Mama w/ Pen

Boys v. GirlsI’ve been struck lately by the polarities that sometimes infuse popular feminist debate around gender, childhood, and toys. On multiple fronts.

CJ Pascoe and Tristan Bridges’ post here last week, controversially titled “Stop the War on Pink—Let’s Take a Look at Boys’ Toys,” sparked a minor bruhaha in popular feminist circles. In their title, and in their post, Pascoe and Bridges used a rhetorical technique that my colleagues at The OpEd Project call “the refocus.” While it seemed to me that their stance of “enough about pink already” could be read as a foil, and a way into their argument, others, like media studies professor and author Rebecca Hains, rightly took issue.  “Does the ‘War on Pink’ Need to Stop for Boys’ Sakes? No, and Here’s Why,” the title of a post by Hains, in response, stated.

Ultimately, as a brief exchange over at Facebook made clear, all parties stand on the same side of the issues here and believe boys and girls all deserve a wider rainbow of options. We agreed a forum didn’t make sense, since it would consist primarily of head nodding. We may disagree on the effective use of certain rhetorical tactics. But we all agree on a similar flavor of change.

Still, it stayed with me. As someone obsessed by the way feminist history repeats, it got me thinking about the past.

There’s a long history to the so-called boy versus girl advocacy in the popular realm. When conservative critic Christina Hoff Sommers came out with The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism is Harming Our Young Men in 2001, the very title made me cringe. While willing to be persuaded that boys, in fact, had problems, I saw zero correlation between their issues and “misguided feminism,” however one defined that phrase. Sommers maintained that the so-called “girl crisis” (her term) had led to changes in schools, politics, and parenting that had a horrible cost for boys, who allegedly became even more at risk, as a result.  Interestingly, the book was reissued in 2013 with the “Feminism” of the subtitle changed to “Policies” instead.

But back in 2001, egged on by Sommers’ barb, feminists took the bait. Many responded with what seemed to me the wise yet obvious retort that the war for healthier childhood was not about the girls versus the boys, and that feminists (doh) were not to blame.  I was as indignant as the rest that Sommers, who registered as a scholar, had stooped to such a ploy. I remember thinking, did she really believe some of the things she wrote and said? Whether she did or whether she was using rhetoric to magnify her point, for all the attention given her book, it was an effective, if maddening, ruse.

Much has changed in the 13 years since Sommers’ controversial title first made waves. The field of girls studies has grown exponentially, built on an incredible foundation laid down by the field’s early architects (Girl w/Pen’s own Susan Bailey among them). The field of masculinity studies has deepened and widened, too.  In 2014, those advocating for boys and those advocating for girls are no longer in opposition.  Or at least, we shouldn’t be. Right?

As is often the case on the Internets, a forum as enriching as it can be problematic, when I find myself agreeing with both “sides” of an alleged debate, nodding “yes” to parties who somehow find themselves on opposing divides, my instinct is to bring them together.

Watch for a dialogue between me and Rebecca Hains–-as well as more Manly Musings from CJ Pascoe and Tristan Bridges–all coming to this space very soon.

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

There’s a controversy brewing online around girls and STEM, princesses, and, believe it or not, the Superbowl.

First, if you haven’t already, watch this:

Next, read this, this, and this.

I’m in partial agreement with my feminist colleagues who are in outrage over the fact that GoldieBlox is selling a princess-themed toy. Many had been rooting for the start-up toy company, which started on Kickstarter, with a full on mission to spark a love for STEM in girls. They feel rightly let down that the sequel to the original product (a building toy, with a narrative story) features a princess tale. They critique the manufacturer’s market-straddling approach. Writes media studies scholar Rebecca Hains, “GoldieBlox is having it both ways: appealing to parents with anti-princess rhetoric and then, in stores, selling girls on a princess-themed toy.”

Reelgirl’s Margot Magowan smartly notes, “This is how fucked up kidworld has become. Finally, parents are catching on that gender stereotyping children limits potential. So what do we get?  An anti-everything pink and princess themed ad, which is great, selling a princess themed toy. WTF?”

WTF indeed. Melissa Atkins Wardy (whose new book, Redefining Girly, will be published on January 1), perhaps says it best: “[W]hen we use princess culture, pinkification, and beauty norms to sell STEM toys to girls and fool ourselves that we are amazing and progressive and raising an incredible generation of female engineers we continue to sell our girls short. It is the equivalent of covering broccoli in melted processed cheese and thinking we’ve very served a healthy meal.”

Yes, yes, and yes. Blech.


I’m not convinced the ad isn’t progress. I’ve watched every video GoldieBlox has produced and have gotten teary over every one. I’ve played with the original toy in the Marbles store with my 4-year-old daughter (no princesses in that one) and am still considering it as a Hannukah gift. I’m a sucker, perhaps, and an easy target. But let’s put personal reaction aside.

I believe in evolution, as well as revolution. I’m a writer who wrote a book on feminism and let her publisher slap on a hot pink cover. I wanted people–and young women in particular–who wouldn’t necessarily pick up a book on the women’s movement to read about it. And they did.

