Nice Work

Carr: The Unexpected Stresses of Summer

Worried Sick: How Stress Hurts Us and How to Bounce BackGuest poster Deborah Carr is professor and chair of the Sociology department at Rutgers University. Her latest book is Worried Sick: How Stress Hurts Us and How to Bounce Back (Rutgers University Press, 2014). I was curious to hear her thoughts on stress and the academic summer, and here’s what she had to say!

For many, summer is a time to exhale, take it easy, and enjoy lazy days at the beach, when one’s toughest decision is whether to read a guilty-pleasure novel or to catch up on back issues of the New Yorker. At least that’s how it looks in the movies. In reality, the gentle breezes of summer often are accompanied by overly ambitious “to do” lists that will never be achieved, and unrealistic (and ultimately disappointing) expectations for family time. Summer is unwittingly a pressure cooker for stress, when our lofty dreams are far removed from reality.

For academics, summer is viewed as the time to finish one’s magnum opus that got left untouched during the school year. Ask an academic what they’re doing this summer, and a nontrivial number will say “finishing my new book.” Although that may be the dream, many (especially working parents) know that uninterrupted work spells can be a rarity, when other duties of summer – like home repairs, child care, and caring for aging parents – emerge. For others, the much anticipated high point of the summer is a family vacation. Despite visions of songs around the campfire and late-night heart to hearts, most of us will experience family vacations in precisely the way we’ve experienced every other family visit – the good, the bad, and the ugly. And as our family members grow older, they simply become amplified versions of their earlier selves. Although the “good news” is that kind and supportive family members grow more so, the bad news is that the cranky control freaks become even more intense.

Mental health researchers have long recognized that it’s not just the presence of negative – illness, job loss, marital spats, traffic accidents – that can impair our psychological health. It’s also the absence of positive, or experiencing less positive than we had earlier hoped for. As far back as 1890, philosopher William James wrote that self-esteem is a result of the balance between one’s actual successes and what one hopes to achieve. More recently, psychologist Alex Michalos’ “multiple discrepancy” theory says that gaps between what we have and what we want are distressing. Psychologist E. Tory Higgins’ “self-discrepancy” theory argues that when there’s a gap between our “actual self” (who we are) and our “ideal self” (who we want to be), depression can result. Yet when there’s a gap between our “actual self” and “ought self” (who we think we should be), guilt and anxiety may emerge. That partly explains the fleeting (though inevitable) feeling of failure when summer ends, and we have not completed our book manuscript, or the long-awaited herb garden remains a dirt mound, or we never made it past the “couch” phase of our “Couch to 5K” fitness dream.

Yet research also shows that most of us overestimate how fun, rewarding, or scintillating an experience will be. The reality simply can’t live up to the dream. Harvard professor Dan Gilbert has documented that most adults are bad at “affective forecasting,” or predicting how happy (or sad) a future event will make them. Even if the long-awaited family trip to the Grand Canyon is joyous, it won’t likely live up to the boundless euphoria we had anticipated. This tendency to overestimate some future encounter is so common that The New York Times Magazine gave it its own name: “tadventure,” or an exciting adventure that doesn’t quite pan out.

Is it inevitable that come Labor Day, we’ll be disillusioned, disappointed, and too despondent to rev up for the upcoming school year? Not necessarily, but it takes some cognitive energy to maintain a positive sense of self. First, avoid social comparisons, or comparing your own accomplishments with others. Many people, especially ambitious types, compare themselves with those at the top of the achievement hierarchy; when we compare ourselves with those at the top, a feeling of self-doubt is inevitable. Second, shed the tendency to “ruminate.” Rumination is continually replaying the disappointing experience in our minds and stewing in our own sadness. Ruminators often intensify their anxiety by fixating on all the things they feel they did wrong.

Third, “just say no” when asked to take on another task that might put you over the edge. Turning down invitations gives us more time to work on the tasks at hand. Saying “no” to an opportunity may lead to that opportunity being passed along to another person who may want or benefit from it more. By “paying forward” a potentially rewarding opportunity, we might also bring ourselves a short-term mood boost.

Fourth, take solace in knowing that as we get older, we’re better able to roll with the punches and each perceived slight or failure takes less of an emotional toll than it did in our younger years. “Emotional reactivity,” or how strongly we feel the slights in our lives, diminishes with age. With age also comes the wisdom that the key to happiness doesn’t lie in adding another publication to one’s CV, or another half-marathon medal to one’s collection. Happiness comes in the process of the pursuit, rather than the end goal.

