Fighting for Feminism

December 1, 2011 News

When famed feminist and activist Gloria Steinem, along with numerous esteemed veteran feminists like Patricia Schroeder and Muriel Fox, visited in October, the Rollins community was abuzz with talk of feminism.

In order to assess the impression that this diverse group of women made at Rollins, the Lucy Cross Center for Women, along with various other sponsors, held a women’s forum to discuss feminism and its climate on campus.

Voices for Women, a group of strong-minded individuals, began the forum with a heated debate about whether or not feminism is relevant today. To begin, Liz Ibarrola ‘14, stated, “The perception is that we have achieved equality and that is a huge reason as to why feminism is still completely relevant today.”

Throughout the discussion, the audience and the panel went back and forth on issues of pay equity, violence against women, voter’s oppression, abortion and discrimination against minority groups in the polls.

Some spoke specifically to the atmosphere at Rollins. “It’s especially apparent [on the Rollins campus] that women pressure other women into the gender roles that exist today,” said Moriah Russo ‘13.

Others argued for an adequate day care center for female faculty and staff with children, an important issue since there are more women employed on campus than men. The goal is to take baby steps in order to combat the stereotype of bra-burning, men-hating lesbians, argued an audience member. It is an uphill battle.

Morgan Williams ’13, stated, “It’s hard to identify as a feminist here. There’s not enough people here fighting for this, and if we’re the only ones showing up to these events, then who are we talking to?”

The second panel of the day consisted of Rollins students, faculty and staff. Michael Cardwell ’13 immediately said that it is impossible to talk about women as one group; people should pay specific attention to all of the various groups of women on campus (i.e., women in the Holt school, women in A&S, etc.).

In the case of Holt women, a strong argument for the attendance policy was issued. The purpose of the Holt school is to allow people with other commitments — families, personal and business — to have a chance at bettering their futures with a night school education.
“Adhering to the attendance policy in place for Arts & Science students is a complete violation of the mission the Hamilton Holt School represents,” argued Holt students.

Another issue that arose was the unaffordable and sub-par health care benefits that are offered to Holt students.

One student commented that because she could not afford to buy the Rollins insurance, the Health Center would not treat her. This woman stated that she had to go to an abortion clinic with people picketing on the streets and calling her a murderer in order to receive an annual women’s exam. Something must be wrong here — both in our Rollins bubble and out of it.
Laura Berk ‘12 believes there has been exponential progress since she first arrived at Rollins. However, she has a feeling that people are at the point where they feel like everything is kind of good right now.

Cardwell agreed that the majority of student leaders at Rollins are women. In fact, he continued, many of the same women are doing everything, though — just “wearing different hats, fitting different roles.” Berk suggested targeting the women and men who do not think there is any problem in order to get them out of their comfort zones and into a place where they could actually learn something.

On the brighter side, as Sinclair stated, “Small can be mighty. Grassroots movements can be some of the most influential.”

That is the ultimate goal for Rollins. With the help of organizations like Voices for Women, the Lucy Cross Center for Women, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, and many other smaller groups on campus, progress is possible at Rollins, and the community can show that feminism does matter.

An audience member reiterated this sentiment by calling out that she was not a Barbie doll, and that the stereotypical view of women here at Rollins is to look a specific way and wear a certain type of shoe. However, the general consensus was that Rollins is making huge efforts for equality — one of the major points being the weekend of feminist events with Gloria Steinem. Assistant Professor of Art History Kimberly Dennis outright expressed her distaste of the climate women face on Rollins’ campus.

“Not to be a downer, but the state of women on this campus is very disappointing and frightening. They’re disempowered; however, there are outliers — but women conform to these norms of femininity,” she said. “I worry that when we put ourselves into that box, it gives so few options and it seems like the most appealing way to be a woman.”

During the question and answer period, the audience — which consisted of students, faculty, staff and friends of Rollins — voiced its concerns and hopes for what Rollins should be working toward. It was noted rather emphatically that female faculty members receive 82 cents less to the dollar than male faculty members, and female staff members receive 94 cents to the dollar less than men, which equates to over $3,000 a year.
Dr. Gail Sinclair, executive director of Winter Park Institute, admitted that from her own personal experience, she had to fight very hard for her salary and only when she had a female administrator were things adjusted equitably.

“I don’t know if Humanity ever gets where it is needed to be, but I know that we’re making the fight and I think that’s more important.”

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