Mama w/ Pen

girl-32813_640Hey GWP Community!

A slew of interesting books “bridging feminist research and popular reality” (our tagline) are either just out or on the horizon, from Seal, Feminist Press, Demeter Press, and many more. Shoot me an email [deborahgirlwpen (at) gmail (dot) com] if you’d be interested in guest reviewing any of these–either individually or in a cluster–here on Girl w/Pen, with an eye toward the larger conversations, perspectives, and research they tap into:

Rebecca Hains’ The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls through the Princess-Obsessed Years

Stacey Radin’s Brave Girls: Raising Young Women with Passion and Purpose to Become Powerful Leaders

Jessica Valenti’s Full Frontal Feminism, Second Edition

Babygate: How to Survive Pregnancy and Parenting in the Workplace by Dina Bakst, Phoebe Taubman, Elizabeth Gedmark

Sarah Granger’s The Digital Mystique

Melanie Klein and Anna Guest-Jelly’s anthology, Yoga + Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery & Loving Your Body

Queering Motherhood: Narrative and Theoretical Perspectives edited by Margaret F. Gibson

Reconceiving Motherhood by Patricia Hill Collins

Feminist Parenting From Theory to Life Lived edited by Lyndsay Kirkham

Intensive Mothering: The Cultural Contradictions Of Modern Motherhood edited by Linda Ennis.

And of course if there’s a book you’d like to review that’s not on the list, please inquire within.

Yours in bridging,

imagesSO much to pick from this season, but among our summer highlights for those of you who missed it or are just now dropping in:

Natalie Wilson finds a gender con at comic con.

Virginia Rutter sets us straight on love and lust.

Elline Lipkin looks at the poetry and prose of “real” motherhood.

Susan Bailey cries uncle on Hobby Lobby.

Tristan Bridges and CJ Pascoe critique the over-thanking of straight male allies.

Adina Nack culls intel from guest Mary Assad on the science behind medical claims around fat and women’s hearts.

Kyla Bender-Baird invites Jocelyn Hollander to weigh in on Miss USA and self-defense.

Heather Hewett curates Emily Bent on what’s missing from girl power discourse in light of #BringBackOurGirls (namely: rights).

And I sound off on empowerment, tampon ads, and the Always #LikeAGirl campaign.

The other week, I was a guest on the Working Motherhood daily podcast, hosted by Dr. Portia Jackson, aerospace engineer and mother of two. Each week, this savvy host interviews mothers who produce income, be they CEOs, teachers, entrepreneurs, real estate investors, or cashiers. For a taste, check out Portia’s interviews with Rachael Ellison, Gloria Feldt –or any one of 130 more.

I enjoyed this opportunity, very much. Like guests before me and guests after, I shared my family-and-career journey, insights on how I manage the multiple responsibilities, tools that help me, advice I’ve received that has helped me along the way. We only had half an hour. And there’s so much more to say.

The interview kept me thinking long after Portia and I hung up. In the spirit of continuing the conversation, always, here are some of my favorite “things to say about working motherhood” that I didn’t have a chance to share on air.

1. Working fatherhood — say what?

I’d love to see a Working Fatherhood podcast. Period.

2. There’s a conversation behind the conversation here.

Any conversation about working motherhood in the US necessitates a conversation about the embarrassing lack of high quality, universal, subsidized day care. The case is clear. For an investigative analysis of the challenges of finding good care, check out Courtney Martin’s piece in the New York Times last week; Avital Norman Nathman’s recent roundtable on Debra Harrell’s arrest (for leaving her child in a park while working her shift), motherhood, and race at The Frisky; and Alissa Quart’s inside look at the crushing cost of childcare, from last year.

3. Working motherhood — not just about individual solutions, anymore.

In the absence of said high quality, universal, subsidized day care, working mothers are left to seek out our own individual solutions. Again. We experience a political problem as personal, 40 years after the women’s movement re-surged. When things fall apart, we again find the fault in ourselves. (Heartfelt shout-out, and visible recognition here, to all-around assistant Melissa Shoemaker, whose intelligent, compassionate care for my four-year old twins while I work helps me keep it–mostly–afloat.)

3. Non-traditional is where it’s at.

Shout out to the caregivers, but shout out, too, to non-traditional arrangements in marriage. As the Council on Contemporary Families reports, new research suggests that in marriages formed since the early 1990s, men and women are much more happy with non-traditional gender arrangements than in the past.

