Professor of Women’s Studies Betty Bayer moderated a panel discussion on the question of equality or liberation, as part of the Sentiments & Declarations lecture series. The discussion, “Troubling Convention: Does Equality Ask Us to Settle for Less?” took place at 2 p.m. on Saturday, July 19, the 166th anniversary of the Women’s Rights Convention and the Declaration of Sentiments, in the Gunzel Theatre of the Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, N.Y. The series was hosted by the Park and the Women’s Hall of Fame in conjunction with Hobart and William Smith Colleges.
The panel looked at social, educational, historical, religious, political and economic convention’s hold on women’s capacity to realize and envision civil liberties and gender justice. Panelists included Noemi Ghazala, superintendent of the Women’s Rights National Historical Park; Susan Henking, president of Shimer College; Betsy Mullins, president and CEO of Women’s Campaign Fund and She Should Run; Jennifer Pozner, founder and director of Women in the Media and News; and Jill S. Tietjen, president of the Board of Directors of the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
Bayer, who organized the panel, noted, “I named it Troubling Convention, because I think that is precisely what the Declaration set out to do – undo conventions positioning women as not only unequal but as not fully human and not fully citizens.”
“The Declaration is a broad document, envisioning change across the entirety of the social order, and indeed, the very capacities of one’s self,” said Bayer. “In our conversation, we will connect this historic document to today’s work, including our work as founders and leaders of institutions.”
She explained, when Nancy Pelosi’s “Women on the Roll” campaign kicked off in Seneca Falls, it did so to connect its work to the Declaration of Sentiments and women’s rights convention of 1848. Its slogan, “When women succeed, America succeeds,” was said to reflect how the campaign’s economic agenda stood on the shoulders of the work begun in 1848.
“But, by what measures are we to assess women’s success? Economic equality? Getting out the women’s vote?” asked Bayer.
This panel took the further step of inquiring into what is involved in a vision of women’s equality? Is equality asking women to settle for the world the way it currently stands, nationally and globally? Or might we need to ask additional questions and persist with convening to envision liberty and liberation?
Among the questions the panelists addressed were:
• What are we saying when we say women seek equality?
• Is our work about equality, liberation or both?
• What would equality look like? Liberation?
• How would the daily conversation about everyday lives look if women leaders and feminist organizations had a stronger presence in public discussion?
• Is legislation and/or legal change the answer to persistent gaps in wages, gender, race and class justice?
• Does a human rights discourse miss the point of liberation or re-envisioning justice?
• Are women leaders talking to one another across different kinds of organizations and institutions? And what difference would this make?
The discussion was broadcast on WEOS 89.5 and www.weos.org.
Sentiments & Declarations events are co-sponsored by the Women’s Rights National Historical Park, Women’s Studies, the Offices of the President and of the Provost and Dean of the Faculty, and Vice President for Student Affairs, Hobart and William Smith Colleges.