The panel featured three students and a faculty member who shared their thoughts on women’s rights and their unique experiences as women from different walks of life.
In honor of International Women’s Day, SA held a panel last Friday to discuss feminism and women’s issues.
About 60 people filled the Choteau Room in ACSU to eat Albert G’s BBQ and hear a panel of four women share their thoughts and experiences.
The panelists included Jessica LaPlant, a member of Chi Omega and undergraduate student of psychology and women’s and gender studies; Megan Lowry, a member of the TU Student Veteran Association and undergraduate sociology major; Rizka Aprilia, a member of the Association of International Students and undergraduate mechanical engineering major; and Dr. Jan Wilson, Wellspring Associate Professor of History specializing in women’s and gender studies. The discussion was moderated by Ally Johnston.
Panelists were first asked what it means to be a feminist. Answers ranged from having no shame in existing as a woman to working actively to end sexist oppression.
The second question focused on the stigma surrounding feminism. Wilson explained that while many people agree with feminist stances, they’re often wary about adopting the label for a number of reasons.
One is the misconception that feminism attempts to empower women at the expense of men. “In fact, it’s about trying to radically change our institution, our culture and our ideologies so that everybody has equal opportunity and choice,” Wilson explained. Another reason is that people, especially young women, are hesitant take a risk by adopting a label and subsequently be judged by it.
Panelists were then asked what they think the largest obstacles for today’s women are. Lowry said that she found ideologies that perpetuate stigma to be the biggest obstacle. LaPlant said that it’s difficult for women to be comfortable claiming their own experiences, their own bodies and the label “feminist.”
Aprilia spoke to her experience as a Muslim and an Indonesian student, saying that while Indonesia is a very progressive nation, there is still progress to be made in terms of women’s rights. “In Indonesia, at least, a lot of women don’t go to work, and a lot of women don’t go to higher education,” she said.
The panelists were asked their thoughts on the Me Too movement. All of them agreed that the movement was absolutely necessary and that claims that the movement has gone too far are unsubstantiated.
LaPlant said that it was good to see the conversation out in the open. Lowry agreed, citing a 2010 Pentagon study which found that ⅕ people who serve in the military will be sexually harassed or assaulted during their time of service. That number increases to ⅓ in the Marine Corps, where Lowry herself served and was sexually assaulted during her period of service.
Wilson added that compared to decades of assaults, the idea that four months (the approximate length of the Me Too movement) is too long to spend talking about harassment and assault is ridiculous. “We haven’t even started, in my opinion. We have so much more speaking to do,” she said.
Lowry added that “the hard points are what’s difficult to talk about, and what makes people uncomfortable, and we need to do more of that … that’s what’s going to propel everything into more change.”
All of the panelists agreed that feminism has changed over the past year, citing the success of the Women’s March and similar demonstrations. “I think in the last year we’ve seen a huge uprising of women who are standing up for themselves and saying, ‘This is not what I want for my female experience,’” LaPlant said. Aprilia said that she was moved by the success of the women’s march in Indonesia.
When asked if institutions of higher education in general and TU in particular had done enough to strive towards gender equality and diversity, Wilson’s answer was an immediate “No.”
She cited numerous examples of gender and race imbalance in higher education, including the fact that less than ⅓ of tenured positions are held by women and less than ¼ by people of color. She also said that fewer than 30 percent of administrative positions are held by women, and that men are disproportionately employed at research-focused institutions (which offer the highest-paying jobs).
These disproportionate numbers, according to Wilson, are due to a number of factors including socialized behavior (women, for example, are less likely to feel as though they can ask for raises or promotions), lack of mobility, difficulty balancing family and work obligations, harassment, hiring discrimination and difficulties with the tenure process.
The discussion closed with each panelist talking about what empowers them. LaPlant said that talking to other empowered women was empowering for her. Lowry said that doing traditionally masculine activities, like shooting or martial arts, was empowering for her. Aprilia said that being successful in her male-dominated major was empowering for her. Wilson said that her students and her daughter make her feel empowered.
“What she takes for granted, in the most beautiful ways, that I was never able to take for granted,” is inspiring, Wilson concluded.