Women in STEM: Why so few and how we’re changing that

This blog was written by a guest author.

Amanda Peterson, Enlightened Digital

Over the past several years, it has become evident that the gender gap in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) related careers is something which needs to be addressed. Though women account for 39 percent of jobs globally, they only account for 28 percent of STEM positions, and even fewer in leadership roles at only 12.2 per cent.

It can be hard to pinpoint where this gap comes from, but there is no denying that it exists. It’s been speculated that it comes back to the traditional gender roles enforced on women from a young age which consists of a general push away from more scientific careers. According to an article by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), the idea that women don’t belong in these careers starts showing up around the age of six and only progresses from there.

In the AAUW study, five-year-old boys and girls were asked whether or not they thought they could be smart, the children surveyed believed that anyone can be “really, really smart,” regardless of gender. The same study however, found that girls six and older believed boys are much more likely to be brilliant. Similarly, a recent gender-science study found that 70 per cent of people associated men with STEM careers and women with the arts.

When it comes to changing these statistics, it doesn’t always come easily. Both the Obama administration and the current Trump administration have recognized the need to close the gender gap and have put programs in place to help do just that.

Our current administration has launched two programs which are aimed at helping to get more women involved in STEM positions – the Inspire Act and the Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act.

The Inspire Act is directed specifically toward NASA and letting young girls know that they are smart and capable enough to grow up to have careers in the STEM field. This act specifically directs NASA to connect these young girls with female STEM professionals like their astronauts and engineers. Through this act, we are able to reach girls at the age when their confidence in achieving  a career in a scientific field is faltering. Having female role models to look up to is a vital component of getting young girls to pursue careers in the STEM field and close this gender gap.   

The Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act works with women farther along their career paths by authorizing the National Science Foundation to recruit and assist female entrepreneurs in the STEM fields. When congress found that only 26 percent of female STEM degree holders worked in in STEM careers, they addressed the issue through an amendment to the existing Science and Engineering Equal Opportunities Act. Now, not only are the women given the same opportunity for jobs in their degree fields, but are encouraged to extend their focus into the commercial space.

During the Obama administration, The White House Council on Women and Girls launched a campaign to urge the entertainment industry to portray more female STEM professionals. One of the most important factors in combatting this gender gap comes in the form of representation. Not only in a professional sense, as demonstrated in the previous two acts, but in cultural and entertainment representation.

Young girls put a large amount of stock in the kinds of role models they are exposed to through the entertainment industry. In making an effort to portray more women in these positions, girls are learning that not only can they pursue these STEM roles but they have females in the TV shows and movies they are watching every day. From movies like Hidden Figures and Gravity to prominent female characters in TV shows like The Fosters and Reverie, there is a search of media that is giving young girls positive influences that show them it’s okay and it’s possible to pursue a STEM career.  

Upcoming Event: The March For Our Lives Kansas City

About the author: M.M. Barron is a creative writing major and first-year student at UMKC. She graduated from Paseo Academy of Fine & Performing Arts in Kansas City, Missouri in 2017. She participates frequently in events at the Women’s Center and meetings with Pride Alliance. This is her first post for the UMKC Women’s Center blog.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of UMKC or the UMKC Women’s Center.

The March For Our Lives Kansas City – 12 p.m. March 24, 2018, at Theis Park, 533 Emmanuel Cleaver II Blvd.

“We are marching so that those who have lost their lives to gun violence aren’t forgotten. We are marching to get legislators to support gun-regulation bills. We are marching to inform and empower our community to support our lives with their votes. We are marching for our lives.” – Student Committee’s Mission Statement for the March For Our Lives Kansas City 2018.

The March for Our Lives Kansas City starts at 12 p.m. on March 24. The first three hours of the event will contain speeches, poems, music, and dance. The UMKC Conservatory Dancers will be performing a piece at the rally. The event will also feature a performance by The Greeting Committee, a band from Kansas City, performing their song “Hands Down.” All acts auditioned and were selected by the student committee organizing the march, of which I am a member. PeaceWorksKC will be speaking at the event as well.

100 volunteers from the grassroots organization Moms Demand Action will be assisting at the event, plus many student volunteers. Organizers encourage people to bring picnics or snack and a blanket to sit on. There will also be booths throughout the event with information about voter registration, gun policy in Kansas and Missouri, how to contact your legislators, and other pertinent topics. After the program at the park, there will be a memorial march to the Plaza area and back to the park to honor the victims of gun violence.

#MarchForOurLivesKC supports the survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in their demands for background checks on all gun sales, and more restrictions or bans on semi-automatic guns and large-capacity clips. No civilian needs an AR-15 style weapon.

