Women in Writing Roundup

Last week on Wednesday, November 8th, the Women’s Center held our final roundtable discussion of our fall series. The theme: Women in Writing. Panelists, moderator, and participants generated a fascinating discussion on the valuation of women as writers, artists, and creators in greater society. Although much of the criticism that was voiced made for a bleak outlook, our panelists passed on enlightening advice for all artists struggling to make a life with their work.

The roundtable began with the moderator (in this case, myself!) presenting some statistics to ground the conversation. Student staff members had done research to discover the representation of women as both content makers and content matter. Some highlights in these statistics include that women have made gains in more bylines from 2011 to 2014, but they still don’t make up even half of the men’s bylines; half of the National Book Award recipients from 2000 to 2014 have been by men and about men; and similarly, more than half of the Pulitzer Prize recipients from 2000 to 2015 have been by men and about men. In adding an intersectional lens to this data, we also find that women’s publications (when they actually happen) are dominated by white women–women of color, as you may have guessed, make up only a small fraction of the women published in both Poetry and The New Yorker. Check out VIDA for even more numbers on this topic.

Panelists (from left to right): Johanna Alonso, Missy Smith, and Tanya Olson

These numbers stressed the need for this conversation, and our panelists delivered many times over. Tanya Olson (poet and faculty in the English Department), Missy Smith AKA QueenEarth (singer/songwriter and coordinator in the Women’s Center), and Johanna Alonso (writer and UMBC student) started strong in their introductions teasing out themes that we would continue unraveling throughout the panel discussion. Some of the major points from the discussion included:

  • There is a double standard in today’s literary canon. Women are constantly reading about men and books by men, but men reading books about women/by women is not emphasized in the same way. Johanna brought up, for example, that despite the Hunger Games series popularity, many men in her life refused to read the books because the main character was female (and written by a woman).
  • The wealthy heterosexual white male gatekeeper has the power to set mainstream agendas. Many of the panelists agreed that the mainstream art society was a typically masculine space defined by male gatekeepers. When we have those gatekeepers in the form of editors, publishers, producers, etc. they control the agenda, which more often than not does not place value with marginalized creators and their content.
  • Despite the harsh landscape, progress is being made. Both Tanya and Missy spoke to the idea that there is plenty in the world that motivates them to continue what they do, and that comes in the form of the other folks like them–people of color, LGBTQ folks, etc.–who are being published, performing, and making careers for themselves. This visibility, to both Tanya and Missy, is crucial not only for them, but for all of the other writers and artists who aspire to grow in their fields. Missy specifically noted that she writes music and performs to empower others to do the same.
  • You must value you yourself. In order to do this work, you must value yourself. You must continue to believe in your work and the process of honing your craft. This is the driving factor for all of our panelists. Sparked by a question in the crowd about the devaluation of spoken word poetry versus musicians as art, Missy brought up that you have to stick up for yourself. If, for example, you are the only poet in a lineup of musicians, you need to ask to get the same payout as the musicians, because your art is worth that much.
  • The reality is that you are not alone. Although it can feel lonely and exhausting to be one of the only “different” people (women of color, LGBTQ people, immigrants, etc.) in your field, you are not alone. Tanya made this point and noted, as well, that even though it may feel isolating, there is a path for everyone–you just have to find it. For her, this meant finding the person who was one step ahead of her, and looking to them as a model and/or a mentor. Johanna noted that her ambivalence transitioned to enthusiasm in a writing class when she found that she was not the only person writing stories about queer people. Just so, when we find the people who make space for us, we need to take it and make more space for all those who follow.

This rich conversation made clear that although there are many barriers that make women writers and artists journeys more difficult, these also create the richness and depth in their stories. The struggle, in some ways, necessitates the story/song/play/etc. in our world, and that success in writing is the sustained progress we make as we take up space and demand equity in the valuation of our art.

