On Thursday at the Eastern Michigan University Student Center, Women’s History Month keynote speaker and former Senator and Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun addressed a packed room with a presentation entitled, “America in 2014: Post-Racial and Post-Feminist? Future Directions in Civil and Political Rights.”
Mary Elizabeth Murphy, assistant professor of history, a member of EMU’s women’s and gender studies and Chair of Women’s History Month 2014 at EMU spoke about the importance of Braun’s lecture to this year’s Women’s History Month vision.
“This year, in 2014, Women’s History Month is celebrating women of courage, character and commitment,” she said. “This year marks a moment when EMU can celebrate the contributions of pioneering activists in various social movements, including feminism, racial justice, freedom in sexuality and gender identity and global women’s movements.”
Murphy also said that the current women’s movement focuses on many of the challenges faced by women, not only in Michigan, or just the United States, but globally. She said that Braun exemplifies this aspect of feminism because she made history by being the first and only African-American woman to serve in the U.S. Senate.
Giovanteey Bishop, majoring in political science with a women’s and gender studies minor at EMU, said it was an honor to welcome Braun, alluding to Braun’s history as an ambassador to New Zealand and her presidential campaign in 2004.
In addition to Braun’s term as U.S. ambassador to New Zealand from 1999-2001, she also represented Illinois in U.S. Senate from 1993-1999. During the 2004 U.S. Presidential election, Braun was a candidate for the Democratic nomination.
Braun began her address by thanking the audience for the warm welcome, with a special thanks to Murphy and Provost Kim Schatzel.
Braun spoke of the present, stating that the future is the legacy of what we do today. She said that that is important for the liberation of the human spirit.
“This is going to sound strange. I want you all to think about meat,” Braun said.
The meat Braun referred to was not dinner meat, but the flesh that defines us through race or gender.
“The skin we are in determines how the rest of humanity regards us and all too often how we are treated,” Braun said. “Male meat puts a person in a particular place, female meat puts one in another different place. If you are neither male nor female, or see yourself differently, you’re relegated to yet another place. How you are treated can swing violently from one extreme to another.”
Braun went on to explain that color, like gender, is an aspect of “meat.”
“If you’re white, you will undoubtedly have a different set of experience than if you are brown or black or a bronze,” Braun said.
“Color, like gender, has its variations and has the extra added nuance of hair, eye shape and physique. How color affects life experiences depends, frankly, on where you are.”
Braun said race is perceived very differently in various places, whereas gender is universal.
“Gender defines a divide no matter where in the world you are,” Braun said. “The fact that there are different roles for men and women is something that is old as time itself. And frankly, it is a fundamental distinction on how societies get constructed.”
She said that Karl Marx even said that gender was the original division of labor.
Braun said that the mind has very little to do with the physical condition of an individual.
“The mind is where the intellect and the spirit are joined,” Braun said. “It is where conscience and will and values reside. The eternal struggle between good and evil is propelled, I think, by the mind but is executed by the meat. What you think impacts the rest of us by virtue of what you do.”
She talked about the Civil Rights movement and how people came together to change the atmosphere of the segregation and other items taking place in the U.S.
“Ordinary folks who decided to be good and decent and caring and to do what they could in their way to make for the change that creates our reality,” Braun said of the Civil Rights leaders and everyday people who acted upon the change.
Braun said that it is important if people are concerned about future progress, but society needs to celebrate how far society has come.
“Once we celebrate how far we’ve come,” Braun said, “then I think we’re in a better place to determine how far and where we want to go next.”
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