The Circle of Life Intergenerational Dialogue

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The Circle of Life Intergenerational Dialogue: Women 50+ event took place on March 15. It was hosted by the Women’s and Gender Studies Program. As part of the ongoing events throughout Women’s History Month, this was the first of three intergenerational dialogues in which an inner circle of women from one generation gets the opportunity to share their life experiences with an outer circle of participants from other generations. The discussion was moderated by Dr. Sarah Hastings, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program.

The women of the inner circle ranged in age from 53 to 67. They started the discussion talking about the early years of their lives and the differences between what was expected of girls compared to boys. Some of the women who came of age during the women’s liberation movement of the 1960’s talked about how their interests and desires often conflicted with the expectations that were put on them. “The women’s movement hit in the mid and late 60’s. When I was in high school, a small group of us actively identified as women’s libbers. We were for women’s liberation, and I still like that phrase a lot. I had four sisters and a brother, and we were encouraged to do whatever we wanted, but that isn’t the message that we got from the rest of society,” said Dr. Elizabeth Altieri, Professor in the School of Teacher Education and Leadership and Graduate Coordinator for the Special Education Program area, who was one of the inner-circle participants.

The event presented an opportunity for the women to share their experiences that younger generations of women may not be familiar with. Dr. Diane Hodge, Director of the School of Social Work, was one of the participants who described such an experience. “It’s hard to imagine going to kindergarten, and you have to wear a dress. I grew up in Michigan, so the snow pants are under the dress. You know, you walk around like that, and you just don’t see the point anymore.” Dr. Hodge says she was always very aware of the issues around women’s rights growing up, which she credited to seeing strong female figures like Mary Tyler Moore and Diahann Carroll emerge on TV shows during the 70’s. “So I started seeing women doing their own thing and then I would always find out later they didn’t have many opportunities to do that,” said Dr. Hodge.

The women of the inner circle all agreed that things have come a long way for girls and women, but that challenges persist. They said that many of these difficulties are things younger women have yet to experience. Dr. Altieri recalled an experience where a friend confided in her that she took on her husband’s last name because her young children were constantly being asked why their last name was different from their mother’s. “It struck us that in some ways the cultural pressures are as tough as they’ve ever been right now,” said Dr. Altieri.

The women noted that as they moved up in age and experience, they faced challenges that felt isolating, such as the difficulties of balancing their families with their careers. The key, they said, is reaching out for support from other women. “We’re here to support our younger women. I sought people out all the time,” said Dr. Hodge. “Reach out for that support from people who do support you because you’re not alone.”

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