Guest Bwogger Charlotte Slovin attended the third annual Women in Language panel hosted by the Lenfest Center for the Arts, Women and Wisdom.

The Women and Language series was born from a realization that Leslie Ayvazian, adjunct professor of Dramaturgy at the Columbia University Graduate School of the Arts, had had after observing the language surrounding the characterization and actions of women. Ayvazian made a list of over 400 words that applied to women, including “aggressive,” “dragon-lady,” “wisp of a thing,” “that hoe over there,” “sneaky bitch,” and so on. The collection of this data prompted her to ask: what does it mean to live with these words?

Over the last three years, Ayvazian has partnered with the Lenfest Center for the Arts to create panels of women to discuss this question, within the topics of women and power, women and success, and this year’s installment: women and wisdom. On Friday night, a panel of ten women discussed what wisdom means, who it serves, and who seeks it. The panelists included five generations of women in theater, from playwrights to producers to theater critics. It was curated and moderated by Ayvazian.

Prior to the event, ten Columbia MFA students worked together to produce questions for the panelists, such as “Can you be wise when you are angry?” “Is love a part of wisdom?” and “Did you feel wise before you were told?” Each question had been curated for one or two specific panelists, but occasionally more members would join in the conversation, or Ayvazian would ask a follow-up question, creating a more informal and natural dialogue.

After an hour-long conversation, the panel agreed that conventional wisdom was closely related to learning to “trust your gut,” a skill that could only be attained through experience and perseverance. Since personal experience is integral to attaining wisdom, it has been consistently associated with age.

However, the panelists, spanning five generations, actively contested this notion. It was agreed that wisdom did not directly correlate with age, as there are “ten-year-olds who are wiser than some fifty-year-olds could ever be.” The panel also agreed that wisdom may start internally, but that to be wise, one must share their wisdom – that there was an inherent generosity associated with being wise.

Once all the prewritten questions had been answered, Ayvazian opened questions up to the audience. Audience members problematized the panel’s interpretation of what experience was, asking whether, if we all come from different cultural and social backgrounds, we can all experience the same wisdom. If not, what can we make of those gaps?

Audience members also commented on how young women are expected to be more mature and “know better,” whereas young men tend to be given more leniency with their immaturity and “lack of wisdom.” The panelists willingly accepted these new perspectives into the greater discussion. That said, no greater conclusion was made about what wisdom means, showing that this is not the end of the conversation.

Women and Wisdom cultivated a much-needed space to explore the ways language impacts and shapes experience. It opened up the discussion beyond the classroom, to people of all ages and backgrounds. Additionally, it provided the older women in the room with an environment in which to safely explore the idea of being perceived as wise, a characteristic that many of them had never comfortably accepted, because of a desire to remain humble.

As artists and creators themselves, the panelists agreed that it is in our power to shift the way language is used, and to create a world where women can embrace their wisdom, not shy away from it.

the panel via Bwog Staff