Empowering women through actions and art

Some of the highlights of the Women’s Empowerment Week that took place during April 25-29, were the Women’s Self-Defense Seminar and the “Body Liberation” photo exhibition.
The Women’s Self-Defense Seminar took place at 1 p.m. on April 21 in the Multi-Purpose Room of the Wellness Center. The program was sponsored by Lawrence University Grappling Club, with the help of coaches from Fox Valley Grappling Club. During the two-hour seminar, participants discussed the necessity of protecting their own bodies as women and learned basic movements of self-defense rooted in Brazilian jujitsu. This type of ground-based jujitsu is originally designed to protect the weaker, smaller person against physically bigger opponents making it easily applicable to an attack and defense situation.

Junior and President of Lawrence Grappling Club Shana Pike has been organizing this annual seminar for the past two years. She began training in the martial arts at the Fox Valley Grappling Club when she entered college, but her interest in women’s self-defense started much earlier than that. Pike said that with the addition of the coaches from the Fox Valley Grappling Club, she hoped participants would begin to understand themselves as the “sole owners of their bodies.”

When preparing for this event, Pike confessed that she struggled to involve more people in the seminar. Since so much time and effort goes into organizing the seminar, she said it was hard for her to gather more people to actively participate. Although Pike admitted that women’s self-defense may not be “something fun to talk about,” it is important to acknowledge the violence women may be forced to face throughout their lifetimes.

Sophomore Ashley Lagrange contributed to the Women’s Empowerment Week in a different way through her photo exhibition, entitled “Body Liberation.” The goal of the exhibition is to honor one’s own body and liberate oneself from social pressure and prejudices imposed on individuals within our society. Lagrange photographed the body parts that participants felt most uncomfortable with, interviewed them and displayed the photos at Warch Campus Center. According to Lagrange, many of the participants mentioned that “the experience of letting [themselves be] exposed to the cameras and vulnerable to the public view itself felt good.”

All 35 participants in the photo gallery had their own different life stories and motivations for participating in the project. One student asked Lagrange to photograph a part of his body to overcome his insecure feelings in the new environment of Lawrence University, while another freshman used this project to continue to try to disregard the negative comments of her body she heard from her family members. During this photo exhibition, Lagrange said she appreciated the opportunity to interact with various people and to help them accept their physical appearances. “It was beautiful to see how people began to focus on their bodies while I was taking photos,” she said. “I hope people will remember the body they have is the body they have.”

Together with the Women’s Self-Defense class and the Body Liberation project, other activities such as Bystander Intervention Training and donation programs helped promote women’s empowerment and support gender equality throughout the week. All of these diverse programs contributed to encourage the productive public discourse on gender equality.