The Women Change Worlds blog of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) encourages WCW scholars and colleagues to respond to current news and events; disseminate research findings, expertise, and commentary; and both pose and answer questions about issues that put women's perspectives and concerns at the center of the discussion.

WCW's Women Change Worlds Blog

Mentoring, Sports, & Girl Athletes

Gymnasts

January was National Mentoring Month, as President Barack Obama recognized on January 3. Next week we celebrate National Girls and Women’s and Sports Day. The notion of “mentor,” and of one imparting wisdom to others, has its origins in Greek Mythology. It has long been a relationship dynamic that has been promoted, studied, arranged, and challenged over many years. Formal mentoring programs have been a regular and consistent strategy for engagement and relationship building in the youth development field and regularly a human resources approach used in non-profit and private business. And sports have been a perfect venue for mentoring relationships.

However, there is also great potential in the more informal ways we mentor. It is interesting that when surveyed about school, out-of-school time, and summer program experiences youth consistently express a desire for more opportunities for leadership and responsibility. We underutilize the natural dynamic and model of cross-age grouping. Across the spectrum both in academic content and enrichment activities, older and younger children working together can be an empowering and nurturing experience for both. We seem to embrace cross-age group more naturally in sports than many other settings. I was interested to observe the placement of high school students (with some training and supervision) as coaches at my younger daughter’s pick-up soccer tournament in the fall. The opportunity for the older girls to share relevant “on the field experience” and for the younger girlsblogpullquoteMentoringto have a more accessible image of where practice and commitment could get them was inspirational. It’s more than just the final score.

Encouraging these connections for young people in our daily work without having to be derailed by the tasks involved in more formal mentoring programs (and quality mentoring does require careful and plan full work), might allow us to exploit some of the natural interests of younger youth to learn from and older youth to lead each other.

Georgia Hall, Ph.D., is a senior research scientist at the National Institute for Out-of-School Time at the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College, who specializes in research and evaluation on youth development programs.

  8555 Hits

Women's Review of Books: Now We Are Thirty

wrb30THanniversaryCollageWeb

Reprinted from the January/ February 2013 Women's Review of Books.

Longevity, I tell people who compliment me on my age (sixty) and youthful (apparently) looks, is not a sign of virtue. In my case, it’s simply dumb luck: a combination of good genes, a middle-class upbringing, and a job that provides me with health insurance. Yet for a small-circulation, special-interest publication like Women’s Review of Books, reaching a great age is an achievement. The year WRB was founded, 1983, was a boom time for feminist publishing—of books, newspapers, magazines, and journals, as well as ’zines, leaflets, manifestos, and graffiti. Little of that survives, but Women’s Review of Books is still hanging on.

I attribute this to many factors. For one thing, WRB is, for better or worse, still necessary. Disgracefully, even after forty years of the contemporary women’s movement, feminist scholarship and critical analysis, and women’s creative writing, receive little more attention in the mainstream media in 2013 than they did in 1983. Unlike in 1983, when WRB and our sister publications could cover just about every feminist work that appeared, these days university, small, and even trade publishers are releasing an outpouring of interesting, challenging, original books by women. Yet most of this is ignored by daily newspapers, glossy magazines, and book review publications like the New York Review of Books. When it’s not ignored, it’s often treated fleetingly or dismissively: and the well-deserved prizes and recognition that writers like Joan Didion (an NYRB regular), Adrienne Rich (lauded more enthusiastically after her death last year than she often was in life), or Louise Erdrich (winner of this year’s National Book Award) do not mitigate the situation. WRB is just about the only place where you’ll find long-form, review-essays by expert, excellent writers that thoughtfully consider the newest women’s studies scholarship and analysis. I’m regularly surprised by the lack of overlap between WRB’s coverage and that in the New York Times, for example. And WRB is by no means comprehensive: we do what we can in six issues per year, 32 pages per issue. There are a lot of worthy books out there that we miss, and getting old doesn’t mean we are getting complacent. We are always striving to do better.

Secondly, like me, Women’s Review of Books has been lucky in its parentage. Since we were founded, by Wellesley College Professor Linda Gardiner, we have been housed at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW), a gender-focused, research and action organization located at the college. WCW not only provides office space, computers, and other invaluable infrastructure; the organization has also come to our rescue during financial crises, offered personal support to the staff, and cheered on our accomplishments. In 2005, when we had to suspend blogpullquoteWRB WeAreThirtypublication because we had, basically, run out of money, WCW partnered with Old City Publishing, a publisher of scholarly journals, to get Women’s Review of Books back on our feet and to restructure financially.

