Ladies’ Night at Illini Secular Student Alliance
October 23, 2012Rebecca Tippens, vice president of Illini Secular Student Alliance (ISSA), shares her perspective on women's only events, based on ISSA's experience holding a monthly Ladies' Night for group members.
When did ISSA start doing group Ladies' Nights, and what situation or experience motivated the decision?
We started Ladies' Nights in Fall 2011 after the Elevatorgate scandal prompted dialogue about the harassment of women in the secular movement. Our group has always been very diverse and, at least in the time that I've been a part of it, exceedingly welcoming to women. But—you know how it goes—you get the occasional creeper in the bunch. I personally experienced a harassment problem that prompted the group leadership to turn to our campus Women's Resources Center for advice. Our entire officership (11+ people) attended a training session in dealing with issues of harassment, etc, and decided soon after that we needed a casual setting in which to feel out any problems we might have in the future. Thus, Ladies' Night was born!
Did anyone in the group object to you having Ladies' Nights? What kinds of objections were there, if any, and how did you respond? Does the group have men's only and women's only events, or just women's only ones?
There were no major objections/objectors—just a few playful jabs. A very small handful of the guys in the group actually formed their own unofficial LAN party for the same evening as Ladies' Night, but it wasn't club-sponsored or anything. As for the possibility of "men's only" events, we personally feel that the particular set of issues that necessitates Ladies' Nights doesn't really exist for the male population (of our group, at least) so a Mens' Night wouldn't accomplish much.
How are the events presented/advertised? Are men excluded from attended, or just encouraged not to?
We generally invite all of the women in the club individually via Facebook or other means. Because Ladies' Night is a sleepover, men are not allowed. Though the LAN guys once showed up and silly-stringed us pretty badly after we used some of our quality time together to TP their cars.
What are the events like? Are they discussions, or social function, or a variety? What kinds of topics come up? How do they differ from other events your group has?
Honestly, they're like the clichéd sleepovers you see in all those '80s coming-of-age movies. But in the best possible way. We have snacks, play games, watch movies and chat. They're purely social events, but much more intimate than is typical for the group. In that setting, we can discuss anything and everything, no agenda needed. Honest dialogue plus bonding. It's pretty great!
Would you recommend other groups have women's only meetings/discussions/activities? Has it helped women feel more welcome? Have you gotten positive feedback about it?
I have yet to hear from anyone who did not enjoy our Ladies' Nights immensely, and I simply can't recommend them enough. Not only have they made our female members feel more welcome, but they've served to create lasting bonds between them and set a precedent as far as communication goes. I feel confident that all the girls are comfortable approaching myself or other ISSA ladies with any issues, and that's what matters.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
I know the hot-button issue is ladies-only discussions, but I think a good old-fashioned sleepover might be the better way to go about things. A casual setting promotes more honest dialogue anyway. Plus, there's something to be said for clearly differentiating Ladies' Night from normal weekly meetings. We hold ours on a Saturday night every semester, while our meetings always fall on Thursdays. That way, it's not like we're saying, "Hey dudes, you can't come to this week's meeting. Sorry."—we're just adding another event for one particular group.
About the Author: Sarah Kaiser
Sarah Kaiser is a field organizer for CFI On Campus. Prior to her work at CFI, she got her start in the freethought movement as the co-founder and president of the Secular Alliance at Indiana University, where she helped organize a nationally recognized atheist bus ad campaign and large campus speaking events. As an atheist, a feminist, and a small part of the universe's way of understanding itself, she is thrilled at the chance to help advance CFI's mission. On Twitter: @sarahebkaiser.
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