On Nov. 19, Riki Wilchins, acclaimed author, speaker and executive director of the Gender Public Advocacy Coalition, gave a lecture entitled "Ending Gender Stereotypes: A New Path to Full Equality" to a packed Union Ballroom.
Over 380 people attended the lecture, which was originally set up with only 325 chairs.
Wilchins discussed the political nature and power of language, the concept of "problematic identities," and traced historical ideas of sex and gender from the ancient Greeks through Jacques Derrida, Michael Foucault and Judith Butler.
Wilchins began by citing socially problematic labels: identities such as "homosexual," "woman" and "black." She explained that fitting into an identity that has been "problematized" requires having to produce an explicative narrative and, in contrast, she said, "people who are not in the problematized identities don't have to explain [anything]."
She also explained how language and reason have led to the construction of these identities and the problem that occurs because, "language tends to define terms in binaries."
One example she used was black and white. She argued that this leads to the empowerment of one identity and disempowerment in the other. Her discussion moved to the subject of gender identity and sexuality, as well as the constructed narratives of transgender and intersex identities.
Though sprinkled with humor and sincere good nature, Wilchins touched on many serious issues, such as the violence committed against people simply because of their failure to fit into a constructed non-problematized identity and the gender assignment operations doctors practice on intersex children.
Wilchins' point was that "The problem is not generalization; the problem is punishing people for not fitting the generalizations."
She concluded her talk by asserting that we must "allow identity to be free" and even private, because if we don't, we will only cause more divisiveness and further stigmatize and more identities.
"It was great to bring these ideas to the forefront because people are afraid to talk about them or admit they are real," said Dani Vanauken, Accents Council for Enrichment representative for Womyn's Action Coalition.
"I'm just so inspired and thankful," said freshman Nicholas Becht. "What a gift it was to have her here."
Womyn's Action Coalition President Lindsey Wiltse echoed Becht's thanks.
"I am very impressed with the turnout," she said. "I want her back here if there's enough interest."
Wilchins' group, Gender PAC, is rebranding itself as TRUE and its new tagline will be "Let every child shine."