For me, one of the most valuable parts of the Women Changing Africa Symposium was its intergenerational nature. How often is it that a high school student and a high level executive are in the same room, let alone in a room that emphasizes collaboration, reciprocal learning and a common future? The relevance of this aspect quickly become clear when a guest raised her hand and posed a question to the panel of accomplished women at the front of the room: “There were very overt wrongs that your generation was fighting against. The issues of my generation and the one below me represented in this room are a lot less tangible. Given this, what should we be fighting for? What should define the contemporary women’s movement?”
This is an important question, one that I have heard frequently in discussion of contemporary feminism. However, I am slowly realizing that there can’t possibly be one answer to this question— nor should there be. Events like this symposium are incredibly valuable for their ability to bring multiple generations together in a dialogue that connects the struggles of the past with the development of actions for the future. I believe that we must allow ourselves to be inspired by these trailblazers, and use this to fuel our own actions and our own paths because our actions will be infinitely stronger if they rest on our convictions of what is needed for us, today. There is no deficit of ideas out there. Younger generations can, and must, define what changes we will make, always looking to the inspiration of women that came before us for perspective, and a helpful push towards action.
- Freesia Levine ’11
Freesia was one of six students selected to travel to South Africa to attend the Barnard’s Third Annual Global Symposium and assist with a leadership workshop for high school students from around Johannesburg.
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Edited by Edwidge Danticat ’90
Akashic Books, 2011, $24.95
Come and Find Me
by Hallie Ephron (Trouger) ’69
William Morrow, 2011, $24.99
The Love of My Youth
by Mary Gordon ’71, Millicent C. McIntosh Professor in English and Writing
Random House, 2011, $25.95
by Léna (Madeleine Jones) Roy ’90
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010, $16.99
To Algeria, with Love
by Suzanne Frank Ruta ’61
Virago, 2012, $11.40
Goodie One Shoes
by Roz (Leventhal) Siegel ’62
Hilliard & Harris, 2010, $18.95
by Eileen Tabios ’82
Shearsman Books, 2011, $17
Taina Wants to Salsa
by Jo Anne Valle ’92
CreateSpace, 2010, $9.95
Another Word for Love
by Sarah Gribetz Stern ’86
Finishing Line Press, 2011, $14
Interior Graphic Standards
by Corky (Bingley) Binggeli ’69 and Patricia Greichen
Wiley, 2010, $225
by Gorm Harkær, translated by Martha Gaber Abrahamsen ’69
Klintiana (Copenhagen, Denmark), 2011, $233
Body Shots: Hollywood and the Culture of Eating Disorders
by Emily Fox-Kales ’64
SUNY Press, 2011, $22.95
Estate Planning Smarts: A Practical, User-Friendly, Action-Oriented Guide
by Deborah L. Jacobs ’77
DJ Working Unlimited, 2010, $19.95
Mixing Minds: The Power of Relationship in Psychoanalysis and Buddhism
by Pilar Jennings ’88
Wisdom Publications, 2010, $18.95
The Everything U.S. Constitution Book: An easy-to-understand explanation of the foundation of American government
by Ellen M. Kozak ’65
Adams Media, 2011, $16.95
The Accidental Anarchist
by Bryna (Wincelberg) Kranzler ’80
Crosswalk Press, 2010, $18
Illuminating Childhood: Portraits in Fiction, Film, and Drama
by Ellen Handler Spitz ’61
University of Michigan Press, 2011, $35
Sempre Susan: A Memoir of Susan Sontag
by Sigrid Nunez ’72
Atlas, 2011, $20
Reading Women: How the Great Books of Feminism Changed My Life
by Stephanie Staal ’93
Public Affairs, 2011, $15.95
Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places
by Sharon Zukin ’67
Oxford University Press, 2010, $27.95
Seven thousand miles from Morningside Heights, African women are changing a continent. They are leading governments back from civil war and confronting human rights atrocities. They are overseeing the growth of industry and launching businesses. They are seeking truth through global information networks and revising laws in pursuit of justice. As students, they are learning about the history that has shaped their lives, and thinking about how they will shape the future for their communities and the world.
In March, Barnard’s third annual global symposium took place in Johannesburg, South Africa. This year’s event included high-powered, courageous women in government, business, nonprofit groups, education, and the arts. They took to the stage in two back-to-back panels, “Conversations on Leadership” and “Voices of the Next Generation”; both dealt with women’s leadership and what it means currently and for the future of Africa and the world. Debora Spar, Barnard’s president, and Kathryn Kolbert, director of the College’s Athena Center for Leadership Studies, served as moderators. In the audience were dozens of high school and college students who sat beside businesswomen, artists, and educators. Barnard faculty members and alumnae of all ages also attended.
