WCW Blog

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.

Wellesley Centers for Women Mourns the Loss of Advisory Council Chair, Activist Deborah Holmes

Headshot of Deborah Holmes, who looks at the camera smiling. A yellow and black artwork hangs in the background.The Wellesley Centers for Women is mourning the death of Deborah Holmes, Chair of the WCW Council of Advisors and a passionate activist committed to the lives of women, people of color, equity, and social justice across the world.

“Deborah understood the intersectionality of social justice causes as well as the necessity of making change on multiple fronts at once, and she lived it,” reflected Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., the Katherine Stone Kaufmann ’67 Executive Director of WCW. “She brought indefatigable energy and an indomitable spirit to our Council of Advisors, and our global outreach and media impact expanded under her influence.”

Last spring, WCW cosponsored a research forum for change makers, “From Persistence to Power: Facts, Truth & Equity for Women,” in Washington, D.C., during which Deborah spoke about the need to address issues of intersectionality in order to achieve equity for all women in the U.S.

“It is hard to be black every day in America; but at the same time, I love being black. Because we have so much power, and the fact that we are in this room, and in this place, and still strong, and nobody has knocked us down, says a lot about our people,” she told the hundreds of attendees. “We are at a moment now where we have an opportunity, perhaps in coalition with other black and brown folk, to really rise up in a way that we rose up when we shut down the buses in Montgomery, when we forced people to listen to what we have to say.”

At the time of her death, Deborah was the Chief Communications and Engagement Officer at the Women's Funding Network (WFN), one of the world's largest philanthropic networks devoted exclusively to the equality and rights of women and girls around the world. There, she oversaw external and internal communications, brand and reputation management, strategic partnerships, and member relations. Prior to WFN, Deborah served as Chief of Staff and Vice President of Communications at the Global Fund for Women (GFW), where she was senior advisor to the CEO and charged with the development and execution of GFW's mission, vision, and strategies. Additionally, she was responsible for nurturing key organizational relationships and initiatives, enhancing staff and board capacity to steward the GFW brand, talent management, and human resources.

"No one met Deborah Holmes and was not immediately impressed,” said colleague Deborah Richardson, Herndon Human Rights Expert in Residence at Honors College, Georgia State University. “She wore her confidence and brilliance well, while openly embracing you as a fellow sister and comrade. Every moment of her life was purposeful—her yes meant yes. If she committed to something, she was all in.  What I learned from Deborah is we have to do more. Speak out more. Confront injustices more and love each other more. Those who had the privileged of working with her, and the thousands she felt a deep responsibility to—we are all blessed by her many gifts.”

An award winning television news correspondent and analyst for more than 30 years, Deborah worked for local, national, and international news organizations covering an array of issues including race, politics, and social justice. She addressed the importance of quality journalism during the D.C. conference.

“Backing down is no longer an option,” she argued. “The facts matter and we have to get the facts into the right hands of the people—and that includes your friends and associates who need to read and use critical thinking skills. Because there are facts out there. But if you choose not to read them, or you ignore them, then they are of no benefit to anybody. Losing first-rate investigative journalism,” she stressed, “is one of the worst things that can happen in this democracy.”

Prior to her work in women's rights, Deborah was Senior Vice President at a global communications firm, Fleishman Hillard, Inc., where she led client strategy in brand and reputation management, healthcare, and multicultural audience development and initiatives. She was an outspoken activist for issues impacting people of the African diaspora including racial equity and economic and political empowerment. Throughout her career, she promoted and facilitated opportunities that brought diverse voices into public discourse and debate to inform social change.

“This [work] takes time, and so you have to make a commitment within yourself and among your friends that you are going to devote some actual time to this in addition to the knowledge, but we have to show up,” Deborah said.

In addition to her service on the WCW Council of Advisors, Deborah’s board and community service included Global Press Institute, Change Philanthropy Partners, Bay Area Blacks in Philanthropy, Reporters Without Borders, and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

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Family, friends, and colleagues are welcome to share their reflections in the Comment Section below.

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Equal Pay Day & A Woman's Worth

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April 2016 Update: The wage gap cited has improved by 1% point since this article was originally posted in April 2015.

What is a woman worth? On Tuesday, April 14, 2015, we celebrate Equal Pay Day, a day to acknowledge the continuing gap in wages between women and men. By now, we are all familiar with the statistics – women employed full-time, year-round earn only 78 cents for every dollar a man earns. While some of this gap is attributable to differences in worker’s education, training or experience, about 40% of the pay gap can be attributed to discrimination.

What does this familiar narrative mean for individual women? Let’s start with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). While girls have closed the gap with boys in high school science and math, women are losing ground in engineering and computing. While Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, recommends leaning in, Gamergate reminded us of the challenges and open hostility that women can face in tech fields.

Over one-third of women are employed in the health and education fields; four of the top 20 occupations for women in are these fields--elementary and middle school teachers, secondary school teachers, registered nurses, and nursing and psychiatric aides. Even in these heavily female occupations, men outearn women. For example, “males in nursing outearned females by nearly $7,700 per year in outpatient settings and nearly $3,900 in hospitals.”

blogpullquoteEqualPayService occupations, such as maids and housekeeping cleaners, personal care aides and child care workers, are the lowest paid of all broad occupational categories. This disproportionately affects the earnings of women of color; while 16% of all women work in service occupations, 24% of Black women, and 27% of Latinas, are employed in service occupations.

