Actors’ Activism: Portraying Womanness and Feminism by Jasper intern Haley Sprankle

Feminism.

Man-hating, bra-burning, hairy women running around and shouting, “Down with the patriarchy!”

…Right?

Wrong.

While it’s true that some women don’t wear bras, some may not be interested in men, some don’t want to shave, and some are absolutely sick of the patriarchy, those behaviors and attitudes don’t define the whole movement. Feminists are not merely some stereotype running rampant through the streets, seeking to gain the upper hand over men. Feminism is simply “the belief in the social, economic, and political equality of the sexes.”

“Feminism means a lot to me, in a lot of different ways, but most importantly it’s a social movement and a way of being that seeks equality for all people, regardless of gender, race, class, sexual orientation, and so on,” says Alexis Stratton, who is co-directing of the reading of the play We Are Women! for the Women and Gender Studies Program’s 40th anniversary celebration, explains.

“Because of negative stereotypes, a lot of people think feminists are ‘man-haters’ or want to put others down, but it’s actually just the opposite. I think most feminists want to bring everyone up and want equality for everyone,” she continues. “And while the focus has predominantly been on women, we have to understand that everyone exists at an intersection of identities, and one is not free until all are free. I also think it’s important to note that there’s no singular ‘feminism,’ but instead, there are ‘feminisms’—plural, because there are so many kinds of feminism, and I think they should all be welcomed and celebrated and recognized.”

Stratton, a program graduate and published author who currently works at South Carolina Equality, is co-directing with Suzanne Vargas, a local clinical social worker and former high school English teacher with a similar passion for melding arts and politics. “Alexis asked me to help her with the production because she knew that I have directed Vagina Monologues before, and am a huge believer in art as advocacy,” shes says. “I love new adventures, especially when they include ways to commemorate the individuals who came before us.”

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The play itself was produced by the Women and Gender Studies program in 1995 and features a series of unrelated vignettes that are connected through the women in them.

“The play has a very 1990s, second wave feminism feel to it—a kind of ‘we are women, hear us roar’ feel that reminded me a lot of the feminism of my mother,” says Stratton. “As a queer, gender non-conforming woman, I have a complicated relationship with ‘womanness’ and have only grown to understand and accept my identity as a woman and a feminist by deconstructing what it actually means to be ‘woman.’ So to have ‘womanness’ spelled out so plainly before me in this play, I was initially frustrated, because as a queer and feminist scholar in the 2010s, I’m immediately struck by the question, what does ‘we are women’ even mean? And can we even say ‘we are women’ anymore? And does that ‘woman’ actually include me?”

Ultimately, Stratton believes it does. “I couldn’t get to the point of asking these questions if these women who came before me hadn’t pushed the lines and boundaries that they were able to push—and able to push only through their tenacity and sacrifice and hard labor and boundary-crossing,” she explains. “So once I allowed myself to see that, to get out of the blindness of my of presentism, I became quite attached to the play and really excited about producing it—and seeing what kinds of energy and ideas the cast could bring to it.”

While the piece holds on to some of the second-wave feminist ideals, Vargas and Stratton worked together to modernize it and make it more relatable to current audiences and what they may experience as women of the 21st century.

“It wasn’t until Alexis and I talked about how this is a historical piece honoring where we’ve come from and hope to go that I absolutely fell in love with it. It’s made me much more aware of how, in order to understand what we are advocating for currently, we must know where we’ve been,” Vargas says. “When Alexis brought up the possibility of also adding a few more modern pieces to make the performance capture intergenerational and intercenturial voices, I began to see the piece as snapshots through several generations advocating; and in that I find so much beauty. That’s why I wrote “My Kind of Woman,” because it’s a story and a voice that not only captures my own relationship with feminism and womynism, but also it speaks to a civil rights issue that is so prevalent today.”

The question of whether or not feminism is relevant and necessary today has been raised frequently as movements like “Meninism” and Women Against Feminism arise.

“The world needs feminism, period,” Stratton says flatly. “The world needs feminism(s) because it teaches people to look at the world, to interrogate it and explore it and imagine how it could be different, more just and more whole. And then it gives folks the tools to make that new world happen, even if it’s a struggle, and even if we argue about how to get there. And those struggles are okay, because feminism(s) also teaches us how to work through those differences and arguments in real and productive ways.”

The co-directors and actors have worked hard to put together something entertaining, but also something living, breathing, and real to help teach what feminism is really all about.

“I am just blown away at seeing such amazing individuals put so much love and individuality into a supportive and beautiful artistic community,” says Vargas. “I think often about how I hope this is what developed 20 years ago when they did this play. I also grow more attached to certain pieces; I get excited when I know they’re coming, because each time they’re read, I feel a different woman’s story in it, if that makes sense.”

We Are Women! is a free, a one-night-only event this Friday, March 20th, at 7 p.m. in USC’s Law School Auditorium. Come out to celebrate the past, present, and future of women and watch their stories come to life.

“We don’t live in a post-feminist America, just as we don’t live in a post-racial America,” Stratton stresses. “Feminisms are real and alive and meaningful today—as you’ll be able to see in these actor-activists on stage.”

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Edmund Yaghjian’s “The Beginning of Women’s Lib” on Display at USC Event

Yaghjian Edmund The beginning of women's lib

 

The Women’s & Gender Studies program at the University of South Carolina celebrates its 40th anniversary Tuesday, March 24, 2015, with an event that honors its past as well as its future. Art and social justice will be central elements of the celebration.

