Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Lets keep dated and 'unbecoming' language out of Beacon Hill

Yesterday marked the 94th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment. Ninety-one years ago Democrat Susan Fitzgerald of Jamaica Plain and Republican Sylvia Donaldson of Brockton were the first women in history to be elected to the Massachusetts legislature. We’ve made some progress. Since 2008, Massachusetts has tripled the number of women we send to Congress (from zero to three!) and women serve around 24-percent of the seats in the Massachusetts Legislature. But still, we lag behind most of our neighboring states in New England at electing women to public office. We have to continue to look at the unique obstacles women encounter when they run for office. One of those unique obstacles? Weighted language and rhetoric that is used in the media, in debates, and out on the field that sets us back years. It is dividing statements that change the tone of debate and lead to the pervasiveness of sexism on Beacon Hill.

Just last night in a debate held by The Boston Globe we heard former State Senator and candidate for Attorney General Warren Tolman described his opponent, civil rights attorney and former leader in the Attorney General’s Office Maura Healey as “unbecoming.” Voting history, advertisements, and endorsements aside, the use of the word “unbecoming” has weighted meaning that dates back to before the elections of Susan Fitzgerald and Sylvia Donaldson. Just 12 years ago former Gov. Mitt Romney described his Democratic gubernatorial opponent and former state Treasurer Shannon O’Brien’s behavior as “unbecoming”. Yes, there are times when the word “unbecoming” is used to describe a man’s behavior, but overwhelmingly, it is a way to describe “aggressive” or “bossy” women. Maura Healey is a respected civil rights attorney, a former leader in the Attorney General’s office where she oversaw 250 lawyers and staff members, an advocate for reproductive health rights and consumer protection, a Harvard graduate, and a first-time political candidate who has enlivened voters across the Commonwealth. What she isn’t? Unbecoming.

Friday, August 22, 2014

What We've Been Reading 8/22

According to a new study outlined in a Jezebel article, gender biases continue to pervade perspectives about childcare and work life in the United States. The study, conducted by a Furman University professor, reveals that men who request a flexible work schedule are thirteen percent more likely to be approved than women who do. Furthermore, the study found that a quarter of the male employees were found to be “extremely likeable,” while only three percent of the female employees were seen as “extremely likeable.” Additionally, as a result of making a scheduling request, the female employees were more likely to be seen as “not at all” or “not very” committed. These findings clearly suggest that many people still possess gendered views, wherein it is expected for a woman to complete their second shift of childcare, and men are applauded and rewarded for taking time off for the purpose of childcare. As the article points out, it is important that employees and managers check their biases in the workplace to promote a more egalitarian environment.

An article published last week from The Guardian disclosed the results of a survey exploring motherhood and pregnancy in the workplace. Six out of ten women felt that their careers suffered as a result of their pregnancies, and half of the mothers polled responded that less maternity leave was correlated with them being taken more seriously in the workplace. From a management side, the results are just as troubling. From a group of five hundred managers, thirty three percent revealed that maternity leave and childcare situations with a female employee would result in them hiring a male employee in their twenties or thirties. Four out of ten of the managers would worry about hiring a mother for a starting position or senior role. As these findings suggest, there is much to be done in eliminating the barriers and discriminatory practices that continue to dominate the workplace.

The New York Post ran an op-ed written by Doree Lewak in which she expressed delight in being catcalled by strange men, an article that was critiqued on our blog by MWPC intern Emily Schacter. Also in response to that offensive op-ed, Zerlina Maxwell of came up with a list of the “10 Dumbest Myths About Feminism, Debunked”.  What we’ve learned from the list is that feminism, and being a feminist,  is actually OK! Feminists don’t always hate men, they can be funny, they have diverse opinions (even about what feminism means), the idea of feminism doesn’t hurt men and men can be feminists too (GASP!), and feminists can also be moms and wives. Feminists also care about other issues other than abortion, and most importantly, we are not angry. Zerlina’s list is not only funny, but it’s eye-opening, and is worth the read.