4. Working motherhood is hot.

Yes, research shows that sex is better and divorce less likely for egalitarian couples. And for more on that, see our own Virginia Rutter’s incredibly informative Psychology Today cover story, Love & Lust. So there.

5. Not a choice.

For so many of us, and in the wake of recession, working motherhood is not a choice. It’s a financial necessity. But even if it weren’t my necessity, I’d choose it—or rather, it would chose me. I come from a long line of working mothers. Because it’s the air that I breathe, pondering how I feel about “working motherhood” is like a fish saying “water, works for me.” At the same time, not a day goes by that I don’t think about what a broken system we live in, filled with inequitable expectations and skewed assumptions based on outdated gender roles.

See again number 1, above.


I invite you to follow me on Twitter @deborahgirlwpen, join my Facebook community, and subscribe to my quarterly newsletter to keep posted on my coaching workshops and offerings, writings, and talks.


By now you’ve likely seen the Always #LikeAGirl video that went viral, evoking tears of recognition as well as feminist critique about the uneasy equation of empowerment and tampon ads. And if you haven’t yet, click here or watch below.

Empowerment cheese, says Jezebel. An emotional ploy for tampon sales, writes Daily Beast and also Shape, who asked professional female athletes to respond. Outdated, responded ultra-runner Ellie Greenwood. “I agree that we should be way beyond this kind of thing. I can think of so many strong female sports models…I think that we should be at the stage in sports—and also in people’s perceptions of sports—that there is no reason why women can’t do 99 percent of what men do, and having some conversation about it is a little out of date.” Yes, yes, and great.

And still, here’s the thing: I’ve watched this video myself four times. It is manipulative, I agree, given that there’s no clear action on Always’ website steering us to how we might protect pubescent girls from the confidence plunge (other than using a winged panty liner, surprise, or sending out a tweet to prove how awesome doing things #LikeAGirl really is). It is consumer capitalism masquerading as feminism. Yep.

But what I’m interested in, as both a scholar of narrative and a communications professional, is why I, along with so many others, am so darn moved by the message in the video. Let’s forget that it’s Procter & Gamble, just for a tiny sec.

The video’s message is powerful because award-winning filmmaker Lauren Greenfield, the video’s director, is good. Her documentary creds include The Queen of Versailles, Thin, Kids + money, Beauty CULTure. Her photojournalistic book, Girl Culture, is by all accounts an intelligent exploration of American girlhood, endorsed in an introduction by no less than historian Joan Jacobs Brumberg.

So Greenfield is good, and the thinking behind the project is smart. The ad provokes us grown women to think back to a time before we were aware of gender difference, before “like a girl” meant something derogatory. For many of us, that’s hard to do. But if you think back, I bet you can find it. Give it a try. It’s a highly worthy pursuit.

Ok, I’ll go. My own recollection of that moment when I first realized “like a girl” could mean something negative was the day I asked my high school history teacher, who happened to be the boys’ baseball coach and clearly favored the jocks, why no one in the class was bringing up issues of morality when discussing the reasons the U.S. nuked Hiroshima. “Morality? That’s such a girl response,” said someone in the room. Cue snickering from all the boys in the room. Next, cue confidence plunge.

Well, almost. Lucky for me, my English teacher that year, Ms. Medwin, was a big ole feminist, and the world she opened for me saved me from despair. Under her guidance, I wrote my first real term paper–on Emily Dickinson and Adrienne Rich, women who refused to go under. “When a woman tells the truth she is creating the possibility for more truth around her,” wrote Rich.

Rich also wrote this: “The connections between and among women are the most feared, the most problematic, and the most potentially transforming force on the planet.” To that end, I’d love to see the kind of messaging in the Always video applied to a massive campaign, say, to restore the rights of the women of Hobby Lobby to access contraception through health care. Or to find all the remaining kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls. Or to any number of wrongs that need righting, right away.

Because at the end of the day and after all the virality, it’s still a tampon ad, and there’s nowhere much for our roused sentiment—the connecting between and among women we experience here as viewers—to go.

And so, a video with a powerful message becomes a lost opportunity. Amanda Hess at Slate sums it up when she notes, “it’s a little sad that all of this enthusiasm for women’s stories are leading us directly to a box of maximum protection wings, while female filmmakers and characters are still so underrepresented at the box office.” We’re wasting our best filmmakers on tampon ads, the headline screams.

Thinking like a girl over here, I say it’s high time empowerment causes, and not just empowerment products, had a PSA as powerful as this tampon ad. Causes for the betterment of women and girls’ lives deserve our most creative thinking, our savviest makers and marketers of all sorts.

