This weekend, the student organization Genuine Feminine will be holding its sixth annual conference at Ave Maria University. The topic of this year’s conference is “The New Feminism” – a look at feminism in the 21st century and an exploration of how to answer Pope St. John Paul II’s call to a “'new feminism’ which…acknowledge[s] and affirm[s] the true genius of women in every aspect of the life of society, and overcome[s] all discrimination, violence and exploitation'” (Evangelium Vitae, 99).
“The conference is inspirational for a lot of young women,” Catie Crnkovich, Director of this year’s conference, remarks. Continuing, she says: “Especially college women, who wonder and start to worry about what they will do after college and what kind of battles they will face on account of their being young, Catholic, intellectual women.”
Fiona Littleton, who is Speaker Coordinator for this year’s conference, hopes that those who attend the conference will come away with “an understanding of the unique role that women play in today’s culture.” And, she continues, “the ways in which college women can live out the ‘new feminism’ that Saint John Paul II thought is necessary for the establishment of a culture of life.”
Building a stronger culture of life is important to the conference organizers. “I believe that living out the new feminism is indeed synonymous with being a pro-life feminist,” Blaise Carson, AMU Sophomore and Director of Fundraising for Genuine Feminine, says. “Which is why I am most excited to hear from Erika Bachiochi, who will share her journey from liberal feminism to the new feminism and offer us practical advice from her life story as she now lives out the new feminism by actively working for the pro-life cause.” Guest Speaker Erika Bachiochi of the Ethics and Public Policy Center will talk over lunch on “Engaging Feminism: A Personal Narrative.”
Blaise also hopes that conference attendees “will gain a deeper understanding of feminism and how it has impacted our society, both negatively and positively.”
[Members of Genuine Feminine 2016; Outside clockwise from top left: Fiona Littleton, Genevieve McNalis, Mariana Kerwin, Megan Kube, Noelle McMahon, Blaise Carson, Anna-Claire David, Erin Rooney, Anna Kunza, Catie Crnkovich; and Middle, clockwise from left: Adrienne Conley, Emily Swope, Rose Canavan.]
Rose Canavan, who oversees advertising for the club activities and conference, is most excited to hear from the afternoon panel, “The Male Perspective,” featuring Dr. Daniel Davy and Dr. Keith Houde. “Men and Women were created in complementarity; equal in dignity, but different and complementary,” Rose remarks. “That is something that the radical feminist movements of modern times have neglected to acknowledge… For this conference topic in particular, it is important to incorporate men into our discussion of what the ‘New Feminism’ ought to be.”
Rose foresees that this conference, like the ones in past years, will challenge students with questions “that will spawn insightful conversations and discussions throughout the rest of the year.” Rose and her roommates are still discussing today topics that were brought up at the 2015 conference on “Women and Art.”
Catie is looking forward to hearing from keynote speaker Christina Hoff Sommers, whose address over dinner is entitled: “Freedom Feminism: What’s Right (and Badly Wrong) with Feminism.” While preparing for this year’s conference, Catie has been reading up on the history of feminism and some of the movement’s major works. “There are so many interesting (and opposing, as time went on!) ideas that have been raised in the major feminist works,” Catie says, “that it has peaked my desire to hear from an expert in that field, and someone whom I trust on the subject. In other words, I’m thirsty for some words and concrete advise from the ‘factual feminist’!” (See Hoff Sommers’ YouTube channel.)
Organizing and fundraising for the annual conference is a huge amount of work, especially when balanced with the life of a student taking a full course load. When asked what motivates them to put on the conference, the young women cited “the team” and “the mission.”
“Putting together the annual conference is a lot of work and a big time commitment,” Rose reflects. “But never yet, through the entire planning process, has my GenFem work been a bore or a burden. Amidst all the 7am early morning meetings, and stacks of conference details added on top of homework, and other commitments, the mission of the club is truly what motivates me.”
“The hope,” Blaise adds, “that we can reach as many women as possible and spread our message and mission of authentic femininity motivates me to help put on this conference. It also has helped me grow as a person to have the responsibility of a work that is larger than myself and a responsibility to the other girls and my friends in GenFem.”
It’s the “girls on the team, and other girls who get interested in the club,” who motivate Catie to put on the conference. “Actually,” Catie offers, “getting to know the GenFem girls was one of the things that really drew me to apply to Ave Maria University—I had never met a group of girls so attractive and professional and joyful as these. There was so much potential in them, not to mention the great things they were already doing. And they made it seem as if their way of life was the most normal thing in the world! They just had their heads on straight, they weren’t wasting their time, and their lives were good. That was the kind of girl I wanted to be like!”
Offering a suitable closing word on the matter, Blaise says: “GenFem’s mission and work is unlike any other organization I have encountered, and I think it is so important for women today to be able to have a place like GenFem to ask questions and explore the true meaning of living out our femininity, genuinely. I have made such strong and lasting friendships in GenFem, and I would encourage anyone who is interested to look into becoming more involved.”
Registration for the 2016 conference is still open!
Events this year begin on Friday night with a kick-off coffee house, featuring musical entertainment by AMU alumni Peter Atkinson and Ben Houde, followed by speaker Marguerite Nemeth, Residence Director of Mother Teresa Hall.
The conference opens Saturday morning with an address from Dr. Maria Fedoryka (Associate Professor of Philosophy, AMU) on “The New Feminism: A Practical Guide.” Later in the morning, there will be a panel featuring AMU alumnae and former conference organizers, Eileen Gallagher, Angela Winkels and Sarah Blanchard. Guest Speaker Erika Bachiochi will offer her personal testimony over lunch, followed by an exhibit. After the male panel in the afternoon, Dr. Catherine Pakaluk (Assistant Professor & Chair of Economics at AMU) will give an address entitled “In the House of Self-Knowledge: Feminism, Liberation and Dependence.” The conference closes with dinner and a keynote address from Dr. Christina Hoff Sommers.
To view the complete list of speakers and events, visit www.genuinefeminine.com.