frances Pipino

Why is “feminism” a four-letter word?


Mary Frances Pipino, Ph.D., Director of the Ursuline Studies Program 

The semester is coming to a close, and with it my course,  WS 201 Introduction to Gender Studies. It’s been an amazing journey for me, with 19 bright, opinionated, inquisitive, hard-working young women for travelling companions.

On the first day of class, I asked the group (by show of hands) who considered herself a feminist. Only one student raised her hand. I expected this response—as Lisa Maria Hogeland wrote in a 1994 article for Ms. titled “Fear of Feminism: Why Young Women Get the Willies,” young women distance themselves from that identity for a number of reasons, noting that “fear of feminism is fear of consequences.”

Read More

Professor perspective: bring back our girls!


Mary Frances Pipino, Ph.D., Director of the Ursuline Studies Program

Recent events in Nigeria—the mass kidnapping of nearly 300 girls from a boarding school by the extremist group Boko Haram (which translates as “western education is sin”)—have galvanized the international community. Leader Abubakar Shekau has laughingly declared that Allah has commanded him to sell the girls; the girls are either being sold as wives to militia members (and the bride price collected), or used as sex slaves.

Several have died, according to reports, and many more are seriously ill. An attack on a village at Nigeria’s border with Cameroon on Monday, resulting in hundreds of deaths, is believed to be motivated by the village’s use as a base of operation to track down the kidnapped girls.

Read More

Egypt Goes To The Polls For Parliamentary Elections

You Gotta Fight for Your Right!

American citizens have the right to vote; it says so in the Constitution, doesn’t it?

Not so fast …

You may be surprised to know that there is no explicit statement of a right to vote in the Constitution (In fact, in May of this year, Democratic Representative Mark Pocan of Wisconsin proposed a constitutional amendment, in a bill co-sponsored by fellow Democrat Keith Ellison of Minnesota, making the right the right to vote explicit)—we have only statements prohibiting certain practices or restrictions that interfere with one’s ability to cast a vote (i.e. poll taxes, which were designed to disenfranchise the poor, or disenfranchisement based on sex or race). Thus, the history of voting rights in the United States has been a process of expansion through negation—usually through federal action, such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965, that supersedes voting laws otherwise left to state discretion, and dictates to the states conditions under which they may not interfere with access to the vote.

Who knew? (many people, it turns out, but not as many you’d think—or as many as should know). Voting is one important way in which adult citizens can officially register their positions and opinions on various matters, from choosing government officials, to funding of school s, to support of local social services. Elections such as the one today, focused largely on issues of local interest and impact (school levies, etc.), tend to have anemic voter turnout, because not much seems to be at stake as with a national election. I urge everyone to exercise your voting voice—especially in light of our Ursuline mission—to make an official declaration of your values and your vision for your community, your state, and ultimately, your country. It’s cliché to say so (OK, thank you Captain Obvious!), but when so many have risked their lives to gain and to defend access to the vote, when there are so many places in the world in which free, fair and open elections, access to the vote, and self-determination are merely dreams, it seems irresponsible and even immoral to waste the opportunity.

It’s easy to get discouraged about, even fearful of speaking out, in the face of social or familial pressure, financial concerns, government stalemate, (and myriad other factors) and to feel that your voice/vote doesn’t matter, that it will have no impact, or that it might “make trouble” for you. But the fact that “right” to vote doesn’t technically exist in our Constitution makes it all the more precious and necessary to use. I am inspired by the images here of people waiting in long lines to vote, to brave all kinds of threats and dire conditions, and by the joyful face of a young Iraqi woman triumphantly holding up her purple-inked finger after casting her vote. So vote and make your voice heard!

Egypt Goes To The Polls For Parliamentary Elections

Cairo, Egypt, parliamentary election. November
28, 2011.

Voters in Grand Rapids 11-6-12

Voters wait in line at Harrison Park Elementary School in Grand Rapids, Mich. Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Andrews Osborne Academy students Read Out!

Thirteen Reasons Why the Beloved Captain Underpants is Looking for Alaska

“Beginning to think is beginning to be undermined”—this simple yet profound observation comes from French novelist and existentialist philosopher Albert Camus. I return to this quote often in my work as a scholar and as a teacher; it reminds us that true education is not merely the accumulation of facts, nor is it simply training to become “something.” Rather, the goal of education is to put ourselves face-to-face with ideas, experiences, and viewpoints that challenge us to examine our values and beliefs. And as Camus’ observation suggests, this process can be risky, frightening, and downright dangerous. However, to run away from or cover up ideas that appear to threaten our comfort and certainty diminishes us intellectually, morally, and spiritually. This past week we celebrated intellectual freedom with a Read Out of books that have been challenged, restricted, or outright banned in the interest of protecting social, political, and religious values. The fact that we have reason to celebrate Banned Books Week  actually cheers me—for all of the supposed irrelevance and uselessness of literature, art and the humanities in our culture, the fact that year after year challenges and objections arise to “dangerous” books  demonstrates clearly the tremendous power of literature, of words, and  of the creative mind. The event was a great success; we did field one complaint about inappropriate material, and,  interestingly, we also had one passerby become irate thinking we were advocating censorship through our display! (but once the purpose of the Read Out was made clear, all was well!). And best of all, Captain Underpants made a special guest appearance!        

Andrews Osborne Academy students Read Out!

Andrews Osborne Academy students Read Out!

So don’t be afraid to open yourself to ideas that run counter to your own beliefs —you may learn something unexpected, see the world in a new way, let of something you thought unshakeable. You may also come away with your values all the stronger for having engaged in the difficult, risky and always rewarding work that real thinking requires.


BTW: The title of this post is a mashup of several titles from the list of most challenged books for 2012-13. Check ’em out!