MSNBC recently came up with a “30 in 30” featurette which focuses on 30 women candidates to watch in this election cycle. Author Anna Brand notes that “women are at the forefront of many of this year’s critical and most-watched races. From candidates for governorships making waves from red-to-blue states, to game-changing senate seats up for grabs, women are making their voices heard now more than ever.” Equal pay for women, health care, campus sexual assault, and the recent Hobby Lobby decision by the Supreme Court are issues that have rallied women voters, and will most definitely bring them to the polls in November. This could very well be the year of the women, if the number of women state legislatures increases from 24% after the elections and if more women are elected into Congress as well. On Tuesday (day 12), Martha Coakley, the MWPC endorsed candidate for Governor of Massachusetts was interviewed with questions ranging from “What women in politics inspire you?” and “If elected what will be your #1 priority?” You may read the full interview here:

The Discussion About Street Harassment

There has been a recent online discussion regarding the supposed pros and cons of “catcalling”, also known as street harassment. Generally, this refers to men commenting on womens’ appearances by whistling, calling out, or using sexual gestures. Doree Lewak, a writer for the New York Post, wrote an article expressing her love for catcalling, specifically in the summertime. Her main point was that catcalling is validating, as a man is approving of and complimenting your appearance, including your body and chosen outfit. While she does not support all kinds of catcalling, her general view is that it is a positive experience. I take a great deal of issue with Lewak’s stance, as does Hilary Sargent, writer for Her article, “Lighten Up Ladies, Catcalls Are a Fun Part of Summer,” pokes fun at Lewak and explains why her view is concerning. She notes that a lot of women do not want or need that kind of validation and actually find it demeaning. She also explains that “in a world where women are still underpaid, discriminated against, and consistently victimized by sexual violence, discouraging men from yelling across a busy intersection their thoughts on the sexual attractiveness of a female passerby might actually be something worth discouraging.” Street harassment is still harassment.

In my opinion, it is not empowering for women; rather, it empowers men by making them feel like they have the right to objectify womens’ bodies without any consequences. They can say whatever they want, whether it’s on the street or form their car, using sexual language and gestures, and then go on with their day without having to think twice. For many women, though, the comment will stick with them. As Sargent points out, women face the risk of having a man follow or even sexually abuse them. Catcalls can also be triggering to women who have faced such situations in the past. These men do not know the histories of the women and cannot possibly know how a woman feels about catcalling. Many women, myself included, lose any sense of safety when I am harassed on the street. In short, men need to learn to not harass women. Catcalling cannot be disguised as anything else. It doesn’t matter what she is wearing or how “good” she looks: street harassment should never be an acceptable way to engage with a woman.

Read the full articles:

by Emily Schacter

Friday, August 15, 2014

What We've Been Reading- 8/15

             As we all know “selfies” are a big part of social media and pop culture, and many people see them as narcissistic way to get people to tell them how good they look or as a way for people to judge one another. However, in an article written by Time they examine how women are now turning selfies into a “new kind of empowerment.” For example, Teenage singer Lorde recently posted a selfie in bed with acne-cream on her face and many other celebrities are posting pictures of themselves making silly faces where they are emphasizing their own imperfections. The author, Jessica Bennett, also posted a list of nine ways that selfies are empowering women, including “Selfies Push Back Against Traditional Beauty Norms” and “Selfies Give Girls Control.” A recent survey by Dove found 63% of women believe social media, over print, film, or music, have the biggest impact on the definition of beauty. Bennett says that because teenage girls and young women use social media more than men, women  and girls now have more control over the way beauty is defined in our culture. Selfies, Bennett says “force us to see ourselves.. to celebrate what we look like- flaws and all.”

