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Women's Week embraces feminine diversity

Courses in self-defense, kickboxing, manners and much more made this year's Women's Week, which ran from Nov. 5-10, far more comprehensive than ever before.

"We tried to elevate it a bit this year to make it appealing to many different women," said senior Janet Zhou, one of the organizers.

Coordinated by the MIT Pan-Hellenic Society and sponsored by MIT Medical, Student Life, MIT Society of Women Engineers, MIT Leadership, the Association of Student Activities, Arcade (Assisting Recurring Cultural and Diversity Events) and the Baker Foundation, the weeklong series of events was designed "to promote a model of femininity that incorporates and embraces the properties of intelligence, competence and ambition."

Rather than focusing primarily on physical beauty, this year's events focused on physical fitness, diversity and life skills -- such as tax preparation and etiquette training. Zhou organized a four-hour leadership conference to kick off the week's activities. The 100 participants broke into groups and formed improvement plans around such issues as mentoring and advising, political/social awareness in the classroom and creating more campus unity.

Later in the day, the group had lunch with 50 faculty members and administrative officials. "It went really well," said Zhou, who said she hopes that next year's conference will be expanded to include graduate students. "It was very helpful to all who participated."

Although the faculty and administrators who attended the conference included men and women, Zhou said the all-women format worked well for the student attendees. "The qualities we were trying to promote were well served," said Zhou.

Throughout the week, there was a photo booth in Lobby 10 sponsored by Apple Computer. Participants had their photos taken with a digitally created T-shirt stating, "I am a feminist." More than 150 people, half of them men, got their pictures taken. "The idea is that feminism doesn't have just one face," Zhou said.

The campaign included seven well-known campus figures wearing the T-shirt on posters distributed around campus.

Women's Week also included workshops in diversity, money management and safety. On Wednesday evening, female MIT faculty members joined female students in a discussion about the challenges faced by women around the world.

The week culminated in "The Double Dare Ultimate Sex Challenge" -- a competition that featured men and women building models of the other gender's reproductive system and questions about safer sexual activity. The men won two rounds and the women won one, Zhou said.

"The program itself was a lot of fun," she said.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 16, 2005 (download PDF).

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