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Front Page » April 24, 2007 » Local News » CEU Women's Conference Promotes Gender Equality
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CEU Women's Conference Promotes Gender Equality

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Sun Advocate reporter

Roberta Hardy, woman of the year in 2006, congratulates Mae Aguayo for being named woman of the year at the College of Eastern Utah Women's Conference on Friday. Hardy said Aguayo was nominated because of her kindness and her commitment to helping those in her community and family. "She is passionate about all she does, especially when it comes to helping people," said Hardy, adding that Aguayo is fun-loving and outgoing with a constant smile and upbeat attitude.

More than 200 women gathered on April 20 for the 28th annual College of Eastern Utah Women's Conference. Along with a variety of workshops and a luncheon, attendees heard from keynote speaker Holly Mullen.

Mullen has been a journalist for more than 26 years and recently was named editor of Salt Lake City Weekly last month. She spoke to the theme of the conference, "If the shoe fits."

"I'm not sure the men in the room really understand what shoes mean to women," said Mullen.

She called shoes the best accessory and said they are an inexpensive way to change an entire look.

But more than their role are as a fashion accessory, Mullen said changes in the role of women in society can be seen in what shoes they wear.

"I remember fondly going downtown with my grandmother," recalled Mullen. She explained in her grandmother's generation, women often had house shoes or slippers for home, but would never leave the house without a pair of pumps or heels.

And along with the nicer shoes, Mullen said her mother dressed up to go shopping, complete with a pillbox hat.

But then came war.

And as men were called overseas to fight in the world wars, women donned work boots in large numbers. Along with Rosie the Riveter, women formed the labor force that supported combat abroad.

"No war could have been won without the hard work and commitment of women at home in their work boots," said Mullen.

War showed the efforts of women counted outside the home, added Mullen. And since the world wars, the variety of shoes worn by women has expanded.

In the 1970s, women were afforded more opportunities in society with the passage of Title IX, requiring equal opportunities for women on the athletic field and in education.

Prior to the passage of Title IX, one in 20 young women played high school sports. Today, that number is closer to one in 2.5. And there are now more than 2.5 million female high school athletes across the country.

More than 10,000 scholarships for female athletes attract women to college.

With more women attending college, the number of college degrees attained by women has increased as well.

In the 1960s, women accounted for seven percent of law degrees and nine percent of medical degrees. And as long as 10 years ago, women accounted for 44 percent of law degrees and 41 percent of medical degrees.

And it was around the same time that the two-job economy emerged.

More single mothers, working mothers and a whole host of other family arrangements came about in the same period, and women continued to fill new positions in society.

Mullen told attendees her collection of shoes is comprised of flip-flops, river sandals, running shoes, ski boots and cowboy boots to name a few.

Holly Mullen who is the editor of Salt Lake City Weekly, was the keynote speaker at the women's conference.

But while women have entered new positions in their communities, the wage gap of women compared to men has been slow to close.

"We can get into endless battles about gender and who is the better gender," said Mullen. "I'm not here to do that."

Rather, she said women should seek adequate and fair compensation in the workforce.

In 1963, women earned 59 cents for every dollar men earned. More than 40 years later, women see 77 cents for each dollar men receive today.

Recent reports about the wage gap have attributed the difference largely to the fact that women enter and exit the workforce more frequently than men.

"Someone needs to stay home, at least temporarily, with children," commented Mullen. She said women should not be punished for doing so, adding that women should receive comparable compensation for comparable work.

Even among jobs traditionally filled by women, such as secretaries, nurses and teachers, men don't make as much as other men. Yet men who enter the traditionally female jobs still make 20 percent more than their women have entered the political arena, too often they are judged on abstract qualities tied to their gender.

"I get tired of hearing about Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's hair and whether she should be wearing boots," said Mullen.

She added that too often, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is defined by her "edge" or some other indefinable quality based on her gender.

In her job covering politics in Salt Lake City, Mullen said mayor candidate Jenny Wilson is critiqued on her hair, attire and physical features. She has even heard critics ask, "Isn't she a mother?"

Mullen said Wilson is a mother who has a very supportive husband. But the question of her role as a mother should not weigh in as it does.

"We still have to fight for equality in a lot of ways in this country - in education, in jobs and even within the family," she said.

Mullen urged women to be careful not to seek extra compensation because of their gender.

She cited cases in the legal system where female offenders are often given a lighter sentence.

With male sexual offenders, Mullen said society uses terms like rape and assault, but when female offenders are accused of similar crimes, society uses terms like "slept together," which may give a perception of less wrongdoing.

"I don't want to feed the bias because a woman is involved," said Mullen.

She encouraged women not to whine about their circumstances or seek special privileges based on their gender.

"If we want to play and want a level playing field, we have to take our hits and keep standing up," she said.

Mullen also cautioned against the urge to degrade or minimalize more successful women with snide, undercutting remarks.

"Stand back for a moment and say 'I'm better than this. We are better than this,'" she counseled.

She encouraged women to find supportive, powerful partners who will not abuse them.

And she commended the attendees for coming together to support each other at women's conferences and urged them to continue doing so.

Mullen said she would like to see the day when the shoes worn by women and the shoes worn by men can be thrown into one pile that is open to everyone.

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