Jessica Valenti at The Guardian wrote about a subject not many women are eager to publicly talk about: feminine hygiene. Even though every woman goes through “that time of the month”, getting your period has such a stigma around it; women often don’t feel comfortable talking about their period (even saying the word out loud is awkward!). But why is this?
Valentin reports: “Gloria Steinem wrote that if men got periods, they ‘would brag about how long and how much’: that boys would talk about their menstruation as the beginning of their manhood, that there would be ‘gifts, religious ceremonies’ and sanitary supplies would be ‘federally funded and free’.”
The social stigma that menstrual periods are dirty and should not be discussed makes it difficult for women who cannot afford the necessary products, like tampons and pads, to get access to them. Food stamps do not cover tampons and pads, forcing some low income women to sell their food stamps in order to buy feminine hygiene products, which the federal government considers “luxuries”. Women in jail also find it difficult to get access to these products as well, even though there are many women in jail, who all get their periods once a month.
Furthermore, the stigma affects young women who are uneducated about feminine hygiene to get informed. Sanitation products are necessary for girls to participate in school, but when they do not have access to affordable products, they must miss school for a week, every month. The UN and Human Rights Watch have “linked menstrual hygiene to human rights”. UNICEF believes 10% of African girls miss school due to lack of access and knowledge of sanitary products. Several charities have begun initiatives to provide products in third world countries, though so long as there is this social stigma regarding menstrual periods, these initiatives will be far and few between.
Like Steinem wrote, if men had their periods, it would be a subject that no boy would feel ashamed bringing up, sanitary products would not be nearly as expensive, and every boy would educated about their menstrual period. For women, the opposite is true. We need to change the talk regarding sanitary products; why shouldn’t female sanitary products be free? Half the population needs access to them every month. The fact that they are not covered for low income people, heavily taxed, and not available to those in jail, is unnerving. Valenti sums up the situation well: “the high cost of a product that half the population needs multiple times a day, every month for approximately 30 years, is simply, well, bullshit.”

Sexist, Misogynistic Tweet by the “Progressive” Bill Maher- Emily Schacter
Short but sweet: Amanda Marcotte, writer at Slate Magazine, wrote a brief but extremely important article pointing out a sexist tweet written by supposedly progressive political commentator. The tweet, as shown below, makes fun of and belittles domestic violence.

Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 4.22.10 PM.png
First of all, comparing Hamas to a “crazy woman” is a very inappropriate simile that only makes Maher look bad. In a society where women are described as “crazy” for practically any statement or action driven by the least bit of emotion or passion, the comparison is preposterous.
Marcotte notes that “he’s also trading on the tired stereotype of women as irrational children
who need to be brought in line by more stable men.” Exactly right.

The second part of his tweet appropriates domestic violence, as he says that one “must” slap a woman if she will not cooperate or back down. Marcotte points out that “the “who’s trying to kill u” part of the tweet [is] a nice bit of ass-covering that turns domestic violence into self-defense.” He turns the situation around so that the blame is on the woman, per usual. His phrasing therefore insinuates that violence will always be the default when dealing with “crazy” women. This situation is reflective of very real domestic violence that occurs within the United States: One in
every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime; An estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year; and 85% of domestic violence victims are women (NCADV). His ignorance is truly disturbing.
Maher’s tweet is also reflective of an underlying misogynistic attitude and sexist belief system in countless men. What is surprising to me is that it’s coming from a supposedly very progressive political commentator. While he may claim to be progressive, and may even be/sound progressive in some ways, this sexist tweet shows something quite different. Even
the most “progressive” or “liberal” people will still continue to use hurtful, demeaning stereotypes to describe women, and even more seriously, joke about violence against women.
For more information:
Statistics on Domestic Violence:

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Election Aversion

In yet another article featuring the theme “Women are different”, New York Times author Derek Willis covered an experimental research study which found that women are less likely to volunteer themselves as an election candidate, asking “Does the Prospect of Running for Office Discourage Women?” After asking the same question in the words of one of the researchers, he claims that the results of the study answer the question affirmatively, yes.

Willis explicitly states that the researchers, Kristin Kanthak and Jonathan Woon, do not conclude that so called election aversion is the sole reason for the under-representation of women in elected office and or an innate characteristic of women. However, the article explores how with much more emphasis than why women are different than men in regards to political ambition. In the article, there is ample support for the conclusion that women are different than men, not that our society socializes men and women differently.

