The Saddleback College community joined more than 14,000 women assembled on Wednesday, Oct. 22 in Long Beach for the 22nd annual Women’s Conference. However, they did not have to purchase tickets, fight traffic, or even leave campus.
Thanks to modern technology, the conference was delivered via live satellite webcast projected on a large screen in the student lounge from 8 a.m. until late afternoon to an estimated 150 attentive viewers. Following the morning and afternoon forums, guests were invited to discuss topics in a roundtable-type setting facilitated by various Saddleback faculty.
Hosted by California First Lady Maria Shriver and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Women’s Conference is the nation’s premier forum for women. Its mission is to inspire, empower and educate women from all walks of life to be Architects of Change in their own lives and communities.
The impressive, diverse roster of speakers included global opinions leaders, celebrities, authors and journalists. Tickets for the conference sold out in less than three hours when they went on sale in July.
“There is no place where you can go and see Gloria Steinem, Condoleezza Rice, Warren Buffett…Jennifer Lopez, Heidi Klum, Bono and Billie Jean King all in one day, all in one place,” Shriver said in the conference’s opening speech.
Because of the popularity of the conference, Shriver and the Chancellor Diane Woodruff, CEO of the Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges system, worked in tandem with nine schools to promote and broadcast the webcast.
“Because the interest in the conference is so great, the Governor’s Office asked if community colleges would show live broadcasts so that more people could see the conference live, even if they were unable to get tickets, said Jennie McCue, Saddleback’s public information officer. “We were happy to fulfill the request. The Women’s Conference is a wonderful and inspiring event, and we plan to show next year’s women’s conference.”
The morning campus discussion, entitled Finding Our Voice, was led by sociology instructor Allison Camelot, psychology instructor Anne Cox, and Spanish instructor Carmenmara Hernandez-Bravo.
“Out of fear of being perceived as extreme, as a feminist or bitchy, we run to the other extreme and silence ourselves,” Anne Cox said as she opened the discussion. “Our willingness to speak out and say what we think is what will truly change the world,” she said.
With that, IVC student Carolina Rekenthaler, 38, business, made her voice heard from the audience. “It is not just a women’s issue, it’s important for men and women,” Rekenthaler said. From the audience of about 30 people, heads nodded in agreement.
In response, Camelot spoke about common misconceptions of activists for women’s rights. “A feminist is a person who believes men and women should be economically and socially equal, that’s it. We don’t go out and burn our bras,” Camelot said.
Another audience member, Elsie Brunner, 86, shared her story. “I remember thinking how lucky I was to have had time with my kids and then go and work. I loved working and thought it was great. My husband didn’t think so. He said to me, ‘Don’t you ever think your salary supports this family,'” Brunner said. “Well, I divorced that husband” she said as the audience chuckled.
Cox said Brunner’s story was a great example of how men feel their power threatened when females make money. However, thanks to extended discussions like this conference, that fear has evolved since Brunner’s youth. “Young men in my classes are very comfortable with the idea of having a wife who earns more than they do,” Cox said with a smile.
Jason Lindenshofen, 34, anthropology, attends college while his wife works and earns the family income. “It took us a while to realize that all the decisions had to be equal. It’s about valuing each other’s contributions,” Lindenshofen said.
“Yes, both [partners] should still have a voice that is respected, regardless of who is making the money,” Cox added.
In addition to family and household issues, the group also touched on political topics when a camerawoman came out from behind her lens to question one of Camelot’s earlier remarks. “Isn’t it hypocritical to say we need women in power, but not just any woman?” the camerawoman asked.
“I don’t think we should just vote according to gender, ever,” Camelot responsed.
Hernandez-Bravo stood up to elaborate. “If there is a male candidate who is more qualified than the female candidate, then obviously we want the one who is most qualified. But if there is one male and one female who are both equally qualified, then it’s better to vote for the woman because we want more intelligent women in positions of power,” Hernandez-Bravo said.
“Having more women in power benefits everyone because then more diverse issues will be addressed. Then women have a voice at the table,” Cox added.
Continuing with the theme of women having power in their own lives, Shriver began the afternoon session by encouraging women to discover their own potential.
“What keeps us from becoming who we want to be?” said Shriver. “Fear makes us give up our own power, or worse, makes us realize that we didn’t have any power in the first place. If you let the fear stop you, you’re buying into that old fear of ‘you’re not worth it.'”
After sharing a deeply personal story about ailing mother, Eunice Kennedy, Shriver concluded, “Fear, pain and joy… I’ve learned all those feelings are okay. We listen to each other’s hearts. I’ve learned at age 52 that listening is love.”
The discussion was moderated by CNN news anchor Campbell Brown with “two of the most accomplished women,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and PepsiCo’s CEO, Indra Nooyi. Conversation topics included their mentors, confidence issues, the state of public education, and role of today’s women in politics.
Brown asked if there was a glass ceiling for today’s women. Nooyi chuckled, saying “glass is transparent and can be broken.”
Nooyi shared policies and programs PepsiCo has instituted to smooth the transition between the roles of career woman and mother. These included flexible schedules, onsite childcare and employee support programs specific to women of color.
Rice referred to current state of K-12 public education as, “a national security issue” because “we must have equal access to education for everybody; it can’t matter where you’re from, it’s where you’re going.”
A panel discussion, led by anthropology instructor Renee Garcia and sociology instructor Nicole Loftus, focused on the challenges women face in roles of leadership, working mother, and one’s goal of breaking through a perceived glass ceiling.
Garcia noted women of power in other countries, the sacrifices made, not without suffering, while Loftus explained American’s have the benefit of meritocracy, alluding that we are a country who judges others based on ability, not class or wealth.
Remarks by the attendees were related to women’s roles and relationships in both the home and work place, namely communication.
“Thank you to Saddleback College for giving me the opportunity feel like I was there,” said Janice Apperton, 49, undecided. “Not only did I get to see the entire conference, I met and shared with other women, both young and old, issues we are all facing in today’s society.”
Further information on the Women’s Conference is available on their Web site at http://www.californiawomen.org/.