What It's Like to Attend An All Women's Conference

What to Know About An All Women's Conference

It is something incredible.

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NCCWSL Conference 2018 sponsored by the AAUW

May 30 to June 2

I have sat on my feelings and emotions the past few days. As soon as I felt the women empowerment illuminate from the University of Maryland, I knew I had to write about it. Well, here I am, and I am at loss of words. Writers block. Damnit. Honestly, I am not sure how to introduce such a moving, inspiring, poignant, fun, or educational conference. How do you write a powerful piece about a conference all about women when you are a feminist? How do you express your own elation, excitement or passion without leaving anything out? How do I convey that to my reader while also educating them on women's breakthroughs, but also, their major inequities whether they be white or a woman of color? I'm going to try, I am not sure how this will turn out, but I cannot leave the scene blank. Please know that although this may lack eloquence and poetic flow, my words, however I state them, are raw and they are deep and passionate.

I am a feminist.

700 plus women gathered in a ballroom. Imagine it. Can you imagine that kind of presence and power in one room? The woman who spoke was an employee of the university and although I fault to recall her name, she was passionate, funny, and a former attendee of the conference. She had an activity for all of us: to stand for a statement if we agreed with it. The first one was: Do you consider yourself a feminist? Yes. I do. Others included "Do you believe there will one day be a female president?" Yep, I stood. "Do you believe there will be a female president in your lifetime?" I stood, although a bit skeptical. I had a pit in my stomach for this one and considered sitting. Was I overestimating our society after the previous election and the statistics of women in government and their underrepresentation? Well, I stood standing. Many didn't stand. For each statement/question, the speaker would call on a few women to elaborate on why they did or did not agree. Each statement had some that stood, some that remained stagnant. Sometimes there were more standing than sitting; this was the majority. But the question of "Do you believe there will be a woman president in your lifetime" left a pang. I looked around at who was sitting as I was standing. A friend next to me remained seated. Older women around me remained seated. Other girls sat. I stood. The longer we stood as the speaker called on some to speak, the more I started to think about this.

Can you imagine this? The entire room was screaming silently that they yearned for a female president someday democrat or republican depending on their beliefs, morals, and views. However, so many stayed seated for if they believed that there would be a woman president in their lifetime. UGH. I thought of the older women who remained seated. How many of them had been part of the Women's Liberation Movement in the seventies? How many of them pushed for Hillary in the 2016 election to digress that their vote had lost? Imagine that hurt in their stomachs and hearts. I have many more elections to push for women in office and they felt they did not have enough time to see it before their eyes. Now, the younger generation that stayed seated…I felt sorry. I felt sorry that they had lost hope in our society to elect a woman president with the same amount of elections left as I. I left that session in deep thought. HOW DO WE CHANGE THIS? HOW DO WE MAKE A CHANGE?

I walked to my first workshop.

"Women in Government: The Myth of Equality"

The session was directed by a woman who had her doctorate in sociology and had been the "first" in a lot of things. She began the lecture with the alarming numbers of women in the government. I didn't realize how underrepresented women were. I knew the numbers were low, but not THIS low.

Here are the percentages through the ages:

1978: Senate- 1.0% House- 3.0%

1988: Senate- 2.0% House- 4.9%

1998: Senate- 9.0% House-12.3%

2008: Senate-16.0% House- 17.6%

2018- Senate-23% House-19.3%

Okay, so some are going to say, "we have made progress." Yeah, number wise, you are correct. But reflect. These percentages, as always, are out of 100. 23% and 19% are not very high percentages. I am and never was very good at math, but I know well enough that those numbers are low. From those numbers/percentages, the representation for women of color is even lower. SO, how do we expect to move upwards as women if we have this little of representation?

What is the solution? RUN FOR OFFICE! In theory that idea is incredibly empowering. "Yeah sister! Run for office! You rock!" But, it isn't this easy for women. There are some big factors that make running and winning an election harder for women.

1.) Poverty- women are five times more likely to be in poverty than men. So, to add to this, our new tax policy that came off as a saving grace? Yeah, unfortunately, the rich are getting richer. A.K.A. the establishment. A.K.A. rich white men.

