By Allan Appe
The concepts and goals of feminism are just as valid today as they ever were.
On the other hand, maybe you shouldn’t use the word “feminist” without sizing up whom you’re talking to.
That was one take-away for Charlotte Murphy, who attended a Community Fund for Women & Girlspanel discussion and pep talk at the Union League Cafe Monday afternoon.
The fund is a project of the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, which in 2012 issued a report on the status of women and girls in New Haven. Click here for that report, which is intended as a baseline for other groups and non-profits to calibrate their work.
Murphy was one of about 115 people (almost all female) who gathered in the restaurant’s second-floor ballroom to hear Laura Pappano and Teresa Younger discuss whether working on incremental changes—for example, gradually improving pay equity or increasing the number of women receiving advanced degrees—is the way to go. Or whether activists should focus on structural, cultural changes.
Answer: Do both.
Within that larger context, the role of men was also discussed. “The day that a man can advocate for women’s health the way a woman advocates for men’s health, that will be a day of equality,” said Younger, the executive director of the state’s Permanent Commission on the Status of Women.
“We need to be inclusive of men, but women all through life are struggling at a level worse than men. There are cultural and structural changes,” said Pappano, an education journalist, who called particular attention to the plight of the many women scraping by on minimum wage jobs while heading single-parent families.
Murphy, a retired private school development officer, was struck by the vocab question on “feminism.”
It was triggered when moderator Nancy Alexander paraphrased Gloria Steinem: If you say you’re for equal pay for equal work, that’s a reform. If you say, “I’m a feminist,” that’s a revolution.
The panel discussion was titled “(R)Evolution.”
In a post-panel discussion by the door with New Haven Promise’s Patricia Melton, Murphy said she was struck by Pappano’s description of the kids she works with producing a newspaper at the Celentano Museum Academy school. While the little boys said they want to be the usual doctor or fireman, the little girls talked of wanting to be Beyonce, a hair dresser or a manicurist, Murphy recollected.
Melton said her girls in New Haven Promise programs don’t have that problem. They want to be doctors, lawyers, teachers, she said. Perhaps the difference is that her kids are older than Celentano girls, she speculated.
She agreed with Murphy’s point that if you can’t be in the conversation, you can’t have evolution of solving problems.
“You wouldn’t say ‘feminist’ without sizing up your surroundings,” she said.
Then she added, “And listening.”