Six current Barnard students were selected to travel to the symposium during their spring break. The day before, they and more than 100 high school students from the area around Johannesburg gathered at the prestigious African Leadership Academy to take part in Barnard’s 2011 Young Women’s Leadership Workshop. The Barnard student representatives led small groups that explored what it means to be a leader in one’s own community; and they initiated discussions and activities that examined ways to become women leaders in Africa and beyond. (Read about the Barnard student’s experiences.)
“Those of us in the positions we’re in today have a responsibility to put back into others because people took time with us,” said Gill Marcus, governor of the South African Reserve Bank, who spoke during the first panel. Other panelists reiterated the critical need for empowering young women, and the incredible impact they can have if propelled toward developing their potential.
Susan Mboya, an executive at Coca-Cola, talked about the young women involved with the Zawadi Africa Education Fund, of which she is the cofounder. “They have really shown me another level of what leadership is, just in terms of how they embrace the opportunities that are given to them,” said Mboya. “We give them an inch, we give them the opportunity to go to school, and they take it and they run.”
The discussion about empowerment also touched upon circumstances that are inherited rather than sought. Rwandan Senator Aloisea Inyumba spoke of how the genocide in her country reshaped all aspects of Rwandan society, thrusting women into unprecedented roles. “Despite this difficult situation we inherited, I have to be proud to tell you that Rwanda is changed today,” said Inyumba. “It’s stable; it’s peaceful; it’s secure; and the women of Rwanda are providing the leadership.”
Today’s young women face different challenges in their inherited circumstances. Their adversaries are not always as painfully clear-cut as genocide was for Rwandans, or as apartheid was for South Africans. As Governor Marcus pointed out, in some ways their circumstances are more nuanced and complex. “Those of us in our generation had a clearer ability to identify what we were, what we stood for because we stood against something,” said Marcus. “It’s very easy to be against things. It’s much harder to be for things.”
Mamphela Ramphele, former senior director of the World Bank and a renowned antiapartheid activist, encouraged the young women in the audience to recognize their opportunity and obligation to lead with purpose and dignity. “We are a continent dying for value-based leadership, and that leadership is here, is you,” she said.
While the symposium only lasted one day, the energy in the room suggested that this kind of forum can enable news of Africa’s progress to reach a global audience. The exchange of ideas and experiences served as reminders of the responsibilities that come with leadership, and the need for women to support one another across borders and generations. An African proverb, shared by panelist Ndidi Nwuneli, founder of LEAD Africa, an NGO devoted to developing leaders and entrepreneurs, reinforced this power of collaboration: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go with others.”
- Alyssa Vine
- Photographs by Zute Lightfoot
Stephanie Staal '93
Public Affairs, 2010, $15.99
As the mother of a toddler, Stephanie Staal ’93 found herself somewhat adrift. She’d stepped away from her busy career as a newspaper reporter to work from home as a freelance writer when she was pregnant and had just published her first book. When her daughter was a month old, Staal and her husband relocated from New York City to Annapolis, Maryland, to provide what they hoped would be a better environment for their daughter—unfortunately the move also proved to be isolating and alienating for the couple. In an effort to reconnect, Staal decided to return to Barnard and sit in on the “Feminist Texts” classes that made such a profound impact on her during her undergraduate years. The journey to revisit the work of writers such as Betty Friedan, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Kate Millett, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Virginia Woolf is chronicled in her new book.
Do you think feminist texts tell us to question more?
I think having your first child can be a really vulnerable point for women. Suddenly it seems like all of these gender and cultural stereotypes kick in. For me, going back to the class was
a touchstone to help me remember that questioning mindset. It gave me the strength to challenge some of the expectations I felt were being imposed on me.
How did being around young, questioning minds influence you?
They brought such a great energy to the class. One thing I noticed that was so interesting to me is when I first took “Feminist Texts” as an undergraduate, it felt much more like everyone who was in the class was already very clearly a feminist. This time around there were certainly a lot of people like that, but there were also students who said, “I’m curious. I want to learn more. I haven’t really thought about this.” I loved the intellectual curiosity and openness. It was really moving for me to see a new generation of women getting excited by these ideas, debating them and giving their perspectives.
Do you see your book as “feminism live”—from theory to reality?
It’s definitely a personal book, so it’s very much central to my individual circumstances. Taking the course while at the same time figuring out these new roles of wife and mother was my way of trying to negotiate the line between theory and practice. I was immersing myself once again in the theory and seeing how it was stacking up against my real life. What things I could take into my real life and what things I couldn’t. But my goal with Reading Women was really to inspire other people to read these books and think about the issues they raise.
