Monday, July 27, 2015

Women in STEM: The Women of The New Horizons Mission!

On Friday, NASA released the first color close-up photo of Pluto!  In honor of this momentous occasion, and because we love space, we wanted to highlight the women involved in making this glorious human feat a reality.

Women make up approximately 25 percent of the New Horizons flyby team. The female team members were photographed at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory on July 11, 2015, just three days before the spacecraft’s closest approach to Pluto. Kneeling from left to right: Amy Shira Teitel, Cindy Conrad, Sarah Hamilton, Allisa Earle, Leslie Young, Melissa Jones, Katie Bechtold, Becca Sepan, Kelsi Singer, Amanda Zangari, Coralie Jackman, Helen Hart. Standing, from left to right: Fran Bagenal, Ann Harch, Jillian Redfern, Tiffany Finley, Heather Elliot, Nicole Martin, Yanping Guo, Cathy Olkin, Valerie Mallder, Rayna Tedford, Silvia Protopapa, Martha Kusterer, Kim Ennico, Ann Verbiscer, Bonnie Buratti, Sarah Bucior, Veronica Bray, Emma Birath, Carly Howett, Alice Bowman. Not pictured: Priya Dharmavaram, Sarah Flanigan, Debi Rose, Sheila Zurvalec, Adriana Ocampo, Jo-Anne Kierzkowsk Sheila Zurvaleci.
Credits: SwRI/JHUAPL

NASA describes The New Horizons Mission as “[a] mission [to] help us understand worlds at the edge of our solar system by making the first reconnaissance of the dwarf planet Pluto and by venturing deeper into the distant, mysterious Kuiper Belt – a relic of solar system formation.”  Fingers crossed that one day we will find a habitable planet where we can settle an intersectional feminist utopia!  I guess I won’t pack my bags just yet. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

What Makes a Strong Leader?

What Makes A Strong Leader?
The Art of Listening

“Among all the ferryman’s virtues this was one of the greatest: he understood how to listen as very few did.  Vasudeva spoke not a word himself, and yet the speaker sensed how he allowed the speaker’s words to enter him, with tranquility, openly, waiting, how he lost not one, waiting without impatience, without praise or blame, simply listening.  Siddhartha felt what a joy it is to tell everything, to sink one’s life, one’s own seeking, one’s own suffering into such a listener’s heart”—Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha

Have you ever emptied your soul to someone, and you knew that as you spoke, they were not only listening to you, but also hearing you? Did you feel lighter? Less cluttered? Empathic listening is one of the greatest and most productive skills an individual can develop in his or her lifetime, and yet it is seldom prioritized or even practiced.  In fact, during our time spent within the highly individualized meritocracy that is our formal education system, we are rarely encouraged to develop skills for the sake of benefiting others instead of ourselves.  This is a grave mistake. 

With our eyes fixed to our cellphones, tablets, and laptops, we are constantly updating profiles, Tweeting, posting pictures, etc., for no one in particular.  As we “+share” into the indeterminable void of cyberspace, in small ways, we dole out pseudo-validations—“likes”, “favorites”, “retweets”.  But as this practice becomes commonplace, the craft of listening and hearing is lost.  This not only does a disservice to ourselves and each other, but also the world.  The ability to listen and to hear one another is how bonds of friendship are formed, bridges of understanding are built, and progress is made—between people, between communities, and between nations. 

Strong leadership comes in all shapes, sizes, and personalities, but a leader cannot make meaningful progress without listening to her constituents.  An empathic listener removes the clutter—she makes your objectives clear.  She makes your concerns and ideas feel heard.  I am hardly the first to note a dearth in this type of social-emotional learning, but I hope that as more research on the benefits and importance of this skill is published, it, and similar leadership tools, are adopted more formally into school curricula.  We all have so much to learn from each other, if we could only slow down and connect. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

