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‘Unapologetic women’ make their own history

March 27th, 2010 Posted in Opinion

Story by Melanie Klein
Photos by Kayla Harding

LOGAN–Women took back their history, and took over a piece of USU’s Merrill-Cazier Library, as history-makers including Mother Teresa, Tina Turner, Eva Peron, Mia Hamm, and many more strong, “unapologetic” women hit the runway for Women’s History Month on Thursday.

The event, “Women Rock the Runway,” sponsored by the Women & Gender Studies Program, was designed “to create awareness for women’s history month, for contestants to dress up like any woman they find empowering, past and present,” said WGS student Mindy Haws, who helped organize the event. Dressed as Aretha Franklin, “the Queen of Soul,” Haws said, “her music was empowering.”

But there was serious business behind the costumes. Sociology professor Christy Glass, dressed as labor activist Genora Johnson, opened the event with some sobering statistics.  “A single woman is twice as likely to be poor than a single man,” she said.

Glass was dressed to honor her hero, a 1930s labor organizer from her hometown of Flint, Mich., who created the Women’s Emergency Brigade to bring change as part of a General Motors strike, organizing a sit in. “Men sat, women walked,” said Glass.

The Women’s Emergency Brigade took to the streets armed with sticks and dressed in their Sunday best, including fur coats and red berets, hoping for press attention. They got it, and GM eventually had to back down.

“Now it is our time to show our appreciation by walking our own picket lines,” said Glass.

As an enthusiastic overflow crowd watched and cheered, more than 50 contestants, dressed as their heroes in history and popular culture, strutted down the “runway” for judging in various categories, from writers and artists in “A room of their own” to “Starlets and Strumpets,” “Crimefighters,” and “Wild Women of Rock ’n Roll.”

Emcee Ted Pease of the JCOM department—dressed as his hero, French chef Julia Child—introduced the contestants, who explained what they admired about their characters to a panel of three judges—GLBTA Services head Maure Smith as Joan of Arc, USU research office staffer Jacoba Mendelkow Poppleton as pin-up idol Bettie Page, and Classics professor Mark Damen as an androgynous diety, Dionysus.

WGS director Brenda Cooper of the JCOM department, dressed as Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, explained that the goal of the event, and of Women’s History Month, is to remember and celebrate the contributions of women.

“We’re all familiar with the statement by historian Laura Thatcher Ulrich that, ‘Well-behaved women seldom make history,’” Cooper said. “We are honoring and celebrating the many women in all walks of life who have made history and changed society for women and men.”

Among the “starlets and strumpets” were Tina Fey, Coco Chanel, two Lucille Balls, and Olive Hoover from “Little Miss Sunshine,” who won the category.

Ryan Monk, who came as “Hurt Locker” director Kathryn Bigelow, said, “She doesn’t limit herself… she finally proved it’s not a boy’s club.” Bigelow is the first women director to win an Academy Award.

Robyn Jeppson explained her choice of Tina Fey, an actress and director who is perhaps best known for her Saturday Night Live portrayals of GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. “She is awesome; she wrote one of my favorite movies (Mean Girls); she was head writer for Saturday Night Live; and now has her own show…funny and smart she’s got all of it.”

In the crime-fighter category—“Sleuths and Warrior Women”— students Marie Titze, Emily Landeen and Janet Pocock portrayed the original Charlie’s Angels. “They had influential hairstyles, they were independent woman, and so many things built off of Charlie’s Angels,” said Titze. Among some others—Wonder Woman, Nancy Drew, Sacagawea (freshman Annie Adams, who won the category) and Amelia Earhart.

Other heroes included dancer Martha Graham, “A League of Their Own’s” Dottie Henson, pirate Anne Bonny, soccer great Mia Hamm, snowboarder Torah Bright, tennis star Maria Sharapova, and senior Josh Rosen as Cleopatra.

Other contestants honored women for their impact on social justice, including Mother Teresa, Argentine leader Eva Péron, Afghan women’s rights activist Meena Keshwar Kamal, former Supreme Court Sandra Day O’Connor, “BITCH Manifesto” author Jo Freeman, and Civil Rights-era figures Ruby Bridges and Mamie Till-Mobley.

Perhaps the biggest splash came when more than 20 contestants jammed the stage as music blared for the “Wild Women of Rock n’ Roll,” who included the Dixie Chicks, two sets of Spice Girls, Gwen Stefani, Tina Turner, the Veronicas and rock legend Janice Joplin.

The crowd favorite was clearly Kate Auman as Lady Gaga, who took the top prize as “Best in Show.”

As the judging concluded, event director Cooper said she was pleased with the outcome. The goal was to expand awareness of the role and contributions of women, to create an event that integrates women’s rights and history into an activity that students can enjoy. “It’s all about the students,” she said.

Cooper said at least 25 Cache Valley businesses, restaurants and artists donated nearly $1,000 worth of prizes ranging from a night at the Anniversary Inn to meals, jewelry and coupons for bread, books and pizzas in support of the WGS program and event. Co-sponsors included the Women & Gender Research Institute and the Women’s Resource Center; USU’s Honors Program; GLBTA Services; Merrill-Cazier Library; the departments of History, Journalism & Communication, and Sociology, Social Work & Anthropology; and Hamilton’s Steak & Seafood, which provided the food.

The contestants weren’t the only ones to learn from the event. The crowd lining the walls and filling all the chairs came away with a new appreciation for women’s history. “Women play a big role in history,” student Katie Duncan said.

“Creative, fun atmosphere,” added student Jillian Cartwright. “It spans cultures and different times and lots of iconic people.”


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