You wrote, “Mary Wollstonecraft is an imperfect heroine.” Isn’t that part of feminism—the willingness to be imperfect versus the notion of having to choose either career or motherhood in order to do one perfectly?
What does that even mean—to be the best at motherhood or your career? It’s such an empty term, and one that puts an inordinate amount of pressure on women. Not to mention that women have different economic realities or social pressures to deal with in making such a “choice.” Feminism provides us with the tools to break free from constraining cultural scripts, like the “supermom” or the “happy housewife,” to find our own individual course.
Is this your “unexpected story”?
We left Annapolis and moved back to New York. Reading about other women’s lives gave me the inspiration to make that change. It also allowed me to take on the roles of wife and mother in a way that felt more true to myself. Ultimately, taking “Feminist Texts” again reminded me of the passions I had as an undergraduate. After finishing the class I enrolled in law school, where I held several human rights internships and graduated last June.
- by Lois Elfman '80
Read an excerpt from the book Reading Women by Stephanie Staal ’93.
Patricia Cady Remmer '45 Fund aids students abroad.
Samantha Hicks ’11 spent last summer in steamy Mumbai, India, honing her Hindi and Urdu as an intern with the U.S. Department of State. More than 3,500 miles away, Shira R. Borzak ’12 was in Budapest, her home for seven weeks while collaborating with an international team at the Cold War History Research Center. Discussing Stalinism with a Polish woman, Borzak, 21, thought to herself, “This is a surreal thing. Twenty years ago, this would not have been impossible.”
The students’ travels would have been equally out of the question without the generous assistance of an alumna they’d never met, a woman who was as passionate about globetrotting as she was about Barnard. Patricia Cady Remmer ’45 crisscrossed the planet with her husband and four children, visiting Asia, the Galápagos Islands, and Tanzania.
She was always grateful to Barnard for the full scholarship that enabled her to earn a degree in mathematics. After Remmer, a Barnard trustee from 1990 to 2001, died in 2004, her family created the Patricia Cady Remmer ’45 International Experience Internship Fund to support Barnard students interning outside the United States at nonprofit or public-sector organizations.
First awarded in 2008, the fund last year provided grants to four Barnard students, including Hicks, 22, who had initially planned to earn money and gain experience in Washington, D.C., on a paid internship with the State Department. Officials there encouraged her to enhance her proficiency in Hindi and Urdu at an unpaid internship instead. The government provided lodging in Mumbai, but the Remmer Fund covered her travel and expenses.
The typical grant averages $2,000, says Abigail Talcott, a stewardship officer whose duties include keeping fund donors up to date on how their contributions are being allocated. Students can use the Remmer Fund gifts to defray or pay for travel or lodging expenses. When students are offered an international internship, the expense tends to be higher; they may not be able to pursue the opportunity without funding. Once a young woman secures such an internship, she can apply to the Office of Career Development for Remmer Fund support. Applicants must write essays on how the opportunity abroad relates to their career goals and academic studies. Grants are awarded each spring; about 40 percent of applicants receive funding.
Cleopatra McGovern ’12 used her Remmer award to pay for her trip last summer to a privately funded health clinic in Santiago, Chile. Her duties included giving shots, assisting in surgery, helping in the emergency room, and counseling patients in Spanish. Her three- month stint in Chile reinforced her commitment to a career in medicine serving low-income patients. The daughter of Athena Viscusi ’82 and granddaughter of Margo Meier Viscusi ’56, McGovern had not previously considered living or working abroad, but her experience in Chile prompted her to reconsider. “The fund really enables us to be an autonomous person in a foreign country. I’m really thankful for it,” McGovern acknowledges.
Phoebe Lytle ’13 also headed south, to Quito, Ecuador, to volunteer with the Colombian Refugee Project. During her 10-week stay last summer, she documented the life stories of Colombians fleeing the violence of their country’s civil war. Interviewing and photographing refugees to tap into her interest in advocacy journalism. Her work can be seen on the group’s Web site, colombianrefugeeproject.wordpress.com, and on a blog, phoebelytle.tumblr.com.
Lytle also helped start a food cooperative and assisted the project’s director, Patricia Morck, in shutting down the microloan program, which foundered because the refugees were too unsettled emotionally and physically to launch small businesses.
Most moving for her was interviewing refugees, some of whom had been in Quito for seven or eight years and “were still as troubled as when they arrived,” she says.
“It was amazing that they were willing to talk to me about this,” she says of their stories of terrifying violence. “I couldn’t do anything more than listen. They said that was enough.”