How do we fix this? There are a few proposals on the table right now that would go a long way to address this gap. First, raising the minimum wage would affect women who are disproportionately employed in low-wage occupations. Second, ensuring equal pay for work of equal value, and putting teeth into the Equal Pay Act, would reduce wage discrimination [link ]. Third, providing paid parental leave for all workers would make it possible for mothers with young children to stay competitive in the labor force, and for parents to participate equally in raising their families. Wouldn’t it be great if we never needed to celebrate Equal Pay Day again?

Nancy Marshall, Ed.D. is an Associate Director and Senior Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) at Wellesley College. She leads the Work, Families and Children Team at WCW and is an Adjunct Associate Professor at Wellesley College.

April 2016 Update: The wage gap cited has improved by 1% point since this article was originally posted in April 2015.

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The Power of Women’s Social Science Research in Social Justice Movements

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When most people think about how social change happens, the role of social science research probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Yet, our histories of social change, social movement, and social justice have been shaped by social science research that provided crucial evidence to move things along. As head of the Wellesley Centers for Women, the nation’s oldest and largest academic women and gender focused research and action institute, now celebrating its 40th year, I’d like to talk about the role of social science research by women in advancing gender equality, social justice, and human wellbeing by highlighting three studies by women that really made a difference.

In the late 1930s, Mamie Phipps Clark, a masters student in psychology at Howard University, began to wonder about the relationship between school context and racial self-concept in children. She devised a method of testing children’s racial self-concept using, first, black and white images of children and, later, black and white dolls. Using this method, she collected data from children in three kinds of schools--segregated schools (all black children, black teachers), semi-segregated schools (mostly black children, white teachers), and integrated schools (black and white children, white teachers)--in Arkansas and New York City. She found that, in general, black children in all three conditions were more likely to rate the white image or doll as “good” and the black image or doll as “bad”; however, these effects were most pronounced in the semi-segregated condition where all the children were black and all the teachers were white.

This research was later published with her husband Kenneth Bancroft Clark, also a psychologist, as a series of five papers between 1939-1947, during and after the time both were pursuing their Ph.D.s in psychology at Columbia University. These papers became a cornerstone of the famous “Social Science Statement”--a survey of research drafted by Kenneth Clark, Isidor Chein, and Stuart W. Cook, which made the case that segregation is bad for children--black and white. This statement was submitted as an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1952 and was ultimately cited in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954--proving that social science research really does make a difference in social change.

blogpullquoteWomeSocialScienceIn the mid-1970s, Stanford-based psychologist Sandra Lipsitz Bem began to wonder how she might measure the limiting effects of traditional sex roles. This question had been raised by the women’s liberation movement, as more and more women became aware of--and concerned about--things like the “glass ceiling” and gender wage gap, as well as parenting differentials at home. Bem devised the Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI), a quantitative measure of traditional masculinity and femininity, which she published in 1974. Unlike previous sex role inventories, the BSRI allowed researchers to capture degrees of masculinity and femininity within the same person, rather than just rating an individual as either masculine or feminine. In addition, the BSRI introduced a new sex role category: androgyny. This category referred to people--male or female--who scored high in both masculinity and femininity. (People who scored low in both were referred to as “undifferentiated.”) Research based on the BSRI showed that women who scored high on androgyny showed levels of workplace success that were similar to men scoring high in masculinity, while women who scored high in femininity tended to experience more barriers to workplace success. Ironically, Bem was not tenured at Stanford despite many awards for her research, although Cornell subsequently rewarded her with a full professorship. Like Mamie Clark, Sandra Bem contributed to the outcome of landmark civil rights cases, this time in the area of employment. Bem testified as an expert witness in both the 1973 case against the Pittsburgh Press (ending the division of “help wanted” ads by sex) and the 1974 AT&T sex-discrimination settlement (ending many employment practices that discriminated against women). On a broader cultural level, Bem’s work also influenced how children are socialized about gender through books, toys, and television--in particular, widening the options presented to girls. In the long run, Sandra Bem’s research on sex roles helped establish the idea that gender is socially constructed and not merely inborn, expanding our society’s ideas about what it means to be a man or woman and opening up options along the full “spectrum of gender.”

In the mid-2000s, two political scientists--Mala Htun of the University of New Mexico and Laurel Weldon of Purdue University--embarked on a quest to discover empirically what really makes a difference in ending violence against women at the societal level. Examining data from 70 countries collected over four decades, these researchers determined that a single factor makes the most difference: the existence of an autonomous feminist movement within a country. In their provocative 2012 article titled “The Civic Origins of Progressive Policy Change: Combating Violence against Women in Global Perspective, 1975-2005,” these authors showed that “feminist mobilization in civil society” is more strongly correlated with the creation of policies that combat violence against women than any other factor that they measured, including percentage of women in government, activity of leftist parties, or relative national wealth. To quote these authors, “autonomous [feminist] movements produce an enduring impact on VAW policy through the institutionalization of feminist ideas in international norms.” They further state that, “analysis of civil society in general--and of social movements in particular – is critical to understanding progressive policy change.” What this comprehensive study tells us is that, despite the hurdles and setbacks that large-scale social movements inevitably face, they are, in the end, what makes a difference in bringing us closer to equity, justice, and wellbeing. And, on a more granular level, all of the large and small organizations that exist to advance social change within such movements are absolutely essential to achieving the aims we dream of. Htun and Weldon dared to use “big data” to illuminate a reality that common sense alone could not have revealed.

