Feminism is Alive and Well at Rollins

Experts discuss feminism.

Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Carol Bresnahan, Gloria Steinem, and Patricia Schroeder. (Photo by Jill Gable) Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Carol Bresnahan, Gloria Steinem, and Patricia Schroeder. (Photo by Jill Gable) Feminism is alive and was the topic of much discussion at Rollins on October 28 and 29. The College's Winter Park Institute (WPI) hosted a series of events celebrating the 45th anniversary of the founding of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and featured conversations with legendary feminist Gloria Steinem and veteran feminist activists. They shared with the Rollins community stories of struggle and triumph as well as their views on the current state of gender equality in society.

Steinem encouraged a capacity crowd inside Warden Arena on Friday, October 28 to “Behave as if everything you do matters.” Even battling the flu, the self-proclaimed hope-aholic elicited continuous applause and laughter during her 60-minute lecture that was as much a celebration of achievements in the women’s movement as it was a sober reminder of how much work there is still to accomplish.

After an introduction by Provost Carol Bresnahan, who referred to Steinem as one of her heroes, Steinem addressed a list of hot-button issues from the Occupy Wall Street movement to gay marriage. And while Steinem agreed that much progress had been made for women, she also shared her dismay with so many equality-related aims (such as reproductive freedom) still to be fully realized. “The notion that we have arrived,” said Steinem, “can be cured by looking at our national or state legislature.”

Before the evening ended with roaring applause and a standing ovation, Steinem gave the audience several to-dos, including “eroticizing equality,” attributing a value to care-giving and developing a concept of enough.

The collaboration between Winter Park Institute, Rollins Women's Studies program and the Veteran Feminists of America organization generated multiple presentations bringing together 12 feminist leaders whose views enlightened and informed those present in progressive dialogue. In coordination with these conversations, many selected Rollins students were wholly engaged in a project with the visiting activists for months prior to this past weekend’s festivities.

Saturday's forum titled “Still Moving That Mountain: Feminism, Past and Future” showcased the Rollins Feminist Oral History Project, the result of collaborative work between a team of nine students and 12 veteran feminists. Under the guidance of Associate Professor of Education Wendy Brandon and Associate Professor of Philosophy and Coordinator of the Women's Studies Program Ryan Musgrave, students spent the summer researching and interviewing the veteran feminist with whom they were paired. The forum presented the opportunity for the pairs to finally meet. In discussions with each other and the audience, students and veteran feminists examined various themes that had emerged from the transcribed interviews and what they had learned from each other during the process. In addition, veteran feminists recounted their activism from the 1960s and 1970s as trailblazers for legal and social change.  The audience was then invited to comment on past feminist gains toward equality and what remains to be accomplished: issues such as the pay gap, low representation of women in governmental and corporate leadership positions, portrayals of women in the media and violence against women.

“The stories and struggles of these women need to be shared so that my generation can continue to fight for equality,” said participant and budding activist Jamie Pennington (Class of 2012), who interviewed activist Zoe Nicholson. “Taking part in this project justified the struggles that I face today and helped me to realize what I want to do with my life.”

Leah Zaguroli (MA Class of 2012), studying for her master’s degree in education, also had the opportunity to take part in both the project and panel. “Speaking to somebody who lived through the era of so much social change was inspiring. I am now much more conscious of the struggles of feminists around me, and as a teacher I hope to empower my students to take advantage of the rights won for them by these women and to encourage this new generation to continue that fight.”

The students perhaps most excited about the prominence feminism has now achieved in the Rollins community are those involved with the Voices for Women student organization. Under the Office of Multicultural Affairs, Voices for Women is one face of feminism at Rollins, along with the Women's Studies program. Both recently celebrated the establishment of the Lucy Cross Center for Women and Their Allies on campus. “We are completely blown away that so many important figures from the feminist movement came together on our campus,” commented Moria Russo (Class of 2013). “It’s inspiring to see that Rollins is bringing awareness to a fight for which its students are passionate.”

At the heart of Saturday's forum was an hour-long conversation with two legendary women’s rights crusaders: activist and author Gloria Steinem and former congressional representative and presidential candidate Patricia Schroeder. A beyond-capacity audience packed the Tiedtke Concert Hall and overflow viewing room, causing a 15-minute delay so that the over-sized crowd could be accommodated. Both Steinem and Schroeder shared their comments on the prevailing objectification of women in media and the lack of feminine influence in politics and business, often arousing audience applause in response. Additionally, each offered their advice to the next generation of activists.

“We need to bring humor back into activism,” urged Schroeder while reminiscing on her past. “Sometimes when we get so angry, we fall in on ourselves and feel hopeless. Laughter is important because it helps put difficult topics in perspective.”

Steinem then stressed the importance of networking for any progressive movement. “Change in politics is accomplished through getting out there and meeting people. We have lost those face-to-face organizing skills that were essential to our movement back then.”

Up next for the Winter Park Institute is a discussion with author David McCullough titled History and the Love of Learning on November 4 in the Knowles Memorial Chapel. Learn more about the Winter Park Institute and its ucpoming events.