I certainly understand why my colleagues are upset. Indeed, as educational psychologist and blogger Lori Day noted on Twitter, sneaking a princess narrative into an otherwise girl-empowering toy is an act of Trojan Princess.

But couldn’t it be an act of Trojan Feminism, too?

This debate brings up all the issues feminist scholars love to debate: subversion, containment, appropriation, consumption, narrative revision, mediation, and the like. Heck, the ad will be a great addition to the curriculum of Women’s Studies classes to debate for years to come.

But here’s what’s going on here and now: The GoldieBlox ad is vying for a coveted spot during the Superbowl on Feburary 2, 2014. It’s one of four other small businesses in the running. Anyone can vote, and the business with the most votes wins the grand prize. GoldieBlox is up against Locally Laid (an egg company), Diary Poop (natural dairy compost), and an ad for dog treats.

I don’t know about you, but I’d sure like to see this ad featuring little girls kicking engineering ass to the tune of a highly appropriated Beastie Boys jingle hit prime-time. Some will say my colleagues’ vision of empowerment is too big. They say GoldieBlox founder Debbie Sterling’s vision is too small. But while we’re all working hard and searching for the one that’s just right, let’s get this ad—which many of us agree subverts traditional images of girlhood—into the living rooms of all those watching the Superbowl. No?

PS. Debbie Sterling, I hope you are listening. My feminist colleagues want to love you, but you’ve let them down. I get it. And I also get your impulse to change the status quo. May your kingdom, which I continue to root for, continue to evolve, and may you ultimately de-princessify.

I welcome your thoughts-any and all!

kijeomaThis guest post is brought to you by Kendra Ijeoma, Engagement Coordinator at Women Employed in Chicago, Illinois. A feminist, social media junkie and aspiring social entrepreneur, Kendra mobilizes supporters online and in-person to become activists for women’s economic security, workforce development and access to education. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Seattle University with a focus in Women’s Studies.

In a political climate that is so unfavorable for women, our rights eroded and our needs marginalized at seemingly every turn.

On August 5th, three powerhouse Chicago women participated in a roundtable discussion in honor of Women Employed’s 40th anniversary about how women can build power and exert influence in civic, professional, and political life. U.S. Representative Robin Kelly, author Rebecca Sive, whose new book, Every Day is Election Day, was recently released, and former Chief of Staff to Michelle Obama Susan Sher offered salient advice to women, as well as important stories about how they have achieved success and attained positions of power both in Chicago and nationally.Panelists with Board Chair Lisa Pattis

The conversation could not have come at a better time.

The takeaway? Women can and do have power and influence, but asserting that power can be tricky. For women, the route to success and to making your voice heard means walking a tightrope of proclaiming your individual qualifications and accomplishments, while also working successfully in collaboration with other women.

Susan Sher, now Executive Vice President for Corporate Strategy and Public Affairs at the University of Chicago Medical Center and Senior Advisor to the University President, advised women not to be afraid of, “shameless self-promotion. When you do a great job and you think you’ll be recognized, it just isn’t true. It’s important to take credit for what you do.”  This was a theme echoed by each of the women on the panel.

However, Sher, Kelly, and Sive also emphasized that many women are naturally self-effacing, which can undermine our interests. For that reason, banding together with other women can be powerful, and is a vital strategy to make people stand up and pay attention to women’s needs. Sive emphasized that for women, “The route to power and influence is not a route you take alone. There is strength in numbers. You can win with women and for women.” Rep. Kelly echoed that sentiment, adding that, “there’s something special about what women can do together.”

AudienceSo as a regular woman leading a regular life, where do you start? All of the panelists, as well as Women Employed Executive Director Anne Ladky, who moderated the event, stressed that while it’s important to have women in government and in the board room, the most vital agent of change will be everyday women like you and me standing up and exerting their own power. Every woman can have influence over her life and her circumstances. But we must be vocal in our churches, our neighborhoods, our book clubs, our school boards, and our offices.

As women, we need to speak up about issues like paid sick days, family-supporting wages, flexible schedules, access to affordable childcare, healthcare, and education, and countless other issues that impact us – as well as our partners and families. If we don’t take that step, things will never change.

So get out there. Make your voice heard. Shout your accomplishments out loud. Register to vote and go to the polls. Stand up for the issues you care about. Proclaim your message on social media. If you don’t, nobody will. And if you’re in Chicago, get connected with Women Employed, who has been fighting for economic opportunity for women for 40 years. We make it easy for you to make a difference. Visit to find out how.

660b_banner-large-full-color-scribbleAs someone immersed in the process of writing a graphic memoir, and a serious newbie, imagine my delight when I came upon the Ladydrawers Comics Collective. Imagine my further delight when I learned that this collective is based in my new hometown, Chicago.  I waited all of three seconds before reaching out to learn more. The result is the interview below, with three of the collective’s members who were gracious enough to answer my (myriad) questions.

