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Girl Talk’ creates conversation

Carolyn Hutyra | Tuesday, April 16, 2013

“Girl Talk,” a three-week discussion series focused on facilitating dialogue on college issues among Notre Dame women, came to a close Sunday.

The series was created as part of the Right to Life club by senior and Joys of Life commissioner Samantha Stempky. Topics of discussion included birth control, feminism and gender relations.

“It was about creating a space for girls to come together and talk about issues that are particular to women,” she said.

During the first week, the group approached the topics of feminism in a general sense and the Church’s view of women. Stempky said the discussion centered on the question, “What does it mean to be a woman?”

“The article we read was a bunch of selections from Pope John Paul’s letter to women which is a document that a lot of people don’t know about,” she said. “[It] basically [says] you’re equal, thanks for working, thanks for being in the world.”

The following week the topic of discussion was birth control, and Stempky said her committee asked South Bend fertility care specialist Suzy Younger to speak on this topic. The series then concluded with a third and final discussion on beauty, the worth of women and the ways women are viewed by men, including a short discussion on pornography.

“Although we’re aware that women are objectified in the media, how much progress have we actually made in feeling better about ourselves and knowing how to recognize our own self-worth even when we don’t look like a model?” Stempky said.

“I think how women relate to men is very much affected by how women are portrayed in the media, both from how men view women and how women choose to interact with men.”

Stempky said several factors contributed to her creation of this discussion series. One reason in particular stemmed from the recent presidential election, she said.

“During the political debates people were very generalizing and theoretical and [making] sweeping statements about women,” she said. “I think it’s really important to acknowledge the personal experiences behind these women’s issues.”

Whether people are pro-life or pro-choice, for or against contraception, and women in the church, those opinions stem from personal reasons which need to be recognized, Stempky said.

“Growing up, your experience of being a woman is going to shape how you think about feminism and these issues, and so we wanted to recognize that and try to focus the discussion on that.” Stempky said.

The plans for this series also arose from talks by George Mason University law professor Helen Avare, Stempky said.  

“I was really very inspired by her “Women speak for themselves” campaign and just this idea that women have their individual, unique voices,” she said.”

Often people think they know other’s opinions on certain issues and later find out they really do not, Stempky said.

“We may have different ideas about what’s best for women, but usually all women want what’s best for women,” she said.

Through this series, Stempky said the committee hoped to facilitate an open dialogue and create a tone that would encourage others to share their opinions, thought, and feelings to last for years to come.

“I think it was really fruitful even for people who couldn’t attend,” she said. “It got people thinking about the different variations of women’s issues and women’s thoughts and feelings on these issues.”

Stempky said she believes this sort of dialogue is important especially on a Catholic campus in light of the recent health mandate and issues like contraception in the media today.

“On a campus like Notre Dame’s that’s Catholic yet very prestigious in the secular world women’s issues can become more complicated,” Stempky said. “There’s more chance for misunderstandings because you are interacting with Church teaching.”

Contact Carolyn Hutyra at chutyra@nd.edu