When the cause for gender equity truly goes viral, when it becomes actionable and not just aspirational, then maybe, just maybe, “run like a girl” will mean, as one of the women in the video implores, “win the race.”

I’m not hugely optimistic, but I have to stay hopeful. Because my greatest hope is that by the time my little girl, now four years old, hits puberty, this conversation will actually be out of date.


 I invite you to follow me on Twitter @deborahgirlwpen, join my Facebook community, and subscribe to my quarterly newsletter to keep posted on workshops, coaching offerings, and talks.

9780374141042_p0_v2_s260x420If you’re still looking for that perfect, think-y Father’s Day gift for the dads in your life, or a beach read for those who (like me) crave research packaged in narrative, science journalist Paul Raeburn’s Do Fathers Matter? What Science Is Telling Us About the Parent We’ve Overlooked is the book to get this year. No father’s rights stuff here. Instead, it’s a heavily researched and highly readable story of scientific discovery–an overview of what psychologists, geneticists, neuroscientists, anthropologists, and sociologists are finding about the role of fathers in their children’s and families’ lives. Raeburn writes for The New York Times, Discovery, and Scientific American and pens the About Fathers blog over at Psychology Today. He’s the chief media critic for the Knight Science Journalism Tracker at MIT and a father of five.

I’ve watched Paul painstakingly compile the research and craft the narrative for this book over many years. His aim in writing it is not merely to publicize and popularize the new science of fatherhood, itself a worthy goal; he’s also invested in helping fathers—and their families—understand how fathers can be better at what they do. Here’s how our exchange went down. (In the spirit of full disclosure, Paul and I are both members of The Invisible Institute, a NYC-based authors group.)

DS: Moving beyond understanding fathers as sources of authority and economic stability in their lives of their children, you look at how new studies of the unexpected physiological links between fathers and children, from conception into adulthood, are forcing us to reconsider our assumptions and ask new questions. What are the key takeaways here?

PR: I was surprised to find so many biological links between fathers and their children, beginning during pregnancy, before fathers have even met their children.images

One example of the profound connection between fathers and their fetuses is that fathers’ hormones do a dramatic turnaround when fathers’ partners become pregnant. Testosterone falls, and prolactin–yes, men have this nursing-related hormone–rises. The thinking is that this profound biological change changes men from competitive mate-seekers into more nurturing fathers.

And the connections between fathers and their children continue. Brain scans of fathers during their infants’ first four months have found striking increases in activity in the prefrontal cortex in response to looking at pictures of their infants or hearing them cry. The brain regions that changed seem to be associated with fathers’ motivations and moods and their involvement with their babies. Infants are sculpting their fathers’ brains to make fathers better able to respond and take care of them.

And as children grow, similar connections continue to exist.

DS: You’re a father of five. Is this book personal in any way?

PR: In this book, I wanted to collect the research on what is known about fathers and their contributions to their children. I mostly avoided personal recollections, because I think it’s important that we distinguish the facts–the scientific findings–from our personal feelings and impressions. I did, however, break from this rule on occasion, when I found I couldn’t resist saying something about my father or my children.

DS: What was the most interesting finding you unearthed from looking at the research on dads in the animal kingdom?

Screen shot 2014-06-13 at 7.52.49 AMPR: I was surprised to learn how much humans and laboratory animals–even mice–resemble one another. Neuroscientists are using mice to find the circuits that govern fathers’ behavior, and they are doing it with mice for two reasons. One is that most human research subjects take a dim view of being sacrificed at the end of an experiment and have their brains dissected. Another is that mice’s brains are remarkably similar to humans’ brains. Both have the same structures and similar circuitry. If a discover is made in the brains of mice, it’s highly likely that the same thing is going on in humans.

DS: Research on mothers and mothering abounds. Why, do you think, we still know so little, relatively speaking, about the role of fathers in children’s and families’ lives?

PR: It’s hard to say for sure, but I think one reason is that psychologists in the 20th century became fond of a theory that excluded fathers from child development. Developed by John Bowlby, a British psychologist, this theory–known as the attachment theory–held that the bonding in the first days and weeks of life between mothers and children was essential for healthy child development. Fathers did not appear anywhere in this scenario.

If fathers were not important–which is what most psychologists believed–why bother studying them? I think this must have changed when a psychologist-father was nuzzling one of his kids, or rolling around on the floor, and caught sight of himself in a mirror. In that eureka moment, he might have said, “My child seems to be enjoying my company. Perhaps I matter after all!” And the rest was history.

