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Interdisciplinary forums put spotlight on women, gender equity

Interdisciplinary forums put spotlight on women, gender equity AADS annual conference, Gender and Women's Studies series highlight issues during Women’s History Month Two forums presented by programs within the Interdisciplinary Studies Department made issues of women and gender equity a focus during the March 2015 Women’s History Month. The seventh annual African and African Diaspora (AADS) Student Research and Engagement Conference on March 21 included three panels on the image of black women in contemporary media and a plenary forum on women’s roles in liberation movements in Angola and Tanzania. That was followed on March 23-25 by a collaborative series organized by Gender and Women's Studies, which featured a focus on feminism and the impact on men and masculinity, gender equity and the campus environment. Jesse Benjamin, coordinator of the African and African Diaspora Studies program, associate professor of sociology and AADS conference organizer, said the focus on women emerged in an “organic fashion,” as the conference planning developed. “We realized that we had exciting student research panels on Black Women in the Media set to run right before and after the plenary, and these were followed by a panel of experts from Atlanta on issues of Black Women in the Media.” A concern for gender and the campus climate among multiple constituents across the university prompted the collaboration that brought noted sociologist Michael Kimmel, author of “Angry White Men,” for a lecture and a series of frank discussions among students, faculty and administrators. “Kimmel is a preeminent scholar of gender and has impacted work across the humanities and social sciences, so you can understand his wide appeal,” said Stacy Keltner, coordinator of Gender and Women’s Studies and associate professor of philosophy. “We organized the discussions in order to deepen our understanding of his work and its significance for us and college campuses more generally.” A broad coalition of Kennesaw State departments and student organizations joined Gender and Women’s Studies in sponsoring the series. They included the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and its departments of Interdisciplinary Studies, Communication, Psychology, Sociology and Geography and Anthropology; the Coles College of Business and its Department of Management and Entrepreneurship; Office of Diversity and Inclusion; Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning; Women’s Leadership Center; Zuckerman Museum of Art; Anti-Assimilationist Non-Normative Students of KSU; hu-MAN Up; Kennesaw Pride Alliance; and YESbody! AADS Conference Student panel examining images of black women in contemporary TV and films included, from left, Jalessah Jackson, moederator Camille Kleidysz, Ashley MacFarland and Anna Tussey. As it has in previous years, the AADS conference presented a full day of concurrent panels led by students, faculty and other scholars and community activists; noteworthy plenary speakers; a world-renowned keynote speaker; awards presentations and catered cuisine from the diaspora, topped off by a hip-hop social. Even though that winning formula that has proven its efficacy for six years, the move to include an emphasis on women added another dimension, attracting some 500 students and scholars from across disciplines throughout the day. A student-led panel titled “Media Representation of Black Womanhood” took on the stereotypical image of the “strong black woman” embodied by characters in popular TV series and films, including Olivia in ABC’s Scandal; Analese in ABC’s How to get Away with Murder; Cookie in Fox’s explosive Empire; and the varied roles actor Viola Davis plays in the movies Doubt and The Help. In the student panel, “Media Representation of Black Womanhood,” AADS major Jalessah Jackson moderated, and Masters in American Studies Program students, Camille Kleidysz, Ashley MacFarland and Anna Tussey, presented papers. Their formal presentations prompted a myriad of viewpoints. Among them: that contemporary images present the black woman as more multi-dimensional than earlier images; that the image of the black woman portrayed in TV shows are becoming more stereotypical as the shows become more popular; though Empire’s Cookie character breaks the mold, the reigning image of the strong black woman on TV is as professional and exceptional; and that the images today are both beneficial and problematic. “Black women are so starved for portrayals of themselves that they’re willing to accept C-grade images [like Cookie, Olivia and Analese],” said Griselda Thomas, professor of English and Women Studies, who co-teaches a special topics course on the “Strong Black Woman.” A second similar panel invited the three earlier presenters to join in roundtable discussion with two additional colleagues in the Masters in American Studies Program, Tanya Brinkley and Kristen Walker. The discussion was led by Tiana Ferrell, granddaughter of famed abolitionist journalist Ida B. Wells, and publisher of Atlanta Free Speech. Rounding out the trilogy of panels dealing with the portrayal of black women in media was a panel of professionals and activists looking at the issue from a black feminist perspective. Participants included Adrian Brown, a community activist, as moderator; Ferrell; Kimberly Fletcher, president of Achievers Marketing & Management; Ifetayo Ojelade, a licensed psychologist and executive director of A Healing Paradigm. Presenters challenged the pervasive projection of black women as “hypersexualized,” and questioned whether entertainers like Beyoncé and Nikki Minaj, who view themselves as feminist, can rightly claim they are. “Black women are not in control of how their sexuality is portrayed,” said Fletcher. “You have to consider who is approving these scripts; it’s still predominantly white males.” Psychologist Ojelade expressed concern for the detrimental effects of a lack of portrayals of black women whose greatness have nothing to do with their sexuality. She shared images of goddesses in traditional African religion who are revered because of their qualities of virtue, and mentioned powerful women like [Susan Estrich], the first African-American woman to head the Harvard Law Review. “Why is it that these types of women are not as popular as [the character Olivia] on Scandal?” she asked, suggesting a psychological impact for black women regarding the types of characters they are embracing. “If you’re used to drama, you’ll try to find it.” The conference plenary forum shifted the focus on women to the historic roles of women in liberation struggles in the African nations of Angola and Tanzania. The forum featured talks by Jesus “Chucho” Garcia, Venezuelan Consul General in New Orleans, and Fatma Alloo, founder of the Tanzania Media Women’s Association. “When the history of Africa, the Atlantic slave trade and the resistance to that crime against humanity is told, you hear praise for the resistance of African leaders, but you don’t hear about women in the resistance,” Garcia said through his interpreter, Jose Pérez. “The subject [of resistance] has been covered by a male-dominated and racist history.” Garcia relayed the contributions of women throughout the African diaspora who have been pivotal in the fight against slavery and oppression. He cited Angola’s Nzinga Mbandi and Kirupa Vita; Harriet Tubman in the U.S.; Cecile Fatiman in Haiti and Cuba’s Commander Inga as examples of women freedom fighters. That theme was repeated in a talk by Fatma Alloo, founder of the Tanzania Media Women’s Association, who urged women to become involved in telling women’s stories. “The sons of Africa are very well documented, not its daughters,” Alloo said. “In all the stories of South Africa’s upheaval and transformation, how many stories have you read of [first wife of famed former South African President Nelson Mandela] Winnie Mandela’s struggle and perspective? We don’t know the names of many important organizations created by women. ... Don’t you think we have a lot of homework to do?” Other conference sessions focused on youth movements in Africa, the Black and Latino communities’ relationship with police, student activism and research in African art history. A conference highlight, the Bishop Henry McNeal Turner and Ida B. Wells Memoral Lecture, featured as keynote speaker Kenyan educator, author and activist Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, a distinguished professor at the University of California, Irvine, and former finalist for the Nobel Prize in literature. GWS collaborative series on issues of women, men and gender equity Micharl Kimmel, sociologist and author of "Angry White Men" A series of discussions organized by Gender and Women Studies focused on gender equality and how feminism has impacted men and women. The three-part series featured a lecture by noted sociologist Michael Kimmel, author of “Angry White Men.” A book discussion preceded the lecture, and a roundtable discussion followed it. More than 200 students and faculty from various disciplines participated in the series. Kimmel’s ideas were the focal point for discussions, including his premise that men have benefitted from feminism as much as women. The topic of his lecture — “Mars, Venus or Planet Earth: Men and Women on Campus in a New Millennium” — reflects a prevailing view that “men and women are so different, they may as well be from different planets.” “By every measurable trait of attitude and behavior, men and women are more similar than different,” said Kimmel, director of the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities at Stony Brook University, where he is distinguished professor of sociology and gender studies. As part of his research, Kimmel said he has been listening intently to what men say they want and finding that, as a result of the way women’s lives have changed over the past 50 years, men would be well served to become allies with women to protect gains women have scored. However, he said men’s concepts of masculinity prevent them from seeing that they are better off as a result of the feminist movement. Among the feminist-inspired changes Kimmel noted are a higher level of visibility for gender, to the point it is a study at most colleges; the growth of women in the workforce to about 50 percent in the U.S.; a new emphasis on work/family/life balance, with women being unwilling to chose; and the expression of sexual freedom and enjoyment. “Things have changed so dramatically for men, Kimmel said. “There are no longer the all-male schools, military or jobs their dad’s went to.” What has not changed, however, are men’s ideas of what masculinity is, Kimmel explained. He described the tension between men’s ideas of manhood and masculinity. “If you ask a man what is a good man, you’re likely to hear words like ‘honorable, good provider, protector.’ But are those the same traits that show up for you when you’re told to ‘man up’ or ‘be a real man?’” He said masculinity or being a “real man” more often is equated with such things as “not reflecting any “sissy stuff,” being a big wheel in terms of the size of your wealth or power; being a sturdy oak, a rock — reliable in times of crisis, and living life on the edge or taking great risks. Kimmel said masculinity becomes a “relentless test” and the fear of not manning up becomes an “animating reality.” While gender studies have given more visibility to gender, Kimmel concedes that most men don’t think gender is important because of a sense of privilege, which negates equality, and especially equity. “Privilege is invisible to those who have it,” said Kimmel, recalling a TV talk show where a white men alleged reverse discrimination because a black woman had stolen “his” job, not “the” job. In their push for work/life balance, women have not only sought equality, Kimmel said, but equity — a sense of fairness — especially in marriages, when it comes to such things as property ownership, house work and child care. “Studies have shown that where there is equity in these relationships, kids do better in school; the kids, women and men are happier and healthier; and men and women have more sex and enjoy it more. And what man wouldn’t want that?” Concluding, Kimmel noted that gender issues, and especially issues of masculinity, play a critical role in discussions about sex on campus, the rise of HIV/AIDS and sexual assaults, and the conditions that will help women feel safe in their relationships. “In every arena we talk about, the very things women have said will make their lives better will make it possible for the first time for men to be free.” — Sabbaye McGriff Photos by Anthony Stalcup and Daid Caselli


Posted: April 6, 2015