Thursday, October 30, 2014

Honoring Mayor Menino

We were deeply saddened to learn today that Boston lost a tremendous leader and advocate with the death of former mayor Thomas Menino.

Throughout his five terms serving the city of Boston, Mayor Thomas Menino never stopped working for the advancement of the women both within City Hall and in the broader Boston community. 

Mayor Menino appointed the first women as his chief of staff and campaign manager. As cited by The Boston Globe, he appointed the city’s first woman police commissioner, first woman corporation counsel, and first woman director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

He was a strong supporter of the Boston Women’s Commission, which is tasked with addressing pressing issues affecting women and girls in Boston, and advancing programs and opportunities for all of Boston’s women and girls. Mayor Menino truly dedicated himself to ensuring that women and their families have access to the resources and tools they need to prosper. 

The Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus honored this work in 2012, naming him a Good Guy recipient for his work to promote women’s equality in Boston.

“We are thrilled to honor Mayor Menino as one of this year's Good Guys,” said former MWPC Executive Director Priti Rao. “He has worked tirelessly to remove barriers for women of all ages within the city of Boston and is working to create a new generation of leaders. He truly deserves to be called a 'Good Guy'.”

In Mayor Menino we found a tireless advocate on behalf of women and families. The Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus community will miss him dearly. Our thoughts are with the Menino family and team.

Monday, October 27, 2014

What We've Been Reading - 10/27

 "Are Women Better Decision Makers?"
This opinion piece in the New York Times explores the findings of neuroscientists who study decision-making abilities in men and women. Though men and women make decisions similarly under manageable circumstances, when stress levels increase, women took less risks than men and looked instead for “smaller, surer successes.” Companies that have at least one woman on their boards also do much better than companies who only have males. More importantly, women have an easier time empathizing with their adversaries than men in stressful situations, which might mean that if we want to see the end of political deadlocks in Congress, it would be in everyone’s best interest to put more women in office.  

"Please Put That Can of Soup Down and Put Your Bra Back On"
Breast cancer survivor Leisha Davison-Yasol challenges some of the practices that have come out of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in her article in the Huffington Post. She begins the article by suggesting that perhaps it isn't the best idea to support women with breast cancer with "National No Bra Day," a day she says only reminds her of what she's lost in her battle against cancer. She goes on to talk about how America has commercialized breast cancer and it's has "gotten out of hand." During this month in particular, many companies sell products with pink ribbons on them or special pink labels. However, this article points out that most of these companies don't actually donate any money towards breast cancer, and their pink product labels are used for marketing. None of this means that this month isn't doing great things. Awareness really has increased and there is no longer a taboo around breast cancer. If we want to do more though, we should make sure we buy from companies who really are donating to the cause or we should check out her list of recommended organizations to donate to. 

"Where Are all the older women in news and current affairs?"
Dorothy Byrne, head of news and current affairs at Channel 4 (the UK), started to realize that the number of women in news and currentaffairs has dramatically decreased. She says there were lots of other women when she started out in television. She also points out how it seems that both men and women start in step but then the disparity is increasing and the gap between them is widening as they approach retirement age. To buttress her argument, she mentions Women in Journalism where she herself conducted a piece of research “that found how much men dominated the front pages as well as expert opinion.” Also, according to her article, women make up 47.5% of the entire news and current affairs division and fill 37.3% of leadership positions in network news. Moreover, numerous studies showed that when news and current affairs producers seek to get an expert to speak they are far more inclined to find a man to do so (men made 84% of all those quotes as experts).

It is important that women continue to be present in news and current affairs if we are to have a sincere and full reflection of our society. Training programs such as Expert Women that was set up in response to the lack of women is beneficial but not enough. Maybe it is time for Ofcom, the independent and competition authority for the UK communications industries, to become involve and to help states other than UK to overcome impediments such as lack of women in news and current affairs. It is not only the UK; the problem is, unfortunately, universal.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Significance of This Year's Nobel Peace Prize

            The world is buzzing about 17-year-old Malala Yousafzai, the youngest person to win a Nobel Prize of any kind. Having grown up in Pakistan under Taliban occupation, Malala is no stranger to hardship, but she definitely doesn’t want to get used to it. In 2008 she started speaking out about girls’ education in Pakistan. Since then, she has gained fame around the world for her advocacy for peace, women’s rights, and universal education. In October 2012, the Taliban tried to assassinate her. Yet, she didn’t even let a gunshot wound to the head stop her and she has continued her advocacy since her recovery. Just this week, the Nobel committee gave her the highest form of recognition: a Nobel Peace Prize. She is not the sole recipient of the prize—she is sharing it with Kailash Satyarthi, a 60-year-old man from India who is fighting to end child labor.