1. If you want to write to urge action in our country to reduce gun violence, please submit your letters to be displayed at the rally at Theis Park. Use this link.

2. If you would like to volunteer as an individual, or as a family, or as a group of friends, or if you represent an organization that would like to get involved and take on a task as needed by the March, then we want you! Please let us know through the form at this link.

3. The event can be found on social media.

Facebook: March For Our Lives – Greater Kansas City (Follow this link)

Instagram: mfolkansascity

Twitter: @mfolkansascity

Skirts or Pants? How About Both

by Mara Gibson

When I first considered writing on the topic of gender in “classical” composition, I wondered how I could possibly have anything new to say. Then, my colleagues challenged me. Why not? As a consequence, I have read about the role of gender in popular music, punk misogyny, and photography and discussed analogies between film and composition with a number of friends and colleagues. I have conversed with my closest collaborators, both male and female. I have started asking deeper questions, and in doing so, confronting why this issue is so challenging for me.

In graduate school, I consciously disassociated being female with being a composer. In fact, I took that even further and came to the conclusion that being a composer was in direct conflict with what I knew as a teacher, as a student, and as an artist. While I was coming to realize that my work coupled with my teaching style reflected a theme of synergy and convergence, I perceived a dichotomy in trying to fuse my various roles. I am sure some of this can be simply attributed to youth, but also, I believe we have been part of a transformation, where our generation is realizing a gradual shift in the way we view the artist.

Generally, we are coming to accept a more multidimensional role for an artist in the 21st century. Being an entrepreneur, musician, and teacher (and/or any number of other occupations) are all equally important. As Claire Chase said in her 2013 Bienen School of Music convocation address, “You can’t really separate the act of creating music, even very old music, from entrepreneurship.” She examined how entrepreneurship manifests in our time by providing countless examples of how we assume multiple roles: the artist as collaborator, the artist as producer, the artist as organizer, the artist as educator, and the list goes on. The resounding message delivered is that there is no clear roadmap. She inspires her young audience to “blow the ceiling off anything resembling a limitation.” I try to remind myself of this mantra every day; however, it is not always easy.

From my vantage point, the “guru” mentality is an accurate snapshot of the history of the composer/composition teacher relationship. In graduate school, I was encouraged to ignore the gender bias, which at the time was probably for the best in order to preserve my identity; however, this is not the same advice I offer to my students. I want to talk openly and non-judgmentally with them about the inherent challenges of being female and a composer alongside being a composition teacher and entrepreneur. More importantly, I want begin to identify why and how we have fallen into patterns of behavior that support the status quo. We have far too many resources at hand in the 21st century for female composers/teachers/organizers not to have more visible role models.

As women, by and large, we have been taught to view ourselves as made up of independent spheres, separating our profession from our gender, and from our craft. One challenge is to allow and encourage our various roles to operate and shape us in tandem, rather than in silos. For me, this involves accepting that being a good composer is being a good teacher, and that composing is my lifelong lesson. These two essential parts of who I am should not, and cannot, be in conflict. Whether it is teaching and composing, or composing and being a mother, or doing any number of things that we as composers in the 21st century must do to survive, we all deserve the opportunity to merge our identities and define ourselves in our own unique way. Granted, I am primarily coming from the perspective of a female in academia, but I suspect that the challenge of balancing multiple and often simultaneously demanding roles is consistent for female composers in general.

Recent publications about the relationship of women to the field of composition present numerous heartening viewpoints. Amy Beth Kirsten’s “The Woman Composer is Dead” (2012) offers many valuable observations. Kristin Kuster’s “Taking Off My Pants” challenges us to embrace who we are, while maintaining respect for our craft. And Ellen McSweeny’s “The Power List” offers concrete solutions to incite change. These three articles in particular illustrate exactly how much we need to talk about this pervasive issue, so I assigned these articles to students. Their reactions ranged from, “I’m saddened” to “…a women could never have composed Beethoven’s Ninth or Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto…women need to stop having hissy fits about it.”

The teacher in me desperately wanted to understand these reactions, so I researched and looked to the visual art community for answers. As Linda Nochlin probes in her famous 1971 essay, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?”:

“Why have there been no great women artists?” …like so many other so-called questions involved in the feminist “controversy,” it falsifies the nature of the issue at the same time that it insidiously supplies its own answer: “There are no great women artists because women are incapable of greatness.”