The 167th Anniversary of Seneca Falls

     167 years ago yesterday, a women’s rights convention, the first of its kind in American history, convened inside the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, New York. Organized by abolitionists Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, with nearly 200 women in attendance, the gathering sought to spark vital discourse surrounding “the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of women.” It was this convention that acted as one of the primary catalysts for what would be known in the United States as the first wave of women’s rights movement.
     The Convention opened with the “Declaration of Sentiments and Grievances” which functioned as a treatise fashioned after the Declaration of Independence that detailed the injustices American women faced. The declaration called upon women to band together to petition for a proper redress of such injuries. The wording of the document’s preamble paralleled its famous predecessor, reading “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.”
     On the second day of the Convention, with 40 men in attendance, including African American abolitionist Frederick Douglass, the Declaration was signed and ratified by the assembly. In addition, the assembly passed 12 resolutions, 11 of which had unanimous majority, all of which had specified certain rights to be afforded to women. The only resolution which met contention was the ninth one, which stated that “it is the duty of women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.” The notion of suffrage was incredibly controversial and even some of the most fervent of women’s rights advocates at the time had difficulty supporting such an endeavor. Despite the controversy triggered by the ninth resolution, Seneca Falls brought much needed focus to the rising suffrage movement and paved the way for the adoption of the 19th Amendment in 1920.
The Seneca Falls Convention marks one of the first times in which women were able to affect meaningful change in the political arena. Their efforts made possible the election of important women leaders, landmark Supreme Court decisions, and the passing of legislature which in aggregate have greatly improved the lives of women in the United States. In hindsight, it is incredible how far we’ve come, yet, when we look ahead, we see how far we still have left to go. We are far from achieving a Congressional parity that models the actual gender demography of the United States; women still receive less pay than their male counterparts for equal work, many states continue to encroach upon a woman’s right to choose, and a slew of other obstacles that unfortunately persist in the 21st century. While it is important to see how far we have come and remember those who before us who worked tirelessly for the rights we enjoy now, it is equally important to know how far we have left to go and to continue working to achieve that which the women in Seneca Falls had dreamed of.

Friday, July 17, 2015

What We're Reading This Week

Caitlyn Jenner's Award Speech...
Caitlyn Jenner made an emotional and heartfelt speech when she accepted the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPY’s. The ceremony was held July 15 at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. In her speech, she made a plea for “accepting people for who they are.” She also described the adversities and struggles of her transition, and asserted that trans people deserve our respect. Jenner’s children were at the ceremony to support her.  Caitlyn Jenner proclaimed trans people have come a long way, but there is still more work to be done. Her speech acknowledged the fact that the award is not about just one person; it is about the younger generation of trans people struggling to show the world their true selves.

Twitter Town Hall #flipthescript...
As we are sure many of you know, especially if you have been checking out our hashtag recommendations, twitter is a great tool for spreading ideas. The use of hashtags allows anyone to share ideas an open a dialogue. This week there was a twitter town hall on gender bias in media coverage of political campaigns. Using #flipthescript people across the country and organizations devoted to supporting elected women officials participated in a large scale Q&A session.
A highlight from the conversation was an example one woman gave of sexism in the media with this article, which tells the story of a news reporter who used the same suite for a year without anyone noticing…
If you’d like to read more, we recommend checking out #flipthescript and…
If you are looking for some new people to follow on twitter here are some recommendations:


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Wal-Mart sued in a same-sex discrimination lawsuit

Jacqueline Cote tried to enroll her spouse in Wal-Mart’s corporate health plan, but was rejected because her spouse is a female. Jacqueline and her wife Diana Smithson married in 2004 after Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage. Three years later, Smithson quit her job to take care of her ill mother. The following year, Cote tried to enroll Smithson on her healthcare plan, but was unsuccessful. Smithson was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012, and Cote was still unable to enroll her.
In 2014, Wal-Mart finally changed its medical policy to extend health benefits to same-sex couples, but by this time Smithson’s medical costs had reached over $150,000.  Neither Cote nor Smithson has the money to pay for these bills.
Cote and Smithson filed their suit in the US District Court in Boston. Prior to the lawsuit, Cote had filed a formal complaint against Wal-Mart with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC determined that the company’s refusal to cover Smithson “constituted discrimination.” The efforts to resolve the case out of court were unsuccessful.
Although the US Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in June, gay and lesbian couples still face discrimination in the workplace.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Pop Culture: Guilty Pleasure Or Metric of Social Change?

