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

"E" Is for Energy

The Dopamine Reward System—Friend or Foe?

Dopamine is trending as the most popular neurotransmitter. And why not? There are days I think it rules the world or at least the day–to-day activities of my friends and family. The craving you have when you smell the coffee brewing in the morning—thank dopamine. That elation you feel throughout your body when you fall hopelessly and deeply in love? Again, dopamine. The thrill of a shopping spree at the mall, the desire for the second and third glass of wine at dinner. You guessed it, dopamine. Dopamine seems to be everywhere giving people a little rush of pleasure and energy when we need it most. So what’s the harm? It’s a natural, biologically based chemical that provides energy and motivation.

The harm is best understood by remembering the infamous rats in Skinner boxes back in the 1950s. Scientists put electrodes into the limbic system (feeling centers) of the rats’ brain and sent a little shock to the area when the rat entered a particular corner. The theory was that if the shock was unpleasant enough it would cause the rat to stay away from the corner. Enough shocks and the rat’s brain would wire the corner with the aversive stimuli. However, a strange and unexpected thing happened when the electrode was placed in the nucleus accumbens (a dopamine pathway that is part of the limbic system)—the rats did just the opposite. Instead of avoiding the corner, they went back to get the shock over and over and over again. Up to 700 times an hour! In fact, this was so compelling to the rats that they opted for the stimulation over food. The rats could not describe “craving “ to us, but certainly, the repetitive nature of their dopamine seeking made it clear that this was something they “needed” to do. The increase in motivation and energy that dopamine provides can be a good thing, but when your brain gets wired to compulsive behaviors that stimulate the dopamine reward pathway (addictions) then your life can be as out of control as the poor rat in Skinner’s Box.

So dopamine itself is not the problem, nor is the dopamine reward system. Dopamine is simply the carrot on a stick designed to give a reward to life-sustaining activities like eating healthy food, having sex, drinking water, and being held in nurturing relationships so that you would keep doing these healthy things over and over again. The problem is how we stimulate the dopamine pathway. In an ideal world—one that understands the centrality of healthy relationship to health and wellness—the dopamine reward system stays connected to human connection as the primary source of stimulation. Unfortunately, we do not live in this ideal world. We live in a culture that actively undermines this precious dopamine-relationship connection. We raise children to stand on their own two feet while the separate self is an American icon of maturity. It is making us sick.

This disconnection is a set-up for addiction as we search for other sources of dopamine. The “other sources” look shockingly similar to the list of common cultural complaints—overeating and obesity, drug and alcohol abuse, consumerism, chronic hooking up. Not only do these addictive, destructive behaviors get paired to the dopamine reward system but they create a feedback loop of isolation that pushes people towards more addictions.

Without healthy relationships we each become like the rats in Skinners box—seeking dopamine from all the wrong places. Let’s rewire our brains for the healthy relationships and connections that reward us with positive energy and motivation.

Amy Banks, M.D., has devoted her career to understanding the neurobiology of relationships. She was an instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and is the Director of Advanced Training at the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute (JBMTI) at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. She is the author with Leigh Ann Hirschman of the forthcoming book, Four Ways to Click: Rewire your Brain for Stronger, More Rewarding Relationships (Penguin Random House).

 

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"R" is for Resonance

The Four R’s – Reading, ’Riting, ’Rithmetic, and Resonance

Do you have someone in your life that “gets” you? I do. My friend Angel and I see each other every six weeks or so but each time we get together I am struck by the resonance we share, the ability to jump back into a conversation as if no time has passed. How does that happen? When I heard about the discovery of mirror neurons I thought I had found the answer.

First discovered by accident in 1998 by scientists studying arm movements in monkeys, mirror neurons were originally described as individual, specialized brain cells with the sole purpose to help us “get” or read other people. They were thought to be unique among brain cells because of their ability to multitask—registering actions, feelings and sensations all in a single specialized cell. I loved this! My heart already believed that relationships were central to health and wellness and these mirror neurons could be the proof my brain needed to believe that humans are “hardwired to connect.” But, even as I was sharing the news with others, I felt a little worried. How could Angel and I click so easily when I struggled with many other relationships in my life?

Also, when I looked at my friends and family, I noticed I was not alone. Everyone I know has some variability in his or her capacity to read others and to be read. So, if we’re hardwired to connect, what explains the variability? Is people-reading something we learn how to do or are we blessed with the hardware to automatically understand what others close to us are doing or feeling? Turns out, it’s both.

As babies, we are born with reflexes to connect with others. Watch an infant for a few minutes and you can see the vast amount of energy devoted to connection. The wiggling and writhing invested in finding the nipple of a full breast, the waving of a tiny, unsteady hand in search of a finger to wrap around or the neck to grab hold of. These reflexes are a pretty good start for connection, but, are not nuanced enough to allow an infant to “read the room.” A baby may become fussy when held by a distracted, tense mother but could not “know” the mother arrived home from work exhausted and irritable after being up all night working on an important presentation.

Researchers are now describing a mirror neuron system rather than unique mirror neurons. This is a more complex, efficient, and coordinated wiring of existing of neural pathways that communicate the actions feelings, and sensations of those around us. It is the way these pathways become interconnected through experience that really counts in clicking with others and making sense of relationships. Imitation plays a key role. Each of us literally “knows” other people by mimicking them internally. This mimicking is concrete. If I watch you walk toward the door with your hand out, I “spontaneously and automatically “know you are going to open the door and leave. I do not need to ask. Deep in my brain, the area in the prefrontal cortex that plans and executes the physical movement of walking out the door is being stimulated. Though I am not moving, the same nerve cells are firing. When you touch the door and pull your hand away quickly and shake it a little I “know” that the door was quite hot from the pounding sunshine on the glass. My somatosensory cortex that creates sensations fires and my hand feels a low-grade sense of heat and smoothness from the window window. That is added to the immediate mix of how I am reading your experience. And finally, you walk through the door and a large smile crosses your face as you fall into the arms of a loved one. In my brain and body the nerve signal has now traveled through the insula into my “feeling centers” in my body and I feel a similar joy and lightness. I “know” you are with someone you love. All of this has happened in the blink of an eye and without you sharing any of your experience with me. My brain and body uses itself as a template to have a shared experience with you and the closer our life experiences internally have been, the more resonant we feel.

But imitating is not the whole story. Grown-ups must name feelings and experiences accurately when you are little so that when you name them in others later they match. You fall down and skin your knee and your parent says, “Ouch, that hurts.” The pain in your knee and the tears running down your face are paired with being hurt. A friend knocks over your block tower and the energy surging through your body and the tension in your eyebrows and face gets paired with a teacher saying, “You feel angry because Tom knocked over your blocks.” It seems like an easy process except that many people don’t know what feelings feel like in their body. Even as adults, well-meaning parents can mislabel a child’s experience and potentially confuse the development of the mirror neuron system.

Here’s an example. Ten years ago my pre-school aged twins and I were in a terrifying accident. I had driven the one-mile route to school mindlessly for a couple of years. On this day, as we approached a four-way intersection, another van turned left and hit us almost head on. Both vans were totaled and immediately chaos ensued. The front airbags in our car deployed filling up most of the front seat and giving off a pungent, rubber smell; the engine hissed and sent water and steam spraying into the air. Within minutes the local rescue teams arrived en masse—fire, police, and ambulance sped to the accident with blaring sirens and lights. In the midst of the overstimulation, I crawled into the back seat and looked directly into the trusting, scared faces of my children and said, “Everything is fine”—a delusional thought if ever I had one. My son looked right back at me and said, “Everything is not fine, this is a bad accident. “ A reality check for sure, I immediately backtracked and agreed that it was a bad accident and that it was scary.

We develop these pathways for accurate reading in the context of being accurately read by others! When I tell my children everything is fine at the same time their bodies are registering that things are dangerous, their developing people-reading pathways are getting a mixed message. Done often enough, as is often the case with childhood trauma or domestic violence, and the person’s mirror neuron system wires in an inaccurate and confusing way. They drift into isolation as their capacity for resonance is diminished.

A cultural belief that human development should be towards increased levels of separation and individuation can create a mirror neuron system that is not accurate. If I am busy “hiding my feelings” from you for fear of being seen as weak or needy, or if I believe that being impacted by another person’s feelings or experiences diminishes my strength, then chances are my mirror neuron system is not getting the stimulation needed to develop the essential human capacity of resonating and reading others and being read. And the impact of this is far reaching. Human beings are built to be healthiest in mind and body when in strong connections with others. Connection and cooperation are part of the everyday lives of most people and a strong mirror neuron system is essential in each and every one of life’s negotiations. It is high time that we add the fourth “R” to the basic skills taught in education—reading, ‘riting, ’rithmetic, and resonance!

Amy Banks, M.D., has devoted her career to understanding the neurobiology of relationships. She was an instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and is the Director of Advanced Training at the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute (JBMTI) at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. She is the author with Leigh Ann Hirschman of the forthcoming book, Four Ways to Click: Rewire your Brain for Stronger, More Rewarding Relationships (Penguin Random House).

 

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On King Day, Thinking about Social Movement

The past year has generated national and international soul searching on the theme of social movement. In the U.S., events as diverse as the multiple police shootings of unarmed Black men, the killings of police officers on patrol, domestic violence incidents involving professional athletes, and misogynistic serial killings of women, have left us wondering who we are as a nation. Around the world, events such as the mass kidnapping of African schoolgirls, the shootings of journalists in Europe, and the rise of religious extremist violence in general, have shocked and outraged us. Many people are wondering what forms of mobilization can be effective in today’s world. We scratch our heads over the fact that, while obvious progress has been made on many social justice fronts, new and worse hate-based acts of violence – indeed, new horrors – seem to crop up every day and everywhere. There is a tendency, quite natural and laudable, to reach back for familiar forms of social movement – such as protest – and to update them (for example, through social media). But is this enough and, more importantly, is it really effective? Is this really all we can do? In honor of the great visionary thinker and agent of social transformation, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose legacy we celebrate today, I have a few thoughts.

I’d like to begin with a premise, perhaps controversial: We have no enemies. No matter how much we dislike or disagree with someone else’s point of view, we are still brothers and sisters. No matter how gravely someone crosses a line we would not cross or commits an act we see as unconscionable, we are still part of one human family. Admittedly, this is difficult. For starters, it is natural to recoil from things that offend our sensibilities, through whatever process of socialization we came to hold those sensibilities. Stated differently, we have to work to try to understand things that are outside our ken of acceptability. But, I argue, this work is worth it, because it makes possible the beginnings of dialogue – dialogue that can bring us together, ultimately transforming hearts and minds. Without the attempt to understand someone else’s point of view, dialogue never begins. Yet, once dialogue commences, transformative points of commonality can be discovered, leading to social change. Sometimes it is just the simple, everyday act of talking with someone that one might not otherwise talk to that launches the chain reaction of change.

The story of Xernona Clayton and Calvin Craig bears this out beautifully. Xernona Clayton was a civil rights activist who worked for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference alongside Dr. King, and, in 1967, she became the first Black woman in the Southeast to have her own television show, The Xernona Clayton Show. Around this same time, she was appointed by then Mayor of Atlanta, Ivan Allen, as community affairs director for the Model Cities program. There she met Calvin Craig, a heavy equipment operator who happened also to be the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan and the chair of the Model Cities program in one of the five communities within her jurisdiction. “I don’t know how you’re all going to get along,” the Mayor told Clayton. She said, “I don’t run away from people.” At one of their meetings, Clayton daringly and only half-jokingly told Craig that, “Before this project is over, I’ll not only have you eating at my house, I’ll have you eating out of my hand!”

Over the course of a convivial relationship, they found common cause in their Christianity (both belonged to Baptist denominations) and a shared sense of humor. To everyone’s surprise, in 1968, shortly before Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, Calvin Craig publicly announced that he was leaving the Klan because his views had changed. He credited his change of heart to his friendship with Xernona Clayton. Clayton was poised to introduce Craig to Martin Luther King, Jr., who, after some hesitancy, agreed to meet with the man, but fate would not have it, as King was assassinated just days later in Memphis. The night of King’s death, Craig came to King’s home to pay respects. Afraid or ashamed to approach the door, he stood in the yard until someone gave the message to Mrs. Coretta Scott King that Craig was there. She invited him in, but still Craig refused – perhaps his own way of showing respect for Dr. King.

Craig’s obituary reveals that, over time, he would again both join and denounce the Klan. However, an interview with his daughter, Gail Craig Myers, reveals the extent to which Calvin Craig was transformed by his friendship with Xernona Clayton. To quote Myers, speaking of Xernona Clayton, “[Y]ou healed my father and cleansed our family.” This is a strong statement of transformation – a testament to the power of friendship, and a testimony to the power of non-oppositional approaches to social justice and social change, and to the healing power of racial amity – America’s “other tradition” – as a framework for shifting race relations. It is also a testament to the power of everyday acts that change hearts and minds – a reminder that we cannot rely solely on politics and policy if we truly want enduring peace and justice.

So, on this King Day, I am asking you to consider with me the power of connection, the power of reaching out – beyond our comfort zones – to acknowledge one another’s full humanity and to try, in a new way, to build the world that we’d like to live in. I’m asking us to imagine activism without enemies – to never lose sight of the fact that, no matter how hard things get, we are all in this together. It is certainly an extension of Dr. King’s legacy, enlarging the “Beloved Community” to ultimately include all of us. I dare everyone of us to try it and see where we are this time next year!

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D. is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann ’67 Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women and a Professor of Africana Studies at Wellesley College. Her scholar-activist work interweaves threads from the social sciences and the critical disciplines, incorporating basic and applied platforms around a common theme of integrating identities and communities in peaceable, ecologically sound, and self-actualizing ways.

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"A" Is for Accepted

I was many things at ten years old, but one thing I wasn't was accepted. My family moved to a new town that summer—it was 1972—and on the first day of school when the school bell rang I stood in the middle of the girls’ line anxiously waiting to meet my new classmates. As I was studying my shoes I heard the laughter and the whispering, “What is that new boy doing in the girls line!” They were talking about me, well-dressed in boys clothing. I was humiliated, filled with shame, desperate to go back to my old school where people knew and accepted me. It was a long year of pain, accentuated by my teacher who routinely tried to force me to join the Girl Scouts.

This memory popped back into my mind when I first discovered social pain overlap theory (SPOT) by Eisenberger and Lieberman at UCLA. These researchers study the brain in social situations. They devised a clever experiment during which people were asked to join a virtual cyberball game on a computer screen. As the game progresses, the research subject is attached to a functional brain imaging machine. Now, being left out of a cyberball toss experiment where you do not even know or see the other players is nothing compared to my year of ridicule and ostracism in fifth grade, nor does it compare to the many forms of being socially rejected from bullying, to racism and homophobia, but still, this rather mild social exclusion told these researchers something very important: Being left out hurts most people. They feel uncomfortable, unsettled, irritated… distressed. The next step was to see what area of the brain was activated with this distress.

This is where the story gets really interesting. The area that lit up when a subject was excluded is a strip of brain called the dorsal anterior cingulate gyrus (dACC). The dACC already had been mapped as the area of the brain that is activated when a person is distressed by physical pain. To humans, being socially excluded is so important that it uses the same neurological pathways used to register when you are in danger from a physical injury or illness. Remember the old saying, “sticks and stones will break your bones and names will never hurt you”? Not true. It should have been “sticks and stones will break you bones and names will hurt you too!”

The human nervous system has evolved to be held within the safety of safe relationships. When we drift away from our group or are pushed out, when we are ridiculed, bullied, or shunned it creates real pain. This happens to individuals within groups and to groups of people within the larger society. SPOT theory confirms that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones—but it also tells us that we all live in glass houses, we are all vulnerable to the pain of being left out. It is simply how we are wired.

Amy Banks, M.D., has devoted her career to understanding the neurobiology of relationships. She was an instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and is the Director of Advanced Training at the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute (JBMTI) at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. She is the author with Leigh Ann Hirschman of the forthcoming book, Four Ways to Click: Rewire your Brain for Stronger, More Rewarding Relationships (Penguin Random House).

 

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"C" Is for Calm--Four Ways to Click

Twenty-five years ago, when I was studying the human nervous system in medical school, I learned that the body has an automatic system running in the back ground 24/7—the autonomic nervous system—like the system that runs in the back ground of your computer updating time and date without needing to be asked. I was taught that the autonomic nervous system had two branches with opposite functions. The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) keeps you awake, alert, and engaged in life when it is running at a steady level, while the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) helps you relax and rejuvenate yourself after a period of activity.

In popular science the SNS and the PNS are associated with their most dramatic functions—the fight, flight, or freeze responses that are activated when a person is threatened. If a bear charges you on a hike or your boss yells at you at work, bam, your SNS fires causing energy and blood flow to be diverted to your large muscles, heart, and lungs. You automatically assess the situation and either gear up for a fight or run like hell away from the threat. On the other hand, if you come across a mother bear with her cubs and she is standing over you ready to pounce and there is nowhere to run or your spouse comes home drunk and mean again and has a history of attacking you, your parasympathetic nervous system might activate causing you to freeze and even fall on the spot as your heart and respiratory rate decrease dramatically and your body’s pain killers flood your system buffering the pain. Neither of these reactions are under your conscious control. You are automatically protected.

