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Claressa Shields is Another Olympian Breaking Boundaries for Women and Girls

Fri, 08/19/2016 - 03:09

Claressa Shields hasn’t gained the national attention of Olympians like Simone Biles, Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky—despite having won a historic victory in her sport. It isn’t that Shields isn’t as accomplished as her peers, however. It’s that sexism works against her not only as a female athlete, but as one participating in a “masculine” sport.

via Pop Tech and licensed through Creative Commons

Shields is the first-ever gold medalist in Women’s Boxing—because the 2012 Olympics in London were the first games to allow women to compete in the sport. It was the last male-only sport in the Olympics.

But after making history and winning gold, Shields did not receive endorsements or advertising deals. In fact, her name barely made the news. After the games, she returned to her hometown of Flint Michigan, where she helps support her family on a stipend of $1,000 a month she earns for being a member of the US national boxing team.

When asked why she thinks her historic championship didn’t make more of a splash, Shields’ response is heartbreaking:

“I don’t know why it didn’t happen. I take it as I wasn’t ready for it, I guess. I wasn’t the ideal woman. I wasn’t the pretty girl who wears her hair straight. I don’t know. I guess I wasn’t what they were looking for.”

Here is an American athlete who made history in her sport during the 2012 Olympics. Her bravery and dedication should be applauded. But because of the systemic sexism that skews how we treat women athletes who excel in their sports, Shields was made to feel that, despite the gold medal around her neck, she still isn’t “the ideal woman.”

Society needs to adjust its unrealistic sexist and racist beauty standards, because the problem is not that Shields isn’t pretty enough to be an “ideal woman.” The problem is that women are praised for looking pretty but not for having the strength, endurance, and sheer talent to win an unprecedented victory.

Perhaps another reason why Shields’ achievements have been so underrated is exactly why women were not even allowed to compete in boxing until 2012: it is not considered a sport for women. It is clear that gender bias plays a large role in which sports women athletes will get attention in. Audiences may be more comfortable watching women who excel in a more feminine sport like gymnastics, than in a typically masculine sport such as boxing. Women’s boxing will not even be televised on most channels, and fans have to find the matches online. But this stigma won’t stop Shields. After all, she is a fighter.

If you want to find out more about Claressa Shields, you can watch “T Rex: Her Fight for Gold” on PBS. And join me as I tune in, online, on Friday at 11:30am to watch Shields kick some serious butt in the semi-finals. Help me cheer a little louder for this badass role model who is showing little girls around the world that you don’t have to be the prettiest girl in the ring in order to win gold—just the strongest.

Shelby McNabb just finished her first year at UCLA, where she is getting her Masters of Public Policy. In her free time, she co-hosts and co-produces a podcast, the Left Ovaries, with her best feminist friends. She is also working on a project to provide incarcerated women with access to feminine hygiene products by donating menstrual cups.

No Honor in So-Called “Honor Killings”

Fri, 08/19/2016 - 02:59

Each year, thousands of women lose their lives in so-called “honor killings,” a majority of them because their actions have been perceived to bring shame to the family. Some women are killed for committing adultery. Some women are killed for marrying someone without their family’s approval. Some women are killed for talking to men who are not family members—or if there are simply rumors about her doing so.

At least 4,000 to 5,000 women are murdered in the name of “honor” annually around the world. My country, Pakistan, has faced this menace for years: According to one estimate by the Aurat Foundation, 1,000 women die from honor killings in Pakistan every year.

via uusc4all and licensed through Creative Commons

Currently in Pakistan, while there are laws on the books against murder, there are no specific laws addressing so-called “honor killings” to account. This means that those who kill in the name of “family honor” get to walk away from their crime, if a family declines to press charges, with little to no consequences for their actions.

Recently, honor killings came into the spotlight with the high-profile murder of social media celebrity Qandeel Baloch. Baloch, often referred as “the Kim Kardashian of Pakistan,” gained popularity on social media by posting videos and photos on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Her bold videos and photos challenged the status quo in Pakistan, where cultural norms dictate that women defer to men on matters large and small, from life decision such as marriage, their children’s education or their career to simply leaving the house to go shopping or visit relatives. Baloch mentioned several times on social media that she wanted to inspire other women to live their lives freely, to challenge restrictive cultural practice and not to be ashamed of their sexuality or bodies.