We must thank these and many other women social scientists for the painstaking work of bringing hard evidence to bear on our diverse social change efforts in the U.S. and globally. Social scientists, especially women social scientists, have played a crucial yet unsung role in bringing us closer to our shared ideals of gender equality, social justice, and human wellbeing. Let us celebrate them this Women’s History Month!

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D. is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann ’67 Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

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The Greying of the LGBTQ Community

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October was LGBTQ History Month. We should continue to celebrate, reflect, and get back to work!

It has been less than 50 years since Stonewall, the start of the current LGBTQ Rights Movement. There have been trials and tribulations, along with celebrations. Today, over 30 states grant same-sex couples the right to marry legally. Today, social acceptability has permeated society (Pew Research Center, 2011). Today, groups, businesses, and academic institutions supporting LGBT rights and LGBTQ youth, all with the message of equity and equality, have increased exponentially (HRC, 2014). Curriculum teaching about inclusiveness is making schools safer and more hospitable than they were even 5 years ago.

These accomplishments are certainly remarkable considering a mere 50 years ago homosexuality was considered a mental disorder. Gay people feared getting fired from their jobs and, often, only a suspicion of homosexual behavior was enough. Religions condemned homosexuality as an abomination, an affront to the natural order of things. And AIDS meant social isolation and certain death.

With so many improvements in equality and rights for LGBTQ communities since Stonewall, one might wonder what else there is left to do. One area that is unaddressed and under-researched is the challenges LGBT elderly people face. More than six million LGBTQ individuals will be in the “65+” age bracket by 2030 (SAGE, 2014). This, of course, provides some trepidations -- and opportunities—for LGBTQ communities, policymakers, and the general population.

blogpullquoteGreyingLGBTQIn the last couple of years, more research has surfaced regarding LGBTQ elderly people, which provides a sobering look at their attitudes and thoughts about aging. The first and obvious concern is aging in a society and community that places a high value on youth, leaving the elderly feeling useless and insignificant (Fox, 2007). This is both within the LGBTQ communities and in the general population. Ageism is pervasive in the U.S.

The second concern is discrimination or perceived discrimination at long-term facilities and healthcare institutions. SAGE (2014) reported 40% of lesbian and gay elderly people do not tell healthcare providers they are homosexual, and healthcare providers just assume they are heterosexual. Moreover, in long-term care settings same-sex couples are denied same-space living arrangements more often than heterosexual couples (Stein, Beckerman & Sherman, 2010). In other words, heterosexism entitles you to live your life with your significant other, especially in the final years.

A final concern is that LGBT elders worry about financial insolvency more often and believe they will not be able to retire or will outlive the meager retirement savings they have. In addition, current retirees have lived through years of employment discrimination (SAGE, 2014). Even today, there are still some states that don’t ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in their employment discrimination laws (HRC, 2014). About 15% of LGBT women and men 65 or older live in poverty, compared to only 10% of heterosexual men (Table 4; Badgett, Durso, & Schneebaum, 2013). In couples over 65, female same-sex couples are almost twice as likely as heterosexual couples, or male same-sex couples, to be low-income, reflecting the double impact of women’s lower earnings compared to men(Table 9; Badgett, Durso, & Schneebaum, 2013).

October’s LGBTQ History Month is about celebration, reflection, and work. We should celebrate that elderly couples are now, legally, entitled to their married spouses Social Security benefits when one spouse dies. Moreover, we should celebrate that the Affordable Healthcare Act is providing many people, especially transgender older adults, with needed healthcare. Finally, we should celebrate that LGBTQ issues are being discussed and acknowledged with the federal, state, and local agencies. In the span of less than 50 years, LGBTQ communities have gone from despised to celebrated and are seen as important members of the global community. Reflection comes as we realize there is more to be done to truly create equality for all members of society.

Let’s get back to work. We need to call members of Congress and demand that they pass the Older Americans Act (the premier elder care law) with LGBTQ elders added to the definition of vulnerable populations. We must call on state and local decision makers to pass anti-discrimination laws and create new minimum wage laws, so that pay is equalized for males and females, LGBT and heterosexual, gender conforming or nonconforming. Furthermore, let’s do what we do best, continue to initiate meaningful discussions on heterosexism, sexism, and ageism.

Brian Fuss, M.P.A., a Research Fellow at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College, is working on his doctorate in Public Policy and Administration. The working title of his dissertation is Public Policy Recommendations for Florida’s LGBT Elderly Population Residing in Rural and Suburban Areas.


Additional References:

Fox, R.C. (2007) Gay grows up, Journal of Homosexuality, 52, 33-61. DOI:10.1300/J082v52n03_03

Stein, G. L., Beckerman, N. L., & Sherman, P.A. (2010). Lesbian and gay elders and long-term care: Identifying the unique psychosocial perspectives and challenges. Journal of Gerontological Social Work 53, 421-435. DOI:10.1080/01634372.2010.496478

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A Case of Structural Racism

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For five years, from 2008 until 2013, I studied how Mississippi implements its child care certificates for low-income women who received the certificates as a welfare benefit. I brought to the work a racial lens and decades of studying the political right as a movement. I found a profound impact of both race and right-wing politics in my study of the Mississippi welfare bureaucracy and how low-income women and their children are treated. It has been a challenging and enlightening five years of travel, reading, conducting interviews, and mining historical and contemporary narratives.

