Earlier this month, I had the amazing opportunity to travel with my professor Bethany Johnson to Hartford, Connecticut, to attend The Connecticut Forum’s panel discussion titled The State of Women 2012. Wow. What a trip. Here’s a couple of clips to get you started:
Clip #1 features Connie Schultz and Gloria Steinem talking about the question “Can women have it all?”
Clip #2 features Ashley Judd and Michelle Bernard discussing why it is important to talk about women.
Clip #3 features Gloria Steinem and Connie Schultz talking about team sports and women’s bodies.
As you can see, the four panelists at the Connecticut Forum (Michelle Bernard, Ashley Judd, Connie Schultz and Gloria Steinem) have a lot of brilliant things to say about women. There are a couple more clips from the conference on Youtube — check them out.
Getting to this conference was an experience itself. Prof. Johnson found out about it in mid September, and I had to decide within the next few days if I could go. Three questions: how much did it cost, how would I get there, how would I get home? Thankfully, Prof. Johnson arranged for the cost of my ticket to be covered, and I managed to find a ride with a friend halfway there, where I met up with Prof. Johnson and she drove the rest of the way. I spent the rest of the weekend relaxing at my friend’s house in Woodbridge. The whole weekend was fantastic.
But this trip to the CT Forum was the decided highlight of the weekend. I’m (un)lucky enough to have no experience with Gloria Steinem’s work, and I made the choice to do no googling before the event. I knew her name and not much more. I wanted to be surprised/impressed/untainted. I wanted some first hand experience before reading the Wikipedia article about her. I still haven’t read the Wikipedia page, but I do know what I am reading over summer this year, and it will include a lot of Gloria Steinem. (By the way, I think it is heinous that women in my generation don’t know who Gloria Steinem is, myself included.)
So, still knowing minimal about Steinem, I am seriously and thoroughly impressed/awed by her at the CT Forum. How to describe her? Words that came to mind during the event included grace, beautiful, wisdom, magical. I have met very few people as astute or as knowledgeable as Gloria Steinem on the stage. She was more impressive than Bill Clinton when I saw him four years ago speaking in support of Obama at Penn State, and President Clinton has a reputation for being a fantastic speech-maker (which he is). Gloria Steinem ruled the night.
But let’s not cut the other panelists short; they were all fantastic. Michelle Bernard, the sometimes-conservative and the only panelist of an ethnic minority, was loud and boisterous, thoroughly engaging. She was hilarious, as was Connie Schultz. Schultz dominated the personal anecdote, telling stories about teasing Rush Limbaugh, naming cabbage patch dolls “Gloria Steinem” and getting phone calls from reporters asking how she knew her husband. Ashley Judd added a beautiful layer of poise and dignity, referring to “the candidate of my choice” and “the god of my understanding,” instead of openly endorsing a politician or religion (this level and type of tact impressed me).
Even if the topic of the panel had been something completely different, something that I am only marginally interested in (like the zombie apocalypse panel I attended last November at Philcon), I would have had a good time at the Connecticut Forum. Luckily for me, the topic was the state of women, which is something that (as a woman) I am highly interested in. But being at the panel felt like a breath of fresh air to me. Don’t get me wrong — I love attending a Christian college. The socio-political atmosphere and student religious culture, however, make it ridiculously difficult for me to express myself as a woman and as a feminist. NOTE: This isn’t on the college. This is on the student culture. For the most part, I think that Nyack College is fairly decent in its acceptance and support of female professionals and women in academia (for the most part). I’ve talked about it with some professors and the Dean of Students. Nyack is a great place to work (it even won an award for it or something). But student culture is pretty darn oppressive. This is a “ring-by-spring,” MRS degree institution, and although Liberty University is over ten times the size of Nyack College, Nyack’s student culture is very similar to that depicted by Kevin Roose in The Unlikely Disciple. So you can imagine that being an outspoken liberal feminist is difficult on this campus. Being at the Connecticut Forum was like a validating breath of fresh air. There are people in the world who think like me? There are people in the world who see the ways that women are being mistreated in our society? I’m not alone?
One of the things that I remember the panelists talking about is the attitude that feminism isn’t needed anymore when it most definitely is. Women’s rights, I have been (accurately) told, are really human rights. And that’s the attitude that I’m coming up against pretty regularly. It makes me think of the 1920s. Suffrage finally happens, but the women’s movement shrinks. When NAWSA becomes the League of Women Voters after the 19th amendment, is membership goes down to 10% of what it had been. The next generation of women stopped caring or something. Feminism lulled. It lulled again in the 1980s. It’s lulling again now. It’s uncool to be a feminist.
More than anything, The State of Women 2012 panel felt like an inauguration. I felt like I was taking on the mantle of great women who have come before me, like I was becoming a part of something bigger and greater than myself. I felt like I was being inducted into the proud ranks of a beautiful and ancient society structured on the principle that all people deserve fair treatment as people, regardless of sex, race, sexuality, economic class, et. al. The whole event had the flavor of a ceremony or rite of passage. It was wonderful, and I am so glad to have gone.