Rider celebrates Women’s History Month

Tatyanna Carmen, Theresa Evans, Lauren Lavelle

Vanessa Cano presenting during the #Feminism event in Lynch Adler Hall on March 11. 

 A series of events, organized by the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, took place during the month of March in an effort to celebrate Women’s History Month. 

The “Women in the Workplace: What It’s Like to be a Woman in a Male-Dominated Field” event started off the month-long series on March 5, inviting the campus community to partake in a discussion about the hardships women face and the relationship between gender and race in male-dominated fields.

“We are actually honoring women of today,” said Pamela Pruitt, director of the center for diversity and inclusion.“We are uplifting our women, not only on the Rider campus, but all across the world.”

A panel of faculty and students discussed personal experiences, fears and ways to empower women.

The infamous trial and errors of mega-pop star Britney Spears were discussed on March 11 at the “We’re Country: Britney Spears, Southern White Femininity and the American Dream” presentation, which continued the initiative to celebrate Women’s History Month. 

Jennifer Musial, an assistant professor of women’s and gender studies at New Jersey City University, kicked off the discussion with her own experiences growing up surrounded by the influence of Spears. 

“I was mesmerized by MTV,” Musial said. “Britney was all over MTV. I had a fascinated rejection of her. I was intrigued by her but also totally in loathe of her. I came to have this empathy for her and started to think about the media scrutiny surrounding her in her early years.”

Musial eventually decided to focus her Ph.D. dissertation on Spears’ rise and fall from America’s sweetheart to one of the most criticized celebrities in entertainment history. 

“[I wanted to] reexamine this period of 20 years ago and filter it through knowledge we have in 2019,” she said. 

Musial began with a quick walk through the early days of Spears’ career when she emerged from her rural, southern, working class hometown of Kentwood, Louisiana. After breaking into the industry, Musial said the public attempted to fit Spears into a mold and turned on her after Spears did not conform. 

“In Hollywood, Spears’ Southern roots were a liability,” Musial said.“It worked for her in the beginning of her career but, by the time she gets to the mega-stardom, it starts to put holes in her earlier, wholesome image.”

Eventually, Spears had an extremely public breakdown that only contributed to the public’s negative view of her, with many deeming her “white trash.”

“She was labeled a southern, white trash, bad girl who could never successfully transcend her working class roots,” she said. “You can take the girl out of the south but the south always sticks to you.” 

Musial concluded her presentation with her thoughts about how Spears’ fame is interpreted today. 

“By analyzing the reaction to Spears, you can see how stereotypes about the rural, working class south bubbled to the surface whenever a celebrity from that region transgresses the boundaries of respectability,” Musial said. “Roughly 15 years after she faced racialized class disgust in the national media, Britney Spears seems to have found a way to reconcile these kinds of images.”

Following the Britney Spears event, the sisters of Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority Inc. Iota Chapter hosted the hashtag “#Feminism” event on March 11 in Lynch Adler Hall. 

According to junior Lambda Theta Alpha president and elementary education major Danielle Drayton, the purpose of the event was to make people aware of feminism on campus and to answer the question of what it means to be a feminist in hopes to start more productive conversation. 

“I think the purpose is awareness but also to have an open discussion and have people learn what it is to be a feminist, what feminism is, because it has more of a negative connotation sometimes,” Drayton said.

At the start of the event, each person had to write down what feminism meant to them on a Post-It note and stick it onto a poster board with the phrase #Feminism in pink letters. 

Afterward, attendees discussed their thoughts on the topic. The event was broken into two parts, a discussion and a powerpoint presentation on the topic, conducted by six of the sorority members.

The presentation started with the definition of feminism and continued to illuminate areas such as the history of feminism, the definition of patriarchy, globalization of feminism and the importance of conversation, especially during the time of the #MeToo Movement. Each slide gave background to various aspects of feminism and even showed statistics about ongoing issues involving women such as poverty, the wage gap and sexual assault.

“People don’t know a lot about the facts that they gave, so it was a good program to spread awareness,” junior criminal justice major, Cyana Smith said. “Starting a conversation changes a lot of things, so I think it was a good idea to start the conversation.” 

 Videos were also included in the presentation, one of which was of women’s education activist, Malala Yousafzai, sharing the definition of feminism, how others perceive it and how their perceptions make her feel. The second video showcased people from ages 5 to 50 describing feminism in one word. 

Smith said the video stood out to her. 

“Usually when you think people hear feminism, like females in general, they think it’s a good idea, but some people said that it was misunderstood or was overrated, so that stood out to me,” said Smith.

Any additions or comments from the audience were also welcomed near the end of the event. The sorority also revealed their social media campaign for feminism during that time. People can post pictures with #Feminism and tag the chapter page so that people can spread social media awareness for the remainder of the month, according to Drayton. 

“I am happy with the people who came out. I feel like they contributed a lot and they participated and that’s what we really wanted,” Drayton said. “And I hope that with the social media campaign, we’ll be able to get more people involved. So even though [some] people didn’t come out, we’ll still be able to spread the word.”

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