2.) Healthcare inequality (I will delve into this in more detail later)- aside from reproductive rights and issues, women have a harder time obtaining insurance to cover their needs.

3.) Gun violence- most gun violence is highest in intimate relationships. And most of the time, women are murdered.

4.) Environment- Women tend to lean more towards being eco-friendly and in favor of finding solutions to our growing problem of climate change. So, some have argued and poked fun at this word being used towards women as saying "it's because women are more natural." No, that's not what it is. It is that we are under an administration that basically denies climate change and guess what? There are a lot of people, not just women, who want something done about it. But, because of the administration we are under, it makes it that much easier to squash a platform of a woman fighting for the environment.

Women fight other obstacles towards having a successful campaign such as much lower campaign funding due to it viewed as "rude" when a woman asks for funding versus a man. Women also tend to be meeker in asking for money because of this. This then results in a viewpoint of her not being "strong" or "powerful" enough to hold said office. Catch 22, anyone?

Also, did you even think about how when a woman runs for office, she has a big support system of people pushing her to run. Usually women are pushed to run for office by people consistently asking them to run. Men? They just run. Why? Because that's what society tells us. Men run our government.

Still, women need to run. This sociologist's advice was to start local and to converse with all kinds of people. Don't stay in your bubble. Ultimately, the conversation starts with ourselves, by advocating for ourselves, ladies. We must network with each other and life each other up.

"Is America's Healthcare System Failing Women?"

Are you asking me? Because it would be a solid "YES" for me. As I mentioned before that access for women is much harder to obtain than men, it is even harder for women of color.

One of the women on this panel was an employee for Blue Cross/Blue Shield. Previously she worked federally for the ACA (Affordable Care Act).

So many people argue the ACA but, the first goals of this act was to focus on expanding coverage. So, questions like "what is your copay like?" "are you able to see doctors that you wish to see?" were posed to move forward. Since then, people have had problems with the ACA. I won't defend it 100%. It most definitely has its flaws. But, I think it never had a chance to launch.

One of the other speakers was Dr. Diane Horvath-Cosper. She was an OB/GYN who focused on family planning. Her tagline on twitter is "Caring for your cervix as if it were my own." She was quite a character. More so, she is a trailblazer for women. Every time she spoke I was fascinated with her passion and conviction for her line of work. To get it out of the way, yes, she performs abortions. And, she is religious, and she stated that her work is nothing but ethical and that she has morals. She made a lot of interesting points. Apparently, most people who have abortions are already parents. They may be getting said abortion because they feel they cannot support another child or whatever their reason may be. To get down to the nitty gritty, it is only the decision of the woman. It is her body. She carries the fetus.

Another issue raised was the point that women are not always listened to in the doctor's office. So many times, we see doctors push women out of the office saying "they are just stressed" or "overestimating" their pain.

The moderator had been a woman who spoke up about this. From the age of 11 or so, she had experienced intense pain in her legs, arms, hands, feet, wherever there was a bone, she hurt. Time and time again she would go to her physician and they would tell her that it was just "growing pains" or that she was just being dramatic. She made a funny remark. "I think I had 'growing pains' for about 20 years." It was not until a few years ago that she found a physician who really listened and investigated her complaints. She was found to have a rare bone disorder which causes strength to be low and bones to be weak.

The last speaker was a lawyer for the National Women's Law Center. I liked her. She was beautiful, and she came up to the podium softly. Then, BAM. She was blunt. "I do not care what your politics are, but the Trump/Pence campaign is doing anything and everything they can to dismantle the ACA." So what does this mean? What happened prior to the Affordable Care Act? This includes shortening the enrollment programs and not making it known or clear when these deadlines are. She also mentioned how horrendous it would look for mental health. It would become deprioritized.

Women used to pay much more for health insurance than men. Think about this, prior to the ACA, and prior to Trump's extensive list of "pre-existing conditions" (which may as well just be one condition called "human.") were these pre-existing conditions: if you have been pregnant, if you were a victim of rape, if you have had a "C-Section." I was appalled. THIS is what we could return to.