What happens, though, when what you are facing is a kind, welcoming face or your favorite pet? Do you need to then rely on conscious functioning, do you need to think about it before you act and engage? According to Stephen Porges, the answer is “non.” He has discovered a third branch of the autonomic nervous system—one he calls the smart vagus nerve—that innervates the muscles in the face, throat, vocal chords, even the tiny muscles in your inner ear. The smart vagus balances the SNS and PNS and gives us automatic responses to safety. Imagine meeting your best friend—chances are your mouth breaks into a smile, your eyebrows raise, and you tune in and listen a little more attentively. You share stories and maybe even eat a meal together. All of these activities stimulate the smart vagus nerve which travels to the heart and lungs and tells the SNS and PNS they are not needed. You feel calmer.

The capacity to feel calm in a healthy relationship is as natural and automatic as the ability to feel terrified in Friday the 13th. It is how we are wired. A culture that teaches “self-regulation” and finding comfort by standing on your own two feet over stimulates your SNS making it harder to recognize a healthy connection. In Four Ways to Click: Rewire your Brain for Stronger, More Rewarding Relationships you can evaluate your neural pathways for connection and strategize ways to rebalance your autonomic nervous system to help you feel responsive and less reactive in your healthiest relationships.

Amy Banks, M.D., has devoted her career to understanding the neurobiology of relationships. She was an instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and is the Director of Advanced Training at the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute (JBMTI) at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. She is the author with Leigh Ann Hirschman of the forthcoming book, Four Ways to Click: Rewire your Brain for Stronger, More Rewarding Relationships (Penguin Random House).

 

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2014 Round-up

Below are links to two articles from good friends of the Wellesley Centers for Women—Susan McGee Bailey and Alex Sanger. Susan is the former, long-time executive director of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW); Alex is chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council and member of the WCW Council of Advisors. In their respective blog articles, they share their perspectives on the year 2014.

In her latest piece on Girl w/ Pen, Susan writes, "Hanukkah, then Christmas next week, followed by the start of a new year—a time of hope and beginnings. Why doesn’t it feel that way? For the past several days I’ve been searching for the bright spots. The ones that can provide the energy we need in the midst of so much darkness. Not an easy task. Each day new horrors erupt: the second anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre and still no reasonable national gun control legislation; free passes for racial biases and deadly police brutality; the sickening slaughter of school children in Pakistan; ongoing revelations of rape in the US military and on university campuses. Negative news can so easily obliterate positive signs in the struggles for equal rights. But all around us there is tangible evidence of the many ways feminist work contributes to positive progress for everyone... You can read the full article online.

In his latest piece on Huffington Post, Alex writes, "Once again, we've had a year of ups and downs, a year of strong stands for women's rights and crushing defeats. Here's a quick run-down of some of the most memorable moments of 2014. Last month, the Chamber of Deputies in the Dominican Republic put forward a measure to reinforce—and strengthen—the country's existing ban on abortions in all circumstances. Thankfully, Dominican President Danilo Medina vetoed the measure, urging legislators in a letter to decriminalize abortions in cases where the woman's life is at risk or in cases of rape, incest, or fetus malformation. " You can read the full article online.

What do you think have been notable events or moments of the past year? Share with us!

The mission of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College is to advance gender equality, social justice, and human wellbeing through high quality research, theory, and action programs. Since 1974, work has generated changes in attitudes, practices, and public policy.

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The Greying of the LGBTQ Community

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.

In 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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Seeking LGBT Parents in History

Opponents of LGBT equality often try to make LGBT parents seem like a new and untested phenomenon, and therefore something to be avoided. The history of LGBT parents and our children, however, goes back further than one might think.

The Greek poet Sappho, whose island home of Lesbos gave us the term “lesbian,” may have had a daughter named “Cleis.” That would mean that the history of LGBT parents goes back to around 600 BCE.

The existence of her daughter is only attested through a few fragments, though, making it far from certain. It’s also anachronistic to apply modern identity terms to historical figures, even such a lesbian icon as Sappho. The possibility of her existence, however, should encourage us to reflect that the history of parents who fall under a broad LGBT umbrella (not tied to modern conceptions of the terms) likely goes back as far as the history of LGBT people as a whole. They may not have been “out and proud” like many modern LGBT parents, but we can still see them as their forebears.

Sticking with better documented cases, Oscar Wilde was the father of two boys with his wife Constance Lloyd, and apparently a loving one. His son Vyvyan, in his book Son of Oscar Wilde, wrote about Wilde’s relationship with him and his brother, “He was a hero to us both. . . . a real companion to us. . . . He would go down on all fours on the nursery floor, being in turn a lion, a wolf, a horse, caring nothing for his usually immaculate appearance.” Alas, when the boys were eight and nine, their mother took them to Switzerland after Wilde’s trial for “gross indecency” (having same-sex relations) and they never saw him again.

Vita Sackville-West had relationships with several women, including fellow writers Virginia Woolf and Violet Trefusis, and had two children with her husband, Harold George Nicolson (who also had same-sex relationships). Her son Nigel Nicolson later used her account of the affair with Trefusis as the heart of a book about his parents, Portrait of a Marriage. There, he called his mother’s description of the affair “one of the most moving pieces that she ever wrote.” While he acknowledged both parents’ same-sex relationships, he also said their marriage “became stronger and finer as a result.” Their love affairs were mere “ports of call,” but it was “to the harbour that each returned.” Nevertheless, it is easy to see Nicolson as the product of parents who fall under the broad LGBT umbrella, and to place another brushstroke in our picture of LGBT family history.

Looking only at parents who had a more modern sense of their LGBT identities, out LGBT parents go back to the very start of the LGBT civil rights movement. Most still had their children within the context of different-sex marriages, but were more likely than in earlier times to leave those marriages, even though this often meant losing custody of their children. Del Martin, one of the founders in 1955 of Daughters of Bilitis, the first national lesbian rights organization in the U.S., was one such parent. Not surprisingly, her organization held some of the first known discussion groups on lesbian motherhood—way back in 1956. (See Daniel Winunwe Rivers’ Radical Relations, which I reviewed in the Women’s Review of Books earlier this year.)

Even the term “gayby boom”—referring to same-sex couples starting their families together—is already over two decades old, dating to at least March 1990, when Newsweek reported, “a new generation of gay parents has produced the first-ever ‘gayby boom.’” That means that many of the children from that boom are themselves now adults—while many of the first generation of out parents are becoming grandparents.

Think of it this way: the fictional Heather who had two mommies was in preschool in Lesléa Newman’s classic 1989 children’s book. If she were real, she’d now be in her late 20s.

Those who continue to insist that LGBT parents are not good for children have failed to realize that if that were true (even leaving aside the extensive social science research to the contrary), there would be many more maladjusted adults running around. Analyses from UCLA’s Williams Institute have found that currently, between 2.3 and 4 million adults have an LGBT parent. If they suffered harm because of that, someone surely would have noticed the connection by now.

As a lesbian mom, I believe that learning the history of LGBT parents and their children can also help us feel less alone, less like we are the first to face each challenge. Having confidence that others have succeeded before us can translate into confidence in our parenting skills, which in turn can positively impact our children.

Knowing the struggles—and triumphs—of LGBT parents in the past can also give us hope and strength in overcoming the challenges—legal, political, social, and emotional—that we still face.

And seeing how the early organizations for LGBT parents helped shape the overall LGBT rights movement of today (a story told in Rivers’ book and in the 2006 documentary Mom’s Apple Pie: The Heart of the Lesbian Mothers’ Custody Movement) can inspire us to keep contributing to that broader effort, even as we balance the demands of work and family.

LGBT History Month for this year may be drawing to a close, but the work of exploring our history must continue.

Dana Rudolph is the online content manager for the National SEED Project at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. She is also the founder and publisher of Mombian, a GLAAD Media Award-winning blog and associated newspaper column for lesbian moms and other LGBT parents. She has a BA summa cum laude from Wellesley College and an M.Phil in Modern History from Oxford University.

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Let's Talk about Sex

October is Let’s Talk Month, part of a national campaign to encourage families to talk with teens about sex and relationships. In March 2013, I shared tips on how parents can talk with their teens about sex. Today, I’m going to pass on some reasons why talking with middle schoolers about sex is important and how this may support younger teens’ health.

Here’s what’s important to know:

Almost one-third of teens have sex by 9th grade. A recent nationwide study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 28% of girls and 32% of boys reported having had sex by the 9th grade.

Early sex puts teens at risk for poor school and health outcomes. Teens who have sex at an early age are more likely to drop out of school, get a sexually transmitted infection, or have an unintended pregnancy than teens who wait until they are older to have sex.

Talking with teens about sex can make a difference. Parents talking with teens about sex and relationships can make it more likely that teens will wait to have sex and, when they do have sex, that they will use protection.

It’s important to talk with teens before they have sex. Research tells us that it is critical for teens to learn about sexual issues from a trusted adult before they have sex.

Here's what we learned from our evaluation of Get Real,* a comprehensive middle school sex education program:

    Sex education that supports parent-teen conversations about sex and relationships can help to delay sex. In schools where the Get Real sex education program was taught, 16% fewer boys and 15% fewer girls had sex compared to boys and girls in schools that taught sex education as usual. This means that sex education during middle school can support teens’ sexual health.

    Don’t forget to talk with your sons about sex! Boys who completed Get Real family activities in the 6th grade—which focused on a wide range of issues, from anatomy to relationship values—were more likely to delay sex in 8th grade than boys who didn’t complete them. Many parents talk with their daughters about sex earlier and more often than their sons. Talking with sons early and often can help to support their sexual health, too.

Communication is key! Let’s Talk!

Jennifer Grossman, Ph.D. is a research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. She co-directed an evaluation of a middle school sex education curriculum and leads a project investigating sex communication in the nuclear family and beyond and the implications for health interventions.

* Get Real: Comprehensive Sex Education That Works is a middle school program, developed by the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, that delivers accurate, age-appropriate information and emphasizes healthy relationship skills and family involvement.

 

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Brave New Girls -- a timely repost

Malala Yousafzais

Let’s Celebrate U.N. International Day of the Girl by Supporting the Malala Yousafzais of Our World


This article was originally posted on October 11, 2012 on the Women Change Worlds blog. Today, Malala Yousafzai, was named a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. She has also been awarded the National Youth Peace Prize, the Sakharov Prize, and the Simone de Beauvoir Prize.

I’ll bet that when the Taliban decided to fire their guns at 14-year old Malala Yousafzai, it didn’t occur to them that they might be making her the cause celebre of the U.N. International Day of the Girl, which is October 11th. Although the Taliban might argue otherwise, Malala is everything a girl should be – intelligent, inquisitive, bold, brave, and a concerned, aware world citizen. She embodies and dares to live up to that oft-repeated maxim, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

What does it say about us when the global war on women – the ages-old attempt to keep women down through violence, silencing, discrimination, and worse – stoops down to attack young girls who haven’t even yet reached womanhood? I say “us,” because, on some level, we are all accountable for the collective consciousness that excuses violence against women in its many shapeshifting forms. No country, no population, is immune. Whenever something like this happens – something terrible and obvious, like the attack on Malala Yousafzai – all of us should stop in our tracks and ask ourselves, what am I doing that keeps the tacit acceptance of violence against women – and now girls – alive in the world…and how can I change that??

Malala Yousaufzai has been fighting for girls’ education in Pakistan.  Girls all over the world deserve education, and even though some challenging impediments have been identified by researchers and others, there is no excuse in this day and age for girls to be kept from schooling. None. The U.N. has made girls education a tenet (in Targets 2 and 3, to be specific) of its Millennium Development Goals – and in case you were wondering, we only have three more years, until 2015, before we are expected to achieve them. Malala Yousafzai is in a position to challenge the rest of us as women’s activist Audre Lorde famously did when she wrote, “I’m doing my work … are you doing yours??”

What are we doing to help Malala Yousafzai’s dream – and MDGs 2 and 3 – to become a reality? Not only in Pakistan, but everywhere, all over the world, including the United States, many girls still languish, along with their male peers, in indecently substandard schools and where staggering rates of sexual harassment and violence negatively impact social-emotional development and learning. The issue of a right to education doesn’t just apply to developing nations – it applies, too, in the developed world where different subpopulations often have differential access to a good education. We must look outward and inward as we reflect on these questions.

Girl activists like Malala are becoming more common and more visible in their efforts to create that “another world” that’s so famously “possible” – a world in which they would like to live, a world that will not only welcome their talents, their full participation, and their leadership, but also a world that will keep them safe and healthy, upholding their dignity and equality. In the United States, for example, I think of girls like Mary Pat Hector who, at age 10, founded Youth in Action USA (she’s now 14, like Malala) to fight violence in her community and communities nationwide. Her organization, which now boasts chapters in seven U.S. states, encourages children to get involved in change through volunteerism, peace rallies, and community advocacy trainings. I also think of girls like Hannah Salwen who, also at age 14, authored The Power of Half as a way to generate social-change
capital. It was witnessing homelessness in her city that inspired her to figure out how she and her family could make a real difference, and her “power of half” principle has since become a movement.

Malala, Mary Pat, Hannah, and so many more… These are girls who can’t wait – who are taking the bull of the global conditions they care about by the horns – perhaps because they don’t trust us to do it for them, or perhaps because they are simply aware of their own power and genius. Whatever the case may be, we must support them and help them build the brave new world that they would like to grow up in, because the world they envision is not just a world that will be good for them, it’s a world that will be better for everyone.

The U.N. International Day of the Girl is our opportunity not only to celebrate girls, but also to listen to them, lift them up, and ask them what they need from us to do more of the good that they are doing. I could have spent this column railing against the Taliban and the outrage of their violent attack, but how much better to highlight the work of Malala Yousafzai and girls like her. Let’s celebrate the International Day of the Girl by joining them and supporting them in their audacious, courageous work to change the world!

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

 

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Supportive Human Relationships: Often Overlooked in Our Search for Quick Fixes

October 10th is Mental Health Awareness Day.

We live in a time of easy access and quick fixes. People expect to be able to stream a video in less than 60 seconds, to have the entire written history of the world at their fingertips, even to have a complete dinner delivered in under 30 minutes. Given the mind-numbing pace of life, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised by my clients’ impatience and disappointment when I offer an antidepressant to treat disabling anxiety or severe depression that takes three to six weeks to kick in. Just 100 years ago they would be resigned to a life of tormenting melancholia. Sure, there are new treatments on the horizon that promise quicker response times. Maybe ketamine will be the Netflix of mental health treatment. Most people overlook the one thing that unequivocally helps our emotional and physical health--supportive human relationships.

The fact that healthy human relationships are central to all human growth and development is not self-evident in a culture that values and promotes separating from and competing with others as the pinnacle of maturity. But research now shows the human nervous system is literally wired to function best when in healthy relationships. If you do not believe it, try a very simple experiment to see and feel the impact of healthy relationships on your mind and body. Close your eyes and think about a positive interaction you have had with a friend or partner. As you play it out in your mind, watch how your body changes. Most people describe an openness in their chest, a smile forming on their face, a lift in their mood. This simple visualization, something I call a positive relational moment, allows you to tap into the healing physiology of connection and changes your neural chemistry just as clearly as Ativan or Prozac--but with fewer side effects! In honor of National Mental Health Day, reach out to others, engage in healthy interactions, and build new positive relational moments. It is perhaps the ultimate win-win in this culture of competition.

Amy Banks, M.D., is the Director of Advanced Training at the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute at the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College. She is the author with Leigh Ann Hirschman of Four Ways to Click: Rewiring your Brain for Stronger, More Rewarding Relationships, forthcoming from Penguin Random House (Feb. 2015).

 

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Let’s Celebrate ALL Students during National School Success Month

September is National School Success month, a time when parents are focused on helping their children begin a positive start to the new school year. At this time I urge you to consider those children who, through no fault of their own, are struggling to succeed academically because of exposure to early adversity and trauma. WCW has begun a research partnership with The Home for Little Wanderers, a child and family services agency in Massachusetts that was founded in 1799 and provides a continuum of care for 4,000 children annually. Children served who are most at risk are those in foster care and/or enrolled in The Home’s residential educational settings. These students have experienced significant trauma and neglect, and have complex psychological and educational needs. Posttraumatic stress (PTSD) symptoms as a result of toxic stress may inhibit their capacity for learning, interfering with the ability to maintain attention, disrupting cognitive processes and memory, increasing hypervigilance and reactivity that present as behavioral problems, and too often leaving students with a feeling of hopelessness for the future. These are students at high risk for dropping out of school, despite their intellectual capabilities.

Together, the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) and The Home for Little Wanderers are dedicated to better understanding the barriers that get in the way of academic success for students who have experienced early adversity and what classroom and therapeutic supports are most helpful for bolstering learning. Special education services for these students are provided by licensed teachers, dedicated and knowledgeable staff who have been trained in evidence-based approaches for PTSD treatment. Psychologists and educators are learning more about the elasticity of the brain and about efficacy for certain strength-based mental health supports, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Yet, there is much research to be done to understand how exactly these early traumatic experiences influence brain development and cognitive processes. In our initial collaborative investigation, presented at the American Psychological Association Annual Convention this past August, WCW and The Home researchers found that students with a greater number of various traumatic experiences also had more severe PTSD symptoms, and in addition, these PTSD symptoms were associated with students’ ratings of impairment in doing their schoolwork. Over time some students showed decreases in PTSD symptoms and its interference with schoolwork. As we move forward in our collaborative research, our aim is to increase knowledge about predictors of these patterns of improvement so that more students have opportunities for success.

