Emory Report
October 15, 2007
Volume 60, Number 7

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October 15, 2007
Emory women celebrate accomplishments, confront challenges

By mary loftus

This was the kind of gathering where old friends greeted each other and new friends were made while savoring a dessert of organic strawberries; where no one minded if you slipped out of a talk at 5:30 p.m. to get your toddler from daycare or to go to your daughter’s recorder concert; where a few tears were shed over poetry; and a feminist analysis of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” was well attended.

“Women at Emory: Past, Pres ent and Future” was held Oct. 4 and 5 to celebrate the scholarly achievements of women across campus during the last 30 years and to honor the legacy of those who have worked toward the advancement of women at Emory.

“We also wanted to offer a frank assessment of where Emory currently stands in its quest to become a destination university for women,” said Susan Carini ’04G, executive director of Emory Creative Group and chair of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women. “It will then become the responsibility of everyone in the audience to ensure that our direction stays clear and our momentum strong after the symposium ends.”

Fittingly, the event intersected with the 30th anniversary of the PCSW, the 20th year of the Department of Women’s Studies, and the 15th year of the Center for Women at Emory.

Keynote speaker Nancy Cantor, chancellor and president of Syracuse University, addressed the balancing act of women in the academy as one in which women bring “insider voices with outsider values.”

From the continuing gender gap in faculty pay to unintentional biases and outmoded institutional structures, women in higher education still face significant challenges, Cantor said. For example, tenured women are twice as likely to be single as tenured men.

Minority women face an especially dire situation, she added, given that they are subject to dual discrimination. But all women bring “multiple identities” to their workplaces — as women of color, parents, daughters, wives and partners.

“With these identities come multiple commitments and complications,” Cantor said. “It is true that men also have responsibilities — some more than others. Nonetheless, the experience of conflicting identities is the pervasive one for women. What most women lack is — not a ‘wife,’ as some of us joke — but a ‘third space’ that gives us the time, the structures, the flexibility, the support, and the encouragement to carry out our multiple roles. And in cases where some of these alternatives are available, they may tend to be seen as concessions, not as entitlements. Women, understandably, are reluctant to take advantage of them.”

The keynote was followed by a work-life panel of professors who discussed the fragmentation of schedules, the near-impossibility of perfectly balancing the demands of family and career and the “productivity fetishism” that characterizes contemporary workplaces.

“In some ways,” said the sole male panelist, professor Bradd Shore of Emory’s MARIAL Center, “we need less flextime and more islands of time . . . ritual time, storytelling time.”

The first evening concluded with a showing of the Oral History Project video. The project began with the PCSW and is now under the auspices of the Center for Women. The project currently consists of 30 interviews with trendsetting Emory women past and present that are available as podcasts at www.pcsw.emory.edu/audio.htm. A link on the PCSW homepage also provides access to a short video about the project.

Professor of Psychology Nadine Kaslow, chair of the symposium, said an open discussion of the issues raised by Cantor’s talk is critical, enabling changes to occur so that “access is something that means the same thing to all of us.”

Kaslow opened the next day’s gathering, which offered sessions of such diversity and breadth that attendees were torn over which to attend. The morning began with a Women’s Studies plenary, featuring alumni, professors and graduate students from the department discussing topics ranging from the legacy of slavery for women and girls to the intersections of gender, race and ethnicity in politics.

Breakout sessions on women in the professions, women’s health and women in culture and society offered insights into women in pivotal professions from medicine to law to social advocacy, as well as providing inspiration from strong female role models. Speakers “pulled on the thread of history” to offer incentives for “leaving doors ajar” for the next generation of women leaders.

In a fascinating presentation about disabled women in the public sphere, Associate Professor of Women’s Studies Rosemarie Garland-Thomson showed visuals portraying the “entertainment” discourse of disability, such as conjoined twin circus performers, and the “celebrity” disabled, including the first disabled Playboy centerfold. Graduate students from Women’s Studies examined Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” movies for their violent female protagonists, as well as discussing the concept of the “final girl” (i.e., the woman spared) in the horror genre.

Pulitzer Prize–winning poet and Associate Professor of English Natasha Trethewey read the title poem from her book “Native Guard” as well as deeply personal works about the burial of her mother. As Trethewey first stepped to the podium, she received a standing ovation from an audience filled with colleagues and admirers. The Pulitzer, she joked, is especially valuable if it lends her more credibility with her students when she gives them tough feedback.

In the final session, Dean Jan Love, Vice President and Secretary Rosemary Magee ’82PhD, Dean Lisa Tedesco and Senior Vice Provost Claire Sterk spoke about being a woman in leadership at Emory and what the next steps for the institution need to be. “We don’t check our identities at the door,” said Tedesco. “I have a really hard time drawing a line between me as a person and me as a scholar.”

President Jim Wagner gave the symposium’s closing comments, saying that he finds the situation for women in the academy to be bittersweet. “Thirty years later,” he said, “why do we still need a President’s Commission on the Status of Women? [In] a meritocracy, why are there still gender differences? I have to imagine, how many women were not given opportunities [to excel]?”

The event closed with a dramatic reading of excerpts from Theater Emory’s upcoming production of “The Trojan War.” “There is no justice, only life,” said one. “You must wake up to that.”