Cook County Needs Feminism Because…

Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression –

Bell Hooks

Lately talk of feminism – what it is, who is one and who is not – has moved to a more widespread arena. Celebrities calling themselves feminists, gender related campaigns from the UN making headlines, no longer do you only have to search through the pages of Ms. magazine or scroll the online blog Jezebel to get your feminist fix.

Even so have we yet answered all those questions? What is it? Who is one? Who is not? What led them to the claiming of that title?

Four years ago at the beginning of my college career these questions were foreign to me. I would have thought, my hometown of Grand Marais, Minnesota, a feminist community? Meh I don’t know.

Upon arriving at Augsburg College, playing the painful “get to know you” games freshman are forced to partake in I was often met with confusion after telling my hometown.

Where is that?

There are no malls close to you?

What do you even do up there?

Or my personal favorite…

How do you hear new music?

As if the radio hadn’t reached the north shore yet.

Although I would enthusiastically argue about how Grand Marais was not THAT BAD of a place to grow up it was not until my final year at college I realized how amazing a hometown it truly was.

At Augsburg I began majoring in Sociology but halfway through decided to tack on a women’s studies major as well. The combination of classes made me see life in a way I never had. I suddenly had a vocabulary to describe what I had been witnessing. I had a name for the passions that were driving my college choices.

I was a feminist.

To a privileged naive twenty-two year old saying the word feminist is easy as pie. Just say it, it’s just a word right? Oh how very wrong I was. My women’s studies classes clued me into the history of this word, the repercussions of the label, how the intersectionality of race, sexual identity, class, gender and many others changes this label for different people.

My mind was blown. I was feverishly reading anything I could get my hands on that had to do with feminism, online blogs, feminist novelists new and old. I met Gloria Steinem and heard her speak. And that was that. My new sense of feministness was here to stay.

But the more I started to read the more I reflected on the place I grew up, Cook County. I thought back to the get to know you games at Augsburg, how people did not even think the radio reached up the north shore, let alone feminism. But I wanted to connect my passions and interests I had gained at school to my hometown. I had seen campaigns similar to this before, done by schools and student organizations. Different groups telling the world why they needed feminism.

Then it struck me that the way much of my family, friends, teachers and community members shaped me was very feminist in nature. Did they know this I wondered? Did they all realize that they looked like big ol’ feminists?

I asked. And the response was incredible. Not only does Cook County have a thriving feminist community but people were calling themselves feminist. I don’t know what I was expecting. Maybe to ask and have people laugh or to respond to me with hate mail.

But I should have known better of Cook County, because the pictures you see below are people who shape this community, work in hospitals, own businesses, run stores, volunteer in their free time. They are mothers, fathers, partners, sisters, and brothers. They are human beings, and great ones at that.

I asked of my participants to make a sign that says why they need feminism. The results are beautiful:




























When time allowed I had three questions I asked participants after their picture was taken:

1.How does Cook County let the feminist in you thrive? Does it?

2.Why your saying (that is on their sign?)

3.How do your saying and Cook County connect?

For me the most interesting part was hearing why the participant said what they said. Why did they choose that reason above all others?

A very present theme was the idea that feminism offers women a voice.

Rita Plourde has “been involved in the feminist movement since 1969 and always saw it as a platform for voice.” She went on to highlight that it is “our right, ability, and freedom to be there, to make change” and “if you don’t have a voice to speak there’s no avenue for change.”

Amber Todd believes that feminism, “starts the conversation” and believes that “without dialogue there will be no change.”

Whitney Wahlers sign stated that she needed feminism because “more women need a voice.”

Kelsey Kennedy noted that she is “constantly frustrated that women’s voices are often silenced  or demeaned with things like ‘she is crazy’ ‘she is aggressive’ ‘she hates men’. I am proud of the loud equality focused voices that have stood up and shouted the inequalities to the world.”

Sue Hakes notes that not only are strong female voices important but they “change the conversation.”

An overwhelmingly present theme in responses to these questions was the idea of how powerful the women in Grand Marais are.

Heidi Kirk shared that this year we have a, “female majority county board so the woman’s voice is being heard.”

Jane Gellner mentioned that, “Cook County has had a tremendous amount of strong women” and “women who stand for their own rights are respected.”

Kelsey Kennedy noted that, “the downtown community is full of business that were started and run by women. I was lucky enough to see this and not think this strange. These women were leaders, they were strong, they were money makers, and many had families.”

With the rise of any movement often comes backlash. And feminism is not immune to the trend. Along with a growing conversation comes a growing number of people who run against them. There are crazy webpages, “We Don’t Need Feminism” popping up, books explaining how feminism is ruining the youth today, and just a total rejection of the word in general. What can often be found with these conversations is a complete misunderstanding of the word.

