Friday, March 03, 2006

International Women's Day

Where are the Womyn and grrls at?

Ever since the Academic Bill of Rights (ABOR) hit the campus political proverbial fan, neo-con demagogues on campus have turned “USM is a liberal campus” into some kind of zen mantra. But after a careful look around the campus, I’d have to disagree. I wouldn’t call it a liberal campus; I wouldn’t call it a conservative campus either. Let’s try a little experiment to find out what to call it. March 8th is International Women’s Day. Which of the following groups have sent out press releases and tried to space to write a guest editorial about the eroding rights of women in this country for their student paper? I’ll make it easy, you have four choices:

1. The Gender Studies Student Organization

2. The Women’s Studies program

3. The Women’s Resource Center

4. No USM organizations – only off-campus national programs.

If the mantra was accurate, there would be a “yes” on numbers one through three. As it turns out, only number four is true. I called all three of the USM organizations before I finished up this letter to find out why but all I got were answering machines. To be fair though, the GSSO is inviting a speaker but you would only know this if you regularly visit their webpage.

What is going on here? I think USM is a politically silent campus, apathetic even; the recent furor over the Academic Bill of Rights and the No on 1 campaign are rare exceptions that prove the rule. Wake up! The college campus is a small, enclosed environment where a single individual can promote great, positive change. Why isn’t this happening?

Pretend I’m wrong. Or, if you want to, believe I’m wrong. Pretend National Women’s Day is an obsolete occasion and women have equal rights regardless of their backgrounds and ideologies. Pretend that we no longer have a need for the socially forward and aggressive Womyn and Grrls. How have women been represented on campus? At the two ABOR panels, one faculty and one student, there were no women speaking for the conservative side. At the student panel, there were no women on it at all on the panel. Too political? Look at the list of USM college presidents: Out of 21 presidents, only one has been a woman – not that I think President Pattenaude is doing a bad job, on the contrary I’ve been impressed with his work. Moving beyond USM, we live in a country that is over 50 percent women with a democratically elected president. Logically, we should be able to point to at least 15 female US presidents. Of course, the national record is worse than USM’s record in that area. And in the job sector, a five year study done from 1995 to 2000 discovered that women are paid 73 cents for each dollar that men are paid. And if the women are black, drop that number down 10 cents. Since 1963 this gap has only shrunk by a third of a penny each year.

As a guy, I find this discrepancy disgusting, reprehensible even. As member of the human species, I find it doubly disgusting to see fellow equals being treated as something less than a full human. At times I don’t believe that a little bit of activism on one Maine college campus will change much nationally. And as just one guy, what can I do? Since when has one voice in Maine ever had the power to shake the status quo?

I found the answer to my questions at the Maine State Museum in Augusta. They have a statue of a 10 year-old girl who wrote a letter that changed the world just a little bit, just enough to help end the Cold War between the US and the USSR. Samantha Smith, where are you now? We at USM and in the USA need you more than ever.

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