Thursday, November 29, 2012

27 Nov BB Response: Women and Catholicism Through the Ages

Tuesday's brown bag was facilitated by a panel of self-identified or formerly-self-identified Catholic women: Candace Bemont, Maura Tumulty, Sylvia Roe, Margaret Wehrer, and Caroline Williams '13.  They discussed the place of women in Catholicism from the 30s through today, how women's roles and voices have been constrained or expanded from the world wars through Vatican II to the present.  The presentation brought up several streams of discourse from identity to the perception of closedmindedness and illogic as Catholic, and how that contrasts with vibrant feminist communities within Catholic thought.

I identify as an atheist, but through my Colgate career, specifically as a Music major, I have learned a great deal about Catholicism and various ideological streams within it.  I was then not surprised by their assertion that there was vibrant feminist thought in Catholicism, because I've seen that first hand in the works of Hildegard von Bingen, a 12th century nun whom I've done research on for music history classes.  Hildegard was a composer, writer, dramaturg, theologian, lecturer, and alleged prophetess.  Her works valourize the feminine and the place of women in the church.  It is argued that her Ordo Virtutum is the first opera.  She interpreted the scriptures very differently from how they were commonly interpreted in her era, and she made her ideas known.  Her creation story does not blame Eve, but emphasizes her being tricked by the serpent, who contrary to common assumption was the most beautiful and beloved, indeed feminine of the animals in the garden, and this guise of trusted animal is what makes the Devil's trick all the more horrible.  She had a concept of viriditas, "greenness", that was a feminine creative force enveloping all things natural and living.  Her convent was sanctioned by higher up orders of men for their venture into political affairs, and she challenged them and their prohibition of song in her convent.

What this shows is what the panel was talking about: Catholicism is a tradition, like any other, and in any tradition there are those inside of it preserving things as they've always been and policing its standard narrative, and there are those inside of it working for reform.  It is dangerous to assume that any tradition is opposed to progress; progress is often most poignant when coming from within a tradition.  The rich subtradition of feminist movement in Catholicism from Hildegard to the present is a fascinating and helpful one that I'm delighted to have encountered in my time here.

Xavia Publius

Response to "The War on Men"

While procrastinating from my work on Facebook, I came across an intriguing article that has now circulated around Colgate (at least in my limited circles). This highly talked about article, “The War on Men,” was posted on the Fox News website by Suzanne Venker. If you don’t have time to read the entire article I’ll offer a short synopsis: Venker claims that fewer men are marriage material because feminism has emasculated men by denying men their biological need to be breadwinners. In a nutshell, feminism endangers men, women, family structures, and American society at large. Women need to return to their place in society (the home) and stop taking away opportunities from men in order to be marriage material. Whew, that’s a lot to take in. Here is my composed response…

I could pick apart every one of Venker’s claims and present contrary data or opinions, but I found that analyzing her first claim took enough time out of my day. So, I will mainly focus on her interpretation of how many women and men prioritize marriage. Venker starts off by citing research done by the Pew Research Center that shows more women but fewer men want to get married these days. However, when you look at the data that is only one way of interpreting it. The questions asked whether having a “successful” marriage is one of the most important aspects of their lives. 37% of women believe it is, whereas 29% of men believe it  is. However, when one actually does one’s research and looks into the full survey, the data show that 66% of young women (ages 18 to 34) say that having a career is one of the most important things in their lives whereas only 59% of men said a career was high priority. For both sexes, being a good parent and having a successful marriage rank higher than a successful career. Thus, women are simply striving (not asking) for more. They want a good career, successful marriage, and to be a good parents and they are doing something about it. Women make up almost half of the work force (46.7%) and have higher rates of enrollment and completion of college (44% of women and 38% of men between the ages of 18 to 24). There is something very wrong with the fact that having aspirations make woman unmarriageable. I wouldn’t want to marry someone either who kept me from achieving my goals or didn’t love me because of them (which has the unmistakable likeness of domestic abuse).

Luckily, most of the population doesn’t seem to agree with Venker’s argument or logic. What Venker fails to mention is that 73% of the general public today believes that society has benefited from women participating in the workforce. Furthermore, 62% of the public believe an egalitarian relationship in which the husband and wife (note the heterosexual privilege) share not only the responsibilities of work but also childrearing is more satisfying than the traditional husband as the breadwinner relationship. The public hasn’t come to a consensus on how this change in the family structure impacts children.

In conclusion, I mostly see benefits from this article becoming viral. Most of the people I have talked to about this article have been outraged and are talking about it. But more importantly, this article reminded those who don’t talk feminism 24/7 that sexism is still very alive and well in our society.  So I challenge you to keep the conversation going. Go out and have a conversation about this topic to someone who might not otherwise think about these issues. Apathy won’t get us anywhere. This article is just the spark we need to get people moving. 

- Michelle Van Veen '14 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

"What's she wearing?" - women in politics

The other day as I was sitting in the Case Library cafe on campus, enjoying a grapefruit (they're surprisingly delicious this time of year) and reading the Colgate Maroon News: Special Election Edition. I leafed through the paper skimming through articles about the economy, the emphasis (or not) on education in our current political agenda, how students have engaged themselves in the election on campus etc etc. until, on the second to last page of the paper, I stumbled across something that raised one or both of my eyebrows. It was an article about Michelle Obama and Ann Romney on "Who wore it better?"; "it" being the color hot pink. I quickly went back through the rest of the paper and, sure enough, there were no articles that spoke about "Who wore it better?" - Barack Obama or Mitt Romney?

