Opinion Past Years
Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) researchers, program staff, and guest authors draw on their experiences and scholarship to reflect on issues of particular importance to women, children, and families. Their opinions are occasionally expressed through letters to the editor and commentaries submitted to media outlets. Other opinion pieces have been published in the WCW Research & Action Report; some have been written specifically for publishing on this website. The selections below reflect the personal reflections and commentaries of the contributing authors.
by Sumru Erkut, Ph.D.
July 18, 2012
Crisis can spell opportunity for women. Marissa Mayer’s appointment to head Yahoo can be seen as one more example of a talented woman brought in to save a company in danger of failing, a so-called “glass cliff” phenomenon-in-action where a women is hired when a company is on the verge of disastrous financial plunge. But Mayer’s appointment can also be seen as the Yahoo board being jolted into recognizing the solid business case for hiring a woman to lead their company. Our research (with my colleagues Vicki Kramer and Alison Konrad) on the advantages that a critical mass of three or more women directors can bring to a corporate board suggests that, attuned to the perspectives of multiple stakeholders, women tend to have a collaborative leadership style that increases listening, social support, and asking tough questions and demanding direct and detailed answers, all leading to win-win problem-solving. Yahoo needs all of that.
The current debate on the virtues, definition, and efficacy of expanded learning opportunities (ELO) is familiar and welcome. With over 30 years in the field, I have watched the landscape of the out-of-school time field twist and turn by the decade and I am seeing earlier ideas presented in new terminology. Back in 1982, when the first director of the National Institute on Out-of-School Time (NIOST), Michelle Seligson and co-author, James Levine wrote the inaugural School Age Child Care: An Action Manual, their guiding premise was that “solutions are really to be found at the community level, and that they can best be developed by mobilizing people with similar interests to help one another.” The book emphasized a model of service delivery called “the partnership” between schools and other community groups and agencies. While it has taken decades to get here, there is promise in ELO if we can overcome previous barriers.
by Sari Kerr, Ph.D.
The Wall Street Journal
May 6, 2012
Ms. Hymowitz concludes that no family policies exist that have created gender equality at the workplace. As evidence, she cites gender income gap figures from Sweden and Iceland. The article, however, confuses multiple related issues in its arguments: labor force participation, part-time work, occupational segregation and gender wage gap.
by Erika Kates, Ph.D.
The Boston Globe
April 10, 2012
Yvonne Abraham's column provides a succinct summary of the key arguments for reducing our prison population: saving money, reducing recidivism, and diverting people to appropriate mental health and substance abuse treatment programs (“Correcting corrections,’’ Metro, April 5).
These arguments are especially compelling when it comes to incarcerated women. Almost two-thirds of the women sentenced to our state prison are diagnosed with mental illness (compared to a just over a quarter of male inmates) and many also have substance abuse diagnoses. The data show 85 percent of women’s offenses are non-violent and are predominantly related to their mental illnesses and addictions.
by Judith V. Jordan, Ph.D.
February 14, 2012
Today is February 14. Today we celebrate love. We utter the word love more today than at any other time. We represent it with bright red hearts and endearing words. Be mine. I love you. Pink and red and frills predominate. Of course we make money on it … chocolates, flowers, cards. It wouldn’t be an American holiday if we didn’t generate income from it. But also very American, we try to equalize it (if you’re going to send Valentine’s day cards in school these days, please send one to everyone in your homeroom … no need to create pain for the “unloved” on this day of generosity.) And I do remember well, sneaking looks at the piles of valentines on other kids’ desks. Did they get more cards? Who doesn’t like me? Ouch. That side of love.
by Ellen Gannett, M.Ed.