Although Mississippi is majority white (60.6 % vs. 37.2 % Black in 2008), its poor are disproportionately African American (55% of low income households). Its overall poverty rate is 28%. Black people’s median earnings in Mississippi are about $10,000 less than whites. Approximately 13.9 % of children live below half of the poverty level, the highest percentage in the country. According to KidsCount, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Mississippi’s overall rank in child well-being is 50th out of 50 states.

Because many white people in Mississippi think of welfare as a “Black” program, its image is doubly stigmatized--by the negative stereotype of welfare recipients and by the widespread belief that recipients are African American. No Mississippi governor in recent memory has made the state’s low income people a priority. As a result, recipients of welfare services are viewed with suspicion and hostility.

Usually, some 6,000 children are on the waiting list to receive a child care certificate. This is no longer a matter of explicitly racial policies, but is a product of de facto racism in the implementation of Mississippi’s subsidized child care. By creating daunting barriers for low-income mothers in accessing subsidies for child care, Mississippi is disproportionately leaving their children behind.

blogpullquoteStructuralRacismIn Mississippi, advocacy for low-income women and children tends to occur only in the non-profit and non-governmental sectors, which are both relatively under-resourced in comparison with other states. No adequately powerful counter-voice exists to offset the public tone of hostility toward low-income women. Further, conscious and sub-conscious racism is so entrenched in Mississippi that even policies that would appear to address racial discrimination turn out to have no impact. Mississippi could be said to be “Ground Zero” for structural racism. So intractable is this form of racism at all class levels that the elimination of Jim Crow laws and practices has failed to eliminate structural racism. Neglect of poor children of color in Mississippi is but one outcome.

A symptom of the Mississippi Department of Human Services’ attitude toward welfare recipients is its latest scheme to fingerprint mothers each time they drop off their children at child care and when they pick them up. Only welfare recipients will have to use the fingerprint scanner. This scheme has cost Mississippi $8 million dollars and is intended to “reduce fraud and thus make more child care certificates available to others.” Child care providers and certificate recipients mobilized in opposition to the program. It has been temporarily stopped by the courts, but only because MDHS has been unable to complete the research the court required of it.

Mississippi is not alone in its pervasive structural racism. In every state in the country, race plays a role in the opportunities available to children and the likelihood of success for families. The perception by whites of the motivations of low-income people has been heavily influenced by a rightist campaign to demonize the poor as “dependent” and failing to take personal responsibility for their lives. This campaign has amounted to a war on the poor. Mississippi is but a shining example of that war.

For those of us who believe that improvement in the lives of Mississippians depends on empowerment of Black and white Mississippians from the ground up, child care is a crucial component. We learn more every year about the development of a child’s brain and what an enormous difference it can make to the future life of a child if that development is nurtured and expanded in the earliest years. Child care is not the only key to breaking through the barriers standing in the way of low-income Mississippians, but high quality early child care is an intervention that holds the possibility of changing outcomes for low-income children.

Jean Hardisty, Ph.D. is a Senior Scholar at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. This blog draws upon the report, Between A Rock and A Hard Place: Race and Child Care in Mississippi.

 

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Reframing Leadership as a Democratic Practice

SocialJusticeDialogueBox NewSocial Justice Dialogue: Leadership for Social Change

Too often, discussions about leadership confuse leadership with authority or management, and ignore the unique imperatives public leaders face. This trend is especially troubling in a socio-political context that characterizes “the public” as dependent and inefficient, and redistributes financial and political power from everyday people to a select few corporate actors. But Wellesley College faculty and other scholars on campus are holding a different conversation, reframing leadership as democratic practice and a call to empower social actors from all walks of life. Over the past year, roughly 25 professors and researchers from across the college have come together to forge the Project on Public Leadership and Action, a working group with three distinct principles.

First, we are dedicated to public facing scholarship and teaching. We are committed to dialogue about the civic and democratic practices needed to address public problems and help individuals be agents of social change. This requires thinking about how our research and teaching can reach and impact audiences beyond the campus and our own professional networks. As we teach and write about global citizenship, democratic practice, collective action, and civic engagement, we realize that the true value of the work is realized only when everyday actors take it and make it their own. This means thinking intentionally about constituencies for our work outside of academia, and finding ways to make our work accessible to practitioners.

blogpullquoteReframingLeadershipSecond, the PPLA explores ways to do teaching and research that is driven by our values. We focus on the kinds of leadership and collective capacity we need to meet the common challenges our society face in a just way. We insist upon rigor and methodological soundness in our work, but we cannot separate moral and ethical considerations from our research and writing. Many scholars believe that our values suffuse our classrooms, laboratories, articles, and books whether we recognize and foreground them or not. The Project on Public Leadership seeks ways to affirm and support explicitly values-driven work.

