Perry marks International Women’s Day with speakers, film

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About 150 women attended the third annual celebration of International Women’s Day (IWD) in Perry Saturday morning at La Poste.

Almost no males attended the IWD coffee-conference, but that is not surprising because gender-segregated activities are not uncommon in many communities.

Barbara Bambrick of Perry, one of the scheduled speakers, was unfortunately unable to attend, which opened up time for Joanne Warnock of Perry to note the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing practices.

Warnock, herself a 30-year veteran of nursing, outlined the groundbreaking work Nightingale carried out in England, Turkey, the Crimea and elsewhere, training nurses in sanitary and dietary standards that saved countless lives, including soldiers in the U.S. Civil War.

Becky Greenwald of West Des Moines was also on hand to invite attendees to stay after lunch and mark the 100th anniversary of the passage if the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by watching the Iowa PBS premier of the documentary film, “Carrie Chapman Catt: Woman Warrior.”

Chapman Catt, a familiar of Jane Addams, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and many other lights of the women’s suffrage movement, helped win the vote for women in 1920 as well as founded the League of Women Voters in 1920 and ran for president the same year on the Georgist Commonwealth Land Party, which advocated the socialization of land.

Carol Cavanaugh was the event’s mistress of ceremonies. She briefly recounted her organization of the first International Women’s Day celebration in Perry and introduced an opening video by Mackenzie Kuhl and a brief history of IWD, delivered by area high school students Bailey Brown, Fatima Rodriguez, Assel Samuratova, Kamilla Ilyasheva and Phoebe Stewart.

Four students with the World Link Exchange program also extended IWD greetings to the crowd. Kamilla Ilyasheva of Kazakhstan, Begimai Azizbekova of Kyrgystan, Shams Knani of Israel-Palestine and Sherina Mmadu of Mali brought a global perspective to the proceedings.

Mmadu pleased the assembly by singing a Mali folk song, calling forth blessing on her mother. and — by extension — all women

“My Perspective” was the title of the first speech, delivered by Sophia McDevitt of Perry, an eighth grader at St. Patrick Catholic School. McDevitt said she became aware at age 10 of the chronic gender-based wage inequality in the U.S., and it prompted her to send a hand-written note to U.S. President Barack Obama.

In his personal reply to her, Obama wrote, “All of us deserve the same rights and opportunities.”

McDevitt described the pressures young females face today around many issues, including body image. She said the magnifying glass of social media makes bullying more damaging.

“It’s easy to say mean and hurtful things from behind a screen,” she said, with females sometimes causing as much pain to one another as males cause to females.

As a competitive swimmer, McDevitt said she has even seen the cruelty at poolside, where females in tight-fitting tech swimwear are sometimes judged harshly and mocked mercilessly.

“These things can be devastating to young women,” she said. On the other hand, perhaps such brutality also serves to thicken the skins of tender maids and prepares them for the rougher world of adulthood, where they might find themselves called “fat broads” or “horse-faced lesbians,” as a former Democratic candidate for the 2020 presidential nomination allegedly once called his female business associates.

Next at the podium was Wendy Goodale of Perry, with a speech titled, “Enough.” Goodale described her own loving and creative mother, who for all her zest for life “never felt like she was enough.” She attributed part of her mother’s self-esteem issues to her very hard upbringing as an orphan and virtual slave.

Goodale said she inherited similar esteem issues, and her “insecurities started setting in” in preadolescence and carried through her teens, when many females get the message from their peers that they are “never pretty enough, never smart enough, never skinny enough, never athletic enough.”

“I am enough,” Goodale exclaimed, though it took her a lot of spiritual and physical growth to overcome the past and arrive at an affirmation. As a holistic health and transformation coach, she said her energy today aims at “the synergy of empowerment and upliftment of our sacred sisters.”

Longtime Des Moines Register columnist Rekha Basu was perhaps the first speaker in the three years of IWD events in Perry to use the word “feminism.” Basu’s speech, “Born into Feminisim — across the World!” like that of the other speakers, drew largely on her personal experience.

She began by acknowledging and thanking the World Link Exchange students and telling them that her own mother, Rasil Basu, drafted the first United Nations World Plan of Action for the Advancement of Women in 1975. She described how gender-role expectations played out between her parents, both U.N. employees, and how they in turn played out in turn between her and her husband, Rob Borsellino.

Basu lamented the relative weakness of the feminist movement among females in Iowa and described its unpopularity as an example of the “power of conformity” waxing “stronger than the power of righteousness.” Nevertheless, she said, Iowa is filled with strong women who just do not happen to call themselves feminists.

“Women’s shrinking rights” in Iowa and elsewhere in the U.S. are another cause for concern, she said, noting the more generous maternity leave allowed in Bulgaria, the 52 percent female representation in parliaments of Nordic countries, the safety on the street felt by women in Georgia and the much lower rates of domestic violence and sexual assault in Japan.

Basu praised the outspokenness and self-defined individuality of western females and the communitarianism and intersectionality of females in her native India. She noted that upper-caste landlords who exercise an India-style droit du seigneur by raping lower-caste females are sometimes smeared with donkey dung, set upon a donkey’s back and paraded through the marketplace in a folkish form of Me Tooism.

After a baked potato luncheon, attendees enjoyed the Iowa PBS premier of “Carrie Chapman Catt: Woman Warrior.” Females in the U.S. have exercised the right to vote for 100 years, thanks to the efforts of suffragists like Chapman Catt, but the security of the right might today be in some doubt.

Prior to the passage of the 19th Amendment, male and female anti-suffragists opposed the idea of giving women equal suffrage rights. Instead, advocates of “domestic feminism” believed that women already enjoyed complete freedom within the home, their nature sphere, and that political enfranchisement would violate traditional gender norms and family relations and be an end to “true womanhood.”

Some anti-suffragists also believed women could not bear the responsibility of voting because their knowledge was limited to the domestic sphere and their ill-informed votes would weaken the American government. Anti-abortionists make a similar argument today, implying that the state must interpose itself in matters of medical privacy because females and their doctors because they believe females cannot be trusted with the governance of their own uteruses.

Incidental music at the third annual IWD event was provided by Lani, an aspiring singer-songwriter and Drake University student.

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