Feminist writer Jessica Valenti spoke about political and personal topics Monday night at Penn State and encouraged students to speak up and condemn sexism.
Kicking off the speech with an informal survey to the nearly 60 people attending in the HUB-Robeson Center, Valenti asked how many considered themselves feminists.
Almost every hand shot up — something Valenti said wouldn’t have happened 10 years ago when she first starting speaking at colleges.
“We really are making progress,” she said.
Never miss a local story.
Hosted by the newly renamed Gender Equity Center — formerly the Center for Women Students — Valenti’s speech culminated a day of events held in recognition of the new name.
Programming coordinator for the Gender Equity Center, Jennifer Pencek said that Valenti was definitely someone she wanted to host.
“Her work, not just on feminism, but on empowerment for all people, we really thought she could share a lot from,” Pencek said.
Valenti, a Guardian columnist and author of “Sex Object: A Memoir,” covered a range of topics, but spent much of the half-hour speech denouncing President Donald Trump’s behavior on the campaign trail and earlier, especially toward his daughter Ivanka.
Showing a clip from the 2016 Republican National Convention during which Ivanka Trump introduced her father, Valenti pointed out the body language Donald Trump used to greet his daughter.
“Trump’s well-known history of saying inappropriate, sexual things about his daughter made the touch feel sort of uniquely disturbing,” Valenti said.
After listing several more instances of comments Trump made, Valenti said conservatives, women especially, are enablers of attitudes that “accept and promote patriarchy.”
“We elected a man who’s spent decades talking about harassing and assaulting women, and he won 53 percent of white women’s vote,” she said.
Valenti also read an excerpt from her book, “Sex Object: A Memoir” centered on the experiences of sexual assault from women in her own family and noted her reservations about having a daughter.
“Having a girl is passing this thing on her, violence and violations on end,” Valenti said.
While Valenti presented today’s political climate as bleak, she encouraged an “intersectional approach” to feminism that includes marginalized groups, asking that people speak up and be active in changing a culture she views as harmful.
A question-and-answer segment followed, during which Valenti yielded a dozen questions from the primarily female audience seeking advice on how to be an activist, deal with online harassment and broach conversations with people who disagree, among other topics.
Anissa Erkert, a freshman majoring in anthropology, said she enjoyed hearing Valenti speak and feels like she can relate to her.
“I think it was very empowering to hear that other people have had that experience where they feel like they can’t do anything,” Erkert said. “At some point you have to just tell people, ‘that’s not OK,’ because otherwise it’s just going to keep happening.”
Maddie Biertempfel is a Penn State journalism student.