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Face of Feminism

ms-magazine

Paige McKinsey was in middle school when the March for Women’s Rights played out on Capitol Hill. But there she was, rallying with her mother and tens of thousands of others.

“That was the first time I ever experienced the word ‘feminism,’ ” said McKinsey, a UMW senior majoring in women’s and gender studies and international relations. “It was a really important experience, participating in the system at such a young age.”

She could make a difference, she realized, just by showing up. Not that McKinsey, now a full-fledged feminist, “just shows up” for anything. If she isn’t touting equal rights at Lee Hall, she’s tweeting the dangers of adopting Greek life or rallying for the ERA in D.C. She’ll take that passion with her to West Africa when she enters the Peace Corps this spring. But the strides she’s made for Feminists United will remain at Mary Washington.

“She’s taken them out of the shadows to be a real, critical part of campus life,” said Women’s and Gender Studies Chair Allyson Poska.

Paige Heather Reese McKinsey was born with choices – her pick of two middle names – and parents who supported them. As a preschooler in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains, she remembers helping label birth control at her mother’s Planned Parenthood office. Her father embraced his family’s feminist vibe.

By high school, McKinsey played harp, skied cross-country and claimed a spot on the volleyball team. That’s when she read Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns. The author’s message, about the Taliban’s rights-crushing laws against Afghan women, shaped her senior project – a forum for girls’ education and Room to Read fundraiser.

It was 2010, the year UMW unveiled its women’s and gender studies program. That, coupled with one of her first classes, Craig Vasey’s Introduction to Feminism, created the perfect storm.

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“I remember thinking, ‘This is the major I belong in,’ ” said McKinsey, whose short blond hair and bumper sticker-plastered minivan make a statement on campus.

A PRISM and Women’s History Month Planning Committee member, Vagina Monologues co-director and rape crisis counselor, she’s used to being quoted in The Blue & Gray Press. She was surprised, though, this fall when Ms. Magazine ran a photo of her with fellow Feminists United members at a September ERA rally.

“We have a passionate group …,” McKinsey told The Blue & Gray Press about the club’s first visit to Capitol Hill. “[That] will allow us to affect change.”

She spread that passion across UMW at October’s Make Noise rally, where Feminists United and other student groups urged participants to speak out against sexual assault, discrimination and all injustice.

“To have them come out and stand in solidarity with us,” said McKinsey, a former Feminist Majority Foundation intern, “demonstrates that this campus is aware that these issues aren’t happening in a vacuum.”

Her Peace Corps work in Togo, West Africa, with maternal and newborn care, STI prevention and more, will lead to grad school and beyond.

“She’s going to take what she’s learned and make a difference in the world,” Poska said. “I can’t imagine any better tribute to her education.”

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