DS: If you could suggest a research study, from any field, to continue what you acknowledge as the incomplete investigation of fatherhood writ large, what unanswered questions or quandaries would you most wish to resolve?

PR: I would like to know more about single-father families, and families with stay-at-home dads. On June 5, 2014, the Pew Research Center reported that the number of fathers who do not work outside the home rose to a high of 2 million in 2012. “High unemployment rates around the time of the Great Recession contributed to the recent increases, but the biggest contributor to long-term growth in these “stay-at-home fathers” is the rising number of fathers who are at home primarily to care for their family,” Pew wrote.

I’m eager to see what we can learn from those families about fatherhood more broadly.

I also think gay and lesbian families have a lot to teach us. They are not as constrained by gender stereotypes as some of us, and they are inventing parenting roles anew. A recent study, for example, provided the first evidence that gay men’s brains change in ways similar to the ways mothers’ brains change when they have a baby.

Follow Paul Raeburn on Twitter @dofathersmatter and read more about his work at

Image (mouse): Flickr, Rick Eh?


I invite you to follow me on Twitter @deborahgirlwpen, join my Facebook community, and subscribe to my quarterly newsletter to keep posted on my coaching workshops and offerings, writings, and talks.

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.

This guest post is brought to you by Mary Kay Devine, a Chicago-based feminist and mother of four.  Mary Kay’s day job is the Director of Community Initiatives at Women Employed, a nonprofit that mobilizes people and organizations to expand educational and employment opportunities for America’s working women. Founded in 1973, WE has a 40-year track record of opening doors, breaking barriers, and creating fairer workplaces for women.  For more information, visit PS. I love this org! – Deborah

MKD Head Shot 2013 (reduced size)March is Women’s History Month – a month when the American public honors women and their voices. But even in 2014, we’re not hearing enough of those voices. The Women’s Media Center recently released their annual report on the state of women in the media, and the numbers were grim. Male front-page bylines in print media outnumber female front-page bylines by 3 to 1. Only 25% of guests on Sunday talk shows are women. Men write the majority of newspaper op-eds. And all-too-often, women reporters are still consigned to writing about “pink topics” like food and fashion.

Women Employed, an organization that has spent the last four decades opening doors, breaking barriers, and creating fairer workplaces for women, recently brought two prominent journalists together to discuss the ongoing problem of gender discrimination. They talked about gender bias in newsrooms, and also in other workplaces, as well as what women can do about it.

“We loved Newsweek! We just wanted Newsweek to be better for women.” That’s what author and trailblazing journalist Lynn Povich told the sold-out crowd at The Newsweek case that changed the workplace…or did it?  Povich shared the story of how she and her female colleagues confronted blatant sexism at Newsweek in the 1960s. In an era when female employees were told that “women don’t write at Newsweek,” they refused to accept it. She and 45 of her female colleagues brought a landmark lawsuit against the magazine in 1970—and won! Povich eventually became not only a writer for Newsweek, but also their first female senior editor.

Povich was joined by Jesse Ellison, a recent Newsweek writer who, forty years after the original lawsuit, came to realize that she and the other women around her were still experiencing gender discrimination.  “The young men around us were getting much better story assignments, they were getting raises and promotions much more easily… We were each having to work much harder than our male peers to get to the same end.” So in 2010, she banded together with her female colleagues to co-author a Newsweek article on the 40th anniversary of the landmark lawsuit questioning how much has actually changed for working women.

These two women highlighted the similarities and the differences in their struggles, pointing out that women today don’t suffer the overt workplace discrimination that Mad Men-era women had to endure. However, they still face obstacles. It’s just that those obstacles are so much more subtle and harder to identify. For working women today, one of the biggest challenges is never being sure if their inability to advance is a personal failure or a result of gender bias.

That makes it in some ways a much harder battle. But as Ellison’s experiences show, it’s not an impossible fight. Both Povich and Ellison stressed that if you are a woman who has been frustrated in her attempts to succeed at work, it’s vital that you not be afraid to speak to your colleagues, both female and male, to determine if what you’re experiencing could be a systemic problem. And then you should act. The experiences of both women show that change can happen, and it can happen from within. When people band together for change, they are powerful, and they can make a positive difference.