Power structures have long operated along gendered presumptions like the one above. Certainly, all artists struggle to balance both creative and personal life challenges—this has become part of the romantic “plight” of being an artist—but I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that for me, this quandary was further complicated by sex and gender. As women, we are pulled in directions that are conflicted, both due to social pressures and the biological constraints of childbearing during key career-building years. Culturally, we are expected to respond in “feminine,” frequently subservient ways, but to follow the modernist trend, as composers we are expected to provide answers.

repetition-nineteen-iii-1968

Repetition Nineteen III by Eva Hesse.

I agree with Eva Hesse that “excellence has no gender.” But how exactly do we begin to tell that story? Visibility is imperative for role models to succeed.

I also relate to Lucy Lippard, who writes, “Of course art has no gender, but artists do.”

So then, the question is: does being a “female” composer make a difference to being a good composer?

In confronting the question solely in the realm of being a good composer, the answer is inequitably no. There are countless examples of superb, successful, living female composers. However, when confronted with being a good composer, alongside being a good mother, and (for me) a good teacher, it becomes more difficult to quantify.

Nochlin answers the women-artist question sensibly:

What is important is that women face up to the reality of their history and of their present situation, without making excuses or puffing mediocrity. Disadvantage may indeed be an excuse; it is not, however, an intellectual position. Rather, using as a vantage point their situation as underdogs in the realm of grandeur, and outsiders in that of ideology, women can reveal institutional and intellectual weaknesses in general, and, at the same time that they destroy false consciousness, take part in the creation of institutions in which clear thought—and true greatness—are challenges open to anyone, man or woman, courageous enough to take the necessary risk, the leap into the unknown.

As creative artists, we are students forever; otherwise, we would not have chosen such an infinite language to study. And frequently we have to act like a teacher, student, and artist simultaneously. Whether it is building music, art collaborations, schools, teaching, or learning, we create materials, build forms architecturally, and communicate those ideas creatively. Remember, maestro, male or female, as artists, we are inherently collaborators.

Gaining a broad perspective through all of the roles we must play has provided a critical lesson for me. Beyond social construction and convention, judgment, joy and anger, we must confront the abyss and challenge, question, and listen. And, above all, we should celebrate being female, and choose to wear pants or skirts as we see fit.


This blog was originally posted to New Music Box.–

Composer Mara Gibson is originally from Charlottesville, Virginia, graduated from Bennington College and completed her Ph.D. at SUNY Buffalo. She attended London College of Music; L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Fontainebleau, France; and the International Music Institute at Darmstadt, Germany. She has received grants and honors from the American Composers Forum, the Banff Center, Louisiana Division of the Arts, ArtsKC, Meet the Composer, the Kansas Arts Commission, the National Endowment for the Arts, the International Bass Society, ASCAP, and the John Henrick Memorial Foundation.

Internationally renowned ensembles and soloists have performed her music throughout the United States, Canada, South America, Asia, and Europe. Recent projects include a world premiere of D(u)o in three movements, a residency in Norway funded through the Trondheim Arts Council including a premiere performance of Fanfare, and a premiere of E:Tip with Madeleine Shapiro made possible through an Encore Award. During Summer 2009, Mara was an Artist-in-Residence at Silpakorn University, Bangkok, Thailand where she returned again during Summer 2011 in Chiang Mai.

Recent and upcoming projects include a new work for duo Contour based in Freiburg, Germany, as well as several newly commissioned works for the Pangea Piano Project, and Chicago-based violist Michael Hall which was premiered in conjunction with the installation of Roxy Paine’s FERMENT at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in April 2010. In 2011-12, she will complete these projects while teaching at the UMKC Conservatory and leading the Conservatory’s Community Music and Dance Academy as director. She is also founder, UMKC Composition Workshop for Young Composers and co-director/founder of ArtSounds.

Email Dr. Mara Gibson at gibsonmb@umkc.edu.

Top 10 Scholarship Opportunities for Women Returning to College

by Robert Morris

The great goals in life are not usually achieved by following a straight path. As far as educational dreams are concerned, many people have decided to drop out of college due to various reasons. Luckily, everyone can return to school and get a scholarship that will help them get on the right track without the need to spend a small fortune on education. In the continuation, we will list 10 available scholarships for women who have decided to return to college.

1. AARP Foundation Women’s Scholarship Program

This foundation is a known and trusted resource that provides many opportunities for women over the age of 50. The goal of this scholarship is to open the doors to employment for low-income women. AARP’s program funds skills upgrades, training, and education that increase women’s financial security.

2. Soroptimist Women’s Opportunity awards

This program is meant to offer assistance to women who are providing the main financial support for their families. The organization provides three $10,000 awards on international level; region-level awards of $5,000 or $3,000; and local-level awards with varying award amounts. Women who are interested in this program must apply through this organization’s local branch.