Michelle Porche, Ed.D is an associate director at the Wellesley Centers for Women and senior research scientist studying academic achievement for young children and adolescents. In her investigations of achievement, the role of gender and socio-emotional factors, including childhood adversity, play a major part in her work.

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Suicide Prevention: The Depression Link

This is a repost from an article originally published on this blog September 6, 2013.

National Suicide Prevention Week (September 8-14) is a time to both raise awareness of suicide as a national public health issue, and to think critically about how suicide can be prevented. In the United States, suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents (Hoyert & Xu, 2012), and, in 2011, nearly 16 percent of adolescents in the United States reported seriously considering suicide. When thinking about preventing adolescent suicide, it is important to consider factors that increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors, such as depression. Suicidal thinking is a symptom of depression, and over half of the adolescents who completed suicide had a mood disorder at the time (Bridge, Goldstein & Brent, 2006; Nock et al., 2013). Fortunately, a number of researchers have developed empirically-supported interventions to prevent the onset of depression in teens, and prevention efforts that target adolescents at risk for depression may ultimately prove helpful in preventing suicidal behaviors as well. During this national week of suicide prevention awareness, it is important to recognize the link between depressive illness and suicide in youth, and the promising role of depression prevention in potentially preventing suicidal behavior.

Most of us bring our children to see their doctors annually, because prevention-focused well-child care is a cornerstone of pediatric practice. Unfortunately, prevention is generally not part of the equation when it comes to youth mental health. With limited health care dollars and limited mental health resources available, clinicians and policymakers tend to focus on alleviating mental health concerns once they arise. Yet research suggests that many young people do NOT get treatment for mental health concerns once they arise, and mental health concerns, such as depression, are associated not only with suicide risk, but also with long-term adverse impacts on educational attainment, relationship functioning, risk of substance abuse, and future depressive episodes, even among those who receive treatment. Moreover, of those teens who DO receive treatment for depression, only about half fully recover and, among those who do recover, relapse is quite common.

Treating youth depression once it emerges may be much more distressing, and much less effective, than identifying early symptoms of illness and treating them before they develop into a full-blown disorder. Prevention approaches have the potential to reach a large number of adolescents, and may be more acceptable than treatment because services can be rendered in non-clinical settings (e.g., schools, primary care settings), and do not require adolescents to identify themselves as ill.

So how can adolescent depression be prevented? The core of many depression prevention programs is resilience. Not all adolescents with risk factors for depression develop the disorder; the ones who do not develop depression are resilient, which means they have the emotional skills and/or the social supports to “bounce back” from adversity. Many programs to prevent adolescent depression are designed to teach coping and emotional regulation skills, and/or to strengthen supportive relationships, in order to provide youth at elevated risk with the tools they need to be resilient.

Research on the prevention of youth depression is quite encouraging! For example, in our longitudinal, multi-site study of adolescents at risk for depression, we found that teens who participated in a group cognitive-behavioral prevention program were less likely to experience a depressive disorder at nine- (Garber et al., 2009) and 32- (Beardslee et al., in press) months follow-up, relative to at-risk teens who were assigned to a treatment-as-usual control group. Likewise, our colleagues working on the Penn Resiliency Project have found that children and adolescents who participate in their school-based cognitive-behavioral program are less likely to experience depressive symptoms than are children and adolescents assigned to control conditions. Similarly, in a study of Interpersonal Psychotherapy approaches to preventing youth depression, Young and colleagues found that teens who participated in a skills-based intervention targeting interpersonal role disputes, role transitions and interpersonal deficits reported fewer depressive symptoms at six-months follow-up than teens who were assigned to a school counseling control group.

Here at WCW, we are currently studying the efficacy of a primary-care, Internet-based depression-prevention program for adolescents who are at risk for the development of depression, based on a past history of depression and/or current symptoms of depressive disorder. While many of these youth depression prevention programs are still being evaluated in randomized controlled research trials, early results suggest that prevention programs may work. It seems we can indeed provide teens with strategies that they can use over time, as they encounter stress and challenging life events, so that they are able to stay healthy and avoid the onset of significant mental health concerns.

What are the risks for depression in adolescents? When should you be worried about your teen? When we talk about risks for depression, we often think in terms of specific factors (i.e., factors identified through empirical research to be associated specifically with increased risk for youth depression) and nonspecific factors (i.e., factors that are associated with increased risk for a range of disorders, including depression). Specific risk factors for adolescent depression include having low self-esteem, being female, developing a negative body image, low social support, a negative cognitive style, and ineffective coping. The strongest specific risk factor for the development of depression, above and beyond these other factors, is having a parent with depressive illness. In fact, offspring of depressed parents are at about a two- to four-fold increased risk of developing depressive disorders, relative to children of parents without depression. Nonspecific risk factors that also increase risk of youth depression include poverty, exposure to violence, social isolation, child maltreatment, and family breakup.

Although the presence of these risk factors is associated with an increased risk for youth depression, as noted above, many at-risk children are resilient and never develop a depressive disorder. Having supportive adults present, strong family relationships, strong peer relationships, coping skills, and skills in emotion regulation all can contribute to resiliency. Even depressed parents can promote resilience in their teens by encouraging teens to engage in outside activities, maintain supportive relationships, and recognize themselves as separate from issues and concerns that are affecting other family members.

How can you recognize signs and symptoms of depression in your child, and how can you help? Depressed teens are often sad or irritable, and may exhibit a range of additional symptoms, such as withdrawal from friends and usual activities, sleep difficulties (i.e., difficulty sleeping or sleeping all the time), somatic complaints (i.e., headaches, stomach aches), poor school performance, self-critical talk, changes in eating patterns, difficulty sitting still, and may start writing or thinking about death. If you are concerned about your teen, then express your concern openly and honestly. Tell your child that you care, and that you want to help. Don’t be afraid to ask your child if he is experiencing suicidal thoughts – asking will NOT make him contemplate suicide or take his own life. Reach out to your child’s pediatrician for assistance and referrals. Let your child know that treatments are available, and that you are going to work together to get your child the help she needs.

National Suicide Prevention Week is an opportune time to consider the many ways that suicidal thoughts and actions can be combated, including preventing the onset of depression in adolescents, and getting teens help if they are depressed already.

Tracy Gladstone, Ph.D. is a Senior Research Scientist and Director of the Robert S. and Grace W. Stone Primary Prevention Initiatives at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. The Stone Primary Prevention Initiatives focus on research and evaluation designed to prevent the onset of mental health concerns in children and adolescents.

References:

Beardslee, W.R., Brent, D.A., Weersing, V.R., Clarke, G.N., Porta, G., Hollon, S.D., Gladstone, T.R.G., Gallop, R., Lynch, F.L., Iyengar, S., DeBar, L., & Garber, J. (in press). Prevention of depression in at-risk adolescents: Longer-term effects. Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry.

Bridge, J. A., Goldstein, T. R., & Brent, D. A. (2006). Adolescent suicide and suicidal behavior. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 47(3‐4), 372-394.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012). Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance- United States 2011. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 61(4), 1-168.

Garber, J., Clarke, G.N., Weersing, V.R., Beardslee, W.R., Brent, D.A., Gladstone, T.R.G., DeBar, L.L., Lynch, F.L., D’Angelo, E., Hollon, S.D., Shamseddeen, W., & Iyengar, S. (2009). Prevention of depression in at-risk adolescents: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of the American Medical Association, 301, 2215-2224.

Hoyert, D. L., & Xu, J. (2012). Deaths: preliminary data for 2011. National Vital Statistics Report, 61(6), 1-65.

Nock, M. K., Green, J. G., Hwang, I., McLaughlin, K. A., Sampson, N. A., Zaslavsky, A. M., & Kessler, R. C. (2013). Prevalence, correlates, and treatment of lifetime suicidal behavior among adolescents: results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication Adolescent Supplement. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry, 70(3), 300-310.  

 

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Is Stress Making Us Sick?

Recently, NPR, with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard School of Public Health, released a poll that found that one-quarter of Americans reported that they had experienced significant amounts of stress in the previous month. That level of stress is similar to levels found in earlier polls. But is this much stress making us sick? The poll found that 70% of people experiencing high levels of stress reported that they were sleeping less--not getting enough sleep can negatively affect health. Other research tells us even more about the possible health consequences of too much stress and our capacity to cope with it. One of the top three sources of stress in the NPR poll, for individuals reporting high levels of stress, was stress from work problems. We know that jobs that are very stressful, with too much to do, can contribute to health problems, but only when those demands or challenges are not offset by the resources and authority to make decisions about the work. In fact, jobs that are very challenging--and in which workers have the authority and resources they need--are good for our health. The bad jobs are those with heavy demands that you can’t address or that never end--or those jobs that have no challenge whatsoever, that involve repetitive or boring work, with no say over what work gets done when. Not surprisingly, in the NPR poll, people in lower-paid jobs, with annual incomes under $20,000, reported more stress from work problems than did those with incomes of $50,000 or more (64% of low-income individuals reported work stress, compared to 57% of higher income people).

Another factor in whether stress makes us sick is whether the stress is chronic or from a single event. Certain life events are very stressful, such as the death of a loved one or divorce; one-in-six people reported that the most stressful event in the previous year was the death of a loved one, and fewer than one-in-ten reported a life change or transition, such as divorce, was the most stressful event. However, ongoing stressful conditions, such as chronic health problems, being a single parent following divorce, or poverty, are more likely to wear away at our health and wellbeing. The NPR poll found that individuals with a chronic illness were more likely to report high stress in the previous month (36% compared to 26% overall), as were individuals living in poverty (36%) and single parents (35%). These chronic stressors tax our abilities to cope with stress. For those individuals with high levels of stress, problems with finances was one of the main sources of stress, and this was especially true for those living in poverty (70% reported financial stress), those with disabilities (64%) or in poor health (69%), and for women (58%, compared to 45% for men). Chronic stress can lead to wear and tear or allostatic load, which can suppress immune function and lead to susceptibility to disease.

The other major contributor to stress, according to the poll, was having too many responsibilities overall. While this can mean different things to different people, it’s interesting to note that women were more likely than men to say that this was one of the reasons they were so stressed in the previous month. One life situation that can give us that overload feeling is combining employment with raising a family. While many men and women find that combination to be beneficial – would you give up your family or choose to stop working? – there are circumstances when the combination can be a negative. Women and men can experience strain from the stresses of too much to do at work and at home. However, because women tend to spend more time in family labor than do men, women with young children and not enough support or resources at work or at home are particularly at risk.

Poverty, bad jobs, too many responsibilities— these can all contribute to poorer health; these stressors are not randomly experienced by everyone, but rather fall more heavily on those with less advantage and opportunity in their lives. In a 2010 review of the latest research on stress and health, Peggy Thoits argued that the greater exposure of members of less-advantaged groups (women, race-ethnic minorities, lower-income and working class individuals) to chronic or high stress was one of the reasons that we find poorer health among women, race-ethnic minorities, lower-income and working class individuals. There are many possible responses to this reality, but central to that must be recognizing the health consequences of high levels of stress and addressing some of the underlying stressors, such as inequality and injustice.

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.

 

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Child Care and the Overwhelmed Parent

Courtney Martin, a friend of the Wellesley Centers for Women, journalist, author of “Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists,” and one of the founding directors of the Solutions Journalism Network, is a regular contributor to the New York Times online opinion pages. In her July 24th article, she writes, "...what working mothers really need are systematic ways to find and afford safe, local care options for their kids. While many parents scramble to find care in the summer months, especially for older children out of school, it’s a year-round challenge for families with kids younger than preschool age."

Read Martin's full article,"Child Care and the Overwhelmed Parent">>

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Facebook: Friend or Foe

This blog post is reproduced with permission from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in Princeton, NJ. It was first published on the Human Capital Blog.

If you were stressed out and wanted to vent to your friends about it, how would you let them know? Would you pick up the phone and talk, or text? Would you set up time to grab coffee or go for a brisk walk? Or would you post to Facebook why your day just couldn’t get any worse?

As I logged into the recent RWJF/NPR/Harvard School of Public Health-sponsored Stress in America discussion, I identified with the panelists who were dispelling stereotypes about “highly stressed” individuals being high-level executives or those at the top of the ladder. Instead of finding work-related stress as a top concern, as is often played out in the media and popular culture, the researchers were finding that individuals with health concerns, people with disabilities, and low-income individuals were experiencing the highest levels of stress. The panelists talked about the importance of qualities like resiliency and the ability to turn multiple, competing stressors into productive challenges to overcome, and the integral role of communities in shaping, buffering, and/or exacerbating stress.

We often consider our communities as living, working, playing in close physical proximity. But what about the online spaces? What about our opt-in networked friendship circles ... our cyber-audience who sign up to read our posts with mundane observations, proud revelations, and the occasional embarrassing photos?

Media coverage about social media has not been kind—often linking its use with cyberbullying, sexual predators, and depression or loneliness. But recent scholarship on new media demonstrates that interpersonal communication, online and offline, plays a vital role in integrating people into their communities by helping them build support, maintain ties, and promote trust. Social media is often used to escape from the pressures of life and alter moods, to secure an audience for self-disclosures, and to widen social networks and increase social capital. The Pew Research Internet Project found that adult Facebook users are more trusting than others, have more close, core ties with their social networks, and receive more social support than non-users.

So what if we asked adolescents the same question: “If you were having a bad day and wanted to let your friends know about it, how would you let them know?”

In our current research on media and identity, we purposively sampled more than 2,300 individuals aged 12 to 25 from 47 states and 26 countries. They took an online survey that investigated how vulnerable populations (such as racial/ethnic minorities, women, adolescents, people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, those with low social status) have used the Internet and social media in healthy and unhealthy ways, particularly during times of stress. We wanted to determine how and why supportive communities could exist in personal online networks that could increase one’s resiliency in the face of challenges.

We found that when young people want to talk about a bad day, they mainly preferred in-person (69%), texting (69%), or phone call (51%) methods to reach out for help. Social media was not utilized as often to talk about stressful times—with Facebook (29%) being more popular than Twitter (7%) overall.

The Stress in America poll results found that 19 percent of adults use social media more than usual during stressful times. In our study, adolescents were significantly more likely to post to Facebook networks about their bad days than emerging adults aged 18 to 25, which can indicate that there are generational differences in how new media can be supportive.

African American participants (19%) chose Twitter to report to their networks about a bad day more often, whereas Asian Americans (40%) used Facebook more often than people of any other race/ethnicity during times of stress.

A surprisingly large number of young people (under age 25) reported that they write blogs, from a low of 37 percent of Hispanic respondents to a high of 60 percent of Asian Americans respondents. Incidentally, individuals who have ever written a blog are more likely to report being unhappy or sad than non-bloggers. Perhaps being more public online about private matters helps adolescents to know that they are not alone in their battles with stress.

Further examination of the use of new media may help us develop prevention and intervention programs and tools to guide adolescents, their parents, educators, and health care workers, and to remind ourselves how the adolescent and emerging adult years can be stressful. Perhaps logging onto one’s Facebook community and jotting down one’s thoughts could be just the right kind of coping mechanism whenever the need arises.

Linda Charmaraman, Ph.D. is a research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College and a former National Institute of Child Health and Human Development postdoctoral scholar. She is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) New Connections grantee, examining the potential of social media networks to promote resiliency in vulnerable populations.

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Open Circle Training Goes to Uganda

Two Open Circle trainers from the Open Circle Program, Jen Dirga, MSW, and Sallie Dunning, Ed.M., traveled to Uganda in May 2014 to train teachers, youth, and parents from six rural primary schools and communities through the Pearl Community Empowerment Foundation. The goal of the training was to improve the relationships between the students, teachers, and parents, and to improve academic performance.

After the training, the teachers noted in their evaluation forms that this is the first training on social and emotional learning they had ever attended.

Dirga and Dunning reflect on their experiences with Open Circle training in Uganda:

Jen Dirga

Our trainings in Amor Village were amazing. It was hard to imagine ways to transfer the practices and concepts of Open Circle to Eastern Uganda. Yet, the experience highlighted the transformative power of positive relationships. Throughout our trainings there was an openness to mutually learn from each other. This is a community impacted with overcrowded schools (200 students to 1 teacher with very few resources), extreme poverty, and pervasive illness – and they welcomed opportunities to transfer Open Circle concepts and practices to support their children.

Sallie Dunning and I went to Amor Village with a training design based on the goals identified by Beatrice Achieng Nas, BSC, a visiting scholar at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) in the Fall of 2013. Beatrice set the stage for our learning through her community work that effectively supports education and social change within her village.

Our training focused on practices that both promote and support positive relationships. We also highlighted specific interpersonal and life skills.

I think Sallie and I both learned how universally transferable so many of these skills are and the impact that they can have in supporting an entire community.