Finally, the working group is committed to creating a community where scholars and practitioners cross borders and break down traditional silos of research, teaching, and practice. PPLA gatherings boast professors from the social sciences, humanities, and natural sciences, and we benefit greatly from the wisdom and experiences of colleagues we might never interact with under ordinary circumstances. Further, we recognize that knowledge production is not the exclusive domain of those in the academy. Practitioners working at non-profits, advocacy groups, neighborhood associations, and other organizations have much to teach us, and when we fail to communicate and collaborate, we fail each other.

During our pilot year the PPLA is holding a series of seminars dedicated to each principle, and inviting guests with experience bridging the gap between the academy and the broader public to help us think through working models for Wellesley. For more information on current programming and plans for the future, please visit our webpage and join the conversation at our next event!

Michael P. Jeffries, Knafel Assistant Professor of Social Sciences, (@M_P_Jeffries) and Hahrie Han, Associate Professor of Political Science, (@hahriehan), are spearheading the Project on Public Leadership and Action with colleagues at Wellesley College.

 

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A Different Kind of Resolution

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This time of year, many people are thinking about their New Year’s resolutions. More often than not, these resolutions revolve around things we’d like to change in ourselves or our lives. But what about the things we’d like to change about our world--the things that are bigger than ourselves and our own individual lives? This year, I’m advocating for a different kind of resolution--a resolution to connect ourselves to “the change we’d like to see in the world” through direct action in areas we have the power to influence. I’m convinced that, if enough of us did this, we would turbo-charge not only efforts towards social justice but also human well-being on a vast scale. Are you ready to see where you can plug in??

Those of us who work at social change organizations, like us here at the Wellesley Centers for Women, perhaps have it easiest because our very livelihood depends on doing work that makes a difference in the world. Yet, even those of us who work in this arena need to recommit periodically--to our ideals and principles, to our social change goals, to the targets for change that we have set and to which we hold ourselves accountable. At WCW, we are using a strategic planning process to help us do this, which requires us both organizationally and individually to look at our work--which includes research, theory, and action programs--and its social change impact. Even those of us who have chosen social justice or human wellbeing as our lifework must periodically review, refresh, and reinvigorate.

blogpullquoteDifferentResolutionJust because we don’t all work for social change organizations, however, doesn’t mean there aren’t major ways we can make each a difference. What do you care about? What change would you like to see in the world? As great and necessary as organizations are in the social change equation, they are not the end-all and be-all. Individuals and small groups, even when they are working for change outside formal organizations, can make a monumental difference in outcomes for many through partnering, advocacy, endorsement, and financial support. As Margaret Mead once famously quipped, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Yet, the “power of one” is something to be reckoned with, too. We can look to history for inspiration. I would tell my students, for example, about an African-American “house slave” named Milla Granson who held a “midnight school” in her cabin each night to teach 12 fellow slaves how to read; once they learned, she took in 12 more--and did so for decades, until scores “forged their passes to freedom.” Can we imagine this kind of educational activism today? Just last week, I learned the story of Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese diplomat in Lithuania who, during the Holocaust, without orders, wrote and distributed transit visas, sometimes working in collaboration with his wife for 18 hours per day, even overnight, to produce them. Today, scholars estimated that he saved about 6,000 Jews and that anywhere from 40,000 to 100,000 people are alive today because of the action he took. Both Milla Granson’s and Chiune Sugihara’s actions show us that there’s always something we can do, right from where we happen to be standing. So what are we waiting for?

All of us have some kind of expertise, passion, or resources that we can contribute to increasing social justice and human well-being in the world. It just takes a different kind of resolution. What will you resolve to do in 2014??

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

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Connections Are at the Core of Social Justice

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Empathy and mutual respect provide the underpinnings for societal trust and economic stability. Neuroscience confirms that we are hardwired to be in connection with one another; cultures that create an ethic of hyper-individualism put us at odds with our natural proclivity to relate and connect. As Einstein once said:

“A human being is part of a whole...but he experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

Many of us live in cultures that pay lip service to “community” but in fact often function in a way that overstates individual competitive accomplishment and uses fear and shame to undermine the power of connection. Jean Baker Miller spoke of the corrosive effects of “condemned isolation,” the feeling of immobilization, isolation, self blame, being overwhelmed and hopeless. It has been said that “Isolation is the glue that holds oppression in place.” (Laing, K. 1998, Katalyst leadership workshop presented at In Pursuit of Parity: Teachers as Liberators, Boston, MA.) If dominant groups can isolate, shame, and silence the nondominant groups, they disempower them and can seize and retain more power for themselves, creating fear and inequality. The antidote to fear and immobilization is connection. Social justice is founded on mutual respect and growth fostering connection.

blogpullquoteConnectionsAreCoreA model for human experience that emphasizes our separateness works against our sense of basic connection and belonging. It leads us to believe that we should function autonomously in situations where that is impossible. By placing unattainable standards of individualism on us, it leaves us vulnerable to feeling even more inadequate, ashamed, and stressed out. There is abundant data that social ties are decreasing in the U.S.; more and more people feel they can trust no one. (Putnam, R. 2000 Bowling Alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York: Simon and Schuster.) And traditional psychology with its overemphasis on internal, individual problems contributes to our failure, at a societal level, to invest in social justice and social support programs. Rather than addressing the problems in a society that disempower us and perpetuate systems of injustice, we have tended to locate the problems in the individual. Martin Luther King once said, “compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” The powerful then keep invisible the ways in which privilege and power differentials support their success.