Anne Elizabeth Moore is a Fulbright scholar, a UN Press Fellow, the Truthout columnist behind Ladydrawers: Gender and Comics in the US, and the author of several award-winning books including Cambodian Grrrl (Cantankerous Titles 2011),  Unmarketable (The New Press 2007), and New Girl Law. Fran Syass is a filmmaker and artist from Chicago and recently graduated The School of the Art Institute. Lindsey Smith is an undergraduate student at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and currently pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a focus in Animation and Film.

Here, they talk to me about hybridity, intersectionality, love affairs with comics, gender and racial bias in the comic-book world, their new documentary film, breaking even, and what Jane Addams has to do with it all.

Enjoy! – Deborah

ladydrawers080111_2GWP: Anne, you founded the Ladydrawers Comics Collective after a decade in the comics industry and were recently called “one of the sharpest thinkers and cultural critics bouncing around the globe today” by Razorcake. I understand the collective began in 2010 as a class you taught at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, with volunteers from outside of academia and professional cartoonists coming in to talk to the students. Three years later, what’s your vision for the collective now?

ANNE ELIZABETH MOORE: Well, the research we use began a decade ago, and I did start teaching a class in 2010, but folks didn’t really cohere as a collective until the summer of 2011.  It’s hard, as a collective member, to really have a vision for what a bunch of people will want to do for even five minutes down the line, much less six months, and our structure is pretty loose. So I’ll ask Francis to weigh in on this too. He was in that class, and is the visionary behind Comics Undressed, the documentary, so pretty heavily involved in decision-making about what we’ll be doing in the coming months. But I can tell you what we’ve committed to, besides the documentary we’re hoping to fund. In February we’ll have an exhibition in an art space in Pilsen that showcases political-themed work. And then for the next year we’ve developed a pretty amazing program for the Truthout comics I do monthly: I’ll be tracking global gendered labor issues through the production line of fast fashion and the sex trade, starting with retail workers in the US and going back through warehouses and factories—particularly in Cambodia, which I’ve written about for years. There the garment trade also raises a lot of questions about the sex industry and the really under-examined anti-human trafficking industry, which is often based on fear of sex and women’s economic power and not on facts at all. Those strips will start to appear in August, and while the first two years of the Truthout series brought in a different artist each month, these will work with an artist over a period of three months, so we can develop a better language and narrative—so it’s more evident how these things all interconnect.

Truthout’s been incredibly supportive of our work in investigative comics journalism and innovative research methodologies. We’re really excited to continue working with them.

GWP: I love Truthout, another Chicago-based gem. Next question. I’ve become intrigued with the way academic theory is increasingly, and literally, informing comics—Winnicott running through Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother? seems to be just one example. Women’s eNews described Ladydrawers’ work as “Making an art form out of researching and publishing findings that others might write or talk about.” What kinds of theories and research findings interest you most these days, and what makes comics an apt vehicle for knowledge dissemination?

ANNE ELIZABETH MOORE: Comics have always, always, always been a hybrid form as open to influence from the literary or academic worlds as from the pop cultural worlds. Their very hybridity makes them a good way to explore difficult ideas. But this project started as a way to look at and research first gender, and then racial bias in the comic-book world. We were never going to use a standard research paper format to present that work—that just doesn’t make sense. Still, ranking comics on a scale established by literature does the form an injustice. Comics are a visual medium. Literature isn’t. We can’t overlook that.

GWP: Speaking of overlooked, you’ve noted, Anne, that when you were editing Best American Comics (the annual anthology published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), there was no shortage of submissions by women, but that traditionally barriers to inclusion and visibility carry a gendered tinge. What are the continued barriers, would you say?ladydrawers081611_3

ANNE ELIZABETH MOORE: Well the first year and a half of the Truthout strips looked at the phenomenon of gender bias—and to a lesser degree, race and class bias—within comics really closely, and proved it, and provided some potential for changing it. Then more recently the last six months of Truthout strips lay out the broader cultural implications pretty clearly: there’s a historic lack of protection for women as a labor force, and a legal structure within cultural production that fails to acknowledge feminine forms or female-identified producers, which isn’t even an issue just for women, we see when we start to look at trans* identities—it’s an issue of gender policing being hidden within otherwise seemingly innocuous bodies of law like intellectual property rights. So what we end up with, which we shorthand to “misogyny” and “transphobia” when we talk about gender, and then “white supremacy” when we see the same system applied to folks with a diversity of racial identifications, isn’t actually a single, identifiable flaw within an overall system. It is endemic to the entirety of the system. The barriers are that capitalism is designed to work best for straight white men, and single-issue organizing to change it—most feminist concerns, for example—merely enfolds a new group of folks into this category of inclusion, although often for only a short time. Only an intersectional approach—that considers race and economics and physical ability and a range of gender identities—will offer possibilities for improvement, but the real, lasting barrier is getting folks who feel hurt by the system from their particular vantage point to see that.

GWP: You describe the collective as “a curiosity-driven, open-ended, exploratory body of friendly amateur researchers, concerned with who gets to say what in our culture and how they may or may not be supported in or compensated for saying it.” Any plans to collectively monetize the important work that you all do?

