Treat women's rights as a human rights issue, experts say

Published: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at 7:43 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at 7:43 p.m.

University of Florida students and locals discussed the importance of viewing women's rights as a human rights issue, and the role of social media and community activism in that transformation, during a symposium led by author and historian Stephanie Coontz Wednesday afternoon.

In the Ustler Hall atrium on campus, an estimated 60 to 70 people gathered for a panel discussion and question-and-answer session of "The Feminine Mystique," a non-fiction book by Betty Friedan widely regarded for sparking second-wave feminism in the United States in the 1960s.

"It (The Feminine Mystique) talked to the issue facing a new generation of women getting an education for the first time who were being told that they couldn't work outside the home," said Coontz, whose work focuses on family and marriage.

"And they were miserable. So Friedan told them it was OK. Nothing was wrong with them. Something was wrong with the social arrangement."

Four UF faculty members spoke: Marsha Bryant, from the English department; Maureen Turim, who teaches English and film and media studies; Paul Ortiz, a history professor and director of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Project; and Trysh Travis, a women's studies professor.

Each had specific points of concern.

Travis introduced the premise of "The Feminine Mystique" before speaking about the role of mainstream and social media in the push for ever-increasing women's rights.

People living inside the mainstream are affected by "the echo chamber," Travis said, a cycle that tailors news -- and subsequent politicized biases -- to targeted, hyper-specific niches.

"Stories get circulated through the same circles over and over," she said. "I'm of so sick of the same stories. I feel myself trapped in it."

Turim's speech concerned the oppressed and silent.

Immigrants, Jewish women, the industrial hands of America in the '50s, "I have a personal investment in remembering these people," she said.

During the question and answer session, Coontz answered questions and gave everyone the chance to speak.

Lauren Byers, 21, fired in on the conversation.

"We're not talking about solutions," the UF student said. "Let's talk about building a movement. That's the only way change has ever happened in our country. And it needs to happen now."

The atrium fell silent.

Then Rosana Resende, an anthropology and Latin American studies lecturer at UF, chimed in.

"I'm appalled by the lack of activism from the undergraduate program here," Resende said.

Resende said she emphasizes to her students the importance of activism.

"This is the time," she said. "You don't have mortgages to pay. You don't have children to pick up at 5:30. So what is it?"

The question plagued everyone, including Coontz. She reiterated how difficult the answers were to these questions.

But she concluded the symposium on a high note.

"We are all caregivers," she said, "and we demand that women and men's issues alike be seen as human right's issues."

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