Redefining Womanhood Panel dares students to break boundaries

Story by Madalyn Watson | Reporter, Video by Savannah Cooper | Broadcast Reporter

The Boundary Breaking Women’s Panel: Redefining Womanhood Thursday featured 10 panelists who shared the stories of 10 women in history who broke down gender roles and resisted the confines of their time. The event was sponsored by the Baylor’s Women’s and Gender Studies on Thursday afternoon .

The first panelist, Dr. Lorynn Divita, told the story of Amelia Bloomer, an American social reformer and suffragette. Bloomer encouraged a dress reform called ‘Freedom Dress’ through her newspaper, which popularized wearing Turkish trousers underneath a knee length dress.

“We see [freedom dress] in in T-shirts baring slogans like ‘The Future is Female’, and we see it in knitted hats that created a sea of pink at the women’s march in January 2017,” Divita said. “These are the sartorial descendants of Amelia Jenks Bloomer’s legacy and in in her honor always remember — you can be standing silently in a corner, but your clothes are screaming who you are.”

H. Jennings Sheffield, associate professor of art at Baylor, spoke about the Korean artist Nikki S. Lee, who’s most famous work, ‘Projects,’ is a collection of snapshot photographs of her fully immersed into different social groups. Lee would take on a persona who would adapt to their dress and mannerisms before spending three months engaged in their lifestyles.

“Her use of the snapshot aesthetic is partly what convinces us that she belongs, and the electronic date stamp in the corner confirms it’s authenticity. The time and date in the corner resonates as something familiar to us as the viewer and further confirms the work to be that of an unassuming amateur,” Sheffield said. “This new methodology presents the viewer with many questions regarding identity and social behavior, leaving the viewer asking if it’s possible for us to move between cultures.”

Dr. Lakia Scott, assistant professor of education, spoke on one of her inspirations — Ella Baker, the African-American civil and human rights activist. She said although Baker is lesser known than other civil rights leaders, she had a large impact on the movement through collective community action. Baker is considered one of the creators of Freedom schools, which were free and alternative schools for African-American youth during the Civil Rights movement.

“The biggest thing that Ms. Baker stood for was the fact that anyone could make a difference regardless of their gender, race or age,” Scott said. “She also showed us that anyone can take a step towards a movement, or starting a movement. You didn’t have to be educated or a person in a position of power to start a movement.”

The only male panelist, Dr. Steven Jug, spoke on the Belarusian journalist, Svetlana Alexievich. He began her story with Alexievich’s grandmother, who died in combat — an event that led to inspiration in her books.

Alexievich worked as journalist, but she stood out with her attempts to write books consisting of interviews with rural citizens whose voices had been overlooked in history. Although her first book of interviews was never published because of its failure to remain in the confines of typical genres, her second book, The Unwomanly Face of War, focused on women who fought in the army, like her grandmother.

Dr. Ivy Hamerly, told the story of Lillian Gilbreth, the efficiency expert, industrial engineer and founder of the field of Ergonomics. Along with her husband Frank Gilbreth, she ran Glibreth Incorporated, a business and engineering consulting firm.

However, after her husband passed away, leaving her to raise their 12 children on her own, she lost many of their clients and began an efficiency school. Her husband’s passing led her to spend more time in the kitchen, where she discovered that the traditional kitchen design was incredibly inefficient. The ‘L’ shape on modern day kitchens as well as inventions like refrigerators with shelves, standing mixers and trash cans with foot pedals are all because of her innovative thought.

Macarena Hernandez, lecturer and the Fred Hartman Distinguished Professor of Journalism, spoke on Sandra Cisneros, the Mexican-American author who will be visiting and giving a lecture at Baylor University on April 11, 2019. Cisneros has written almost a dozen books including the coming-of-age novel, The House on Mango Street.

“A good story taps the universal truths. Sandra writes about grief, about love, about heartbreak, about longing [and] about family,” Hernandez said. “Because the story of the girl who longs to break free, sometimes with dreams only she believes in, and forage her own path is a familiar one.”

Baylor President, Dr. Linda Livingstone, was the final panelist. She spoke about Frances Willard, who was president of the Evanston College for Ladies — making her the first woman to be a university president.

“As a college freshman in 1978, I moved into my residence hall at Oklahoma State University. That residence hall was called Frances Willard Hall. I lived in that residence hall for a year, and then I walked by that building nearly every single day through my college years at Oklahoma State. I have three degrees from there, so I was there for a very long time … and I had no idea who Frances Willard was,” said Livingstone.

In addition to being an educator, Willard was a women’s suffragist. She believed there was a connection between liquor prohibition and women’s suffrage. Her efforts also led to the raising of the age of consent and passing of labor reforms.

“It is very appropriate that Frances Willard Hall at Oklahoma State University, named for a powerful woman educator and suffragette who spent her life seeking to improve the lives of women and children, is now the home of the Oklahoma State University college of education health and aviation which is dedicated to improving the lives of children, adolescents, adults, families and communities,” Livingstone said.