Pop Culture: Guilty Pleasure Or Metric of Social Change?

Do you watch Keeping up with the Kardashians?  One of the perks of formally studying sociology is that an indulgence in pop culture is not only forgiven, it is also encouraged. 
In sociological circles, the amorphous collection of tastes and preferences of a group of people that is culture inspires endless debate over why we like what we like.  Given such a prompt, the mind flies in innumerable directions.  I can feel Pierre Bourdieu climbing out of his grave to come take my computer away from me.  The ghost of Karl Marx is standing behind me rolling his eyes and saying, “Just don’t even go there.”
Okay.  Fine, Karl! 
But I would like to talk about the importance of popular culture to activism.  While the processes of production of pop culture warrant our scrutiny and skepticism, pop culture as its own strange, unpolished amalgamation strikes me as something truly democratic.  It is the voice of the people!  With our language, our food, our clothing, our purchases, we vote for the culture we want—we vote for the world we want.  That is why it is always exciting when trends in pop culture reflect progressive social changes that are philosophically consistent with intersectional feminism. 
One surprising example of such a reflection recently debuted in theaters across America: Magic Mike XXL.  This film is a light and playful story about the journey of male entertainers as they discover the intrinsic rewards of loving every women for exactly who she is, what she needs, and what she desires.  Another example, in theaters right now, is Mad Max: Fury Road—a feminist masterpiece.  It is worth noting that both of these films were made by men, and while they have done us proud, we still need women telling women’s stories in the mainstream media.  And those stories need to be taken just as seriously. 
Further worth noting is that it is not always so simple.  Pop culture is not always a forum conducive to having the complicated conversations that are necessary to deconstruct the patriarchal-capitalist agenda, as we have seen with conflicts such as this.  Still, the image of one of the most famous women on the planet standing in front of the word “feminist” while millions watch her take superstardom to another level is a big moment for girls everywhere.  In sum, pop culture, while often ludicrous, is in fact something that deserves our attention because the visibility of these issues is key to engaging the nation in a dialogue and what we consume matters. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Renee Powell Achieves Success in Golf

Renee Powell was recently given an invitation to become one of the first seven female members of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in St. Andrews. Powell, 69, is an African American pro golfer. During her career on the L.P.G.A. Tour from 1967-1980, Powell received many discriminating letters and signed death threats. Her correspondence with the Royal and Ancient Golf Club prove that her mailbox is no longer a source of prejudice.
Throughout her career, Powell faced a great deal of discrimination on the road. Many times during the L.P.G.A. Tour, she was denied a room at a hotel, a seat at a restaurant, and excluded from pro-am because of the color of her skin. Since the L.P.G.A. was founded in 1950, six African-Americans have played on the tour. Now, Powell can proudly say she belongs to the most exclusive private golf club in the world.
Powell has competed in over 250 professional golf events and won one in Brisbane, Australia. Her best finish on the L.P.G.A. Tour was a tie for fourth at the 1972 Lady Errol Classic. Powell has often wondered how much better she might have played if she had not encountered so much prejudice and discrimination.
During the summer, Powell is teaching classes exclusively for women. There are classes for women who are beginners, adults with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and female military veterans. In Powell’s group lessons, female veterans can learn a new game and make new friends with women with whom they share similar experiences, that few can understand.

To learn more:

Friday, July 10, 2015

What we’re Reading…

Summer is in full swing and it’s a busy time for everyone! As you head off to the beach, amusement park, or a BBQ here are a few things you need to know from the headlines this week.

The Confederate Flag Came Down in South Carolina:
Today, July 10th, after a long and emotional debate the South Carolina state government has decided to remove the Confederate flag from capitol grounds. Post-removal, the flag will be placed in a nearby museum. The debate has been taken up by the federal government in response to a recent amendment to a funding bill. The amendment, which would ban the flag from the grounds of National Parks, has been opposed by conservative Republican leaders who have pulled support from the bill.

