Breaking open the gender boxes
In 1999, UH President Arthur K. Smith started a commission to study the treatment of women on campus, and in response to a high level of gender harassment, created the Women’s Resource Center.
Immediately after starting her career at the University, Director Beverly McPhail wanted to contribute to the WRC in any way she could.
“I’m a feminist and a social worker,” she said. “And a lot of my work is about women and with women, and my particular expertise is violence against women. So I wanted an opportunity to come and try to make a difference on a college campus.”
According to McPhail, one in five young women will be sexually assaulted during their time on a college campus.
McPhail and Karen D. Stout co-authored a book titled “Confronting Sexism and Violence against Women,” which was published in 1998.
“The main point is that we saw violence on a continuum,” McPhail said. “Some people just look at sexual assault separately, and domestic violence and pornography and the media, but we looked at it as there is all sorts of violence done to women on a continuum. Some of the media images of women are violent, and women see that and get upset. A lot of pornography is also violent and is based on the degradation of women. So it was mostly a textbook to educate students about the violence of women in all the different ways it is presented.”
McPhail said that the treatment of women has improved over the years, but not as much as people believe.
“If we look back historically, at one time, women couldn’t vote or serve on juries or keep their own wages,” she said. “Obviously, we’ve come a long way since then.”
However, McPhail pointed out a few cases in which there massive inequity still exists.
“There are still a lot of double standards for women,” McPhail said. “There is still a wage gap, and women still make about 77 cents to every $1 a man makes. When I talk to women on college campuses, they are upset that when a man has a lot of sexual partners, they are labeled a player, but when a woman has a lot of sexual partners, she’s labeled a slut. So yes, I still think there is some work to be done.”
In the early 2000s, McPhail began contributing to the Houston Chronicle. She said she noticed that a feminist’s opinion was not being expressed on the newspaper’s pages and she wanted to get that view out into the world. She said she wanted people to know that anyone could be a feminist and that feminism is “the liberation of all people as a basis of all their identities — such as race, class and gender.”
McPhail said she thinks society can raise awareness about the treatment of women by educating itself.
“One thing I would really suggest (to students on this campus) is to take the Intro to Women’s Studies class. We’re all so immersed in this culture that it’s hard for us to see it, but when you take a class and really study gender, you become aware of all the inequities and you see it really clearly,” McPhail said. “I would encourage students to join the Student Feminist Organization on campus and talk to women. It’s about learning and educating yourself and talking to women and learning about their experiences. We must then work in the legislature to change laws and policies to help make women more equal.
“In order to change the culture, we need men and women involved. Feminism is about breaking open those gender boxes for both men and women so that we can all be authentically ourselves and share the range of human emotion.”