Focus of women and gender conference is past informing future

BY Leah Mishkin, Correspondent |

The Women’s March attracted hundreds of thousands of people across the country. Since then, movements like #MeToo have shined a light on sexual harassment and assault, both opening up the conversation on women and gender. It’s a conversation Seton Hall Philosophy professor Judith Stark believes exploded with the help of social media.

“I’ve been a feminist since the second wave of the women’s movement in the 1960s,” she said. “I have never seen the kind of outpouring of passion about trying to change these issues.”

At this year’s conference on women and gender, Stark moderated a panel about how it was when female students arrived on campus 50 years ago.

“Everything that they were talking about, having to work twice as much to get half as much, and not getting paid as much, it was really interesting because I find myself feeling the same way,” said Seton Hall senior Lisa Demytrk.

Demytrk says their stories inspire her to stay involved in the future. She participated in the Women’s March in New York last year.

“It makes me feel more comfortable speaking up about it,” said Demytrk.

But if there are parallels between our past and our present, how will it affect our future?

“We can be at a tipping point. What I hope will happen is that we really will tip,” said Karen Gevirtz, co-director of the Women and Gender Studies program at Seton Hall. She says certain topics still need to be addressed, like women’s bodies.

“Women’s bodies are not considered to belong to women,” said Gevirtz.

Along the same lines, she says a conversation on women’s health needs to be discussed. She gave the example of maternal mortality in the United States.

“We are embarrassingly bad about preserving women’s life in childbirth. We rank very low on a scale of developing counties,” said Gevirtz.

Dr. Camille Nelson, dean of the Washington College of Law at American University, was the conference’s keynote speaker. Nelson says when we look at gender, we must also look at race.

“We’re all multiply constituted at the same time. There is a conversation worth having when you look at these encounters with police, especially given what we’ve seen recently because of the social media and the body cameras, literally, we’re seeing it. It begs these questions,” said Nelson.

These discussions highlight potential change, something Stark knows about. When she arrived on campus in 1980, there were no specific courses by or about women, but they were able to create a program.

“It’s the long haul, and the thing that I think both young women and young men have to do is really be informed, be educated, be active and join groups and organize. That’s how it’s going to happen,” Stark said.