‘Pitt Tonight’ celebrates women with annual empowerment episode

Sid Iyer

By Neena Hagen, Senior Staff Writer

In the darkened William Pitt Union Assembly Room, an unusual array of images graced the stage. Some slides flashed quotes from Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Others featured statements from female Pitt students who wanted to send a message of thanks to the strong women in their lives.

As “Pitt Tonight” host Andrew Dow noted, Sunday night’s episode was all about empowering women.

“Welcome to ‘Pitt Tonight.’ This is our women’s empowerment episode,” Dow said as the band’s saxophone faded out. “Are there any ladies in the house tonight?”

The hundreds of women in the audience cheered. The late-night show featured several skits and comedy routines poking fun at sexism in modern society, and Dow spoke with prominent women in the Pitt and Pittsburgh communities about female representation and their role models.

Several audience members celebrated the occasion wearing T-shirts that read, “This is what a feminist looks like.” One comedian, Ossia Dwyer, who opened the show with her stand-up routine, took a jab at her male classmates as a way of empowering herself.

“In honor of the women’s empowerment episode, I decided to dress like every guy who’s ever made fun of me in a lab,” she said, gesturing to her jeans and flannel shirt. “Light applause, I like it. Not excited for a woman to come out here.”

The show tackled pressing social justice issues in a lighthearted way. One skit featured Dow and fellow “Pitt Tonight” performers Charlotte Bloys and Clare Donaher. Donaher, who played a chauvinist male character named Mark, highlighted the pervasive problem of mansplaining in everyday conversations.

The three launched into an argument about unsolicited dick pics, and Bloys explained to Donaher’s character that sending explicit pictures to women was sexist and unethical. Dow chimed in to say the exact same thing.

“Wow, that makes so much more sense when you say it like that,” Donaher said to Dow after ignoring Bloys’ identical explanation.

Humor served as the vessel for explaining most of the concepts throughout the night. But the mood turned serious when Dow invited his interviewees to the stage. One of them was the Wilkinsburg mayor, Marita Garrett, who decried the lack of diversity in Pennsylvania’s elected officials.

“Pennsylvania ranks 49th in the nation for women representatives in local government,” Garrett said, to boos from the audience.

Kaycee Orwig | Senior Staff Photographer
Rhythm and blues musician Clara Kent performs as “Pitt Tonight’s” musical guest at the show’s Third Annual Women’s Empowerment Episode on Sunday.

“So Pennsylvania ranks lower than Alabama? Eek,” Dow said. “We gotta fix that.”

Dow asked Garrett if political decisions would be more fair to women in Pennsylvania if they were adequately represented in government.

“It really shows we’re represented by majority white men,” Garrett said with a wry smile.

The show’s second guest, Pitt student Krithika Pennathur, founded Pitt Unmuted, an organization that gives a voice to survivors of sexual assault. She said listening to minorities and hearing their struggles is the first step to alleviating their issues.

[Read The Pitt News’ profile of Krithika Pennathur here]

“A lot of what we have to do [when it comes to women’s issues] is take a step back and listen,” Pennathur said.

Pennathur said her ability to listen has defined her success as a leader.

“I have these titles like ‘president, leader, founder,’ but really, the key to empowering survivors is hearing their stories,” Pennathur said. “These stories are so valuable … [Survivors] don’t have to tell us their stories, but they deserve to have a place where they can.”

Pennathur has been a hero to many women on Pitt’s campus, Dow said. But as far as her own heroes, Pennathur said she “hasn’t met all of them yet.” She said she likes to wait for inspiring women to come to her.

“I was so excited to come out tonight,” Pennathur said, “because there are a lot of strong women in the audience who can inspire all of us.”

The crowd cheered. Pennathur called on Pitt campus leaders to do their part to empower women, and said hosting a women’s empowerment episode on “Pitt Tonight” was a great first step.

Kelsey Prem, a senior civil engineering major who attended the event, echoed Pennathur’s point. She was heartened to see “Pitt Tonight” creating an episode just for women, and hopes it’ll continue to invite diverse guests on its show.

“Having a lot of diverse guests on the show tonight shows that clubs are becoming more aware of women’s and minority issues,” Prem said.

Prem also praised Pennathur for creating a safe space for women on campus, and said more club leaders should try to foster an environment where women feel safe and able to share their experiences.

“Just recognizing that there is inequality in the world and just opening up your clubs to diverse backgrounds is one thing,” Prem said. “An even bigger and better step is to actually create safe spaces specifically where women can speak up … and I think that’s what ‘Pitt Tonight’ accomplished.”