Feminism forum promotes message of inclusivity

FAIRFIELD — “The F Word: Feminism” — and what it means to different generations of women — was the topic of a conversation forum at Fairfield University’s Quick Center for the Arts on Wednesday night.

Hosted by Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame, a New Haven-based nonprofit that does educational outreach honoring the achievements of women, the event brought together women from each of four noted generations — a baby boomer, a Generation X’er, a millennial, and one from Generation Z — to share their opinions, observations and experiences around the concept of feminism in 2019.

“For some of us this word might be a cry, for other it might be a dirty word,” said Sarah Lubarksy, CWHF executive director, noting elementary-age boys will often call female classmates feminists as a derogatory insult.

“I’m an uber, unapologetic feminist,” said Vida Samuel, a University of Connecticut professor representing Gen X. “I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t.”

“As a society, we have a responsibility to call it out,” she said, noting that oppressions based on gender are still very common and need to continually be brought to light.

“Progress is not won and done,” she said, but needs regular “tending to insure its enduring survival.”

She said that was particularly true in the 21st century, as a sort of amnesia and denial in the collective societal conscience keeps feminism as “the F word.”

Baby boomer Elizabeth Austin, a Bridgeport finance attorney, said growing up at a time when efforts toward women’s rights were so prevalent, she assumed it was a foregone conclusion that things had changed by the time she entered the workforce.

It wasn’t true.

“When I had my first job as a lawyer ... I was so surprised that there was such a gender bias that still existed,” she said, noting on average women still only make 78 cents to each male’s one dollar in salary.

“Making them listen to me was almost impossible,” she said, often being the only woman in an all-male, all-white courtroom.

“I would be in meetings and called ‘sweetie’ and ‘honey’ ... and I would be asked to make coffee. ... There just simply wasn’t an acceptance,” she said. “I’m happy to say things have changed, but it’s still not where it should be. We have a long way to go.”

Amarilis Pullen, a portfolio manager for a New York City-based nonprofit, said as a millennial, her contemporaries think very differently about gender, largely owing to LGBTQ social advancements.

“That changes how we look at gender and that changes also how we look at feminism,” she said. “A man can be a feminist, and we need to teach men that it’s about realizing gender equality.”

“For millennials, we don’t want to be boxed in ... because gender is irrelevant in this,” she said.

Sean Tomlinson, a senior at Fairfield University and representing Gen Z, noted one of her big concerns was “women taking down women,” particularly through social media.

“Snapchat can be pretty vicious,” she said. “The same thing on Instagram.”

She said inclusivity in general should simply be about people being nice to one another.

“It’s just being nice and empowering and really listing to people,” she said.

Pullen agreed.

“I think just being open and vulnerable is the best thing we can do,” she said, adding her generation had already, in essence, had their lives overexposed through the internet and it hadn’t shaken or disheartened them.

“That’s the way millennials think about things,” she said. “We own our stuff ... and just let the world watch.”

“We don’t share our mistakes online as much,” Tomlinson said of her generation, which has become markedly more internet savvy. “We’re better at covering them up.”

Samuel said for her generation, broadly speaking, the trappings of personal lives were secondary to what people were capable of achieving where society was concerned.

“We don’t spend a whole lot of time on social media making sure someone’s living up to the values we’ve set up for them,” she said.

“Nobody’s perfect,” Austin said. “Everybody’s got their flaws.”

“We need to be kind, we need to accept,” she said, “and we need to balance the great things that people are doing with the mistakes.”