Great lectures for women who shop

You'd think Erin Brockovich would draw a mixed crowd, but it was distinctly feminine, like the products in the gift bag.

Observations

March 17, 2002|By Amanda Krotki | Amanda Krotki,Special to the Sun

After I graduated from an all-girls high school 10 years ago, my first thought was one of relief: I would never again be packed into a room filled with hundreds of women and not a man in sight.

Then I attended the first night of the Unique Lives & Experiences lecture series at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall last month, and had to think again.

I subscribed to the monthly series because I thought it would be interesting to hear what the five speakers -- Erin Brockovich, Lesley Stahl, Jehan Sadat, Maya Angelou and Barbara Bush -- had to say. It didn't occur to me that the fact that they are all women would have any bearing on the audience demographics.

Wrong.

We'll have to see who turns out tomorrow night to hear 60 Minutes reporter Lesley Stahl. But when my mother and I (both females, incidentally) arrived that first night to see Brockovich -- who has done her part to advance the woman's movement by choosing miniskirts and bustiers for her career wardrobe -- the Meyerhoff was an all-women mob scene. A gathering like that hadn't been witnessed since 1970s bra burnings. We're talking estrogen central. There were approximately 2,000 women there -- and maybe 30 men.

At first, this didn't really faze me. I really didn't have time to wonder about the men in attendance. (Though I would later: Were these the most self-actualized guys in town? Did they think this was a happening meat market? Or had they been dragged there by mates who thought they were seeing "The Vagina Monologues"?) I was too occupied with the assault of handouts, gift bags and strange freebies to focus on anything else.

Plastic bags were shoved in our hands at an alarming pace. My mom wondered if the organizers and sponsors thought women weren't happy unless they had a shopping bag to clutch.

As we rifled through the bags -- mostly stocked with pamphlets and pens -- we discovered ... emery boards. Emery boards, for Lilith's sake! I don't even know how to use one of those torture devices. What's next? Cosmetics? Sewing kits? Stockings? (I briefly wondered where the requisite breast exam card was; never fear, it was there.)

Some audience members actually used their emery boards as Brockovich spoke: Ladies, in the future, please turn off all cell phones and put away all grooming supplies!

As annoying as all that was, it wasn't my biggest concern: My mind was filled with visions of near-riots in the restrooms. In fear of lines longer than those you'd find at a C-Mart Kate Spade sale, I avoided all beverages. I also developed a plan that would enable us to commandeer the men's rooms, if necessary. Those 30 guys would just have to hold it. We are women, hear us roar!

Now, don't misunderstand me. There was nothing wrong with the lecture itself. Brockovich was engaging, charming and delightful, and most of the questions posed were intelligent and insightful. It was just that the event's other components had a sort of Stepford wife quality. Marketing a women's lecture series to women makes sense, but shouldn't men be encouraged to attend, as well? Where were the male students, lawyers and environmentalists?

If sponsors want to give something away, they should consider less insulting, gender-neutral items like cough drops, lip balm, first-aid kits and desk accessories.

When I got home that night, I asked my boyfriend why women attend lectures given by men, but not vice versa. "Did she talk about sports?" he replied.

Maybe Lesley Stahl will.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go do my nails.

Amanda Krotki is senior features producer for SunSpot.net, The Sun's site on the Web.

Lecture series

The Unique Lives & Experiences monthly lecture series takes place at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. The next speaker is journalist Lesley Stahl, tomorrow night at 7:30. All are welcome. For tickets, call 410-783-8000.

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