Greater Hartford Women's Conference, featuring Dr. Gina Barreca, a success in South Windsor

By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
South Windsor - posted Wed., Mar. 27, 2013
South Windsor Connecticut Womens Conference Gina Barreca
Denise Carter and Shari Fiveash, left and right, co-chaired the 2013 Greater Hartford Women's Conference, featuring keynote speaker Dr. Gina Barreca (center). Photos by Christian Mysliwiec.

“No man has ever said I'm going to be a size 42 short by the end of the holidays,” said Dr. Gina Barreca, speaking before a full audience of women at the Greater Hartford Women's Conference March 26. “He walks into a store and buys something that fits him. We,” she said, encompassing all her female listeners, “try to contort ourselves to fit what's out there.” The audience  laughs and nods understandably. Then, her tone gets serious. “It's not just our clothes. It's our lives. We try to fit what is out there because those are the images we're given about women. And the images that we grew up with don't really reflect what you find, which is why conferences like today's conference are so important.”

Barreca was the keynote speaker at the 2013 Greater Hartford Women's Conference, held on Tuesday at Maneeley's Banquet Hall in South Windsor. Barreca is a professor of English and Feminist Theory at the University of Connecticut, and the author of “Not That I'm Bitter: How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Visible Panty Lines and Conquered the World.” She writes regularly for The Hartford Courant, “Psychology Today,” “The Chronicle of Higher Education” and The Huffington Post. She has appeared on “2020,” “The Today Show,” “Oprah,” “Dr. Phil,” CNN, the BBC and NPR.

Barreca attended Dartmouth College shortly after the school became co-ed, and told the audience that she was the “first girl to go to college in my family, and the first to graduate from high school in a timely manner.”

“I only learned to use the 'f word,' which in our culture is 'feminist,' when I was 18,” she said. “I assume everybody I meet is a feminist, male and female alike. I believe you think women are human beings, have souls, maybe even should have the right to vote – you're a feminist!” Still, she encounters students at UConn who approach her at the beginning of the semester and tell her she does not look like a feminist. “They're thinking, I'm not wearing a fedora or smoking a cigar,” she said. “I'm like, honey, this is what a feminist looks like.”

Feminism, she explained, is about being able to make choices and not having to stick to “a pre-written script that was made by somebody who did not really have you in mind.”

The way Barreca sees it, the perception that needs to change is the idea that if a girl is smart, she must be the exception. “You know who the heroine is in a Jane Austin novel or in any movie, because she's not like the other girls,” she said. “When you say to women, 'oh, you're just like women,' it's an insult. When you tell her, 'you're like one of the boys,' we still take that as a compliment.”

That is the attitude that needs to change, she said. When someone says “you're just like women,” the answer should be “thank you” - “You mean I'm compassionate, sympathetic, far-seeing? I have vision and am curious and creative?” she said. “Oh good!”

Denise Carter and Shari Fiveash, co-chairs of the Greater Hartford Women's Conference, were delighted with how the conference went. “We couldn't ask for a better day. It didn't snow, and that's a blessing right there,” said Fiveash. While they did not sell out all tickets like last year, Fiveash was pleased that all vendor spots were sold out.

“Gina was fantastic,” said Carter. “They loved her. And we had a great panel discussion this morning and a great featured speaker.” The conference started off with a panel discussion on mentoring, featuring Tricia Brunton, president of Xcel, The Females' Center of Excellence and Leadership, Dr. Gena Glickman, president of Manchester Community College, Cindy Moore, global human resources manager from General Electric, and Dr. Susan G. Weinberger, president of Mentor Consulting Group. The discussion was followed by a talk by Dr. Tracey Wilen-Daugenti, vice president and managing director of Apollo Research Institute, entitled “How Gender and Generations are Driving New Leadership.”

After Barreca's keynote, attendees could choose from six different workshops to attend. Donna Schneider of Eastern Connecticut Health Network presented “Laughing for the Ha Ha Health of It!”; Jill Butler of Jill Butler Art & Design presented “Compliments...Friend or Foe?”; Patricia Naegeli and Lisa Jolicoeur of Visiting Nurse & Health Services of Connecticut presented “Women as Caregivers – What Choices Do You Have?”; Julie Lapp of DST Output presented “The Power of Nice;” Joe Santoro and Elizabeth Milardo of Barnum Financial Group presented “Your Financial Journey: A Roadmap for Today's Woman;” and Dale Vannie and Anne Marie Vazzano of Stonewall Kitchen gave a demonstration on making crepes.

Another panel discussion was also held entitled “Be a Go-Giver as well as a Go-Getter: A Panel Discussion on Giving Back to the Community.” Moderated by Pam Papay, counselor to the president and CEO of the Newman's Own Foundation, the panel included Erin Fletcher, director of Volunteer Engagement at the Urban Alliance, Paula S. Gilberto, senior vice president of the United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut, Gloria McAdam, chief executive of Foodshare and Jessica Rich, director of operations and employee services at The Walker Group.

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