3. Shirley Holden Helberg Grants for the Mature Women

This program is provided by the National League of American Pen Women (NLAPW), which provides three scholarships of $1,000 to inspire women to continue their education in the creative fields of Letters, Art, and Music. This scholarship is intended for women at and above 35 years of age.

4. SWE Scholarships

The Society of Women Engineers provides scholarships for women interested in pursuing an engineering degree. Two of these scholarships are specifically aimed at women who are returning to college. The BK Krenzer Memorial and the Olive Lynn Salembier scholarship support women who are re-entering school to complete their degrees in engineering, and offer $2,000 and $1,500 respectively.

5. EWI Adult Students in Scholastic Transition (ASIST) Scholarship

Executive Women International (EWI) provides twelve annual scholarships of $2,000 for non-traditional students who are facing physical, social, or economic challenges. The students interested in the scholarship need to be at least 18 years old, and are required to apply through a local chapter of EWI.

6. Linda Lael Miller Scholarship

Besides pleasing many women with her contemporary and historical romance novels, the bestselling author Linda Lael Miller also provides them with encouragement to pursue their educational goals. This scholarship awards a total of $10,000 for applicants at or above 25 years of age.

7. Emerge Scholarships

This organization’s goal is to empower women through education. Its mission is specifically targeted at women whose education was somehow interrupted, but have overcome the obstacles and are giving in return to their communities. Emerge awards ten different annual scholarships, ranging from $2,000 to $5,000. The program is also intended for women of at least 25 years of age.

8. Jeannette Rankin Scholarship for Women

Jeannette Rankin was the first women elected to serve in the Congress of the United States. This scholarship is provided in her honor, celebrating women with a positive vision of the improvements they can make for the community, their family and themselves by educating themselves. The program is aimed at low-income women who are at least 35 years old.

9. P.E.O. Program for Continuing Education

The Philanthropic Educational Organization provides one-time grants of maximum $3,000 to outstanding women whose lives can be greatly improved by returning to school. In order to be eligible for the scholarship, the applicant must have been a non-student for a minimum of 24 consecutive months. The applicants are also required to be sponsored by a P.E.O.chapter.

10. Talbots Women’s Scholarship Program

Talbots provides one Nancy Talbots Scholarship Award of $30,000, as well as thirty awards of $5,000. The program in honor of Nancy Talbot has an aim to celebrate women who demonstrate entrepreneurial spirit.

Conclusion

With so many opportunities supporting women who wish to return to school, there are no more excuses for pursuing educational goals. These scholarships can completely change your life, so don’t hold back and make sure to send your applications in time!

Robert Morris is writer and researcher based in New York. Now he works as professional dissertation writer at NinjaEssays.com, custom writing service. Robert focuses on social and economic policy as part of the Economic Growth Program at the New America Foundation. In the three years he partnered with numerous publishers and universities and grew business globally. You can find NinjaEssays on FacebookGoogle+ and Twitter!

Marginalized Voices in Eating Disorder Recovery

NEDAwarenessLogoIn honor of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week and UMKC’s Every Body is Beautiful Week, this is a guest blog from the  National Eating Disorders Association Blog.

For more information about UMKC’s Every Body is beautiful Week events, please visit our Facebook page.

By Melissa Fabello, Editor, Everyday Feminism

Pick up any eating disorder memoir at your local bookstore, and you are more than likely to find some iteration of this narrative arc.

Well-to-do, young white woman develops an eating disorder, spirals into near-oblivion, seeks treatment for her eating disorder (which usually results in her being admitted into a residential facility), experiences a myriad of successes and failures, and eventually commits to finding her Self again. Well-to-do, young white woman walks out of treatment with a new sense of hope on the road to recovery.

From a consumer-driven standpoint, it makes complete sense. Of course people are buying (and selling) these stories. Just as we see in our media landscape, there is a huge market for the most extreme and “graphic” version of any issue, and there will be people who are attracted to cathartic memoirs that are moving in that they’re so terrifying. It takes courage to tell your story of struggle with a mental disorder, to confront the stigma. They may be written from a place of good intention to educate and raise awareness about how serious eating disorders are, but they can also have the unintended effect of making us feel better about ourselves, our lives – hell, even our diets. “At least I’m not like that,” or “I’m not that sick.”

From an eating disorder recovery perspective, we have to ask ourselves whether these limiting representations of life with an eating disorder are doing more harm than good in the absence of other diverse voices and experiences with these illnesses.  As important and valid as stories like the above are about a commonly misunderstood illness – and as necessary as it is for people, from the field of psychology to the general public, to read and understand them – they simply aren’t telling the whole story.