The US Women’s Team is the First Women’s Team Honored in NYC:
The US could not have gotten a better birthday gift – during the 4th of July weekend the US Women’s Soccer Team won the FIFA finals. The game broke records as the most watched soccer game in the United States. Its audience was larger than the most recent NBA finals, and last year’s World Series. Despite the notoriety of the game, the women were paid substantially less than their male counterparts.  The inequality of pay between the women’s and men’s team has been taken up by many activists although nothing has come of demands to resolve the disparity.  On the flip side of the sexism faced by the US team, they became the first women’s team to be given a parade in NYC today!

What To Do About Trump?:
Whether you love him or hate him, Trump is making news. Trump has been receiving heat for racist comments made about Mexicans and Mexican Americans earlier this month. In response GOP leaders have actively sought out ways to tone down and/or remove Trump from the election. The leader of the RNC scolded Trump in a call asking him to “tone it down” (although Trump remembers this differently, see below) and FOX news has changed their debate requirements. Even in the face of GOP disapproval Trump has managed to come up top in some polls.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Get a Kick Out of This…

The FIFA Women’s World Cup Final was the most watched soccer game in the United States to date.  Across the world, an estimated 25.4 million viewers tuned in to watch Japan and the US battle for gold. The game’s audience exceeded last year’s World Series and the most recent NBA finals. However, while we are proud of what the US women’s team has achieved, there is a larger conversation much of mainstream media has ignored in the post-victory excitement. That conversation is equal pay.

The US Women’s team has been awarded $6 million less than the US Men’s team, who couldn’t even make it past the first round in last year’s World cup.  The winning prize, $2 million, is four times less than the award for men’s teams who lost in last year’s first round, $8 million.  The gap only grows when comparing the total payouts between each tournament, $15 million for the Women’s World Cup v. $576 million for the Men’s World Cup (roughly 38 times greater).

FIFA has yet to respond to requests from activists to resolve the discrepancy. Last year, however, the secretary general described the idea of pay equality within FIFA tournaments as “nonsense”.

For more on this story check out the digital campaign started by the women’s rights advocacy group Ultraviolet …

If you’d like to get involved in the fight for pay equality here at home check out the Massachusetts Equal Pay Coalition. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Most American Weekend Ever?!

      In a 5-2 victory over Japan, the United States Women’s National Soccer Team won the World Cup finals in what was America’s 3rd title thus so far in the FIFA Women’s World Cup this 4th of July weekend. Their performance in Vancouver was absolutely stunning from start to finish; but much credit is due to midfielder Carli Lloyd who managed a remarkable 3 goals in just 16 minutes and pulled off yet another just before halftime. Team Captain Abby Wambach beamed that it was Lloyd who “won us [Team USA] this World Cup.”
There is no question that soccer is by far the most popular sport in the world; the Men’s World Cup draws in captivated fans from farthest stretches of the globe. The FIFA enterprise and its influence knows very few, if any cultural, linguistic, or national boundaries. Players like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are often spoken of with language of a purely religious register. Much of soccer’s popularity stems from the fact that it is not a game which demands expensive and complex practice regimen; any child, living in virtually any socioeconomic circumstance can just pick up a ball, head off to an empty space, and learn to play. Some of the best players in the world (who also happen to be some of the wealthiest men in the world) learned how to play soccer while living in abject poverty. While the United States has not found itself as enchanted by soccer as the rest of the international community (rendering it an outlier in this regard), soccer has increasingly become more popular amongst younger generations of Americans in recent years.
      Despite all of this, it seems as though the fanfare is far less pronounced when women take the field. While women players are some of the most athletic people in the world and their games can be just as nerve-wracking and spectacular, the fanbase of the women teams has not picked up the same traction as male counterparts. Many, including Maggie Mertens, a writer for the Atlantic have posed the question as to why sports are not seriously considered a feminist issue. Since the passage of Title IX, little has been done to radically alter the playing field so to speak when it comes to women in sports. Mertens elaborates stating that many within the women’s movement feared that female athletes were, in a way, antagonistic towards feminism and viewed sports at large as a realm in which men displayed extreme forms of masculinity. Feminist publications like Jezebel seem to fall short in adequately covering women athletics and the feminist issues that arise from it (such as the 3:1 pay disparity in male and female soccer play salaries), and it is apparent that sports media isn’t doing their part either considering:
“ 2014, ESPN’s SportsCenter dedicated 2 percent of its on-air time to covering women’s sports, according to a study published this week in the journal Communication & Sport. The study found that three local Los Angeles news networks did slightly better, devoting 3.2 percent of their sports coverage to women athletes.”
     Soccer is considered inherently meritocratic but the media heavily shapes how we perceive the nature of certain sports through the employment of certain camera angles, preliminary commentary, and general representation. Women’s teams have historically been denied the same media coverage as their male counterparts which makes it appear as though women’s teams are in some way inferior, that their games are slower, and that their plays are less interesting - however, this clearly isn’t the case once the World Cup comes around and we see the true athleticism of women whose names the world apparently couldn’t bother to remember.

