WAM builds support, fosters community

Women’s Awareness Month started as a week of women’s programs in 1997 and grew to a full month in 2000. For 12 years, WAM has been highlighting women’s empowerment, focusing on issues like heart health (the number one killer of women in the U.S.), sexual violence, gender stereotypes and much more.

Back in September, the WAM executive committee went on a retreat to figure out how we wanted to shape this year’s month. In discussions and brainstorming sessions for the theme, we kept coming back to what had called us to participate in WAM: the women we met. The staff at the WRC, the other women volunteers, the women from the various event committees — these connections were what got us excited about WAM and the events held during the month. We were able to step out of the “woman” box, but we were only able to step out together.

Arriving at this conclusion, we found the following quotation to assert what we were all thinking: “Community of sisterhood is powerful…the gathering of women in solidarity leads to the development of their voices, their skills and knowledge. Unfettered by expectations of submissiveness, surrounded by peers, a woman can say what she needs, share what she knows, ask for credit where it is due, learn her rights…She rises above the noise and discovers her presence, her gravity, her wisdom.”

From this expression of the power of female community, we came to the theme “Together We Rise above the Noise.” We wanted to emphasize the community that WAM creates, not only during the month, but also for Tech women in general, at all times. Our advisor, Melanie DeMaeyer, summed it up by saying, “We feel it captures all that women in our community face each day and that it speaks to the power that resides in community of women. We are proud to be a part of developing our own community of women and hope that as you attend our programs this year that, you too, will be proud of our community and be inspired to continue to nourish and advocate for it throughout your time at Tech.”

On Tuesday, as a preview event for WAM and as a program for Body Image week, we screened Miss Representation, a documentary about women in the media…and about how women are not in the media. The film highlights some of the “noise” we thought of when coming up with our theme for this year. The constant deluge of images that promote women as objects rather than humans, as only valued for their bodies and not their minds.

At WDS we bring together women for a day of service, in what, I think, begins to address some of the issues raised by the Miss Representation video. In a small way, WDS begins to show us how we can change the world, one project at a time — and more importantly, how we can change it together, as a sisterhood.

Clothesline, a new event this year, supports women who have been affected by violence. The symbolic support of the line, the shirts hanging shoulder to shoulder — a visual representation of the community WAM upholds.

In a similar way, Take Back the Night provides a safe space for victims of sexual abuse to reclaim some of their power. One of the most powerful effects of the space TBtN creates is that it encourages women who have not spoken about their rapes to speak out as well. By having the audience participate in a candlelight vigil, we provide a community of support for those who share their stories.

I like that we’re ending the month with the Red Dress Fashion Show this year. Not only does the event raise money for a charitable organization geared toward women’s heart health, it also brings women from diverse areas of campus together to support a common health issue — one that is also a major problem for men.

WAM has always been about creating a safe community for women on campus. As a collective of powerful women, we want to step above the noise created by the media, popular culture, societal gender norms and stereotypes. We hope that at month’s end, members of the Tech community come away with a better understanding of the issues we are raising, and more importantly, the reasons why we are raising them.