My eating disorder didn’t look like that, and it’s been difficult to find stories that more closely resemble my own. My eating disorder was private and lonely. My rapid weight loss raised a few concerned eyebrows and flippant comments, but only one intervention. My doctor didn’t offer anything to me except a nutritionist and an SSRI prescription – oh, and the dreaded diagnosis of EDNOS. My eating disorder wasn’t (yet) killing me. It wasn’t making strangers stare at me. It looked entirely from the outside – so long as no one ever got a peek at my journals – like a diet.

And yet, my eating disorder was terrifying. And it was serious. And it mattered. Considering most people struggling with bulimia are of average weight, binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder, most doctors hardly  receive any training about eating disorders, and people are socially rewarded in our culture for dieting or weight loss, I have a suspicion that I’m not alone.

While some may argue that these bestsellers are raising important awareness about a growing problem, my question is: How beneficial is it if the scope of what the shoppers see is such a narrow picture of eating disorder experiences? How concerning is it that many write these memoirs without realizing how critical it is to share their story responsibly – in ways that doesn’t invite comparisons of “not sick enough to count” or with triggering images and instructive behaviors?

Because here is what happens when the only eating disorder stories that we hear are the ones that fit the aforementioned description: We use them as examples to hold our own disorders up to. We use them to judge and determine what is and isn’t “really sick.” We start to trust that these narratives represent “real” eating disorders, and that experiences that fall outside of these confines just don’t count.

And that’s dangerous.

It’s dangerous for the men and the boys who are struggling when they’re looking in the mirror. It’s dangerous and invalidating for women and other people of color when eating disorders are chiefly looked at as a “white woman’s problem.” It’s dangerous for trans* folks whose body image battles are always lumped in as related to gender-related dysphoria.

It’s dangerous to every person who’s ever peered into the DSM for diagnostic criteria and thought, “Well, I don’t purge that much” or “I haven’t lost that much weight.” It’s dangerous to every person who’s ever thought that they must not be “that bad” just because they don’t see stars when they stand up or don’t have heart complications or haven’t been questioned about erosion by their dentist or don’t have to take a leave of absence from school or don’t ever see a therapist or don’t get admitted into residential treatment or don’t have to be fed through a tube.

As is every structure that exists to serve a hierarchy of power, when the landscape is primarily non-inclusive eating disorder stories, it’s dangerous to the marginalized. They say, “Your voices don’t matter. Your experiences aren’t important.” It’s dangerous to reality.

And something has to change.

So, with that in mind, I (in collaboration with NEDA) would like to collect and curate your eating disorder stories. We want to highlight recovery stories that challenge that dominant narrative formula. There are already some brave people out there sharing their stories, talking about how their ethnicity, gender identity, orientation,  age, or religion have impacted their experience with an eating disorder, but as a field and community, we have still have so far to go. You are invited to join us.

We want all of it: your successes, your messes, your relapses, your questions. We want to hear from people of marginalized identities and from different parts of the world. We want to span the entire spectrum. We want to create a collection of stories that tells the whole truth so that we can present the world with what the reality of most eating disorders look like – because how can we truly address a problem if we don’t know what it looks like?

So if you have ever read an eating disorder memoir and felt misrepresented, underrepresented, or unrepresented, we want to hear from you. Submit your story now!

Interested in sharing your experiences as a step toward public enlightenment? For guidelines and to submit your stories, check out our submissions page here.

And for more on what I wish people understood about eating disorders, check out this video.

Participate in Every Body is Beautiful Week 2014

Hello everyone! The blog below is a guest blog from UMKC’s USucceed Blog. It features our Every Body is Beauiful Week events (taking place dureing the 2014 National Eating Disorder Awareness Week), so check it out!

EveryBody“UMKC’s annual EveryBody Is Beautiful Week will take place February 24-28.  Stop by informational tables to get information on body image and eating disorders and “trash your fat talk”.  Take part all week in Operation Beautiful by posting sticky notes with positive messages around campus.  Supplies are available at the tables and all week at the Women’s Center, Counseling Center, Multicultural Student Affairs, Swinney Recreation, MindBody Connection, and Student Health & Wellness.

Join us on Wednesday, February 26 from 5–7pm in the MindBody Connection (ASSC 112) for a Love Your Body Party, with creative and relaxing activities designed to celebrate all our bodies do for us and fight back against unhealthy messages about weight and eating!

Schedule of tables:

  • Monday, February 24, 11 am – 1 pm in the Health Sciences Building Lobby
  • Tuesday, February 25, 11 am – 1 pm in the Atterbury Student Success Center
  • Wednesday, February 26, 11 am – 1 pm in Royall Hall

EveryBody Is Beautiful Week is offered by the UMKC Women’s Center and Counseling Center, with co-sponsorship from MSA, Swinney Rec, OSI, Student Health, UMKC Athletics and MindBody Connection.  Contact Rachel Pierce at 235-5186 or the Women’s Center at 235-1638 with questions.”