In final words of advice, Johanna encouraged us to venture into the nether regions of the Twitter-verse for obscure literary magazines and to read from those sources. Finding art in the most un-obvious places is a way to constantly learn more. Tanya again noted that mentorship can be key, and to find the person who you want to be–and start there. Finally, Missy took us home: “Failure is stopping. We have to keep moving and focusing on the long-game. It’s okay to be different–in fact it’s better

Further reading:

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Women and the Environment Roundtable Roundup

Last Thursday, October 12th, the Women’s Center held the second roundtable discussion in our fall series. This one was titled Women and the Environment, and prompted a conversation about how women’s work with regard to the environment was different from men’s, as well as how the environment has disparate impacts on women. Ultimately, we set out to answer the daunting question of how we can bring awareness to the intersections of gender, race, and class with regard to environmental justice.

women in enviro rt - fall2017.1

We started off by looking at some of the statistics about women’s employment in environmental fields, which were harder to come by because of its broad and interdisciplinary nature. Still, by looking at large trends (only 12% of the jobs in the green energy industry are held by women), case studies at a few prestigious universities, and patterns of leadership, we found large discrepancies in the rates at which women and men were employed in these sectors.

 

From there, we moved on to hear what our panelists had to say about larger themes regarding women and the environment. Dr. Dawn Biehler, a professor in the Geography and Environmental Systems department here at UMBC talked about the history of environmental organizations and how many of the white men who ran them blamed women and people of color for environmental degradation and then silenced their voices when it came to conversations about reparations. Dr. Biehler explained ways in which these patterns are seen today, such as the narratives that blame the higher fertility rate of women in the developing world for problems like poverty and hunger, rather than looking at factors like colonization and the unequal distribution of resources.

 

Sustainability coordinator Tanvi Gadhia talked further about a global perspective and the differences between her work in India with Vandana Shiva and her work in the United States with various sustainability groups. Ultimately, she argued that the hierarchical structures seen in the West benefit those with privilege and hurt marginalized groups like women and people of color. Additionally, she argued that tokenistic inclusion of women and minorities in these groups is not enough; representation does not matter if an institution is not receptive to the voices and leadership of everyone, especially those who have a history of being silenced.

 

Lastly, graduate student Macey Nortey talked about her work studying disaster relief and the concept of holistic recovery. Because of the bureaucracy associated with receiving aid, it is often difficult for communities to wait for the aid of the federal government. Furthermore, government officials may also be selective about who they deem worthy of receiving aid (see Puerto Rico). Therefore, it is necessary for communities to do some preparation themselves to make up the difference. Holistic recovery is also beneficial in that it allows for everyone’s voice to be heard with equal weight.

 

Ultimately, the main themes that came out of this conversation were how to be inclusive of marginalized groups and why it’s necessary, understanding how different groups of people have different relationships to the environment and environmental labor, and how access to resources shapes who gets a say in environmental policy. The inclusion of suppressed voices is integral to our social justice ideals–different communities have different needs, and only by including all voices will all needs be met. The disproportionate impacts certain groups of people face in the aftermath of environmental disasters are not coincidental; they are the result of human intervention and it is our responsibility to correct them.

 

Further Reading:

Women in Tech: A Roundtable Round-Up

A resource roundup provided by Women’s Center student staff member, Sydney

Women in Tech Flyer - print

Each month the Women’s Center hosts a roundtable discussion where we provide a few chosen panelists with guiding questions and then have a community discussion about a particular topic and how it intersects with women and gender. Roundtables are great opportunities to become involved in discourse and ask questions directly to those involved. On Thursday, September 15th The Women’s Center hosted our September roundtable, Women in Technology. In case you missed it or are interested in revisiting the topics, here is a summary of our discussion. At the end, we include some links to reading materials and additional resources.

We started off the session by discussing some relevant statistics regarding women college students who are pursuing STEM degrees and careers. Women earn 57.3% of all Bachelor’s degrees but only account for 17.9% of the degrees in Computer Science.

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Source: careerfoundry.com

When it comes to the workforce, women make up a small percentage of the tech jobs. And even a smaller percentage of those in leadership positions!

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Source: statista.com, 2014

And although women only make up a small percentage of tech jobs at these companies, women use these platforms more than men!

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After addressing some of the statistics about the discrepancies surrounding women in STEM fields, we heard from our panel about their experiences in academia and the tech industry.

