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  • Interviews of, and Articles about, Sonia

Interviews of, and Articles about, Sonia Pressman Fuentes

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Sonia Pressman Fuentes

Fuentes' lecture leads to talk on uniting women

By Risa Molitz
Cavalier Daily Senior Writer

University of Virginia's The Cavalier Daily
Wednesday, October 22, 1997

FuentesA piece of living history visited the University last night to stir debate about the role of women in today's society.

Visiting lecturer Sonia Pressman Fuentes, National Organization for Women cofounder and influential actor in the women's rights movement, sparked debate among about 50 students and locals concerning the ever-changing role women are expected to play.

Members of Charlottesville and University women's organizations, including the University chapter of NOW and the University Jewish Women's Group, asked Fuentes to share her experiences and opinions about the progress of women's rights during the last three decades.

"Women were expected to not be opinionated or assertive," she said. "Most people did what they were told."

After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Cornell University and summa cum laude from the University of Miami School of Law, Fuentes went to work for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 1965. She became the first female attorney for the Commission several years later.

FuentesFuentes, no longer involved with NOW or the Women's Equity Action League, the other organization she helped create, still remains an active Board of Directors member for the National Women's Party.

Much of Fuentes' and her colleagues' motivation came from limitations placed on women at the time.

"We were so angry at all the doors that were closed at us," she said.

She outlined a brief history of the legal aspects of the women's rights movement, explaining the impact of legislation like the 1963 Equal Pay Act and the failed Equal Rights Amendment.

Through the evolution of the women's movement, Fuentes noted an emergence of new problems for younger generations: balance.

"We now have a different problem in combining marriage and raising a family with working," she said.

Audience members complained that the evolution of problems for women created a generational gap, hindering further movement of women's rights. Conversation stimulated suggestions like better communication between generations and more action by younger women.

"I think it's very valuable to have intergenerational dialect. To see what situations happened in the past and see what is happening now allows us to work together and focus on the issues that affect women of all ages," University NOW President Jessie Gilliam said.

Audience members participated in a post-lecture debate that brought up many opposing opinions about women's roles in society.

"It went really well. People from a broad range of the community were discussing various issues which affects us all -- that happens infrequently," Jewish Women's Group Co-Chairwoman Barbara Palley said.

NOW members said programs like this help to stimulate University-wide discussion.

"Through programming and actions, we try to maintain concern about issues affecting all women," Gilliam said. "This includes issues for women of color, for women of different sexual orientations, for women suffering abuse and violence."

In dealing with current concerns in the fight for equal rights, Fuentes suggests that women go global.

"We need to do more work overseas," she said. "We have made so much progress and should share our experiences."

She also reminded the audience that the easiest way to advocate women's rights is to simply make examples of themselves as exceptional women.

"You have to just do what you want to do. Go where your passions are," she added.