Dad Played Dolls with Me while Mom Fought for the Rights of Others in Court

The following is a guest blog from Valerie Hassinger. Valerie is a Copywriter at best essays.com and is currently working on a YA novel. She spends her weekends baking or watching her favorite shows on Netflix. Follow her on Twitter to see her thoughts on pop culture, politics and life in general.

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Image from Search on Creative Commons

Image from Search on Creative Commons

In a few weeks’ time I will be celebrating my fourth year anniversary with Brian, my best friend and the love of my life. While many of our friends seem to be competing against us each other who will get to the aisle first, we are just taking our own sweet time and just enjoying each other’s company in the house we both share.

Not that marriage is out of the question for us but we do talk about it every now and then.

In one of our downtimes I opened up the possibility of him becoming a househusband. I am a writer by profession while he works in engineering and construction. I’m also currently working on a book and my plan is to eventually publish and have it promoted. If and when response is good then I would build a whole new series around it. I joked that he might have to stay at home and care for our future kids when I’m off doing tours for my book.

He looked at me like I was asking him to travel to the moon and back.

His response is not out of the ordinary, unfortunately. Most people still aren’t comfortable with the idea of having the father stay at home while the mother is away from home. I blame traditional gender roles that have been ingrained to our brains since time immemorial.

Having grown up with a stay-at-home dad and a career woman for a mother, I was raised to see past stereotypes and assigned gender roles. In the first few years of my life I thought having my dad make my lunch and play dolls with me at home while my mom is off at work was the norm. Not until I reached pre-school did I realize that we were the oddballs (alien-like even as this all happened in the ’80s) of the community. I remembered the other children’s moms were all whispering to each other whenever dad drops me off or picks me up from school. The rare sightings of my mother during school presentations elicited smirks and judging looks from the close-minded crowd.

I applaud my parents for going against the flow. It was a necessary decision that didn’t come easy to both of them. My dad got discharged from the army for an injury he sustained while he was on duty. Mom, on the other hand, was slowly rising up the ranks in her law firm and had to make a decision on our family’s set-up fast. I was only two years old then and my older sister was six. Our parents agreed that it will be best for dad to stay at home with us while she works.

I was too young to remember anything when this set-up first started. I do remember Nana (my dad’s mother) checking up on us once in awhile to help around the house. Dad became our sole caregiver once he was well enough. All the while mom was managing the finances and dealt with the family’s expenses. It was a set-up that lasted until I was 10 when dad secured a job as an artist for an ad agency.

That upbringing exposed me to a lifestyle that is unconventional but that is no less loving than any other normal family. It didn’t create any sense of confusion nor resentment in me for my parents made me understood the need for that kind of set-up. It made me more accepting of other “oddball families” (gay parents, single father/mother households) who are also misunderstood by the general public. It taught me that gender is a concept that you can mold into whatever you want it to be: that a man is not a “sissy” or a “doormat” if he stays at home with the kids; nor is a woman “selfish” for choosing a career over homemaking. My experience showed me that traditions are good but that you are not a bad person either if you decide to go against the grain. Ultimately it has made me into the woman that I am right now: strong, hard working, loving and empathetic.

Right now I’m seeing more and more families with stay-at-home dads and breadwinner moms so times are changing. There’s still a lot of work to be done though, but I’m hopeful for the future of these types of families.

On my own, I’ll start the work with my boyfriend.

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Modern Day Nuns

By Sarina Smith
 

 When one pictures a nun in this day and age, what is it that comes to mind?   Personally, I start envisioning Julie Andrews running around on mountain tops, but when I googled pictures of nuns I saw a range of awkward Halloween costumes and cartoon women in habits, looking stern and holding rulers.   The latter is what I think the majority of people see in their mind’s eye, Catholic schools where nuns taught strictly.  I say ‘taught’, like they are gone now because, for most people, nuns seem like a thing of the past.  But here’s the deal, nuns still exist and they do a ton of different things.

           It was through my Histories of Reading, Writing, and Publishing: Medieval Women’s Literacies course led by Dr. Virginia Blanton (Department of English) that that I was drawn to start a service  learning project instead of writing a regular paper.  With my enthusiasm for the monastic life she guided me to go to Atchison, Kansas for a weekend trip to the Mount St. Scholastica’s convent.  There I found that these nuns hold a wide range jobs from being nurses, to artisans, to even being college professors.  They wear regular clothing and act like regular people.  This is where I really got to thinking about the place of nuns in our modern society. 