Dr. Danyelle Ireland who is the Associate Director of the Center for Women in Technology (CWIT) and Dr. Marie desJardins, the Associate Dean of  College of Engineering and Information Technology here at UMBC, talked about why there is such a small number of women pursuing STEM. They set out to debunk the myth of a “lack of interest” surrounding technology for women and instead pointed out social factors that contribute to the low numbers. These included:

  • A lack of awareness of jobs or role models
  • The socialization that STEM is for men reaffirmed by video game and tech advertisements. Specifically, Dr. desJardins’ shared that when personal computers first began to be marketed to the general public in the 1980s, advertisements only focused on men as the would-be-users of this new technology.
  • Bias and discrimination that women may face in the workforce.
  • A hypercritical culture in which women constantly critique their own work.
  • The introduction of AP computer science classes in high schools which women students did not think was their space and a discrepancy of life goals between men and women.
  • The Innate Brilliance Model
  • And performance perception in which women are much harsher on their own performance compared to men’s self-perception.

We then heard from our last panelist, Katie Dillon, who is a UMBC CWIT student majoring in computer science. Katie discussed the importance of seeing women in her classes and how, in her experience, CWIT has created a more women-friendly climate in her tech classes. She then talked about her experiences in the tech industry and the sexism she faces as a woman intern in the tech industry. These instances ranged from being mistaken for a secretary (and not the engineer she in fact was) to being told she only got her position only because she is a woman.

We ended our discussion with each panelist giving participants their advice on how to handle workplace sexism or discrimination. There were two common theme throughout the answers – making connections  and knowing your limits. For women in tech it is important to surround yourself with allies, whether that be a mentor or fellow women employees, in order to have a soundboard if an issue was to arise. Knowing your reporting guidelines is also important (for example, “Can you report an instance of sexism anonymously at your workplace?”). The last piece of advice the panelists gave was to know what you stand for. Dr. Ireland made a point to tell the audience that it is not worth compromising yourself for a degree or a job and Dr. desJardins gave the advice that people respect when you are unapologetically yourself. Katie also made the great point that you are interviewing a company just as much as they are interviewing you – don’t be afraid to find out what they are willing to do for you!

Below are some resources surrounding Women in Tech: 


For further reading:

 

Be sure to follow the Women’s Center on myUMBC to stay tuned for our next round table event in October!

Women in Activism: a Roundtable Round-Up

The Women’s Center ended our spring roundtable series on a high note last Thursday with Women in Activism. If you weren’t able to join us for our lively discussion, here’s a short round-up of what you missed!

This semester’s roundtable series focused on the ways that women are made invisible and silenced within certain spaces. For this discussion on activism, we began with a short visual presentation that illustrates how women often go unseen within the very movements they’ve worked to create.

Our three panelists shared their insights on the topic to help launch our discussion: Dr. Beverly Bickel from Language, Literacy and Culture (LLC); Iman Said, a junior Psychology major and Baltimore-based activist; and Jacki Stone, Community Health and Safety Specialist and a graduate student in LLC.

Activism Roundtable Panelists

from left to right: Panelists Jackie Stone, Beverly Bickel, and Iman Said

Important points of discussion are as follows:  Continue reading

Women in Politics Roundtable Round-Up

16665235_1240042186074587_3406555264375312519_oThe Women’s Center’s Spring Roundtable series has begun! On February 14th, we hosted the first of our three-part roundtable “Underrepresentation of Women in…” series. This roundtable was on “Women in Politics” and focused on the lack of women in the political sphere and the establishment.

For this discussion, our panelists were Political Science professor Lisa Vetter, Language Literacy and Culture student Colonel Ingrid Parker, and student staff member Kayla Smith.

The discussion opened with a question about gendered communication and how to express femininity in a workspace that’s male dominated. Kayla and Colonel Parker both agreed that being a “chameleon,” or being fluid in how they present themselves based on their audience, has worked for them in the past. 

The conversation then turned to Hillary Clinton’s presidential loss. The suggestion was made that the glass ceiling was now higher than it had previously been as a result of someone as qualified as Clinton losing to someone as seemingly unqualified as President Trump. People in politics may be more scared to back women running for office because women don’t seem to get the votes to take office. Therefore the goal of making a woman president is even more elusive. Furthermore, after learning that some women need to be asked more than five times to run for office, there was some concern that Clinton’s loss would discourage more women from entering the political sphere for fear of disappointment; however, Colonel Parker reminded everyone that the next step should be to stay hopeful and push forward no matter what happens. 