Perhaps the author is led to portray the discussion this way by the manner in which the researchers discuss the results of their study themselves. Willis quotes Kristin Kanthak several times throughout his article making statements that imply that women are inherently different than men, regardless of whether or not that is her intention, including the following:

“‘What if there is something about women that makes them not want to run for office that doesn’t have anything to do with external factors?’ Ms. Kanthak said in an interview. ‘What if we could completely level the playing field — would women be as likely to run as men?’”

This rhetorical question of whether or not women would be as likely to run as men (answered by the conclusions of her study) given a level playing field assumes that if men no longer had advantages, they would still be in power because they would put themselves there. If it doesn’t have to do with inequality or external factors, then women aren’t pursuing power because something is different about women.

“‘If women aren’t willing to ask for raises, we shouldn’t be surprised that they’re not willing to ask for votes’”

The use of the word willing when comparing asking for votes to asking for a raise, conjures up the very essence of American ideals such as free will, personal responsibility and rugged individualism. Women could make different choices, but they simply don’t.

“‘In most jobs, you have to show that you can do the job you were hired to do,’ Ms. Kanthak said. ‘The skills to win an election are really different than the skills it takes to govern.’”

Thus, women may be capable of leading, but they do not have the skills to compete in the bid for elected office.

Though Ms. Kanthak and her research partner Jonathan Woon write in no uncertain terms, “To be clear, we claim neither that such a behavioral difference is the exclusive cause of under-representation nor that it is in any way innate or intrinsic,” in their study, her statements when read without discussion of the underlying causes do imply that the reason women don’t run for office is they are, very simply put, different.

Though I think the New York Times article and her statements in it lead readers to assume that election aversion is an innate gender difference, I also believe that the researchers sincerely do not intend the results of their study to be interpreted that way. When examining the research article itself, the disclaimer stating the researchers “claim neither that such a behavioral difference is the exclusive cause of under-representation nor that it is in any way innate or intrinsic” is cited with an experimental study which also examines gender differences in competitive attitudes, but finds that there are no innate differences.

In the study cited by Kanthak and Woon, “Gender Differences in Competition: Evidence from a Matrilineal and a Patriarchal Society”, researchers Uri Gneezy, Kenneth L. Leonard, and John A. List examined gender differences in willingness to engage in competition by conducting controlled experiments in two societies which mirror each other’s gender social constructs. In the matrilineal society, where inheritance and clan membership follow the female lineage through the youngest daughter, women engaged much more readily in competition than the men of their own society and even at a higher rate than the men from the patriarchal society. Their study concludes that “In the very least, these findings represent existence results: it is not universally true that the average female in every society avoids competition more often than the average male in that society because we have discovered at least one setting in which this is not true.” They go on to discuss the roles of nature and nurture in developing competitiveness, concluding that willingness to engage in competition is sensitive to social gender role construction and is not the result of innate gender differences.

It is my assumption that if Kanthak and Woon were aware of this study and regarded it highly enough to cite it as the reference for their disclaimer, that they would probably suggest a similar explanation for the gendered differences found in their own study. So, let’s answer the question posed by the title of the New York Times article differently than if we just read the article. Does the prospect of running for office discourage women? No, it doesn’t. We do.

Why is it important to distinguish where the discouraging pressure is coming from? Why am I choosing this battle? If something different about women discourages them from running for office, if we keep talking about the choices that women make, then there is nothing we can do but wait for women to be different and make different choices. This is reflected in Kanthak and Woon’s pessimistic closing statement regarding potential reforms in electoral institutions which they envision could increase the diversity of representation; they are difficult and “unlikely to materialize”. As Gneezy, Leonard and List point out, focusing on external forces leads to a much more pro-active solution; “If the difference is based on nurture, or an interaction between nature and nurture, on the other hand, the public policy might be targeting the socialization and education at early ages as well as later in life to eliminate this asymmetric treatment of men and women with respect to competitiveness.”