 

Sallie Dunning

Living in this small rural community in Eastern Uganda for two weeks was a life-changing experience for me. Riddled with disease (75% of the population is HIV positive), and poverty, the people had an astounding capacity for joy and generosity. (Two families gave me a precious chicken as a sign of gratitude for just being there.) Though isolated from “civilization” (having no electricity, mail, or running water), and used to their own ways, they were surprisingly open to our ideas about cultivating positive relationships, speaking up for girls’ education, and solving problems. Teachers, who have class sizes between 100-200 students with no pencils, paper, books, or materials, enjoyed trying out new teaching practices that might empower their students. Parents became convinced that they were their children’s most important teacher (a new concept for them), and vowed to try to be better models. All of this was possible because of the innovating grass roots work done by Beatrice Achieng Nas, a leader of that village who did work here at WCW last year.

Open Circle is a leading provider of evidence-based curriculum and professional development for social and emotional learning (SEL) in Kindergarten through Grade 5 in the United States.

Since its inception in 1987, Open Circle has reached over two million children and trained more than 13,000 educators. Open Circle is currently used in over 300 schools in more than 100 urban, suburban and rural communities across the United States. Open Circle is a program of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

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In Memory of Maya Angelou

Maya AngelouToday we lost a Phenomenal Woman writ large and a national treasure, Dr. Maya Angelou, at the age of 86. Last year on April 4, 2013, we cross-posted a birthday tribute to her extraordinary life here on Women Change Worlds and at the blog page of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights Voices of our Community Blog. In honor of her passing, and in honor of phenomenal women everywhere, we are re-posting this blog again today. 

 

Happy Birthday Maya Angelou!

We may remember today many ways, but one of the happiest has to be by wishing an ebullient “Happy Birthday!” to one of America’s living national treasures: Dr. Maya Angelou, who was born on this day, as Marguerite Ann Johnson, in 1928.  In the 85 years since then, she has graced our nation and the world with wisdom, vivacity, courage, and splendor as the very embodiment of the figure she made famous in her poem, “Phenomenal Woman.”  On a day that encourages us to reflect on civil and human rights with the widest possible scope, we can use this occasion to look closely at the many ways that Dr. Angelou has blazed paths, opened doors, and enlarged life and living for the rest of us.

Dr. Angelou is perhaps best known for her groundbreaking autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, first published in 1969, which tells the story of her tumultuous childhood and its overcoming, and then again for her riveting recitation of the poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993, or as the first poet to be invited to a presidential inauguration since Robert Frost appeared at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961.  Yet, these anchors of public awareness only punctuate a life of irrepressible self-invention that has enlarged our sense of what human beings are capable of and what human liberation might actually look like.  Challenging early circumstances in Dr. Angelou’s life – family violence, family mobility, economic insecurity, sexual abuse – only served to refine and lay bare her genius and expose us to her gifts – artistic, political, literary, and spiritual. 

This Phenomenal Woman was the first African American woman to author a screenplay: Georgia, Georgia, the first African American woman to direct a major motion picture: Down in the Delta, the first major Black writer to author a fourth (then a fifth and sixth) autobiography (giving W.E.B. DuBois, who famously authored three, a run for his money and his historical legacy), and even the first African American female streetcar conductor in San Francisco.  Yet, this litany of firsts obscures a deeper contribution to women’s empowerment and the global legacy of civil and human rights for people of African descent.

As an integral creative spirit within the Black Arts Movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Dr. Angelou’s works of autobiography then poetry helped lay the foundation for Black women’s literature and literary studies, as well as Black feminist and womanist activism today.  By laying bare her story, she made it possible to talk publicly and politically about many women’s issues that we now address through organized social movements – rape, incest, child sexual abuse, commercial sexual exploitation, domestic violence, and intimate partner violence.  Through the acknowledgement of lesbianism in her writings as well as her public friendship with Black gay writer and activist James Baldwin, she helped shift America’s ability to envision and enact civil rights advances for the LGBTQ community.  And the time she spent in Ghana during the early 1960s (where she met W.E.B. DuBois and made friends with Malcolm X, among others), helped Americans of all colors draw connections between the civil rights and Black Power movements in the U.S. and the decolonial independence and Pan-African movements of Africa and the diaspora. 

By communicating through the arts, Dr. Angelou has always brought a much-needed dimension of heart and soul to our political efforts and aspirations.  Her life-as-career has been recognized for its universal value to others in her appointment as the lifetime Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University, as well as through numerous awards and recognitions. The long arc of her contributions to civil and human rights, which reaches back to her early employment with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, reached a tragic pitch with the assassination of her friend and colleague Dr. Martin Luther King on her 40th birthday in 1968, and proceeds forward to the recent formation of the Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity at Wake Forest School of Medicine, is now part of the fabric of our history.

At 85, Dr. Maya Angelou is a living legend and cultural treasure. Her courage in the service of freedom and justice has left its unmistakable mark on our world. As she once stated, “Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.”

On this day, as an act of honor and celebration, I encourage everyone to seek out and share a book, poem, film, song, or speech by Dr. Maya Angelou – but not to stop there.  To truly honor her life, we must look around and witness the many “caged birds who still sing” – and then find a way to help open doors to freedom.  We can look to organizations like the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, which has become a convener of change conversations and a facilitator of change actions, or to organizations like the Wellesley Centers for Women, that works to move the needle of change by supporting social change efforts through social scientific research, theory, and action.  But we can also start right where we are, as Dr. Angelou did so many times herself, and ask ourselves, “What can I do, right here, right now?”  There are so many ways to get involved, and, like Dr. Angelou, to live a life that makes a difference.

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is executive director of the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College.

 

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#BringBackOurGirls

More than two weeks have gone by since 276 young women were abducted from a high school in Nigeria,* and there has been relatively little attention to their plight from the international community and news media. These are young women who had returned to the school (which had previously been closed due to regional violence) to study for an important physics exam, the results of which could help them gain entry to a university and later into careers such as medicine and education.

Wellesley College, like many other colleges and universities in this country, has recently opened its doors to visits from prospective students--women from a wide range of backgrounds. As we share their anticipation and hopes, we might also take a moment to consider how in “one fell swoop” a group of terrorists, Boko Haram, violently intercepted the hopes of these young women who are of similar age. The other day, walking on our campus, I saw a group of local high school seniors in formal attire having their pictures taken by our beautiful lake, and I was touched by their pre-graduation excitement and, at the time, overwhelmed as I imagined the despair those young Nigerian women, aged 16-18, must be experiencing in the clutches of a depraved enemy.

Wellesley is one of the Seven Sisters’ Colleges--colleges with a historic commitment to the education and rights of women. If “Sisterhood” means something, then please lend your voices now; let the world know that this is unacceptable. Two years ago Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head and almost killed as a member of the Taliban opened fire on her school bus. Once again, young women risk annihilation in their effort to become educated. We are in a position to assert our voices on behalf of these “sisters.”

What you can do:

  • Use social media--hash tag #BringBackOurGirls Instagram posts and tweets in an effort to increase awareness.
  • Organize/ Attend Peaceful Community Marches.
  • Petition.
  • Raise public awareness and show support for these women in a peaceful, law-abiding and effective way.

 

Margaret Cezair-Thompson, Ph.D. is a Senior Lecturer in the English Department, Wellesley College.

* The actual number of abducted students has been difficult to confirm.

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Middle School Expanded Learning Opportunities: 20 Years and Growing

A few weeks ago we recognized Middle School Month--dedicated to re-emphasizing the importance of middle school programming and the unique developmental needs of adolescents. The National Institute on Out-of-School Time (NIOST) has worked with many concerned educators and policy makers over the years to ensure that middle school children have quality opportunities.

Eric Schwarz, CEO and founder of Citizen Schools, has been one of the most dynamic partners in his work. Recently, he announced plans to step down from his role as the organization that serves low-income, at-risk middle school students approaches its twentieth anniversary. Back in the mid 1990s, specialized afterschool programs for middle school youth were virtually unknown. But Eric had a vision that paved the way for a not only a new area of programming, but a body of knowledge and research that stressed the importance of giving low-income middle school students the skills and access to learning experiences most middle class students and their families took for granted.

Eric and I met at NIOST in 1994, shortly before he launched Citizen Schools with his partner Ned Rimer. I remember clearly our conversation about the special needs of middle school students, often overlooked by leaders in the field who were mostly focused on elementary-level children. At the time, we looked to the leadership of The Center for Early Adolescence at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, one of the few research organizations that focused on young adolescents. Their guidance on the needs specific to this age group helped to shape the early work of those of us who recognized this gap in the developing field of afterschool. They included*:

  • Physical Activity
    Competence and Achievement
    Self-Definition
    Creative Expression
    Positive Social Interactions with Peers and Adults
    Structure and Clear Limits
    Meaningful Participation

 

In 2014, an industry of programs and services exist that focus on middle school youth during their out-of-school time and expanded learning day. NIOST, now in its thirty-fifth year, has expanded its repertoire of scholarship, research-based tools and training to include middle school- (and high school-) level programs and continues to focus its work on the changing needs and concerns of youth ages, 5-18 years. In part we can thank visionaries like Eric Schwarz for his leadership and advocacy. Eric, best of luck in your future endeavors!

Ellen Gannett, M.Ed. is director of the National Institute on Out-of-School Time at the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College.

*Planning Programs for Young Adolescents, Center for Early Adolescence, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1987

 

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A Case of Structural Racism

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.

In 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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UN Commission Calls for Increased Efforts to Promote Gender Equality

The following blog article was posted onHuffington Post, March 25, 2014 by Alex Sanger, chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council and member of the Wellesley Centers for Women Council of Advisors.

After two weeks of intense negotiations, the 58th session of the Commission on the Status of Women ended early Saturday morning with a strong call to prioritize gender equality and the human rights of women in order to achieve sustainable development.

The Commission was convened at the UN headquarters in New York to address the challenges and achievements of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in improving the lives of women and girls in developing countries. While the MDGs resulted in a reduction of poverty in some respects, the goals furthest from being achieved are those focused on women and girls -- particularly on achieving gender equality and improving maternal health. With the MDGs set to expire in 2015, the Commission's outcome document will help shape priorities for the next global development framework.

The Commission specifically called for a stand-alone goal on gender equality, a move that was applauded by women's rights activists.

A stand-alone goal on gender equality signals that gender equality and women's rights are important in and of themselves, as well as a priority for governmental investment. It recognizes that sustainable and meaningful development must address the root causes of gender inequality, which deny women and girls an education, the right to make decisions about their bodies and childbearing, to decent employment -- and equal pay for equal work -- and to live free of violence.

The Commission also stated that the post-2015 development agenda must include gender-specific targets across other development goals, strategies, and objectives -- especially those related to education, health, economic justice, and the environment. It also called on governments to address the discriminatory social norms and practices that foster gender inequality, including early and forced marriage and other forms of violence against women and girls, and to strengthen accountability mechanisms for women's human rights.

The Agreed Conclusions reaffirmed the Cairo Programme of Action as well as the Beijing Platform of Action, which called for investments in "quality comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care" including emergency contraception, information and education, safe abortion where allowed by law, and prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections and HIV. Furthermore, the Conclusions called for the recognition of the human rights of women to "decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality... free from coercion, discrimination, and violence."

Member States also recognized that progress toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals -- which include eradicating poverty and expanding access to health services such as reproductive health -- has been held back due to persistent "unequal power relations between women and men," particularly discriminatory laws, social norms, and gender stereotypes.

The governments expressed concern that several critical issues related to gender equality were not adequately addressed by the MDGs, including violence against women and girls; harmful practices such as early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation; women's and adolescents' sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights; women's and girls' disproportionate share of unpaid work, particularly unpaid care work; the gender wage gap; women's equal access to and control of resources including land; women's inheritance rights; and women's full participation in decision-making at all levels.

The Commission called for measures to ensure universal access to primary education, especially for girls and vulnerable youth, as well as measures to strengthen the ability of women to participate in formal and informal labor sectors. The governments also called for efforts to ensure that women's rights and health obtain the prominence they deserve in the next global development framework.

Women's health and rights organizations applauded governments who stood up for the rights of all individuals to live free of violence, discrimination, and barriers to accessing sexual and reproductive health services, particularly for girls. However, advocates expressed disappointment that a small minority of conservative governments spurred on by the Holy See--which holds special observer status at the UN -- held up negotiations by objecting to concepts as fundamental as gender and the human rights of women throughout the two weeks of negotiations.

In particular, advocates noted that, despite a 20-year legacy of UN prohibition of discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and increasingly on gender identity, government delegates gave in to pressure to exclude recognition of these violations in the final agreed conclusions. 

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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Computer Literacy: A valuable skill for all girls and women

We need more girls and women to consider careers in STEM--science, technology, engineering, and math--particularly computer science. Computers are everywhere and are part of our lives in so many ways--phones, cars, home, workplace. Women who can master technology may find more career opportunities and new ways to make a difference in their communities and the world.

Further,STEM careers offer financial rewards and some flexibility. According to Department of Education Analysis of Girls in Education, women in STEM jobs earn 33 percent more than those in non-STEM occupations and experience a smaller wage gap relative to men. Yet, a 2011 report “Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation” confirms that women pursue STEM jobs and STEM degrees less than men. I am hopeful that more women will enter STEM fields, or at least include computer science as part of their education.

Technology today is significantly different than in the past. Today it’s an art of adapting and knitting pieces together, evaluating possible strategies, and understanding requirements and limitations of functionality and outcomes. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan described learning to code as “creative and empowering”; this past winter he encouraged students, teachers, and parents to participate in the Hour of Code campaign as a preparation for the critical thinking and problem solving needed for academic and career success. The Maker Movement, with sponsors such as Cognizant, Intel, and Pixar, encourages kids to combine creativity with science, technology, engineering, art, and math. I believe that the emphasis on creativity is why the Maker Movement reports a 55 percent female participation rate.

In my hometown, I see evidence that women are emerging as confident, enthusiastic leaders of technology. Recently, I was at a public meeting for a community group planning the inaugural Wellesley Science & Technology Expo slated for next month. The feedback from local women programmers who had an idea for using Raspberry Pis in a computer science demo resulted in the room buzzing with energy and excitement.

We need to reach a critical mass of women in technology and we need to keep young girls engaged throughout their academic trajectories. Similar to the finding that three or more women are needed to make an impact on a corporate board, we need better female representation to change the culture of computing. Entering technology today is an opportunity for adolescent girls and young women to make large strides toward equality, to decrease the gender gap in pay, and to attain leadership positions where they can inform workplace policies and bring women’s perspectives into our technology-driven society. By utilizing and sharing these skills, women can help drive social change for the field, for the world.

So, here's my call-to-action women of the world: Be innovators, become comfortable with technology. Learn something new and share your knowledge; become a wizard using applications on your phone or tablet. If you have children in your life, learn with them so they may associate technology learning from and with women as well as men. Be a leader!

Sue Sours, B.S. is the Information & Technology Systems Manager at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. She earned her degree in Applied Mathematics/Computer Science from Carnegie Mellon University.

 

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A College Student’s Perspective on Leadership

S Mahmood H K Bottomly and M Albright

Wellesley College has a legacy for producing storied female leadership. Our alumnae include two Secretaries of State and the most female Fortune 500 CEOs of any American college or university. This legacy was what drew me, along with many other students, to the College. We, too, wanted to be leaders, and the achievements of our high-profile alumnae confirmed that this was the place to be.

At the Madeleine Korbel Albright Institute for Global Affairs this past winter session, however, the other fellows and I began to wonder if our original conception of leadership had been too narrow. The Institute’s focus on developing women’s leadership for the international stage made us think critically about what being a leader means. Perhaps, we realized, being high-profile was not the only way to be high-impact.

We heard from former Wellesley College President Nannerl Keohane, now a Senior Scholar at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School, who discussed the 2011 findings of the Princeton Steering Committee on Undergraduate Women’s Leadership. At Princeton, female students have been less likely to seek prominent leadership positions than their male counterparts, in a pattern consistent with co-ed colleges across the country.

As students at a women’s college, we were accustomed to an environment where women hold all of the leadership positions. We knew that women were discouraged, and even prevented, from pursuing prominent leadership roles in the “real world,” but it was jarring to realize that this also took place at college campuses. After all, college is intended to develop, not hinder, your potential.

Yet just because women weren’t holding high-profile leadership positions on campus didn’t mean that they weren’t contributing to campus life. The committee also found that women were more likely to “hold behind-the-scenes positions or seek to make a difference outside of elected office in campus groups.” Women at Princeton, for example, were often engaged in cause-based issues, like spearheading campaigns to institute recycling across campus.

These findings made us consider whether our definition of leadership was so limiting that we were overlooking those who were providing it, just in alternative ways. In defining leadership as something that must inherently be prominent and visible, we had forgotten that leadership is about putting the issue, and not yourself, on the frontlines.