Bridging the Gap: Women in STEM

     With only 15% of the Computer Science bachelor’s degrees conferred in the United States going to women, both the information technology industry and the realm higher education are under serious pressure to recruit more women to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) majors and tech related career paths.
     Some schools have had some impressive success; most notably the University of Washington, whose Computer Science program is 30% women. While far from equal and an accomplishment described as “not great” by Washington’s Computer Science and Engineering Chair Ed Lazowska, this statistic is still twice the national average. This seems to raise two important questions; first, what is it that UW is doing right, and second, what more can be done to bridge the gap nationwide?
     The University of Washington initially cites exposure as a primary catalyst in motivating women to pursue STEM disciplines in college. By introducing young girls to information technology and programming  in elementary and middle school through “workshops and field trips,” public universities (whose students tend to hail from local public high schools) can anticipate a cohort of women with an already piqued interest in the field. However, while this effective, it is far from the only answer as many women are denied early exposure but nevertheless have the potential to excel in Computer Science.
     The University decided to take matters into their own hands and revamp their own program by “universalizing,” so to speak, the program’s introductory prerequisite courses as a means of indicating that Computer Science is fundamentally meritocratic and requires hard work and discipline, rather than innate talent. By fostering close relationships with faculty members in small classroom settings, CompSci loses its reputation as an isolated and lonely field and encourages teamwork and community -- something which is particularly important for women who often feel ostracized by their minority status. While these initiatives have been effective, they aren’t without their faults. Many women have found themselves put off by programs meant specifically to recruit women as they fear they will be labelled “female computer scientists” rather than merely computer scientists.
     Schools like the University of Washington and Indiana University are making impressive gains in reducing the disparity women in STEM face; and while these schools forge ahead towards parity, it is quite clear that there is still a long way to go.

Are Beauty Pageants necessary?

     On June 16th, 2015 billionaire businessman Donald Trump announced his intentions to run for President. While he is among a number of Republican candidates vying for the White House, remarks made during his announcement regarding immigration as well as the Mexican and Mexican-American community has sparked outrage for being outright discriminatory, bigoted, and inflammatory. The fear mongering comes from claims Trump has made that suggest all Mexicans who illegally cross the border are “rapists” and “drug dealers,” only later elaborating on this point a few days later following media backlash by stating that such criminal activities are not unique to Mexicans but rather all people who enter the United States undocumented from the southern border, whether the be Mexican, Central American, or South American.
     In response, Univision, the Spanish language American broadcasting giant, broke a contract with Trump and refused to air the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants, pageants which are facilitated by Trump enterprise The Miss Universe Organization. NBCUniversal, the other owner of The Miss Universe Organization later sided with Univision in their own refusal to broadcast the program on their own networks. While the decision to cut ties with Donald Trump stems from the insensitive comments he has made about Mexican immigrants, any talk of beauty pageants brings into focus a different conversation, one which begs the question as to whether or not beauty pageants are even a necessary component of a supposedly modern culture and that if events like Miss USA and Miss Universe are inherently at odds with the values of a 21st century America.
     While various beauty pageants over the years have tried to emphasize their focus on scholarship and intangible non-physical qualities like congeniality, intelligence, and generosity, there is something intrinsic within these pageants that passively displays women’s bodies for judgment on their appropriateness and acceptability. Pageant culture has run rampant in the United States, especially in the past few decades, where women will begin preparing for such events as Miss USA from infancy a la Toddlers and Tiaras. To watch grown women paraded on stage dressed in identical bikinis awaiting judgment from predominantly male judges seems almost too archaic to be congruent to what it is we’re used to in the media. While women experience objectification and commodification on many levels and in many avenues, there is something so blatant and overt about pageants which creates a sort of dissonance that is difficult to reconcile. If we aspire to become a more feminist society, we must abandon the notion that women’s bodies are public spaces in which we can project our criticisms and judgments.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Sexual Health Lobby Day

