Workshops Draw Women Seeking Their 'Own Voice'

Women's Fair Sessionson Careers And Self-awareness Prove Popular

March 16, 1992|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe | Deidre Nerreau McCabe,Staff writer

They came from many places and walks of life, ethnic backgrounds andraces. They wore sweat suits and business suits and spanned five decades in age.

Saturday, the county's annual Women's Fair attracted a diverse group to discuss issues ranging from spiritual awareness tosexual harassment. The only thing missing was the men.

"In years past, some of the (male) legislators came," said Jean Melton, an organizer of the event.

This year, the politicians failed to show. But that didn't seem to matter much to the more than 100 women who spent seven hours pondering numerous issues of importance totheir sex.

Some sought information, others sought solutions. And most went away feeling they had learned something about the state of the women's movement and themselves.

Linda Whiting, a Crofton resident attending her first fair, said she was surprised by the number of issues discussed and the camaraderie among the women.

"It's important to know all these issues are out there," she said, adding that many women are "self-insulated," financially secure through their husbands or boyfriends.

"I have a lot of work to do," said Whiting, ahomemaker until her recent divorce. "I realized today that it does not have to be a male-oriented world. We don't have to live like that."

Most of the women who paid $8 for the day of workshops and presentations signed up for sessions on intimacy, careers and self-awareness. The fair, sponsored by the county Commission for Women and Anne Arundel Community College, took place at the People's Resource Center in Crownsville.

Despite national publicity about sexual harassmentfollowing the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court nomination hearings, only six women attended a session on sexual harassment in the workplace.

Across the hall, 25 women packed the session on intimacy in relationships, with three or four more standing outside, listening throughthe open door.

The session focused on communication skills, self-awareness, and acceptance and honesty in relationships. Many women attending the session said they had been raised to defer to men, sacrificing much of their own happiness.

Learning about sexual harassment is important, said one woman, but learning "to find your own voice"was even more so.

"Stating your needs and wants and wishes is normal, if you were trained that way," said Sue Stitt of Arnold. "But you can be conditioned against it. If you're criticized or ignored whenyou say what you want, you may first learn not to state it. Then, you eventually learn not to even think it."

Later in the day, 20 women listened to tips on protecting themselves from sexual assault, in a session called "Fighting Back: Self-Defense for Women."

But the tips stressed by instructor Carol Taylor, an associate professor at Anne Arundel Community College, were not physical. In fact, Taylor warned repeatedly against using physical tactics in most cases.

"The man's not going to stand there and let you take three or four shots,"Taylor said. The average woman doesn't possess the dexterity and strength needed to debilitate an attacker with a single blow, she said.

The alternative could be talking to the attacker, to stall for time while thinking about the best way of escape, she said. As difficultas thinking about rape may be for most women, women who have thoughtthrough several plans generally fare better if they are attacked, Taylor said.

"Women who have thought it out don't generally fall to pieces," she said.

Taylor also described the profile of most rapists and dispelled several myths, like the idea that most rapists are strangers or attack women in dark alleys. Studies show that most rapes"are committed by people we know," she said.

Although most of theday was spent discussing weighty topics like inequities in the education of boys and girls, not all the workshops were serious.

A light-hearted session that proved successful was given by Darlene Washington, a supervisor with the county's Department of Recreation and Parks. Washington's mission was to teach women to make "high-fashion jewelry" using $1 worth of materials.

Several women admitted they hadn't planned to attend the session but ended up pleased with it.

"Totell you the truth, this was not my first choice. It seemed kind of,well, not very serious," said Laurie Fulk, of Gambrills.

"But it was fun," she said, examining the pin and earrings she had created. "It kind of breaks up the seriousness of the day."

Mary Nelson, of Rawlings in Allegany County, said she had found a more practical use for the session.

"My husband's been out of work for a year," she said. "I'm going to put him to work making them to sell."

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