Since WRB’s founding, we have been developing an extensive network of writers and informal advisors among feminist scholars, activists, and journalists. As a result, as editor, I can always find a writer to say something interesting, intelligent, and even illuminating about any book we decide to assign. The journal’s reputation is such that I’ve discovered I can cold call just about any feminist, no matter how exalted, and she will take seriously my invitation to review for us.

Of course, this is in part because at WRB, our terrific writers encounter a high-quality audience of activists and avid readers, one that appreciates their ideas, grapples with them, applies them in the world, and even extends them further.

So, the sources of WRB’s fountain of youth have been our relevant mission and the support of our parent organizations, our writers, and our audience. Perhaps one day a book review publication dedicated to women’s studies and creative writing will no longer be necessary—but until then, Women’s Review of Books is here to stay.

Amy Hoffman, MFA, is editor-in-chief of the Women’s Review of Books at Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College. A writer and community activist, her newest book, the memoir entitled Lies About My Family, will be published this spring by the University of Massachusetts Press.

  8940 Hits

Ending Violence – A New Year’s Challenge

endviolence

I can’t remember a time when our holiday season was more marred by violence than the one that just passed. Not only did the Sandy Hook Elementary mass shootings take place just days before Christmas (and in the middle of Hanukkah) in Newtown, CT, but there were also at least three other mass shootings in December (Happy Valley, OR, Frankstown Township, PA, and Webster, NY) – two of them seemingly “copycat” affairs. As if this weren’t enough, there were also mass shootings in October (Brookfield, WI), September (Minneapolis), August (Oak Creek, WI, and College Station, TX), July (Aurora, CO), May (Seattle, WA), April (Oakland, CA, and Tulsa, OK), March (Pittsburgh, PA), and February (Norcross, GA, and Chardon, OH) – making 2012 one of the most violent years on record for this kind of horror in the U.S.

In fact, the whole thing became personal for me three days after the Sandy Hook shooting when Sean Louis Callahan – the mate of one of my dear former students and a new policeman only four months into the career of his dreams – was fatally shot in the head and neck after responding to a domestic violence call in a hotel in Clayton County, GA. The perpetrator, who was also fatally shot in that incident, was a previously convicted felon. That a loved one of somebody I care about had to go down to stop such a potential tragedy only fuels my fire for doing something about the normalization of violence that pervades our society.

These mass shootings – as horrific as they are – are just the tip of an iceberg of normalized violence that is taken to extremes when mental health concerns, gun control issues, unresolved social oppressions, gender issues, and even economic insecurity are added to the mix. Taken together, these things are “always already” a powder keg waiting to blow up. Often these things are normalized in ways that keep us from seeing them unless we really look hard.

Over the holiday break, for example, I had a chance to visit Disney World with my family. Primed by recent events, never before had I noticed the degree to which guns are embedded as entertainment everywhere from Frontierland to Tomorrowland. As much as I love Disney World as a fun getaway for multiple generations, I found myself irked by these seemingly “harmless” portrayals of “guns as good” to kids. I also observed the still tremendous amount of normalized sexism presented as entertainment in a theme park that, on one level, appears to valorize women and girls through its emphasis on princesses. Listening to the “Carousel of Progress” – which features a father figure from different historical blogpullquoteEndingViolenceeras cracking jokes at the expense of his wife and daughter, among other things – for probably the fifth or tenth time in my life, I thought, “When is Disney ever going to progress to gender equality (or racial equality, for that matter)?” As someone who grew up in Florida, I love Disney World, and my point is simply some of the sources of violence in our society are “hidden in plain sight.”

Recent cases of gender-based violence, as well as the gendered dimension of recent episodes of violence that seemingly had little to do with gender, remind me that we can never look at violence in isolation. The shooting of 14-year-old girls’ education activist Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan, which I blogged about previously, was an attempt to suppress through violence women’s advancement to gender equality. The recent fatal gang-rape of a woman on a bus in Delhi, India, is an example of sexual aggression, which affects many women all over the world on a daily basis – from the epidemic war rapes of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo to commercial sexual exploitation and rape of women, girls, and boys all over the United States and elsewhere. The 40 million “missing girls” in China reflect a more systemic form of violence that comes from societal bias against women and girls.

