The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Panel discusses feminist stereotypes

Megan Loney | Thursday, February 26, 2009

A panel of four Saint Mary’s professors addressed feminist stereotypes Wednesday evening in the Student Center as part of Women’s Appreciation Week.

The panel was made up of psychology professor Bettina Spencer, communications professor Terri Russ, history and women’s studies professor Amanda Littauer, and religious studies professor Stacy Davis.

The panel talked about different stereotypes against feminists including that they are all white, pro-choice, ugly and lesbians. Also, that feminism is outdated and no longer necessary.

Spencer opened the panel discussion with an overview of two types of sexism: benevolent and hostile. Hostile sexism is a term used to refer to the negative opinions associated with women. Benevolent sexism is a term used to describe how “positive” associations with women are used to reinforce women’s gender roles, Spencer said.

“I always think of a hot dog commercial when I think of benevolent sexism,” Spencer said. “In the hot dog commercial, a guy fumbles while trying to cook a hot dog – as though he is such a guy that he can’t figure it out. A woman comes into the kitchen, takes over the hotdog cooking, and succeeded.”

This type of commercial uses the idea that women are good at cooking as a positive re-enforcer for their gender role. Women use benevolent sexism to distance themselves from feminist stereotypes and the hostile sexism that goes along with the stereotypes, Spencer said.

Benevolent sexism is relevant at Saint Mary’s College, she said.

“Our students score pretty high on benevolent sexism scale, much higher than other colleges,” Spencer said.

Russ followed Spencer’s topic with an argument about equal rights.

“The feminist argument is about equality,” Russ said. “It is about people having the same rights as everyone else. We spend our time worrying about being an ‘ugly feminist’ instead of worrying about paying more health insurance than men as we get older or making 77 cents to the dollar that men make.”

Littauer first addressed the lesbian stereotype associated with feminists. By putting feminists on the defensive with this stereotype, people detract from the arguments, Littauer said.

Littauer also argued against the ideas that feminism is an outdated movement and the stereotype that all feminists are pro-choice.

Davis spoke against the stereotype that all feminists are white. Although white women started the feminist movement, the things they were fighting for did not apply to African-American women, Davis said. Alice Walker coined the term “womanist” which encompasses equality on all levels, in terms of gender, race and class.

“The movement needs to be more than gender,” Davis said.