There are undoubtedly those in Grand Marais who think well I support gender equality but I am not a feminist. But you are. I know for a fact that many residents of Cook County are feminists and don’t even know it.

A 2013 Huffington Post/YouGov poll proves this: While only 20% of Americans identified themselves as feminists, a whopping 82% of respondents believed that “men and women should be social, political, and economic equals.”

The word is scary for some, intimidating or potentially polarizing. The hairy legged man-hating lesbian woman is an outdated image and these pictures buck that stereotype. A big misconception of the word feminist is that men are not included.

Scott Puch (my awesome father) noted that he chooses to “help eliminate gender prejudice.” He said that after thinking about it he knows he has to make a conscious effort to choose to make change.

Drew Holmen needs feminism because “getting birth control should be as easy as buying condoms.”

Stephen Hoglund believes that feminism is the, “natural law link or code to equality of all humanity.”

Andy Butter, who’s poster said, “being mistaken for a girl should never be an insult.” Due to his long hair he had been mistaken for a girl numerous times. The interesting part was that when people realized their mistake they, “apologized profusely” acting as if they had insulted him by calling him female.

Christopher Hoglund knows that, “sexism hurts everyone.”

And Michael McHugh needs feminism because he knows, the “glass ceiling still hangs above my daughter’s head.”

These amazing men show that men need to be in the conversation. And I am thankful for them.

Feminism is a dirty word in some circles.

Which is all the more reason to claim it. To say it proudly, to share with others, to stand up and say I am a feminist. Because when you do that, when you can say it, you are spreading the message that you want better. You believe there potential for a world that is better.

I need feminism because this work is not done yet. A concern many participants noted.

Jean Spry (my awesome mother) wrote that “we are still fighting some of the same issues from 30 years ago.” Still looking to solve problems that have been plaguing women for decades.

Sue Hennessy feels that for every two steps forward we have taken one step back.

Pat Campanaro shared that we were “fighting the good fight in the 60’s” and continued that “it’s sad everyone doesn’t see it as a continuing issue.”

Rachel Murrin Andrus needs feminism because she doesn’t want her “daughter’s generation to have to worry about this issue.”

Feminism can guide our future and move forward. Break the societal pressures and stereotypes we all face. Create an environment where all people can exist as who they want to be. A future where women are equally represented in politics. Where women don’t have to deal with slut-shaming or aren’t blamed for being assaulted. Where men aren’t looked at as beasts who can’t control their sexual urges. It sounds ideal but I think we can get there. And so do many of the people involved in this project.

Carrie Palmer is sick of body hair policing. She shared that, “not shaving my legs should not be a problem.”

Kari Nelson is tired of the phrase, “it’s a generational thing” as an excuse for ignorance or refusal to move forward.

Marie Nordahl needs feminism because, “girls are over-sexualized in the media” but “underrepresented in politics, economics, athletics, leadership and sciences.”

Sophie Holz was only 12 years old when she experienced slut-shaming for her choice of clothing. She stated, “I chose my saying because it was an event that really affected my perceptions of sexuality and women. I was going through a very confusing transitory phrase of my life and the fact that those words, specifically that word, came from my mother really hurt.”

Abby Hedstrom Tofte needs feminism because there are still dads of high schoolers “who think it’s ok to hit on high school girls.”

The responses in this project show the varied reasoning and experiences of the feminists of Cook County. All of these far-reaching reasons came from people right here in my community.

Michelle Weitz needs feminism to help understand the complex, “intersectionality of oppression” that we all face in some capacity.

Maren Webb noted that “sex trafficking is happening in our own backyard.”

And Taryn Manthey Logan needs feminism because she is an “ogichitaakwe: an Anishinaabekwe that is committed to helping the Anishinaabe people.”

Many are still hiding behind the delusion that nothing like that happens in Grand Marais. But these responses show different. Every town, in every county, in every state is experiencing issues of gender inequality. And every town has amazing people who are trying to make change on these issues.

Lucky for me this project allowed me to talk to a few of the people doing that work in Grand Marais. Not only that but I get to share it through this project with all of you.

Special thanks to everyone who took the time to be involved in this project!



  1. Carly…it might be interesting to study feminism and women’s leadership in Cook County. A quick glance around indicates many women owned businesses and many female led non-profits. The amount of women participating in local government ebbs and flows, but in the past 20 years, we’ve had 4 females mayors and sometimes a majority on the City Council and County Board. If the percentage of women in leadership is indeed higher in Cook County, the question is why? What conditions exist here that make this possible and acceptable with very little opposition and no fanfare? Would love to talk about this over a cup of coffee sometime.

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