Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Introduction to Women and Politics

From Saturday February 9th to Sunday February 10th Dr. Karen O'Connor taught the course, Introduction to Women and Politics. The short intensive course gave a brief overview of the women's rights movement, and the challenges faced by women today in politics. A combination of interactive activities intertwined with lectures, movies, and discussion were used to get students immersed in the topics. Dr. O’Connor began the class with a brief introduction, and then tested our knowledge through a round of Quiz-Bowl. Then we watched a film about Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, followed by a lecture and discussion on the achievements of the women who fought for rights, which they were not able to enjoy.

Next, Iron Jawed Angels was shown. The film was about the relentlessness courage of Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, and the many other suffragists who fought for the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. Despite facing harassment, incarceration and abuse these women never wavered in their convictions. The most striking scenes showed Alice Paul and the suffragists being arrested and jailed without real charges, and the cruel treatment they endured in jail after going on a hunger strike. The highly emotive film instigated feelings of anger, confusion, and astonishment, as the grotesque details of the suffering these female leading figures endured to blaze the trail for women’s rights began to emerge. Many of us began to question the validity of what we learned in our history classes, as it became apparent that important moments in women’s rights movement were glossed over in American history

The next morning began with a discussion of the current election season, and cases of subtle and overt sexism that the media has shown towards women candidates from time to time.Then we had a mock caucus. That quickly got the class rowdy as the Obama and Clinton supporters were arguing fact versus spin, and trying to convince the undecided voters why their candidate was the best. After the mock caucus we continued to discuss current politics, and then watched the documentary Chisolm ’72 which showed Shirley Chisolm’s presidential bid. This film demonstrated another moment in history which is rarely ever acknowledged. Shirley Chisholm broke many barriers by being the first woman and African-American to run for president. While she never expected to realistically win the nomination for the Democratic Party, she did pave the way for our current presidential candidates.

Another eye-opening film we watched was a documentary about the Equal Rights Amendment made by Dr. O’Connor’s Honors class. The film gave detailed information on a proposed amendment that would ensure women’s equality by explicitly stating that women could not be discriminated by sex. After we watched the ERA film, Dr. O’Connor lectured about how the modern women’s rights movement evolved. Since the ERA was never passed, women were able to get protective laws through legislation passed by Congress and through a succession of Supreme Court decisions which would safeguard women against inequity. The course helped cement a strong foundation in the women’s movement. The two day class was not enough to go in depth to a learning of women’s history to understand were women stand today and what else needs to be done. The ending discussion showed that while much has been done; women must not acquiesce, as we have yet to reach equal treatment. This course was a great starting point, and left students wanting to learn and do more.

Written by Luciana Salinas
Undergraduate Student, American University