That is not to say that we shouldn’t keep working towards cracking the glass ceiling. Another speaker, Rangita de Silwa de Alwis, Director of the Global Women’s Leadership Initiative, as well as a Senior Scholar at the Wellesley Centers for Women, emphasized the importance of including women’s voices at the table. High-profile positions come with great power and influence, and excluding women from them is both unjust and unwise, as research suggests that closing the gender gap in fields like policymaking results in more inclusive legislation and economic empowerment. While we work towards making top leadership more inclusive, though, we must also recognize that sitting at the head of the table isn’t the only way to get work done, either.

In fact, most of the people driving social change are “ordinary” people, doing extraordinary things. Consider the women that created HarassMap, an SMS reporting system for sexual harassment in Egypt. Their work has directly made a difference in creating a safer world for women. They might not appear on the cover of Forbes, but their leadership has made a difference in the lives of Egyptian women.

Further, perhaps part of the problem in why women are less likely to be found in prominent positions is because we devalue the other forms of leadership that they have been providing in the first place. Organizing a recycling campaign requires the same degree of management and vision as being the president of a club--yet one is seen as more prestigious than the other. This not only limits the opportunities available to qualified women, but also makes them feel as though they’re not qualified in the first place.

One of the traditions at Wellesley is hoop-rolling, where seniors race down a lane, while rolling a hoop. Back in the day, it was said that the woman who finished first would be the first one to get married. That changed with the feminist movement, when the winner was the first one to become a CEO. Now we say that the winner will be the first one to have her dreams come true, whatever they might be. It is time we start applying the same open-mindedness to our view of leadership.

Sarah Mahmood is a senior at Wellesley College and a Communications Assistant at the Wellesley Centers for Women. She has worked as an On-Call Writer at PolicyMic; a Press Intern at the Clinton Foundation; and an Intern for Starting Point with Soledad O'Brien at CNN. Mahmood is pictured above with H. Kim Bottomly, Wellesley College President, and Madeleine Korbel Albright, Secretary of State (1997-2001), during the 2014 Albright Institute in January.

 

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Reframing Leadership as a Democratic Practice

Social 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.

Second, 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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Teen Dating Violence Awareness & Prevention

Last year, when President Barack Obama proclaimed February Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, he noted that an estimated one in ten teens will be hurt intentionally by someone they are dating and “while this type of abuse cuts across lines of age and gender, young women are disproportionately affected by both dating violence and sexual assault.” His Administration has committed many resources to addressing the problem. The Violence Against Women Act, reauthorized in 2013 by the U.S. Congress, funds enforcement of gender-based violence laws, provides victim services, and created new federal crimes involving interstate violence against women. The 1 is 2 Many campaign launched by Vice President Joe Biden aims to reduce sexual violence against those who experience the assaults at the highest rates--young women ages 16-24. And recently, a report from the White House Council on Women and Girls and the Office of the Vice President analyzed rape and sexual assault data, including the staggering number of sexual assaults on campuses, and issued a renewed call to action. Teen dating violence between adolescents who are “dating,” “going together,” “hanging out,” or however the adolescents label it, is a serious problem—from public health, education, and legal perspectives—with injuries, poorer mental/physical health, more ‘high-risk’/deviant behavior, and increased school avoidance being experienced and reported.

One concern I have is that federal policies, as evidenced by Congressional funding priorities, may not consistently address systemic issues that contribute to teen dating violence. For example, the federal government has invested generously in “healthy relationship” programs and initiatives that promote marriage as a cure-all for poor women and girls but have no requirement for evaluation, while also funding research that takes a gender-neutral approach to examining the problem.1 Data shows that males and females do not engage in mutual, reciprocal, and equivalent violence—so why wouldn’t there be a need to examine the gendered components of any intimate partner violence?

My research for over 30 years has focused on peer sexual harassment in schools, a form of gender violence, which I consider the training grounds for domestic violence. In fact, sexual harassment may also serve as a precursor to teen dating violence. Schools—where most young people meet, hang out, and develop patterns of social interactions—may be training grounds for domestic violence because behaviors conducted in public may provide license to proceed in private.

Since 2005, my more recent research with Bruce Taylor, of NORC, funded by the National Institute of Justice of the U.S. Department of Justice, has been in urban middle schools, with the youngest sample of 6th and 7th graders ever studied in a scientific, randomly controlled research project on teen dating violence. Our interventions, both school-wide and in the classroom, emphasize articulating and claiming one’s boundaries and personal space; never do we discuss “healthy relationships”—a perspective that I find subjective and judgmental yet seems to operate as the default approach to preventing teen dating violence. Happily, our data shows that our interventions are effective and we are currently expanding them to 8th graders and testing for longitudinal effects.

This year, as we raise awareness about teen dating violence and offer scientific approaches to prevention, we must continue to invest in evidence-based and evaluated programs with rigorous research that inform truly effective public policies.

Nan Stein, Ed.D. is a Senior Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College where she directs several national research projects on sexual harassment, and gender violence. Shifting Boundaries, her research project with Bruce Taylor, is an ongoing, multi-level study funded by the National Institute of Justice to evaluate the effectiveness of grade-differentiated dating violence and sexual harassment prevention curricula.

1.)Healthy_Marriage_and_Responsible_Fatherhood_Grantees.pdf. January 23, 2013. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Family Assistance, an Office of the Administration for Children and Families. Retrieved February 3, 2014, from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ofa/resource/healthy-marriage-grantees

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The value of sports for career launch

This will be the first time that female athletes are allowed to compete in ski jumping at the Olympics so it’s fitting that the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia open Thursday on the heels of National Girls and Women in Sports Day February 5th.

The satisfaction goes beyond the glow of victory after a long battle because access for female ski jumpers represents progress in the broader quest for gender equity. As in this case, athletics often carry meaning beyond the competition itself.

Sport is both a tool in the quest for political, social, and economic equality and a glass that magnifies the failings of fairness on a societal level. What happens on the field affects and reflects the world off the field (or the slope)-- and vice versa. The cascading events of the 1970s -- the rise of the women’s movement, passage of Title IX, and expanding sport and career opportunities-- express the relationship.

This is important, but well-trod territory. So three of us at WCW asked another question: How does this dynamic actually play out for the individual athlete?

Sports matter off the field, but precisely how do they matter? A study published in 2012 that drew data from polling alumni suggests a connection between college sports participation and higher earnings a decade after graduation. That data relies on a look back by those who had successfully navigated a career launch.

But how do recruiters on the front-end value a varsity credential? Does sports participation in college, for example, offer access to enter a corporate career?

Given the widespread assumption that sports are a steppingstone to business success, we wanted to know: What qualities do recruiters look for in new graduates, how are sports experiences evaluated, and do athletes have an advantage when being screened for an initial interview? Do male and female, black and white candidates fare equally?

We asked human resource professionals experienced in recruitment to complete a detailed online survey in which they selected from a list of eight leadership attributes the top four they seek in candidates, rate candidate profiles based on those qualities, and rank-order candidates to invite for an interview.

Recruiters received randomly generated profiles that varied sex (signaled by first name), race (signaled by African-American–related extra-curricular activity or not), and leadership experience (athletic or non-athletic). Extracurricular activities were varied to reflect leadership experience in a non-athletic activity (such as Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper or representative to the Board of Trustees) or varsity athletic experience as either a top basketball or track athlete. Candidates had similar GPAs, majors, career interests, and research and work experiences.

Our findings showed that among the 828 recruiters who completed the survey, 72 percent identified “ability to work in a team” as among the top four attributes. Recruiters rated athletes over non-athletes on the ability to work in a team and being results-driven. This held true regardless of a candidate’s sex or the rater’s sex or involvement with athletics as a leisure pursuit. At the same time, athletes received lower ratings than non-athletes on organizational skills, critical thinking, follow-through on tasks, and transferable skills.

The results were surprising and interesting on a few levels. First, it was striking that female athletes got the same “credit” for participation as their male counterparts. Second, even as raters saw athletes as being the classic “team player” and driven to produce results, they seemed unaware of organization skills college athletes need to juggle academics with daily practice, travel, etc. Third, while critical thinking skills may not be explicitly required of athletes, the lower rating suggests a “dumb jock” stereotype at play given that all candidates had similar majors and GPAs. Raters also did not appear to recognize that the follow-through of athletic training and preparation, like a range of other skills, had transferrable value outside of sport.

What does this mean for the individual athlete?

The message is that even though it has nearly become a cliché for managers and corporate leaders to extoll the virtues of athletic participation, the recruiters who serve as gatekeepers screening resumes don’t see it – beyond the obvious “teamwork” credential. Our findings challenge athletes to better articulate just what they are learning on the sport field and how that can be translated off the field. Athletes also must address recruiter beliefs that they struggle with organization and critical thinking. They must also be explicit in describing how positive skills they hone in sport will be useful in the workplace.

Overall, there is notable good news. We found that female athletes received equal consideration as their male counterparts from raters selecting candidates for an interview. Yet, if the experience of playing a college sport builds skills that are valuable in the workplace, our results show that both male and female college athletes must better communicate that message to recruiters, who may have spent their college years in the stands.

Let the Games begin!

This article was contributed by Laura Pappano, Sumru Erkut, Ph.D. and Allison Tracy, Ph.D. Pappano, writer-in-residence at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) at Wellesley College, is an experienced journalist who writes about education and gender equity issues in sports. Research by Erkut, WCW associate director and senior research scientist, encompasses variations in the course of child and adult development. Tracy is a Senior Research Scientist and Methodologist at WCW, where she provides technical expertise in a wide range of statistical techniques used in the social sciences.

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Dispelling “violence against women and children” myths in human trafficking

New York Times columnist and anti-trafficking advocate Nicholas Kristof recently opened January’s Human Trafficking Awareness month with a Google+ Hangout entitled, “What does 2014 hold for the fight against modern-day slavery?” My answer is the need to dispel myths about sexual violence against women and children within the anti-trafficking movement so that we can all work effectively and sustainably toward ending exploitation. I hold little hope for truly ending human trafficking unless we understand the systemic nature of violence against women and children.

I strongly believe human trafficking and sexual slavery are a manifestation and continuation of interpersonal and systemic violence. For instance, the top two risk factors for sexual exploitation are a history of child sexual abuse and poverty. Yet, International Justice Mission founder and President Gary Haugen argued that an environment of impunity, not violence, is to blame:

[S]lavery is first and foremost a violent crime…and if you were to look at any other crime that would take place in our community that’s violent – let’s say rape – we would of course want to change those attitudes. We would of course want to make sure that the streets were well lit. We would want to make sure that women knew how to walk safely and avoid dangerous areas. But you would start, absolutely, that people who committed sexual assaults actually went to jail for it. You are more likely to get struck by lightning than go to jail for committing that violent crime.

Utilizing such “rape myths” like the need for well-lit streets and women’s ability to walk safely perfectly illustrates Haugen’s limited understanding of sexual violence: the majority of sexual assault survivors know their assailants and most rapes occur at home.

“Law enforcement is absolutely a critical component,” said Rachel Lloyd, trafficking survivor and founder of Girls Educational & Mentoring Services (GEMS), “but it isn’t the only component…and it won’t be the thing that long-term changes the issue.”

We will not end human trafficking and slavery unless we understand the very nature of violence and how it permeates our culture. Among industrialized nations, the U.S. has the worst record of death from violence and child death from abuse and neglect. We have the second-highest incidence of child poverty. Estimates across various surveys suggest one in every four girls and one in four boys in this country are sexually abused, 90 percent of them by either a family member or someone they know and trust. We have created the “perfect storm” for trafficking.

We also must acknowledge how violence is perpetuated. We often overlook that most of the few exploiters who have been studied report a history of child sexual abuse. Men who buy sex also report histories of sexual abuse and describe themselves as “sex addicts.” Abused children can repeat the violation throughout their lives, often within gendered norms, according to trauma expert Bssel van der Kolk, M.D. Abused boys can re-victimize, thus fulfilling the masculine imperative of being dominant and in control, while abused girls can go on to form relational attachments with victimizing boys or men.

If we are to stop human trafficking we must prioritize healing the wounds of abused boys through comprehensive, trauma-informed care over jailing angry, isolated men who become traffickers. We must focus on ensuring abused girls have economic opportunity based on intellect rather than equating their worth with their bodies. I am not arguing we sympathize with offenders because they have been abused. However, I am saying that jailing exploiters and solicitors will not stop trafficking: cycles of child sexual abuse and poverty are the fuel that keeps the engine running. We need to empty the gas line.

Kate Price, M.A., project associate at the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute (JBMTI) at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW), is also a social scientist in the cultural construction of childhood. As a survivor of the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC), Price authored a chapter in the textbook, Global Perspectives on Prostitution and Sex Trafficking: Europe, Latin America, North America, and Global (Lexington Books) and a JBMTI working paper, Longing to Belong: Relational Risks and Resilience of Commercially Sexually Exploited Children, examining CSEC through a Relational-Cultural Theory lens.

 

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Remembrance, Recognition, and Reconciliation

When Nelson Mandela died, many of us reflected on his efforts at reconciliation. We wondered how anyone who had endured nearly three decades of imprisonment and witnessed the denigration of his people could emerge from his cell and talk about reconciliation with his jailors. For example, when did he first think about taking this action? How long had it taken him to come to his decision? And how did he convince others this would be a worthy path to take? Think of the process involved. First we need to acknowledge our painful memories, then we need to take some form of action in recognizing (validating) those memories, and finally we have to engage those who hold responsibility for inflicting the pain.

These thoughts were with me in an immediate and personal way around the time Mandela died, when I took a trip to London and Berlin. In London, where I grew up, a close friend had become involved in events commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Kindertransport. Between 1938 and 1939, more than 10,000 children, mostly Jewish, were provided with visas to enter Britain. Parents made the decision to put their children on a train to England to prevent their extermination by the Nazis. They entrusted their children to strangers to save their lives, and most were never reunited. In 2003, a statue at Liverpool street station had been dedicated to the Kindertransport, depicting five children carrying small suitcases, a teddy bear, and a violin.

A few days after I arrived in London, over 250 people gathered at the statue for the 75th anniversary. I was there because my friend’s mother is one of the few surviving ‘Kinder.’ It was a somber occasion, both a tribute to the courage of those who survived and the generosity of the (mostly non-Jewish) families that took these children into their homes and raised them.

The process of remembrance and recognition has been a long journey for many Kinder. Like other survivors of Nazi persecution many did not speak about their experiences for decades; but as they aged some felt compelled to tell their stories to family members and others. Organizations encourage such acts of remembrance, providing support so they can speak out and educate others. In 2013, this recognition was recently taken to another level when Prince Charles met and talked with surviving Kinder, and a ceremony at the Houses of Parliament commemorated the November 1938 debate that resulted in the Kindertransport.

Berlin was a different experience. Both my parents were born in Germany: my mother in Berlin, my father in Leipzig. As Jews they were lucky to escape to London before war broke out. I knew that except for one brother and his wife, my mother’s family did not survive. Eleven members were killed in Auschwitz, Riga, and Sobibor. Because the Nazis kept detailed records of their persecution and slaughter of Jews and others, I had been able during a previous visit to find the address in Berlin from which my grandmother had been taken (along with the date of transport, her destination, and the date of her murder). I was interested in placing a Stolperstein at this address.

A Stolperstein is a brass plaque, about the size of a small brick that is placed in the sidewalk next to the building from which a person was taken to a concentration camp and killed. It bears the simple facts recorded in the Nazi records: the person’s name, date of transport, destination, and date of murder. Stolper means to stumble, and the stones are raised to make them noticeable. They were the idea of performance artist, Gunter Demnig in 1996, and he is still responsible for making them. His intent was that their presence would remind people constantly as they go about their daily business of a past many of them would rather forget; and specifically, to name the people who perished. There are now about 6ooo in Berlin alone, and volunteers keep the stones clean and shiny. A month before my trip I had contacted a woman, Hannelore, who assists with these installations in the Schoeneberg neighborhood where my grandmother Marie Driesen had lived, and informed her I wanted to arrange for a Stolperstein for my grandmother.

A week before my trip she informed me a Stolperstein for Marie Driesen was already in place, and that its installation had been arranged by a current owner of an apartment at the Schoeneberg address. Two weeks later my husband and I were warmly greeted by Hannelore and the owner, Baerbel. We looked at the Stolperstein in the sidewalk, and then sat at a table in Baerbel’s apartment and talked. We learned that around 1938, 37-39 Belziger Strasse had been designated as a Jewish building. This meant that all Jewish residents in the building were forced to take in other Jews as lodgers, and Jews from other buildings were forced to move into the apartments; measures that made it easier for them to be rounded up later. Baerbel, a retired geologist, had worked tirelessly to obtain documents on the 22 Jewish residents taken from that building, and she had a huge binder with files on each one. But she went further; she asked the 52 current residents to contribute to the cost of installing Stolperstein for them. Not a single person refused, and the installation had been filmed by local television.

Such installations are taking place all over Germany; and as families travel from abroad to gather round the stones they engage in conversation with strangers--neighbors and passersby--to remember, recognize, and, openly acknowledge this history and their loss. And yes, these steps approach reconciliation.

On the few previous occasions I have visited Germany I have felt very uncomfortable. This time I found a new respect for those who had the dedication and personal courage to take on the responsibilities of a previous generation. In the 1950s, the German government made a move towards reconciliation by paying nominal monetary restitution to victims’ families, and more recently has built museums and memorials. But the Stolperstein have grown out of the next generation’s sense of their nation’s shameful history. Its grassroots efforts profoundly affect local residents, entire neighborhoods, cities, and the nation; and they offer people like me a sense of gratitude and hope. I think that is a good definition of reconciliation.

