24th annual Celebrate Women event highlights 20 years of gender progress
The 24th annual Celebrate Women Luncheon charted the progress of gender equity over the past 20 years, and marked the 20th anniversary of the Murray State University Women’s Center.
The developing culture of gender cooperation was the theme presented by keynote speaker Dr. Kimberly Barrett, associate vice chancellor for student development and diversity at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Barrett is also the founding director of the Murray State University Women’s Center.
Barrett said the statistics on women’s equality back up the argument that progress has been made in the past 20 years. In 2010 at MSU, Barrett said, 60 percent of the students were women. The number is 59 percent nationally. Women are not just the majority on college campuses, she said. They are also the majority getting degrees at every level.
While women continue to earn less than their male counterparts, salary disparities have decreased, Barrett said. Women earned 77 percent of the yearly wages men did in 2011, up from 71 percent in 1992, she stated.
The increase in women’s equality has also meant a change in the dynamics of the home, said Barrett. Men are sharing more of the household responsibilities, including the burden of trying to balance work life with raising children. Men are also choosing fields of work that were considered female-dominated fields, she said, as well as becoming more comfortable with the idea of earning less than a spouse, and being a stay-at-home father.
“What I’ve found in my life and relationships, and what I think we’re discovering in the public sphere is that things work better when people are allowed to try a number of roles, and then choose what fits them best,” said Barrett.
Barrett said the increase of gender equality has led to what she termed more “feminine finesse” in society.
“You are all familiar with the warrior archetype that we use to define success. There are winners and losers, domination, battle, all of that. But I think as our society becomes more diverse, I think as women take their place in public realms, that all of us will see the value of finesse, particularly as we look at what it takes to be successful in a post-industrial society. ... I think what we’ll begin to see is that, in fact, collaboration is much more effective that rugged individualism. Collaboration is much more effective than competition,” stated Barrett.
Barrett joked that women like to imagine what the world would be like if it was female-ruled. However, she said she imagined the future lies in a world in which women and men lead together, as gender roles shift.
While the developed world has made steps forward in gender equity, that is not necessarily true for the rest of the world, she noted. Barrett quoted from the most recent report on women’s equality done by Social Watch, a social justice organization. Women still lag behind in economic participation, with fewer that half of countries reaching equitable levels. Political participation is even lower, she said, with only 17 percent of countries achieving equity.
Barrett and other speakers at the event, including Don Robertson, vice president of student affairs, and Bonnie Higginson, provost, praised Jane Etheridge, the current director of the MSU Women’s Center, for her work. Etheridge plans to retire this year.
Higginson also added some of her thoughts about the progress women have made. She said she has spent 32 years at the university, first as a student, then as an employee. She said she feels she represents many women who did not start out planning to break barriers, but who has come to be strong leaders through the journeys they took. She said many women do not know where life’s journey will take them, but they are able to get there through the mentors they have along the way, the challenges they face and finding what lies within themselves.
The luncheon also honored the 2012 Margaret Simmons Female Student Athlete of the Year. Softball pitcher Chelsey Sullivan received the award out of a field of four contenders.