Stepping into its fourth year, the Feminism & Co. lecture series at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver has touched on topics ranging from female bodybuilding to polyamorous relationships, all in an effort to engage conversation about feminism and gender roles within non-traditional topic pairings. In advance of tonight's program, "Toys & Tupperware," Gillian Silverman, co-organizer and Director of the Women's and Gender Studies Program at the University of Colorado Denver, talked with Westword about the series' inception and what the engagements hope to accomplish.
Westword (Bree Davies): When and how did Feminism & Co. begin? Gillian Silverman: This is our fourth year of programming. Our first two years were at The Lab at Belmar, and once The Lab merged with the MCA, we began our programming there. I co-direct Feminism & Co. with Elissa Auther, a Professor of visual studies and art history at UCCS. Both of us had interest in feminism and gender studies and had been doing research and scholarship on them, but also feeling like we wanted to reach a broader audience. It really came out of conversations we were having about the relevance of issues relating to women and gender, and the need to have a venue where people could talk about it. The Lab, at the time, and now the MCA, felt like the perfect venues for that, because they do a lot of eclectic programming, and so much of their vision involving museums and art has to do with incorporation of the everyday.
WW: How do you choose the topics for each event? GS: Part of what we're interested in doing is having disparate personalities speak about topics relating to women and gender, but not people who would necessarily be in the same room together. For example, a while back we did a program called "Muscle," where we were interested in questions of power and women's relationships to power. We had a professional body builder speak about her exercise routine and her competitive history in bodybuilding. We paired her with the executive director of the Latina Initiative -- which of course is a very different way of thinking about power. You wouldn't necessarily have communication forged between a professional body builder and the director of the Latina Initiative, right? So it was kind of this way of trying to have different voices in on a conversation about what constitutes female power and the potential pitfalls of that.
Sometimes the synergy works, and sometimes it feels less successful. But what we're trying to do is start a dynamic conversation by getting at a topic from multiple angles. The easiest way for us to do that is to cull from different worlds -- The world of visual arts, the university world, the world of non-profits and public policy.
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WW: Tonight's program is called "Toys & Tupperware." How did this pairing come together? GS: Almost every year we have some sort of program on women and work -- to us, it is an important and inexhaustible topic. These parties -- Tupperware and Passion parties -- are events that really get excluded from the sociology of labor and the history of women's work. They aren't usually talked about, in part because they are understood to be "parties," which means they are associated with leisure. Also, because these parties take place in the home, they are often overlooked. But it is a multi-million dollar industry and women are at the forefront of it. Many of them are home-based, and they are attractive to women because they can fit them into a busy schedule, which might involve work and kids. We were interested in this phenomenon, and did some research to find people who are recognized leaders in their field. They will speak on both the history of Tupperware and Passion Parties and their own success in the business and their relationship to work.
It is interesting thinking about how these multi-level marketing campaigns function, not just along economic lines, but also in things developing like friendship networks and intimacies between women. The more we explored these Tupperware and Passion parties, the more we realized that this was a rich topic for discussion. So in addition to having experts on these topics -- self-proclaimed "Tupperware Lady" Joannie Flynn and Passion Party host Kirsten McKay -- we are also having a sociologist, Susan Williams, who has written a book on women's home-based entrepreneurial ventures, talk about what these kinds of enterprises do for women. Although there's going to be a shopping element to the program, there will also still be the critical element.