But changing our thought processes isn’t the panacea. Summer stressors are rooted in major societal problems. Employers forced to run “mean and lean” are demanding more and more work from their employees, under shorter and shorter deadlines. Those lucky enough to have stable jobs often find that their responsibilities spill over into nights, weekends, and vacations. Lack of affordable elder and childcare in the U.S. deprives millions of the safety net that Europeans have long enjoyed. And all the while, the media continue to uphold images of those who “have it all,” and do it all effortlessly. Recognizing that we’re doing the best we can, and focusing on what we’ve accomplished (rather than what we’re still hoping to do) may bring some joy back to our summer breaks.

Nice Work

feel stressed at home? think about workplace flexibility

This week the Council on Contemporary Families released a brief by Sarah Damaske: in it she reports that work lowers people’s stress levels (as measured by the stress hormone cortisol) while at home it is higher. She called for consideration of new work/life balance policies, such as ROWE–results-only work environment. In connection with that I present to you a profile of a Gender & Society study on that topic. I first posted this column in 2010.

Here’s how it works: if you call it a “diversity initiative” or a “work family intervention” or stuff like that there’s the chance that you will see resistance to the project of, well, promoting diversity, or creating a family-friendly work place. On campuses, all the earnest and the marginalized check it out and everyone else goes, “what? Oh, I don’t think I got that email.”

You already know this intuitively, but a study in the current issue of Gender & Society (abstract only) tells the story of a workplace initiative that starts with the notion that framing matters.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota hung out at Best Buy corporate headquarters while Best Buy instituted a program that is not called “let’s try to reduce the sexism in our every day practices at work” — instead it is called “Results-Only Work Environment” (ROWE) : On the ROWE website they explain their project like this:

“Results-Only Work Environment is a management strategy where employees are evaluated on performance, not presence. In a ROWE, people focus on results and only results – increasing the organization’s performance while cultivating the right environment for people to manage all the demands in their lives…including work.”

The program was created by Jodi Thompson and Cali Ressler , and it has gotten positive recognition in BusinessWeek (twice!) and you can also hear about it on a recent NPR segment. It basically involves a flexible workplace.

The UM researchers (including Erin Kelly and Phyllis Moen at the Flexible Work and Well Being Center) explain in their article how the focus on results reduced resistance. “ROWE was not presented as a work-family initiative or a gender equity initiative; rather it was strategically framed as a smart business move… [the founders] felt that a gender or work-family framing would lead to the initiative’s marginalization.”

You see, ROWE is about achieving excellence. This isn’t (merely) Foucauldian. This is what any diversity project of any sort is all about, right? ROWE–which has has been adopted by other companies, too–reports a 35 percent reduction in waste and a 90 percent reduction in voluntary worker turnover.

But here’s the other part of the story: The program didn’t reduce resistance completely–especially among men managers. But it created a different kind of conversation because the analysis wasn’t explicitly about gender or diversity or accommodating people with exceptional needs. It was about an alternative approach to  work that relied less on conventions of time use and more on outcomes. The resistance heard by the researchers was to the ways that the program was challenging what’s called the ideal worker norm.

What is the ideal worker norm? Well, you know what it is, it is the way you were brought up to work. You’re there or feel you should be there as much as possible (long hours). You are busy all the time, doing doing doing (look busy!). You are ready to drop everything when someone says there’s a panic (excel at “fire drills”). Thing is, this way of working is (1) not necessary for success and (2) damaging to people’s ability to balance work and other aspects of their lives. Joan Williams writes about the ideal worker norm wonderfully in Unbending Gender (2001). She shows us just how gendered this approach is, as it builds on an outdated model of family life.

By saying (as ROWE does), oh this norm of how we work (excessive hours, fire drills, et c) is a “choice” it says we can make other choices. This means that we can de-naturalize the sneaky connection of men as superior workers (especially men who can hide or evade their other personal responsibilities). And we start to allow men as well as women to make contributions and be achievers in all the domains of their lives.

Nice Work

Boushey: I like Jane Austen’s novels, but I certainly don’t want to live like that

Heather Boushey, Executive Director and Chief Economist at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, discusses French economist Thomas Piketty’s new book on global economic inequality and spells out its relevance for feminists.

