Amplifying the Voice of Women
by Sofia Scotti
On January 21st, 2017, around 200,000 women and men from across the United States gathered in Washington D.C at the first annual Women’s March to advocate for the rights of women across the nation. Months later, Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexually assaulting multiple women, which lead to the popularization of the #MeToo and Time’s Up: social movements designed to call attention to the experiences of victims of sexual violence and to expose its perpetrators. These movements and the collective efforts of the women behind them have moved women’s issues to the forefront of our collective consciousness. Still, with a persisting pay gap, the lack of women in STEM fields, and continuing abuse of women in the United States and across the globe, it remains clear that while progress has been made, there is still work to be done until women are truly regarded as equal. That’s why on March 7th, 2019, FIU Honors College senior Isabella Marie Garcia, with the help of Honors College Professor John Bailly, organized a Civic Dinner titled The Voice of Women at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. Garcia believes that giving college aged women the opportunity to speak openly about the issues they face is a vital step towards addressing and fixing them. “Many of these issues, such as unequal pay, if gender-neutral bathrooms are necessary, female sexuality, transgender rights, etc. are often debated in spaces that don’t allow for an open discussion. Ideas and opinions about these issues are often turned down without a chance to debate their validity, such as on social media. It’s important to give college-aged women the platform to voice their feelings and experiences and feel validated.”
To further break down the topic of women’s issues, students in attendance were given a list of conversation topics to discuss among themselves in groups of 5-7. The topics they were given were:
- Share your name and give a quick toast to a woman who inspires you.
- When was the first time you felt like your voice wasn’t being heard because you were a woman or when you noticed that a woman wasn’t being heard?
- What women’s issues are most important to you and why? What’s at stake?
- What can we do together and independently to show up for women?
As the conversation flowed, the women of the groups began to share similar experiences in the world of academia. As women, we all know what it’s like to be spoken over, have our very real experiences delegitimized by those around us, have our expertise questioned, or even be ignored altogether in favor of the men around us, particularly in the university environment. Honors College sophomore Alyssa Mathura discussed her experience as an engineering major and often being one of very few women in her classes. “Sometimes I’m in a group with two other guys and I feel like whenever I do a problem, they question the method I took to get the answer and ask the TA for reassurance on my work. That in it of itself makes me feel like they’re undermining my work and knowledge of the topics.” This shutting down and ignoring of women is prevalent in many fields but can be most insidious in STEM fields where women are scarce in the first place. In fact, women currently only make up a measly 29% of employees in STEM. This may partially be due to the stereotyping women and girls face from childhood onwards discouraging women from pursuing math and science so that even when they do get to pursue degrees in STEM, they are still regarded as less competent than their male peers. This problem highlights the necessity of early intervention programs, like Girls Who Code, that help young girls get engaged in math and science early on and stay engaged in those fields throughout their lives.
It is furthermore important to recognize that women across the spectrum will not experience sexism and misogyny in the same way. For example, while white women make about 77 cents on every dollar that a white non-Hispanic man makes, a Hispanic woman will only make about 53 cents for every dollar a white non-Hispanic man makes. To the women of FIU, a university that is 67% Hispanic, this is a significant statistic that came up repeatedly during discussion. The intersections of our identities define the way we experience the world around us and we must first acknowledge this diversity of experience to more adequately address the problems we each face. As Hispanic women, we are often the victims of machismo that is specific to our own cultures. One of the first places that we experience this is in our own homes. Daughters of Hispanic families are expected to bear the brunt of domestic labor. How many of us Hispanic women have attended family parties where all the women are on their feet setting out desserts, cleaning dishes, clearing tables, or watching over children while the men sit outside smoking cigars and chatting? To the women in the FIU Honors College, it is very clear that the problem of sexism starts at home and that it must be addressed here to ultimately be defeated in our society at large. Sophomore Melissa Alvarez says that to address the problem at home, “we should break the traditions starting with chores and predetermined lifestyles,” as well as encourage our male family members to participate in traditionally female domestic roles. By stopping the cycle of perpetuating traditional gender roles within our own homes, we can better equip both ourselves and the generations of tomorrow to create a more egalitarian future.
As young women on the cusp of entering the workforce, it’s absolutely vital that we recognize the role we play in amplifying the voices of women whose experiences may differ widely from our own . We must recognize that “that’s just the way things are” is not an excuse anymore and that we need to demand to be treated fairly by others and to fight for those whose voices are pushed aside. This comes with a need for introspection and analysis of where our own biases lie. How often do we regard household chores as “mens work”? How often do we disbelieve women even when we know we have been in their place? How often do we disregard women in leadership, intentionally or unintentionally, in favor of the men in the room? The success of women’s rights movements lies not in fighting for only one type of woman, but in recognizing that, even though our experiences are all different, we are stronger when we come together and lift each others voices up.
Gallery from The Voice of Women Civic Dinner at Vizcaya Museum & Gardens