We must also look, however, at the ways in which masculine socialization normalizes and even encourages aggression – which, in its most extreme cases (when combined with mental illness, economic marginalization, racial/ethnic/religious hatred, or misogyny, for instance) becomes violence, often horrific violence. Media depictions of gun violence, for example, whether in movies, music, or video games, feed into this masculine socialization by linking guns with “cool” – not just for U.S. men and boys, but for men and boys across the globe. If we stop short of examining these connections because we don’t want to face what we might have to change, we are shooting ourselves in the foot (or worse).

Obviously, violence isn’t just a U.S. thing. Anyone who has been able to sit through the constant stream of gruesome news reports from Syria, for example, has felt gut-level anguish over the seemingly interminable civil conflict there, particularly the wounds – many of them fatal – to innocent children. Violent civil conflicts and other insurgencies are now generating death and devastation in numerous parts of the world, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, and Mali to Burma, Afghanistan, northwest Pakistan, Iraq, Mexico, and Colombia. The autumn flare-up of hostilities in the Israel/Palestine region and renewed violence in Egypt added to the somberness of this year’s holiday season. As we stand by from the safe distance created by our TV and computer screens, even this kind of violence has become dangerously normalized and numbing. Often, we are paralyzed into believing that there is nothing we can do.

I write this today because I beg to differ. I truly believe that violence can be eradicated, and that we have the power to make it happen. “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” With this New Year, let us resolve to even explore the possibility of ending violence in our world – of truly creating a peaceful and nurturant global society – and to commit to taking the small (and big) steps that will lead us in this direction.

Please join me in 2013, if you care about these issues, by making three commitments:
1) I commit to the belief that we can eradicate violence,
2) I commit to engaging in honest and sophisticated discussions about the causes of violence as well as earnest searches for ways to reduce and eliminate violence, and
3) I commit to taking whatever personal and professional steps I can take to make ending violence a reality, and to work with and support others at home and globally who are doing the same.

One of my favorite quotes is attributed to Milarepa, a one-time murderer who eventually became a Buddhist sage: “In the beginning, nothing comes. In the middle, nothing stays. At the end, nothing goes.” In our efforts to end violence in our world – in our nations, in our neighborhoods, in our homes, and in ourselves – let us commit to a beginning, a middle, and an end, knowing that if we are patient and persistent and creative and compassionate, we will get there.

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is the Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

  8257 Hits

Human Rights Month: Women Prisoners

womenprisonsNew

Massachusetts Corrections guidelines permit shackling women prisoners by one foot during birth and according to testimony given to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary in September 2011, women have left the hospital after giving birth shackled at their waist, arms, and legs. Such practices have been deemed a violation of the United Nations Convention against Torture, yet in a national study by the ACLU, such practices have been outlawed in only 18 states. Also, each year hundreds of women are held in the Massachusetts state women’s prison awaiting trial in the most overcrowded unit in the state, deprived of programs and family contact, because their counties cannot hold them, and they could not pay bail as low as $50.

Both situations run counter to the Bangkok Rules adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in December 2010. Officially termed the United Nation Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders,” they expand government’s efforts to comply with international minimum standards for the treatment of offenders by emphasizing the special circumstances and needs of women. Certainly, the Rules impact was evident at an international conference, Women, Crime and Criminal Justice Practice: Diversion, Dignity, Desistance and Dignity, held at the University of Cambridge, January 2012. The U.K. participants reported on changes in the policies and practices affecting women offenders in the wake of a scathing report on the treatment of women prisoners issued in 2004, and participants from 18 countries spoke of the challenges of working with female offenders and their reform efforts.

Although the average daily count of women prisoners in the U.S. is over 210,000, compared with 4,000 in the U.K., 2,000 in Italy, and 700 in Sweden, the circumstances and needs of women offenders throughout the world are remarkably similar. These include reproductive health and pregnancy; mental illness and substance abuse (often as co-occurring disorders); the separation from  dependent children for whom they have sole custody; experiences of violence andblogpullquoteWomenPrisonerstrauma; lack of education and training; sexual victimization by criminal justice personnel; and restricted eligibility for state benefits.

Many people in the U.S. believe that discussions of human rights belong in third and fourth world cultures; for many it is indeed surprising that a handbook, Treatment of Women Prisoners, based on the Bangkok Rules and written by advocates in Sierra Leone, could benefit women in the U.S. However, I recommend that policy makers, advocates and criminal justice personnel read this handbook or others like it together with recent ACLU reports on these important topics.