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

 

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A Different Kind of Resolution

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.

Just 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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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Women's Rights in 2013

The following blog article was posted on Huffington Post, December 30, 2013 by Alex Sanger, chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council and member of the Wellesley Centers for Women Council of Advisors.

As we reflect on the events of 2013, I can't help but think of the Clint Eastwood classic The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

When it came to women's rights, there was indeed ugliness: more and more states tried to restrict women's access to basic reproductive health care, and in El Salvador, Glenda Cruz was sentenced to ten years in prison for miscarrying.

Despite these setbacks, there is reason for hope. Here's my wrap-up of the top five wins for sexual and reproductive rights in 2013:

1. The rape and murder of a 23 year-old woman in New Delhi set off widespread protests throughout India. In September, an Indian court sentenced the four perpetrators to death, stating that the crime "shocked the collective conscience of India."

"In these times when crimes against women are on the rise," said Judge Yogesh Khanna, "the court cannot turn a blind eye to this gruesome act." The significance of this statement condemning violence against women in the world's second most populous country cannot be understated at a time when one in three women worldwide will experience violence in their lifetimes.

2. In the Dominican Republic, the Catholic Church filed a legal complaint against our local partner Profamilia, claiming that its ad campaign on sexual rights violated the Constitution. In May, the Fifth Civil and Commercial Chamber of the National District rejected the Church's complaint as a violation of freedom of expression, adding that campaigns like Profamilia's help to promote comprehensive sexuality education and responsible parenthood. The public and media support for Profamilia during and after the case was massive, but it was not an easy battle.

3. As more states sought measures to tighten abortion laws, some fought to make it more accessible. In June, Texas senator Wendy Davis rose to national prominence during a 13-hour filibuster protesting SB5, a bill that would further restrict abortion access in Texas. While the legislation ultimately passed, a vigorous protest from Davis -- and supporters throughout the country -- was heard loud and clear. In California, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a measure into law that allows nurse practitioners, certified nurse-midwives and physicians' assistants who complete specified training to perform abortions.

4. On August 15, the first session of the Regional Conference on Population and Development concluded as representatives of 38 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean adopted an historic agreement: the Montevideo Consensus on Population and Development. At this meeting to assess progress towards implementing the Cairo Programme of Action, governments recognized the important connections between sexual and reproductive health and rights and the global development agenda. More than 250 members of civil society -- including IPPF/WHR and our Member Associations -- helped forge this victory. The Consensus is the first UN agreement to include a definition of sexual rights, "which embrace the right to a safe and full sex life, as well as the right to take free, informed, voluntary and responsible decisions on their sexuality, sexual orientation and gender identity, without coercion, discrimination or violence." With governments poised to adopt a new global development framework, this agreement will help ensure that sexual rights and reproductive rights remain at the center of efforts to reduce poverty and improve the well-being of individuals, communities and nations.

5. Perhaps the greatest "good" is the fact that despite fierce opposition, millions of women, men and young people throughout the world continue to fight to ensure that all people have access to quality healthcare and protection of their human rights. In 2012, we provided nearly 33 million services throughout the Americas and Caribbean with more than 75% of those services reaching poor and vulnerable populations. In a region where an estimated 95% of abortions take place in unsafe circumstances, the importance of access to contraception and accurate health information cannot be underestimated.

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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Learning from Amy

This article was originally published December 19, 2013 on Girl w/ Pen by Susan McGee Bailey, who served as executive director of the Wellesley Centers for Women and a Professor of Women’s & Gender Studies and Educationat Wellesley College for 25 years.

Heather Hewett’s December 5th blog post on Girl w/Pen, “What’s a Good Mother?” hit a nerve. My daughter Amy was born in 1970, the same year Shulamith Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex and Robin Morgan’s anthology, Sisterhood is Powerful were published. Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique had already become part of my daily conversation. I read Firestone, Morgan, Germaine Greer, Our Bodies, Ourselves—everything I could find on ‘women’s liberation’. It all made so much sense. My husband and I agreed; we would share parenting. Our family wouldn’t follow the usual gender patterns, we’d be equal partners and we’d steer our daughter clear of sex stereotyped toys, clothes, and expectations. A huge cultural shift was underway; we’d be part of it.

We have been; but not in the ways I anticipated 40 years ago. Children complicate lives in unexpected ways. Amy was born with a variety of disabilities, some immediately evident, others less so. She tested our facile feminism; we chose different answers. I am a single parent.

Parenting a child with physical and developmental challenges is a politicizing activity. Mothering such a child alone is a radicalizing one. Mothering a child with disabilities requires not only the culturally sanctified female roles of caregiving and ‘traditional good mothering’, but aggressive independent action. You must lobby the legislature, pressure the school board, argue with the doctor and defy the teacher. And, oddly, while these ‘unfeminine’ behaviors might, in other contexts, be deemed deviant or too aggressive, performed in the context of mothering a child with special needs they are considered appropriate, even laudable.

But for a single mother, even this culturally permissible deviance is insufficient. My life with Amy is different from the lives of most of my colleagues and friends. I could not provide emotional, physical and financial support for Amy without re-envisioning motherhood. Amy and I have lived with a shifting assortment of male and female students, single women as well as married women with children. Work for me is not possible without round the clock care for Amy. This is true for all mothers and children, but it is a need that is normally outgrown. Not so in our case. Amy fuels my passion for feminist solutions; not simply for childcare, but for policy issues across the board. I know first hand too many of the dilemmas confronting women, from the mostly invisible, predominately female workers who care for others in exchange for poverty level wages to successful business women struggling to be perfect mothers, perfect wives and powerfully perfect CEOs.

While there may be no individual solutions, there are individual decisions. As a mother and a feminist, I long ago made the decision to work toward a society in which power and responsibility as well as independence and dependence are equally available to women and men.

But it’s a lovely winter day, snow is sparkling on the pine trees, and across the street children are sledding. To talk of the challenges of motherhood without sharing the lessons in joy Amy offers is only a part of the story. My particular good fortune is in Amy’s special way of seeing the world. Oliver Sacks in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat writes about people he calls ‘simple’. “If we are to use single word here, it would have to be ‘concreteness’--their world is vivid, intense, detailed, yet simple, precisely because it is concrete, nether complicated, diluted nor unified by abstraction.” Amy never misses a sunset, a baby or a bird. She notices and she insists that others notice.

“Mother, come here! Now!”

“Amy, I’m busy, I’ll be there in a minute, OK?”

“No, not OK, red bird will fly away, come NOW!”

I hurry to see red bird. What kind of silly person would think it reasonable to miss a cardinal in the snow?

This is only one of many joys my daughter has taught me.

It’s the Christmas season, a time of hope. Lately life has begun to look bleaker each day as we move further toward a nation of haves and have nots; but today I choose to believe in hope. Someday, not so far away, women and men working together will beat the odds. We will succeed in creating a more just and equal world.

Susan McGee Bailey, Ph.D. has received numerous awards for her research and public advocacy, is frequently quoted in the media, and has appeared on a variety of radio and television programs. In 2011 the National Council for Research on Women spotlighted her as a feminist icon. She has worked for more than 35 years with community organizations addressing the needs of disabled children.

 

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Provocative Discussions on Women, Writing, Art, Society...

  WOMEN=BOOKS, the blog of Women's Review of Books (WRB), features reviewers and book authors discussing issues raised in WRB articles, and women's writing and publishing. Recent posts include:

 

Ruthann Robson writes in Hijab Hysteria, "The legal policing women’s headscarves is rooted in a mélange of sexism, xenophobia, religious bias, and racism. Unlike the niqab (veil), hijab as sartorially expressed by the headscarf does not obscure the face. While the niqab can raise concerns about identification and anonymity, which may be rational in some situations, such as a trial in which the identity of a person is a central issue, the headscarf evokes anxieties of a less logical sort." Read full blog>>

Rochelle Goldberg Ruthchild writes in Free Pussy Riot!, "'Virgin Mary, become a feminist!' With this as part of their prayer, on February 21, 2012, several members of the dissident performance group Pussy Riot, faces masked by their trademark balaclava masks, mounted the platform in front of the iconostasis in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, roughly the Russian Orthodox equivalent of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, in the heart of Moscow. After less than a minute, they were dragged off by guards. In the wake of this protest, Kirill, the Russian Orthodox patriarch, called on the government to criminalize blasphemy. And on cue, five days after the church incident, prosecutors opened a criminal case against the Pussy Riot members they could identify." Read full blog post>>

Ana Isabel Keilson writes in What Would Elsa Do?, "One of the advantages of being a graduate student at an “evil empire” university--one of those increasingly corporate institutions with a big endowment, lots of real estate, anti-union policies, a big business school--is that I can travel often to Europe on the company dime. Last March I found myself in Paris as I sat down to write a review of Body Sweats: The Uncensored Writing of Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven. Read full blog post>>

Since 1983, the Women's Review of Books has provided a forum for serious, informed discussion of new writing by and about women, as well as a unique perspective on today’s literary landscape and features essays and in-depth reviews of new books by and about women. Women's Review of Books is published by the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College, in collaboration with Old City Publishing.

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Connections Are at the Core of Social Justice

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.

A 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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Bullying Prevention Starts with Adults

Policies, procedures, and protocols for bullying prevention and intervention are now a requirement for most schools across the country. Yet policies that are developed and implemented in isolation are insufficient to address the challenges of bullying behavior. It is also critical to create a school culture and climate of communication, collaboration, and trust where children and adults feel safe and supported to speak up about bullying.

Building a safe environment is a key element to preventing and addressing bullying in schools. New research from ChildTrends found that bullying prevention programs that use a whole-school approach to foster a safe and caring school climate – by training all adults to model and reinforce positive behavior and anti-bullying messages – were generally found to be effective.

The Open Circle Curriculum, an evidence-based social and emotional learning program, focuses on both proactively developing children’s social and emotional skills (like calming down, speaking up, and problem solving) and building a school community where children and adults feel safe, cared for and engaged in learning. We encourage a unique whole-school approach that includes training all adults in the school community – teachers, administrators, counselors, support staff, and families – to learn, model, and reinforce pro-social skills throughout the school day and at home.

Students are always watching. They are watching adults at their best and they are particularly watching adults when they are in conflict. While emphasis and expectations of behavior is often placed on the students, adults in schools should remember to take a step back and look at themselves, their relationships, and the behaviors students see them model. It’s imperative that adult communities in schools reflect the same expectations of behavior that we have for students. Otherwise a climate may develop where students and adults may not feel safe to identify, report, and effectively address bullying behavior.

When a consistent culture and climate is created both on the student and the adult level, bullying prevention efforts will be strengthened along with creating the best possible environment for learning.

Nancy MacKay, B.A., and Nova Biro, M.B.A. are Co-directors of Open Circle, a leading provider of evidence-based curriculum and professional development for social and emotional learning (SEL) in Kindergarten through Grade 5. Open Circle, a program of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College, is at the end of its 25th anniversary year.

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Creating Space for More Than Tolerance

I was asked to write this post about The International Day for Tolerance and I must admit that I had never even heard of it.

But as I considered "tolerance," I thought of its role in my life. Being a middle aged queer mom, I came of age in the 70s and 80s not expecting tolerance from anyone--expecting to hide my sexual orientation in all but the private parts of my life and to navigate the world carefully in that way.

When I had come out to my mother at 17, she said, “You don’t have to tell anyone… and never tell your father.” I would say at that point that level of tolerance was the "gold standard" of what I was hoping for in my life journey

So when my second fourth-grade daughter came home from school one day all a-flutter, exclaiming, “I’m going to take those movies to school tomorrow!”--referring to It’s Elementary: Talking About Gay Issues in School and Both My Moms Names are Judy--I cautioned her. I said, “I don’t think that’s a good idea. I think that might not be what you want to do. It might not go well.”

She was adamant and then she told me why. A boy in her class had called her and her reading partner lesbians because my daughter had her arm around the younger girl’s shoulder as she was guiding her reading.

“We told him we aren’t but he said it again--in a mean way.”

My daughter was confident that it wouldn’t be necessary for me to call her teacher; she would just bring in the movies. She did. Her teacher did choose to show the 10-minute film and she stopped it along the way for discussion. As the conversation unfolded, the boy said that he had heard that gay people abuse children, so he was sure that they were bad. Others in the class, including my daughter, spoke about family members and people they knew who were gay. As the time unfolded the boy understood that what he had been previously taught did not match the people about whom he was now learning.

All day I wondered how the class had responded to the film. I was worried, but the description of the discussion surpassed my expectations. I called the teacher to thank her. She said that they had been working on stereotypes and biases for several weeks but it wasn’t until kids who were classmates talked about their own experience that opinions and attitudes shifted. This was before standardized testing and she was a brilliant teacher who made time for this important discussion. I know there are many brilliant teachers who could create spaces for tolerance in their classrooms if given some tools and language to guide them.

At the Wellesley Centers for Women over the last 25 years, two tried-and-true programs create space for tolerance in schools: Open Circle for students and school communities and the National SEED Project on Inclusive Curriculum for teachers and community adults.

Though the reality for young LGBT people has changed much in the last 25 years, “tolerance” like I experienced as a teen is viewed as sub-par in today’s world of activists. I would argue, however, that the challenge of creating spaces for tolerance is as great as it has ever been. In educational settings there are so few spaces and places that are devoid of competition and assessment; spaces and places where tolerance can thrive without an overlay of hierarchy and judgment even for a limited time.

I want to give a shout out to all the skilled teachers who are intentional in making space for tolerance. Through this commitment they are cultivating affirmation, respect, connection and cooperation and making room for these to grow in their classrooms and school communities.

Emmy Howe, M.Ed., Co-director of the National SEED Project on Inclusive Curriculum, is an original writer and founder of the Welcoming Schools Project.

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Did the Republicans Lose Women in the 2013 Elections?

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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Poverty and the Rural African Girl

Social Justice Dialogue: Eradicating Poverty

When people have limited choices, have no secure directions to follow, and are held back by insurmountable barriers, they are bound to remain in a situation of stagnancy, including poverty. Poverty is experienced physically and spiritually. It is too often the plight of the rural African girl—generations of whom have lived with little food, no clean water in poor housing, the target of domestic violence and rape, forced into early marriage for the bride price, with little (if any) schooling, no sex education, and no basic supplies for daily care and health. Their dreams are limited by not knowing their potential--they have very few resources, mentors nor models to help them.

A typical day of a rural girl who does attend school starts with fetching water and going to the garden to work before walking miles to school. Most children will go hungry at school; there may be no chairs or even books. They walk home in the evening, after gathering wood and picking greens that they will cook over a fire for the family dinner. There is no light to study by, no beds on which to sleep. Older girls cannot afford sanitary supplies and they use rags and leaves instead, often skipping school when they menstruate. In rural Uganda, secondary and higher education for girls is impossible without outside assistance. There are numerous financial demands for families—food, soap, kerosene, clothing, and medication—education is not considered essential. Because of this, many adolescent girls are often married off as their parents cannot afford educating them beyond the free primary education in public schools. There is much illiteracy throughout the communities and the cycle of poverty continues generation after generation.

I was fortunate, however, that my parents were not desperate for the bride price when I was a growing up. I could have been sold for a cow or a goat. Instead, at age 14, when I was feeling hopeless and working as a barmaid, a wonderful family in Kentucky (who knew one of my cousins from when they had done missionary work years earlier) enabled my return to school by paying my school fees for five years. I went on to earn my college degree before working with organizations that were striving to improve the lives of poor families in Africa.

I then turned my attention to Africa’s rural girl. I founded the Pearl Community Empowerment Foundation because I wanted to directly involve, empower, and benefit rural communities in Eastern Uganda through education, mentorship, trainings, and advocacy. I wanted to develop partnerships for social, cultural, and economic development. I knew that secondary, tertiary, and vocational education could break the unending cycle of poverty. Girls who are educated can become role models for their siblings and communities. They can learn new ways of growing crops. They can understand how to keep their families healthy. They may develop new skills to bring income to their families.

Working with individuals and partners from around the world, the Foundation helps rural girls in Africa and others in their communities, to break out of poverty. We are supporting girls’ education by connecting them with sponsors and mentors from across the globe. We facilitate a letter exchange program between students from the rural schools and students from other corners of the world. We teach the parents, grandparents, and communities about the importance of education. We train parents in crop production, micro-financing, and making hand crafts. We also encourage our partners and volunteers from across the globe to not just support our work but to visit. Two years since our founding, we have hosted in rural Ugandan communities 16 volunteers from the United States, Australia, and Europe—last week, five visited from England. The visits are meaningful and wonderful learning experiences for everyone.

More girls need such support. We have been able to send 67 girls to secondary school—these are 67 less girls who have been married off at young ages. More than 1,600 have expressed interest in our program. While there is still so much to do, we know that in collaboration with the international community, our grassroots communities can help break cycles of poverty and create cycles of opportunity through education. I believe everybody has the potential to live a better life. Given the opportunity, education and motivation, anyone can become someone inspiring. Nobody is a nobody, everybody is somebody.