Some months ago, I had the opportunity to read the advance copy of Thomas Piketty’s new book Capital in the 21st Century. We’ve all heard a lot about the book since then—I’ve counted 700 pages of reviews (including my own). We’ve heard about how Piketty argues that unless the rate of return (aka “r”)  on capital is brought down, below or at least closer to the rate of growth (aka “g”), inequality will continue to rise. Economists have been debating his ideas ever since. But, one thing haunting me throughout the book was a question about what his findings meant for women and, so, inspired by Piketty, I picked up my Jane Austen anthology.

When I started rereading Pride and Prejudice, I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for. I very quickly found myself immersed in the tale of Elizabeth Bennet, her sister Jane, and their quest for happiness. Any Austen reader knows that the heroine’s happiness depends on her finding an appropriate mate, and that appropriate is defined as a man with a sufficient stock of capital to provide her with a lifetime of income. For Austen’s heroines, there is always a tension between this economic reality and what her heart wants. She knows that a good income is not the only factor in her future happiness, but she also knows that there’s no happiness without it.

That is certainly the case for Elizabeth Bennet. When I was a young woman reading for the first time about how Miss Bennet comes around to loving Mr. Darcy, I was—as Austen intended—struck by how constraining her life was, and yet how eloquently Austen described her situation. Miss Bennet was smart, capable, and someone who I could imagine as my friend. But, the world she lived in was terrifying. She is constrained by the reality that her life will be defined by her choice of spouse. Feminists laud Jane Austen for elevating the interior lives of women and the economics of marriage markets in the 18th century and for making clear these enormous constraints on women’s choices.

Thomas Piketty points the reader to the novels of Austen and Henri Balzac in order to illustrate how in a period of high wealth inequality young people make choices about their lives based on marrying well, not pursuing professional goals. He uses the example of Rastignac, who has to decide whether or not to pursue the hand of an heiress or pursue a career as a lawyer in order to demonstrate the economic inefficiency of an economy where success depends on inheritance not on developing one’s own skills and productivity. This is what Piketty means when he says that the “past devours the future.”

Source: Thomas Piketty

Source: Thomas Piketty

Piketty’s prognosis for the economy is frightening. Using an enormous amount of data from around the world, Piketty has brought to the fore the empirical fact that income inequality calcifies into wealth inequality. We already have income inequality at the same level as it was at the dawn of the 20th century. Relative to a century ago, more of today’s high incomes are derived from wages than from capital. Piketty argues that, over time, however, the share of income from capital will rise as today’s high earners save a portion of their income and pass it on to the next generation, creating greater wealth inequality in the process. Women should take heed of this.

The 20th century saw enormous forward momentum towards equality for women and racial and ethnic minorities, as well as for children, the disabled, and other groups suffering discrimination. In the United States, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal to discriminate against someone based on the color of their skin or their sex. The breaking down of barriers to education and participation in working life has benefited women (and their families) enormously. Mothers are now breadwinners or co-breadwinners in two-thirds of U.S. families. This greater employment and economic participation has also benefitted the economy. For example, Stanford economist Peter Klenow and his colleagues found that up to a fifth of the total growth in the U.S. economy between 1960 and 2008 was due to the opening up of professions to women and minorities. In my own work with Eileen Appelbaum and John Schmitt, we found that women’s added hours of work since 1979 have added 11 percent to the U.S. gross domestic product.

This was possible because we lived in an economy where an individual can succeed and earn a living through developing skills and participating in the labor market. However, if economic success is again increasingly defined by inheritances, as it was in Austen’s day, those who had been excluded will continue to be so. Since wealth is typically associated with a family, not an individual, a family’s economic situation will be elevated over individual achievements. This will hardly be good for gender equality, or equality along any other axis.

As the Piketty mania took hold—it actually hit number one on in the first few weeks after its release–there was only one other woman, besides myself, that I knew of, Kathleen Geier, who published a review of the book. While scores of men debated r, g, and the substitution of labor for capital, women were strangely absent from the debate. I would like to encourage more women, and especially more feminists, to pick up Piketty’s tome and give it a read. It’s a good book and what you learn may be quite important for your and your children’s economic future.

Bedside Manners

Criminalizing Good Maternal Health Care in Tennessee

In honor of Mother’s Day, I ask readers to consider the ramifications of a new law about pregnant women which has dangerous implications for the health of mothers and babies. The author of this guest post, Chelsea Carmona, is a writer and drug treatment activist whose writing has been featured in major media outlets like Time, The Washington Post, The Guardian, and Al Jazeera English. She works for The OpEd Project, a social venture founded to increase the range and quality of voices we hear in the world.