Hear what Povich and Ellison have to say about their experiences at Newsweek, about fighting gender discrimination in the Mad Men era and the modern era, and about what still needs to change:

And see their message for working women:

And then go out, make change, and help ensure that more women’s voices are heard, not just this month, but in EVERY month!   Here are some ways you can help:

civil_rights_symposium-e1391572426576There’s much debate afoot in the fem-o-sphere this week about empowerment conferences, TEDWomen, MAKERS, and what feminism today means–and for whom. Writes Jessica Valenti in a ringing piece in The Nation, “Many feminisms exist, but it’s a singular feminism that’s on display at most mainstream women’s conferences. That one-note feminism epitomizes the tricky space the movement now occupies: one of historic popularity. And as feminist rhetoric has gained acceptance, what it means to be a feminist has become muddled.” Same thing was said by some in the early 1970s, at second-wave feminism’s popularity peak. How history repeats.

In fact, it’s the kind of week where I feel like I could be penning Sisterhood, Interrupted, Volume 4. I’ve had many such weeks over the years, but this week, maybe, takes the cake. And then something comes through my inbox that feels grounding somehow. This week, it was news of a Civil Rights Act anniversary symposium, from our friends at the Council on Contemporary Families. (Disclosure: our fab Penners Virginia Rutter and Adina Nack are on the Board.)

So it’s in the spirit of continuing the movement with allies from every sphere, remembering where we’ve been, and all that’s left undone, that I share (with permission) Stephanie Coontz’s opening remarks:

[Last week] CCF released the third set of papers in a three part symposium marking the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. The first two sets of papers described changes in America’s religious and racial-ethnic landscape in the half century since it became illegal to discriminate on the basis of religion, skin color, national origin, race, ethnicity or gender. [The third focused on] how women have fared since passage of the Civil Rights Act, because the addition of the word “sex” was a last minute addition to the bill.

…Opponents hoped — and supporters feared — that threatening to make discrimination on the basis of sex illegal would kill the bill, and when it passed anyway, few policymakers took the sex provision seriously. Although the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission immediately moved to ban job ads that specified a particular race, it refused to do the same for the sex-segregated want ads that were the norm in 1964.

Not until 1968 did the New York Times eliminate its “Help Wanted: Male” and “Help Wanted: Female” sections of the newspaper, and not until 1973, in Pittsburgh Press Co. v. Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations, did the Supreme Court rule that printing separate job listings for men and women was illegal.  Since then, however, the changes in women’s social status, legal options, and economic opportunities have been dramatic, as Max Coleman of Oberlin College describes in his report, “Civil Rights for Women, 1964-2014.”

As the Civil Rights Act was being debated, a Gallup poll found that only 55 percent of Americans would vote for a qualified woman for president. At that time, women made up just two percent of the U.S. Senate and less than four percent of the House of Representatives. Since then female representation has grown tenfold in the Senate and fivefold in the House. Today 95 percent of Americans now say they could support a female presidential candidate.

Things have changed in the home as well as the House. In 1970, one survey found that 80 percent of wives felt it was “much better” when “the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of the home and family.” Today 62 percent of all Americans, and 78 percent of young women, prefer a marriage where husband and wife share breadwinning and homemaking.

Women’s wages as a proportion of men’s have climbed steadily since outright wage discrimination was made illegal. In 1963, full-time working women earned only 59 cents for every dollar men earned. Today, women earn 84 percent of men’s hourly wages. Among workers ages 25 to 34, women’s hourly earnings are 93 percent of men’s. Nearly 40 percent of working wives outearn their husbands.

Women have also made impressive progress in entering high-status fields formerly dominated by men. In 1963, less than three percent of all attorneys and just six percent of physicians were women. Women held less than one percent of all engineering jobs. Today, almost one-third of attorneys and more than one-third of physicians and surgeons are women, and women occupy almost 30 percent percent of science and engineering jobs.

In 1964, not a single woman had served as CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Today, women run 23 Fortune 500 Companies.

But women have not shattered the glass ceiling. In law firms, only 15 percent of equity partners and five percent of managing partners are women, and women comprise less than five percent of Fortune 500 CEOs. In her contribution to the symposium, “Dilemmas Facing High-Achieving Career Women,” Joan Williams (University of California, Hastings College of the Law) calculates that at the current hiring rate, “it would take 278 years for equal numbers of men and women to be CEOs.” Williams describes four distinct patterns of gender bias that high-achieving career women encounter.

Up until 1980, the average female college graduate, working fulltime, earned less than the average male high school graduate. That is no longer true, yet at every educational level, Coleman reports, women earn less than men with the same credentials.