            Malala’s message has evolved over the years. She eloquently ties together the call for girls’ education to wider ideals of human rights and peace as she tears down stereotypes of her culture and religion. In her speeches, she talks about how the Taliban use the name of Islam to gain power and wealth, when in fact the religion is based on peace and equality. This is part of the reason why girls need to be educated. Giving girls the power of pen and paper gives them the power to fight tyranny and advocate for what is right. The reason why the Taliban is preventing girls’ education isn’t because of religion or culture, but because they are afraid of what will happen when girls can start speaking out. Their fear is justified. Malala is fortunate to have been educated by her father and she has used the power of writing and speech to make her voice heard. We can only imagine what can happen when every girl can speak as loudly as she can.

            The Nobel committee made a wise choice when they chose Malala for the prize. She links women’s rights to human rights so strongly that no one can doubt the need to achieve gender equality. Yet they send another message by pairing Malala with Kailash Satyarthi. The contrast in their age and gender shows that anyone can fight for equal rights. Furthermore, it is also no mistake that they selected someone from Pakistan and someone from India.  The two countries have been in conflict since their bloody partition in 1947. Already the two recipients are showing how the fight for peace transcends conflict and differences.

The Nobel committee is serious about peace and equality, and their decision to award these two individuals the Nobel Peace Prize is bringing us one step closer. Hopefully this prize helps both recipients gain support so they can continue their fight for human rights and equality.
-Gia Rowley

Friday, October 10, 2014

What We've Been Reading- 10/10

WBUR Analysis: Issues Keeping Governor’s Race Close
The latest WBZ/UMass-Amherst Poll has the Governor’s race tightening. In this piece of analysis from WBUR’s Steve Koczela, breakdowns on key issues are examined. As Coakley’s lead from before the Sept 9 primary is weakening, she is maintaining a lead when it comes to who voters trust to handle health care and education, while Baker has pulled ahead on the economy and taxes.

WBUR: Shaheen, Brown Court Women’s Vote In New Hampshire U.S. Senate Race
This article explores the focus on the women’s vote in the New Hampshire Senate race between former Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and incumbent New Hampshire U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. Brown is attempting to upset this lead by what the article cites as “women’s disenchantment with President Obama’s foreign policy.” However, as the article explains, Shaheen still leads with women. Women are for Shaheen by more than 10 points and the article cites one poll from last week that had her up by more than 20 points among women.

Politico: House Homestretch: 5 Key Dynamics
This piece from Politico explores what they identify as five key themes to understand about the midterm House races as we head into the final few weeks.  First, they explain that Republicans are on offense in many races. Second, star power has been lost for several Democratic candidates. Third, this may be a better year than expected for incumbents. Fourth, the ACA and President Obama aren’t the only focus in these campaigns, but a wider range of issues. By this Thursday the National Republican Congressional Committee had aired 77 TV commercials and 39 of them did not mention the ACA or President Obama. And finally, a theme that rings true every cycle, it’s all about expectations.

On October 2, a panel on “femvertising” was held at AdWeek 2014. Nina Bahadur of the Huffington Post writes about the rise of “femvertising,” defined by Samantha Skey, Chief Revenue Officer of SheKnows, as the use of empowering female images and messages in advertisements. Some examples of femvertising she cites are Always’ #LikeAGirl campaign, which seeks to break down harmful stereotypes about the athleticism and capability of girls, and Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches, which focuses on body positivity, although other ads with similar messages exist, such as Pantene Philippines’ #ShineStrong campaign, having garnered over 48 million YouTube views. Bahadur claims that feminist messages in advertising might be making an impact on not only how women view themselves, but also about how they view the company disseminating the advertisement. Some companies use the proceeds from their campaigns to support female-empowering organizations, like LeanIn, Girl Scouts, and Girls Inc. However, the trend of femvertising does not hold unanimously positive consequences, as some companies produce femvertisements without earnestly supporting the cause they claim to. Nonetheless, Bahadur argues that “femvertising is here to stay.”