107729240_3278d325a5_mCan you imagine being prosecuted and potentially incarcerated for taking an FDA-approved, legally prescribed medication – a medication both the World Health Organization and the Institute of Medicine agree is the most effective treatment for your affliction?

Starting July 1st, this is a real possibility for pregnant women in Tennessee undergoing methadone maintenance, an evidence-based pharmaceutical therapy known among experts as the “gold standard” of treatment for opioid addiction.

The bill, signed into law on Tuesday — despite avid opposition from addiction experts, reproductive health advocates, and virtually every major medical association — authorizes the arrest and incarceration of women who use illegal drugs while pregnant.

The law does nothing to expand treatment options for addicted women, but proponents maintain the intention is to help pregnant women struggling with substance abuse get into programs. Considering only 19 of Tennessee’s 177 addiction treatment facilities provide any form of care to pregnant women, this is going to be a challenge.

Targeted women can avoid criminal charges if they complete state-approved treatment, but the Tennessee penal code doesn’t specify what constitutes an “addiction recovery program.” In 2007, the 9th Circuit Court ruled that forced attendance in 12-step programming (Alcoholics Anonymous) is unconstitutional, but this model still reigns supreme in treatment today, leaving methadone maintenance highly suspect.

Advocates for pregnant women share concerns that the widespread ignorance of maintenance treatment could leave pregnant women on methadone vulnerable to prosecution, even though such treatment is widely considered the standard of care for opioid-dependent, pregnant women. The language of the new law does not specifically exempt these women from prosecution, making following doctors’ orders a potential crime.

Sadly, this can’t be surprising to anyone familiar with maintenance treatment. Although advances in science have helped us to establish a more comprehensive understanding of the disease, we have a deeply entrenched narrative of drug addiction in our culture. This new law, which will only scare women away from seeking the prenatal and addiction care they so desperately need, is the result of this misguided and moralistic view.

Opponents of the law also worry that it will result in disproportionate jailing of poor pregnant women and pregnant women of color, particularly those living in rural districts where there is significantly less access to treatment. And they are right to be concerned.

According to The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, even though women fare just as well in treatment as men, 92% of those in need do not receive it. This is in large part due to practical reasons: Women are more likely to live under the poverty line and therefore less likely to be able to afford costly inpatient programs and the childcare services that may be necessary for them to attend.

Women were actually mobilizing to advocate for feminist-based solutions to the problem of addiction as early as the late 1960s, but locating and gaining access to effective treatment is still infuriatingly difficult. Few treatment programs have separate women-only programs, and even fewer offer programs for pregnant or post-partum women.

With the shrinking gender gap in addiction, it’s time we take into account the gendered experiences that occur throughout addiction and cultivate a more compassionate, comprehensive perspective, one that is actually conducive to helping women achieve sobriety.

For example, detailed, individual aftercare is a critical service for all addicts, but it is particularly important for women in using relationships. Women are often introduced to drugs and drug using rituals by a significant other, and rather than causing conflict, the use becomes a way to strengthen the bond. Although treatment stresses the importance of social networks, the loss of a using companion is always difficult — sometimes much more difficult than the loss of the addictive substance itself. By providing feminist-based aftercare — like housing-assistance, vocational counseling, and community development programs — recovering female addicts are much more likely to sustain sobriety and achieve autonomy.

No one supports the use of illegal drugs among pregnant women, nor does anyone wish to see a newborn show signs of neonatal abstinence syndrome, but incarceration isn’t the answer. Instead, politicians should be forming natural alliances with feminist scholars and health advocates so we can collectively address the basic needs of newly sober women. These are the ways to truly celebrate Mother’s Day.

Manly Musings

Violence and Masculinity Threat

By: Tristan Bridges and C.J. Pascoe

Just under two weeks ago, in Milford, Connecticut, Chris Plaskon asked Maren Sanchez to attend prom with him at the end of the year at Jonathan Law High School.  They’d known each other since 6th grade.  Maren said no.  Witnesses told authorities she declined and told Chris she would be attending the dance with her boyfriend (here). Chris knew Maren had a boyfriend and, likely, that she’d be attending with him. After being turned down, Chris threw his hands around Maren’s throat, pushed her down a set of stairs, and cut and stabbed her with a kitchen knife he’d brought to school that day.  It was April 25, 2014.  Maren got to school just a bit after 7:00 that day and before 8:00, she was dead.