 It makes sense that nuns would be professors; nunneries were a key place to send your daughters in the past if you wanted them to be well educated so nuns should be well educated and good teachers if they are to uphold their traditions.  Even though I see the connection when I stand back, it still seemed surreal while inside Mount St. Scholastica’s.
I wanted to know more.  Dr. Blanton informed me that Atchison had a mission located in Kansas City called the Keeler Women’s Center so I visited there next.  These nuns are as modern-day as it gets.  They lead a center to help and educate urban women stuck in poverty and they are busy people.  With the help of volunteers, they see a hundred different women each week and try to feed their needs in all areas of life.  From offering classes in parenting, teaching people how to read, to introducing them to popular women advocates they cover more life skills than most people are ever exposed to. 

After seeing all of this I was drawn in further.  Asking the director of the Keeler Center, Sister Carol Ann Petersen, what it was that I could do to help led her to show me their bookcase.  For a center that teaches literacy, they are in great need of things to read.  When she presented me their two sad shelves of dusty books (most of which are saints’ lives or stories about nuns) we decided that they could use a few more books. 

 I encourage you to go home and look through your shelves, in case there is something there that you can part with.  Giving up a book or two can take you five seconds yet make a life time of difference to these women.   They are looking for anything: children’s books for daycare, easy adult reading for their women just learning to read and then books of general interest for the variety of people they see every day.  As for me, I’ve been upsetting Isabella, my daily book guardian who did not want to get up off of my bookcase at any point this week.  Regardless of cat problems, I was able to score a stack of books, including Dr. Seuss, J.K. Rowling, and Leo Tolstoy, which I am contributing.  Please do join me in donating to the Keeler Women’s Center.  You can do this by either contacting me: sesyrd@mail.umkc.edu , contacting the Keeler Women’s Center: kwc@mountosb.org , or by simply dropping your books in the book-drive box that has been placed in our own, UMKC Women’s Center located on the first floor of Haag Hall.  Give a little, give a lot, give what you can from Monday, March 12th through Friday, March 23rd. 

 

A special thanks to Sarina for initiating the book drive and sharing her post with us! For more information about the book drive please contact the UMKC Women & Gender Studies Program or the UMKC Women’s Center

October 18, 1978

The following is a guest post by Deb Schmidt-Rogers. It orginally appeared on her blog dschmidtrogers.wordpress.com.

33 years ago, my family was changed in a moment of sexual violence that you only read about in the papers. We all know the statistics about rape. Somewhere in America, a women is raped every two minutes, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. One in four women are victims of rape or attempted rape, 84% of those women knew their attacker, 57% of the rapes have happened while on dates. About 42% of the victims told no one, 38 % of the women raped are between the ages of 14-17. 75% of men and 55% of the women involved in date rape had been drinking or taking drugs before the attack occurred.

My sister was 16 years old at the time. It was the last of a string of lovely fall days and instead of taking the ride offered to her, she opted to walk home from work. She was not in the 84%. Her rape took place at the hands of a stranger, in the forest preserve where he dragged her off the busy street with no one paying attention. He raped her multiple times and told her not to tell anyone because he knew where she lived. She walked home when he was done with her. Her rape was reported in the newspaper – the last reported rape of the “Jogging Rapist”.

Her rape was her first sexual experience. It was the first time that she experienced fear, and was the last time she ever prayed “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. Her rape forever changed my family. She was the happy one, the only one who could ‘defy’ my father and have him laugh about it. She did not take life seriously, she was always happy and smiling. 33 years later I rarely hear her laugh, her smiles come for her children only.

I was 20 years old at the time and attending college at Loyola University. My parents called me very early the next morning, and while I have no memory of this my roommates tell me that I was destructive in the room. I only remember crying. My brother was in college at Northwestern at the time and we took the el home together not speaking.

What do you say when you walk into the house and see your little sister bruised physically and emotionally? How do you begin the conversation? How do you heal? I remember my father crying and I overheard him say to my mom, “I am afraid to hug her, to touch her. What will she think, what will she do?” As a parent, how do you feel when the child you were supposed to protect was alone when she needed you the most?

She had flashbacks for years. I witnessed several of them and learned to just be quiet and let her experience them. It took years before we talked about the details of the rape, before she was okay to tell us the memories she still has about this event. Her children do not know she was raped.

