"How should we study women's history?" asked a man in the audience in the University of Utah's Fine Arts Center this past week. A fortuitous question: March is National Women's History Month; March 8 is International Women's Day.
He asked the question of Mary-Kay Gamel, professor of classics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Gamel, who was invited to speak on the subject of Roman women at the University of Utah Liberal Education Lecture Series, obliged by broadening her subject to include all women's history."First, be ready to know your own cultural presuppositions," she said. Most people think gender is natural, she said - that the differences between men and women are inherent. "I don't think so. I think the main differences between men and women are social."
Gamel doesn't believe all women just naturally feel or act a certain way, though throughout history and in various cultures, philosophers and historians have attempted to categorize women as naturally something. Naturally unfit to vote, naturally good mothers, naturally less stable than men. . . .
"Second," Gamel said, "Be willing to accept an incomplete picture."
There is shockingly little information available about Roman women, she said. Of the writings of Roman women, Gamel mentioned six poems, some graffiti on the walls of Pompeii and a curse - leveled against another woman - written on thin sheets of lead. ("I curse her teeth, her bones, her belly, her mouth, her fingers. . . .")
The temptation, Gamel said, is to manufacture a more complete history - to imagine that Roman women felt as modern American women do about everything from husbands and children to the wearing of earrings.
In reality we have only fragments of what they thought; and scant information about what male authors thought of them.
We must accept the fragments, Gamel said, rather than try to construct an entire picture which would most likely idealize or degrade Roman women.Women's History Month gets under way at the U. this week with presentations on health, careers, diversity and higher education, as well as a concert featuring the Saliva Sisters and folk singers Julie Mark and Maggie Beers. All events are free and open to the public.
- On Tuesday, March 5, women minority students will present a panel discussion from 10 a.m. to noon in the Marriott Library auditorium.
Nancy Amidei, the recipient of this year's Belle S. Spafford visiting professorship, will discuss "Women and Poverty: How Women Can Advocate for Change," at noon in the Olpin Union Little Theatre.
- Barbara Solomon, dean of the graduate school at the University of Southern California, offers the keynote address at noon Wednesday, March 6, in the Olpin Union Ballroom.
Solomon will talk about "New Perspectives on the Life Cycles of Women." Her talk will focus on reciprocity, she said.
"As women's options have increased, we have not looked at the need for reciprocal options for men," she said. "For example, families are now just as interested in sports for their daughters as for their sons. But we have not seen the same increased interest in teaching boys how to cook and sew.
"In adulthood, women can get out of the house, move into power positions in the community, but again, men are not taking some of the nurturing volunteer roles that women used to fill."
Also on Wednesday, from 2 to 4 p.m., the College of Nursing will present health workshops in the Marriott Library auditorium and a panel of experts will discuss nontraditional career options at the same time.
As part of series of films about women, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" will be shown at 7 p.m. All films are in the Marriott Library auditorium.
- On Thursday, March 7, a panel will talk about "Mothers and Daughters: Growing Together Through a Lifetime."
Mary Lou Fenili, acting director of affirmative action at the University of Colorado in Denver, will talk about promoting women and minorities, also on Thursday, in the Olpin Union ballroom at noon.
Two films about women in the Middle East, "Veiled Revolution" and "Family Matters: The Role of the Family in the Middle East," will be shown on Thursday, beginning at 3:25 p.m.
- The Saliva Sisters and Julie Mark and Maggie Beers perform Friday, March 8, at 7:30 p.m. in the Olpin Union ballroom.
Films to be shown are "Roe vs. Wade" at 10:30 a.m., "Whales of August" at 1 p.m., and "Place of Weeping" at 2:30 p.m.
- For the entire week, there will be a photography exhibit by Utah women in the Marriott Library auditorium, as well as books on Middle Eastern women in the Middle East Studies section and materials about Utah pioneers and contemporary women's organizations on display in Special Collections.
- LATER IN THE MONTH, the Governor's Commission for Women will hold a celebration Wednesday, March 27, from 7 to 9 p.m. in the auditorium of the State Office Building.
The celebration will include a salute to all female state legislators, past and present. Delia Abbott, former legislator and author of "Women Legislators of Utah: 1876-1976," will be honored.