Seventh annual Mosaic gender issues conference tackles social norms

The seventh annual Mosaic conference was held yesterday in the University Center from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mosaic brings to campus an array of discussion and dialogue on issues related to gender and its social construction. This year’s theme, Lenses: Gender in Focus, aimed to critique the ways in which people view and accept socially constructed gender norms.

WNBA All-Star and 3-time Olympic Gold Medalist Sheryl Swoopes delivered the keynote address. Following Swoopes’ presentation, participants had four sessions during which they could attend workshops on a variety of subjects, including international conceptions of gender, fashion, violence in relationships, and GLBT adoption experiences.

Swoopes spoke about coming out as a homosexual female athlete and the ways in which her sexual orientation has affected her life and career. She described having to live for years hiding her sexual identity and learning how to “bounce back” from challenges. Swoopes described the turning point in her life, when she realized she was fed up with pleasing society and putting others’ happiness before hers, and decided to consider her own feelings first.

Swoopes explained how she saw her life reflected in the theme of Carnegie Mellon’s public art piece, “Walking to the Sky.”

“I wondered about the two guys at the bottom... [they were] waiting to see if the others were going to fail, which reminds me of my life. We all live under a microscope. [Because of that], making the announcement to come out and all the negative things people had to say, made [coming out] the hardest thing I had ever done in my life,” she said.

Swoopes believes that, female or male, it’s difficult to be gay in a professional athlete’s world.

“The world is not ready for a gay male athlete,” she said. “We put these men on a pedestal, and people are not ready for such a change.”

The reason homosexual males refrain from coming out during their careers, Swoopes said, is “because [they] probably wouldn’t be alive right now if [they] had.”

Swoopes did share one recent career highlight that she was particularly proud of — along with five other women, she will be a playable character in the Xbox game NBA STREET: Homecourt.

It will be the first time WNBA stars will be included in a video game along with NBA stars.

The lack of women in the video game world was the topic of discussion in the session titled “Game Over: Video Games & the Gender Divide,” led by senior computer science major Chris DeLeon.

In his presentation, DeLeon reported that women are outnumbered 9:1 in the industry. The lack of female designers, he said, accounts for the lack of available titles that interest women.

More boys than girls tend to play video games because the industry is targeted at the male demographic. However, girls are missing out on gaining valuable skills. Children develop new abilities from playing games, such as allocating funds, deciding when to “heal” a character, and completing an activity to gain a positive reward.

“Any industry that is half-dominated misses out on contributions from the other side,” DeLeon said. “Having an [equally] dominated development team allows for double the input and double the perspectives. When both [genders] are present, more profits can be made.”

Participants reacted favorably to the program.

“Mosaic is a great program,” said Irene Hanson Frieze, professor of psychology and women’s studies at the University of Pittsburgh and presenter on violence in dating relationships. “I believe that education is the key to understanding gender issues. It catches the patterns that set up and become manifest in adult behavior.”