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Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 12, 2006

From the editor
Varied views inform, enlighten

I admire Liz Funk. A Voorheesville teenager, she first called our office last spring because she was organizing a high school chapter of NOW.

Membership in the Albany chapter of the National Organization for Women had dwindled in recent years, and largely consisted of middle-aged women who were young during the second wave of American feminism.

Funk wanted to create a new chapter of young women to address issues relevant to her generation. And she has.

Not only did we run a feature story on her effort, but so did both local daily newspapers and other weeklies.

Funk is bold in stating what she believes. She was also honest when our reporter Holly Grosch interviewed her last March. She talked of her struggle with anorexia and binge-eating disorders as a young teenager.

In the United States, she said, girls are trained to hate their bodies. She said girls need stronger role models that promote careers and intelligence.

"It’s nice to look up to mothers," Funk said, adding that some teenagers say their best friends are their mothers, but it is really celebrities girls turn to for role models.

This summer, when Funk proposed writing a column for our paper on teen issues, we were intrigued. She covered the Altamont Fair’s beauty pageant for us and wrote a column that asked, "Is pageantry sexist""

Her answer was "yes and no."

While she stated the NOW viewpoint — "not only do pageants uphold certain beauty standards that are dangerous and nearly impossible to attain, they pit women against each other" — she also considered the views of the contestants in the local pageant who didn’t consider the Altamont competition sexist.

The winner, Miss Altamont Fair, described herself as "plus size" and said she was surprised to win since she didn’t fall into the paradigm of a typical beauty queen, Funk reported.

My favorite column from Funk ran in November; she wrote about the cost of the college-application process with self-deprecating wit and insight.

In December, we published a column — "Educated, as a woman, in the pain of exploitation" — that caused more community reaction than any other in Enterprise history. Funk, who is 17, wrote of "misogyny in high school — not just my high school, but all high schools." The column took up most of a page and recounted personal experiences and made generalized statements — many of them caustic — about the exploitation of women in high school and women in general. It concluded with several paragraphs crediting teachers who had helped Funk think "outside the box" and catapulted her into activism.

We received many calls and e-mails critical of the column — almost all from Voorheesvillians — and we have published more than three full pages of letters.

We have had to hold some of our regular columnists and features to fit all these responses on our pages. Most of our letter-writers — students, graduates, and their parents — are pleased with Voorheesville as it is and find Funk’s comments offensive. We’ve published their personal attacks on Funk, which upset us, as well as the more issues-oriented letters, because we believe the free exchange of ideas is important to a community.

This week, though, will mark an end to our publishing further letters directly responding to the Dec. 22 column. We need to make room for other issues. Certainly, new ideas on related topics will be printed.

Voorheesville’s high school principal, Mark Diefendorf, told us this week, "It’s great the way kids were discussing Liz’s column in classes and in the hallway. Everyone was talking about it."

He went on, "I was happy people were reading the newspaper...It’s great; it’s fueling discussion...There are a lot of kids whose high-school experience is not the greatest in the world."

As an administrator, Diefendorf said, he couldn’t write a letter to the editor himself, but he encouraged teachers to have their students write if they had expressed strong opinions. We’re publishing two such student letters this week.

Austin Saddlemire, the vice president of student government at Voorheesville’s high school, writes that Funk’s article is the talk of the school and he feels an obligation to defend his school, community, and friends. He makes the case that women are leaders at Voorheesville. But he concludes, "Despite it all, Voorheesville should be proud it raised a young woman strong enough, and with enough brash individualism to share her views with the world."

Kelly McKenna writes that she has been president of her class for three years and is now president of the entire student body.

"After reading the article by Ms. Funk," McKenna writes, "I can hardly believe that we were attending the same school for the three years that she did attend."

That statement rang true for me. I think it is possible that two people in the same environment can have very different experiences. The things that Funk felt or experienced were very different than what was experienced by the cheerleaders, student leaders, and top scholars, past and present, who have written to us in recent weeks.

Funk said that friends who had supported her views, when they saw the overwhelming reaction at school, said they could not write in her support.

I hope Funk continues to write her monthly column for us. Differing views are often what leads to deeper understanding, on all sides.

Perhaps because I am graying, I see more grays now. The black-and-white, the absolute certainty of youth expressed on our pages by Funk and some of her peers has given way, in my mind, to more complex and varied shadings. If I believe something strongly or have felt something deeply — I still have many of the same passions of my youth — I no longer believe or feel that they are universal or the only right way. I have been enlightened by understanding other individuals have had different experiences, and therefore have different perspectives.

Certainly, I have thought and rethought and thought again about my own role as editor regarding Funk’s latest column. I refrained from cutting out the caustic comments and the broad generalizations, a grim sort of humor, because I like to allow our columnists the freedom to use their own voices.

"Do you read what’s in your paper"" asked one irate caller. Yes, of course I do — every word. He said he’d stop reading The Enterprise, and his friends and neighbors would too, if we published another of Funk’s columns.

There my answer was black and white: We’ll continue to print varied views, including Funk’s.

The discussions that came from the column I believe were valuable. One such discussion was the talk I had with Diefendorf. He said, while there are studies that show girls have been pushed out of math and science courses and some schools for that reason offer gender- specific classes, such is not the case at Voorheesville.

"I’m worried about the position of young men," said the high-school principal. "The top students are women. All of my leadership roles are filled by women, which is a great thing...The young men have let that happen."

In his quarter century as an educator, Diefendorf has watched the shift, he said. When he divided his class into groups of males and females for mock trial, Diefendorf said, "Guess who always won" The girls," he answered himself. "The guys said, ‘You stacked it against us...We depend on the girls to do the work.’"

In recent job interviews at Voorheesville, Diefendorf said, the female candidates are "the cream of the crop."

Diefendorf said he has talked with other high school principals about "the diminished American male."

He concluded of Funk, "I’m pleased Liz is expressing her ideas...Some people only want to see what they agree with....I hope she continues on. It doesn’t mean I’ll always agree or disagree. Controversy, in my mind, is good."

— Melissa Hale-Spencer, editor

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