By Brooke Schultz
Elm Staff Writer
On Wednesday, Oct. 23, the Goldstein Program presented an interdisciplinary roundtable discussion called “War on Women.” Dr. Melissa Deckman, chair of the Political Science Department, moderated the conversation. She gave a brief overview of the politics surrounding the discussion.
She then opened the conversation to Dr. Michelle Volansky, chair of the Drama Department, Dr. Erin Anderson, assistant professor of sociology, and Dr. Cristina Casado Presa, assistant professor of Spanish and director of gender studies.
The conversation was about women in America and around the world. Each professor was able to contribute a different perspective based on their position.
Deckman said, “I decided to hold a panel about the war on women because it is a narrative in American politics that has gotten a lot of attention in recent years. Given that we are in the middle of a midterm election now and this theme is still relevant, I thought it would be a good idea to revisit the origins of the war on women and then to consider when and if there is a war on women in capacities aside from politics: the media, literature, the theater.”
Deckman explained that in the 2010 midterm elections, the Republican Party took over the House of Representatives and made gains in the state legislatures. Democrats and liberal women’s groups focused on the Republicans’ war on women when it came to abortion rights and reproductive health, such as the House of Representatives’ unsuccessful plan to defund Planned Parenthood. Deckman said, “In 2011 to 2013, there were more state abortion restrictions enacted in that time period than there had been in the entire previous decade.”
This statistic applies internationally. Casado Presa mentioned Spain, and while it’s an extremely liberal country, the government tried to pass a law that would ban abortion in 2013. She said, “The party tried to ensure that the woman can only abort if she’s in danger or if it’s due to a sexual assault, if it has been reported to the police… You had to get an examination from two different doctors and then have a week of reflection.” Due to a lack of support from 80 percent of the country, the law did not pass.
The conversation was not limited to reproductive rights. Dr. Anderson talked about the White House Project, a nonprofit research entity. “They created a benchmark where they looked at 10 sectors of society… and they looked at the makeup of people in the positions of authority.”
“The number 17 was this eerily repetitive number in terms of looking at women in positions of authority,” she said. In business, women make up about 17 percent of members of boards of directors. They also make up about 17 percent of cardiac surgeons and about 17 percent of Congress.
To put the statistics in perspective, “If we keep on that rate, we’ll achieve parity in 500 years,” Anderson said.
Volansky discussed the role of women in drama in her segment. She said, “Somehow, what happens is that [the] dense population of women in leadership positions that make up drama productions across the United States … plummet[s] [when those students graduate].”
Sixty-eight percent of tickets sold on Broadway are purchased by women, and plays by women sell 3,338 seats more a week than for men. However, one out of three roles goes to women.
The White House Project’s benchmark echoes this. In scenes where there are crowds in movies, while women make up about half the world’s population, only 17 percent are shown on screen. Women’s roles in movies are examined by the Bechdel Test, which looks at if there are more than two women in the movie, if they’re named, and if they have a conversation about something other than men. An alarming number of films don’t pass.
The discussion focused primarily on women’s roles in different aspects of society from literature to drama to politics, but the panel also involved men’s role in women’s issues.
Casado Presa said, “Reproductive issues such as abortion are not just a women’s issue.” She mentioned Emma Watson’s speech for He for She campaign, in which Watson said it’s not the word feminist that matters but what the word stands for. “He for She actually addresses that issue very well because without men, we cannot solve these issues,” Casado Presa said.
Anderson reiterated this thought. “Men do in fact have an invested interest… this dichotomy limits their opportunities.”
While all the women on the panel made it clear that in different aspects of life around the world women are facing difficulties, Casado Presa summed up the roundtable nicely. She said, “[It’s not just] women’s issues, but people’s.”