The Massachusetts Women’s Justice Network (MWJN) platform for change in 2013, will focus on the reducing the numbers of women held in the state’s pre-trial unit and women’s health needs. For more information on the MWJN’s work, email ekates@wellesley.edu, and to learn more about the Bangkok Rules and ACLU efforts refer to:

ACLU (2012). Briefing Paper: the Shackling of Pregnant Women & Girls in U.S. Prisons, Jails, and Youth Detention Centers. Washington DC: ACLU (2012). Briefing Paper: the Shackling of Pregnant Women & Girls in U.S. Prisons, Jails, and Youth Detention Centers. Washington DC: ACLU

Mahtani, S. (2012) United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners: A Handbook.  Freetown: Sierra Leone. Advocaid.

Pradier, C. (2012) Penal Reform and Gender: Update on the Bagkok Rules.  DCAF (Geneva Center for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces).

Erika Kates, Ph.D. is a Senior Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College, who directs the Gender & Justice Project on Women Offenders.

  8081 Hits

Fortune 500s--Where Are the Women?

WomenCorporate

Five years ago, my colleagues Vicki W. Kramer, Ph.D., Alison M Konrad, Ph.D. and I studied the effect on boardroom dynamics of increasing women’s presence. We interviewed 50 women directors, 12 CEOs (9 male), and seven corporate secretaries at Fortune 1000 companies. The results showed that the benefits of having women on a corporate board are more likely to be realized when three or more women serve on a board.

Two recent reports released by Catalyst of Fortune 500 women board directors, executive officers, and top earners, show that “women’s share of Board Director and Executive Officer positions increased by only half a percentage point or less during the past year”—the seventh consecutive year of no improvement in the number of board seats women held. The reports further demonstrated discouraging data for women of color and women’s earnings at the highest levels within the organizations.

What we found in our study—and what studies since have verified—is that women directors make distinct types of contributions that men are less likely to make. For example, they can broaden boards’ discussions to include the concerns of a wider set of stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers, and the community at large. And even more germane to the distressing news about the lack of growth in women’s representation reported by Catalyst in “Women and Men in U.S. Corporate Leadership,” women’s presence on a corporate board has a positive impact on women in the corporation. In other words, increasing the number of women on corporate boards is a good beginning for increasing the number of women leaders in a corporation.

A recent report in the McKinsey Quarterly from April 2012 shows that diversity in the top echelons of corporate diversity is associated with better financial results. In 180 publicly traded companies in the U.S., U.K., France, and Germany, companies making up the top quartile of executive board diversity (in terms of women and foreign national on senior teams) returns on equity and margins on earnings before interest and taxes of were 53% higher compared to companies in the bottom quartile.

So if top team diversity is good for the bottom line, why aren’t corporations rushing to diversify their leadership? The answer may be the persistent bias in viewing men with identical credentials to women as more competent than the women. The results of a recent experiment reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, online Sept. 17 can shed light on this gender bias. The study focused on the scarcity of women in academic science, where women are also highly underrepresented. In this experiment, science faculty from research-intensive universities rated the application materials of a graduate student—who was randomly assigned either a male or female name—for a laboratory manager position. Faculty participants rated the male applicant as significantly more competent and hireable than the identical female applicant. (Faculty participants also selected a higher starting salary and offered more career mentoring to the male applicant.)

It appears that undervaluing women’s credentials, seeing them as lacking the necessary competence, to be a laboratory manager or a corporate leader, is pervasive and quite resistant to change. This gender bias operates most forcefully in situations where people are evaluating candidates with whom they have little personal familiarity. Curiously, in actual organizational settings the results of field studies (not laboratory experiments) have shown that there are few differences in how male and female managers are perceived. Greater familiarity with the actual characteristics and performance of managers one works with seems sufficient to overcome masculine biases. However, hiring and promotions decisions are made blogpullquoteFortune500sby people who do not know the candidate personally. When there is no familiarity with the person being evaluated to trump the bias that makes men seem more competent, men are chosen over equally competent women.

How are we to bring rationality to evaluating women on their merit? Becoming aware of implicit biases is a first step. Training can help us to be aware of our implicit biases. When faced with a hiring or promotion decision, we need to compel ourselves to justify an “automatic” assumption that a male candidate is more competent. Having diversity on evaluation committees is another must.