Of course, being involved in politics - or any position scrutinized by the public eye - image is of utmost importance and, unfortunately, can not be avoided. Especially in politics, millions of campaign dollars are spent on how a candidate looks to the public eye. But it does not seem that men and women are being held to the same standard. I think back on the ads I've seen about Obama and Romney; policies aside, they drew their appeal on highlighting the candidates' character, their leadership skills, their steadfastness, their integrity. I'm not sure I encountered even a single conversation about what they wore on their bodies. True, one argument for this could be that "normal" professional attire for men is generally not too varied and would not make for as interesting of conversation as that of women's attire. Ok. But why is it more "interesting" to talk about what women wear than men? Perhaps talking about the outer shifts focus away from the inner, perhaps summing Michelle and Ann by their outfits keeps them confined to the role of ornamentation to their husbands, perhaps if we think hot pink is the most interesting thing they have going for them there probably isn't much else they have to say. It is easy to write this off as a fault of the fashion industry, but this is an incomplete assessment of the power behind fashion: what we wear is important because it can provide an entryway into what we have to say - it is not meant to start and end with the outer.

My mind jumps to the snarky comments that are often made about Hillary Clinton's outfit choices and the condemnations made about her seemingly lack of femininity in outfit choice. A recent SNL skit following the election showed several images of female Senators while stating that we have more women in the Senate after this recent election than ever before... which means the pantsuit industry is probably thrilled.

I salute the women who are brave enough to be in politics - a world that is still largely compiled of men and, unfortunately, one that still adheres closely to patriarchal standards. I salute their constant negotiations of femininity and masculinity in a field that will not take them seriously if they are too feminine, and laugh at them if they are too masculine. I salute them for speaking loudly through their messages, not their attires.

- Christina Liu '13 (intern)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Women in Science: Colgate and Beyond

                Tuesday’s Brown Bag opened with the topic of women in the science field nationally and moved to women in science at Colgate. It was interesting to see statistics on how women who are pursuing science are doing in terms of success in their careers and what we can expect to see in the future.  This presentation was followed by a panel discussion about women’s experiences in their science careers at Colgate. The panel was made up of Colgate professors Catherine Herne, Krista Ingram, Rebecca Metzler, and Kristin Pangallo. Catherine Herne is a visiting Professor of Physics, Krista Ingram is an Assistant Professor of Biology, Rebecca Metzler is an Asssistant Professor of Physics, and Kristin Pangallo is an Assistant Professor of Chemistry. They spoke about how their interest in science began and when they decided to pursue it as a career. A few of the women had parents who were science professors themselves and cultivated their love of science while others discovered their talent while studying in undergraduate school. The professors also discussed instances of gender based discrimination they faced and lack of support from their peers. With the exception of Professor Ingram’s experience in her biology grad program, they all said they were largely outnumbered in the classroom and were at times underestimated because of their gender.
               I thought it was interesting to hear that although these women are all very accomplished and successful, they still have to re-assert their credibility at times because science still remains a largely male-dominated field. All of the members of the panels spoke highly of the mentors and advisers that they have had and highlighted the importance of forming connections and relationships with other women in the field. The professors’ discussion about the sort of comments they receive on their set forms at the end of the term was also interesting and a little disheartening. It did not surprise me that some students would underestimate how smart their Physics, Chemistry, or Bio professors are solely based on their gender, but it did surprise me that they would go as far to write it down on their evaluation forms. I think this just speaks a lack of self-awareness and privilege that those who have not experienced structural discrimination sometimes have and it was a good example of how much more work there is to be done.Overall, this was a great event and it was very interesting to hear about these professors' experiences.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Body Health: Negotiating a Disordered Eating Culture

As I attended the November 8th Brown Bag, Body Health: Navigating a Disordered Eating Culture, I was impressed with the number of people who attended as well as the type of speakers that had assembled to talk about body image and eating disorders on our campus. There was one student who discussed her personal struggles and an athletic trainer who has experience with students with unhealthy eating and exercise routines. There was a professor who has had her own personal battle with body image and who has also seen the progression of the campus’ attitude towards body types, and a counselor who helps students who are seeking help for body image health issues. Overall, I think the panel gave a very well rounded view of the topic. The speakers discussed how the image of the perfect body on this campus is unrealistic and unique to Colgate. As one panelist described, its not normal to only eat almonds all day. Another important topic that arose was how exercising too much is as destructive as an eating disorder.The speakers discussed how it is not healthy to work out 3-4 hours a day, everyday; yet that is a common occurrence at Colgate. I think that the take home message from this brown bag was that its important to talk about these issues and be supportive of each other because you never really know how other people are feeling, especially about their own body image. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Breast Cancer Awareness Film Screening

The screening of the film Pink Ribbons, Inc took place on October 23rd, 2012 in the Women’s Studies Center. It was a collaborative event hosted by the Center for Women’s Studies, Sorella Society, Kappa Kappa Gamma, BCAC, and Colleges Against Cancer. The event also featured a small bake sale for SHARE Foundation, which offers support to both Breast and Ovarian cancer. Pink Ribbons, Inc is a thought-provoking film about the corporate exploitation of breast cancer. It did an amazing job of unearthing the unsavory and unethical operations of breast cancer fundraising that is not easily recognizable. I had plenty of people come up to me after the movie and say that they never knew that this was going on and just blindly trusted that these companies were raising money to help end breast cancer. However, in the movie, we saw that most of the funds do not go to research that could help different races of women with the disease and it does not go to target-specific research such as less-damaging treatments. It was apparent that most of the companies were “fighting” for a cure; however, the products they invested in and sold contain carcinogens that lead to breast cancer. It was a scary paradox that I think all people should be aware of. PLEASE watch this movie if you can. It is available in Case Library for rental and if you cannot watch the movie at least watch the trailer or visit

~Natalie George