Beatrice Achieng Nas, BSC, a Community Solutions Program Fellow through the International Research & Exchanges Board, is a visiting scholar at the Wellesley Centers for Women for the fall 2013 semester. She worked previously with Build Africa Uganda before founding the Pearl Community Empowerment Foundation.

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Enough with the Excuses—Corporate Boards Need Women

The controversy surrounding lack of women on Twitter’s board of directors as it is going public with an IPO, has rekindled interest in diversity on corporate boards. In research conducted at the Wellesley Centers for Women, my colleagues Vicki Kramer, Alison Konrad and I showed that having a critical mass of three or more women improves board governance. Catalyst (2007) and McKinsey (2012) subsequently reported that companies with diverse executive boards enjoyed significantly higher earnings and returns on equity. When there is a business case to be made for greater diversity on boards, the usual excuse is that there are too few qualified women, buttressed by the small number of female CEOs. But let’s look at the facts: not all male board members are CEOs. A board needs diversity in professional expertise as well as gender, race, and nationality. People making excuses for high tech companies’ lack of female board members point to the small numbers of women majoring in computer science. Again, not all male board members of high tech companies have technology backgrounds. In fact, most members of Twitter’s board members have undergraduate degrees from liberal arts colleges: one has a degree in English; another in Asian Studies. Couldn’t female experts in entrepreneurial management, intellectual property law, investment management contribute, for example, contribute positively within such a governance structure? It was smart of Twitter to include diversity of educational and work experiences on its board. Twitter (and all corporations) needs to stop making excuses and go for greater diversity, by including female, minority, and international members on its board.

Sumru Erkut, Ph.D. is an associate director and senior research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College where she studies women's leadership and co-led the Critical Mass on Corporate Boards study.

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More than the Gender Wage Gap

Social Justice Dialogue: Eradicating Poverty

More than the Gender Wage Gap…On Many Fronts the Economic News is Not Good for Women

In spite of attention-grabbing headlines like, “The Richer Sex: How the Majority of Female Breadwinners is Transforming Sex, Love, and the Family" (Liza Mundy, 2012), on many fronts the economic news is not good for women: and indeed for the poorest, the news is getting worst.

It is not good news when we examine:

  • The gender wage gap that continues at all educational levels. In 2012, the median annual earnings for womenworking full-time were 76.5 % of men’s earnings and had barely changed since 2001. This is evident in the gap between the median earnings for women and men with Associate’s degrees ($42,300 and $55, 600, respectively), and continues through earnings for those with Ph. D. degrees.

  • Racial/ethnic disparities among women. The gender wage gap is smaller between African-American and Hispanic men and women (89%), but it is much larger when compared to white men (64% and 53%, respectively). Although the median earnings of Black, Hispanic, and White women with less than a high school diploma are almost equal (around $380), the median weekly earnings of White women with Associate degrees is $678, compared to $595 for Black women and $611 for Hispanic women.

  • The incidence of family poverty, particularly among households headed by women of color. In 2012, 18.4% of all families with children under the age of 18 lived in poverty. However, almost 49% of Hispanic, 47% of Black, and 38% of White single-mother households with dependent children lived in poverty.

  • The inadequacy of full-time, year-round minimum wage earnings to support a family. In 2009, single mothers earning the hourly minimum wage of $7.25 earned just over $15,000--well below the poverty level of $17,285 for a family of three. These earnings are far below the median U.S. family income (almost $50,000) and the median earnings of dual earning households (over $78,000).

  • The erosion of public benefits for the poorest families. The greatest income gap emerges in the discrepancy between the amount of income received by families with federal cash benefits known as TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families) and the federal poverty level. In 2012, not a single state’s TANF benefits for a family of three brought the family up to 50% of the poverty level, i.e., $8,641 per year. For example, the Massachusetts TANF benefit for a mother with two children under the age of 18 was $7,400 a year. Even when the value of food benefits (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is added to TANF, only one state (Alaska) brings its families up to 80% of poverty level.

  • The erosion of opportunities for economic advancement through education for low-income mothers. The ‘welfare reform’ policy of the mid-1990’s diminished access to education for TANF recipients. Prior to TANF, forty-eight states had counted participation in postsecondary education for periods ranging from 24 to 72 months; post-1996, women have had difficulty participating in even 12-months of vocational training. Instead, welfare-to-work programs have shunted women back into the same low-paid jobs without benefits they had previously.

 

The earnings and wealth gap is not a recent phenomenon; it has been growing steadily for three decades. However, only recently has it become a topic of general interest, particularly as the gap between the very rich and the very poor accelerated during a time of deep economic recession. This inequality gap has seeped into the national consciousness as it became a rallying cry for the “99 percent” movement, and trickled into the 2012 presidential debates.

Clearly, at the Wellesley Centers for Women an account of economic inequality is incomplete without the concerns outlined here: the inequalities among women, including the deep poverty of vulnerable families headed by women. In addition, we must address the often overlooked and alarming educational divide that exacerbates these economic concerns by eroding the possibility of social mobility through education, particularly for the poorest women. While access to college has become a mantra of the current administration, we must become more aware of and concerned with the educational divide as it affect low-income mothers – both in and out of the workforce.

Erika Kates, Ph.D. is a Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College, working in two major research areas: Gender and Justice with a focus on women, and low-income women’s access to education.

Sources:
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. March 2013. The Value of TANF Cash Benefits Continued to Erode in 2012. Washington D.C.: CBPP.
U.S. Census Bureau. Current Population Survey. 2012.
U.S. Census Bureau Statistical Abstract of the U.S. 2012 (based on 2009 data) Tables 692, 703.
American Association of University Women. Fall 2013. The Simple Truth About the Gender Pay Gap. Washington D.C. AAUW.

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Tackling Inter-generational Poverty through Education

Social Justice Dialogue: Eradicating Poverty

A frequent theme in the discussion on poverty is the degree to which poverty persists across generations. While the United States is touted as the land of opportunity where everyone can attain their American dream, poverty is still the most likely outcome for a child born into a poor family. A large body of research demonstrates that education is the best way out of poverty, especially when dealing with inter-generational transmission of poverty. The problem is, however, that children from economically disadvantaged families are much less likely to obtain college education than their wealthier peers. In this article, I review innovative recent studies demonstrating cost-effective ways to increase educational attainment among poor children.

 

Caroline Hoxby and Sarah Turner show that high-achieving students from poor families typically apply to selective colleges much less frequently than students from wealthier families, despite the fact that those selective colleges would have generous financial aid available. In their experimental study, Hoxby and Turner offer customized information on the application process and financial aid to students, and find that the college application, admission and enrollment rates of high-achieving low-income students increase dramatically. As their intervention only cost $6 per student, the authors argue that providing information in this manner would be a highly cost effective way to improve the educational attainment of low-income students. Their experiment was adopted by the College Board in an effort to attract poor, high-scoring students to elite colleges. Indeed, Wellesley College has just launched their own effort to advertise financial aid available to low-income families.

Eric Bettinger and his colleagues tackle the low take-up rate of college financial aid among low-income individuals by providing assistance for filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms and handing out information on the expected student aid levels relative to college costs. High school seniors whose parents received the assistance were much more likely to enroll in college and complete at least 2 years of education during the 2-year follow-up period. The experiment cost a total of $88 per participant (including a $20 participation incentive and $20 incentive to the H&R Block tax professionals proving the assistance). Even so, the large positive effects of the experiment would far outweigh the modest cost per participant.

Several recent studies have provided information on the benefits of higher education to high school students, concentrating especially to students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. These studies cover students in a variety of countries such as Canada, Dominican Republic and Finland. In each case, these low-cost interventions find that students exposed to the information provided change their application behavior and/or post-secondary educational attendance. In most cases the effects are particularly large for students stemming from poorer or less educated families.

The studies reviewed here demonstrate that children from poorer families are lacking in their educational attainment at least in part due to insufficient information on the economic benefits of education and available financial aid. In addition, their college attendance may further be hampered due to the application procedures required to obtain financial aid. These disadvantages could be easily, and cheaply, overcome by providing targeted information and assistance to students and their families. As the research shows, the modest investment would be far outweighed by the positive benefits stemming from greater college attendance and higher future earnings of the participating students. And most importantly, these types of policies could begin to bring children out of chronic poverty by cutting down the inter-generational transmission of economic status.

Sari Pekkala Kerr, Ph.D. is a Senior Research Scientist and Economist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. Her research and teaching focus on the economics of labor markets, education, and families.

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The Gated Community of the Heart

blogpullquoteGatedCommunity

A gated community can be more than a real estate development. Last year, I visited an ailing friend who lives in a gated community on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. I waited at a guardhouse while my white host, on the other side of the gate, was asked on the phone whether I should be let in. Waiting, I felt guilty until proven innocent, with a tinge of "Am I an imposter? Do I belong inside the gate?” But once allowed in, I could drive around without feeling wary as I looked for my friend's house. I didn't need to prove again that I "belonged." I am white, and elderly, and to the young white guards, I probably looked harmless. I was given a pass--temporary permission to belong.

Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman because he was a dark, unwelcome element from outside that Zimmerman felt did not belong within the gated community. Its neighborhood watch organization justified--at least in Zimmerman’s own mind--his intention to get rid of the outsider-within. George Zimmerman acted as an individual, and it was as an individual that he refused to do what the police asked him to do--stay in his car rather than engage on the street with Trayvon Martin.

But I see George Zimmerman as also acting out fears, projections and aggressions that form patterns in our civic life. I think George Zimmerman shared with tens of millions of people in the United States the assumption that people whose skins are darker than their own do not belong, people who look poorer do not belong, and black men on the streets do not belong. The deep and usually unacknowledged assumption of the more empowered is that these others are threats that should be rooted out.

My own education in this kind of exclusion started very early in my life. What I have in common with George Zimmerman is a head full of yes-and-no instructions about who should be in and who should be out of "our" communities. Beyond that, our circumstances were very different.

I was raised in an upper class suburban New Jersey family with what I call a "litany of 'good's"--unquestioned markers of superiority that put a gated community around my consciousness. I was told that we had a good family, lived in good neighborhoods, went to good schools, had good manners, read good books, and of course earned good grades. We females should go to good colleges and marry men with good prospects who would get good jobs and make good investments because they had good sense and good judgment. We would learn good music and recognize good art because we had good taste. When such a castle of invented "goods" is built around one, an obedient self, keeper of the moat and drawbridge, will recognize and try to keep out threatening elements.  

This frame of mind, instructed in keeping the “bad” at bay, made me as a child feel some fear when an un-good thought, an uncertified thought or person even, made its way into the precincts. The gated mind did what it could to hold off, stamp out, expunge, even kill the intruder. A man I was dating when I was 18 told me his parents had Jewish friends. I broke up with him immediately. Having grown up in anti-Semitic towns with few Jewish people, my gated mind stopped the intruding element. George Zimmerman and I were taught by large elements of American sensibility to do this.

We need liberal arts education and caring parents to teach children’s minds to see that what is unfamiliar is not necessarily threatening. We need teachers to encourage students to look critically at what they have been taught about who and what "belongs" in a democracy. Examining one's mind and widening one's scope are humanizing pursuits. By contrast, rage--especially racial, religious, gendered, sexuality and class-based rage--at what is seen as “other” can kill off those observant and potentially welcoming internal elements of the self that can see beyond whatever excluding “litany of goods” one was taught.

The posse sensibility is not open or welcoming. The inner watchdogs of the closed mind kill off democracy. They fear what is not in their precincts. They do not recognize themselves in others. They close off curiosity and empathy. What remains is the ruthless gated community of the heart.

Peggy McIntosh, Ph.D. is an associate director at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. The founder of the National SEED Project on Inclusive Curriculum and a leading scholar on privilege, she is the author of the groundbreaking essay, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.”

 

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Healthy Aging: Reflections & Tribute

HealthyAgingRuthJacobsSeptember is Healthy Aging Month and there is no one more ideal at the Wellesley Centers for Women to contribute to a blog on this topic than Ruth Harriet Jacobs, Ph.D., a gerontologist, sociologist, educator, and voracious writer. Ruth, our friend and colleague, died last Thursday evening after living more than 88 years. Her advice to older women (and men) was to embrace the gift and responsibility of a life long lived and to move beyond the rage often experienced because of one’s age (physical and cognitive changes, neglect, stereotypes, discrimination…) to a life of outrageousness and joy.

At the end of her book, Be an Outrageous Older Woman, Ruth encourages her readers (whom she has done her best to recruit to outrageousness) to hold a graduation ceremony. Here is the valedictorian speech Ruth wrote and recommends:

“I own my years. I am proud to be a long liver and to associate with other long livers. Rather than asking them, how old are you, I will ask them, how many years have you lived? There is a difference in the two questions because how old are you is passive. How many years have you lived implied accomplishments. It is an accomplishment to be an old woman, especially considering the amount of sexism and ageism in stressful society.

blogpullquoteHealthyAging“I intend to be outrageous for the rest of my life. Being outrageous means that I will not accept insults, being ignored, or being maltreated. I deserve to be valued, listened to, and respected and treated well by others. I also deserve to listen to my own needs and wants and to try to fulfill them.

“I will be outrageous also in the pursuit of a good society and world for all people, young, middle-aged, and old. I will use my crone’s wisdom to nag, advocate, fight for good causes and fight against the bad.

“I consider myself and other old women beautiful. Our face wrinkles record the wonderful emotions we have expressed all our lives and will continue to express. Our bodies also show the burdens we have carried and the wonderful journeys we have made. Our gray or white hair is a halo softening our features and symbolizing new beauty. I will be vital in my dress, not drab as if to hide myself. I am not a bit of refuse from life. I am a celebration of it.”

In the book, Ruth shared several poems, including one written collectively by a group of women in one of her poetry writing groups for senior citizens. Each woman contributed one line to finish the sentence that began, “Aging is…” Their poem follows:

What Is Aging?

Aging is: The orange time of life, vivid, hopeful, wrinkling, sprinkling, winking, fierce attention and careful monitoring, getting older, hopefully becoming wiser and enjoying each day as it comes—savoring life.

Aging is full measure, learning to live for today and tomorrow, being thankful for every single day.

Aging is: sometimes a slide, sometimes a climb, coming to the last lines of the melody of life, amalgamating memories happy, sad, useful, climbing stairs one at a time, a pain in every joint, adaptability to change without feeling its losses, a great opportunity to develop courage.

Aging is: Too soon old, too late smart, another blessed open door, growing better while growing older, enjoying a wonderful life continuing to unfold, looking forward to tomorrow, a time to reminisce and do the things you missed.

Aging is: The small mysteries—What happened to my keys, eyeglasses, letters and the kind voice that says “Let’s help each other.”

Aging is what happens to my body while my inner child stays always young and beautiful.

Aging is delightful and enlightening, learning I can change as I get older, never OLD.

Aging is a kaleidoscope of bright colors becoming softer, sweeter but right to the point and finding out with surprise and delight that I will never come to the end of my self.

What is aging to you? We invite you to expand upon this poem by adding your own perspective on what “aging is” in the Comment section below, in tribute to Ruth Harriet Jacobs' outrageous life and in celebration of healthy aging.

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Suicide Prevention: The Depression Link

depressedteen

National Suicide Prevention Week (September 8-14) is a time to both raise awareness of suicide as a national public health issue, and to think critically about how suicide can be prevented. In the United States, suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents (Hoyert & Xu, 2012), and, in 2011, nearly 16 percent of adolescents in the United States reported seriously considering suicide. When thinking about preventing adolescent suicide, it is important to consider factors that increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors, such as depression. Suicidal thinking is a symptom of depression, and over half of the adolescents who completed suicide had a mood disorder at the time (Bridge, Goldstein & Brent, 2006; Nock et al., 2013). Fortunately, a number of researchers have developed empirically-supported interventions to prevent the onset of depression in teens, and prevention efforts that target adolescents at risk for depression may ultimately prove helpful in preventing suicidal behaviors as well. During this national week of suicide prevention awareness, it is important to recognize the link between depressive illness and suicide in youth, and the promising role of depression prevention in potentially preventing suicidal behavior.

Most of us bring our children to see their doctors annually, because prevention-focused well-child care is a cornerstone of pediatric practice. Unfortunately, prevention is generally not part of the equation when it comes to youth mental health. With limited health care dollars and limited mental health resources available, clinicians and policymakers tend to focus on alleviating mental health concerns once they arise. Yet research suggests that many young people do NOT get treatment for mental health concerns once they arise, and mental health concerns, such as depression, are associated not only with suicide risk, but also with long-term adverse impacts on educational attainment, relationship functioning, risk of substance abuse, and future depressive episodes, even among those who receive treatment. Moreover, of those teens who DO receive treatment for depression, only about half fully recover and, among those who do recover, relapse is quite common.

blogpullquoteDepressionLinkTreating youth depression once it emerges may be much more distressing, and much less effective, than identifying early symptoms of illness and treating them before they develop into a full-blown disorder. Prevention approaches have the potential to reach a large number of adolescents, and may be more acceptable than treatment because services can be rendered in non-clinical settings (e.g., schools, primary care settings), and do not require adolescents to identify themselves as ill.