Ultimately, if we focus on the underlying causes then there is something we can do. Furthermore, democracy gave us the tools to change the institutions shaping the behavior of our future young leaders of all genders. So, yes, women are different. But, there is still something we can do to increase representativeness of our electoral institutions. We don’t have to wait for change to materialize on its own. The bottom line is that we have to stop saying that the reason women have yet to achieve equal power and privilege in the United States is that they are different without talking about why. It makes it too easy to do nothing about it.
-Allysha Roth


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Remembering Dotty Lynch

Today, politically minded women mourn the loss of a trailblazer, Dotty Lynch, who passed on Monday August 11th, 2014. The first female political pollster for a presidential candidate, Ms. Lynch brought the voter gap between men and women to the attention of party leaders. Following her political consulting career, she spent many years in journalism as the leading expert on the political opinions of American women. Not only was she revered for her role in highlighting the importance of the female vote, she was widely regarded as the go-to person for mentorship, guidance and connection.  An outpouring of fond remembrances came from the political journalism community, celebrating her generosity and influence. As political women, we owe more gratitude than we can show to the woman who brought our opinions to the forefront. Read more about Dotty Lynch here: Dotty Lynch, Pollster Who Saw the Gender Gap, Is Dead at 69

Friday, August 8, 2014

What We've Been Reading 8/8

Last Friday, Salon Assistant Editor Jenny Kutner wrote an article about what women experience before having an abortion by bravely and unabashedly telling her own story. She describes finding out she was pregnant, the Planned Parenthood clinic where she confirmed it, her discussions with friends and families, and even the reasons she’s glad she’s not her home state of Texas. The state legislature passed laws requiring women to endure invasive sonograms before having an abortion, reproductive health care providers to read misleading and oftentimes medically inaccurate information on fetal development, and abortion clinics to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers effectively closing all but six clinics in the great state of Texas. She admits that while all of these laws would have made it more difficult for her to have an abortion, she still would have been able to because she is privileged, thus shining a light on the disproportionate impact of anti-choice legislation on women in poverty. She states that she is not sure whether or not this experience will make her a better activist, but this article is certainly a promising start.

Huffington Post political reporter Laura Bassett reported that Ultraviolet, a progressive women’s rights organization, is welcoming travelers to states with informative billboards exposing the states’ treatment of women. These 11 signs are posted in view of flight passengers at airports in Louisiana, Texas, North Carolina, Ohio, Nevada and Kentucky. When flying into and out of New Orleans, passengers will read that “Louisiana women are paid $.67 to every man’s dollar,” “Many Louisiana politicians opposed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act” and “More than 22% of women live in poverty” among other things. Though some airports rejected the ads for various reasons including not being able to post political advertisement on government property, the organization has taken the liberty of erecting billboards just outside of the airport, still in view.  Ultraviolet hopes that the campaign will lead people to contact their legislators about a broad array of legislative issues that disproportionately and unfairly impact women.

Screenwriter and actress Zoe Kazan was featured in The Frisky in a Q&A where she proudly proclaims that she a feminist and explains why. Her answer is too thoughtful and accurate to summarize. Kazan says:
“Yeah, I do consider myself a feminist. I was raised by a woman [screenwriter Robin Swicord, who wrote "Matilda," "Little Women" and other films] who would consider herself a feminist, so I think I was given certain values from a really young age about equality and about thinking of yourself as an equal, trying to give yourself equal opportunities. … I think it’s hard [to be a girl] when you’re young and I think it’s hard when you’re older, and it’s hard to know always what kind of woman you want to be. I was very disappointed to see the thing about Shailene Woodley saying that she’s not a feminist because I feel like she really is a feminist. I think that the [negativity associated with the] label discourages some women from calling themselves that. I think saying that you’re a feminist is a little bit like saying that you’re a humanist, because what it’s really about is equal opportunities and equal thinking about genders being only a part of your identity rather than something that would define you and define your character.”

She also discusses femininity, navigating the film world as a woman who writes and portrays female characters and stories. It is clear that Zoe Kazan puts a great deal of consideration of the impact of her work on women and the roles they play out in their own lives. 

