Professor of Women’s Studies at Barnard College Dr. Janet Jakobsen delivered the annual Diane Weiss ’80 Memorial Lecture on Tuesday, April 16. Approximately 30 faculty members and students attended the lecture in the Public Affairs Center, which was sponsored by the Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (FGSS) Department at the University.
“The annual Weiss Memorial Lecture was established in the memory of Diane Weiss, a Wesleyan student who was also among the first Women’s Studies majors here at Wesleyan,” wrote Chair of Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Jennifer Tucker in an email to The Argus. “This year marks the 26th year of the annual Weiss Lecture, which gives the FGSS faculty and students the opportunity each spring to sponsor a public lecture that engages the Wesleyan community and beyond.”
Jakobsen is also the Director of the Barnard Center for Research on Women and a former Washington D.C. lobbyist. Her talk, “Sex, Gender and Public Life,” explored why sex and gender continue to be major issues in American public discourse and why they remain separate from issues of government and economics.
A former University professor, Jakobsen also served as a fellow at the Center of the Humanities in 1996 and 1997. She expressed enthusiasm at the chance to speak at the University.
“I’m always happy to be in conversation with faculty and students at Wesleyan, and I find it to be a lively community,” Jakobsen said.
Jakobsen’s main interests, as well as her research center, are centered around social justice feminism.
“[Social justice feminism] connects a whole range of social justice,” Jakobsen said. “We look at intimate violence, transnational violence, state violence, different kinds of violence. We look at questions of poverty, questions of incarceration. The talk is about how and when feminist issues come up in public life. In the last election cycle there was a [discussion] on women. What does that mean?”
Tucker noted that Jakobsen’s focus on public life and feminism relates well to campus discussions and the FGSS program.
“The FGSS Program invited her as our Weiss Memorial Lecturer for 2013 because she is raising deeply important questions that really go to the heart of contemporary public policy debates and public life, and also that reveal how discourses about women, gender and sexuality—while often unacknowledged or downplayed—are simultaneously integral to a public agenda setting,” Tucker wrote. “Public life often is seen as an arena that is distinct from issues of gender; in a transformative moment when as a campus we are reflecting on the future of the Center for the Study of Public Life, FGSS wanted to participate in engaging the community on a topic that resonates across campus.”
During the lecture, Jakobsen addressed issues including privatization, health care, and marriage rights. Afterwards, she invited audience members to ask questions.
“I asked Professor Jakobsen about the connection between her argument about privatization and mental health, particularly about where our society places responsibility for mental flourishing,” said Zach Dravis ’15. “She indicated that this was not her area of expertise but that there is a lot to look into with that, particularly the de-institutionalization movement and increasing depression rates.”
Dravis noted that he appreciated that Jakobsen addressed issues that are largely ignored in contemporary debates.
“I thought the talk highlighted an overarching theme prevalent in today’s political discourse: a simplification of important matters, resulting in a masking of the larger forces that are at play behind the scenes,” Dravis said.