ANNE ELIZABETH MOORE: Interestingly, this is a project largely about, and situated within, capitalism: the “profit” to folks who work with us, while in school, are educational, and then once folks graduate, we try to make sure folks get paid or somehow compensated for their labor. But we’re also open to everyone, and part of the deal in working with us is knowing that we’ll do our best to get you something for your labor. Because comics are labor unlike any others in cultural production: it’s grueling, even compared to film, and no economy has really cohered around it for all participants. We try not to work with folks who are too ego-driven—folks who will take more than a share of the pie, whether the emotional one or the economic one—but it’s all pretty loose. Stuff happens. But the point is: establishing an economic base for underrepresented creators is important, to shift the dynamics of the industry. But to me, getting rich from doing that isn’t.

FRAN SYASS: Monetary success seems somewhat irrelevant to the Ladydrawers ethos, and I can’t find there is much profit for what we do. Though many of us are looking for our big breaks one day, this group isn’t really about that. As long as we get our research across and as long as we’re content with the work we do than, we’re just happy to break even by the end of the day.

GWP: You’re in Chicago. Erin Polgreen launched Symbolia from out here too. My partner and I are currently collaborating on a graphic memoir about the gendering of our b/g twins. Is there something about Chicago that’s conducive to innovative comics initiatives, or did I just move here at a fortuitous time?

ANNE ELIZABETH MOORE: Chicago’s been at the forefront of not just comics creation but of supporting a diversity of creators of comics for a really long time, starting with people like Jackie Ormes in the 1940s, and including folks like Dale Lavarov, Lilli Carré, Dan Clowes, and Laura Park in recent decades. Brain Frame, CAKE (Chicago Alternative Comics Expo), Trubble Club—these are some of the most innovative comics-related projects in the country right now, and what we do fits right in line with the ideas inherent in these projects: that comics can and should be parts of larger cultural movements to foster innovative dialogue. When I started the Best American Comics series, in fact, my editor sort of said, “You can move to New York now!” And I was like, I’ve already read all the Brooklyn cartoonists. This is where the real work’s at. The labor history in Chicago, in combination with the work ethic, make for really really interesting cultural production—from the social practice-based art scene to, I would argue (and will, in an upcoming essay) independent publishing in general but comics in particular. I’ve heard it echoed a lot with Ladydrawers stuff, too: we are very identified with Chicago, and I think it has as much to do with Jane Addams—who did remarkably similar research to what we do—as it does with the great comics being made here.

GWP: A number of your members are professional cartoonists, graphic artists, storytellers, zinesters, or official students of the form, but there’s also an aspiring journalist, a lingerie designer, a cashier, a fiber artist, a PhD student in rhetoric, an art professor, and a band. Many have cats. I have a cat. Can I join the collective?

FRAN SYASS: I really don’t know. I like to say you can, you already are, and you cannot, all at the same time. In my mind, it would be perfectly fine to increase the ranks of the Ladydrawers, and if you already do work similar to us or if we do work that you deeply care about why the heck not? However, there is just no official way to grant such a title to anyone, or everyone. Depending on the projects we undertake directly lead to the amount of people we need to participate in the group.

GWP: Tell us about Comics Undressed, the documentary film you’re funding through Kickstarter.  What do you hope to accomplish through the film?

LINDSEY SMITH: Comics Undressed is a documentary project that came about as an idea to formulate our findings and research into a unified piece that could easily be understood and conveyed to a larger audience outside of our ongoing comics work.  To start, Comics Undressed was sort of an idea, a project of Ladydrawers member and Director Fran Syass. When I met him he was still in the early stages of how exactly he wanted to construct the film and the best ways in which to explore the extensive research the Ladydrawers were collecting. Things really started coming together when we decided that the best way to do this was to go out into the world and hear directly from creators, readers and fans alike. What struck us most were the ways in which everyone had their own story to tell, their own love affair with comics, both good and bad. Interestingly the interviews would always end the same way, with hope for the future of comics and where it could go from here. I feel this is what we hope to accomplish overall with our film. To take a hard, long look at comics and see what is being done right and what is being done wrong and saying, “how can we make this better?”.

FRAN SYASS: I’ve always wanted to contribute more of my talents to the Ladydrawers, and most of my previous works delved less on my social, cultural, and political interests and more on my own aesthetic leanings. It seemed like the right time for the group and myself to tackle something that allowed more people to know what we were discovering about comics and popular culture. The Kickstarter we are currently running will run until the 18th of August and is our way to fund the project and hopefully break even financially in the end. The money we raise will primarily go to our equipment costs, transportation and event fees, and pay for our crew. Moreover, the financial support will help us aim for a completed film by the spring of 2014.

Editor’s note: The 18th of August is fast approaching. Help these amazing artists out by spreading this link, or considering a donation, if moved: For more info, watch the video below.

You can follow Ladydrawers via:

Twitter @TheLadydrawers


Check out the Truthout strip here.

