Televised date rape trials, sexual harassment hearings, studies reporting inferior education for girls, books declaring a "backlash against feminism" -- the issues are complex and frightening ones for womento confront.
But organizers of the annual Anne Arundel County Women's Fair hope a daylong conference Saturday will help educate women on some issues and raise consciousness about others.
"In these last several years, women have certainly felt a sense of frustration, as domestic violence, violent crimes against women andsexual harassment have continued to be serious problems," said PeggyRightnour, co-chairwoman of the county Commission for Women and a fair organizer.
"It's important for organizations to continue to provide ongoing information about these issues, since the more informed and the more proactive women are, the less chance they'll be victims," she said.
The fair, which will be conducted this year in Crownsville, will feature 12 workshops on topics ranging from sexual harassment and self-defense to searching for intimacy.
Jean W. Melton, women's commission director and a fair organizer, said this year's theme, "Women of Today: Rediscovering Our Past -- Redefining Our Future,"was chosen to coordinate with the theme of National Women's History Month, which is celebrated throughout March.
"This is an opportunity to talk about our past and redefine our future," Melton said. "It's a way to make women aware of what they're capable of doing."
Melton said the fair, now in its fifth year, attracts women from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds. The cost is kept low -- $8 for the day and $5 for an optional lunch -- so most women can attend regardless of financial status.
"Traditionally, we've had a lot of low-income women come. It's an opportunity for them to take a class (for $8) that costs $50 or $60 elsewhere," Melton said.
This year, organizers expect about 200 to 250 participants. Last year, the conference drew 150 women.
Melton thinks interest may be higher this year because of the extensive media coverage of several issues, including sexual harassment in the workplace, date rape and reports of inequality inpublic education for boys and girls.
"The average woman is curious about all this," she said.
The fair is open to men and women, although Melton said that in previous years, no men have attended.
"We've had legislators and a male speaker once, but that's it," she said. "It's a little sad, but it's not unusual."
One of the objectives of the fair is to raise consciousness about women's issues. Organizers see the fair as an ongoing effort to educate women about their rights and issues that affect them directly, such as employment and self-esteem.
The county's Commission for Women and Anne Arundel Community College are the fair's primary sponsors and 15 other county organizations are co-sponsors.
For the past four years, the fair has been held at the community college, but budget cuts have forced the college to close its meeting facilities on weekends, Melton said. The fair will be held this year at the People's Resource Center in Crownsville, located off Crownsville Road.
Workshop registration begins at 8:15 a.m. and a presentation by keynote speakers starts at 8:45 a.m. The first set of workshops begins at 10:45 a.m., with the last setending at 4 p.m.
To register or for information, call 541-2784; Washington residents, call 261-2842, Ext. 784; South County, residentscall 721-6449, Ext. 784.