Gender takes the floor

Yesterday, discussion of superwomen, men getting manicures, and appropriate spheres of influence for the sexes dominated the University Center as Carnegie Mellon held its annual conference on gender issues, MOSAIC. This year’s theme, “Gender Fender Benders,” wrestled with the socio-cultural taboos embedded in gender performance and gender spaces. Now in its eighth year, MOSAIC aims to examine gender constructions by bringing together a range of academic disciplines in discussion of gender issues.

“We are very pleased to have an accomplished writer and educator on gender issues, Michael Kimmel, as our keynote speaker this year,” said Andrea Cinkovic, a graduate business administration student and MOSAIC committee chair.

The day’s events began at 10 a.m., with the keynote speech from Kimmel, a spokesperson for the National Organization for Men Against Sexism, a pro-feminist educator and an activist on issues of masculinity and gender. He is also a professor of sociology at the State University of New York at Stonybrook as well as a published author and celebrated lecturer at college campuses and other venues.

For Sunday’s keynote, Kimmel spoke on the means of implementing and internalizing gender equality in and away from the college campus setting.

Many students were impressed with Kimmel’s keynote.

“The way he talked about feminism was really interesting,” said Jessica Chuang, a sophomore chemistry major. “He said that men shouldn’t be threatened by feminism, but rather that they should learn from it and from the progress women have made in order to better themselves.”

Faculty members and both undergraduate and graduate students at Carnegie Mellon as well as those of nearby universities led the sessions, the series of which began immediately after the keynote and lasted until 4:30 p.m.

Many of the sessions confronted taboo topics of gender, while others were specific to this year’s theme.

Some of the sessions included “How The Real Man Got His Groove On,” which questioned what it means for a woman to act like a man, and “Singles Relationship Workshop,” in which students participated in speed dating.

The session “What you Will or Goethe’s Curse” even featured live streaming video to the Carnegie Mellon-Qatar campus in discussion of specified gender behavior as seen in everyday actions such as speech, movement, and thinking.

Some of this year’s sessions particularly stuck out for students.

Allison Stone, a sophomore history major, spoke about the “What is Masculinity?” session.

“I really liked that it was interactive,” she said. “We were given the role of men from different time periods, such as medieval, renaissance, and modern, then asked to act them out in a skit. We discussed afterwards what it really means to be a man.”

“The objective of MOSAIC is to offer provocative sessions aimed at exploring gender constructions in unconventional ways. To that end, the committee works to carve out a conference that responds to the intersection of gender with notions of difference,” Cinkovic said.
Cinkovic also noted that the diversity of the programs available is what makes MOSAIC so interesting each year.

“As its name implies, the MOSAIC conference aspires to connect the many fragments, or voices, into a collective dialogue,” Cinkovic said. “We seek to open multiple ways of seeing while celebrating our common objectives of creating inclusive and equitable communities. The committee has worked hard to bring programs that would appeal to both men and women on campus and in the community.”

The MOSAIC committee began preparing for the event in September, which included creating sessions and promoting the conference.

Kaylie Thompson, a senior chemistry major and MOSAIC committee member, spoke of the importance of choosing topics for each year’s events.

“In order to get a good keynote speaker and presenters for the sessions, it is important to brainstorm early about what types of gender issues you think are most important and interesting to address,” Thompson said.

“MOSAIC is important because it is the one large-scale gender conference that Carnegie Mellon does every year, and it is so important to recognize that gender is still a salient issue in our society. Not even necessarily action, but awareness of the issues, can make such a huge difference.”

Cinkovic mentioned that events in the past have been very successful with great feedback from both the students and faculty members who participated.

“MOSAIC is always well received at Carnegie Mellon. Both students and faculty enjoy attending this conference and truly add the dynamic of MOSAIC,” Cinkovic said.

Each year, students fill out surveys evaluating current programs and making future requests.
Thompson spoke of the wide variety of people that attend MOSAIC and to whom the issues apply.
“A lot of people that did not necessarily think they would come to the conference, but were encouraged to, ended up really learning and enjoying it,” Thompson said.

“And this year, the conference is more focused on men’s issues than it ever has been, so hopefully we’ll get a good mix of the sexes at MOSAIC this year," she said.