Full-page links to comics reprinted above:

Why Have There Been No Great Women Comics Artists, Part 2

Why Have There Been No Great Women Comics Artists, Part 3


3-17-12-Trayvon-Martin_full_600Simone Ispa-Landa, Assistant Professor in the Department of Human Development & Social Policy at Northwestern University, is a new dear friend and fellow mama with a pen.  A sociologist who researches adolescence, race and ethnicity, gender, and (most recently) stigma and the effects of criminal record labeling, she teaches courses on qualitative methods. She is fiercely feminist in her intersectional approach, a passionate scholar grounded in the here and now. Below, she responds to the current conversation about what Black parents can and should tell their kids about how to stay safe. It’s not Black families that are failing in their efforts to protect their children, she reminds us. And she’s got the analysis to back it up.  Here’s Simone.  –Deborah Siegel

Three weeks after George Zimmerman’s acquittal, it’s a good time to reflect on a curious conversation that has been unfolding in its wake – one about what Black parents can and should tell their kids about how to stay safe and survive. Obviously, these are great – and unfortunately necessary – conversation for families, and especially Black families, to have.  But on a national level, I think we need a different conversation. Instead of talking about what parents can do and say to keep “at-risk” kids safe, let’s talk about how race matters for both “at-risk” and privileged kids.

Feminists working in the intersectionality framework have long noted that representations of Black women as bad mothers and Black men as absent fathers are important cogs in an ideological machine.  This is the machine that produces images of Black youth as “bad seeds” – on the way to becoming high-school dropouts, dangerous criminals, irresponsible parents, or just plain poor.

The recent events surrounding the shooting of Trayvon Martin only confirm the idea that Black youth – and especially Black males – face a world of hazard that most White people cannot even imagine.  After all, how many White parents have to worry about their teenage sons being shot and killed when they leave the house to go to the store? Or face a court system that pretends to be “race-blind” and repetitively silences the very issues of race that lie at the heart of its most troubling cases?

That said, the entirely sad and perhaps utterly predictable unfolding of the Trayvon Martin case, from the moment the 17-year old first attracted the attention of an armed neighborhood watch volunteer as “suspicious” to the defense attorneys’ devious attempts to reconfigure our image of Trayvon Martin from victim to “dangerous Black male thug” – should force the nation to rethink the spurious notion that Black families – and especially mothers – are responsible for the tragedies that disproportionately befall their children.

Black families are not failing in their efforts to protect their children.  Rather, it is the broader society – including the lingering effects of centuries of race-based exclusion, segregation, and cultural devaluation – that are making it so difficult for Black families to keep their kids safe.  In fact, it’s possible that the whole notion of “at-risk” Black youth would fade into an old-fashioned anachronism if our public institutions were half as committed to the welfare of the next generations of Black youth as their families were.

Indeed, research by people like Signthia Fordham suggests that many Black parents engage in hyper-vigilant surveillance and monitoring of their children’s whereabouts, all to guard their children against the kinds of danger that more privileged parents don’t even have to consider.  Further, while privileged suburban kids might bristle against their parents’ rules about cars, sex, homework, and drinking in bids to show off their autonomy, many Black kids in this country don’t have that luxury.

In my recent research, I examined how a sample of urban Black youth understood their parents’ rules and monitoring practices.  The participants in my sample legitimized even fairly restrictive parental restrictions as reasonable – as appropriately attuned to the hazards they faced.  The teens in my sample believed that following parents’ rules was critical for staying safe – and achieving future economic security.  In fact, the accounts of the urban Black teenagers whom I interviewed strongly diverged from accounts of more privileged American teens, who researchers like Amy Schalet, author of Not Under My Roof: Parents, Teens, and the Culture of Sex, describe as rebellious and prone to “sneaking around” behind their parents’ backs.  In my research, I theorized that the adolescents in my sample were different from more privileged (White) kids, in part because they could not afford to go off the straight and narrow. They didn’t have that freedom.

As many critical race scholars have argued, everyone in society is a racialized subject.  Part of being White means benefiting from the fact that whiteness in American society still functions as the universal, high-status, and unstated “norm,” and non-whiteness as different, low-status, and visible.   When white kids wander into their own or others’ neighborhoods, they are benefiting from the privileges that come from belonging to this “unmarked group.”  And, as Trayvon Martin’s shooting shows, belonging to a group that is marked as different, low-status, and visible can be incredibly dangerous, regardless of how well (or not) your parents prepare you for this reality.

So, instead of dissecting all the things parents of “at-risk” kids – and the kids themselves – should be doing to stay safe, let’s start a new conversation about all the ways that society can shift to make this a place where it’s easier to be a parent, and where being a kid means having the luxury (even if only occasionally) to rebel – without paying a tragic price.


Live, from the land of Betty Friedan’s homestate and the birthplace of radical feminist cells like Chicago Women’s Liberation Union and the West Side Group, it’s ChiFems!