This tragic, almost unfathomable violence reminds us of so many stories of adolescent male violence over the past couple decades. Jackson Katz discusses a seeming epidemic of violence among young, white men in his new film, Tough Guise 2.  In analyzing the tragedies of school shootings, Katz tells us that we need to think about these tragedies as contemporary forms of masculinity. When young men have their masculinity sullied, threatened or denied, they respond by reclaiming masculinity through a highly recognizable masculine practice: violence. When events like this happen, it’s easy to paint the young men who perpetuate these crimes as psychologically disturbed, as—importantly—unlike the rest of us.  But, stories like Chris Plaskon follow what has become a predictable pattern.

Sociologists investigating similar phenomena address this as a form of “social identity threat.”  The general idea is that when you threaten someone’s social identity, and they care, they respond by over-demonstrating qualities that illustrate membership in that identity.  Michael Kimmel writes about a classic example:

I have a standing bet with a friend that I can walk onto any playground in America where 6 year-old boys are happily playing and by asking one question, I can provoke a fight.  That question is simple: “Who’s a sissy around here?” (here: 131)

While you might think Kimmel’s offering easy money here, he’s making a larger point.  By asking the question, Kimmel is inviting someone’s masculinity to be threatened and assuming that this will require someone to demonstrate their masculinity in dramatic fashion.  Sociologists have a name for this phenomenon: masculinity threat. New research relying on experimental designs suggests there’s a lot more to these claims than we might have thought.


Mama w/ Pen

Mother’s Day Gifts for the Feminist-Research-and-Resource Inclined

Looking for that perfect go-to gift for the wonky feminist mama in your life? Look no further. Your online guide to all things research-and-resource is here. Well, ok, it’s a partial list. Feel free to add suggestions in comments or tweet them at me (I’m @deborahgirlwpen) and I will share. Here’s a start:

1. A book (of course) to help her navigate feminist motherhood. Topping my personal list this season are two by colleagues  copy-redefininggirly_cover2from the Brave Girls Alliance, a gender equality think tank and advocacy group I’m part of that’s dedicated to communicating with and influencing media, corporations, and retailers.  First up, Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween by Melissa Atkins Wardy, my neighbor to the north. You can read an excerpt here, purchase apparel and gifts for “full of awesome” girls and boys that go beyond gender stereotypes at Pigtail Pals and Ballcap Buddies, and join an incredibly active Facebook community over at Wardy’s page.

her-next-chapter-book-coverNext, Her Next Chapter: How Mother-Daughter Book Clubs Can Help Girls Navigate Malicious Media, Risky Relationships, Girl Gossip, and So Much More, hot off the press, by Lori Day, M.Ed., and her daughter, Charlotte Kugler, a student at Mt. Holyoke. Covering far more than the significance of book groups, the book hits on eight of the biggest challenges facing girls today, including bullying, gender stereotypes, and negative body image. The authors provide tools and strategies for discussing these thorny topics, providing carefully chosen books, movies, media recommendations, discussion questions, and group activities to go along with each.

And while we’re on it, The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood to Fit Reality, edited by Avital 21-200x300Norman Nathman, is practically a Mother’s Day standard, as is pretty much any title from She Writes Press, Seal Press, or The Feminist Press – three very different presses whose lists include high-quality works on a range of topics related to gender.


2. An experience to massage her mind. Why not gift a mama a slot in The OpEd Project’s Write to Change the World seminar, coming up next in Atlanta, Chicago, LA (where I’ll be teaching it on June 1), NYC, Boston, San Francisco, Tucson, and DC. And for Chicago-area locals, how about a ticket to Women Employed’s Working Lunch gala event.


WomensLeadership-COVER3. A savvy report for her to curl up with at the end of the day.  Hey! This one’s FREE! Gift her the newly released report “The Economic Importance of Women’s Rising Hours of Work: Time to Update Employment Standards” by the Center for Economic and Policy Research’s Eileen Appelbaum, Heather Boushey, and John Schmitt, which Schmitt wrote about here.

Or send her Judith Warner’s new report from the Center for American Progress, “Women’s Leadership: What’s True, What’s False, and Why It Matters,” which explores the “silver lining” to exclusion. (Hint: women, long outsiders, have had no choice but to think, act, and lead in out-of-the-box ways, which is why they’re now poised to change our institutions for the better.)