Broadening international understanding was a common theme for Remmer Fund recipients. Borzak, who is planning a career in international relations and foreign policy, worked in Budapest with other research interns from England, Ireland, Italy, Poland, and the U.S. on a comprehensive political and diplomatic history of the Cold War. During their time off, the researchers compared what they’d learned as students about the Cold War and how each country’s position had shaped its citizens’ views. Hicks’s summer abroad immersed her in Indian culture, which included slogging through monsoon season and exploring Mumbai. Workdays involved translating for Indians who were being fingerprinted for visas and attending consular events. “It was the first internship where I felt immediately like I was in the right place,” she notes.
Talcott says each year’s crop of Remmer Fund recipients impresses her with their ambition and personal quest for global understanding. “They don’t see an international experience across the world as something they can’t do,” she says.
- by June D. Bell
- Color Photograph by Dorothy Hong
Extracting natural gas . . . at what cost?
In recent years, natural gas has been increasingly touted as a smart way to meet U.S. energy needs. It’s significantly cheaper than oil, and burns cleaner and greener than oil and coal. Even better, there’s an abundant domestic supply of natural gas, especially in Pennsylvania and New York State, which sit on the Marcellus Shale, home to one of the largest known reserves of natural gas in the world.
As an April 6 panel at Barnard Hall made clear, however, there is a big downside: Exploiting natural gas reserves requires extensive drilling via a process known as hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking, by which millions of gallons of water and chemical additives are injected thousands of feet below ground to break up rock and release natural gas.
Environmental watchdogs, such as New York’s Riverkeepers, have raised serious concerns about the process. With natural-gas developers in upstate New York pushing to begin drilling, the question of how great of a risk “fracking” poses to underground aquifers and the larger water supply is being hotly debated.
“The stars do not align for doing hydrofracking safely,” said Riverkeeper’s Executive Director Paul Gallay, who spoke at the panel, which examined how hydrofracking could impact New York drinking water and was moderated by Barnard environmental science Professor Martin Stute. Among other problems, Gallay said there is a real danger the gas in the wells could leak into underground aquifers. He also noted that there is no adequate way to treat the huge amounts of salty, chemical-laden wastewater that the fracking process will produce.
The stakes couldn’t be much higher, given that a portion of the proposed drill sites are in the Croton, Catskills, and Delaware watersheds that provide roughly a billion gallons of water per day to eight million New York City residents and another million people upstate. As Cass Holloway, commissioner of New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection, noted, New York is one of only five U.S. cities that have a pristine water supply. Holloway has concerns that gas drilling could contaminate the watersheds, and require expensive new filtering systems. “Once you have to filter the New York City water supply, you will have lost a valuable resource,” he said.
Panelist John Conrad argued that many of the safety concerns are based on misunderstandings and said he believes gas drilling can be done responsibly. “Fear makes for bad policy,” said Conrad, a hydrogeologist who consults for the natural gas industry. “There’s a balance to be struck here.”
But Gallay of Riverkeepers said he wasn’t buying arguments that gas drilling was needed to spur economic development upstate—or to help curb the U.S. dependence on fossil fuels. Addressing the greenhouse gas problem, he insisted that basic conservation measures, such as turning out unnecessary lights, could accomplish much more than gas drilling—without threatening the water supply. “If we really want to have a good conversation [about energy], we have to talk about reduction in demand,” said Gallay, who pointed out that there were four rows of lights on in the James Room, where the panel was held, when three would suffice. “Everybody in this room has a chance to do something about energy conservation literally overnight,” he said.
- by Susan Hansen
- Illustration by Heads of State
The Inaugural Athena Film Festival
The directors, writers, and producers who came to Barnard’s Athena Film Festival February 10-14 have had firsthand experience with the challenges women in the movie industry face—and the difficulties of breaking through the so-called “celluloid ceiling.”
The festival’s organizers—Kathryn Kolbert, director of Barnard’s Athena Center for Leadership Studies, and Melissa Silverstein, founder of Women and Hollywood, a women’s film news and advocacy Web site—had a twofold agenda: to recognize the critical contributions that women have made to the film industry, as well as to provide a forum to showcase their work. “This is truly a great moment for Barnard,” said Barnard President Debora Spar, who added that the College, with its long tradition of supporting women’s advancement in the arts and sciences, was also the perfect venue to celebrate women’s achievement in films. Especially since, as she noted in her remarks at the opening night’s awards ceremony, there had never been a major women’s film festival in New York. “Where better to launch this than at Barnard?” asked Spar.
