Undergraduate research inspires personal discoveries
Kim Grinhaus spent much of her sophomore year at Union on a special research topic: studying the HBO hit “Girls” and exploring what it means to be a modern-day feminist.
“’Girls’ has received a lot of criticism,” says Kim. “The director/main character, Lena Dunham, is controversial for her honest portrayal of nudity and the struggles of young women trying to make it in New York City. I explored this controversy and created connections between the show, third-wave feminism and my own life.”
Agree to disagree
Kim was pleasantly surprised when her adviser, Political Science Professor Lori Marso, disagreed with her conclusions.
“My thesis – that ‘Girls’ empowers women and enhances feminism – didn’t line up with her viewpoint,” Kim says. “She doesn’t think the program is that meaningful, and she doesn’t think its approach, which is pretty raw, is where feminism should be right now. I loved hearing that. She assured me that there’s not one correct outlook, and our conversations fed my curiosity and opened new avenues for my research.”
For Kim, feminism means women supporting other women regardless of their choices.
“Before this, if you didn’t make the same decisions as feminists, you weren’t considered part of the movement,” she says. “We can now do what might be right for us individually – regarding, for example, breastfeeding, abortion, or working full time and raising a family – yet still unite around equality and respect for women as a whole.”
Reading books by feminist scholars and power players such as Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg, Kim was dismayed to encounter statistics about how few women are elected to public office, our nation’s lack of paid maternity leave and the pay gap between men and women. She also became more aware of the ways in which society labels men and women.
“Women in leadership positions are often called overachievers or bossy,” Kim says. “Men are considered ambitious and driven. I see it even among my own friends.”
Although her research deals, in part, with fictional TV characters, it’s also personal and real.
“I wanted my research to be modern and relevant,” she says. "As a 20-year-old college student in a traditional college setting, I'm starting to notice these double standards and expectations for women.”
Leadership and growth
For Kim, it’s worth the risk of being called bossy to pursue her varied personal and research interests. She plays varsity lacrosse for Union and is an active member of both her Minerva House and a sorority. She sits on the Student Athletic Advisory Committee and the Greek Judiciary Board. Her interdepartmental major gives her the flexibility to study a variety of disciplines.
“Interdepartmental majors are unique to Union,” she says. “I can basically construct my own major, intermixing courses from two departments. This is less time-consuming than pursuing a double major, which means I can also take classes in other fields that interest me, such as economics, language and anthropology.”
Her greatest lessons, however, take the form of personal growth.
“At Union, I’ve learned that I have the ability to formulate ideas that are smart, complex and potentially influential,” she says. “I’m confident that I can go on from here and make a positive impact on the world.”
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