Silver City, N.M.- The Center for Gender Equity hosted panel last night in Light Hall on the topic of “Modern Feminism in Business and Education.” With a panel of seven notable people from the local community, Albuquerque, and the university, there was some great insight as to the subject of feminism and how it is viewed from different life experiences. The panel consisted of, Mikki Jemin, the local AAUW chapter member, Kyle Durrie, owner of Power & Light Press in downtown Silver City, Mercedez Holtry, slam poet from Albuquerque, Dr. Andy Hernandez, Associate Professor of History and Latin American Studies, Dr. Margarita Wulftange, Associate Professor at the School of Education, Lorna Ruebelmann, student and senior citizen, and Dr. Francisca Reyes, who is in her second year of teaching at the School of Business here at WNMU. The panel was mediated by Miguel Gutierrez, WNMU student and staff of The Center.
The forum started off with its first question, which was: What is your definition of feminism, and what feminist ideals do you practice everyday?
Dr. Wulftange initiated the conversation by saying that, “We’re all part of this. It is not particular to any gender, but it is for us to advance everyone towards multiple opportunities.” She also mentioned how all of the women she works with have the opportunity to have advanced degrees and do what they want for their lives through sharing resources. She practices feminist ideals by using only inclusive language, and reminded the audience that, “the English language is full of nouns to describe everyone, so let’s use them.”
Dr Hernandez, being the only male on the panel, took a slightly varied approach to the question. He defined feminism as “making sure that everyone has equal access. I take a look at teaching history, and the focus on men at the expense of women.”
Mercedez Holtry came at the definition from a Chicana perspective, where she said that men were leaving out contributions of women and still taking credit for the movements made within the community without thanking those women that contributed to the front lines. She says in her everyday life she has had to “reclaim, recode, and regather” her identity in order to be seen as equal.
The second question was: Can anyone be a feminist? And how can an individual become a feminist?
Mikki Jemin, a former construction worker for 20 years said that, “it takes an open mind, and anyone can. It just takes some assistance for them to get there.”
Lorna Ruebelmann described her ‘Doris Day’ life when she was raising her children, and stated that she realized she had both white and economic privilege. But in being a consciousness raising group in 1968 called, “New Feminism in the Cowboy State,” feminist figures like Gloria Steinem, gathered in Casper, Wyoming. She also advised everyone to “keep going, because when you rise the tide people will come with you, no matter your gender or sexual preference is, just work, and do what you like.”
Dr. Hernandez recalled on a conversation he had previously engaged in with Sociology professor, Dr. Bailey, about how feminism is common sense, and he also said, “if you set aside a label for a moment and look at the principles of it, then it will cause others to look at what they truly stand for.”
The third question was, have you ever experienced gender inequality in the workplace or school?
Kyle Durrie, owner of female-run business Power & Light Press brought up that even though she is self-employed, in her greater social network of peers and contacts through business, she experiences inequality almost everyday in the form of condescension. It can seem benign, but speaks to a greater deep seeded intention. Because she does work with old machines, a lot of older men are surprised about a younger woman knowing how to work a machine. Durrie said that her initial reaction is to laugh it off, but it does get under her skin. “Gender inequality is something most women in whatever field internalize, and it becomes normal in a dangerous way,” Durrie stated in her closing argument.
Dr. Wulftange reflected on two past experiences, the first being in her work environment, and the second from her childhood. During her time as a high school Spanish teacher, she would ask about how her star students were doing in their math and science classes, and the teachers would say, “Oh she’s doing okay, you know how it goes,” as if to discredit the young girls to not do as well in those areas versus other ones. So Dr. Wulftange believes that expectations should be set higher, and intersectionality be taken into consideration. In her second experience with inequality, she said that both of her parents were teachers of middle and high school. At a young age, she would go around with her dad at his high school, and when she was asked about she wanted to be, her answer was a pediatrician. Her dad’s colleagues would then say, “but there’s lots of math and science related to that,” and it amazed her that adults that knew her for so long would doubt the abilities she could be capable of.
