Feminist Activism on Campus

By Olivia Rowland ’21

Copy Editor

Anonymous social media accounts are commonplace at schools, and HWS is no exception. While most of these accounts are primarily focused on entertainment, there is one anonymous Instagram account at HWS with a more serious purpose: @bossbitchtheory, which has been posting about feminist theory and feminist issues on campus since the fall of 2017. The Herald met with the owner of the account, who wished to remain anonymous, to discuss how it got started and what impact it has had on campus.

Boss Bitch Theory began as a final project for a feminist theory class. The seven students in the class felt that social media was an important form of activism, especially as a way to make feminist theory more accessible to people who might not know much about it. And since an Instagram page would be easier to participate in than a club, the students thought that it would be able to reach more students.

As for the name, “Boss Bitch Theory just came to us,” says the student who runs the account. “It’s feminist theory, and everyone calls you a bitch, and we were kind of reclaiming that word. And you never really hear people be like, ‘Oh, you’re a boss’ to girls, and not often are women bosses in the literal sense.”

The main goal of the account, then, has been increasing feminist awareness on campus about local issues at HWS and issues of global concern. Accordingly, the account mixes general feminist text posts and images with pictures relating directly to HWS. One popular type of post comes from the series “Texts from HWS,” which shows screenshots of texts students received from other students harassing them and explains why harassment is never acceptable.

These posts, which are sent in by community members, illustrate the importance that community has for the account. Although only one student (from the original seven) currently runs the account, many posts are submitted by followers and students in other Women’s Studies classes.

The account is overwhelmingly supported by the online community as well. “The support outweighs the backlash,” according to the account’s owner. Currently, Boss Bitch Theory has close to a thousand followers on Instagram, including HWS faculty members and others not connected to the HWS community. It was officially recognized by HWS after the account managers were awarded the Toni Flores Prize at last year’s Moving Up Day ceremony.

This support becomes important when the account makes a controversial post, like its recent post about Kappa Sigma’s highlighter party on March 1. Despite this party’s connection with the alleged sexual assault reported in The New York Times in 2014, the fraternity has continued to host a party with the same theme every year.

The student who runs the account was upset about this and used Boss Bitch Theory both to vent and to call for change. “It’s messed up that we continue to have the party with the same name,” she says. “There’s so many huge institutional and societal changes we need to make, and a small one is just to acknowledge that the name of a party needs to change.”

Despite this, the student did not expect anything to actually change. One student affiliated with the fraternity posted a joke in the comments, which was the fraternity’s only immediate response to the post. The account also received hateful messages from some members of the campus community who threatened to get the institution involved or even to sue the student for libel and slander for posting about the party. While this is a regular occurrence for the account, what ultimately followed wasn’t: the post ended up canceling the party altogether.

After a conversation Boss Bitch Theory had with one fraternity brother, the fraternity “posted on Facebook that they were changing the theme to no theme.” Then, about an hour later, “they posted to say that they were canceling the party.” Since the cancellation, the student who runs the account has gotten confirmation from the students involved that her post was what caused it.

This incident represents the power that the account has on campus and is one marker of its success in spreading feminist theory at HWS. “Sometimes things need to be controversial; sometimes you need to take a stand and be bold because that’s the only way things will ever change,” says the account owner. “It’s not an attack. It’s just to raise awareness about what’s happening.”

Given this recent momentum, and the fact that the student posting for the account is graduating this year, she wants to make sure that other students keep the account alive and continue the work it has done on campus. Anyone interested in running the account next year, or anyone with anything to share related to feminism, should message @BossBitchTheory on Instagram. And follow them, if you aren’t already.

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