When Mindy Stokes' students approached her about helping organize a celebration for Women's History Month, the adjunct instructor didn't hesitate before saying yes.

"I said absolutely I would," said Stokes, who has a degree in Women's Studies and teaches at Clatsop Community College.

Stokes moved to Astoria in 2007, and was interested in sparking more conversations on campus and in the community about women, gender, and gender differences.

"I'm from very progressive areas, and I was used to having this kind of spirited dialog happening on campus," she said. Stokes is from Northern California, where she attended Chico State University.

And so she got to work in October, planning Celebration of Women, an evening of singing, dancing, theater, poetry and art held Saturday evening at CCC's Performing Arts Center. The event was sponsored by CCC's Lives in Transition Program and the Astoria branch of the American Association of University Women, and drew about 50 people.

Stokes said she wanted the audience to enjoy the performances while learning a bit about women's studies in the process.

"I'm hoping for entertainment backed by theory. I want it to be accessible and exciting and not so dry," Stokes said.

Nancy Montgomery, of Astoria, took on the double role of Virginia Woolf and her lover, Vita, as she read passages from letters between the two. The Lives in Transitions Program of Clatsop Community College and the Astoria branch of the American Association of University Women put on the event in honor of National Women's History Month.

Photo by DAVID PLECHL - For The Daily Astorian

Speaker Carolyn DiPalma tried to do just that, sharing basic principles with the audience and fueling a question and answer period with the attendees. DiPalma is an affiliate professor of Women's Studies at the University of Washington, and is the author of books on the subject.

DiPalma encouraged everyone to question their own thinking process about gender, and ask themselves why they think the way they do.

"When you think about gender, you divide the world into two categories and make certain assumptions," DiPalma said. Maybe there's a different way to go about it, she said.

Instead of trying to relate to others based on how they're similar to ourselves, we can focus on the differences even though that might make us all uncomfortable, she proposed.

"When we talk about equality and differences, we need to be very careful. Because what we're asking is, 'Different from what?'" DiPalma said.

Singer-songwriter Alexa Wiley of Portland read the work of lesbian poet Audre Lorde, and reflected on her own experiences with the power of words.

Nancy Montgomery, of Astoria, took on the double role of Virginia Woolf and her lover, Vita, as she read passages from letters between the two. The Lives in Transitions Program of Clatsop Community College and the Astoria branch of the American Association of University Women put on the event in honor of National Women's History Month.

Photo by DAVID PLECHL - For The Daily Astorian

"Writing, for me, has been a survival tactic, and the most important part is being authentic," Wiley said. She read Lorde's "Poetry is not a Luxury," and later pondered what battles women still have to fight.

"I don't think we know what it is to live in a world where women are empowered," she said.

Local musician Erika McKay displayed her versatility, performing first at the piano, singing her own songs. Later in the evening, she was joined by Chelsea Porter and Jessamyn West to present "Beautiful Belly Dancers," and the three twirled, jingled and gyrated their way through the traditional dance that welcomes childbirth.

Dinah Urell, publisher and editor of Hipfish, sang vintage blues and gave a brief history of the genre during its rise in Harlem, and local poet Laura Tattoo read some of her work. Tattoo spoke of her struggles with her own creativity, and the two warring factions within her that her personality can take on.

Astoria actress Nancy Montgomery performed an excerpt from the play "Vita and Virginia," about an affair between Virginia Wolfe and her lover; Montgomery deftly played both roles.

Erika McKay plays original piano music at the women's event at the Performing Arts Center. She later joined in the belly dancing performance.

Photo by LUKE WIRKKALA - For The Daily Astorian

Sitting about halfway down on the right side of the theater, Astoria High School sophomore Jasmine Thomasian enjoyed the evening and left wanting more.

"I think it was a good event to have here because there are a lot of people who are interested in gender differences and equality," Thomasian said. She hopes to see more events like this, she said, because it's not something that's covered in her school's curriculum on a regular basis.

At the beginning of the evening, Stokes pointed out a common misconception she's run into with many of her younger students, illustrating the work still be done for total equality.

"Many young women mistakenly believe they have the same opportunities as men," she said. Right now, those female students can expect to only receive 91 cents on every dollar a similar aged man does, and when they're 10 years older, that will be 79 cents, she said. Those figures get even bleaker with race, she added.

"You see, this discussion must continue, we cannot be silenced," Stokes said.

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