Some time ago Aubrey Waz had asked if I would write an article for this section of the Archway. While this article comes at the end of the academic year, I have been thinking about this topic ever since last fall, and have finally gathered my thoughts enough to compose a short essay for Featuring Feminism.
I have been the Director of The Women’s Summit® at Bryant University for the past 19 years. The mission of the Women’s Summit is to provide professional and personal development and financial empowerment for the women and men who attend this educationally enriching conference each year. Each year the Women’s Summit Co chairs, the Program Committee, the Web Committee, the Logistics Committee Guest Relations Committee, faculty, and staff and students, collaborate to provide an empowering learning experience for the 1070 women and men who come to campus to attend the Women’s Summit each year.
Growing up in the 50s and the 60s in a more traditional area of Middle America, feminism was not spoken about in the house where I was raised. It was not talked about, but feminism was being practiced every day when my mother would go to work as a teacher in the elementary school which my sister and I attended. Thanks to my grandmother, also a teacher, my mother had the privilege of going to college and studied to be a teacher, winning a top award at her graduation. My father also had a good job, and as a result of their combined incomes, after some years, we were able to live in a nice house and go to good public schools.
There was no Title IX when I went to high school so I never had the opportunity to play organized women’s sports in either high school or college. I was fortunate that a local YWCA had a girl’s basketball team that I could play on after school during my high school years.
My sister and I were both encouraged to go to college, and had the opportunity to pursue the professions of our choice in order to be financially independent.
I never even heard the word ”feminism” until my freshman year in college in 1968, when some women came to our dorm to discuss “feminism”. While we were gathered in the common room of our dorm, a large group of male students congregated on a hill just above the dorm. Apparently they knew more about what was going to be discussed than I did, and were not happy about “feminism” being presented to us. They proceeded to run down the hill and started to pound on the windows of the dorm to disrupt the discussion. Confusion and fear were created, and we all retreated to our rooms. So that was my introduction to feminism. I felt that this was something that we were not free to discuss either at home or in our dorm or at college.
We never had Women’s Studies courses in high school or college, so feminism seemed to be off limits to me. I also took for granted the right to vote, but enjoyed voting in every election. After all, this was America; didn’t everyone have the right to vote? Women’s suffrage was not in my vocabulary as a young adult.
But, after years of career success as well as encouraging my own daughter to grow and succeed in sports throughout her life and in her profession, feminism has taken on a life of its own for me.
When my son was in high school he took an English class that had a section on women’s literature. Because I was never exposed to this in my own education, I often read some of the assignments that he brought home. I enjoyed reading short stories such as “The Yellow Wallpaper” and other literary works that opened my eyes. One of the most interesting revelations occurred one night when at 16 he said to me “there are three groups of people who have been discriminated against in America. They are, Native Americans, African Americans and women.” To me this was a profound statement. The fact that he understood all this at 16 seemed pretty advanced to me, but in my education those topics were never discussed.
After working at Bryant University for 19 years I have had the privilege of mentoring and encouraging hundreds of students to succeed both professionally, and personally. I cheer them on at many athletic events, artistic, academic, and musical endeavors. It is so gratifying to be a small part of their lives while they are here and to watch them as they become young adults who have achieved success and are launched into the real world. Many overcome challenges and obstacles in order to achieve their goals, and they inspire me to do the same.
As the director of The Women’s Summit, feminism now has new meaning to me. While I am not an expert, I believe that I advocate for women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality. I would also seek to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment with equal pay. I also feel that men are a part of this equation, and appreciate President Machtleys’ support and that of the Bryant Community over the years.
Feminism has a wide spectrum of beliefs and outcomes. Everyone has different views about feminism, and each person is free to adopt those aspects of feminism which they are comfortable embracing.
We are so fortunate to live in a country where we have the right to so many freedoms. Women have come a long way in America since the 50’s and 60’s as a result of increasing educational opportunities, the feminist movement, and continued support from other women and men. There is still work to be done. Continued leadership is needed for forward progress in advancing women, and narrowing the wage gap.