By Mary Kadlec
A century stands between the passing of the 19th Amendment, which provided women equal voting rights, and today.
Approximately 70 students and community members gathered Oct. 3 at the Marple campus to contemplate where women stand after 100 years when the business computing social sciences division of Delaware County Community College presented the symposium, “America in Crisis: Is There a War on Women?”
The symposium was moderated by Michelle Legaspi Sanchez, executive director of the Chester County Fund for Women and Girls. Panelists included Emma Herman, licensed social worker and community sex educator specializing in HIV prevention at Family and Community Services of Delaware County; Terri Amlong, interim dean of the communication, arts and humanities division at DCCC; William Baldwin, attorney and executive director of the Delaware County Bar Asociation; and Linda Arrey, certified life and leadership coach, philanthropist, author, and captain in the U.S. Air Force Medical Service Corps.
Panelists tackled complex topics, such as intersectionality, male allies, and what kind of institutional barriers women face before answering questions from the audience about dismantling rape culture, masculinity, and hate groups.
“The presentation was eye-opening,” said liberal arts major Carson Kershaw, 23, adding that he was knowledgeable about many of the ideas covered in the symposium, but there was some new information he could apply to his life.
Sanchez used data from the Chester County Fund for Women and Girls’ 2016 blueprint report, “Leveraging Progress,” to examine how women are doing, both locally and nationally.
“Although great strides have been made, women continue to face many inherent challenges,” Sanchez said. “For example, the gap between earnings of men and women are sizeable. In Pennsylvania, women were paid 81 percent of men’s earnings, ranking the state 21st in the country.”
To begin the symposium, Sanchez asked the panelists, “Is there a war on women?”
The five panelists responded unanimously, “Yes.”
Baldwin, who has spent many years representing victims of domestic violence, added, “There are still societal obstacles in women’s ability to achieve the same things as men, like pay equity and equal access to leadership in the corporate or political sector.”
Herman and Amlong shared that the “war on women” is nothing new. They expressed disappointment that a lot of progress previously made is being undone, such as the elimination of funding and diminishing access to women’s health services.
Next, Sanchez asked the panelists to describe some institutional barriers women face.
Speaking from her college experience as a history major in male-dominated classrooms, Amlong said she had to adjust her responses among male classmates and professors.
“They didn’t want to talk about women’s history or the social aspect of war,” Amlong explained.
Amlong said classroom discussions appear to be headed in a better direction now, but “there are still some vestiges of a focus on the male perspective, especially in history, which is why it’s important to highlight women’s voices all the way through our history.”
Arrey shared several experiences of bias as a captain in the military.
“There’s societal bias that you’re less of a woman or less of a mother if you have a career,” Arrey said. “We shouldn’t let society influence how we show up in the workplace.”
Next, Sanchez asked panelists to discuss resources and tools that might help women navigate power structures and challenges.
Herman said it’s important to support female-owned businesses and organizations that promote helping women.
Arrey suggested public pay disclosure as a solution to narrow pay disparity. The military and some non-profit executive positions disclose salaries, but most companies keep that information private, hindering the negotiating power of women, she explained.
“Women should not need a legal document to find out what their male counterpart is making,” Arrey said.
Later, Sanchez shifted the conversation to the topic of “intersectionality.”
According to Kimberlé Crenshaw, who first coined the term in 1989, “intersectionality” describes how the multidimensional constitution of individuals, such as race, gender, and class informs their experiences.
This suggests the war on women can be experienced very differently, depending on racial and socio-economic backgrounds.
Amlong provided a historical perspective on the schism within the women’s rights movements, describing how both first- and second-wave feminism were “focused on a single homogenous group” and largely excluded minority women.
Arrey warned we should be careful about compartmentalizing people and looking too closely at what divides us instead of what unites us.
Then Sanchez segued to the idea of male allies and what men can do to support women.
According to a 2014 article in the Journal of Social Issues, an ally is “someone who aligns with a disadvantaged group by recognizing the need for further progress in the fight for equal rights.”
Being the only male panelist, Baldwin spoke about how he was often working primarily with women in the domestic violence field. He described how he needed to assuage his co-workers that he wasn’t trying to take over and dictate how women should behave. “As a man, I can’t lead the discussion about what women need or what issues need to be tackled, but I can be engaged in the conversation with women and they can share with me what they want and I can support that,” Baldwin said. “It’s very important for men to be engaged in the discussion, but not to lead the discussion.”
Arrey shared her experiences in board meetings with male colleagues.
“I can’t tell you how often a male will say after I speak, ‘What she meant to say…’” Arrey said. “When I have a male ally, I look at him as someone who will empathize, not somebody who is trying to speak for me.”
Finally, Sanchez asked panelists to explain the most common misconceptions about the #MeToo movement.
The social media hashtag drew attention in 2017 when American actress Alyssa Milano used it to highlight the widespread issue of sexual violence.
A 2018 article about digital feminist activism in the European Journal of Women’s Studies said the hashtag was used over 12 million times in the first 24 hours after Milano’s initial post. A week later, that number would rise to 84 million.
Herman felt the biggest misconception about the #MeToo movement is that it’s non-inclusive and only for women or white women.
“It’s about survivors and perpetrators and what we are not teaching our society about sexual assault and rape culture,” Herman said. “We can’t just teach survivors how to protect themselves and how to prevent rape. We need to teach everyone that bodies are owned by us. And you don’t have permission to access someone’s space without consent.”
She added that schools are not doing a good job teaching consent. Herman primarily works with adults because school systems are reluctant to work with her.
“We need to take this deeper than social media,” Arrey said. “It’s not just a hashtag. This is a social epidemic.”
Amlong said she is disappointed that people aren’t supportive of women speaking up and are viewing victims as “having an agenda.”
“It’s frustrating that people want to use that intimidation factor to shut women down,” Amlong said. “I think the way to respond to that is to continue to speak up and support each other.”
Afterward, the panelists fielded questions from the audience, including why men feel there is an attack on masculinity; if hate groups like the online involuntary celibate community “incels” are a threat; why white women voted for President Trump in 2016; if society pressures women to act a certain way; how women can speak up for themselves even if it’s not their natural inclination; and how conservatives can advocate for women even when their religious doctrine teaches them otherwise.
The panelists also recommended ways to take action.
Herman said it’s important for women to support one another’s journey. Competition has led to division, and women won’t overcome their struggles unless they support one another, she emphasized.
Baldwin encouraged women and men to engage in conversation, so they don’t feel threatened by one another.
Many of the panelists and Sanchez promoted informed voting. They said there has been a recent effort to repeal laws that will impact women’s ability to access health services and the most important thing people can do is to speak up and apply pressure.
“Get out there and make your voice heard,” Amlong said.
Contact Mary Kadlec at email@example.com