Further, the myth of meritocracy does a great disservice to most people who do not enjoy privilege at birth. Purely personal effort and personal control are overstated as the reason for individual success. In western culture there is pathological preoccupation with “the self,” “self interest,” individual competition as the source of all success. Our privileged narratives celebrate lone heroes, winning, being dominant, being certain and in control. The need to be in connection, to be part of something larger--a community, nature, and a movement--is often seen as a sign of weakness.

We now know that inequality reduces empathy in a society and reduced empathy in turn contributes to inequality. Physical and emotional distance between the rich and the poor erodes empathy and mutuality. Trust, empathy, and social structures play critical roles in determining not just individual health and happiness but also how well regions and nations perform economically and socially. When empathy is sparse in a culture, the culture itself becomes less stable, less productive, less healthy, and less just. Typically under these conditions there are increases in wealth disparity, violence, and lack of respect for human lives.

A just society is founded on empathy, respect, mutual empowerment. Kindness and connection put the brakes on the chemistries of fear and threat. Practicing empathy and generosity is good for the collective and good for individuals. Our brains thrive when we practice empathy. In a culture of disconnection, discovering that we are hardwired to connect can serve as a source of hope. We currently live with the dilemma of neurobiologies that are wired to thrive in connection and a culture that tells us we must stand alone, that we are autonomous, self-sufficient, and thrive in competitive settings. This is a set up for social and personal failure.

Mutuality is based on respect, a growing capacity to speak our truths, and allowing others to have an impact on us. As Patricia Hill Collins noted, “a commitment to truth requires a politics of empathy; a commitment to truth requires a commitment to social justice.”(Collins, P.H. 1990 Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness and the politics of empowerment. Boston: Unwin Hyman). We need to bear witness to one another’s truths; we need to build communities where differences do not sustain stratifications but contribute to building bridges of respect and growth.

Neuroscience is now delivering data that shows us--without a doubt--that we are profoundly interdependent creatures. We have a responsibility for one another’s well-being and we need to foster social programs built on the real facts of our concern for one another and thus fulfill our intrinsic capacity for empathy and caring.

Judith V Jordan, Ph.D. is Director of the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute at the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College. A founding scholar and one of the creators of Relational-Cultural Theory, she has published extensively and is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

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Did the Republicans Lose Women in the 2013 Elections?

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This article was originally published May 10, 2013 on Huffington Post by Alex Sanger, chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council and member of the Wellesley Centers for Women Council of Advisors.

Virginia and New Jersey have spoken - the former electing a pro-choice governor and the latter an anti. Did choice matter? Did women matter?

The Choice Gap in Virginia
Abortion was considered the third most important issue by Virginia voters, with the economy and health care coverage outweighing it. The Virginia electorate's views on abortion rights almost exactly mirror the national opinion. The 2012 national election and 2013 Virginia election exit poll breakdown are as follows, when the voters were asked if abortion should be:

Legal in all cases: 29% (National 2012); 27% (Virginia 2013)
Legal in most cases: 30% (National 2012); 33% (Virginia 2013)
Illegal in most cases: 23% (National 2012); 23% (Virginia 2013)
Illegal in all cases: 13% (National 2012); 11% (Virginia 2013)

Voters nationally and in Virginia generally vote for the candidate that supports their view, with the exception of the "legal in most cases" group, which tends to have a greater percentage voting for the anti-choice candidate than the "Illegal in most cases" group has voting for the pro-choice candidate.

Legal in most cases: 58% (Obama); 40% (Romney); 59% (McAuliffe); 30% (Cuccinelli)

Illegal in most cases: 22% (Obama); 76% (Romney); 17% (McAuliffe); 80% (Cuccinelli)

In other words, there is a 20-percentage point difference in voting patterns in these categories. The pro-choice candidates, Obama and McAuliffe, got 58% and 59% respectively of the 'legal in most cases' voter, while Romney and Cuccinelli got 76% and 80% of the 'illegal in most cases' voter.

This pattern is similar to the abortion gap in 2012. Romney got 29% of the vote of people who thought abortion should be legal, whereas Obama got only 21% of the vote of people who thought abortion should be illegal.

This is a pattern that has been seen repeatedly in national and state elections. The mostly pro-choice voter votes other issues more than choice, whereas the mostly anti-choice voter does not. That said, the raw numbers still favor by a slight margin the 'pro-choice candidate since the pool of voters in the 'legal in most cases' camp is larger by 7-10 percentage points than the 'illegal in most cases' voters.

The Gender Gap in Virginia
There was the usual gender gap in Virginia with men supporting Cuccinelli 48 to 45 and women supporting McAuliffe 51 to 42 for a 12-point gap, virtually identical to the 2012 Virginia gender gap for Obama of 13 points. The national gap gender for Obama in 2012 was 18 points, hence Virginia trails the national average.

54% of white women voted for Cuccinelli and 51% of married women. Women are not monolithic, to say the least, in their support of pro-choice candidates or Democrats.

The Marriage Gap in Virginia
A greater voting gap was the married-unmarried gap. In 2012, married voters went for Romney 56-42. Unmarried voters went for Obama 62-35, for a 41-point marriage gap.

In Virginia in 2013, marrieds went for Cuccinelli 50-43 and unmarrieds for McAuliffe 62-29, for a 40-point marriage gap, virtually identical to the national marriage gap.