When Jess Myers asked about the silencing of Elizabeth Warren on the Senate floor during the confirmation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Kayla pointed out that the silencing of Elizabeth Warren was really the silencing of Coretta Scott King. Kayla went on to explain that, because her feminism is intrinsically connected to her race, it’s impossible for her to ignore the ramifications she faces in the establishment due to being a black woman. 

When the discussion was opened up to the audience, a student asked a question about coping with the effects of mental health when looking at barriers to women in politics. Colonel Parker spoke about the benefits of finding coping mechanisms like eating well, spending time with family, and working out. Kayla suggested finding supportive groups of women to help and uplift you in the face of adversity. Women’s Center Assistant Director Megan Tagle Adams added that it isn’t always enough for their to be more women in a space but that they should also be supportive of women excelling instead of engaging in “mean girl” tactics.

Another audience member asked Kayla what her opinion was on changing the establishment to include women and people of color to which she responded, “It’s important for people to be educated. They need to learn that our government and political system is built on white supremacy, racism, and sexism. Nothing will change until people understand where we started and that those things still play a major role in our system.”

Overall, the subject of women’s underrepresentation in politics is vast and complicated and while we barely scratched the surface in this hour long discussion, we did our best to open the dialogue and get people talking and thinking.

Want more information? Below are some links further discussing women, the establishment, and politics.

So has this discussion fired you up? Are you interested in running for office (public, school, or otherwise)? Have you heard about Elect Her? Elect Her is a leadership program that encourages and trains college women to run for student government and future political office

There is an an Elect Her workshop on March 11th from 10:30-3:30 in Fine Arts 011. You will learn how to figure out what your message and platform is, how to craft a communication strategy that works, and you’ll hear from campus and community leaders about what it takes to win. It is going to be a great day!

If you have questions or want to RSVP, contact Dr. Kate. (drabinsk@umbc.edu.)

 

Queer (De)Coded, a Roundtable Roundup

The Women’s Center’s Roundtable series is underway! On October 20th, we hosted the second of our three-part roundtable “Our Bodies, Ourselves” series. Queer (De)Coded focused on women and queer coding, deconstructing how women and femme individuals utilize and present their bodies in order to appear more or less queer. Queer coding is when individuals hint with their bodies and mannerisms their identity without explicitly stating their sexuality or gender identity.

queer-decoded-flyer

For this discussion, we invited staff member Elle Trusz, UMBC alum Juliette Seymour, and community member Melissa Smith to begin the roundtable dialogue with their own thoughts and perspectives related to queer coding. Elle opened up the conversation, discussing what it is like to be in relationships that are read as straight but are actually queer. She explained that walking down the street with her “husbutch”- or female spouse- could sometimes be seen by others as a straight couple based upon how both individuals present themselves.

Juliette also had interesting input into what it is like being a queer person who appears straight and cisgendered within their own life. Juliette discussed how their appearance sometimes made it more possible to be in spaces that may or may not be LGBTQIA+ friendly, yet it also felt like taking a step back into the closet. Melissa brought up the different ways her queer embodiment shows up in her workplace and the critical ways she is being present in all of her identities in order to make more space for others like her. Continue reading

Beauty Embodied Resources Round-up

 

The Women’s Center has officially kicked off our roundtable series for the fall semester! We call this series Our Bodies, Ourselves, specifically focusing on personal embodiment and the intersections of identity that come along with existing as a body. This event, specifically called Beauty Embodied, introduced the semester-long discussion of diverse embodied experiences.

beauty-roundtable-flyer

our beautiful roundtable flyer

Beginning this ongoing series, The Women’s Center invited three panelists to open up the conversation of embodied beauty. Alumnus Crystal Ogar, Dr. Medulene Shomali of the Gender and Women’s Studies department, and our very own assistant director Megan Tagle Adams served as our panelists!

We spent the next hour complicating the notions of beauty, femininity and privileges associated with who gets to embrace ideals of beauty. All panelists spoke about the privilege and racialization of specific beauty standards and stereotypes. We discussed at great length who has access to conventional beauty. Women of color specifically have a lot of challenges associating with conventional beauty, as the hegemonic view of westernized beauty is white, thin and able-bodied. All panelists identified as women of color, and were able to draw upon their various identities to share their experiences with racially exclusionary beauty. Continue reading