-Allysha Roth

On August 1, Nine West released a new campaign titled “Starter Husband Hunting,” which features a variety of “husband hunting shoes.” The collection of advertisements includes a checklist for “hunting season,” suggestions for which shoes to wear when dropping off kids for their first day of kindergarten, among other occasions that are allegedly important in women’s lives. As this article astutely points out, the campaign is ill-founded on the “outdated premise that women wear shoes for men” not to mention the premise that women solely value finding husbands. Furthermore, the campaign has heteronormative implications, as women are relegated to only finding husbands. Though the female Senior Vice President of Marketing at Nine West claims the campaign is not offensive, many women are outraged, as evidenced by Twitter backlash decrying the campaign for being scarily reminiscent of advertisements from the 1950s. Of course, though it is perfectly acceptable for women to look for husbands and choose to be the homemaker in their families, it is unacceptably sexist for this campaign to restrict women to these roles while excluding other career and life choices.

This week, a Think Press article explores the frustrating reality of workplace discrimination towards pregnant women with the story of Candis Riggins, a Walmart employee. Because Candis was a maintenance worker, she often handled chemicals and was exposed to fumes, as well as lifted heavy loads. As she became further along in her pregnancy, her job became harder to do and she requested to switch to a cashier position during her pregnancy. She submitted these requests multiple times, but they were ignored. She also took some days off during her pregnancy, and while her manager explicitly told her this wasn’t an issue, it was cited as a reason for her termination in this past May, leaving her without a job and eventual eviction because of her lack of income. Riggins has teamed up with various women’s organizations to write a letter to Walmart which charges them in violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and demands financial compensation and a reinstatement of Riggins’ employee contract. This case exposes a dangerous reality for pregnant working women, and hopefully the handling of Riggins’ plight will set a new and positive precedent for women to use when battling workplace discrimination on the basis of pregnancy.

Girls Inc., a nonprofit group dedicated to serving underprivileged girls and bettering their futures, has released a public service advertising campaign, which is outlined in this article. The campaign aims to educate and inform viewers. It also strives to increase donations to further the efforts of the organization, which already has corporate support from companies like American Express and the Kellogg Foundation. The platform is built upon the slogan “fuel her fire and she will change the world,” which is similar to the organization’s overall goals of “helping girls set and achieve goals and resist peer pressure.” The campaign works to counteract the harsh reality behind the statistics the videos portray, such as that one in four girls in the United States will finish high school, or that seventy-eight percent of girls under the age of seventeen are unhappy with their bodies. These messages are welcome amidst today’s sea of oppressive, restrictive, and harmful messaging targeted towards young women in the media.

On August 4, The Huffington Post published an article exploring a new airport campaign launched by a women’s rights organization called Ultraviolet. The campaign consists of a series of signs that outline the living conditions and quality of life for women in that state. For example, in the New Orleans airport, the organization’s sign states that women in Louisiana make 67 cents for every dollar earned by a man. This six-figure campaign aims to raise awareness about the variety and multiplicity of women’s issues that are prevalent across the United States. Though some cities’ airports, such as Sarasota, FL and Charlotte, NC, have rejected proposals to have these signs inside the airports, Ultraviolet plans to place them on surrounding roads and billboards to inform the airport passengers. Though the campaign is certainly a well-needed and incredibly important one, it neglects to include statistics reflecting the intersectionality of race and gender. It is true that white women make 67 cents to every dollar a white male earns, but the statistics are drastically different when comparing men and women of color, and this difference should be acknowledged in these campaigns.