Women in low-wage jobs and women who lack a college degree experience a lower gender wage gap than their more educated and affluent counterparts, but they are much more economically vulnerable, and they have been losing ground in relation to high earners of both sexes. Most women still work in traditionally female occupations, which pay less than traditionally male jobs requiring comparable skills. In fact, working-class jobs are as segregated today as they were in 1964. Women are more likely to live in poverty than men, and they constitute 62 percent of all minimum wage workers.

A key source of wage disparities and discrimination against women today is motherhood. In 1978 the Civil Rights Act was amended to make it illegal for employers to exclude pregnancy and childbirth from sick leave and health benefits. But the United States is still the only industrialized country that does not guarantee subsidized, job-protected leave for new mothers. As a result, many women are forced to quit or cut back on work when they give birth, creating a lifetime earnings penalty. Even mothers who do not cut back are regarded with suspicion by employers, who are less likely to hire such women, and, if they do, offer them lower wages than other employees.

Men do not face the same automatic discrimination when they become fathers — and some actually receive a fatherhood bonus — because employers assume that men, unlike women, will work even harder after they become parents. But new research shows that men face similar penalties to women when they request leave or flex time in order to meet their family obligations. This suggests that a future goal for equal rights advocates and pro-family activists might be eliminating discrimination on the basis of caregiving status as well as continuing the battle against racial, ethnic, religious, and gender bias.

For more detailed information about fifty years of changes in civil rights, read the papers (on civil rights for women and career women) in the CCF Civil Rights Online Symposium on Women’s Changing Social Status since the Civil Rights Act. Stephanie Coontz was convener and editor of this symposium.

The symposium authors, along with Stephanie Coontz, are available for further information, should anyone wish to contact them (as sources, for stories, and such).

And while I’m on it, and since I’m a huge fan of this org, a heads up for those interested in attending CCF’s annual conference this year:

CCF’s 17th anniversary conference will take place on April 25-26, 2014, at the School of Education and Human Development at the University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida: Families as They Really Are: How Digital Technologies Are Changing the Ways Families Live and Love. Complimentary press registrations are available. More info here.

Where It All Begins

In the New York Times op-ed, “Google, Tell Me, Is My Son a Genius?” (Jan 18, 2014), Seth Stephens-Davidowitz points to new research suggesting that parental concerns about boys differ from parental concerns about girls in some surprising and troubling ways.  Searches show that parents–across the board–are more worried about the appearance of their daughters, and the intelligence of their sons.

Stephens-Davidowitz writes, “Liberal readers may imagine that these biases are more common in conservative parts of the country. Not so. I did not find a significant relationship between any of the biases mentioned and the political or cultural makeup of a state. These biases appear to cut across ideological divisions. In fact, I was unable to find any demographics that significantly reduced the biases. Nor is there evidence that these biases have decreased since 2004, the year for which Google search data is first available.”

Reading this made me want to cry. It also made me want to ask all the smart and savvy girls’ advocates I know: Tell Me Ladies, What Did You Think of This Piece?

Turns out, the conversation was already happening, of course, over at Rebecca Hains’ Facebook page (where many great conversations begin!). We all agreed this is a conversation we need bigtime and would love to continue it, both here and at Rebecca’s page. Our responses are below. Please join us in sharing what you think.

Q: What do you make of these findings?

Rebecca Hains, author of The Princess Problem (forthcoming) and Growing Up with Girl Power and [S]tudies show that when parents worry about their daughters’ appearances, it negatively impacts the girls’ body images–even if the parents never speak a word about the matter. Kids pick up on our attitudes much more than we realize. So how much do the search patterns revealed in this article explain widespread patterns in kids’ own self-images–boys and girls alike?”

Melissa Atkins Wardy, author of Redefining Girly: “[T]he difference shown in this article feels like a canyon in my heart right now. And how are we supposed to teach parents to do better when it comes to the media when they are such a huge part of the problem themselves?”

Marci Warhaft-Nadler, author of The Body Image Survival Guide: “This is really disappointing. It’s like these outdated gender roles and expectations are so deeply engrained in our psyches that we don’t even recognize it anymore.”

