Three prominent female members of the arts community addressed an audience of more than 200 as part of last week’s “Gender Matters” conference, even as one — award-winning architect Maya Lin ’81 GRD ’87 — was conspicuously absent.
Author Gloria Naylor GRD ’83 and film producer Sarah Pillsbury ’74 spoke on the topic “Imagination: Center of the Arts” at the Law School Auditorium Friday. Lin was slated to talk as well, but canceled because of her studio’s proximity to the World Trade Center. African-American studies associate professor Elizabeth Alexander replaced Lin on the panel.
The panel was part of “Gender Matters,” a two-day conference organized by the Women Faculty Forum, a group of more than 20 of Yale’s female faculty members that convenes regularly to ensure that women play a prominent role at the University.
Alexander spoke first, saying too few women in academia currently participate in the field of gender studies. She said she is concerned that many current gender theorists act as though the female perspective on women’s struggles for equality do not matter.
“I am an old-fashioned feminist,” Alexander said.
Alexander then read some of her poetry, which is based on her research in the field. She said her goal in writing is “to give a voice to women [who] history has displaced.”
Naylor, who was Alexander’s mentor, discussed the importance her parents placed on reading. She also spoke about the reaction to her first novel, “The Women of Brewster Place,” which tells the story of seven women. She said many readers have asked her why the book does not feature men.
“They weren’t really asking ‘Where are the men?’ but ‘How dare you forefront the women?'” Naylor said.
Pillsbury, who spoke last, was at the forefront of co-education at Yale — she was a member of the second undergraduate class that matriculated female freshmen. She said the 8-1 ratio of male to female students may have seemed advantageous to females, but “was amusing really only in the abstract.”
She said she never had a female professor at Yale, and that former Yale President Kingman Brewster publicly declared that the University was still committed to producing 1,000 male leaders every year.
While studying in Africa, Pillsbury realized she wanted to make documentary films, but her goal later changed to producing feature films. She had planned to show clips from two of her movies, “Desperately Seeking Susan” and “Lovefield,” but technical difficulties inhibited the sound system’s functioning.
References to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York abounded at the panel. In addition to the absence of Lin, who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. and the Women’s Table at Yale, Pillsbury dedicated the last part of her talk to a discussion of the role of violence in the visual media.
Pillsbury criticized filmmakers who glorify violence. She said many of the studios that delayed releases of violent or terrorist-related films in the wake of the recent tragedy did so only to avoid alienating audiences.
She said, “I live in a town where people dream this up all the time and sell it, and then have the audacity to defend their right to do so as free speech, without a thought to social concerns.”