Women’s Empowerment Conferences 
On a similar note, conferences on women’s empowerment have seen an increase in number, write Christine Haughney and Leslie Kaufman. In fact, they may have as much as tripled in the two years alone, with some media companies like The Atlantic, Cosmopolitan, National Journal, and More magazine adding events centered around women’s empowerment and achievement in the workplace. While Haughney and Kaufman include evidence that the number of high-ranking women in business has increased, they also point to the fact that media publications are facing reduced newsstand and advertising sales and consequently hold these ticketed conferences in order to supplement their revenue. With the price of admission to Fortune’s conference at $8,500, this practice raises questions of the intersection of class and gender, although the number of attendees remains nonetheless high, perhaps suggesting, according Debora Spar, President of Barnard College, that we might be in the midst of the third wave of feminism.

Yazidi Village Kidnappings 
In early August, 5 women were abducted from their Yazidi village of Kocho, in the Sinjar Mountains of Iraq and taken to the city of Mosul, nearly 100 miles away. They were 5 out of a group of 65 elderly women and 165 unmarried women abducted by the terrorist group, the Islamic State (IS). Yazidi is a faith with pre-Christian roots, primarily practiced in Iraq (though there has been significant immigration to Germany) that IS targets because they consider it too complicated and deviant from “straightforward” Islam. As a result, up to 400,000 Yazidi people have been driven out of their homes into Northern Iraq, and more than 5,000 women have been abducted. The 5 women interviewed for this article report that, in Mosul, a marketplace had been set up in the city center to sell women, with Christian women priced higher than Yazidi women. Some of the women abducted were raped immediately. Of the 5,000, only 43 have returned.

Women in Law
Two women have recently gained top positions at major US law firms. Litigator Jami Wintz McKeon became the first female chair at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP and white-collar litigator Therese Pritchard became the first female chair at Bryan Cave LLP. Given that women account for only ⅓ of lawyers and judges in the country, and only 17% of equity partners at major law firms, the legal profession remains stolidly a boys’ club. Moreover, the number of women who head major law firms is fewer than ten, and only 4% of law firms have women as managing partners, down from 8% in 2008. In light of these statistics, the appointment of litigators Wintz McKeon and Pritchard are all the more significant; they represent the hopes that, in the face of adversity, women can aspire to and can achieve top positions in, not only in law, but also business, academia, etc. Diversity without diminishment of meritocracy is possible, as McKeon says, and the visibility of women in leadership positions is crucial to the empowerment and equality of the sexes.

Steve Harvey Launches Dating Site
Jeff Bercovici of writes that Steve Harvey has launched a “female-friendly” dating site called Delightful, which will promote longer-term relationships. “Women are wired differently,” Harvey says. “Women don’t really want to just date. They want to date with the hope that it leads to a relationship.”While men don’t mind dating several women at once and “playing the field,” he continues, “A lot of women have that biological clock that ticks in them.” Delightful will cater primarily to women, but also to men with a “womanly interest” in settling down.  The site will provide tips on “how to be more dateable” for women and “how to properly treat a lady” for men. Though Harvey seems to truly believe he is doing something positive for women, these characterizations of men and women are extraordinarily outdated and offensive. The idea that all women want or need the help of Steve Harvey to find a good man before their “biological clock” runs out is also absurd.

Misogyny and Social Media
A little lengthy but worth the read, the Atlantic’s Catherine Buni and Soraya Chemaly wrote a shocking piece on misogyny and social media.  Once largely hidden from view, violence and brutality against women is being exposed on websites like Facebook and Twitter. A report from the research and policy organization Demos found 6 million instances of the word “slut” or whore” on Twitter between 12/26/13 and 2/9/14, and an estimated 20 percent of those tweets appeared to be threatening. These verbal attacks on women, as well as photos and videos of rape and assault, have sparked an important discussion on free speech and misogyny, but the issue persists.

Emma Watson? Jennifer Lawrence? These Aren't The Feminists You're Looking For

This opinion piece by Roxane Gay in The Guardian explores the problem with celebrity feminism. Gay argues that feminism is only accepted when presented in the "right package," referring to celebrities. It is unfortunate that women and men only understand and accept the ideals of feminism when presented by famous figures such as Beyonce and Emma Watson. If this ideal persists, feminism will seem nothing more than a "seductive marketing campaign."