So how can adolescent depression be prevented? The core of many depression prevention programs is resilience. Not all adolescents with risk factors for depression develop the disorder; the ones who do not develop depression are resilient, which means they have the emotional skills and/or the social supports to “bounce back” from adversity. Many programs to prevent adolescent depression are designed to teach coping and emotional regulation skills, and/or to strengthen supportive relationships, in order to provide youth at elevated risk with the tools they need to be resilient.

Research on the prevention of youth depression is quite encouraging! For example, in our longitudinal, multi-site study of adolescents at risk for depression, we found that teens who participated in a group cognitive-behavioral prevention program were less likely to experience a depressive disorder at nine- (Garber et al., 2009) and 32- (Beardslee et al., in press) months follow-up, relative to at-risk teens who were assigned to a treatment-as-usual control group. Likewise, our colleagues working on the Penn Resiliency Project have found that children and adolescents who participate in their school-based cognitive-behavioral program are less likely to experience depressive symptoms than are children and adolescents assigned to control conditions. Similarly, in a study of Interpersonal Psychotherapy approaches to preventing youth depression, Young and colleagues found that teens who participated in a skills-based intervention targeting interpersonal role disputes, role transitions and interpersonal deficits reported fewer depressive symptoms at six-months follow-up than teens who were assigned to a school counseling control group.

Here at WCW, we are currently studying the efficacy of a primary-care, Internet-based depression-prevention program for adolescents who are at risk for the development of depression, based on a past history of depression and/or current symptoms of depressive disorder. While many of these youth depression prevention programs are still being evaluated in randomized controlled research trials, early results suggest that prevention programs may work. It seems we can indeed provide teens with strategies that they can use over time, as they encounter stress and challenging life events, so that they are able to stay healthy and avoid the onset of significant mental health concerns.

What are the risks for depression in adolescents? When should you be worried about your teen? When we talk about risks for depression, we often think in terms of specific factors (i.e., factors identified through empirical research to be associated specifically with increased risk for youth depression) and nonspecific factors (i.e., factors that are associated with increased risk for a range of disorders, including depression). Specific risk factors for adolescent depression include having low self-esteem, being female, developing a negative body image, low social support, a negative cognitive style, and ineffective coping. The strongest specific risk factor for the development of depression, above and beyond these other factors, is having a parent with depressive illness. In fact, offspring of depressed parents are at about a two- to four-fold increased risk of developing depressive disorders, relative to children of parents without depression. Nonspecific risk factors that also increase risk of youth depression include poverty, exposure to violence, social isolation, child maltreatment, and family breakup.

Although the presence of these risk factors is associated with an increased risk for youth depression, as noted above, many at-risk children are resilient and never develop a depressive disorder. Having supportive adults present, strong family relationships, strong peer relationships, coping skills, and skills in emotion regulation all can contribute to resiliency. Even depressed parents can promote resilience in their teens by encouraging teens to engage in outside activities, maintain supportive relationships, and recognize themselves as separate from issues and concerns that are affecting other family members.

How can you recognize signs and symptoms of depression in your child, and how can you help? Depressed teens are often sad or irritable, and may exhibit a range of additional symptoms, such as withdrawal from friends and usual activities, sleep difficulties (i.e., difficulty sleeping or sleeping all the time), somatic complaints (i.e., headaches, stomach aches), poor school performance, self-critical talk, changes in eating patterns, difficulty sitting still, and may start writing or thinking about death. If you are concerned about your teen, then express your concern openly and honestly. Tell your child that you care, and that you want to help. Don’t be afraid to ask your child if he is experiencing suicidal thoughts – asking will NOT make him contemplate suicide or take his own life. Reach out to your child’s pediatrician for assistance and referrals. Let your child know that treatments are available, and that you are going to work together to get your child the help she needs.

National Suicide Prevention Week is an opportune time to consider the many ways that suicidal thoughts and actions can be combated, including preventing the onset of depression in adolescents, and getting teens help if they are depressed already.

Tracy Gladstone, Ph.D. is a Senior Research Scientist and Director of the Robert S. and Grace W. Stone Primary Prevention Initiatives at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. The Stone Primary Prevention Initiatives focus on research and evaluation designed to prevent the onset of mental health concerns in children and adolescents.

References:

Beardslee, W.R., Brent, D.A., Weersing, V.R., Clarke, G.N., Porta, G., Hollon, S.D., Gladstone, T.R.G., Gallop, R., Lynch, F.L., Iyengar, S., DeBar, L., & Garber, J. (in press). Prevention of depression in at-risk adolescents: Longer-term effects. Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry.

Bridge, J. A., Goldstein, T. R., & Brent, D. A. (2006). Adolescent suicide and suicidal behavior. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 47(3‐4), 372-394.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012). Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance- United States 2011. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 61(4), 1-168.

Garber, J., Clarke, G.N., Weersing, V.R., Beardslee, W.R., Brent, D.A., Gladstone, T.R.G., DeBar, L.L., Lynch, F.L., D’Angelo, E., Hollon, S.D., Shamseddeen, W., & Iyengar, S. (2009). Prevention of depression in at-risk adolescents: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of the American Medical Association, 301, 2215-2224.

Hoyert, D. L., & Xu, J. (2012). Deaths: preliminary data for 2011. National Vital Statistics Report, 61(6), 1-65.

Nock, M. K., Green, J. G., Hwang, I., McLaughlin, K. A., Sampson, N. A., Zaslavsky, A. M., & Kessler, R. C. (2013). Prevalence, correlates, and treatment of lifetime suicidal behavior among adolescents: results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication Adolescent Supplement. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry, 70(3), 300-310.  

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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

Womens Equality Day

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.

This 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 traveled 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.


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.

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, the 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., was a senior scholar at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College until she passed away in 2015. She was 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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Is Grit Another Name for Resiliency?

cooktutor

Over the past few months, in my role as the Chair of the American Camp Association’s (ACA) Task Force on Non-Cognitive Skills, I have been immersed in the research and popular literature on what journalist-author Paul Tough calls “non-cognitive skills.” Numerous discussions, papers, books, and organizations have surfaced that are creating a great deal of confusion about what we are actually talking about. From Angela Lee Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania, who uses the term “grit,” to Ellen Galinsky’s Mind in the Making, to the Partnership for 21st Century skills, to CASEL's work on Social and Emotional Learning, I have become overwhelmed with the attention this issue is currently receiving. But what exactly are we all talking about? Is nomenclature getting in the way of a shared understanding of the “it”? Several labels or terms have been used (grit, life skills, applied skills, executive function, emotional intelligence, non cognitive skills, soft skills, character skills, leadership skills, and on, and on) but are they all same?

And more importantly are we missing something? Are we overlooking the importance of relationships and caring adults? Willis Bright, past director of the Youth Program at Lilly Endowment and a member of the ACA Task Force, speaks about “navigational and interpretative skills” thus adults helping youth to develop a moral compass in an increasingly complex society. That got me thinking about the work of Bonnie Benard and her colleagues at Stanford University on Resiliency Research.

blogpullquoteGritAccording to Benard, “we are all born with innate resiliency, with the capacity to develop the traits commonly found in resilient survivors: social competence (responsiveness, cultural flexibility, empathy, caring, communication skills, and a sense of humor); problem-solving (planning, help-seeking, critical and creative thinking); autonomy (sense of identity, self-efficacy, self-awareness, task-mastery, and adaptive distancing from negative messages and conditions); and a sense of purpose and belief in a bright future (goal direction, educational aspirations, optimism, faith, and spiritual connectedness)” (Benard, 1991).

But when faced with adversity, these inborn traits may not develop. Benard (1991) Werner (1993) and others have discovered there are “protective factors,” that can help young people develop resilience despite high levels of risk: caring relationships, high expectations and meaningful participation and contribution.

Our work at the National Institute on Out-of-School Time supports the resiliency research. The Afterschool Program Assessment System and its linked outcome tools, SAYO (Survey of Afterschool Youth Outcomes), are based on this framework. Our theory is that afterschool program can be the place where young people can learn social and emotional skills in an environment where caring adults, set high expectations and provide meaningful leadership opportunities for young people.

Despite their similarities, grit emphasizes one's internal resources while de-emphasizing the important external factors that help contributes one's success--something that resiliency theory includes. The APAS system, which is based on this resiliency framework, highlights the importance of supportive adult relationships in the healthy development of youth--something we should keep in mind as we begin a new year of academic and out-of-school-time programming.

Ellen Gannett, M.Ed. is the Director of the National Institute on Out-of-School Time at the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College where she ensures that research bridges the fields of child care, education, and youth development in order to promote programming that addresses the development of the whole child.

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Opt-Out Revolution 2013

NYTimesMagCoverLast Sunday’s New York Times Magazine article provides a follow-up on the women of the so-called Opt-Out Revolution that the Times first heralded in 2003. The Times rightly points out the price these women have paid--and the forces that pushed them out in the first place--the culture of Motherhood and an inhospitable corporate culture among them. Erin Gloria Ryan, at Jezebel.com provides an even more pointed critique of the “promises” of opting out.

But both articles miss the most important point–the Opt-Out Revolution was not a “revolution,” it was a media creation that took a drop in employment rates among mothers of infants in the 2000 Census, and the experiences of a few women with husbands with high salaries during an economic period when the haves seemed to have it all--pre-Great Recession--and used that mythology to suggest that the reason women don’t fare as well in the workplace is because “they choose not to” (see the cover of the original NYT article). In fact, a study by Sharon Cohany and Emy Sok published in the Monthly Labor Review reported that the labor force participation rates of mothers of infants, with husbands earning in the top 20 percent of incomes, had the largest declines in 2000, but their participation only declined nine percentage points, from a high of 56 percent employed in 1997 to 47 percent in 2000, and 48 percent in 2005. While the decline was real, at least for women with husbands who could support the family, it was hardly a revolution.

blogpullquoteOpt OutRevolutionMeanwhile, media and popular attention remains focused on the message that women should solve the problems we face--of unfriendly workplaces, long work weeks, glass ceilings, and some men’s unequal sharing of household and parenting activities (often justified by workplaces that still think all men have wives who will support their husband’s careers)--by their personal, individual actions, rather than by our collective action to challenge the inequalities built into our economy, inequalities of gender, class and race. Women in the professions and in managerial jobs, who are most likely to be forced out, need redesigns of their fields to allow women--and men--during their parenthood years, to parent in the ways they value. There are top employers who have already figured out how to do this, including American Express, Johnson & Johnson, General Electric and Bristol-Myers Squibb. These changes to support working families need to be combined with changes that address the growing income disparity between the top 20 percent and the bottom 20 percent, and the consequences this has for financial well-being, as well as for the best interests of women, children, and men.

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.

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Orange is the New Black

OrangeIsTheNewBlackBookWhat can a good-looking, white woman with a Smith College degree and middle-class upbringing teach us about prisons in America?

When she was in her 20s, Piper Kerman was persuaded by her lover Norma--who was involved in an international drug ring--to carry a suitcase of drug trafficking money into the U.S. She was not caught at the time, but was arrested five years later as part of an investigation into the drug kingpin, a Nigerian, and his coterie of mules and couriers. A further five years elapsed as she waited for the Nigerian to be extradited from the U.K. to face trial in the U.S., where she was expected to testify against him. When it became clear that he was not going to be extradited, her ‘hotshot’ lawyer advised her to plead guilty to a lesser charge of money laundering to avoid being charged with conspiracy to smuggle drugs, and receive a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years. Thus, ten years after her offense she was sent to the federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut to serve a 13-month sentence.

She writes about her personal journey in surviving incarceration in the book, Orange Is the New Black (now also a Netflix video series). The help and support she receives from her fiancé, family, and friends in New York, Massachusetts, and California are critical; they visit frequently, write constantly, and send books and money. Equally important, though, are the women she gets to know in the prison who teach her lessons in perseverance, creativity, spirituality, and collegiality. Wary and mistrustful at first, she allows herself to become close to some women, is grateful for the lessons they teach her, and is profoundly changed by her experience.

blogpullquoteOrangeNewBlackThese lessons are realized just a few weeks before her scheduled release date, when she encounters Norma in the Chicago Correctional Center where she has been transported by “Con Air” to give testimony against another major player in the drug scheme. She overcomes her anger at Norma’s betrayal as together they cope with conditions far worse than the federal prisons from which they have come. In the Correctional Center, Kerman is horrified by the ‘crazy’ women and indifferent staff; the idleness and lack of daily structure; lack of daylight and exercise; inedible food and filthy conditions; and the inability to escape the constant noise and light.

Certainly, the picture she paints of the Danbury prison is not without criticism: there is only one psychiatrist for 1,400 inmates; drug treatment is not available so women are sent ‘down the hill’ to the main prison for it; and most of the guards, including those conducting strip searches, are men. But the prisoners generally have steady work, exercise, opportunities to prepare food, create their own entertainment, and to celebrate birthdays and other milestones.

Understandably, her experience is focused on herself. This book’s value is that it offers a rare autobiographical account of life in prison as experienced by a woman. Although she mentions the scale of incarceration in the U.S. -- the average daily population is around two million people, of which 211,000 are women--any references she makes to other prisons and the larger context are largely parenthetical to her account, and she provides only a brief appendix with a list of organizations to contact for information.

As someone who has conducted research on women in prison and facilitates a group working to expand alternatives to incarceration for women (the Massachusetts Women’s Justice Network) I would like to underscore five of the disparities and concerns she discusses.

1. A tribal community. Kerman has no illusions regarding her atypical class and racial status. She observes that race is an organizing factor in the ‘tribe’ mentality of the initial prison reception area, and becomes less of a factor later on in women’s efforts to choose compatible, long-term bunkmates. However, race and ethnic distinctions are the sharpest dividing point within corrections. While Black men are imprisoned at a rate of 3,074 per 100,000, compared to the rate for non-Hispanic white men at 459 per 100,000, women are also divided racially. Black women are imprisoned at a rate of 133 per 100,000 compared to 47 for non-Hispanic white women.

2. Federal prisons and the rest. Although Kerman comments on how federal prison is an improvement on the Chicago jail, she misses the opportunity to educate readers about the small percentage of women held in federal prisons (7%) compared to state (46%) and local (47%) institutions; or how the number of women in prison has grown 400 percent since the 1980s.

3. One bad choice. Kerman is perplexed by a system that treats her harshly for making one bad decision. Yet her experience in successfully entering a plea for a lesser charge compares starkly to the experience of Elaine Bartlett, an African-American woman from the Lower East Side, who also made one serious mistake. In agreeing to her boyfriend’s request that she transport an envelope of cocaine to an upstate New York motel, she sees an opportunity to buy presents and food for Christmas for her four children. When caught in a ‘sting’ operation, she is unable to plea bargain and receives a mandatory minimum drug sentence of 16 years in Bedford Hills, a New York maximum security state prison.

4. Families. Kerman mentions that 80 percent of women in prison have children and describes how some women in Danbury forgo visits to spare their children the shock of seeing their mothers in prison. Yet, left to wonder where their mothers have gone, many children experience anger, anxiety, and depression. However, women who make this choice not to maintain regular contact with their children are vulnerable to having them adopted after 15 months. The children who are brought to visit by grandparents and other family members often travel several hours, and find the experience intimidating: few prisons have child-friendly visiting rooms with toys; children may be searched; and snacks may be forbidden.

5. The ‘snakepit’ of pretrial detention. She is shocked to find out that almost all the women in the Metropolitan Corrections Center have not been sentenced, but are awaiting trial. Prior to this, her skilled lawyer’s intervention and her ability to post bail had allowed her to avoid pretrial incarceration and to carry on with her work, life, and love for five years prior to being sentenced. Nationally, about 60 percent of the incarcerated population in local jails is held pretrial.

The book’s title, Orange is the New Black, adopts a sophisticated sartorial tone taken from a New York Times Style Section. It is ironic that few of Kerman’s fellow inmates would understand the title and that she wears the orange uniform only for a few days at the end of her sentence when she is transported to testify in Chicago, and is held in the pretrial unit. Certainly her experience is atypical, but it highlights a broken and biased system that is especially hard on women and has serious consequences for the next generation.

Note: The Massachusetts Women’s Justice Network, the Wellesley Centers for Women, has selected the pretrial issue as one of its two priorities for action, 2012-2013; and a Briefing Note with recommendations for change is currently being circulated to policy makers. We found that women are held pretrial for an average of 60-77 days, depending on the facility, because they could not pay or were denied bail--often a bail as small as $50. The results are devastating; although they have not yet been tried their children are displaced; they likely lose their homes, possessions, and jobs; and any medical treatment they need is disrupted. In addition, women from five counties are transported to the isolated medium security state prison because their counties have no facilities for women. The Awaiting Trial Unit is the most overcrowded in the state system, operating at 300-400 percent of capacity. Although federal and state statutes are clear that no person should be excluded from bail because of inability to pay, about half of the women are held because they cannot pay bail. And women may be denied bail for not complying with a probation requirement, i.e., they are imprisoned for an offense that initially did not warrant a prison sentence.

Erika Kates, Ph.D. is a Senior Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College. She is a leading member of the Massachusetts Women’s Justice Network.

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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.

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