New Jersey
In New Jersey, every group went for the popular anti-choice, anti-family planning incumbent, with 63% of men and 57% of women voting for Christie. Abortion rights were not a major issue in the campaign, not registering on the exit polls.

The messages from these campaigns include the non-monolithic character of women voters and choice voters. Issues other than choice, and even family planning, are not the primary determinants of many women voters. The gender gap is real but the marriage, income and race gaps are greater. Politicians have yet to make the compelling case that reproductive freedom is essential for women, and men, and that they should vote accordingly. The connections to issues perceived as of greater importance, like the economy, taxes and health care coverage, need to be made. Healthy families with planned and spaced children of one's choosing lead to increased women's participation in the economy, more productivity, and less health care expenditures and taxes. This is a message equally compelling to people who are married as those who are not, but so far only the latter group have gotten the message and vote accordingly, as they want to keep their life options open.

Alexander Sanger is the author of Beyond Choice: Reproductive Freedom in the 21st Century, published in January 2004 by PublicAffairs. The grandson of Margaret Sanger, who founded the birth control movement over eighty years ago, Mr. Sanger is currently Chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council and has served as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund.

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Reflections on the March on Washington, Part II

LMEEOBBblogPart II: Social Scientific Perspectives on Making Change in America

Yesterday, in my reflections on the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, I blogged about how the issue of pursuing change can be viewed through a social science lens--not just through a political or philosophical lens. The social scientific approach is to gather data and marshal evidence in ways that demonstrate why change would be beneficial or what kinds of actions help us get there. Today, I focus on some social science-related insights resulting from my own reflections on the March, indeed, on the whole civil rights movement and today’s human rights movements, with reference to the work we are doing here at the Wellesley Centers for Women.

Here are just a few of the social-science based social change insights that come out of our work here at the Centers:

  • The importance of education in remaking America into the nation of our dreams, and the importance of the quality of life in early childhood as a foundation for educational and later success.

 

In America, we agree that education is the gateway to success. Yet we also know that children must come to school ready to learn – physically, emotionally, and academically. We know that quality childcare helps children become ready for the classroom; that healthy eating and physical activity contribute to children’s mental and social readiness at all stages of development, and that early language learning is key. What we are also learning is that, when education includes social-emotional learning and social justice components, children and youth do better in school. Therefore, making sure that all children are ready to learn, that there are family, school, and community supports for this, and that our approaches to education are holistic are keys to social change in the direction of Dr. King’s dream and, indeed, so many of our dreams for an America characterized by equality and economic success, justice and jobs.

  • The significance of mental health not only as an article of social justice but also as a bellwether of our success in its creation.

 

Whether we are getting it from news reports or simply by looking around in our schools, workplaces, and communities, we see a mental health crisis in America. blogpullquoteMakingChangeDepression is more epidemic than the common cold, and we hear more and more about such issues as bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicide. On the one hand, we have begun to recognize a connection between mental ibellness and certain forms of violence – and while mental illness certainly doesn’t explain all forms of violence in America, it raises our level of concern about why people experience mental illness and whether we are doing enough about it. Fortunately, the Affordable Care Act will make mental health treatment and care available to more Americans.

Researchers and clinicians alike are coming up with innovative treatments and prevention strategies. One example involves accessible, Internet-based interventions for families with a depressed member. Another example is using the “neurobiology of connection” to understand and address an array of troubling phenomena, from drug abuse to bullying, that may have mental health consequences or correlates.

A social change-oriented, systems approach to research on mental health helps us to evaluate how individuals and families are affected by social conditions – everything from economic strain to violence in their communities to discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, age, or ability. For example, we now know that trauma-informed strategies help us to promote school success in children from the most vulnerable families. And learning how hard it is for low-wage women to utilize family leave policies or access higher education helps us to improve both policies and strategies. It also helps us to understand how we can create optimal conditions for human development and social justice simultaneously. Research helps us understand that mental health itself is a social justice issue.

  • The centrality of gender equality to all forms of social progress--educational, economic, social, cultural, and legal.

When girls feel like school isn’t designed with their needs in mind or STEM education pushes them to the side, they disengage. Yet, when girls are given equal opportunities in sports, they thrive – demonstrating that gender equality policies such as Title IX make a difference. Research can also help us make subtle but important distinctions in social policy. For example, bullying discourse often glosses over school-based forms of gender-based violence, leaving girls in the cold. Armed with the information provided by gender-sensitive research, policy-makers can and do make policy more effectively.

At the Wellesley Centers for Women, we not only conduct primary and secondary research, but we also maintain a close relationship between research and program development, recognizing that evaluation research is a critical component in the social change equation. Social change-oriented research institutes and centers, whether they focus on women and gender or something else, are an under-celebrated link in the chain of effective social change. In fact, research and researchers can be and are often social change catalysts. This is what I am celebrating today!

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

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Reflections on the March on Washington

Social Scientific Perspectives on Making Change in AmericaBlogMarchCrowd

Yesterday I attended the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington with two members of the WCW staff. We had been in Washington, D.C., for a series of meetings--indeed, we had just met with a liaison to the White House Council on Women and Girls earlier that morning--and we wanted to be a part of this history. The fact that my own mother had been a civil rights activist in the early 1960s was part of my inspiration to attend this event and share in the national moment on reflection on how far we had or hadn’t come in terms of meeting the deeply enshrined American ideals of equality and justice.