4. Music, jewelry, pjs, a yoga class, or any of the myriad gifts available Every-Mother-Counts-logofrom the online shop run by Every Mother Counts, where part of the proceeds go to help mothers around the world.



5. A magazine or movie to feed her brain. How about a subscription to Brain, Child magazine, or the DVD of the documentary, “Who Does She Think She Is?“, about conflicts between motherhood, work, and art. ‘Nuf said. who_poster



Of course, no need to wait for Mother’s Day, or limit such gifts to mothers. Thinking back to Julia Ward Howe’s call for a Mother’s Day of Peace, come Sunday, here’s wishing all GWP readers and bloggers an equitable and sincerely peace-filled day.


I invite you to follow me on Twitter and Facebook and subscribe to my occasional newsletter to keep posted on coaching, workshops, writings, and talks.

Nice Work

Schmitt: Women, Hours Worked, and the GDP


photo credit:

Last week, the Council on Contemporary Families released the 6th annual Unconventional Wisdom with a focus on families and technology. Check out all the cool stuff here—27 briefs of underreported research findings on the topic.  A final word on diversity, technology, and changing lives comes from economists at the Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR), whose work warns us against overstating the impact of technology and reminds us of the importance of the ongoing gender revolution. John Schmitt, a senior economist, contributed the following to the volume.

From the 1970s until today, we have experienced a technological and digital revolution that has changed the way we live and work, with profound implications for the economy and social policy. But the gender revolution in the same period has been equally if not more significant in its economic repercussions.

In a recent study, economists Eileen Appelbaum (CEPR),Heather Boushey (Washington Center for Equitable Growth) and I used the Current Population Survey to document the steep rise in paid work by women and mothers since the late 1970s. Since 1979, the typical woman has increased her number of hours of paid work per year by 739 (to 1,664 in 2012). Over the same period, the annual hours of paid work by the typical mother increased by 960 (to 1,560 in 2012). By 2012, the majority of women (67.8%) — and an even higher percentage of mothers (72.0%) — between the ages of 16 and 64 were working, most working full time throughout the year.

These extra hours of paid work have made all the difference to families—and to the economy more generally. Middle-class households would have substantially lower earnings today if women’s employment patterns had remained unchanged. According to our calculations, gross domestic product (GDP) would have been roughly 11 percent lower in 2012 if women had not increased their working hours as they did. In today’s dollars, this translates to more than $1.7 trillion less in output—roughly equivalent to combined U.S. spending on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid in 2012.

To put this revolution of women’s work in context, consider that the 11 percent increase in women’s contribution to the GDP is almost twice the 6 percent contribution to GDP of the information, communications and technology-producing industries combined in 2012.

Bedside Manners

The Need for Gender-Based Analyses in Health Research

Looking ahead to Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, I encourage readers to check out Chloe Bird‘s latest post for The RAND Blog. In “Assessing and Addressing Women’s Health and Health Care,” Bird explains the knowledge gaps and emphasizes the benefits of changing our approach to health research:

Gender-stratified research can produce more effective decision tools and interventions, and in turn improve both women’s and men’s health and health care.

I have featured her work on women’s cardiovascular health in a past post: it’s an excellent example of why we need to pay attention to sex/gender differences when aiming to improve health care.  Bird cautions of the dangers of failing to make the necessary revisions:

Until access, quality, and outcomes of care are tracked by gender, inequity in treatment will remain invisible and consequently intractable.

As we move forward with the Affordable Care Act, it is important to pay attention to the new assessments and tracking of the quality of care.  In the words of Bird, “This tracking should take gender into account so that disparities in health care and outcomes become visible and get the attention they deserve.”


Second Look

Why Bother with Equal Pay Day?


Last week while discussing Equal Pay Day with a friend, she commented, “Why all these special designations? Black History Month, then Women’s History Month, now a day for Equal Pay. I don’t see the point.  Do you?”  Many share her perspective, but I am not among them.

This year Equal Pay Day fell on April 8th.  All month the airwaves, print media  and blogosphere have been filled with commentary of one sort or another: Data documenting the continuing wage gap for female and minority workers; analyses disputing the size of the gaps, conservatives insisting they support equal pay but not government regulations; advice for women on speaking up on our own behalf, often as if women’s lack of negotiating skills were the root of the gender wage gap.  For me, this heightened coverage is exactly the point.

