Examining the journey to parity on International Women’s Day

March 09, 2022

A professor speaks at a podium at the Women's Teach-In.

The amazing contributions and formidable challenges women face in the charge for global equality were explored during an International Women’s Day Teach-In held at the Carl Hansen Student Center on March 8.

Senior Assistant Athletic Director for Academic Support Kristen Casamento and Associate Athletic Director for Business and Administration Alyssa Hyatt cited key female athletic figures and their champions during the “Trailblazing Women in Sports” presentation.

“While we recognize these incredible women who gave female athletes a voice, we have to understand there are still things to be done in terms of trailblazing, breaking boundaries and balancing motherhood, mental health and race barriers,” said Casamento.

American tennis player Billie Jean King was cited not only for her noteworthy performances on the court, but for her push for equal pay and prize money for male and female professional tennis players. She also founded the Women’s Tennis and Women’s Sports Foundations, said Hyatt.

Tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams are notable for their performances which continually break gender and race biases, with the latter also acting as a preeminent voice around post-partum depression and its effects, noted Hyatt.

Another exemplary role model of what mothers can achieve is Elana Meyers Taylor, the American bobsledder who made Olympic history this year as the most decorated Black athlete to compete in the Winter Games.

Over the years, women’s athletic expertise can be seen both on and off the literal playing field. College basketball coach Pat Summit and NBA assistant coach Becky Hammon made history as the first females to hold these titles. Gayle Gardner and Doris Burke broke barriers as female sports commentators, said Casamento.

Also notable are the men who empower women in the sports world. Baseball player Derek Jeter used his influence to mobilize Kim Ng in her work with the New York Yankees to become the MLB general manager of the Miami Marlins, said Casamento.

Professor of Entrepreneurship and Strategy and Director for the People’s United Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship Patrice Luoma shared how celebrity household names such as Oprah Winfrey, Rihanna and Kylie Jenner are indeed entrepreneurs.

“Whatever you do to make money when you work for yourself, that makes you an entrepreneur. Anyone can be an entrepreneur; you don’t have to be a famous tech person, as anyone can be an entrepreneur,” said Luoma. “It’s important to realize that entrepreneurs aren’t [necessarily] heroes.”

She shared the multiple resources offered on campus to help students with fledgling businesses, even if they are only in the planning stages. Pitch contests, available sale space, and social entrepreneur classes are only some of the ways Quinnipiac encourages students to seek the possibilities of their own businesses, said Luoma.

Field Education Coordinator in the Master of Social Work program Charity Dennis Ford explored the changing idea of work and professional opportunity in a discussion titled “Cushioning your career for the blow of change in a pandemic environment”. Ford reflected on the struggles of learning during COVID, as well as developing a professional career in a hybrid world.

“Moving forward, how can you recreate and package yourself that is deliverable no matter the circumstances? At the end of the day, you can’t replace human touch,” said Ford. “Though a lot of things had to be recreated, don’t assume we are still in Zoom mode.”

Rania Bensadok ’22 shared her experiences as a first-generation American during her “Stories that lived through war” presentation. Bensadok immigrated with her family from Algeria as a child and continues to explore the intersection of her identity as both an American and an Algerian. Her studies at Quinnipiac, particularly in creative writing, empower her to share the ambiguity of her story with others, she said.

“When cultures from home clash with cultures we come across, there becomes a constant underestimation of ability. We tend to suppress our experiences, because we’re expected to be strong,” said Bensadok. “This causes one to struggle with identity. But being a part of many cultures is a strength.”

This is particularly poignant in dispelling traditional gender roles of one’s homeland for greater opportunity in their current country, she said.

Amber Pagan ’22 focused on “Women’s leadership in politics”. While Pagan felt a propensity for politics since high school, her studies and internships continue to give her a better language to define gender gaps and how they can be surmounted in the political arena.

“It’s a circle of empowerment. When one woman succeeds in politics, we can continue to break barriers for women in politics,” she said. “There are [influential] factors in gender gap and race gap. Research shows women register and show up to vote more than men. We saw specifically in 2020 how gender gaps extend to political attitudes, not just vote choices.”

