A new series of conferences, presented by Radcliffe and designed to help women address their needs in "a complex and interdependent world," opened Friday with "Defining the Challenge: Emerging Needs and Constraints," the first of three conferences to be given in the course of this year.
The conferences, funded by a $240,000 grant from the Charles H. Revson foundation, are being organized by Radcliffe President Matina Horner and psychologist Virginia O'Leary, a former officer at the American Psychological foundation and a visiting scholar at Radcliffe. The goal of the conference, according to Horner, is to "get the very best people together...to think in new ways about a whole range of issues."
"We were trying to solve yesterday's problems, while we need to address the problems of today and tomorrow," Horner said. "The notion was to get people from many sectors of society: the public policy-makers, scholars and the media...to come together and see where we were."
Horner stressed the idea that there is "a complex and interdependent world" affecting women's issues, and said that Harvard and Radcliffe's responsibilities as institutions was to anticipate and remain sensitive to emerging issues.
Suzanne Keller, a professor of sociology at Princeton and one of the four Friday lecturers, said one of the purposes of the conference is to "exchange ideas and discuss strategies." She commented that the day went well and that there was "an emotional and electric charge of interest" during the speeches. Harvard Law School professor Kathleen Sullivan, another of the participants, agreed, saying that so far, the conference "has produced a lot of crossfire and stimulations."
After opening remarks by Horner, the morningbegan with a speech by University of Virginiaprofessor Daphne Spain entitled "Women'sDemographic Past, Present and Future," which wasfollowed by "Women in the Twenty-First Century" alecture given by Keller. After a break for lunch,Sullivan spoke about "Constitutional and LegalIssues Facing Women in the Twenty-First Century."
Sullivan's talk focused on two major legalissues concerning women, equality and privacy. Shestated that there were two extreme points of viewon the meaning of "equality" for women: the "realdifferences" view, that biological and socialdifferences between the sexes mean that women needspecial protection under the law, and the "no realdifferences" view, which holds that as the onlytrue difference between the sexes is biological,women should be treated no differently than menunder the law.
The first point of view engenders "laws that,in short, put women on a pedestal," said Sullivan,who cited the draft, which excludes women, as anexample. Followers of the second doctrine believethat protective laws actually hurt women byprolonging stereotypes and, with laws grantingwomen long maternity leaves, "protecting women outof the market," according to Sullivan.
Sullivan then spoke about the issues of privacyand women's right to reproductive autonomy. Shesaid that although the Supreme Court has continuedto support the Roe v. Wade decision, thegovernment has recently made it increasinglydifficult for women to get abortions by cuttingoff funding for abortion clinics. Sullivan thenpredicted that Roe v. Wade will stand, althoughmany people believe that it will eventually beoverturned because the Supreme Court is"conservative" in the sense that it resistschange.
Sullivan's lecture was followed by a discussionsession and a reception at Agassiz Hall. After thereception, Barbara Bergmann, professor ofeconomics at American University, ended the daywith a speech about "A Social Policy and ResearchAgenda for the Sex-Role Revolution: What SocialScientists can contribute."
O'Leary said she hoped the conferences will berevolutionary in presenting women's issues andnoted that published documentation of theconfernces has been planned. The first conferencewill end Saturday with a lecture by CatharineStimpson, dean of the Graduate School andprofessor of English at Rutgers University,entitled "On Feminist Scholarship," followed by apanel discussion. The second conference,"Restructuring for Reality: An In-Depth Look atSelected Issues," will be held March 2-4 and willfocus on health, family and work. The finalconference, "Meeting the Challenge: Women asLeaders," is planned for May 12 and 13