Students pursue women's rights through Portland High School club

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PORTLAND — Why do women make less money than men? Why is almost everything marketed to women pink or some other “fluffy color? Why are the insults men have for each other rooted in feminine traits?

These are just some of the questions members of the Women’s Rights Club at Portland High School grappled with at a recent meeting.

Other issues that came up for discussion included the fact it’s hard to gain the respect of boys if girls don’t respect each other first, and why boys are called “whipped” when they do something nice or thoughtful for a girl.

Membership in the club has more than doubled this fall, but the reasons for that are unclear, according to Susannah Green, the club’s adviser and a French teacher at the school.

She said some of the increased interest could be due to last fall’s presidential election and the aftermath, or it could be due to the club’s focus on getting the word out or it could be this new generation of girls are just vocal and committed.

While Green is thrilled with the increased interest in the Women’s Rights Club, she also finds it discouraging that some of the things girls today are talking about are the same issues she faced as as a teenager several decades ago.

Green said the club was founded three years ago and this fall there’s been “an explosion” in the number of new members.

She said the group is completely student-run: “All I do is open my door and provide a place for them to be.”

Green also noted that the club’s new leaders are deeply committed to “community building and creating a welcoming space.”

The club is led by three juniors: Reagan Brown and Lilah Morrow-Spitzer are the co-presidents and Emily Freedman is the secretary.

All three said their goal for the Women’s Rights Club is to create a space where members feel comfortable, can be themselves and feel safe speaking their minds.

The club is not limited to girls, they said, and they’re hoping that more boys will be willing to join. Two boys were in attendance at the Sept. 22 meeting.

“We would be very happy to have boys. We want a good representation (of students),” Morrow-Spitzer said.

But, she added, “We only want people interested in the greater good, not just in padding their resumes.”

When asked about the sharp uptick in membership, Morrow-Spitzer said, “the (presidential) election has everyone riled up and upset.”

Brown also mentioned the Women’s March movement, which is getting set to hold its first national convention this month in Detroit.

In response to a comment made during the club’s meeting last week, Morrow-Spitzer said she can’t understand why the idea of women wanting equality is bad.

“We don’t want to be better than men,” she said. “We just want a level playing field. Feminism should not be a bad label. The word feminist should not have a bad connotation.”

At each meeting Brown and Morrow-Spitzer alternate asking a question meant to spark discussion.

Last week it was Brown’s turn and her question was: “Can you think of a time you’ve been discriminated against or been treated unfairly because of your sex?”

During the meeting Brown remembered wanting to play football with the boys during recess when she was in elementary school, but none of the boys would pick her to be on their team.

“I was so mad,” she said.

And Morrow-Spitzer mentioned that a lot of popular music, even some made by women, is “so degrading to women if you really take the time to listen to really popular songs. It’s disgusting.”

Brown said in coming up with the questions to ask at each meeting, she and Morrow-Spitzer try to choose a topic “that’s broad and can be analyzed and responded to in many different ways.”

What’s important, Morrow-Spitzer said, is for club members to feel free to voice their opinion, even if they disagree.

Overall, she said, “We just want to make a difference.”

Brown said what’s impressed her the most is that “there’s a real level of sincerity” with the club’s new members.

She plans to continue fighting for women’s rights, she said, “until we have rights.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

The leaders of the Women’s Rights Club at Portland High School: Emily Freedman, left, Reagan Brown and Lilah Morrow-Spitzer.

Members of the Women’s Rights Club at Portland High School talk about times they’ve been discriminated against or treated unfairly because of their gender. There’s been a surge in interest in the club this fall.

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  • Mainer1

    Women have equal rights under the law. Period