Women are such a target on the issues of healthcare. It made me unhappy because although I was blessed to grow up in a family who provided wonderful coverage, I thought about friends or just strangers whose coverage does not even compare. That is an injustice. How can you argue that healthcare is not a basic human right? How can you argue that money should decide if a person is treated or untreated or more extreme, but relevant, lives or dies.

"Mapping Your Social Justice Journey"

This workshop was focused primarily on how to get out and do. It focused on how women of color have been left out of the newest wave of feminism and that they feel left behind in some cases. I was not aware of this feeling from these women. But, that is part of the privilege that I have by being white.

There is not much that I have to say about this one. Why? Because I do not understand why we fight for social justice. Simply put, can't we just be nice? The answer is ultimately, "no" and unfortunately social injustice is high for women. (Did you notice the women's march? We want justice!)

What are we fighting for? There are such a multitude of issues. Some issues that do not even apply to me because I do have privilege though I am a woman and face some injustice. Why? Because I am a white, middle class, straight woman. If women begin to deviate from these norms they become even more underrepresented and belittled.

The pay gap is a huge one. I don't have any words on this except "What the hell?" Seriously. If someone can explain to me some legitimate reason women don't deserve to be paid equal to their male counterpart of the same career and position then I will listen although my ears may burn. There isn't a reason.

Women are ostracized for what they wear, if they are too cold or too emotional in their demeanor, if they are "beautiful" or they are catcalled and called "sexy" when that was not a warranted come on. Women are questioned if they are raped. They still wear the scarlet letter for that one and the rapist is free to walk most of the time. We question the woman on what she was wearing (although this is beginning to change), if she was drinking, if she was traveling alone, etc. I love the post on Facebook that says something along the lines that "We are taught to 'watch our drink' instead of 'don't drug somebody.' That's a problem." There are so many other issues I can delve into. Don't even get me started on microaggressions. To be simple guys, they aren't funny. We aren't dumb blondes, we are tired of "your momma is so…" And just for my inquiry, why is it SO bad to "hit like a girl?" I really would like to know.

In ending, I cannot begin to explain the education and networking I accomplished at this conference filled with like-minded and uplifting women. I was reminded to be kind and to not pass judgement. As strong as I am as a feminist I found that I fall short of uplifting all women. We have been taught that way. We have been taught to compete with other women and to not be happy for each other because that could result in question of a woman's ability to run a household, delight her husband, run her job, whatever.

At the end of the day, I left with an unanswered question. Why aren't we all feminists? What is so wrong with wanting everyone to be equal and to have equal opportunity regardless of their sex, gender, sexuality, color, or any other category we throw people into? Feminism isn't about "hating men." At least that isn't what I believe. The same is for the rest of my fellow feminists. We don't hate men, we aren't ignorant or belligerent. We are women. We can be whatever we want. Men can be whatever they want. We can feel whatever we want. Men can feel whatever they want; "masculine" or not.

I will drop a few of my favorite quotes that inspire me to be a better woman and a woman who fights for her fellow sisters and for the betterment of humanity:

"We are the women our parents warned us against- and we are proud." -Gloria Steinem

"Feminism isn't about making women stronger. Women are already strong. It's about changing the way the world perceives that strength." -G.D. Anderson

"Each time a woman stands up for herself, she stands up for all women" -Maya Angelou

"When I'm sometimes asked, 'when will there be enough women on the Supreme Court?' and I say 'When there are nine,' people are shocked. But there'd been nine men for years and nobody's ever raised a question about that." -Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Dedication:

I would not be the woman I am today without the women who have raised me up and held me up whenever I doubted myself or just held me up in general. Who are the women who inspired you to be who or where you are? Who sparked your fire? Take a moment and reflect. You can stop reading at this point as this is just a place for me to tell and share with the entire world who MY women are and who inspired me to be the real me, to be a "nasty woman," to be a feminist.

