UI hosts first Midwest Feminists Conference


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University of Iowa senior Emily Sullivan, a self-proclaimed feminist, is all too familiar with the stereotypes associated with the "f-word."

"It's just frustrating that feminism is a bad word," said the 21-year-old president of the UI's Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance. "I've identified as a feminist since high school, and when I say that word, a lot of times, I'm instantly alienated."

Nonetheless, Sullivan and roughly 105 individuals gathered on the UI's campus this past weekend for the first Midwest Feminist Conference to discuss gender inequality and oppression.

"I know that people think we have moved past those issues, but we haven't, or that there is true equality going on between the genders, but there isn't," Sullivan said.

Hosted by the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance and the national Feminist Majority Foundation, the three-day summit had a diverse audience with a range of topics and speakers, voicing solutions for feminist concerns affecting all populations.

"There are so many issues really prevalent on our campus alone," Sullivan said, noting the lack of interest in solving inequalities on campus.


Sullivan said her goal is to continue to raise awareness by creating the conversations and discussions and showing how feminism can connect with other issues.

Laura Kacere, the Midwest Campus organizer for the foundation, agreed that dialogue is the best way of tackling issues.

"We are building unity and working together as activists," said Kacere, a 2009 UI alum. "We are always looking at how sex, race, and class associates with gender."

The idea is to dismantle all forms of oppression and not focus on one area, she said.

She believes the feminist concept can be applied in other areas in campus life, she said.

"It is important to build a coalition with other groups on campus and show how feminism intersects with their activist views and with their ideology," Kacere said.

One speech during the conference delved into discussion on the ongoing issue of gender disparity in the workplace.

"It's obviously a problem. I think that we have a sexist culture, and for some reason, our society believes women can't do equal work," Sullivan said, noting that the 63 cents to 76 cents that women's wages lags behind men's is not a big enough jump in 40 years. "It's blatant inequality."

According to the 2010 Iowa Gender Wage Equity Study, women earned 76 cents for every $1 earned by their male counterparts — down from 78 cents in the 2008 study.

Also, males with bachelor's degrees have a higher median hourly wage level of $14 per hour, while women with bachelor's degrees linger at $11.66 per hour.

Nationally, women earned just more than 77 percent of men's wages in 2010, according to the National Committee on Pay Equity.

UI senior Stephen Bonett, one of the few males in attendance, said he is relatively new to the feminist conversation.

"To me, it's obviously an issue," the 21-year-old said. "I care about trying to change the way society is. I think there is a lot of things you'd really miss if just because you're male, you just ignored [the issues] because it's outside of your realm. It's connected to issues that affect everyone."

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