Founded in 1974, the Women’s Center was established to:
Dismantle, from a feminist perspective, all forms of oppression, including but not limited to those based on ability, age, class, ethnicity, gender, race, and sexual orientation.
Advocate for an equitable environment free from violence and harassment based on gender, race, and sexual orientation.
Create an anti-racist, non-sexist, queer-affirmative space where all people can feel valued and safe.
Facilitate and strengthen connections among people across lines of difference through programming and educational campaigns.
Integrate an appreciation of Women's Gender and Multicultural Studies across the disciplines.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

What The Women's Center Taught My Mom

Seeing as this will be my last blog post for the school year, I knew that I wanted to use it to reflect upon what knowledge I have gained working at my school’s Women’s Center for the past few months. When I mentioned this idea to my lovely mother, she responded with a brilliant twist to my original plan: She offered to submit a piece of her own, outlining all that she has learned through me as a result of my working here. She exclaimed eagerly that this would be “a ton of fun!” for her, and furthermore, that it might help to show readers how the work that the Women’s Center does affects more than just the immediate campus community. And so, after not much persuading, I was convinced.

Thus, I present you with the product our conversation. The fun, lovely short essay that follows is my mother's creation. It not only describes some of what she and I have learned, but also exposes the positive ways in which the Women's Center affects those who come into contact with it. Please, enjoy:

My daughter has had the privilege of working at the Ramapo College Women’s Center this year as the Coordinator for Sexual Health Education. We have spoken frequently about her tasks and experiences, and I am very grateful that she has shared much of what she learned with me. 

I’ve learned the correct way to put a condom on a dildo (did I spell that right?), and I’ve learned all I ever wanted to know (but was afraid to ask) about dental dams, though I’m still struggling to get the image quite right in my mind. My daughter has reinforced for me what I already knew to be true (I’m a pretty cool Mom): that people are people, and that all people deserve equal respect.  Nobody is more “right” than anyone else when it comes to sexuality.  We have talked about the brutality of rape: how all of us (all ages, male, and female alike) must work together to prevent rape and why we must never, NEVER, blame victims. Making intelligent, informed and self-protective decisions about relationships has been a common theme in our talks. I feel that her work at the Women’s Center has helped to emphasize the importance of making well-informed choices.

What we used to call STDs are now called STIs. At first, I snickered (albeit silently) at this change, but I grew to understand that the implications of the words disease and infection are indeed different and significant. Yes- clarity of language is imperative in helping to prevent the spread of STIs too.

When my daughter started telling me about the importance of sensitivity in using gender-oriented pronouns, it took some thought for me to grasp the concept (Yes, I’m a cool Mom, but still…). Eventually, however, it struck me. I suddenly understood as clear as day why something like a pronoun really does matter. In my younger years, every man was designated with the title of Mr., while every woman was designated as Miss or Mrs., depending on her marital status. That was just how it was, and nobody gave it a second thought! Then came the “revolution,” when the “extremists,” “radical feminists,” and "destroyers of all that is good and moral in America- motherhood, apple pie and all that stuff,” came up with a new title- Ms.

Ms.!!! Who ever heard of such a thing? Making up a new word!

Suddenly, a woman was not required to reveal her marital status to the world whenever she identified herself. How simple and obviously right it seemed. Looking back, the custom of labeling women as “Miss,” and only allowing them to upgrade to the grown-up title of Mrs. once they become legally bound to a men in marriage, seems ludicrous. Today, I only use Ms., and if the option isn’t offered, I won’t use a title. Having to reveal my marital status is a violation of my privacy and my dignity. I won’t allow it.

So yes, it is very true that words, specifically pronouns, do matter. Words, the tools we use to communicate our thoughts, are also the tools that we use to define our society, our norms, our expectations, and ourselves.

My daughter has grown and learned so much through this job. To tell you the truth, I’m envious. I wish I had had such an opportunity when I was in college. I wonder: If the resources that the Women’s Center provides had been available to me on my campus, might I have made more well-informed and well-thought-out decisions about relationships and sexuality during those years? Perhaps I could have saved myself a lot of pain.

So to all of you at the Women’s Center- thanks for all you do. Please keep up the good work, and don’t back down.

Sharon Ross

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