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Program celebrates 25th anniversary with panel discussion

annise parker

The Women’s Gender and Sexuality and Studies program celebrated its 25th anniversary Monday. | Justin Cross/ The Cougar

Among lunch and celebrity speakers, the Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies program celebrated their silver jubilee Monday with a panel on “Why WGSS Matters” at the M.D. Anderson Library.

The WGSS program was founded in 1991 and provides opportunities for students, faculty and the UH community to expand their knowledge about society’s important or trending topics. WGSS also collaborates with two community programs, Friends of Women’s Studies and the Women’s Resource Center.

The panel was moderated by Elizabeth Gregory, director of WGSS.

Women of note

Many notable speakers came to celebrate the 25th anniversary and shared their thoughts on the current position and treatment of women in society.

The panelists were Deborah Duncan, host of “Great Day Houston,” Annise Parker, former mayor of Houston, Anne Taylor, vice chairman and managing partner of financial consulting firm Deloitte Houston, and Samantha Kwan, UH’s associate professor of sociology.

“Especially in the media, at one time what you saw was only men because only men can be incredible, right?” Duncan said. She added that recently more women are present in the media workforce than in the past.

Kwan is involved in a research that examines the social construction of bodies, embodied resistance and body modification practices. She said modern technology allowed society to gather more topics and pave new thought processes.

“In general, we see an increase in public awareness and conversation about gender inequality and whether it is present in the workplace, in the home, education, in terms of gender-based life or misogynist media depictions of women,” Kwan said.

Kwan believes, however, that feminist public awareness still focuses on white heterosexual upper and upper-middle class women and not as much on minority groups or sexual minorities.

Kwan also revealed that women still experience a sexual double standard. Young women who participate in “hookup culture” are more stigmatized than men. There is also a pressure for young girls to live in beauty standards.

“We live in a culture of slut-shaming and body-shaming,” Kwan said.

Parker said that 100 years after women got the right to vote and began entering politics, they are still out of the top 20 percent range for legislative bodies and executive positions. 

“Feminism is an extension of democracy,” Gregory said. “It gives both genders the same rights and responsibilities, like the vote, freedom of expression, the right to be free from violence, ability to work in whatever profession they choose, pay equity, and so on.”

Lessons for life

Students that attended the event praised the wide scope of the Women’s Studies program and the possibly great outreach through featuring powerful spokespeople.

“A particularity that enriches and distinguishes the environment at UH is that people of all backgrounds come from all across the globe to study here,” Gregory said. “At WGSS, we see the diversity of our campus as a great resource that allows us to directly address the experience of gender in diverse communities.”

WGSS sophomore Sara Rehman said that Parker is an inspiration to her.

“Having somebody directly tell me what I can do motivates me and inspires me to keep doing what I am doing,” Rehman said.

Social work graduate Ben Dreon appreciated the positivity that came out of the event.

“I think that a lot of the viewpoints that were expressed were very positive in terms of giving a message on gender equality, how gender is viewed in society and how women can be better represented in society,” Dreon said.

Gregory added that it is important for society and today’s youth to be concerned about academic programs like WGSS and community outreach with Friends of Women’s Studies and the Women’s Resource Center.

“Life is a gender studies course, and you might as well come prepared,” Gregory said.

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