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Four faculty members spoke on a panel regarding the role and influence of fem­inism in America. Left to right: Assistant Pro­fessor of French Anne Theobald, Assistant Pro­fessor of Classics Laury Ward, Asso­ciate Pro­fessor of English Lor­raine Murphy, and Vis­iting Lec­turer of Biology Angelica Pytel. Asa Hoffman | Courtesy

Four faculty brought dif­ferent per­spec­tives on the fem­inist movement at a panel dis­cussion this week.

On Tuesday night, stu­dents, faculty, and pro­fessors alike crammed into the Her­itage Room for a pro­fes­sorial panel dis­cussion on fem­inism and its role in America today. Hosted by the Fair­field Society, the event fea­tured Assistant Pro­fessor of Classics Laury Ward, Vis­iting Lec­turer of Biology Angelica Pytel, Asso­ciate Pro­fessor of English Lor­raine Murphy, and Assistant Pro­fessor of French Anne Theobald.

Mary Kate Boyle, junior and pres­ident of the Fair­field Society, said the goal for the panel was to encourage audience members to recon­sider their pre­con­cep­tions of fem­inism.

“I think there’s an attitude toward fem­inism on campus that views it in the most radical and vit­riolic light and sees that as all fem­inism is,” Boyle said. “I wanted to promote dis­cussion where we could hear from some respected and thoughtful women and learn that fem­inism doesn’t have to be liberal and man­hating.”

The panel, run as a question-and-answer dia­logue mod­erated by sophomore Kailey Andrew, covered every­thing from the def­i­n­ition of fem­inism to gender stereo­types. The pan­elists based many of their answers off their own expe­rience. For instance, Pytel explained how her childhood shaped her views on fem­inism and that she asso­ciates “pos­itive thoughts” with the term.

“I was raised with the men­tality where girls were not forced to conform to certain gender stereo­types as I was growing up and therefore I was free to choose what was best for me as an indi­vidual and to express my per­sonal liberty,” she said.

Ward also spoke from per­sonal expe­rience. Sporting a pink shirt with “FEMINIST” embla­zoned across the chest, she shared a story about one reaction she received when someone found out she would be speaking at the event.

“I’ve been on a number of panels, and some of been closely related to my field of study, but some have not,” she said. “This is the first panel I’ve been on that I’ve had someone come up to me to ask if I felt like I was an authority to speak on this topic. I think this shows that the word ‘fem­inist’ triggers a lot of defen­siveness.”

The dia­logue broadened into a dis­cussion of equal rights. While the pan­elists agreed that they had never felt held back or been denied oppor­tu­nities because of their sex, Pytel said there is “absolutely gender inequality every­where.” She said she hopes to see that change — espe­cially in pol­itics.

“If we have an equal number of men and women in Con­gress, it will change the dynamics,” she said. “Women have dif­ferent pri­or­ities — we’re more unity-ori­ented, more family-ori­ented. I’m not saying we take over every­thing; we just need an equal voice. If you’re a man and in power, then, yeah, we’re coming — for half your power.”

Murphy, however, sug­gested that the culture’s exploitation of women might be a greater issue than an inequality of rights.

“I don’t think we can talk very long about girls and women flour­ishing without talking about their rela­tionship with men,” she said. “The hyper-sex­u­al­ization of women in popular culture is hon­estly the thing that scares me the most. I think it has a lot to do with women knowing how to relate in healthy, respectful, hon­orable ways with other women and with men.”

Sophomore Isaac Kir­shner attended the dis­cussion. He said as a male he doesn’t feel threatened by fem­inism but sug­gested it’s time for the fem­inist movement to refine its message, since its basis is “rooted in the idea of the dignity of the human woman.”

“We should pre­serve the dignity of the human being as an equal person created in the image of God,” he said. “We can reframe the argument into a dis­cussion of why is the human being special and what makes us all special together. I think there needs to be an inward look into what the movement means today.”

Junior Kathleen Hancock said that while she doesn’t define herself as a fem­inist, she appre­ciated the event.   

“In the past I’ve been of the opinion that I don’t want to support the movement but rather indi­viduals,” Hancock said. “I think when you take the label of fem­inism, you get a lot of baggage because of the extreme that is por­trayed, espe­cially by Hol­lywood and the media. It dis­torts it. The panel was very much focused on the middle ground of what a majority of women who claim to be fem­i­nists believe. That was really insightful.”