STARR Symposium: From a Young Feminist’s Point of View

By Talyn Helman


Fast Tube by Casper
When I heard about this event, I’ll admit, I really thought it was going to be a man-bashing extravaganza. I’d never read any feminist literature, other than a few blogs and articles. I’d never heard of any of the women speaking at Women, Girls, Ladies. And as far as my understanding of feminism went, it was pretty basic: men try to put women down, we shouldn’t let them; women make less money than men still, and women earned the right to vote later than we should have. I was pretty uneducated. I signed up far ahead of the event, to interview spectators and record the event on a camcorder; mostly because I thought it’d be fun to play with the camera.

Since working at the Women’s Center, I’ve learned about a whole world I never even thought existed. I had no idea about all of these incredible, strong women who spent their lives trying to let other women know they could be powerful too! The STARR Symposiumwas an amazing experience for me, and opened my eyes to things I had never even thought about. The speakers were all authors and journalists for women’s websites, and were absolutely brilliant. The four women in Women, Girls, Ladies, were Gloria Feldt; Courtney E. Martin; Deborah Siegel; and Kristal Brent Zook.

Let me say first, I was completely wrong about the man-bashing. A lot of the conversation was actually directed at how women and men could share responsibilities and make relationships work, to help women balance their lives better. The speakers’ speeches and accomplishments were what really stayed with me after the symposium.

Gloria Feldt had three children before she was 20. She only realized she wanted to work for her rights as a woman after her youngest child. She spent thirty years working with Planned Parenthood, and retired as the President of the organization in 2005. She has written several books, multiple articles, has a successful blog, Heartfeldt, and is now one of the most well known speakers for women. She has just released her latest book; No Excuses; 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power.Feldt has appeared on many television shows (The Daily Show, O’Reilly, Good Morning America, just to name a few), written commentary for many of America’s top newspapers and magazines, such as, Washington Post, The New York Times, and Elle, and has been named Glamour’s Woman of the Year, and been added to Vanity’s Top 200 Women Leaders, Legends, and Trailblazers.

Courtney E Martin was 26 when she wrote her first book. She has just released her third book; Do It Anyway, The New Generation of Activists. Martin has written three books, co-written one more: Naked Truth: Young, Beautiful, and (HIV) Positive, that is now being turned into a feature film. She has appeared on numerous talk shows (Good Morning America, The Today Show, CNN, and others) and has received several awards for her writing. She is now an editor for Feministing.com.

Deborah Siegel is a newly remarried, mother of year old twins. She has written  Sisterhood, Interrupted: From Radical Women to Grrls Gone Wild, co-edited another book, founded blog Girl W/Pen,  co-founded the web journal The Scholar & Feminist Online, and her newest venture, She-Writes, just turned 1 year old. Her writings have appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines, such as: The Washington Post, The Mother’s Movement Online, and many more.

Kristal Brent Zook came from a small family, raised by her mother and grandmother. She went on to overcome obstacles such as men objectifying her in her work place, a fear of losing the control in her life, and is now a successful author, speaker and professor, with a healthy and happy relationship. She has written 3 books, her most recent being I See Black People: The Rise and Fall of African American-Owned Television and Radio. She is a professor of journalism at Hofstra University right now, as well as an active contributor to Essence Magazine.

These women have all risen to the top and achieved of their dreams. They are fantastic women for the new generation of feminists to emulate, and would serve as wonderful role models. Watching and listening to their conversation, and speaking to them myself, I find myself entering a new stage of social and self-awareness.

I have learned that what most people (men and women included) strive for, to have that perfect balance of life and work, is a near impossible idea. Where does work end and life begin? Isn’t your work part of your life? I like Ms. Brent Zook’s idea, instead of balance, why not work-life negotiation? As a college student, and a person living on her own for the first time, I find it nearly impossible to balance my work and my school (my social life has become a happy memory as I wade through pre-med requisites) if I look at them as two separate entities. I see that I need to stop trying to spread myself so thinly. Feldt said it best, ‘No one will love you anymore, if you use yourself up.’ I see this as, if I don’t manage to do everyone’s job in the office, or do everyone’s part in a group project, I should be able to trust that it will get done; the world will not end if I choose to take five minutes to myself in my day. Sharing responsibilities and the power to do things can make everyone’s life a little bit easier; allowing one to focus on things that make them truly happy. The STARR Symposium was, to me, a great awakening of the calm, negotiable, and strong feminist I can be.

