Same old message

Women's History Month activities focus on media messages about women

As advocates for women, we know that a good education is the gateway to economic self-sufficiency. But not so long ago, women were thought to be too delicate and intellectually weak to pursue an education beyond grade school.

It wasn't until 1972, when Congress passed Title IX of the Education Codes of the Higher Education Act Amendments, that women were guaranteed equal access to education. Even then, it took a generation to transform our nation's textbooks and curricula.

This year's National Women's History Month theme, “Women's Education IS Women's Empowerment,” celebrates the pioneers who fought for a woman's right to pursue as much education as she desires. It is also the Women's Resource Center's 25th anniversary, and we, too, celebrate the educational and economic opportunities we've been able to provide women in our community.

It all started in 1987, when 15 women organized a local forum and survey for the Women's Foundation of Colorado to determine what girls and women in Southwest Colorado needed to attain economic self-sufficiency.

What they needed was information. Armed with that data, those women established a women's resource center to “help all women to network with existing services in the area.” The group incorporated as a nonprofit, applied for and received a grant from the Women's Foundation, and in October 1987, opened in a tiny office on the third floor of the West Building. That first year, the center served 200 women.

Twenty-five years later, the Women's Resource Center is helping more than 800 women annually find the resources they need to take care of themselves and their families. Whether they need emergency food, clothing and shelter because their significant other left them or a microloan to start a business, women find a safe, welcoming environment where they can find hope.

While the center's Resource and Referral Program is the foundation of its mission, the board and staff recognize that the center needs to do more to ensure that women don't find themselves without the resources. The key is education. We look to a future in which every girl in La Plata County graduates from high school and pursues post-secondary education and training.

Last fall, the Women's Resource Center invested $25,000 in an endowment with the Fort Lewis College Foundation to provide scholarships to La Plata County girls who would be the first in their families to graduate from college. Donors also contributed $13,000 during our Year-End Campaign in November and December to establish an Educational Opportunity Fund to help women attain their GEDs, enroll in certification classes, or undertake any kind of training to help them find better employment.

Providing financial support for education is just the first step. We also must work to eliminate the societal and cultural messages that subtly tell a young woman that she doesn't need an education and that the key to success in life lies in her sexuality, her looks and her youth.

During Women's History Month in March, the Women's Resource Center, in collaboration with Fort Lewis College, the Girl Scouts of Colorado and the American Association of University Women, will offer several events that explore how the media's continuing over-representation of women as victims and sex objects contributes to their under-representation in positions of power and influence in our country. Thanks to the support of Alpine Bank, Red Willow Production Company, Buzztown.com, DoubleTree Hotel and Rochester Hotel, the events are free or $5 to attend.

The first event will be a screening and panel discussion of “Miss Representation,” a 2011 Sundance Film Festival documentary written and directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Fort Lewis College Ballroom. The documentary challenges the media's limited and often disparaging portrayals of women and girls that make it difficult for the average woman to feel powerful. As Newsom says, “You can't be what you can't see.”

At 6 p.m. March 22, nationally renowned media critic Susan J. Douglas will speak about her most recent book, Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message that Feminism's Work Is Done. The talk will be in the FLC Ballroom.

Douglas contends the media have created a societal norm that says it's now OK to objectify women and resurrect old sexist stereotypes – all in the name of fun – because, gosh darn it, women have achieved equality and are now free to choose to be sex objects. Never mind that media glorify women who “choose” to flaunt their sexuality rather than focusing on real women's issues, such as juggling a full-time job, child care, housework and making ends meet with fewer resources than men.

The Women's Resource Center believes strongly that feminism's work is not done. Women continue to fall behind men in pay equity; they're more likely to live in poverty than men; and they're less likely to earn a sustainable income.

And until we change the conversation about women's lives, what they want and what they're capable of becoming, our community will continue to need a Women's Resource Center to help women pick up the pieces when their lives fall apart.

Please join us in the conversation during Women's History Month.

A complete schedule of events may be found on our website at www.wrcdurango.org.

Deborah Uroda is the marketing and fund-development director for the Women's Resource Center, the 2011 recipient of the Morley Ballantine Award that recognizes women's leadership in the community, and a third-generation feminist.

Enlarge photo

Cliff Vancura/ Durango Herald illustration