The festival kicked off with the ceremony to honor the contributions of nearly a dozen women in the film industry, including cinematographer Nancy Schreiber; producers Abigail Disney and Debra Martin-Chase; directors Chris Hegedus, Debra Granik, Tanya Hamilton, and Gini Reticker; as well as two Barnard alumnae: Greta Gerwig ’06, who starred in the 2010 film Greenberg, and Delia Ephron ’66, who has written seven films, including You’ve Got Mail and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, based on the book by Ann Brashares ’89.
Even as women have continued to make significant headway in other industries, the film business has remained a heavily male-dominated shop. Numbers compiled by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University tell a discouraging story. For instance, in the past 83 years, just four women have been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director, and only one woman has won— Kathryn Bigelow for 2009’s critically acclaimed The Hurt Locker. Likewise, the Center found that in the 250 top-grossing films of 2010, women accounted for just seven percent of directors, 10 percent of writers, 15 percent of executive producers, and only two percent of cinematographers.
“The statistics are incredibly bleak,” admitted Spar, as she welcomed a full crowd at the Diana Center on February 10 for the Athena Awards presentation. The good news? Despite those odds, she noted that women filmmakers have not only persevered, but in recent years they have been the driving force behind some of the industry’s most powerful feature and documentary films.
The four-day festival was billed as a “celebration of women and leadership.” In keeping with that theme, organizers presented a mix of approximately 20 features, documentaries, and short films—almost all illustrating the courage women across different cultures and countries have shown in the face of tremendous challenges, and the impact of their courage and resilience on individual lives, the wider community, and the world.
Among the festival highlights was Winter’s Bone, Granik’s feature about the quest of a teen in rural Missouri to save her family from being evicted, which was recently nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture of 2010. Documentaries included Chisolm ’72—Unbought and Unbossed, a look at the late African- American congresswoman’s campaign for the presidency in 1972; and Pink Smoke Over the Vatican, which chronicles the struggle of a group of Roman Catholic women fighting to be ordained as priests and for women’s rights within the Catholic church.
Along with the films, the festival program also featured a wide range of Q&A sessions and panels during which women screenwriters, directors, and producers talked about the various projects they’d worked on and the challenges they overcame to get their films made.
In a conversation following the February 11 Winter’s Bone screening, Granik recalled that raising the $2 million in financing she and her co-writer and producer Anne Rosellini ultimately needed to make the film was a major struggle. “The subject matter we tend to be interested in is not easily financeable,” said Granik, who was told by prospective backers for Winter’s Bone that the story was “too heavy” and “too dark.”
On the bright side, she pointed out that having to make do with a tight budget actually made for a more authentic film. Forced frugality allowed them to connect to the rural Ozarks community where the movie was shot in a way that she said wouldn’t have been possible if they had a huge film crew and super-expensive equipment and gear. “Our relationship with people would have been very different,” affirmed Granik.
For all the critical acclaim small independent features like Winter’s Bone have received, Granik cautioned that women filmmakers interested in doing those sorts of projects should be prepared for an uphill battle—especially on the fund-raising front. “The money part will always be ... draining,” she said. Yet she pointed out that women filmmakers can also opt to work in television as well as in documentary films, where she noted, women writers, directors, and producers have recently been making real headway. “There’s a gorgeous tradition of women doing great work in documentaries,” noted Granik.
In another festival session, Greta Gerwig spoke with Vanity Fair writer Leslie Bennetts, also an Athena Award winner, about the trajectory her acting career has taken so far—from tiny indie films to starring roles in big budget romantic comedies such as No Strings Attached and Hollywood’s recent remake of Arthur. “I’ve been extraordinarily lucky,” said Gerwig, who won rave reviews for her breakthrough performance in 2010’s Greenberg, with one New York Times critic commenting that she “may well be the definitive actress of her generation.”
Despite her success, Gerwig said that she’s still drawn to roles that try to capture ordinary conversations and moments that reflect what people’s lives are really like—which, she contends, doesn’t typically happen in big-budget studio films, particularly when women characters are involved. To wit, she said the roles she’s been offered recently have mainly been in romantic comedies. “Romcoms are the girl thing still,” said Gerwig, who added that the women characters in those films tend to be fairly one-dimensional, especially compared to some of the female leads in older romantic comedies, such as the big-city reporter played by Rosalind Russell in Howard Hawks’ 1940 film His Girl Friday. Now that more women are writing and making films, Gerwig is hopeful the pendulum will swing back. “There may be enough girls that don’t want to be poured into a plastic stamp,” said Gerwig.
- by Susan Hansen
-illustration by Jennifer Lew