Earlier this month, I spoke on a ChiFems panel moderated by Christine Gallagher Kearney along with my fellow Girl w/Penner Veronica Arreola, my fellow OpEd Project maven Claudia Garcia-Rojas, and fabulous feminist (and OpEd Project alum) Ashley Lauren Samsa about feminism in the Midwest, past, present, future.  ChiFems is a part-social, part-activist group that aims to bring Chicago feminists together to build relationships and work together to create change.  I adore them.

Here’s the video. Note: we didn’t all plan to wear jean jackets. Perhaps it’s a Midwestern thing?

6736150457_cfef124c1cThere’s a terrific chapter in financial journalist Helaine Olen’s new book Pound Foolish that debunks popular myths around gender and money fueling the personal finance literature aimed at women. Think women are less financially literate than men? According to research by Annamaria Luardi, a professor of economics and accountancy at George Washington University and the academic director of the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center, men and women are both woefully financially illiterate. Think women aren’t as good with money? Research suggests that being made to feel that way may be the larger problem here.

My daughter and son are only three and a half. But I’ve been thinking a great deal about how girls learn money—or rather, about how we don’t. As the recent Pew report shows, a record 40% of all households with children under the age of 18 now include mothers who are either the sole or primary source of income for the family. Our daughters are growing up in a world where they will be expected to be breadwinners, just like our sons.

But what are they learning, early on, about money, and how it works?

I sat down with Robin Patinkin, CFA, CFP®, a Principal with Cedar Hill Associates, LLC, an investment advisory firm serving high net worth individuals, families, and foundations. Over a large helping of watermelon in a Chicago apartment high up in the clouds, Robin and I discussed myths and realities around financial literacy and young girls.

Robin has over a decade of experience in investment management and financial planning with a comprehensive understanding of family interests and issues. Working intimately with clients as well as raising two sons and a daughter now in their twenties, she’s an expert in guiding individuals through financial life decisions. She’s something of a trailblazer herself, having majored in business in the 1970s (a time when few women did) and later going back to earn an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management with a concentration in finance at age 45. She became a CFA charterholder, along with her eldest son, in 2012. She’s frequently called upon as a panelist, speaks on a variety of financial issues, and acts as an expert witness in divorce cases.

Here’s how our conversation went down.

DS: You’ve raised two boys and a girl.  Did you notice any differences in the ways your children took interest in money?

RP: Yes. When each child turned ten years old, I had my first conversation with them about money and investing. I gave each an opportunity to invest in a stock they would understand at that young age as a consumer, and then we followed the stock together. There seemed to be a higher interest from the boys. That was the first signal.  Later, when they were in high school, as part of the Illinois state public school graduation requirement, they each had to either take a consumer education course or pass an exam. Academically, my children are all very similar. My sons passed the exam with very little, if any, studying.  Yet my daughter, who found the material uninteresting, asked for my help. I sat down with her and explained everything in the book page by page. She didn’t pass. We were both surprised.

DS: This story sounds like the stereotype. As a woman in the wealth management industry, how did this make you feel?

RP: A few years ago, I heard Marie Wilson speak about White House Project research that found a clear division in knowledge and acumen between boys and girls concerning financial literacy when they hit high school.  This is the very age at which my children took the exam. As you can imagine, here sits a mother who herself beat the stereotypes, was one of the few women majoring in business during the 1970s, and viewed herself as a role model who had knocked down the barriers, I thought: how can this be happening with my daughter?  I started to question what I had done wrong.

DS: What would you tell a mama like me to teach her preschoolers about dough?

RP: Now is the perfect time to start. Even Sesame Street is incorporating financial literacy in their curriculum. I would begin with the basics: put a piggy bank in the bedroom. Show them money, physically. Take them on a field trip to look at currencies of the past. Talk about bartering—use their toys—and explain how the money system developed.  Go to a coin shop. When they’re a little older, perhaps even take a trip to the US Treasury in DC. Teach the basics of saving, spending, and giving. And don’t be afraid to really talk about money. There are many wonderful children’s books that teach what money is. One of my favorites is called The Go Around Dollar, by Barbara Johnston Adams and Joyce Audy Zarins. It takes a dollar bill and dissects what every symbol on it means. It’s important to start the conversation young: “Mommy is saving this for our vacation. Mommy is spending this on food.” Play games with money. When you’re in a store, have children count the change to make sure it’s correct. Money, at a young age, can be fun.

As your children grow, add different parts of financial literacy into the conversation. It’s important for parents not only to role model, but to talk about it. So at an early age, it’s about charity, saving, spending. Children have different personalities and will exhibit varying feelings about these things. As they get older, you build in more about your personal lives: your spending, your saving habits, good debt/bad debt, things that worry you. Talk about how we work to earn money and where the money goes. Do a field trip to a bank, explain credit cards and their use, define what an asset is. When the news is on, if there’s a financial term mentioned, define it for your children right there. Use the moment, whenever and wherever you can.

DS:  In Pound Foolish Helaine Olen writes, “[T]here’s a fine line between making the [personal finance] industry more friendly to women and overtly condescending to them, and frankly, it is a line few have managed to tread successfully.” How do you think parents can be cognizant of occasional differences in attitudes between boys and girls around money, without condescending to the girls?

