By Tom Ballard
The future may seem uncertain for women’s and gender studies (WGS) students at the College, but an alumnae panel called “Designing Feminist Futures: College and Beyond” on Wednesday, March 23, in the Library Auditorium aimed to change that by discussing feminism outside of the College.
The panelists included ’03 graduate and Pace University Assistant Professor of WGS Emily Bent, ’01 graduate and Regional Manager of Law School Engagement with Bloomberg Law Noelle Petruzelli-Marino and ’01 graduate Jackie DeVore, who worked as an assistant district attorney in Bronx, N.Y., where she prosecuted sex crimes and crimes against children.
The panelists opened the event by discussing how they began to identify themselves as feminists. Most of the panelists said that it was not until college that they were able to identify themselves as feminists.
“I grew up in a very conservative area and I was always angry and didn’t quite know why,” Bent said. “I didn’t have the right language to call myself a feminist because that really wasn’t a term that people used, so I think when I started to identify as a feminist was in college.”
Bent said that her years as a teenager gave her the experience to question the difference between herself and male students.
“There were lots of kinds of moments that added to my teenage angst about why am I really bothered by sexist practices in my high school or isn’t it really strange that girl dress codes are really different from a boy’s… Teachers were always calling home to talk to my parents about the weird questions that I would ask in class,” Bent said. “But I think that it was always something that I would have identified with, but not something that I would have attached that word to.”
DeVore said that the materials that she had learned from the WGS program at the College have guided her in life since graduating.
“(My vision of being a feminist) was always sort of there but never really explicit (until college),” DeVore said. “That sort of revelation (my) sophomore year has legitimately carried me through the past nearly 20 years of my professional development — like that was the foundational aspect of my understanding of feminism, how I adopted feminism and how I started to bring it out in my own life and use it in various and practical ways.”
According to the panel, society promotes an ideal image on how each genders are meant to act and should be portrayed.
“Seeing from the time you are pregnant, the gendered stuff about the clothes, and how you decorate the room and the toys — it’s disgusting and very hard to combat as a parent,” Bent, a mother of a boy and girl, said. “I think that is (what is motivating me for action) constantly, not just for my daughter, but for my son.”
Bent went on to say that society often demands that males have to be “rough and tumble,” while females are seen as having to be “sweet and pretty.”
The panel also said that they find that gender inequality still exists in the workplace, especially in the corporate world.
“One of the things that is very prevalent is the persistence of obviousness of the male perspective and how the female and feminist perspectives in the workplace — particularly in the corporate world — they’re not fully entrenched in,” Petruzelli-Marino said. “My perspective is not granted the same obviousness as my male counterparts are. I can very clearly tell you that my male counterparts with the same title and less experience makes substantially more than I do and the only reason I know that is because my female boss was transparent with her staff, which again, is not something that is standard in the corporate world.”
The panel advised students to be optimistic and continue to fight for gender equality, but also noted that they may not always be faced with support, even from groups that they should receive support from.
“I was hired at (Pace) the same time as someone else who was a man in my department and he was (making more money) than I was by about $5,000,” Bent said. “(Higher educational institutions) are supposed to be places that are safe and supportive, (but) I am often times fighting… So by having to explain to male faculty members why you don’t get to be held at a different standard when I am also junior faculty and (can) easily (be) fired and shoved out the door is really hard (to explain) because I think that I am a very outspoken person.”
When asked what was the best way for WGS students to overcome the challenges of seeking employment, the panel told those in attendance to try to set themselves apart from the other applicants for the position.
“Just highlight… the ways you have been involved that makes you look different from somebody else,” DeVore said. “(Show) how those experiences that you had are connecting you to the job that you want.”
The panel was co-moderated by Tabiya Ahmed, a senior sociology major, and Ryan Eldridge, a junior political science and WGS double major.
“(The panel) was part of women’s history month, so (we just wanted to see) what undergrads (at the College learned) from their women’s and gender studies education and how they applied it in the real world,” Ahmed said. “I think that the people who came… are (greatly) benefiting from the panel and the information that was discussed.”