Forum focuses on women’s issues

By Travis Gulbrandson

True gender equality will never be reached unless people maintain an awareness of the issues it encompasses, several USD professors said Monday.

(From left) Dr. Shane Nordyke and Dr. Miglena Sternadori listen as Dr. Dai (Lucy) Wenqian discusses the gender pay gap during a forum called “International Women Issues” Monday afternoon at the University of South Dakota. (Photo by David Lias)

(From left) Dr. Shane Nordyke and Dr. Miglena Sternadori listen as Dr. Dai (Lucy) Wenqian discusses the gender pay gap during a forum called “International Women Issues” Monday afternoon at the University of South Dakota.
(Photo by David Lias)

“In the U.S., we’ve moved into this post-feminist era where people feel, ‘Feminism was important, but it did what it was supposed to do, and now we’re over it.’ They tend to internalize that and they tend to project it, so you see a lot of victim-shaming, a lot of rape-shaming … and we also project that on the international stage,” said Dr. Shane Nordyke, assistant professor of political science.

Dr. Miglena Sternadori, assistant professor of contemporary media and journalism, said students don’t have to be activists to enact change.

Many of them aren’t comfortable being activists, she said.

“But, I think there are various ways to make a difference, such as studying about things (and then) writing about them,” Sternadori said.

Nordyke agreed, saying people should be aware of unfair conditions and abuse so that they can create “the opportunities for people to get out of those situations, or (create) an environment where people can feel comfortable talking about it.”

These views and others were shared in Farber Hall on the USD campus as part of this month’s International Forum, which was called “International Women Issues.”

During the talk, the professors discussed such issues as the gender pay gap, political representation and the portrayal of women by the media.

Dr. Dai (Lucy) Wenqian, assistant professor of sociology, said that while the gender pay gap varies from country to country, it held an average of 82 percent in the United States in 2011.

“In other words, the female’s average (salary) was only 82 percent of their male counterparts’,” she said.

Wenqian added that statistically, women are more segregated and excluded from high-paying managerial positions, and even specialized fields see a large disparity in pay.

For example, the average female lawyer makes 56 cents for each dollar a male earns in the same position, she said.

“That is a big difference,” she said.

Companies also are less likely to hire women who have or may have children.

“Their concern is that for women who are mothers, they are less likely to be committed to their work,” Wenqian said.

Nordyke said the gender gap also can be seen in the political world.

The United States is ranked 77th in terms of women office-holders, she said, with only 20 percent of the senate and 17.9 percent of the house of representatives, she said.

By comparison, the other industrialized countries are represented by women at a rate of 36-55 percent depending on the nation, Nordyke said.

Sternadori said there also is a difference in the way women are portrayed by the media.

Based on the scholarly literature, they are most often seen as victims, she said.

“There have been various efforts throughout the world, including in the United States to start speaking about women as agents of change,” Sternadori said.

An example of this is One Billion Rising, an initiative started by playwright Eve Ensler that calls for one billion women around the world to dance in a show of collective strength, and calls for gender equality, justice and an end to violence.

The movement culminated on Valentine’s Day this year.

Sternadori said that while she saw a lot of coverage in such foreign publications as the British newspaper The Guardian, there was little to nothing about the movement stateside.

“I did not see anything in the New York Times, either on Valentine’s Day or in general,” she said. “I did not see any coverage in other U.S. news organizations. …

“For some reason, this doesn’t get covered – probably because it’s not as interesting as women being raped,” she said.

Other stories – such as the jailing of several members of the punk rock group Pussy Riot after a protest in Russia – were marred by sexualizing and infantilizing, Sternadori said.

Instead of talking about why the group was protesting Russian president Vladimir Putin, many newspapers and magazines focused on language and “rock rebellion,” she said.

When asked by an audience member about when change would come in terms of U.S. public policy, the professors said it would take time.

“I don’t think progress can be forced, unfortunately,” Sternadori said. “It takes time, and I would love to say that maybe having more women in power would be helpful, but I also know that … it’s not just about having women in power. It’s about changing.”

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