RP: I assumed, because I was in the business, that my children would understand equally, and there was no need to put effort into educating them differently at all.  In retrospect, I probably should have spent additional time with my daughter, who seemed less engaged, thus piquing her interest more around money and investing. I should have realized back when she was 10 that another approach was required to interest my daughter on the subject. Selecting a stock wasn’t the right fit. One size does not fit all.

I often think about what I should have done differently with my daughter, and why her financial competence was less than her brothers’. I wonder if there was some sort of emotional hook or mode of presentation that I should have employed to involve her more in the conversation and learn the lessons. I could have offered her baby steps, assignments, and tasks in a simple non-threatening way.

DS: Your daughter is currently 23. What do you do now?

RP: Marie Wilson’s presentation was a trigger for me. I am now, and have been for the past few years, making a concerted effort to get my daughter up to speed. In her early years in college, my daughter started overspending. This was not intentional by the way, but more from a lack of understanding. So I then set the stage. My husband and I were fortunate enough to be able to put money aside to support college expenses, something so many American families struggle to fund. She had a credit card, her own checking account, and was given a reasonable monthly amount to live on. We covered tuition, and she was responsible for everything else. She learned how to budget and pay bills. She caught onto the lessons of personal finance she hadn’t yet somehow received.  She’s now moving into her first apartment after college and working her first grown up job.  She’s empowered, with me in the background still coaching, but she’s as responsible now as the boys.

DS: It’s been exactly 50 years since President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law yet women still make $.77 to the male dollar, prompting a renewed look at a legacy unfulfilled. So much of the problem, of course, is structural. But do you think an additional problem is that girls and women need to “lean in” more to our own financial education, or that the financial literacy industry isn’t effectively leaning out to us? Are we doing a good enough job teaching our girls, and are the methods employed successful?

RP: I think we’re failing on both accounts. There are outliers of success, and we can’t group all girls into one category. Yet I do believe these discrepancies in financial literacy are a problem across race and class. From my personal observation and experience working with girls, women, boys, and men, I suggest there is much to do. Yes, there are improvements since my college days, when there were few women in business, but the stereotypes persist, especially in much of the personal finance literature. I strongly believe it is our duty as mothers and fathers to recognize this shortfall and focus on the issue of financial literacy for our daughters, our sisters, our mothers, and ourselves. And it’s important for women like myself, in the industry, who have the education, the understanding, and the acumen, to work with our colleagues in the industry to combat this dilemma. My ultimate goal for my daughter—as for all our daughters—is that she pursues her career dreams and ambitions while living a life of financial freedom and independence, so that should a crisis take place, she is not destroyed.


Add your thoughts to the conversation, and be sure to check out Olen’s book. Is there a financial literacy gender gap, and if so, to what extent is the problem structural in nature? To what extent can parents and teachers play a role? Got questions for Robin? Feel free to leave them in comments here.

6251499620_dab1f2b75cWe’ve made the society pages!  No, not those society pages.  These ones.

For those of you know us already, the only thing that’s different, really, is our url.  Our content will remain unchanged. For those who are meeting us for the first time, allow us to introduce ourselves—and what we’re doing here.

Girl w/Pen is a group blog dedicated to bridging feminist research and popular reality. We publicly and passionately dispels modern myths concerning gender, encouraging other feminist scholars, writers, and thinkers to do the same. We’re a collective of feminist academics, crossover writers, and writers who have left the academy to pursue other thought leadership forums and forms.

Like researchers and writers themselves, blogs grow up, evolve, and shift shapes.  Such has been the story of Girl w/Pen, which began in 2007 as a way for me to keep friends and family posted as I hit the road on book tour. The name, Girl w/Pen, came in a flash, an easy way to describe myself at the time—an academic transitioning to an identity as a writer in a different realm.

Girl quickly became girls (I know, I know, women—but it was the youthful blogosphere, right?). When I started giving workshops on translating academic ideas for trade, participants of my seminars contributed guest posts.  Some became regulars.  Other fellow travelers followed suit, coming in and out as interests and workflow allowed.  In 2009, we decided to turn GWP into a full-fledged group blog, with a full roster of columns, and the name stuck.  Though admittedly anachronistic, our name continues to speak to the writerly journey many of us have taken, are on, and aspire to, as we put our thoughts to metaphorical paper, raise our collective voices, experiment, bridge research and reality, rabble rouse, and inform.

GWP has become a true interdisciplinary forum, enriched by its range.  Our current lineup of columns includes:

Bedside Manners (Adina Nack): applying the sociological imagination to medical topics, with a special focus on sexual and reproductive health

Body Language (Alison Piepmeier): Because control of our bodies is central to feminism. (“It is very little to me to have the right to vote, to own property, etc., if I may not keep my body, and its uses, in my absolute right.” –Lucy Stone, 1855)

Body Politic (Kyla Bender-Baird and Avory Faucette): A co-authored column on queer bodies, law, and policy.

