Panel discussion highlights feminism and women's issues
By KATIE MILLER
Issues surrounding feminism of the past, present, and future were discussed by the Ladies of Notre Dame/Saint Mary's at Carroll Auditorium Tuesday night.
A panel composed of four women, each from a different generation, illustrated the way feminism has touched their lives.
"We are all women; feminism affects us all," said Jane Syburg, group chair and moderator. "This is a complicated issue; the four speakers have mixed feelings and times have changed."
"The first feminist in my life was my father," said Mollie Bernard, founder of the Stanley-Clark school. "His ideal woman had a broad education."
Bernard, a mother of 10 who received a theology graduate degree from Notre Dame, started the Stanley-Clark school in 1958 when she and her husband became unhappy with the local schools.
One-third of the children enrolled in 1959 were children of Notre Dame faculty. As the school flourished, Bernard became even more involved.
"In 1962, I was pregnant with my seventh child, and felt that I needed to be at home with my children," she said.
After spending two years at home, Bernard was soon volunteering in Catholic schools. She took a position at Sacred Heart Parish as director of religious education. It was at this time that Bernard decided to further her own education. She enrolled in graduate school at Notre Dame for free as a faculty member's wife.
"Women deserve the best education they can acquire. It is important to understand that the primary value of education is not to make money, but to enrich your life," she said.
Georgia Bain, who graduated from Saint Mary's in 1958
Bain was from a middle-class family that supported her aspirations.
After graduating from Saint Mary's, she interviewed for a job at AT&T. Before the interview, Bain recalled that she decided to remove her engagement ring. After receiving the job, Bain asked her female interviewer if she would have been hired had she worn her ring; her answer was no. She continued to work for the company, but eventually decided to say at home with her children.
"During the `70s, I became involved with a group called `Women in theology at Notre Dame.' This was a conscious-raising experience," said Bain. "I finally had a name for what I had long felt-feminism. There was no man hating involved and I never burnt my bra."
The group, Bain said, discussed gender stereotypes and issues such as rape and domestic violence.
"If a woman was raped, it was asked what she was wearing, now legal action is taken; domestic violence used to be a private affair, now it is a public crime," she added.
Ellen Syburg Bartel, currently the president of an all-women's college preparatory school, attended Notre Dame the first year women were admitted.
"Through my work, I've recognized that women's needs are different from that of young men and boys," Bartel said. "I've become more familiar with the idea that single sex education is beneficial for young women and my commitment to college age women is a passionate one."
Bartel attended Saint Mary's Academy during her high school years where she was very comfortable in the single-gender environment. "I thought that I was equal to men, but also the same as men — now I think that's absurd," she said.
Bartel became one of the 300 young women in a group of 6,000 undergraduates her freshman year at Notre Dame.
"It was an institution in transition; the environment for women was at best barren. There were no adult women on campus," she said. "The tradition was all male; it was an unusual experience and choice for me to have made."
Toni Fein, new to the Ladies of Notre Dame/Saint Mary's, said she was encouraged in high school and college to take advanced math and science classes, courses that previously had been recommened only to males.
"I represent the first generation of women who benefited from the feminist movement without being directly involved," said the University of Chicago graduate.
"To me, feminist ideas always seemed reasonable, I was surprised that they were an issue."
After graduating college, she was in the first management group containing women that her company had ever hired and trained.
"When I started work, I realized what I had gained," Fein said. "I was aware that I was breaking barriers."
Fein went back to school for a master's degree in education, before deciding to stay at home with her children.
"At this point, we decided to maximize my husband's career," she said. "I felt shortcomings of feminism. As an educated woman, it is not easy to stay at home. We as women fail to celebrate the choices we have and fail to make those choices."
All News Stories for Wednesday, November 15, 2000