My Mother: Mom, through every day I have been alive, you have shown me love and have taught me how to be respected. You have shown me my value and my worth and you have taught me to never settle for a boy (or anyone for that matter) who does not value my worth. But, that is not necessarily what I have taken most from you. When I look at you at the end of a work day, I see a tired woman. I see someone who worked her work day and then picked up more hours not because we need the money, but because you want us to be better off. You work weekends, holidays, big events. So many times, these are not your choice. You are hands down the hardest working woman I have witnessed in my life. When I start to give in to laziness or pity, you give tough love. You never let me rest on my laurels or let me give up. You are the one who embodied the saying "when life gets tough, pick yourself up by the bootstraps." And when we do pick ourselves up by the bootstraps you expect us to be standing tall. I admire you and I hope that when I am a mother and a professional that I will have enough strength to push through the challenging times and the stress as you have throughout the years. That is something I genuinely worry about not being able to do like you did and do. I'm sure that balancing motherhood with professional work were some of the hardest times of your life when we were younger, but I never noticed. We have had the mother/daughter bicker and banter but we have also gossiped together like two teens. If anyone ever asks where I get my information on things that are mystery, I will have to say I got that from my Mom. Like Dad says, you're Sherlock Holmes. You and I have been on endless shopping sprees and it isn't the amount of clothes we bought or the number of bags we left in the car so Dad wouldn't see that matters, it's the laughs of how we would hide from Dad how much we bought (even though I'm sure he knew we broke the bank every time). Mom, you are such an advocate for education. That must be where I get my love of learning from. You never settled for Cam or me to give less than our best. At the time it was like "ugh, get off my back," but now that I'm becoming an adult, you were the best mom for pushing us and making us work hard even though in the moment we moaned and groaned. I am as successful as I am today because you made me that way. I wouldn't want to be any different. I love you more than you know and appreciate you more than you feel. I know we have been difficult kids sometimes, all kids are, but you are loved so much and even if I had the opportunity to pick a new mom, I'd still choose you.

My Nana: Nana, I wish that I didn't have to do a dedication for someone who can't read this article. I wish you could just read this, but you can't. However, instead of rambling on, I will still write. Whenever I get the opportunity to talk about you, I do. I have gone through family pictures of you about a hundred times with teary eyes but each time all I can say is "Thank God for pictures." I always end with a smile after viewing old memories. You taught me true love. Poppy Rhiney and you were an embodiment of true love. You were meant to be, you two just fit. There aren't examples for this and I think that is a remarkable thing. Neither of you had to define or defend why you loved each other, you just did. I was young, but I still remember playing "Skip-Bo" against you with Poppy Rhiney on my team. All these years later, I still don't know how to play that game. I just remember sitting on Poppy Rhiney's lap and now, I remember the way you two looked at each other. I remember smiles. I guess ultimately, you taught me what the word genuine means. I didn't need Webster to define it, you embodied it. You taught me the virtue of patience. I always joke how crazy and hyperactive I was when I would be dropped off in the early bits of the morning to stay with you for the day. I would tear through your jewelry box, your closet, drawers, other bedrooms, and no matter how many times you tried to grab me and put me back in your warm bed to just watch cartoons, I kept going. You never got mad though. In fact, I think you loved it in a way. I gave you a run for your money but man you were patient. Whenever I am get antsy or impatient with someone over something trivial, I try so hard to think of you. I'll be honest, you were much better at keeping your composure than me. More than anything, you and I share something special. Music. Maybe that is what God gave us to fill the void when you cannot be here physically. You lit such a fire inside of me and again were so patient with me when I would slam my tiny hands across your mother's beautiful black upright piano. People wince and cringe at the sound of chop sticks. But I don't. That was the first "song" I ever learned. I went on to play alto-saxophone and to become a vocalist. I competed, I was a section leader, was a drum major, a pianist and organist. I was so much like you in this sense and it was a lousy feeling not having you in the audience or to sit beside me and accompany me to sing. You passed away peacefully, the same way you lived your life. Growing up you never showed signs of heartbreak but as I grew older and less naïve I learned of the trials and tribulations you faced. Everyone goes through tough times, but you dealt with a lot of bad cards and somehow played them and continued the game. I've written a lot for you and that isn't because I value you more than other women in my life, but rather because I feel that when a heart aches so badly, you are unable to stop the conversation and stop rambling. But, I still wish and yearn for more time. Wherever you are, I love you, and I can't wait to see you again.

