Argumentation and Rhetoric for Women

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by Kara Wilson

Although women have faced challenges entering the workplace and competing with men, the reality that men are perceived as more confident and powerful because of learned masculine behaviors, many young women find it difficult to adapt as they transition from university to the workplace. Those feminine traits that were reinforced growing up to conform to more feminine gender roles, are often not the mannerisms that employers are looking for, nor do they serve to strengthen the rhetorical skills needed to prosper in a career setting.

In December 2013, the DA sponsored a seminar titled “Argumentation and Rhetoric for Women” because of the pervasive feeling among female students that they were not prepared with the necessary rhetorical skills in a male-dominated society. Even in graduate school, female students face the issue of feeling intimidated in the classroom or other debating arenas, and this seminar is a step in the right direction to encourage confident and strong female leaders. To prepare for the seminar, the trainer sat down with current female students during orientation to talk about their wants and needs. Students wanted a more practical seminar that would resolve issues or take the stress out of debating against men.

The seminar was offered exclusively to female students, although the instructor offers the seminar for both men and women. The most important aspect was that it brought women of the DA together to become better public speakers by conveying confidence and being more active in debate by adopting more traditionally “masculine” mannerisms in order to compete in what is often a man’s world.

Although the DA currently admits more female than male students, it does not necessarily give females any more of an edge in the classroom or in the university student life. Accordingly, more educated women do not even translate to more women in the career world, despite the fact that a number of professions educate more women than men.

Men still hold the highest positions in government and business. This is not to criticize the job these men do, but if the issue of gender imbalance is not addressed, it will continue to be an issue for the coming generations, as it has been for the preceding generations of career women. Caroline Haury, a second-year student and current DASI secretary, organized the seminar with the support of fellow second year female students after expressing concern that DASI has not seen a female president in recent years. The unease that there were also no female candidates for president led female students to look for a place where this issue could be discussed – and more importantly – remedied.

“We have to make this an issue otherwise people will not notice it,” Haury said. Supporting Haury in holding a skills seminar that could help with speaking and confidence skills, was Elisabeth Hofer, the current head of administration. She was supportive, Haury stated, but Hofer also admitted, that she didn’t think it was an issue, but had admired the women who had worked towards gender equality beginning in 1968 – her generation, in fact. Hofer related that she was pleased that the students had come forward to share their concerns because now she is “much more attentive,” and noticed the “boy’s society and network of the DA is amazing… and there remains a very strong boys’ network in academia.”

However Hofer did not pay much mind to gender because she was working on her own career and “never felt inferior to men” – a point that many women could learn from as rising confidence among women will only lead to more success in the future.

Students who attended the seminar frequently mentioned the keynote speaker of the Inauguration of the Academic Year, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, NATO Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy. At the inauguration Assistant Madame Secretary Grabar-Kitarovic gave a moving speech that included references to the importance of “gender mainstreaming” and gave DLG student Claudia Golser, “a great example for the female students telling them you can do it and giving us confidence.”

Hofer also spoke about Madame Secretary Grabar-Kitarovic, mentioning that it was Director Hans Winkler’s idea, “first choice was in competence, somebody in a worthwhile position, graduate and hall of fame member, and of course, yes, she is a also a female.” Although the current DA has a male Deputy Director, it should also be mentioned that until 2013, the Deputy Director was female.

Antonia Cicero, who has more than twenty years of experience giving training seminars, also gave an important perspective as to why we women need separate seminars. Like Haury and Hofer, Cicero echoed the sentiment that although progress has been made, “we must always keep watch that we don’t roll back,” and to continue to make gender inequality an issue.

Feminism was also discussed during the workshop by a number of women, and Cicero emphasized the fact that “Central Europe does not like feminists, while the Scandinavian countries are feminist friendly, even having men in some of their groups.” Feminism in the modern world does not have to continue to be a taboo topic, rather one that should be taken back from the radicals, and realigned with its earlier values of equal pay for equal work, equality in the workplace and in academic institutions. Even male students at the DA can agree as well. “There is a predominately male workforce because females are not treated equally,” as MAIS I student Matthew Short stated. And “unequal pay with the same valued added and position held is not fair.”

The most positive part of the seminar was the opportunity to come together in a smaller group of students to develop rhetorical skills in a constructive manner. Some of the women even mentioned ambitions to form a group to discuss gender equality. However, with men at the DA supportive of DA women, and a DA administration with an eye on raising gender discourse, now is the time to support gender equality. If we start now working on speaking up and getting noticed, it will only benefit society as a whole. If we work together, we can ensure that women secure more tenured spots in academia, achieve the highest levels in both the public and private sector and continue to serve as examples of leadership to the next generation.

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