 

Formed in the early 1970s at the height of the women’s rights movement, the program focused on teaching and research on women’s contributions to history and culture as well as women’s role in society. Over the years, the program has grown to emphasize intersections of gender with race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation and other areas of social inequality. In 2008, the Women’s Studies Program became the Women’s and Gender Studies Program. Then and now the program emphasizes  areas of women’s health and well-being; public policy, activism and social movements, as well as culture, literature and the arts. Social justice and community engagement are central to the mission and objectives of the program.

 

It is fitting that the 40th celebration, hosted by the Women’s & Gender Studies Partnership Council, honors three women – Marjorie Hammock, Harriet Hancock and Sarah Leverette — who have fought the decades-long fight for social justice on the front lines in South Carolina. It is also fitting that a painting focused on women’s history and recently donated to the program will be unveiled at the event. Columbia artist Edmund Yaghjian’s 1971 painting The Beginning of Women’s Lib will be highlighted at the event. Yaghjian was a nationally prominent artist and served as Chair of USC’s Art Department from 1945-1966. The painting, in polymer, is a portrait of a suffragette being arrested and was one of the few paintings by Yaghjian that depicts a social message. It was donated to WGST by his daughter Candy Waites.

 

Also on exhibit at the event will be art from the program’s community outreach work. The Women’s Well-Being Initiative, founded by WGST to improve the overall well-being of South Carolina’s girls and women, believes that what is learned in the classroom translates to real-life outside the classroom. “Our arts-based juvenile justice arbitration program, coordinated through the Women’s Well-Being Initiative, offers behavioral rehabilitation interventions that give students a second chance,” says Dr. Sally Boyd, Chair of the WGST Partnership Council, the community board comprised of business, community, university and non-profit leaders. “Our research shows that adolescents who participate in these arts programs have the lowest recidivism rates of any similar programs,” Boyd says.

 

Dr. Olga Ivashkevich, Associate Professor of Art Education at USC, and an affiliate of the WGST program, conducts art and new media workshops for at-risk girls from local communities. Her research focuses on girlhood studies, social justice and feminist pedagogies. Works of art, created by Ivashkevich’s students, will be on display at the anniversary celebration as well. Their depiction of opportunities and challenges faced by young women and the underserved today are both moving and chilling in their honesty.

 

Art won’t be the only draw for the 40th celebration, however. The March 24th event is a fundraiser for the Women’s Well-Being Initiative. The party lasts from 6 pm until 9 pm, and features live jazz, open bar and plenty of good food and conversation. Tickets are $40 per person and can be purchased online.

 

 

USC Women’s & Gender Studies (WGST)

40th Anniversary Celebration

Hosted by the WGST Partnership Council

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

6 pm – 9 pm

Stone River

12 Alexander Street, West Columbia

Order Tickets

 

By Sheryl McAlister, editor of Old Broad & New Trix & member of WGST Partnership Council

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USC Symphony Concert March 26

Victor Zeyu
Zeyu Victor Li

 

At the age of 16, Zeyu Victor Li was already wowing Columbia patrons of the university’s premier symphony orchestra. A Free Times reviewer wrote a glowing review of that 2013 concert – “Thrilling, bright, incredibly precise, energetic and athletic. Zeyu’s technique, the precision, pitch accuracy and musical delivery were astonishing.”

The prodigy returns to the Koger stage on Thursday, March 26 at 7:30 p.m. to play Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor with the USC Symphony Orchestra, led by Maestro Donald Portnoy. Back by popular demand, the now 18-year-old Chinese violin virtuoso is quickly building an international reputation as one of the most prodigiously gifted young concert soloists to emerge in recent years – praised for his technical mastery, exuberance and calm confidence. Violin virtuoso Pinchas Zukerman called him a genius with a bright future.

Born in Huaunan City, in China, Zeyu Victor Li is a student of respected pedagogue Aaron Rosand at the Curtis Institute of Music – and is a recent prize winner at the Montreal International Violin Competition and the Young Concert Artists International Auditions, in New York.

He will play Prokofiev’s Concerto No. 2 on the March concert. The concerto is more conventional than the composer’s early bold compositions and begins with a melody related to traditional Russian folk music. About the work, Prokofiev wrote, “The number of places in which I wrote the Concerto shows the kind of nomadic concert-tour life I led then. The main theme of the 1st movement was written in Paris, the first theme of the 2nd movement at Voronezh, the orchestration was finished in Baku and the premiere was given in Madrid.”

This concert also features some of the University of South Carolina School of Music’s top students in solo roles – the winners of the 2014-2015 USC Concerto-Aria Competition. The USC Symphony Orchestra sponsors the annual competition for USC students studying applied music on the Columbia campus.

Levi Cull, timpani, plays Raise the Roof for Timpani and Orchestra by Michael Daugherty; Cera Finney, voice, will sing Donizetti’s “O mio Fernando” from La Favorita; John Siarris, voice, will sing  Wagner’s “O du mein holder Abendstern” from Tannhäuser; and Susan Zhang, piano, plays Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in Eb Flat Major.

 

Tickets on sale now

$30 general public; senior citizens, $25 USC faculty and staff; $8 students. Capitol Tickets 803-251-2222 capitoltickets.com or Koger Box Office, corner of Greene and Park Streets.

Coming up next on April 21 is the Berlioz Requiem with guest artist, tenor Christian Sebek.

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