WCWHSWHCWGDuring the flight home, as I reviewed the day’s remarks by three U.S. Presidents-- Carter, Clinton, and Obama--vis-à-vis the poignantly articulated and enduring dream of Martin Luther King, Jr., I began to think about a social science perspective on progress towards our shared civil and human rights goals. Of course there are political and philosophical ways to think about achieving equality and justice, but how does the achievement of these ends look through lenses of psychology, sociology, education, or economics, for example?

The work we do at WCW is geared towards social change, yet our methods revolve around empirical social science research. Research not only informs action here, but it also allows us to evaluate the effectiveness of action using evidence. As I mentioned in one of our D.C. meetings, WCW is a kind of “evidence factory”--we are in the business of generating the kind of evidence that shapes effective policy and sound action programs. And it is no accident that, these days, everybody from activists and advocacy groups to philanthropists and Federal funders are seeking evidence that the actions they engage or invest in actually make a difference. Social-change oriented research organizations like WCW are key players in this equation.

Tomorrow, I will post a blog that takes a deeper look at some of the ways that social science research--including work by WCW scholars--informs social justice questions. Over time, I’d like to enlarge this dialogue about the role of research in social change, and I hope you’ll join me by adding your comments and reposting our blogs on your social media channels. By staying in conversation and creating a buzz, together we move the needle on the issues we all care about!

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

 

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Celebrating Women's Equality Day

WomensEqualityDay

August 26, Women’s Equality Day, always raises mixed feelings for me. I can join in the spirit of celebration over how far women have come from the days when my graduate school professor announced in class that if the political science department ever hired a woman, he would leave. When I was told I could not change my name from my married name to my “maiden” name; when flight attendants were all women who had passed an “attractiveness” test; and domestic workers had no rights to fair pay nor protection from assault and sexual harassment. And, of course, I remain grateful to Rep. Bella Abzug (D-NY), who almost single-handedly pushed the creation of “Women’s Equality Day” through Congress in 1971.

The date was selected to commemorate the 1920 passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote (though a meaningful extension of this right for African American women in many states did not occur until the 1964 Voting Rights Act). The passage of the 19th Amendment was the culmination of a massive, peaceful civil rights movement by women that had its formal beginnings in 1848 at the world’s first women’s rights convention, in Seneca Falls, New York. Workplaces, libraries, organizations, and public facilities now participate with Women’s Equality Day programs, displays, video showings, or other activities.

blogpullquoteEqualityDayThis is all good. So why my lingering sense of discontent when the subject of equal rights for women comes up? It may be based, in part, on personal experience. I lived in Illinois in the 1970s, when the very last states were scheduled to vote to ratify the Equality Rights Amendment (ERA). Having passed Congress and been ratified by 35 states, it seemed that the ERA was on the path to becoming part of the Constitution.

But Phyllis Schlafly, doyenne of the right-wing, anti-feminist women’s movement, decided to stop Illinois’ ratification of the ERA, making that goal explicit by starting an organization called STOP ERA. Her followers baked pies for Illinois legislators with the message Stop ERA hidden inside. She travelled tirelessly to argue against the ERA. She raised the specter of “horrible consequences” that would follow from its passage, such as women in military combat and unisex bathrooms. On June 18, 1980 Schlafly succeeded when the Illinois legislature failed by five votes to ratify the ERA. Our current Congress would never pass its equivalent, though it has been reintroduced in every session of Congress since 1982.

Certainly another source of my discontent is the ongoing plight of low-income women, whose safety net is now shredded, so that life is increasingly unmanageable and the struggle to keep food on the table is harder every year. As the gap in income widens inexorably, these women and their children are, far from equal, being left farther and farther behind. A growing number of women continue to live in fear of violence, wage theft and abuse by employers, with little access to public services and usually facing a hostile welfare system. Their rights are limited by their lack of earning power and, often, their lack of a good education.

But women do have a number of avenues to redress unequal treatment. The Violence Against Women Act became law in 1994 (though periodic reauthorizations are still a struggle). Title IX became the basis for the transformation of women’s and girls’ participation in sports in 1972. Women have successfully sued for equal pay for equal work, equal access to promotion, equal right to a military career, and pregnancy rights in the workplace. In international settings, pursuit of rights for women is increasingly seen as an important key to unlocking the potential for improvements for a country as a whole.

Women’s rights organizations continue to organize, lobby, and litigate in areas that remain intransigent, such as family leave, child care, equal pay, protection from sterilization, domestic violence, and the rights of women in prison. Massive problems, such as human trafficking, persist. Fighting for women’s equality is an arduous but necessary process, ploddingly pursued by dedicated women and men who refuse to accept a lesser role for women in society.

“Women’s rights are human rights”--a current anthem of the women’s movement--remains a vision, a goal, and a noble quest that we pursue at the Wellesley Centers for Women. As we say, “A world that is good for women is good for everyone."

Jean Hardisty, Ph.D. is a Senior Scholar at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. She is the founder and president emerita of Political Research Associates (PRA), a Boston-based research center that analyzes right wing, authoritarian, and anti-democratic trends and publishes educational materials for the general public.  

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The Next Four Years: Electing Ourselves as Agents of Change

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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.

 

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