Feminists’ fall speaker discusses race, media, aging

Christina Chaey and Christina Chaey

If there’s one good thing New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Wurtzel can say about growing older, it’s that at least she’s gotten “bustier.”

“If you’re female, the aging process is a very strange thing,” the 41-year-old author of the controversial “Prozac Nation” told about 80 women and 12 men in a speech Tuesday night at Harris Hall. College Feminists hosted the event.

In her half-hour lecture, Wurtzel addressed issues like the media’s portrayal of Gov. Sarah Palin and the presence of racism and sexism in America.

Although Wurtzel called Palin a “good phenomenon” for her ability to balance five children, her position as governor and her participation in a presidential campaign, she made it clear that she did not condone Palin’s political or world views.

“I’m not going to go out of my way to say something nice about her,” she said.

In light of the victory of President-elect Barack Obama, Wurtzel said she has seen progress in the arena of racism but not sexism.

“Sexism is something that is getting worse,” Wurtzel said. “It’s not heading forwards, and that really scares me.”

Wurtzel’s essay discussed the dichotomy between feeling desirable and growing older through a narrative that reflected on her “failed love life.”

“Life seems terribly long, but what hit me that was really funny was that I thought I had forever to carry on,” Wurtzel said. “One day I looked in the mirror and I didn’t look the same. It’s a very terrifying thing.”

College Feminists treasurer Alyce Miller said she was under the impression Wurtzel would be reading passages from the controversial novels “Prozac Nation” and “Bitch,” until she received a call from Wurtzel on Tuesday morning asking if she could read something new she had been working on.

“She can say whatever she wants as far as I’m concerned; I would listen to it,” the McCormick junior said. “She’s funny and refreshing, and the thing about her work is you relate to it somehow.”

Wurtzel held an hour-and-a-half-long Q&A session after her reading, taking audience questions on topics ranging from the objectification of women to her former battle with drug addiction.

“Her themes don’t seem to all be related, so having such a long Q&A allowed the different things she’s written about to come up,” said Arianne Urus, College Feminists co-chairwoman. “People were able to ask her really provocative questions.”

Wurtzel was easy to relate to because she is such an honest and “uncensored” speaker, Miller said.

“When we pick a speaker we try to pick somebody who’s going to be interesting to a lot of different groups on campus,” said Weinberg sophomore Hannah Jaracz, College Feminists co-publicity chairwoman. “We picked her not only because she’s a feminist, but she’s also a journalist; she’s a lawyer.”

Miller said she hoped Wurtzel would appeal to a greater audience outside of College Feminists and that students would come in with open minds.

“A lot of people are just scared of the word ‘feminism,'” she said. “I was passing out fliers today, and people will look at them and go, ‘Oh.'”

Wurtzel said she was surprised to discover there is a stigma associated with feminism at NU.

“It’s a shame that it’s seen as women’s issues and not people’s issues,” she said. “It’s about how we make better families, not how we’re happier as women.”

People who hold common beliefs about gender issues such as equal pay fit the definition of a modern feminist, said Weinberg junior Lyzanne Trevino.

“I think people are feminists and don’t realize it,” she said. “They associate it with bra-burning, not-shaving, man-hating lesbians when really it’s so much more common than anyone thinks.”

Weinberg senior Matt Nusko, a co-chairman for the annual College Feminists event Take Back the Night said he tries to do what he can to fight the stereotypical male image, one he finds “extremely offensive.”

“The women’s movement has been this idea of a clash of women and men,” Nusko said. “It seems like it’s always a fight. It’s mislabeled as women’s issues when really it’s gender issues.”

[email protected]