Cross-posted at http://info.umkc.edu/starr

Raging Feminism

The blog below is a guest post written by S. Sloane Simmons.  Sloane is a member of the Chancellor’s Advisory Board to the Women’s Center and also co-owner of STUFF.  Her article also appears on the the Starr Symposium Blog and will soon be posted on the STUFF website.

First, a few statistics: I am 45-years-old; I have been married to the same man for 24 years; I have one child; I own my home; I co-own a small business with my sister; I am Caucasian; I finished “some college” but did not obtain a degree; I am an active community volunteer and currently serve on several governing and advisory boards. I am happy.

I sat in a public auditorium the other evening and, after arriving late, tried to settle in after a long and varied day to absorb four women’s words. They all chose great stories to share and their answers during the Q&A were heartfelt and well received.

But I found myself making notes on paper – a questionnaire I had been handed upon arrival became my notebook – about what had brought me to that room. These women spoke eloquently and from many perspectives that were different from my own. In the end, the questionnaire was not fit to be turned in. This morning I re-visited my notes and noticed that my emotions ran to thankfulness to the woman who was older than me for forging a path, to hopefulness because the woman who was younger than me had much to teach me and I delight that the women who were right near my age were finding themselves coming into their own.

The symposium was an intergenerational conversation about work and life. It was presented by Women Girls Ladies in conjunction with the UMKC Women’s Center and the UMKC Women’s Council. I figured it would be worth my time, given that I was a woman, a girl, and a lady and I had a life and I worked. Perfect fit right?

It was more than perfect. My time in the auditorium reminded me that I had been raised by a woman – my mother – who is a raging feminist, and that I had been deeply molded by two women – my grandmothers – who would have never admitted to being feminists in any form. These women gave me their best and let me catch glimpses of their worst. What shakes me to my core is that I never think about being a feminist myself, because I really don’t have to very much. It is ingrained in me to believe that women can do anything and be anything. I have visual memories of the comics at the back of Ms. Magazine that reminded me as a teenager to make more of myself than the boys around me and to insist on more than 69-cents to their dollars earned. I have had a hand in raising a child whose biggest argument at school to date (including middle school!) is the one he waged about there not being “boy colors” or “girl colors” in art class when he was ribbed because pink was his favorite color and he used it without fear in his work.

The phrase, “been there, have the t-shirt” could not be truer about my feminism. My family has cycled through 2 generations of NARAL t-shirts, National Women’s Political Caucus t-shirts, Planned Parenthood t-shirts, and we have all treasured the posters, magnets and bumper stickers from the past. They remind us that “A woman’s place is in the house . . . and the senate”; that “war is not healthy for children and other living things” and a female newborn is a “baby woman.”

This week I am co-chairing an event for the American Civil Liberties Union in my hometown. It’s going to be a wondrous evening full of amazing art and talented people. The ACLU will always need funding to continue their work protecting all of our civil liberties. I don’t work in those trenches every day, but I am thankful for those that do. Every issue women face – every obstacle they overcome – was and is a civil liberties issue. It wasn’t very long ago that women couldn’t vote, that women couldn’t own property and that women had very little control over their bodies and its intended freedoms.

If you asked me if I was feminist, I wouldn’t deny it nor would I immediately embrace it. The true feminists to me are those women who changed the world as we know it in the 1970’s, not me. I can vote, own things and speak openly with my doctor. I just get to be me . . . a raging feminist.

What a Way to Kick-off a Conversation!

By Emily Mathis

Since 1993, the Starr Education Committee has put on an annual Starr Symposium, a forum that is used to address women’s issues at home and with the family. The committee brings in leading experts from around the country to take part in these forums.

This year, however, the Starr Symposium is adding a twist. Instead of just one forum they are putting on multiple discussions all focused on one topic – this year it is Work/Life Balance. By adding these extra forums they are encouraging discussion about all different facets of an issue such as how creative families approach work/ life balance and another one that discusses the “three faces” of the work-family conflict from a socio-economic perspective.

The kick-off for these Community Conversations is taking place this coming Tuesday, September 28, at 6:30pm at the University Academy located at 6801 Holmes Rd. This conversation is titled “Work and Life: An Intergenerational Conversation” and has an amazing panel of women: Gloria Feldt, Courtney E. Martin, Deborah Siegel, and Kristal Brent Zook. Each of the panelists has a diverse background in working with women’s issues and is going to bring a unique perspective to this issue.

The event is sure to be fun and interesting. I can’t wait to go and listen to these women and join in on the conversation about Work/Life Balance, something that affects us all. The event is free but requires a quick registration at: http://starr2010.eventbrite.com. So spread the word and come out and join us!