From the history of feminism to the blogosphere and, finally, to a slew of internet videos, audience members were treated to a lesson in “gender 101” on Wednesday.
In her talk titled “Fag Jokes, Fishnets and Fiances: How Narrow Gender Roles Compromise Quality of Life and How to Get Liberated,” Courtney Martin, a blogger and author, addressed gender roles in society and the impact of feminism.
She stressed the constrictions gender roles can often have on individuals.
“Gender to me is an important topic with a pervasive tone in all of our lives,” she said. “It has the power to control the quality of our lives. When people feel liberated from strict gender roles, there are so many benefits.”
The talk was part of the Carolina Women’s Center’s “Got Gender?” week, an annual event featuring programming focused on gender and gender equity issues.
This year, the center aims to have people take a step back and assess gender from a basic level, something Ashley Fogle, associate director of the Carolina Women’s Center, refers to as “gender 101.”
“This is something we take for granted, and something that a lot of us don’t really spend much time thinking about,” she said.
Martin encouraged students and faculty to understand who they really are beyond gender stereotypes and to close the gap between their values and their actions.
Martin said society has a culture of women hating themselves or their weight as a way of bonding, and men down-playing personal issues.
She detailed her upbringing by two self-described feminist parents in Colorado Springs, Colo., and how her parents’ visions and her experiences in high school motivated her to explore feminism.
She cited female friends dealing with eating disorders and unplanned pregnancy and male friends struggling with limitations imposed on them by their ideas about masculinity.
“I wondered, ‘How did we get so screwed up?’” she said. “What happened between seventh grade and senior year that we felt we couldn’t express ourselves?”
Martin is an editor at feministing.com and an author of several books. Her focus fits into the message of the week, Fogle said, because of her emphasis on constricting gender roles.
“It’s not just enough to say that there are stereotypical ways in our culture that we think about masculinity and femininity,” Fogle said. “It’s more than that, it’s trying to fit into those boxes and live up to these expectations has consequences for men and women.”
Sophomore Kalkidan Berhanu heard about Martin from reading Feministing and came to the talk as part of an assignment for her women’s studies course.
“It’s important to make people aware of some of the constructions that are still in society,” Berhanu said. “It’s hard to see them in a college setting, but in the real world, some inequalities still happen.”
Martin encouraged audience members to share their own definitions of feminism. Hers included educated choices, genuine equality and authenticity. She described the ideal characteristics of a world where feminism is successful, and encouraged the audience to do the same.
“What is the world that you really want to live in, and what will it take to get there?” she asked. “It’s revving up our feminist imagination. This aspirational and imaginative quality is something we really need to bring to feminism.”
Fogle stresses that “Got Gender?” week is not just related to women’s issues, but also related to young men and masculinity.
“It’s all of us being part of this conversation. Gender is not just code for ‘women’s,’ men have a gender too.”
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