Fireside Feminism

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bwog's kinda obsessed with dspar
bwog's kinda obsessed with dspar

Cozy on up

Last night, DSpar and SGA joined forces to host a Fireside Chat with the woman who pretty much has it all but wants you to know it’s ok if you don’t.  Luckless lottery loser Kyra Bloom sat in and listened up.  Tomorrow we’ll be posting The Blue and White’s review of DSpar’s new book.

Admittedly, I volunteered to report on the recent Fireside Chat with President Spar simply because I never win those damn lotteries on my own. I also wanted to see her up-close, out of the context of serving me French toast at Midnight Breakfast. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll say I took a gender equality class my first year, but since then have steered clear because of my frustration with the topic and the seeming futility of its discussion. Regardless of my attitude coming in, I did thoroughly enjoy the Socratic circle-esque hour and found many of DSpar’s comments to be novel and gratifyingly realistic.

After asking the attendees the requisite opening question—“What does feminism mean to you?”—President Spar surprised me by saying we shouldn’t “stress over the semantics of the definition.”  In my Gender Studies class as well as many others, students sit around for hours discussing different meanings of the word.  Of course it’s important to understand women’s backgrounds and stories, but Spar makes it clear that she believes there will never be a brand of feminism that is perfect for every woman.

Instead, she suggests that our generation focus on recapturing the word “choice.”  Women are constantly judging other women’s decisions, whether at home or in the work place.  We must learn to “affirm other women’s choices,” she says, or we will have that much more difficulty moving ahead.

Like any other public female figure, President Spar’s appearance is constantly critiqued and on display.  I am embarrassed to admit that one of the first things I noticed when she walked into the room was her hair.  Instead of the blown-out, glamorous look she sports at convocation and commencement, I was surprised to see DSpar rocking a head full of voluminous curls.  Something about seeing her natural hair endeared her to me—she, too, has to make the daily decision between the easy choice and the more “professional” look.  It may seem silly and insignificant, but this realization made me feel a kinship with my college’s president that I’d never even considered before.  Spar does practice what she preaches with regard to women being pressured into perfection.  She looks the part when it’s necessary for presidential publicity, but she does not pretend that it’s something easy she can afford to do every day. Debora Spar is a normal person.  She is imperfect and all the better for it.

The hour concluded with a question many of us often consider: Anna Bahr, BC’14 and managing editor on The Blue and White, asked, “Is there any time in the visible future that you think a women’s college could be rendered unnecessary?”

“Hopefully,” Spar responds, with a quick explanation on why a gender-exclusive college is allowed to exist.  When women hold 50% of all positions of power, Barnard will no longer legally be allowed to function in its current form.  Spar says she doesn’t see that happening any time soon, however, so we can rest assured that the College will be around for some time to come.

That doesn’t mean major structural changes aren’t on the horizon. The most enthusiastic moments of the discussion surrounded the controversial place of trans students at Barnard. The college currently accepts applications only from women (that is, individuals with government ID reflecting that sex). Interestingly, it was also the only part of the discussion about which President Spar chose not to comment. It would have been nice to hear how she (who so heavily emphasizes the importance of women supporting each other’s choices and not judging lifestyle decisions) feels about female-assigned-at-birth Barnard students choosing to identify as men. Or about male-assigned-at-birth applicants who see no place more fitting for them than a traditional women’s college.

Spar’s demeanor is kind and welcoming, and the ease with which she discusses difficult topics is admirable.  Though I still may never take another course or go to a lecture on feminism, I think I’ll buy the book.

Homeliness via Shutterstock

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  1. help us out with a link here

    This is interesting: "When women hold 50% of all positions of power, Barnard will no longer legally be allowed to function in its current form." Bwog, can you substantiate? Quick google didn't turn up the facts (is it just Barnard, or all women's colleges? is this common knowledge?). Feel free to lmgtfy me if I'm just being slow [ugh midterms]!

    • Anna Bahr  (Bwog Staff)  


      Basically private all-women colleges are allowed under federal law to discriminate against men in admissions (at least on the undergraduate level) because women remain a disadvantaged societal group.

      Title IX (part of the Education Amendments of 1972) prohibits any kind of discrimination on the basis of sex, but it also guarantees women’s colleges the right to solely admit women applicants. As private institutions they are free to design the school's mission around evening the distribution of the sexes.

      I.e. if and when women ever occupy 50% of the population of business/tech/law/medical/industrial blah blah blah positions--if we see a substantial shift in making even not just the playing field but the actual players on the field, there will be no legal precedence/necessity to favor an educational environment which specifically empowers women.

  2. two cents

    I think women's colleges should be allowed to exist regardless of the levels of female professional attainment and representation. Why shouldn't women be free to learn in an educational environment that is focused on their success not only as individuals but also as a collective? The only essential conflict with the broader societal goal of equality, is the placement of such a college within a university that has no other such exclusionary entities.

  3. this was really  

    nice to hear about. i probably would never have stopped by to this fireside chat but hearing even just those few sentences about "choice" sort of changed my outlook on things.

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