-Caroline Plapinger 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

On the Campaign Trail with District Attorney Marian Ryan

This Sunday, I had the opportunity to accompany Marian Ryan, The MWPC endorsed candidate for Middlesex District Attorney, to the Weston Democratic Town Committee’s Annual Women’s Pool Party and Lunch. It was strictly a women’s only event, with male staffers for various candidates forced to wait at the end of the driveway for the duration of the lunch! Also in attendance was the moderator for the discussion Auditor Suzanne Bump, the candidate for Treasurer Deb Goldberg, the mother of Maura Healy (there to represent her daughter), the mother of Mike Lake who is a candidate for Lieutenant Governor, and several other candidates for State Senate and State Representative. It was a great opportunity for the candidates to interact with women voters and each other over lunch.
Each candidate or their representative was granted three minutes to speak followed by two questions from the audience. Marian Ryan spoke very passionately about why she loves being District Attorney and how she has the best ideas for the future of the office. “It has been my privilege to partner with people at the worse points in their life and help them move forward,” she said. Marian Ryan also mentioned a program she launched in Middlesex county called “Cut It Out” where salon professionals are trained to look for signs of domestic abuse and learn how to help victims safely seek help. Ms.Ryan received a great reception from those in attendance, and many people picked up her campaign and bumper stickers. It was a great opportunity to attend along with many inspiring people and future leaders of Massachusetts, and it was a privilege to be Marian Ryan’s guest.

-Kira Arnott

Friday, August 1, 2014

What We've Been Reading 8/1

Buzzfeed wrote a concise article describing President Obama’s speech at a town hall meeting in Washington that hosted his administration’s Young African Leader Initiative. He spoke about older traditions in Africa and how they cannot continue to function in our modern society. A few quotes stuck out in particular that, personally, reminded me of just how important it is to have a president who is not afraid to make women empowerment a priority not only in the United States, but also internationally. Obama actively wants to change a culture that promotes violence against women in this country. His speech at this meeting pinpointed outdated and violent practices within parts of Africa and explained how these social practices need to change.
        He talked about polygamy, saying, “It was based on the idea that women had their own compound. They had their own land and so they were empowered in that area to be self-sufficient.” But these circumstances no longer apply, as he explains, and now this social practice actually disempowers and hurts women. He also vocalized his thoughts on female genital mutilation: “I think that’s a tradition that is barbaric and should be eliminated. Violence towards women. I don’t care for that tradition. I’m not interested in it. It needs to be eliminated.” While most of what he spoke about was geared towards Africa, he made some statements that apply everywhere, and especially in this country: If you’re a strong man, you should not feel threatened by strong women.” I appreciate this last comment, as many male (and some female) politicians would not feel comfortable vocalizing this simple fact. While this article does not discuss all of his comments made at the meeting, or go into great detail on the Young African Leader Initiative, it does show that our president feels it necessary to prioritize women’s rights and issues.
-Emily Schacter
Jillian Berman of Huffington Post wrote an article at the beginning of last week about the underrepresentation of women in executive positions at companies that market to women with a very telling title, “Even Companies That Sell Tampons Are Run By Men”. In addition to discussing that while these companies attract mostly women for retail and middle management, executive offices and board of directors are filled with a majority of men, who figure out what women want using market research statistics. Berman considers the factors contributing to the gender disparity and reports that some women who’ve maintained executive positions point to a lack of work-life flexibility, sexism in the workplace, nepotism and tradition. The author points out that other than just making marketing for products like tampons less strange, having more women executives increases the diversity of management styles and boosts stock market performance. However, she writes that encouraging women to be more pro-active in their careers is a tactic that will fail to increase gender diversity in senior-level management. Instead, companies have to make prioritizing gender equity part of their business model beyond recruitment, including “giving women equal access to role models, mentors and sponsors throughout their careers”. Ultimately, the responsibility for increasing the representation of women in top positions is that of company leadership and currently, companies are doing a pretty poor job of it.

Mic’s Julianne Ross turned a critical eye on the recently released summer blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy in her article 'Guardians of the Galaxy' Shows Why We Desperately Need a Female Superhero Movie”. Her problem is with the depiction Gamora, played by Zoe Saldana. Though Ross claims that the movie is great and that Gamora is a strong female character, she fails to maintain heroine status through the film, often needing the saving the male protagonist, Quill, played by Chris Pratt. Ross argues that Gamora is a supporting character for Quill for much of the movie and “ultimately is relegated to side-kick and potential-love-interest status.” Ross doesn’t dismiss the movie or the character based on this fact, but rather advocates that it’s high time that Hollywood tell a super-heroine story as nearly half of its fan-base is composed of women.

-Allysha Roth