Lori Day, Lori Day Consulting, and author of Her Next Chapter: “This was counter-intuitive to me as an educational psychologist because girls develop more quickly than boys in terms of literacy, language development, social skills, self-help skills, etc. When it comes to two-year-olds, girls are often more mature, and appear more “gifted” (Lake Wobegon issues aside), than their male peers. I have had way more parents of young girls tell me they think their child is gifted than parents of young boys. Maybe the Google searches are picking up data related to kids in elementary school and beyond, when many of the developmental academic advantages for girls relative to boys have washed out. Certainly, it is picking up on parental concern about daughters’ appearance, not something my consulting clients usually talk to me about, but something that does not surprise me as an author who writes about today’s girl culture.”

Deborah Siegel, author of The Gender Years (a graphic memoir-in-progress) and Sisterhood, Interrupted: “That piece made me want to cry. Interesting note, though, the author ends with: ‘we might examine whether these gender preferences change after a woman is elected to run a country.’ Wondering, like the rest of you, what else might change the painful imbalance in parental expectation, from within. This shit goes so deep.”

Rebecca Hains: “We know that media portrayals of boys and girls mirror and then reinforce cultural attitudes. It’s cyclical. Other studies show that to kids, it’s really important that boy characters in the media be smart and that girl characters be pretty: girls identify with female characters they consider attractive, whereas boys identify with male characters they consider intelligent. This is probably because of these biases they pick up on, both in the home and at school, as well as in other media. I think effecting change requires both consciousness-raising (helping us all to see our own biases, so that we can overcome them) and media literacy work (to help parents and kids break down and resist the biases they see on screen). And of course it also requires activism, to hold media producers accountable when they perpetuate these biases. There’s so much work to be done, it’s overwhelming. But it’s important, and it’s time.”

Girl w/Pen readers, your thoughts?

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Boys v. GirlsThe other week, Girl w/Pen bloggers and masculinity studies scholars Tristan Bridges and CJ Pascoe called us to pause the war on pink and take a look at boys’ toys, prompting a response from media studies scholar Rebecca Hains (author of the forthcoming The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls Through the Princess-Obsessed Years) and a reflection from me on feminist history and popular feminist debate.

This week, I invited Rebecca to dialogue with me. Here is our exchange. And keep an eye out for some thoughts on it all coming soon from Girl w/Pen blogger Susan Bailey, too! You can learn more about Rebecca’s work here.

Deborah: In my post the other week (“Who’s Afraid of the War on Pink?”) I looked back at the history of arguing “enough about girls, let’s focus on boys,” to mixed effect. You make the thoughtful point that the ploy is not merely a harmless rhetorical effect. Can you elaborate?

Rebecca: In all honesty, the argument that we need to stop (“or at least pause”) the war on pink didn’t even come off as a rhetorical device to me. I’m sad to say that it just came across as ill-informed. There isn’t a war on pink; there’s a thoughtful, measured argument that while pink isn’t inherently bad, it’s limiting the play worlds and imaginations of boys and girls alike. So “Who’s Afraid of the War on Pink” reads, to me and my colleagues, like a straw man argument. The authors were conjuring up a nonexistent epidemic of myopic thinking, instead of engaging with anyone’s actual writing on the subject of girl culture and the rise of pink. I expect better from our esteemed colleagues in masculinity studies: if they would like to engage with those of us working in girlhood studies, and perhaps learn from our successes (we’re happy to share what we’ve learned), that would be terrific–they just need to demonstrate that they’ve read at least some of our work so that we can have a meaningful conversation.

Besides, straw-man arguments strike me as more problematic coming from a feminist academic blog like Girl w/Pen than, say, an anti-feminist source like Christina Hoff Sommers. (A case of “the medium is the message,” perhaps?)

Deborah: Tell us a bit about your book that’s coming out next fall, The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls Through the Princess-Obsessed Years (Source Books, 2014). Is there any way in which you think girls can be active agents in princess play? In what ways do you hope your book will steer popular debate? And what do you most want to change?

Rebecca: Thanks for asking. The Princess Problem is really a handbook for parents to raise media-literate daughters–girls who are able to think critically about marketing, the beauty ideal, gender stereotypes, and race representation. This is an important task for 21st-century parents: We must coach our children, guiding them to become critical viewers of media culture in general. And yet media literacy is not something that’s a mainstream concept yet in the U.S.; many other countries include media literacy in their K-12 curricula, but that’s not the case here. I’d like that to change.

I focus in my book on princess culture in particular because “princess” is so pervasive–it’s THE defining pop culture phenomenon in early girlhood. And it’s the perfect example to use in a text on raising media literate girls because the issues we need to discuss with our daughters so often differ from than the issues we would discuss with our sons. (For example, body image issues are a very different beast when it comes to girls and boys.) But the principles I teach in The Princess Problem could easily be extrapolated to raising media-literate sons, too.