December 13, 2011
The current debate on the virtues, definition, and efficacy of expanded learning opportunities (ELO) is familiar and welcome. With over 30 years in the field, I have watched the landscape of the out-of-school-time field twist and turn by the decade and I am seeing earlier ideas presented in new terminology. Back in 1982, when the inaugural director of the National Institute on Out-of-School Time (NIOST), Michelle Seligson, and her co-author, James Levine, wrote the first School Age Child Care: An Action Manual, their guiding premise was that “solutions are really to be found at the community level, and that they can best be developed by mobilizing people with similar interests to help one another.” The book emphasized a model of service delivery called “the partnership” between schools and other community groups and agencies. While it has taken decades to get here, there is promise in ELO if we can overcome previous barriers.
by Nan Stein, Ed.D. and Bruce Taylor, Ph.D.
November 28, 2011
Sexual harassment in schools is still with us—its tenacity and persistence were evident in the results from a new national survey of nearly 2,000 students in grades 7-12 released recently by the American Association of University Women (AAUW). As previously documented in their surveys in 1993 and 2001 (eighth through eleventh graders), sexual harassment runs rampant in schools, too often seen by the students as no big deal, normalized through its continuing existence. Yet students are upset by the existence of sexual harassment and they document how it interferes with their concentration, attendance, achievement, course choices, and involvement in activities.
In its September 11, 2011, issue, the New York Times Magazine brought together a group of pundits for a roundtable discussion, moderated by reporter Scott Malcolmson, of the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: Michael Ignatieff, James Traub, David Rieff, Paul Berman, and Ian Buruma. Scott, Michael, James, David, Paul, and Ian: not a woman—nor a person of color—in the bunch. This particular group had been invited because each had published a significant article previously in the magazine about the issues under discussion—which doesn’t justify the choice; if anything, it makes it worse. Not only were women absent from the magazine’s 9/11 anniversary discussion, but we weren’t included in the debates of the past ten years!
Research & Action Report, Spring/Summer 2011
by Peggy McIntosh, Ph.D.
U.S. education is in trouble. Many types of school reform have been proposed and tried, but most are not working. They are not creating real solutions to problems. I believe that education reform will continue to falter unless it treats teachers as whole human beings, not as neutral pass-throughs, or as failing parts of machinery. Too often teachers are punished, disrespected, and excluded from conversations on what might actually make education successful for all of our students. What teachers know, what they can contribute, is left out of most efforts to reform education. We cannot change our schools, our systems, without respecting the deep experience of teachers.
Commentary: Sexual Harassment Left Behind: What the "bullying" framework is doing to the civil rights laws and framework
The recent tragic cases of Phoebe Prince and Carl Walker-Hoover, two Massachusetts students who took their own lives after being allegedly bullied by their peers, force us to look carefully at the ways in which school personnel are treating and framing student-to-student interactions. I want to propose that, in fact, both children were sexually harassed by their peers; and to call it "bullying" minimizes what they endured.
Beyond Letters and Numbers When Tragedy and Trauma Exist: Social and Emotional Support for School Success
Commentary by Michelle Porche, Ed.D., Senior Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women, and Lisa R. Fortuna, M.D., MPH., Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Commentary by Sumru Erkut, Ph.D., WCW associate director and senior research scientist
On an almost daily basis, I see, read, or hear a story about how women can improve their careers, advance in their pay levels, and avoid the stereotypes associated with women in the workforce. As a feminist, I am interested in these developments and am always rooting for women to pioneer new positions and achieve new forms of advancement.
This past summer, few of us could escape the media’s relentless coverage of the controversy surrounding the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court. Perhaps not surprisingly, the controversy centered on her racial background rather than on her long and impeccable record as a judge, or on her peers’ opinions of her abilities.
Jean Kilbourne, Ed.D., senior scholar at the Wellesley Centers for Women, is internationally recognized for her pioneering work on alcohol and tobacco advertising and the image of women in advertising. Her newest book, So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids, co-authored with Diane E. Levin, was published in 2008. Her book, Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel, won the Distinguished Publication Award from the Association for Women in Psychology in 2000. She is also known for her award-winning documentaries Killing Us Softly, Slim Hopes, and Calling the Shots.