Special months, weeks or days provide “news hooks”, important opportunities to recall forgotten history and celebrate hard won gains.  They are also reminders of how much work remains undone in the struggle for equity and justice.  Forty years ago as one of the thousands who wore little green ‘59 cents’ buttons, I understood it would take years before equal pay for equal work was a reality.  I recall telling friends we needed to be realistic. After all, we’d need good childcare, shared household responsibilities and more career options for women in addition to fair pay laws. It might take thirty years to do away with unfair wage disparities.

How foolishly optimistic of me!

The White House cites U.S. Census Bureau figures on full time workers revealing that on average women are paid 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. In the Wall Street Journal economists Mark Perry and Andrew Biggs argued that this gender wage gap is a myth when variables such as career choice, marital status and education are factored in. Disagreements over the size of female/male earnings differentials can obscure the debate but they cannot deny reality. No amount of disaggregation of the data by region, race, education or occupation changes the basic picture. The wage gap differs depending on the variables used in each analysis, but economists at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research report that women in almost every line of work are paid less than their male colleagues.

Those who insist the wage gap is tiny and that a few cents on the dollar is of no major importance live in a protected world of savings accounts and salaries that leave extra dollars at the end of each pay period.  It is a world unknown to most of those in households struggling to shelter, clothe, feed and educate families with earnings at or below the median annual income of  $50,000; And it is a world unimaginable to the  one quarter of U.S. households with annual incomes below $25,000.

But what about governmental regulation so feared by those opposing the Paycheck Fairness Act?  The Act, first introduced in  2009, would require employers to show that wage differences are based on factors other than sex and contains a provision prohibiting retaliation against employees who discuss their salaries with co-workers.  But how can anyone determine whether she or he is being paid equitably without knowing the compensation others in similar positions receive?  Shouldn’t each of us be able to speak freely about our own salaries without fear of retribution?  Isn’t that called freedom of speech?

We’ve made progress.  Pay gaps have narrowed. But we’re already a decade beyond my 1970s estimate of the years it might take to achieve full pay equity.   We need effective legal redress for employees whose paychecks are unfairly shortchanged. But as Frank Bruni wrote in the New York Times this past Sunday, and many feminists have argued for decades, legislation on equal pay is necessary but not sufficient.  Gendered expectations influence women and men, employers and employees. A broader and more widespread understanding of the ways gender roles and status differentials are maintained and reproduced is essential if women from all socio economic levels are to move forward.  (See for example the analysis in  C.J. Pascoe and Tristan Bridges recent Girl w/Pen post.)

Carrie Chapman Catt, an important strategist in the movement for suffrage and women’s rights once noted,  “No written law has ever been more binding than unwritten custom supported by public opinion.”  Public opinion polls show significant changes in the views of both men and women on a wide range of gender roles, including the importance of pay equity. But for the moment, ‘unwritten custom’ holds sway much of the time.

Equal Pay Day is not simply a single day.  Attention to the wage gap continues throughout the month, spreads across a wide range of media outlets and seeds conversations around the country. Widening the audience, increasing public awareness and broadening debate on issues of equity and justice help to shift, shape and strengthen public opinion.  Equal Pay Day is well worth the bother.


Women Across Borders

Live Journalism and the Women in the World Summit (in honor of National Poetry Month)

Photo by Margaret Fox

Last week, I had the opportunity to check out a day of Tina Brown’s Women in the World Summit at Lincoln Center in Manhattan. A lot of it was incredibly powerful. Some of it raised disturbing questions. The pace of the day left me breathless. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the entire production.

The format is unlike any conference I’ve ever attended as either a writer or a professor: audience members sit in the dark while panel after panel unfolds on the stage. It’s highly produced and quite sleek. There’s no time for questions or discussion or reflection; everything is kept tightly on schedule. You can’t digest the stories of genocide and survival told by Rwandan women because you’re immediately thrown into the viewing of a film clip that sets up the next panel. In the course of the morning and part of the afternoon, I watched thirteen panels.

(I missed two because I had to eat lunch, and then I had to leave to cook dinner for my kids. Yes, they have to eat, too.)

This is Tina Brown’s “live journalism,” which she described to Washington Post journalist Emily Heil as follows:

It’s as journalistically intense as anything I’ve done—we spend our time finding incredible stories. We do a great deal of culling to find the most compelling stories and presenting them with a lot of dramatic intensity. It’s like living the pages of a magazine.

Exactly. Like living the pages of a magazine.