And yes, I absolutely believe girls can be active agents in princess play. Kids are not passive victims of media and toys; they’re active consumers who regularly defy our assumptions. That’s a position I’ve espoused in some of my earlier work–for example, my study of girls and Bratz dolls.Bratz dolls

It’s important to note, then, that in The Princess Problem, my goal is not to persuade girls that princesses are bad or to “de-princess” them; rather, it is to help parents help their girls reason become critical viewers who can see that there are many, many ways to be a girl.

Deborah: I loved your recent post at Sociological Images (“When Cowboys Wore Pink”), where you concluded, “Monochromatic girlhood drives a wedge between boys and girls — separating their spheres during a time when cross-sex play is healthy and desirable, and when their imaginations should run free.” Some of our Brave Girls Alliance colleagues have created incredible alternatives. From where you stand, what do you see as some of the most exciting challenges to the children’s industrial complex as we know it?

Rebecca: The Let Toys Be Toys movement is doing terrific work challenging the status quo in the UK. By calling for toys to be desegregated–grouped by theme or interest type, rather than by gender—they’re empowering parents and children to think outside of the pink and blue boxes that marketers have been placing children into. I’d really love to see a comparable movement here in the U.S. and Canada. With folks like Melissa Wardy of Pigtail Pals, Michele Yulo of Princess Free Zone, and Ines Almeida of Toward the Stars raising so much consciousness about the limitations that today’s marketing foists upon kids of both sexes, it’s the right time.

I’d like to see a movement that goes one step further, too, and challenges marketers to put an end to the incessant pink-washing. By “pink-washing,” I’m specifically referring to the instances where marketers or toy makers create a product that is pink for no reason other than to make it as girly as possible. After all, there’s nothing wrong with pink–it’s a perfectly nice color–but there IS something wrong when it’s a) promoting sex role stereotypes and b) basically the only color found in little girls’ worlds. They deserve a full rainbow of colors.

Pink-washing is unfair to our boys, as well: I just heard from a mom the other day whose two-year-old son wanted a toy shopping cart for his third birthday.  All she could find at her local Toys R Us was a pink cart. She bought it anyway–but she knows that the adult men in her family are likely to think it’s weird (which is a shame). But, come on; have you ever seen a real shopping cart in pink? I haven’t. I doubt they exist. Pink-washing toys that have no good reason to be pink–that would be considered gender-neutral if they were not–perpetuates so many retrograde stereotypes about sex roles, it’s offensive.

Deborah: When GoldieBlox, a company initially celebrated for its creation of a toy designed to foster girls’ interest in engineering, ultimately disappointed many of us by slapping a princess narrative on it, it seemed challenging, at the time, to articulate a position that both acknowledged the step in the right direction and pushed for more.  (My feeble attempt posted here.) In the war between industry and better alternatives, is it always necessary, do you think, to choose sides? How do we measure progress in a world half-transformed?GB_Box_BT002_v1_r1

Rebecca: I prefer to think of it as a dialogue rather than a war. I don’t want to fight companies; I want to hold them accountable and ask them to do better. Companies have so many stakeholders to work with that they often don’t realize that they are perpetuating gender biases. If they receive constructive criticism from enough parents and advocates, though, they can create better offerings.

Unfortunately, the world is indeed half-transformed in these matters, and it’s often a case of one step forward, two steps back. For example, we can look at Disney’s films and see that slowly but surely, their representations of race and gender have been improving with time. I believe that their efforts at racial inclusivity and empowered female characters signal that they’ve been paying attention to their critics over the years. The problem is that in a behemoth company like Disney, change comes very slowly; and their own Consumer Products Division isn’t keeping pace with the positive changes within the Studios division.

merida_web_smallSo when it comes to the toys, we’re seeing the same old stale ideas about what’s “princessly,” or stereotypically feminine–even when the products are based on innovative new on-screen characters. That was certainly the case with Disney’s Consumer Products Division’s horrible redesign of Merida last year: she was strong on screen, per Pixar’s wishes; but as her look didn’t “fit” with the existing high-glamour Disney Princess brand, Disney’s Consumer Products Division made several changes to Merida’s looks (see posts here, here and here), undercutting everything parents and kids loved about Merida. What a conundrum.merida-princess1-550x546

Deborah: It’s a conundrum indeed. Frozen, anyone? I’m already wondering how princessly those Anna and Elsa action figures will be.



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