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Profemina protests discrimination

By David P. Hamilton

and Thomas T. Huang

About ten students demonstrated against violence toward women at MIT yesterday. They rallied on Registration Day, a day on which the Lecture Series Committee (LSC) has traditionally shown pornographic films.

LSC did not show an X-rated film yesterday, presenting instead "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai -- Across the Eighth Dimension." LSC last showed an X-rated film, "The Opening of Misty Beethoven," in March.

Four of the ten protesting students were members of Profemina, although all of the demonstrators supported the group's goals.

Profemina was formed in October 1984 as an informal protest and women's support group. The group elects no officers and keeps no official records. Membership last year was estimated at fifteen to thirty women.

It was founded with the "intent of fighting pornography by means of educating, organizing and protesting," according to the group's September newsletter.

The newsletter states that "this kind of activism was necessary for real change to come about at MIT in the attitudes and ideas of both women and men." In addition to fighting pornography, the group opposes oppression, including racism, classism and heterosexism.

"Aside from fighting pornography, we have done other things that we feel will help women at MIT," the newsletter states.

Profemina can act as a support service for women students by referring them to campus and Boston resources, according to Caroline B. Huang G, a member of Profemina. Most of its members are knowledgeable about the resources and literature available to help women, she said.

In its first year, Profemina participated in the search process to fill a part-time position in the Office of the Dean for Student Affairs that relates to women students. Last year, Profemina sponsored "Not a Love Story," a film about pornography; protested a sexist Rockwell recruiting poster; and protested "The Opening of Misty Beethoven."

Profemina has arranged for groups to attend lectures and forums for such activists as Catherine MacKinnon, Audre Lorde, Andrea Dworkin and Nikki Craft.

Profemina releases statement

Profemina released a statement concerning the rally. "We are demonstrating today to establish a new tradition: a tradition of opposition to violence against women and the oppression of women. The old tradition on registration day was to show a pornographic film, which promoted violence against women on this campus.

"We feel that violence against women is made acceptable by ideas expressed in advertising, popular culture and pornography. Women are shown in ads for consumer products, for example automobiles, as if they too are commodities. Women are shown subordinate to men and in pornography are shown as sexually available to any man at any time. This stereotyping of women is similar to the racist stereotyping which affects both sexes.

"Violence against women is widespread and affects women of all ages. In a recent survey of 800 randomly chosen households in San Francisco, women reported that: 44 percent had been raped once or more times (not including marital rape), 38 percent had been sexually abused as children, and 33 percent suffered from violence in the home (D. Russell, in press).

"The fact that women are the victims of violence and that women are discriminated against economically is no coincidence. Each situation maintains the other. Full-time working women receive 61|c for every dollar full-time working men receive. This holds true for men and women with the same skill level and education.

"There is a current attack on the rights of women by the Reagan administration. Since he took office in 1980, 2.5 million women have fallen below the poverty line. Reagan is now trying to take away the right of women to control their own bodies and to have the choice of abortion. At the same time Reagan is cutting all the programs which aid women and children, he claims to be `pro-life.'

"We call on people to join our demonstration and to oppose violence against women. We should oppose those who commit violence against women, we should oppose the advertisers, the movie-makers and the pornographers who promote violence against women and we should oppose Reagan as he tries to take away the gains of women and minorities."

The rally

In the mid-afternoon drizzle, as they prepared to move indoors, demonstrators held up signs reading: "Oppose sexist advertisers, movie-makers and pornographers," "Oppose violence against women," "Down with Reagan's attacks on women."

According to Elinor Williams G, a member of Profemina, the purpose of the rally in Lobby 7 was to educate people and to "cut into their consciousness" about the problems that women are facing today. She called the rally a "first-step approach," explaining that Profemina hoped to subtly advertise its cause.

She compared Profemina's tactics to subliminal advertising, saying that the rally's message should remain with people subconsciously even if they ignored it consciously.

The rally was targeted at both sexes, Williams said. Many women are unaware of the dangers that Profemina protests, she said, because of their relative ignorance and apathy. Many women are too wrapped up in their own lifestyles to be concerned with feminist concerns, she said.

These women's self-imposed isolation is partially the result of their involvement with their families and careers, Williams said. This attitude is more common among upper-middle class women who are farther removed from threats of violence and economic discrimination, she added.

Additionally, many women face male pressure "not to get involved" with feminist concerns, particularly from husbands and boyfriends, Williams said.

Goals and issues

Profemina's stated goals include increasing public awareness of different kinds of discrimination against women and pointing out the many activities that threaten women. The types of discrimination that they oppose include economic discrimination; violence against women, including innuendoes in advertising and the portrayal of women in pornography; and legislation that would restrict a woman's control of her own body.

In its September newsletter, members of Profemina studied the issue of reproductive rights and the Reagan administration's steps to end legal abortion in the United States. They wrote on the disparity between the salaries of the working women and men. They also described the threat of violence against women, which "defines limits on [their] freedom."