Women in History class culminates year with gender equality panel

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By Emma Van Riper ’20

The Women in History class held a panel on gender equality at Temple Israel on Wednesday, May 9. The panel covered a variety of topics such as feminism, intersectionality, gender equality and racism. The panel consisted of different female role models with a variety of backgrounds seeking to inspire the girls of the future.

“I think a lot of women don’t think they are capable and deserving of many things, but especially of running for public office,” Melissa Kane, a Westport Selectwoman and activist said. “I learned as [my campaign for First Selectwoman] went on to trust myself more and more and I think that’s a great lesson.”

The girls in the class, self-labeled the “persisters,” have organized various banners and posters within the school. For their newest project, they invited seven women to speak on a panel. Women who the class deemed empowering spoke at the panel to inspire future women. “We asked them to share their unique backgrounds including accomplishments and challenges, so that in the struggle for gender equality, no one’s story is lost in isolation,” Student organizer Monique Ostbye ’18 said. “Women, men and others can learn from each other to create a more just and equal world.”

Many women spoke, including: Vice President of the National Organization for Women Meaghan Carey, Executive Director of the Westport Historical Society Ramin Ganeshram, publicist for several well-known athletes Meredith Gilmor, professor at Fairfield University Dr. Elizabeth Hohl, Executive Director of the Westport Art Center Amanda Innes, Westport Selectwoman and activist Melissa Kane and entrepreneur from Stamford, Connecticut Paola Ortega.

Each of the women shared their experiences and the struggles they have faced to get to where they are today. Issues in today’s society regarding gender equality are different than in the past because people have stronger opinions towards the topic.

“I feel like what’s been happening recently doesn’t compare to other movements” Cathy Schager, teacher of the Women in History class at Staples, said. “It’s been more of a whiplash.”

Women in History student Eden Schumer ’18 emphasized the importance of a mentor and loved Schager’s inspiration. “She goes ‘you can do it,’” Schumer said. “Just to hear that from the person I looked up to so much and the importance of role models and allies and the space of all of us together is so important.”

Advice by the diverse group of women included: being clear to people so they don’t turn your words around; using your resources; having not only self-respect but being humble.

Additionally, the group discussed what is preventing women from being elected to office, as well as gender equality, from happening.

“The biggest danger to really any movement in this country right now is the fact that we’re in this ironic situation,” Ganeshram said. “As Americans, we love to label people, we think we can look at you and know what you are.”

Feminism means something different to everyone, and being able to respectfully disagree is an important part of having an opinion.

“The label of feminism means something to us in this room,” Innes said. “But it means something completely different to the people building up behind this backlash wave.”

Along with this, Gilmor stressed the importance of finding a passion so that work no longer feels like a job. “Go after your dreams,” Gilmor said. “If you work hard enough, you’ll earn it.”

Image Contributed by Jamie Orseck ’19