By focusing on appearances to celebrate International Women’s Day, SA misses the point of the holiday and disrespects women.
By Nick Langston
Any forward-thinking member of TU’s campus would be excited to see Student Association’s Facebook announcement of a special event in celebration of International Women’s Day, a global holiday commemorating the movement for women’s rights. The event, entitled “Woman Up,” seemed to be the perfect time for the TU community to celebrate the strength and success of the women’s rights movement, to recognize the achievements of women in business, science, politics and art, or perhaps to discuss the devastating sexual assault epidemic on our campus.
The entirety of the one-sentence SA event description read: “Celebrate International Women’s Day with us in Great Room Hall C with free hairdos, manicures, and sweet treats on us!”
What better way to celebrate a holiday intended to honor the accomplishments of the Women’s Rights Movement than to reinforce archaic gender norms? SA’s decision to host such an event is a blatant dismissal of the actual struggles faced by women in our campus community. There is no excuse for the insulting and downright repulsive move by SA to assume that women are interested in hair and makeup simply because they are women.
The event not only ignores more important issues but also implicitly asserts that a woman’s value is derived from her physical appearance rather than her character or intelligence. For centuries, women have broken bounds in every field imaginable while receiving little to no credit. Meanwhile, SA’s idea for “Woman Up” entails sitting back for a manicure, implying that the serious matters are best left up to men.
According to the 2016-17 Campus Climate Survey, “66.5% of students felt college administrators should do more to protect students from harm.” The survey results also state that “overall, 8.8% of students reported the experience of forced or drug facilitated sexual assault while a student at TU,” and that only reflects the portion of the small surveyed sample of the TU community who felt comfortable reporting such a traumatic event.
It is no secret that this violence is particularly problematic for women in our community as opposed to men. In light of the monstrous threat of violence faced daily by women at TU, SA found that chipped fingernails and a messy hair day were the most pressing challenges worth tackling with the “Woman Up” event.
Women in STEM are often met with looks of surprise upon stating their academic program, a minor reflection of the major career-long struggle faced by most women in technical fields. Couldn’t we have an event aimed at dismantling damaging stereotypes about women instead of one that mocks them by strengthening the all-too-prevalent myths that a woman can’t do every single thing a man can do? It is shocking that no SA official involved in the organization of “Woman Up” thought that perhaps an event tackling the wage gap between men and women, the unreasonable expectation that every woman become a mother or any of the other challenges faced by 21st-century women would make a more suitable event.
The SA event also makes an absurd assumption regarding femininity. The manicure and hair styling services offered seem to equate womanhood with frivolous attention to physical appearance. Not only that, but the services offered show a complete lack of recognition for the wide spectrum of identities held by women. Not every woman wants polished fingernails and a snazzy hairstyle. The antiquated assumption that all women on our campus will be honored by the opportunity to have their nails done is sexist and dismissive of the wide array of ways women choose to express themselves.
Students and alumni were quick to respond to SA’s announcement with well-deserved criticism of the event. How did SA respond?
SA first responded by amending the event’s description by stating the event’s purpose as a celebration of “women for all their strength, individuality, and commitment from across the world,” adding an advertisement for an upcoming panel on “women’s issues, discrimination, and social justice,” and completely deleting any mention of beauty services. No apology or acknowledgement of the initial description was given.
SA then decided that their second attempt at describing their event wasn’t quite right and added that they would be “offering activities traditionally associated with women (i.e. hairdos, manicures, & makeovers).” This iteration of the event description remains online at the time of this writing. SA then made a comment on the event’s discussion page with grammar that matched the level of professionalism of the event itself, stating that “after taking into consider [sic] your feedback … we did change the event to fit more accurately.” SA deleted this comment and added a properly edited comment stating that they “decided to change the description of the event to fit more accurately.”
SA’s last comment of the night mentioned for the first time that they “sincerely apologize for the misunderstanding and the choice of wording in our description of the event.” Some commenters suggested that their posts on the event discussion page containing screenshots of the original event description were deleted by SA.
The apology and edits to the event description do nothing to right the wrongs of the SA members involved with this event. First, to proudly proclaim that hairdos, manicures and makeovers are “traditionally associated with women” is again antithetical to any women’s rights activism. The mention of a vague panel on “women’s issues” appears at best to be a half-hearted effort at remembering why we are having activism events in the first place.
Let’s not forget that the poorly attempted apology from SA does not express any regret over the content of the event itself but only for the wording of the description, again implying that a manicure and makeover event is a perfectly appropriate way to celebrate International Women’s Day.
Student Association not only lacked any foresight with their “Woman Up” event, but their lackluster effort at damage control only demonstrated an even deeper lack of understanding as to where they went wrong. On a campus where women face the daily threat of sexual violence only to look forward to a career full of discrimination after graduation, SA completely missed the mark on what really matters to women in our community. How can we hold SA accountable such that this failure is never repeated?
SA President Andrew Hansen has since apologized for the event’s lack of consideration. In a Facebook statement he wrote, “SA has always welcomed constructive feedback on our operations and events and will continue to do so in the future. We’ll also be making the necessary changes to ensure that SA continues to positively serve the university community, upholds the mission of TU and promote a culture that is informed, educated and inclusive.”