The notion of the intergenerational transmission of abuse has been accepted for some time. Both research and our own observations lead us to expect that having been abused or neglected or having witnessed violence between parents as a child will contribute to an individual’s increased risk to abuse or neglect one’s own child or to be involved in an abusive relationship as an adult.
Op-Ed article in USA Today
by Lise Eliot, Ph.D. and Susan McGee Bailey, Ph.D.
August 20, 2008
As summer vacation draws to a close, a growing number of children will be entering public schools without their opposite-sex peers. Driven by widespread fears about a "boy crisis" in education, and exacerbated by claims of dramatic brain differences between boys and girls, K-12 educators are caught in a spreading fire for gender segregation — a fire fueled by misperceptions more than reality.
by Peggy Levitt, Ph.D.
From the Spring/Summer 2008 Research & Action Report
One hot August afternoon in 1999, after the day’s cooking and cleaningwere done, I asked some of the young women of Miraflores, a Dominicanvillage I studied for my dissertation, to talk with me about how theirlives had changed since so many of their friends and neighbors beganmigrating to the United States. Mirafloreños have been moving to Bostonsince the early 1970s, settling in and around the neighborhoods ofDorchester, Roxbury, and Jamaica Plain. By the mid-1990s, nearlythree-quarters of its households had family members living inMassachusetts. Close to 60 percent received some monthly income supportfrom migrants. It seemed to me that the exchanges of people, money,goods, and what I call social remittancesor ideas, practices, social capital, and identities that circulateregularly between people who move and people who stay behind haddramatically transformed aspects of daily life. In particular, I wantedto know how women’s lives had changed.
Letter to the Editor submitted by Sumru Erkut, Ph.D., to The Boston Globe in response to the CDC Press Release: “One in Four Female Adolescents Is Infected with At Least One Sexually Transmitted Infection, New CDC Study Finds" published March 12, 2008. (unpublished)
March 13, 2008
Is Literacy Enough?, which we co-authored with Catherine Snow and Patton Tabors, we explore the continuities and discontinuities of early literacy skills on adolescent achievement. In this book, we describe the original 83 low-income students who began participating in the Home-School Study of Language and Literacy Development at the age of 3, and we conclude with the outcomes for the 47 participants who continued in the study until they reached young adulthood. When this study began, Dr. Snow, the Principal Investigator, set a groundbreaking path into the importance of language as a foundation of early literacy. Results from this study have influenced conceptual and practical approaches to early reading instruction, helping to set national standards. At the end of the 16-year study many hypotheses were borne out, even as new questions were generated about our most vulnerable children.
Afterschool practitioners and youth workers play a critical role in today’s society, serving as positive adult role models, mentors, coaches, tutors and friends for young people, and a vital support for working parents. Too often, however, these practitioners do not receive the recognition or resources they need to feel valued in their work by the public and, more importantly, by their employers. While most youth workers are educated, satisfied and committed to making a difference in the lives of the children and youth they serve, too many report being underpaid, underappreciated, and at times overworked, often holding down multiple jobs just to make a living wage. Stress and burnout are all too real and recruitment of qualified administrators and staff remains challenging. For our most vulnerable youth who depend on quality out-of-school time programs, it is imperative that private and public policy makers understand the domino effect that results from underpaid youth workers.
Does it matter to corporate governance whether women serve on a board? If so, does it make a difference how many women serve? That is, is there a critical mass that can bring significant change to the boardroom and improve corporate governance? My colleagues Vicki W. Kramer, Principal, V. Kramer Associates, and Alison M. Konrad, Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Ivey School of Business, University of Western Ontario, and I set out to answer these important questions. Our findings shed light on a growing problem for organizations and society: not enough women are serving on corporate boards to the corporations’ detriment.
by Lyn Mikel Brown, Ed.D., Meda Chesney-Lind, Ph.D., and Nan Stein, Ed.D.