On Tuesday, June 30th, we had the great pleasure of stopping in on the Sexual Health Lobby Day at the State House.  Hosted by the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts, a federation of 33 organizations and hundreds of volunteers from across our great state rallied for the cause. 

I had the pleasure of interviewing attendee MWPC intern Kelsey Barowich.

What was your favorite part of the Sexual Health Lobby Day?
“Hearing Maura Healey speak.  She is amazing.  We actually go to hear her speak earlier that same morning at our Commonwealth Commentary series, where she spoke about her experience campaigning and as the People’s Lawyer.  It’s always a pleasure—she’s very sincere.  I also really enjoyed seeing the number of young people being civically engaged.”
Why does sexual health matter to you?
“Because it impacts me.  And it impacts the people I care about.  There isn’t a single person on the planet in a position to neglect sexual health.”
Why should sexual health be a priority for our legislators?
“It has a direct impact on all of the communities I’ve been a part of. Sexual health is a major part of community health, and we can’t ignore the subject in fear of the uncomfortable or awkward conversations that might arise. Education is key—with education comes understanding, and understanding brings progress.”

Thanks, Kelsey!

For more information, we encourage you to visit these websites:
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Thursday, July 2, 2015

Taking a Bite Out of Inequality

As the summer gets into full swing, children across the U.S. have begun the time honored tradition of attending summer camps. One particular organization, however, is making headlines – and it’s not for the reason you might think.
Most everyone in the U.S. knows of the Girl Scouts. They’re hard to ignore, especially when they sell those scrumptious cookies.  But their cookies aren’t what’s getting the attention of national news sources. Earlier this year the Girl Scouts of Western Washington were ecstatic to receive a large donation of $100,000. However, they later learned that the donation was not given without stipulations. The donor, who has yet to be named, wanted the promise: no money would go to support transgender girls.  
In response to the request Megan Ferland, the council CEO, stated: “Girl Scouts is for every girl, and every girl should have the opportunity to be a Girl Scout if she wants to." The donation was then returned, in full, to the donor.
Since then, the story has been published on multiple news websites. Furthermore, many articles attached the link to their indiegogo campaign to recuperate the lost funds. As of today, July second, they have raised three times the amount of the original donation.

For more information check out the twitter hashtag:

Good News for Hillary

Hillary Clinton has currently raised more than $45 million for her primary campaign. According to a campaign spokeswoman speaking on behalf of the Federal Election Commission filings, ninety-one percent of the donations to Hillary for America were given in increments of $100 or less. This is important news for the campaign because it shows that Mrs. Clinton campaign has excited small-dollar donors. These small-money donors are outside her traditional concentration of big money donors from Manhattan and California.
Mrs. Clinton has been on a jam-packed fund-raising schedule across the country. Her aim is to explain her agenda at higher-dollar fund-raisers and entice donations from her wealthy donors.
The campaign’s “Hillstarters” program is raising a lot of funds from Hillary’s wealthy supporters. It has raised $27,000 from friends who were asked to give a maximum donation of $2,700.
Hillary has raised far more money than she did last time she ran in a Democratic primary. Her fund-raising efforts will not go in vain. It is projected that she will raise more funds than her Democratic and Republican rivals. Unlike 2007, her competition among the Democratic candidates for campaign funding is not substantial.