My Mom Mom: My entire adolescent life summers were spent at your house. I remember getting out on the last day of school and telling you and Pop that my new address for the summer was *** Carson Lane. You took me (and Camdon) all over the place from aerobics and rewarding me with McDonald's if I behaved, to the jeweler, to your rental properties (which I just admitted to you were my least favorite trips. I'll admit though, looking back it wasn't so bad). You guys had a pool which made you "cool" but that isn't why I admire you. I admire you for raising six children. More so, I admire you for your entrepreneurship of owning your own business, of being a landlord and managing a laundromat with Pop. All these things were acts of ambition. You had a lot of that. You still do. With a hip-replacement surgery done a little more than a month ago, I have seen you push yourself toward recovery. Every time I visited, I worried. I am good at worrying. I texted Mom and Pop all day long worrying how you were. Well, you were just fine. You didn't complain or pity. Of course, you expressed that you were in pain, but not in excess and you did your exercises and you keep pushing to get to the ultimate goal of getting better. I must note more on the amount you wanted to do on your own even though you had Pop as your "caregiver." I thought it was humorous the way you would roll your eyes when Pop was running in ten different directions, so you didn't have to get up. You are one independent lady and are slowly but surely, relieving Pop of his duties (lol). This one example is exclusive, but it is such a strong event that taught me a lesson. You are a strong woman and you were strict sometimes with us, but you taught manners, were typical in giving us too much candy or sweets and watched us at the pool for endless amounts of time which provided me with a lifetime worth of smiles and memories to tell my children about one day. I love you.

Liz Gurzynski- My best friend. I have told you all of this stuff a half a million times, but I will tell you again for the public's record. You are by far the smartest woman I know and sometimes it's annoying (why do you have to be SO good at math?). Not only are you my best friend but you are my person, my confidant, my sister. I mean that in such raw and meaningful text that it is sacred. When I say that I would not be the woman I am today without you, I mean it. I don't think I would have made it this far without you. You have been proud of me through my accomplishments through short but meaningful texts (you never have been mushy gushy). You have been with me through the worst of the worst. And that is an understatement. You were the first person I ever revealed my struggle with depression and anxiety to. And other than my parents, I don't think there is anyone else who rallied harder for me than you. Sometimes I feel guilty texting you at 11pm because I am anxious. Well, I always feel guilty because I feel like a pest. You are instantaneous with a reply. You will NEVER know how much that means to me. Having someone who immediately tends to you to say, "it is okay," or "I am here to listen" is so simple and so small, but you have a way with knowing what I need and when I need it. You have given me courage and you have given me a voice when I could not speak. Through those bad nights, you knew how to steer sad or anxious thoughts away and how to transition to another subject to pick me up. However, you aren't always easy on me. You gave me hell for being in unhealthy relationships. At the time you really made me angry but looking back, you were only looking out for me, you were right about what you had to say and most of all, looking back, you were the one who had my back. And most of all, you were right. You haven't been there for just the bad though. We have so many memories and funny ones that I can't even begin to explain because if I do then this article will never end. The start to our friendship is probably one of the most awkward moments in my life. I literally had zero friends in seventh grade so when the schools integrated I saw you sitting on the bleachers waiting for the rest of our gym class to come in and I thought "that girl looks popular I'll go sit with her." The rest is history, lol. I don't have to remind you of other memories because we laugh at those during car rides or in the moment. At this point, you really are stuck with me because you know too much about me. Corny, I know. I hope that you know that with all the giving you do, I appreciate it down to the last drop. (But you can thank me some other time for getting you the dog walking gig ;-) ) I hope that I am half of the friend that I am to you. When I think of who I would call when all goes to hell, it's you. I love you.

