Voices were raised and myths began to shatter during International Women’s Day March 3 at East Carolina University.
About 100 people including faculty, staff and students attended ECU’s third annual observation of the day recognizing the achievements and challenges of women around the world, celebrated in various forms since the early 1900s.
“It was really well attended,” said ECU staff member and event organizer Rai D’Honore, a member of the Chancellor’s Committee on the Status of Women, which sponsored the event.
“The purpose was to examine some critical issues of gender relations and to inspire people both at ECU and in the community to work together to resolve such issues,” D’Honore said.
The theme of the day was “Sex, Violence, and Gender Roles.” National and local leaders including several officials from ECU and Pitt County led panel discussions on topics like the narrow portrayal of genders in the media, the perils of prosecuting sexual assault cases, transgender issues, and remedying intimate partner violence and the stigma surrounding it.
“There is a need to shatter the silence,” said keynote speaker Dr. Thema Bryant-Davis, an associate professor of psychology at Pepperdine University and a nationally recognized expert on sexual trauma and healing.
“What does recovery look like? I looked around and I didn’t see any examples,” said Bryant-Davis, who is a survivor of sexual trauma herself. “If we speak, we tend to speak from a broken place. When we recover we often stop speaking out.”
Bryant-Davis led listeners in a chant of “silence no more, I was born to roar” and encouraged men in the audience to participate as well. She acknowledged that men can be both survivors and allies in efforts against gender violence.
“It is so important to have male allies and create space for everyone at the table,” Bryant-Davis said. “People think feminists hate men but that is not so. We must build up our entire community while addressing issues of gender.”
Essential to recovery after sexual assault is for victims to reclaim their sexuality, according to Bryant-Davis.
“Often people don’t talk about sex except for the ugliness of it,” she said. “Sexuality is a gift. It is part of who we are and should be celebrated.”
Sex is everywhere, but society says we can’t talk openly about it, ECU Victim Advocate Kat Bursky told listeners during her panel, “The Myth of the Slut.”
Women can often be the biggest perpetuators of this myth by shaming other women, Bursky said, which is makes it all the more important to criticize cultural norms and speak out in support of victims of sexual assault or shaming.
“I do not buy into the idea that women are competitive and do not get along,” Bryant-Davis said. “That is a myth we are taught. When we build each other up, there is no stopping us.”
International Women’s Day is sponsored by the Chancellor’s Committee on the Status of Women with support from the Office of the Provost, the Division of Student Affairs and ECU Women’s Studies. For more information on the Chancellor’s Committee on the Status of Women, visit http://www.ecu.edu/women.