Pagan cited inspirational figures U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Vice President Kamala Harris and World Trade Organization Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as those trailblazing political paths that will hopefully only widen with time.

Ana Allen ’22 extolled the importance of relatable role models during her “Representation and intersectionality in leadership” presentation.

“Why do we put the onus on women to be pioneers, representative and leaders if we do not discuss why it is difficult to do so? This is when it’s helpful to find female role models,” said Allen. “Role models serve three distinct functions: Acting as behavioral models, representing the possible, and being inspirational.”

When encouraged to find role models, Allen initially struggled. She began to actively seek out individuals that she could both identify with and aspire to emulate.  The accomplishments of psychiatrist Frantz Fanon, political activist Angela Davis, author Zora Neale Hurston, chemist Alice Ball, and author Maya Angelou continue to inspire Allen to find her own community and “learn to put myself out there,” she said.
Intramural supervisor Camille Manley focused on the pressures female athletes face from collegiate to professional careers in “Women’s takeover in sports”. Manley reflected on American gymnast’s Simone Biles somewhat shocking decision to step down from the Olympic team to focus on her mental health.

“Olympic athletes are expected to always be at their number one best, but they go through things and need a break just as much as we do,” said Manley. “We have to work to [dispel] stigma around athletes seeking psychological consultation or taking time off.”

Pressure for perfection is often coupled with a lesser than attitude towards women athletes, said Manley. Individuals are becoming more empowered to expose inequality in resources and training for male and female sports teams – from the professional arena of March Madness to the Quinnipiac campus. For example, the women’s hockey team is now able to utilize the Perroti Arena, which was only previously available for use by the men’s team, she said.

“Our generation isn’t not holding back. When we see things that need change, we will open up those conversations,” said Manley.

Assistant Professor of History Larissa Pitts offered a more global perspective of women’s rights during “Feminism in WWII-era China”.

“Versions of feminism play out in important parts of history, in terms of space, countries, cultures, and regions,” said Pitts. “Feminism isn’t one thing, it’s a plurality of things.”

She centered her presentation around Jiang Bingzhi, better known by the pen name of Ding Ling. A Chinese author and activist, Ling escaped an arranged marriage and political persecution and endured incarceration in her work to deconstruct implausible societal expectations of Chinese women, said Pitts.

“Nationalist Chinese men were active in women’s rights in early period after World War II, there was freedom from foot binding, and a promise for freedom of movement, and access to education and employment,” said Pitts. “Ling [exposed the failed promise] of Chinese nationalist feminism.”

Ling’s book “Miss Sophia’s Diary” and her later essay “Thoughts on March 8” served as vessels that deftly illustrated the chasm between the idealogy and limitations Chinese women faced at home and in society, said Pitts.

Associate professor of legal studies Sujata Gadkar-Wilcox shared further global perspective around the fight for female parity during “Women’s equality as the key to annihilating caste discrimination”.

Former Indian law minister Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar is credited with the destruction of the country’s caste system, a hierarchal societal regime with deep roots in Hindu religion. “Ambedkar was a radical feminist. He saw caste equality as social and political equality,” said Gadkar-Wilcox. “Caste was a means of regulating and controlling women’s bodies. This included the social deaths of widow, forced marriage of underage girls, and invisibility of routine violence to women in the lower castes.”

These methods of injustice can be seen in our current society and underscore the important work of the Black Lives Matter movement. “To decenter whiteness, we are making visible the most vulnerable, including criminality, poverty, and the most marginalized experiences of American people,” she said.

By erasing designations of the caste system, Ambedkhar created changes that may be adopted for a fairer society in the United States.

“Politics of inclusion and recognition demand opportunities at all levels of government. We can achieve emancipation through political citizenship, constitutionalism, state protection of minority rights, and a system of reservations,” she said. “Democracy is more than a form of government. [Its success] relies on social transformation.”

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