To be fair, some panels featured conversations that I recognized as journalism. I was rapt when Charlie Rose interviewed Pussy Riot activists Masha Alekhina and Nadya Tolokonnikova. They are incredibly brave, smart activists who articulated a powerfully trenchant critique of Russia (thanks to their interpreter) along with journalist-author Masha Gessen.

Other panels felt a bit more like corporate PR. This is also the world of WITW: corporate sponsors are all over the summit and in particular, the “Sponsor Solutions” section of the program. A lot of the summit has to do with the promotion of Women in the World as a “global brand” and “global platform” for the “women’s empowerment movement,” which is an accurate name for what this is.

I have mixed feelings. After all, what activist wouldn’t want to gain access to a global platform such as this? It’s a hugely powerful way to spread your message and talk about your work. At the same time, you’re signing on to be part of a media edutainment machine, largely funded by multinational corporations. The forces of neoliberalism and global capitalism are writ large all over this event. As journalist Luisita Lopez Torregrosa puts it:

A hyper organizer and lavish spender, Brown produces a perfect alchemy, mixing glamour and razzle-dazzle (Angelina Jolie! Meryl Streep! Pussy Riot!) with the gravitas of world figures like Hillary Clinton (who has launched her own women’s empowerment initiative), Christine Lagarde and Samantha Power, and the courage of unheralded activists. That high-gloss format draws to Women in the World the sort of media attention few other groups enjoy. It is also a magnet for international corporations like Toyota, Merck, Bank of America, AT&T, Dove, the Coca-Cola Co., Walmart and JW Marriott, all opening their checkbooks to help raise their own profiles among women.

In other words, the revolution is now being brought to you by Walmart.

Earlier this year, Jessica Valenti summed up “corporate feminism” in The Nation as follows:

The corporate interpretation of feminism has more to do with cheerleading all women’s accomplishments than ending patriarchy and pushing for equal rights.

While true, this doesn’t tell the whole story of the WITW summit. I heard many different stories, and a good number of the activists weren’t solely telling a story of individualized women’s empowerment (even when that interpretation was offered by their interviewer). The Rwandan women weren’t. Pussy Riot certainly didn’t. Many of the activists talked about ending oppression and systemic violence of all kinds. Comedian Sarah Silverman (who was there with her sister, Rabbi Susan) spoke out about women’s right to abortion. The activists and feminists at the center of the summit focused on equality, peace, and human rights.

But there were interesting tensions, at times, between what they were saying and the tightly scripted, predetermined format of the summit. The “stories” and the “solutions” didn’t always line up neatly, like the glossy program would have you believe.

The panel that illustrated this the most for me featured Senna, a young Peruvian woman and poet from the documentary Girl Rising (which I wrote about last year). Senna is amazing. She performed a powerful poem that she had written (in Spanish) and, with the help of writer Marie Arana as interpreter, talked with journalist Juju Chang. Then, someone else walked out onto the stage: a young woman from Compton, LA named Marquesha Babers, who had been so moved by Girl Rising that she wrote a poem in honor of Senna. Somehow the WITW team had discovered Marquesha and had flown her to New York to perform her poem in front of Senna.

Let me tell you, this young woman rocked the house. Talk about the power of words spoken by a poet on fire. Everyone was in tears. It was hard not to be deeply moved.

At the same time, it felt a bit like I was watching a daytime TV talk show. Mainly because of the way individual human struggles were being turned into entertainment. And then, as we were all wiping our eyes and everyone on stage was hugging, the journalist—perhaps in a struggle to find something to say? to deal with the overwhelming emotion? to move things along?—commented that she wished she was filming a TV show so that she could fast-forward ten years and see what best friends they had become.

A powerful moment of human connection, instantly packaged into DocuTV. I know she didn’t mean any harm by it. But it startled me.

In 2009, author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a memorable TED talk (another powerful media platform) in which she talked about the “power of the single story.” In it, she observed that

Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person.

Precisely. Who knows what the future will hold for Senna and Marquesha? Will they be friends, or not? Will they achieve their potential? Will they be happy? What meanings will they themselves derive from their lives, and how will they express these meanings—in poetry, or in other ways?

I hope these two girls remain strong. I hope they continue to write poetry. I hope they continue to be the authors of their own lives. But the meanings of their lives will likely unfold in complex and multiple ways. Despite this connection, their lives may be very different from each other. (Their lives are very different from each other.) Whatever meaning they will forge—whatever meaning any of us have—will far exceed the format of a segment on TV.

If this is live journalism, then I’d like more poetry.

Follow Heather online @heatherhewett.