Sumru Erkut, Ph.D. is an Associate Director and Senior Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. She is the author of Inside Women's Power: Learning from Leaders.

  8972 Hits

The Next Four Years: Electing Ourselves as Agents of Change

votebutton

Now that we’ve had a day to reflect on the U.S. presidential election results, it’s time to get back to the business of changing the world for women and girls, their families, and communities. We have the election to thank for bringing to light a growing gender gap in terms of the kinds of issues women and men are concerned about, and we would do well to study this more deeply. During the campaign season, “women’s issues” included not only the right to abortion, reproductive freedom and justice, and access to contraception, but also jobs, pay equity, education, health care, violence against women, and even, sadly, rape. And I can’t begin to name all the issues that didn’t even make it to the table of discussion. We were reminded, yet again, that we still have much work to do to make our nation – not to mention the world–a place that is safe and welcoming for women and girls, a place that respects and cultivates women’s and girls’ capabilities, and a place that acknowledges the reality that women’s issues are everybody’s issues.

As much as we may be energized, inspired, stunned, angered, or even fatigued by the election of our nation’s leaders, I think we should never lose sight of the reality that “we are the ones we have been waiting for.” And there is so much we can and should do of our own initiative, regardless of what government is or isn’t doing to make our dreams of social change a reality. Presidencies are complicated, and we can’t always rely on political leaders to realize our visions the way we might like. We must step into our own potential as the initiators and inaugurators, stewards and sustainers, of the change we wish to see in the world. I am blogpullquoteElectingOurselvesgenuinely thankful, on behalf of all of those who came before in many generations, to establish this diverse nation and secure the rights of people of all genders and backgrounds to vote, for those who did exercise that right on Election Day. At the same time, I hope we recognize the need to elect ourselves as agents of change. Now, it is time to roll up our sleeves and get back to work–perhaps with even greater exuberance.

I invite you to share with us, in response to this blog, your highest hopes for women and girls, their families and communities, during the next four years. Have you chosen an issue to advocate for or work on? What do you care most about right now? How can we best work together to increase our power to make a difference? And, very importantly, have you asked any of the young women and girls around you what they think? Let’s start a conversation!

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is the Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

 

  8170 Hits

Caution, White Knight

whiteknight

Half the Sky is a two-part documentary film that aired on PBS stations beginning October 1 and 2, 2012. The film’s themes are 1) the ubiquitous violence against women that is perpetrated throughout the world, especially during and in the aftermath of war, and 2) the efforts made by courageous women- many of whom have experienced violence personally, to overcome this oppression. The film features U.S. women with celebrity status – Eva Mendes and Meg Ryan among others – to draw attention to these themes. The inspiration for the film was a book with the same title, co-authored by the husband-and-wife team of New York Times correspondents Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, and began with their efforts to explain the “disappearance” of thousands of girl babies every year in China, where traditionally boys are favored.

As a lifelong researcher in the area of the concerns of women in poverty I think this film has great value in drawing the viewing public’s attention to the oppression of women worldwide. However, as a social scientist and activist I have serious concerns about the ethics of making of this film, especially in the case of the two girl rape victims in Sierra Leone; Kristof’s so-called “encounter” with a three-year old girl rape victim and his interview with a 13-year old girl raped by her uncle. Both girls experienced traumatic events likely to leave profound and long-lasting effects on their lives. They are, as all trauma-informed literature states, vulnerable to being re-traumatized in any situation where there is a male and they feel insecure, and their experiences are complicated by cultural norms and deference to locally influential men. It was insensitive at best to have a white adult male taking the lead in talking one-on-one with these girls. Further, the lack of privacy -- showing the girls’ faces and broadcasting their undisguised voices -- likely endangered the girls and their families, if not immediately then at some point in the future. There are many ways in which the film’s message could have been equally well transmitted but with more consideration shown for the victims.

I recommend these readings to help shed light on the complex issues we should consider in aiding women and advancing their security:

Erika Kates, Ph.D. is a Senior Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College.

  8269 Hits

WCW Blog

 

Views expressed on the Women Change Worlds blog are those of the authors and do not represent the views of the Wellesley Centers for Women or Wellesley College nor have they been authorized or endorsed by Wellesley College.

Our website uses cookies to enhance your experience. By continuing to use our site, or clicking "Continue", you are agreeing to our privacy policy.
Continue Privacy Policy