As an adult, the word rape is one that I want kept for the most heinous of crimes. Sexual assault does not sound harsh enough to me. When I hear people say that humans are “raping” the earth I want to shout NO…people get raped. When I see and hear and experience rape culture each and every day of my life I think of my sister. And it does happen each and every day. My sister used to speak about rape culture and she wrote several articles about rape culture – it was one way she tried to heal. She tells me that she will never be whole, never be healed but that you learn to live daily with the memories and the pain and the altered life.

Today I will call my sister and tell her that I love her and I am thinking of her. My husband finds this to be an odd tradition in my family but each of her siblings and my parents will call and tell her the same thing. She is a beautiful woman, a woman deserving of hope and of healing and she needs to hear that message as often as we can say it.

In my work I often think of the rapes that go unreported. Seeing my sister struggle to regain some sense of normalcy (which literally took 15 years) I wonder about the women I pass each day on campus. Who is holding them close when they relive their rape? Who is telling them they are deserving of hope and healing? Who calls them to say they are loved?

SISTER by Cris Williamson
Born of the earth, Child of God…just one among the family.
And you can count on me to share the load, and I will always help you
hold your burdens and I will be the one to help you ease your pain.
Lean on me I am your sister; believe on me, I am your friend.
Lean on me I am your sister; believe on me, I am your friend.
Lean on me I am your sister; believe on me, I am your friend.
I will fold you in my arms like a white wing dove…
Shine in your soul , your spirit is crying…spirit is crying.
Born of the earth, Child of God…just one among the family.
And you can count on me to share the load,
and I will always help you hold your burdens and I will be the one to help
you ease your pain.
Lean on me I am your sister; believe on me, I am your friend.
Lean on me I am your sister; believe on me, I am your friend.
Lean on me I am your sister; believe on me, I am your friend.

 

Sexual Assault-Can We Stop It?

This is a guest post from Kelly Caver, M.S.. Originally posted on the UMKC Counseling Center’s Blog.

Anna was thrilled to begin college this fall, but also felt a little nervous and insecure about starting a new part of life.  When she met a friendly guy in one of her classes who invited her to a party, she felt flattered by his attention and relieved that she was making a friend.  The next morning after the party, Anna felt hurt and used, remembering how her “friend” continued to offer her alcoholic drinks, led her into a bedroom, and ignored her resistance to his sexual advances.

You might be having some reactions to this story – compassion for Anna, anger or disgust at her “friend,” fear that this could happen to you or someone you care about, or even doubt that something like this could ever happen to you or anyone you know.

Perhaps you’re heard the stats already and know the facts about sexual assault.  20-25% of female college students have experienced attempted or completed sexual assault while in college.  Sexual assault is ANY sexual activity where consent is absent or not freely given.   Anyone can be a perpetrator of sexual violence – a significant other, an acquaintance, a friend, a family member, or a stranger.  90% of attempted or completed sexual assaults on college women involve alcohol use, which can impair a potential perpetrator’s ability to accurately read a partner’s sexual cues and make it difficult for a potential victim to recognize and respond to signs of danger.

Maybe, like me and many others, you hate the fact that sexual assault happens to anyone – let alone so many college students around you.  You don’t want anyone to be taken advantage of sexually.  You want this problem to stop – NOW.  What can you do?

  • Clearly tell your partner what you want and do not want sexually, and ask them to tell you the same.  Feel free to say no at any time.
  • Never assume consent. If you are getting mixed messages, or are not sure what your partner wants for any reason, ASK. Clearly tell your partner that it is OK to say no.  LISTEN to your partner and respect their wishes.
  • Limit your use of alcohol and other drugs at parties and on dates by deciding in advance how much you will drink, counting your drinks, and alternating them with non-alcoholic beverages.  Use the “buddy system” to monitor each other’s alcohol consumption and safety.  Do not leave your drink alone or accept a drink from someone else unless you saw it poured.
  • Directly intervene to protect others when you observe an unsafe situation by making sure the potential victim is safe or confronting the potential perpetrator.  Indirectly intervene by letting a friend, house owner, bouncer, or security guard know about the risky situation.
  • Join others in their efforts to prevent sexual assault. Check out events put on by the UMKC Women’s Center – including the September 22nd Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, a men’s march against sexual violence.  Take part in the Women’s Center’s campaigns to end violence against women, These Hands Don’t Hurt and The White Ribbon Campaign, with tables around campus during the month of October.
  • Learn more about what to do if you or someone else you know is a survivor of sexual assault.  Check out the UMKC Violence Prevention and Response website.

Finally, if you or someone you care about has experienced a sexual assault, the UMKC Counseling Center is here to help you learn to cope with the aftermath, gain personal empowerment, and heal from your assault.

References:  http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/dvp/SV/SVDataSheet.pdf; http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/cv07.pdf