Ariana Kampfe- You are inspirational to me. I have watched you blossom this school year into a true leader. I admire it and always try to take away the lessons you exude in excellence and leadership. When I think of you, I think of success. You are one of the best friends I have ever had. I know this because through a given time of not talking, we picked up exactly where we left off. When we became friends we always used to say how we just hit it off. We really are so alike. We are always "such a mess." When people see us, I wonder what they think honestly. You are the person who I "adventure" with, who I thrift with (although you always find the better stuff), the person who I have hour to two-hour long conversations with and the person who won't take no for an answer when I am struggling and don't want to go out to get slushies or Sheetz. You're persistent but you get me going and get me moving. We have had the most memorable times together. When I think of true laughter, I think of us. You push me to get outside of my comfort zone. In the moment I'll admit I am highly annoyed, but in hindsight I know that you would never let me do anything that would hurt me. You're a lifelong friend. Someone that I know will be over my house when we are both suburban soccer moms drinking white wine with, will still be laughing hysterically about even more memories we have made. You are my person to be an advocate, activist, and social justice initiator with. We have such same views that we talk over each other sometimes trying to say the same thing. Whatever it is, we have an enjoyable time. Since we basically live together during the school year, you've seen me (as I have seen you) at my most peaked stupidity (like the time I was irresponsible and let Sadie get ahold of my hearing aids.). Thankfully, you still accept me and somehow, we make light of it; no matter how many dings or speeding tickets are involved. You are the friend that everyone wants because you are the most loyal person I have ever known. You give and put into a friendship all that you have because that's how you are for the people you love.

Maggie Dow-We go way back, girlfriend. Like way way way back. Girl scouting era way back. It's funny. In the past two years you and I have become inseparable and you have become a true friend and a best one at that. But that's not the point. Years back (and again, I mean YEARS), you mailed me a card with all these little friendship quotes. I still remember being able to memorize them all. All I can remember of them is that one of them started with "through thick and thin." And if that doesn't hold through for ten plus years later, then I don't know what does. You are such a careless, but responsible person who has no problem of putting anyone and everyone before yourself. I admire it so much because you give so much without wanting something in return, but I have witnessed you forget to put yourself first. I hate seeing that. The light that is in your eyes when you smile, or your snicker of a laugh is something that is marketable because there is no one like you. You are the definition of beautiful or gorgeous, but you embody the attributes of kindness, free-spirited, giving, confident and hardworking. Those are such strengths. I look at those strengths and a lot of times wish I had better footing in some of those departments. I love being around you. Our memories are also ones that will be told to our kids someday while we spit water across the table at how funny they are. I remember one time when we were little girls talking on the phone, Josh handed the phone to you and I accidentally said "I love you" to you because I always said that to family members and had a habit of it. My memory is so intricate I'm sorry that I remember such random times. Those times are ones that enhance my life though. If you take anything from your dedication know that you are the woman who taught me how important it is to have REAL and LOYAL girlfriends in your corner and how when around them, your life gets better. And I am thankful to God each and everyday that you are a woman who has shaped me into who I am right now writing this article. You have always pushed me with my writing and always pushed me to keep writing dating back to junior year when I was peer-editing everyone's papers. But really, you have read all my stuff whether it was really crappy or good. And you're honest and I always know you are. You are a friend I get excited when I see a text from because you are fun but most of all, I know your text always involve genuine meaning or inside jokes or advice which has bonded us so close. I love you so much, ya weird math genius.

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With fall also comes many great sports being in season. For football fans, there’s nothing like spending an afternoon cheering on your college’s team, or spending a Sunday night yelling at the TV with your friends while devouring some pizza and wings. It’s also prime time for soccer, and I find soccer games to be even more exciting to watch than football. Although many people may not find it very fun to watch, it’s also cross country season. Running deserves much more recognition than it gets—it’s a tough, yet thrilling sport (I might be a little bit biased). Other fun fall sports to go out and support are volleyball, golf, and field hockey.

Another great thing about fall is that it means that Halloween is just around the corner. What’s there not to like? It brings lots of candy, fun decorations, haunted houses, corn mazes, pumpkin picking, scary movies, cool costumes, and pumpkin-flavored everything. Have fun with it any way you choose.

Even though summer is ending, a new, great season is beginning. Find enjoyment in the changing seasons. There are so many fun opportunities that come with autumn, so take advantage of some of them (and eat all the candy corn while you can).

Cover Image Credit: northbrunswickmagazine.com

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