June 7, 2006
There are legitimate concerns about boys’ achievement, but there are also legitimate concerns about the way the current issue is being framed. Headlines repeatedly pit girls against boys, and accompanying photos show boys with hurt expressions, dejected, slumped over their desks. The girls who surround them are caught in mid-laugh, whispering to a friend, sitting atop the monkey bars, staring at the camera with defiant self-confidence.
Story after story of former welfare recipients who now hold jobs have created the dominant media metaphor—women formerly leading hopeless, dead-end lives are required by welfare reform to become employed and now are thrilled with their independence and new sense of self-worth.
Senior Scholar Jean Hardisty shares her thinking on structural racism engrained in U.S. society that became front-page news during Hurricane Katrina coverage.
Why have school administrators been so quick to embrace the antibullying movement and to abandon the antiharassment focus? Find out what WCW Researcher Nan Stein has to say about schools' reaction to the pressure to address bullying in schools, and what implications this all has for students and teachers.
Op-Ed submission to the Boston Globe (unpublished)
by Nancy Marshall, Ed.D. and Steve Barnett, Ed.D.
March 30, 2005
The creation of the Department of Early Education and Care, developed to administer the Massachusetts’ early education care system, puts the state at a critical juncture in advancing its historic commitment to young children. On July 1st, the new department becomes active, and its Board and Commissioner will have the tough task of deciding how to proceed. Well-trained, qualified teachers and providers are necessary for programs to promote children’s school readiness. The recently released Massachusetts Capacity Study Research Brief: Characteristics of the Current Early Education and Care Workforce provides research-based evidence of the magnitude of the task of workforce development.
Op-ed submission to the Boston Globe (unpublished)
by Pamela Seigel and James Vetter, Ed.M.
March 25, 2005
The recent shooting rampage at Red Lake High School was among the most violent episodes ever experienced in a school in the United States. Why are we not more shocked? Media reports seem more sparse and muted than with other school shootings in recent years. Could it be after the string of similar attacks by young people from Littleton, Colorado to Jonesboro, Arkansas, we have grown too accustomed to the violence and alienation this desperate act reflects? We may never know why Jeff Weise killed nine others and then himself that Monday afternoon, but we can see familiar patterns. According to press accounts, Weise was a troubled young person who reported being victimized at home and by other students. Neighbors claim that he had few friends and that few adults took the time to get to know him. In recent weeks, depression and teasing at school caused him to retreat to home tutoring. Reports of other school shootings often portray isolated loners with few social skills, excluded from the peer group. Many were targets of bullying and harassment.
by Linda M. Williams, Ph.D.
February 7, 2005
The conviction of Paul Shanley, a defrocked Catholic priest, on charges of rape and sexual abuse of a child, once again propelled the debate on recovered memory into the media. The jury appears to have understood that memories of child sexual abuse are not always continuous. Most people who were sexually abuse in childhood have all too vivid memories of their experiences. But dozens of credible scientific studies support the conclusion that some men and women who were sexually abused in childhood forget and then go on to recover their memories in adulthood. For example, studies of adults in treatment with mental health professionals have elicited reports of prior periods of no recall of the abuse suffered in childhood. Studies of college students as well as of adults in the wider community find that there are many who report that at some time in the past they forgot their victimization experiences.
by Margaret Lumpkin Keon, former WCW Overseer and longtime friend of the Centers
Spring 2004, Westover Magazine
In June of 2003, I was privileged to travel to Malawi with four other members of the board of the Global Aids Interfaith Alliance, or GAIA. Although only three years old, GAIA has been amazingly effective in its work to reduce the incidence and stigma of AIDS, and to educate and train religious leaders and lay people. Having the opportunity to be in Malawi and see the beauty of the country and its people, as well as the devastation of poverty, hunger, and illness, was an important experience, one I shall never forget.
by Vera E. Mouradian, Ph.D.
