Senior Hannah Seferos can’t help but laugh as she recalls a lecture she attended during her freshman year. In her Introduction to Politcal Theory class, Seferos listened as her professor discussed representation of women in politics. The lecture stated women traditionally don’t feel as comfortable participating in group conversations because society’s gender norms have taught them to be passive, not outspoken. After the lecture, the class had a chance to comment on the discussion — only men raised their hands.
“We were talking about this women’s issue, and only the men felt comfortable enough to raise their hands and share,” Seferos said.
The irony stuck with her.
Four years later, Seferos is the Professional Women’s Association president, a Western club she has been part of since the start of her freshman year. Founded in 2009, the PWA focuses on the personal and professional development of women, by challenging and facing the barriers women often experience in a professional work environment. In Utah, where Seferos was raised, there weren’t opportunities to get involved in women’s social justice groups. After attending her first PWA meeting, Seferos said she found her niche.
“…I think it’s really great to create this community where we can support each other and help each other get where we want to be.”
A main focus of the group is addressing the stigma surrounding competition between women. Standing up for one another and making sure women build each other up is very important, regardless of the situation, Seferos said.
“Women are often pitted against each other,” Steferos said. “They are told that they can’t reach those high positions and can’t get those jobs, so I think it’s really great to create this community where we can support each other and help each other get where we want to be.”
Seferos thinks clubs like the PWA are important to have on university campuses because it provides the space and encouragement for women and other marginalized gender identities, especially following this year’s election.
“The way Hillary Clinton was treated throughout the entire election cycle — regardless of whether or not you agree with her or her policies — the way she was criticized so much more heavily just shows that our thoughts about women haven’t changed that much,” Seferos said. “I think there’s an underlying thought that she wasn’t good enough for the job maybe because she was a woman, and a lot of people would disagree with that, but I think the way she was treated throughout the election shows that, and the comments our president-elect made, specifically toward women, definitely showcased that.”
President-elect Donald Trump’s comments about women were one of the focal points of the media’s coverage. During a Republican presidential debate in August 2015, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly questioned Trump on the way he has talked about women. Trump criticized Kelly on Twitter following the debate. In an interview with CNN he said, “I don’t respect her as a journalist. I have no respect for her.” Trump continued, “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever. In my opinion, she was off base.”
Seferos said she was most upset with the way Trump discussed sexual assault after tapes were released of him telling Billy Bush how he would grab women.
Club member and Associated Students Vice President of Business and Operations Mary Moeller finds it hard to stay neutral on this topic.
“I’m an elected official so I’m supposed to be apolitical, but it is difficult to see the kind of sexism that has come out following the election,” Moeller said. “I want to succeed as a professional woman, [so] watching other women struggle against misogyny is difficult because it makes me feel like my goals are, perhaps, not as achievable.”
Despite this sentiment, Moeller hopes women can come together and continue to fight for equality. As president of the PWA, Seferos works hard to get alumni and woman speakers who can inspire members to continue working hard on their goals.
“I always leave the meetings feeling so pumped up,” Seferos said. “We have had such amazing examples of professional women who have gone out and done what they wanted to do, and they’ve been very successful.”
At every PWA meeting there’s a presentation or workshop focused on topics such as personal finances or building resumes. Some meetings hold discussions about problems women have in terms of identity and equality, and attendees come up with tactics to combat those issues. PWA meets at 5 p.m. on Tuesdays in Miller Hall 105.