By Angela Oliver Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, Ky.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) "The Venus Society" -- named after the Roman goddess of love -- is a club at a Kentucky high school club whose purpose is to spread love, dismantle stereotypes and raise awareness about challenges for women.
Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, Ky.
Feminism (noun) fem·i·nism 1: the belief that women and men should have equal rights and opportunities. 2: organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests.
While feminism makes room for anyone who supports equal rights and treatment for the sexes, many see the the term as threatening or exclusive. Feminist was part of the original name of a club Lyric Payne established at Apollo High School, but harsh pushback from some of her schoolmates led her to change the name.
Now the Venus Society -- named after the Roman goddess of love -- the club has kept its purpose as an empowerment tool for young women at the forefront.
"We got a lot of hate for that name," said Payne. "It's still about female empowerment but we changed the name to show everyone it's not just open to women."
Each week, the group draws a topic from a box -- from women's rights to poverty to gun violence -- then scribbles their immediate thoughts on the boards, and social studies teacher Lauren Goffinet facilitates the discussion.
Goffinet seems easygoing and humorous. Her classroom walls are covered in quirky posters and quotes and student drawings. Her connection to her students is apparent.
They told her she was the first teacher they thought of when they were looking for a club sponsor.
"If they wanted a safe space to voice their opinions and be heard, I wanted to provide it. How could I say no?" she said. "It can be difficult to express your thoughts and beliefs when they're seen as different, especially in this area. You can face a lot of resistance, a lot of ridicule. But these kids are brave. They have very strong, meaningful discussions here."
Inspired by a similar club at Owensboro High School, Payne formed the Venus Society to spread love, dismantle stereotypes and raise awareness about challenges for women, she said.
She and her classmates said they haven't experienced blatant discrimination based on their sex, but there are more subtle things.
"It's hard to be taken seriously as a girl, in any work field," Payne said. "People just won't listen, they don't think you know what you're talking about."
Karriss Thomson, a 15-year-old freshman, shares that feeling.
"It's more evident in my engineering class," said the civil engineering hopeful. "There's one other girl and the rest are white boys. We are sometimes underestimated."
Karriss was raised by a "fundamentalist Baptist" father and a "very liberal" mother, with whom she's attended Coffee Party meetings since fourth grade.
"As I grew up, I found out things weren't exactly as I thought," she said. "I gained a lot of knowledge going to those meetings and reading, and I think I can share that here. I'm very satisfied to try to have an impact on the school community with this group."
For junior Sydney Jordan, 17, most concerns are further down the line.
"I think a lot about going into college -- rape on campus is a serious problem," she said. "And getting into my career. I want to be a psychiatrist and I have everything planned out; I know exactly what I need to do to get there. That means I don't want kids. But when I say that, (many relatives) tell me that's what women were created for. They don't see that it's not all I am meant for. I want to focus on my career and I'm OK with that."
The young women said they're free to open up about those things in the Venus Society. And they're pleased to see at least a few from one segment of the student body participating -- boys.
"It's good to have males perspectives, too," said Payne.
Junior Elliott Campbell supports equality for women and said he was eager to join the group.
"I grew up with a lot of women in the household, so if I wasn't an equal rights person, that would be foolish," he said. "We can be part of this, too. We can use the power of our voice. ... People tend to listen to boys more to make a statement, sadly, so we have to speak up."
Being familiar with his mother's work at New Beginnings Sexual Assault Support Services also keeps him abreast of things that disproportionately affect women. "You learn that these things happen," he said. "I can't control them, but I can do my best to stop and prevent them."
The first meeting last semester centered on obstacles for women and girls, and that will continue to be the leading cause. But "because they're all focused on equal rights in general, we've evolved to cover several topics. They know women aren't the only demographic experiences discrimination."
The Venus Society also has a community service component.
"I've always wanted to start some partnership with Girls Inc.," Payne said. She was a member at the Rolling Heights campus for nine years. "Since they empower girls, it makes perfect sense for us to volunteer there. The younger girls have great discussions, too. They have a lot to offer and we want to be there to encourage them."
The group meets every other Wednesday, so it will devote the off Wednesdays to volunteering. Goffinet said she hopes to see the outreach expand.
"I think human beings are born to serve and love love other people," she said. "But as we grow up, so many of us lose that. I want them to keep service at the heart of what they do. Serving others also puts a lot in perspective. It's very fulfilling." Overall, the goal of the Venus Society isn't to change everyone's mind.
"That's what I emphasize to them," Goffinet said. "It's not about trying to sway everyone to your opinion. I tell them their goal should be to learn all the facts, learn as much as they can so that they can present informed arguments and educate other people."
And many of the students see the club as a way to speak up for themselves.
"I hope it catches on to more schools and other kids will see they can do it too," Karriss said. "Especially in this political climate, it shows we're standing up, we will not go quietly into the night. Yeah, we're in high school but we have these experiences too."
For more information, see Facebook.com/ApolloVenusSociety.