At the fifth Davidson Day Diversity Forum, ten panelists discussed the topic of gender equity, the process of seeking gender equality, as described by moderator and Head of School Pete Moore during an introduction of the Forum to more than 60 virtual participants.
As one of the speaking panelists, I felt supported knowing that there were so many members of our community who cared about and planned to listen to what I, and my fellow panelists, would share about the topic and about our experiences at and beyond Davidson Day.
Moore kicked off the Forum introducing the subject and explaining the importance of gender equality in his life, including his important role as a father to two daughters.
Gender equality, he explained, means equal outcomes for women, while gender equity is the process involved toward achieving gender equity. He also spoke about some of the amazing women he has had the pleasure of working with, and then ended by sharing eye-opening statistics about women in the economy and the inequality in incomes.
Upper School English Teacher Steve McGill, the faculty advisor of the Davidson Day Student Diversity Council and a co-organizer of the Davidson Day Diversity Forums, spoke next. He began by telling a story about gender inequality that he observed in his work as a track and field coach. One of his assistant coaches at a camp he was running expressed extreme gratitude when he allowed her to join his staff and put her in charge of a group of athletes. It took him a while to realize that her gratitude was the result of having been treated by other male coaches she had worked with.
Mr. McGill then encouraged the audience to listen and learn from the students who would be speaking after him. He concluded by saying, “If you don’t like the culture you live in, build your own.”
Next, Cameron Baker '22 and I talked about our viewpoints as young women looking back on generations of women being treated as lesser than men. We also touched on today’s world and how women like Kamala Harris are breaking the norms by becoming the first female Vice President of the United States.
“There is no limit to what you can be and what you can accomplish; and even if there were a limit, the last thing it would be is being a woman,” shared Cameron. Both of us aimed to inspire those listening to defy societal norms and not let references to women being “emotional” define us. I ended by saying, “The future is female, the future is equality, the future is up to us.”
Cameron also introduced an upcoming charity we will be implementing at Davidson Day called Her Drive. The drive will aim to collect women's intimates and hygiene products to donate to women struggling in our community.
Izzy Fredline, a member of the Davidson Day Class of 2020, spoke about her life as a freshman at Hollins University, a woman's college. She noted that being at an all-girls school allowed her to relax and just be herself in ways that most women can’t. She mentioned never having to worry about a male putting a drug in her drink if she put down her drink at a party, and how she doesn’t have to fear being attacked while walking alone at night. In short, she observed that taking men out of the equation made her feel much safer than many of her friends who attend coed colleges. Izzy’s take emphasized the fact that there is a fear of being taken advantage of that women carry every single day.
Aaron Barton '21 spoke about toxic masculinity and the need to celebrate the feminine side of masculinity. He talked about feeling bullied in middle school for being smaller, unathletic, and having acne. He felt like an outsider until he made friends with people who saw him for who he was, like one of Aaron's friends, who Aaron described as one of the happiest people that Aaron knew, and who wasn’t afraid to be himself. Sadly, and unfortunately, Aaron's friend passed away last year due to suicide. Aaron explained that toxic masculinity probably had something to do with his friend's death, as males aren’t encouraged to express their feelings openly and honestly. He said, “I realized that true men are the way that they are because we can have tough conversations and be there for people, as opposed to not showing emotion.”
Caroline Dickson '22 then spoke about the lack of respect that she receives as a woman, and she read her metaphorical list of do’s and don'ts that society forces women to follow. The list included: don’t walk home alone at night, don’t go to a public bathroom alone, don’t take drinks unless you’ve watched someone pour it, and don’t wear clothes that are too tight and too short. She clearly depicted the restrictions that women face every day in the fear of being taken advantage of that Izzy had spoken on earlier.
Upper School Mathematics Department Chair Olga Cadilla-Sayres expressed her experience as a female pursuing a major in mathematics. She said she felt proud being the only female in many of her male-dominated classes. She then pointed out how the preconditioned thinking begins at a very young age. In toy stores, she said, the boys’ aisle consists of cars and building blocks. The girls’ aisle consists of barbie dolls and glitter. From the moment girls are born, we are shaped to like things that are frivolous. She explained that these social signals are the reason why they are fewer women in the STEM field. Too many young girls are abandoning their dreams in math and science because of the urge to follow the group. She ended by saying, “Never let a man tell you that you can’t do the job.”
Next, Carson Pauling '20 focused her talk on what we as women have accomplished. From being silenced and under-represented in education and the workplace, she explained, we are entering a time when women are establishing themselves and defying expectations. As an African American who is currently a freshman at Spelman College -- a historically black all-girls college -- Pauling emphasized the achievements and strength shown by women of color, stating that Spelman grads seek to change the world. “Women are breaking glass ceilings that have never been broken before,” she said. She said that by fighting policies and taking their rightfully deserved seats, women are on the path to unprecedented change.
Marie Madsen '24 spoke up on how women in the early days of American history were not entitled to an education. She explained that women had no chance or choice to make a change because no education meant no job or opportunity. She said that her female role models inspire her to make changes, including her sister, a tailor who owns her own business and was recently featured in the European Vogue magazine. Her sister and mother taught her to fight for what she wants despite society’s biases. “Women and men should be treated with the same amount of respect, no matter our differences,” Marie said.
Finally, alumnus Grace Angelino '18, a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill majoring in political science, spoke on her outlook on women in politics. She brought up her perspective on presidential primary election debates from 2019, remarking on the confidence with which Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren spoke. She also noted how, when the debate host asked the candidates to either offer something to their fellow candidates or to apologize to them about something, the only people among the five candidates to apologize were women. She pointed out that when men are outspoken and say what is on their minds, they are respected, whereas women who do the same thing are labeled as emotional or even crazy. She ended by saying, “To all the women here, don’t apologize for speaking up.”
The forum brought light to the inequality that girls and women face daily, and Aaron’s comments also brought out the dark side of “toughness” for males. This Forum provided all of us who question the status quo a virtual place to come together and express our feelings. The next Diversity Forum will be held on February 18, 2021, and the topic will be non-traditional families.