The fourth question for the panel was: What aspects of intersectionality does feminism express? Give an example.
Slam poet Mercedez Holtry brought up her culture and how women are expected to be subservient to males and not the other way around. But she stated that feminism allows women to not only be independent, but also to be that person in the household as a homemaker. “It’s great because you have a choice, but completely different when a man tells you to do something. It’s okay to be many identities when the time calls for it.”
Lorna spoke on how inter-sectionalism has made a difference, and we can make a difference by building bridges, communication, and support.
The fifth question was: How do you think the recent changes in politics has affected feminism?
Dr. Reyes chimed in that it has just been brought back to a good ol’ boys system with misogyny. She said, “The old system is no longer adequate for the current business world that participates and collaborates on a global scale with other cultures, and countries, economically and diplomatically.”
Lorna mentioned that the corporatization of our society has impacted politics so badly that feminism is the biggest threat in New Mexico to our governor and some of the leaders including the head of the Department of Education.
Dr. Wulftange brought up the point that the majority of teachers are women, and we as citizens should hold the person who’s responsible accountable for their behavior.
Kyle Durrie answered that the benefit of all of this is that it’s pulling people together, and community support will be the important thing in going forward.
Question number six was: Do you think there are any influences that contributed to you seeing yourself as a feminist?
Kyle had two encouraging parents that really supported her independence, and taught her how to listen and trust herself, and not to depend on anyone else. That lesson started out when she was young, and has taken her far. Durrie has always been proud to be a woman, but in her teens and 20s, she found herself defining her worth in comparison to men. In her 30s, she redefined her sense of self, and that self-value comes from being a woman.
Dr. Wulftange came from a long line of strong women, and strong men. Her grandma was an Irish widow from a young age, that raised four boys, one of them her father, and modeled how to raise strong men who would also raise strong daughters. On the other side of her family, her abuelita raised six children, five daughters and a son. “We do not have to settle for what people tell us.” Her tias, Spanish word for aunt, were the models for her mother and one of her tias was the first Mexican-American woman graduate from Eastern Arizona College in the 1940’s.
Dr. Hernandez said that the benefit of having his mother and grandmother around was that they broke down conceptions of gender roles from the age of 14 years old.
The forum was then open to questions from the audience. The first one was this: When it comes to feminism, what do you instill in younger generations about feminism, and misconceptions about what they have?
Mercedez Holtry started it off by saying that we should teach them to be in cooperation, not in competition. “The end result should be that they can safely say, ‘I have the opportunity to do well in this field like you do,’ and that is the important thing to teach to younger generations.”
Mikki was working in trades at the tender age of 19 where she stood in a Union hall and they told her she shouldn’t be there. But she said that it was not because she hated men, she just didn’t see why she couldn’t make the same amount of money they could.
The next question was directed towards Kyle and the Planned Parenthood bags she came up with that went viral, spreading out to Hollywood celebrities, how it came about, and what’s next with those?
Kyle Durrie said that it just started out as a sketch in a notebook, she was working on new design projects before Christmas. She felt it was important to create because there are so many misguided and misinformed ideas about what it is they do. In the beginning, she only printed ten, but when she posted them online within an hour the internet went crazy for them, and they have now sold 22,000 bags. All of their proceeds go directly to Planned Parenthood, and Durrie hopes to make t-shirts with the saying on them in the future.
The final question came from Diana Gordillo, a WNMU student. She asked the panel that when it came to topics like the fact that women are still underpaid, it was hard for her to deal with speaking to her parents about it because of their political differences, and if they had any advice for her.
Mikki said that we always think about how it’s “us or them, black or white, short or tall.” But it’s usually about being insecure about employment and a lot of other things, yet it’s a question of talking to people and understanding their fears. And Lorna closed off the panel with the perfect words, “Just keep loving on them even though it’s difficult.”