Boston University will host a three-day series of exhibitions to commemorate the women’s liberation movement of the mid-20th century.
The symposium, titled A Revolutionary Moment: Women’s Liberation in the Late 1960s and Early 1970s will run from March 27 to March 29 and will bring together scholars and artists in various disciplines, said Deborah Belle, the director of the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program at BU.
“We really hope that the conversations we have at the conference, the information that’s exchanged, as well as simply being with each other and that energy, may allow us to do better work moving forward,” she said.
The conference will feature various presentations of artistic and scholarly nature, Belle said
“We have two-and-a-half jam-packed days, over 50 panels, three full evenings of film of and about the era, one staged play, songs, poetry, photography, scholars and activists,” Belle said.
Among the many events scheduled for the symposium are a staged interpretation of the play For Colored Girls, a showing of the feminist documentary Left on a Pearl and presentations from a variety of speakers, including distinguished women’s historian Linda Gordon, journalist Susan Faludi feminist writer Kathie Sarachild.
Award-winning novelist Marge Piercy will give the convocation address, “The War on Women is Part of a Larger War,” in which she will read some of her poetry and give a talk.
“I’m attending the conference because I was involved in the second wave of the women’s movement from its inception and it was and is important in my life and my identity,” Piercy said in an email. “The history of our movement has been lost and mythologized and denied and distorted. This conference will attempt to set some of that straight.”
Piercy will also be featured in a session on poetry called A Revolution of Poets, in which she and several others are going to read poetry, particularly that of women who have died and talk about the importance of this work, Belle said.
Belle said the symposium will strive to reassess how the women’s liberation movement is perceived by the public in order to correct common misunderstandings that distort future scholarship.
“The [women’s liberation] movement has been in public perception distorted, as well as forgotten and misremembered,” Belle said. “All of these concerns led me to think it would be good idea to have a conference … A lot of work that goes on today is based on understandings of what we learned from the past. We think some of those understandings are in error in fact or not as informed as they could be.”
Geena Davis, an actress and women’s rights activist who graduated from BU in 1979, will be awarded the Bette Davis Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award on the final night of the symposium, Belle said.
“[Geena Davis] was obviously deeply affected by the women’s movement of that era, and as herself became an activist in creating her foundation Gender in the Media, which spotlights a lot of pressing problems and is very important today,” Belle said. “She will give a talk about her career and particularly her foundation. It really helps to bring us into the present day and make connections to the past.”
Michael Merrill, Bette Davis’s son and the chairman of the Bette Davis Foundation, said Geena shares the values of feminism possessed by his illustrious actress mother.
“[The award will] honor an actress with as distinguished career as well as a person who has exhibited similar attributes to my mother: hard work, dedication to family and career,” Merrill said. “Geena Davis exemplifies those values.”
Belle said her hope is that the conference will provide an opportunity to use past events in the women’s liberation movement to better understand the present.
“The poets, the novelists, the painters, the artists, all these people had tremendous impact in their different ways,” Belle said. “We want our conference to reflect everything that was the women’s movement in that era.”