This March marks the 40th annual Women’s History Month, recognizing the achievements of women in society and the continual battle for gender equality.
In the late 1970s, several women’s rights organizations petitioned Congress and former President Jimmy Carter for national recognition. As a result, Congress passed Public Law 97-28, which officially proclaimed the second week of March as Women’s History Week. In his proclamation, Carter stated the week was in recognition that the “achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.” After passing several joint resolutions, Congress expanded the recognition to the entire month of March in 1987.
The achievement of women has been steeped into the institutional history and culture at Lewis & Clark. The first graduating class in 1873 was composed of five women. Today, LC reports that 64% of undergraduate students are women. The Undergraduate Facts & Figures page states that federal reporting requires the recording of sex as a binary, however, the college plans to begin collective gender identity information in the future.
There are several organizations on campus that aim to promote gender equity and support LC students, staff and faculty. These groups include the Feminist Student Union (FSU), the Office of Equity and Inclusion and the Wellness Center.
LC’s Gender Studies Symposium also coincides with Women’s History Month and will take place on March 9-11. This year’s symposium invites participants to imagine their ideal world and how to logistically achieve it. The theme, fantasy, also prompts discussions about intimacy, sexuality and identity.
In 2022, there have been several notable accomplishments made by women both on and beyond Lewis & Clark’s campus. Locally, many across LC’s campus celebrated the historic appointment of Vice President of Student Life Dr. Robin Holmes-Sullivan to institutional president. In the political sphere, the nomination of federal judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court was praised by many, primarily democrats.
According to FSU’s website, the group is “dedicated to challenging sexism, racism, classism and other forms of oppression.” In addition to hosting campus events centered around feminist activism and education, the FSU provides sexual health resources, such as Plan B, pregnancy tests, lube, condoms and dental dams. All FSU organizers are trained in Sexual Assault Peer Advocacy and provide confidential peer counseling services. The FSU is currently under the direction of student leaders Isabella Boughalem ’22 and Caroline Arnis ’22.
In a promotional YouTube video for their student organization, Arnis explains the need for groups like FSU on campus.
“Sadly, the health and safety of people is quite expensive in our country, Plan B can sometimes be $75,” Arnis said. “So first, it is monetary stability we provide to students on campus, and also a structure for allyship for one another when it comes to gender-based violence on our campus.”
In accordance with feminist theory, the FSU is dedicated to the promotion of equality for all genders.
One of the FSU’s most notable events is a workshop centered upon anti-oppression efforts. The group facilitates a campus-wide training with the Anti-Oppression Resource and Training Alliance about various diversity and equity-related issues.
The Health Promotion & Wellness Office on campus also provides support for issues related to gender violence and well-being. Interpersonal Violence Prevention Cordinator Emily Mattson works to distribute grant money to prevent and respond to sexual and interpersonal violence and make campus a safer, healthier place.
“I see equity improving in terms of accessibility to physical spaces, like the renovation of Templeton to be more student-centered, physically accessible, and easier to navigate,” Mattson said via email.
Other campus initiatives, such as the Center for Social Change and Community Involvement, also signaled LC’s attempts to strengthen their ties with the greater Portland community and increase accessibility for students, according to Mattson.
Mattson also acknowledged that growth and change are lifelong processes.
“It doesn’t stop when you hit a certain checkpoint or milestone,” Mattson said. “When I think about gender equity specifically, I see a need for more spaces and places where folx across gender and non-gender conforming identities are able to find safety and validation to be their most authentic selves.”
Mattson additionally called for faculty, staff, and administrations to continue to hold themselves accountable in terms of equitable learning and experiential practices. To Mattson, this means that those in positions of authority should dedicate resources to improving equity and leverage what privilege and power they have to do so.
The opinions expressed by Mattson are personal and do not reflect the views of the U.S. Department of Justice.
In order to most effectively address issues of sexual and gender-based violence, Mattson encourages students to complete the National College Health Assessment survey to help identify areas needing improvment on the issues of gender equity, which was sent out in a campus-wide email Feb. 25, 2022.
This February, the United States Women National Soccer Team (USWNT) won a major dispute that arose out of a 2016 complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, citing that women soccer players are paid four times less than men. The U.S. Soccer Federation will pay the players $24 million, including back pay. Additionally, they made a commitment to compensate players fairly in competition, regardless of gender.
While there have been and continue to be several accomplishments worth celebrating made by women, Cheryl Cooky, professor of American Studies and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Purdue University, explains how there seems to be an inherent discriminatory practice that occurs when only the most proficient women in society are celebrated.
“While the U.S. women’s soccer team may have won its fight for equal pay, the outcome doesn’t signal a win for the larger battle for equality in women’s sports,” Cooky wrote for NBC News. “A true win for equality would be for women athletes to be compensated fairly, and for both the men’s and women’s teams to receive equal treatment by the federation, regardless of how much revenue they generate and how many titles they win.”
Cooky points out an evident disparity in achievement between the USWNT and their male counterparts. The USWNT have won four World Cups and four gold medals. The USMNT, on the other hand, have failed to qualify for the past three Olympic games. The men’s team has also never won a single World Cup, placing third in 1930.
There are severe social implications when one justifies equal pay with achievement, according to Cooky.
“Expecting girls and women to be exceptional just to be considered equal only perpetuates the dynamics by which girls and women experience discrimination in the first place,” Cooky wrote.
The issue does not just apply for women’s soccer, but for all areas in which genders are treated unequally at the outset.
More information on campus events hosted by the FSU can be found on their instagram @lc_fsu or the organization may be contacted directly via firstname.lastname@example.org.