From the Fall/Winter 2004 Research & Action Report
The question most frequently asked of advocates and professionals who work with battered women is: “Why do women stay with men who abuse them?” The short answer is that they don’t: most women who are abused by an intimate partner do not stay with their abusers permanently. Most leave eventually, although the process of leaving may take months or years, with many starts and stops. Unfortunately, the end of the relationship does not necessarily mean the end of the abuse. For these reasons, a more fruitful question to ask is: “What goes into the decision to stay or leave?” Read more.
by Susan McGee Bailey, Ph.D., Executive Director
March 11, 2004, National Council for Research on Women
The National Council for Research on Women (NCRW) chose the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) as an organizational honoree at its annual Women Who Make a Difference gala dinner. The award, accepted by WCW’s Executive Director Susan McGee Bailey, recognizes outstanding women leaders and organizations working in a variety of disciplines for their unique ability to project their visions for a better world onto local, national, and global landscapes. WCW was honored on March 11, 2004, for its outstanding work linking research, theory, and policy and the profound impact this work has had on policy both nationally and internationally. Read more.
Recent headlines have once again raised the question of whether child care is bad for children. After decades of research, advocacy, program development, and policy, what do we really know about child care? Before addressing this question, it is important to talk about the larger question: what do we really know about women’s (and men’s) lives? The question of child care can only be answered as part of a discussion about how women and men meet the two challenges of both raising the next generation and providing economically for themselves and their families.
by Maureen Walker, Ph.D.
From the Spring/Summer 2003 Research & Action Report
Watching leaders around the world struggle to determine how power should be used to prevent terrorism has caused many of us to question our own assumptions about power. History books would have us believe that power is strictly a function of military strength, economic predominance, or political influence. Nevertheless, many of us recognize that there are alternative ways to conceptualize power. For example, there is probably not a more straightforward and elegant definition of power than that proposed by Jean Baker Miller: “Power is the capacity to produce change.” In this definition, power is a fundamental energy of everyday living.
For many years, I have been frustrated by discussions surrounding abstinence-only sex education. One has little choice but to enter these discussions by taking a for or against stance on abstinence, a term I dislike because it obscures the complexity of sexuality itself and the multidimensional reality of sexuality in adolescence. It limits sexuality to sexual intercourse and reduces decisions about sexual behavior to whether an adolescent will or will not engage in it.
by Nan Stein, Ed.D.
Going back to school this year is going to be unlike any other year; there are extra metal detectors, armed guards, extra security cameras, clipped on photo ids, missing lockers, and more restrictive dress codes. But, this school year also includes extra protection for students who have been sexually harassed by their peers. Read more.
by Susan McGee Bailey, Ph.D.
In 1914, Congress designated the second Sunday in May "as a public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country." These days, Mother’s Day often means children of all ages presenting flowers and cards to their moms. Originally, however, the early U.S. movements to found Mother’s Day focused not on individual women, but on the issues women have cared about and worked for throughout history. And, today, these issues still need attention. A lasting Mother’s Day gift goes beyond honoring one mother and speaks to the needs of all mothers and their children. The Million Mom March addresses one critical need, gun control, but violence against women and children is broader and deeper and gun control is only a partial solution.
by Susan McGee Bailey, Ph.D. and Patricia B. Campbell, Ph.D.
The gender wars in education are heating up again. Too much of the current dialog on the education of girls and boys has the sound of a prize fight. In one corner are those who say that boys, not girls are shortchanged in school. In fact, they say, the attention paid to girls has harmed boys. In the other corner are those who contend that boys are fine and that girls are the ones with the real problems. The bell rings and the two sides come out swinging, each with its own set of statistics to prove not only that their side is the truly shortchanged, but that it is the fault of the "other side."
by Deborah Tolman, Ed.D.
Experts, including Senior Research Scientist Deborah Tolman, who work with teens and families offered their perspectives on a FRONTLINE report (The Lost Children of Rockdale County), which aired on PBS on October 20, 1999. A syphilis outbreak in an affluent community uncovers the hidden lives of troubled teenagers. Is it Isolated, or Everywhere? Read more.