Girl Talk (Allison Kimmich): truths and fictions about girl

Mama w/Pen (Deborah Siegel): reflections on motherhood, feminist and otherwise

Nice Work (Virginia Rutter): social science in the real world

Off the Shelf (Elline Lipkin): book reviews and news

Second Look (Susan Bailey): a column on where we’ve been and where we need to go

Science Grrl (Veronica Arreola): the latest research and press on girls and women in science & engineering

Women Across Borders (Heather Hewett): A transnational perspective on women & girls

We’re delighted to be teaming up with The Society Pages, where we join an active and far-reaching multidisciplinary blogging community, supported by publishing partner W.W. Norton.  When we first started looking for a home, TSP was the first that came to mind.  Major props to Adina Nack for suggesting it, Virginia Rutter and Heather Hewett for seeing it, Lisa Wade and Letta Page for brokering it, Jon Smajda and Kyla Bender-Baird for so beautifully executing it, and Doug Hartmann and Chris Uggen for having the vision in the first place—and for welcoming us in.

Here in our new neighborhood, you’ll find long-established and esteemed blog neighbors like Sociological Images, Thick Culture, and Sexuality and Society—blogs that in many ways share our DNA.  You’ll also find here roundtables, white papers, teaching resources, and Contexts magazine. Everyone here is invested in bringing academically-informed ideas to a broad public, to speaking about society with society—just like we’ve always been.

Those of us thinking in public about the way feminist research informs our surroundings and shapes our world look forward to settling into our new digs.  As ever, we invite you to join us.  We welcome your comments and critiques, your follows (@girlwpen) and your shares.  We welcome pitches for guest posts. We’ll keep evolving, enriched by our TSP neighbors, and by you.

We’re honored to be here, and to be a part of your society. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch, and let us know what you think.

Tots in Genderland is a multimedia experiment in thinking aloud, and in community, about the gendering of earliest childhood.  I’d love it if you’d join me.

Here’s how GWP readers can get involved:

1.  Watch my TEDxWindyCity talk Born That Way?, which brings to life key research about the gendering of earliest childhood. Taking us through a personal journey peppered with blunders and epiphanies, I challenge us to move beyond pink and blue and learn something new about gender from society’s smallest experts: our kids. Please leave a comment, post on FB/Twitter, and pass the link on. (It just went live – tonight!)

2.  Take the Born That Way? quiz below and test your Gender + Tots IQ.  (The answers are in the talk.)

3.  Post a photo of a young child breaking, or upholding, gender norms on the Pinterest board Tots in Genderland. Email me to join this board and pin freely – deborah(at)deborahsiegelwrites(d0t)com

4.  Visit The Pink and Blue Diaries for random musings on gender, parenthood, writing, and life — and add random musings of your own.

5.  Suggest a site to add to the Tots in Genderland Community Well by emailing me at deborah(at)deborahsiegelwrites(dot)com

Ok, you’ve read to the bottom.  Huzzah!  Ready for the quiz? I bet you GWP readers will know the answers.  Heck, some of you even wrote the books.  Have at it:

Test Your Gender + Tots IQ

1. Children rarely have a firm sense of what “gender” they are until they are how old?
a) 1 year
b) 2 years
c) 3 years

2. This past holiday season, which country produced a toy catalog featuring a boy cradling a doll and a girl riding a race car?
a) the US
b) Sweden
c) France

3. True or false: In a study of 120 pregnant women conducted shortly after amniocentesis allowed women to learn fetal sex, those knew they were carrying females described their fetuses movements as gentle, quiet, and rolling while those carrying males described kicks, jabs, and a saga of earthquakes.

Answers: in the talk.

Oh – and I launched a new site. Everything’s moved over to here:  Thanks so much for being in this all with me, dear GWP community.  I’ll see you there!


In this town of writerly goodness, every once in a while an event rolls around that I feel I just can’t miss.  Still trying to line up a sitter, but damned if I won’t be there.  If anywhere near NYC this Monday night, I strongly encourage you to hightail it to this panel too — which features members of my awesome authors’ group, and the founder of The OpEd Project, the organization I work with. Here’s the schpiel:


New America NYC in collaboration with the Invisible Institute


Navigating the Pink Ghetto


JUNE 11, 2012 6:30 8:15PM

Topics around gender politics, family issues and women’s health are crucial mainstays of journalism, so why do issues pertaining to women get sidelined? And how can so-called “women’s topics” get an intellectually sound, politically savvy hearing in a media world that often wants a soft focus on hard issues? Hear from tough women journalists spilling red ink on pink topics, and how they manage the gender divide in serious ideas-based reporting.



Senior editor, Slate
Contributing writer, The New York Times Magazine
Author of a forthcoming book about bullying, Sticks and Stones, to be published early next spring

Author, Origins and Brilliant
Contributing writer, TIME magazine
Contributor, NPR’s


Author, The Starter Marriage and The Future of Matrimony, Pornified, and Parenting, Inc.
Features editor and children’s book editor, The New York Times Book Review


Founder and CEO, The OpEd Project

Author, Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked


See you there!