Baloch’s boldness and her outspoken personality so threatened the social status quo that she was brutally murdered by her brother on July 15. Her brother proudly and publicly admitted to killing his own sister, stating that her recent posts on social media brought shame to the family. Baloch’s case has made it clear that the weak laws in my country must be fixed, but little will change if society continues to dictate that women are just submissive creatures without the same rights to self-expression and free will that men enjoy. The Pakistan I know, which was founded on the very idea of freedom, does not tolerate any kind of discrimination against any group of people, especially women and girls.

Indeed, Baloch’s death has sparked a debate around the absence of laws against “honor” killings and how people manipulate them to get away with murder. Currently in Pakistan, a family can forgive the killer, who is then not required to complete jail time. In some cases, families even settle for money or land. As a result, there is often little, if any, justice for women who are killed. In many cases, the killers are her own family members: husbands, brothers, fathers, uncles or cousins.

Due to the prominent nature of Baloch’s case, the government has become involved, which will effectively prohibit Baloch’s family from simply forgiving her killer and moving on. The worldwide media attention has helped to draw a spotlight on this enormous violation of women’s rights, but the fact remains that nearly one thousand women will die in 2016 and those cases will be largely ignored because they will not be featured in headlines around the world.

Unfortunately, another case emerged just a few weeks ago. According to her husband Syed, Saima Shahid was killed by her family while visiting Pakistan. Shahid married Syed in the United Kingdom against the wishes of her family, after she divorced her first husband, a partner chosen by family in Pakistan. Shahid is just one more horrific example in a long list of examples of how honor killings plague the lives of women. Unfortunately, there are thousands of women like Baloch and Shahid, who were brutally murdered simply for not adhering to traditional cultural norms about what women should or shouldn’t do.

In the wake of Baloch’s murder and the subsequent global media attention, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif has vowed to amend laws that allow such practices. The Prime Minister’s daughter, Mariam Nawaz, who is also a Member of Parliament, has vowed to put forward a bill against honor killing and has said she wants to pass it into a law as soon as possible.

This is an important step, as “honor killings” both violate Pakistan’s commitment to securing women’s rights and is out of line with Sharia Law.

As a Pakistani man, I believe that very idea of freedom is based on an individual’s freedom to make independent decisions about his or her life. It is fundamental that women to be able to make their own choices and live their lives as they want, just as men do. We, as a nation, must now reflect on what happened to Baloch and Shahid. Most of the Pakistani men that I know believe honor killings are wrong, but it is abundantly clear we can no longer remain silent. We need to raise our voices and be heard saying loud and clear that there is no honor in these so-called honor killings.

My hope for Pakistan is that not one more woman will endure the same fate as Baloch, Shahid or that the countless others whose names didn’t make headlines, but whose deaths remain a testament to how far we still have to go before women are truly treated as equals. We can’t do that if we remain silent.

Muhammad Hamza Abbas is an Atlas Corps Research Fellow at the International Center for Research on Women, where he conducts research and analysis on variety of projects on gender violence and rights. His current work focuses on sex ratio and social issues in the MENA region, women’s land rights in Vietnam, human development impacts of discriminatory social institutions and the costs of child marriage and other forms of gender-based violence.

Leadership Lessons from Equity’s Women of Wall Street

Wed, 08/17/2016 - 20:00

In 2015, only 5 percent of the companies in the Standard and Poor’s 500 index had female CEOs. We see this inequity reflected on the big screen also. Trading Places, American Psycho, Margin Call, Wolf of Wall Street, The Big Short—the list of blockbuster films depicting the moneyed world of Wall Street are overwhelmingly written by men, directed by men, produced by men and—you guessed it—starring men. Women in powerful business roles are sparse.

“In our industry, it’s about if you can’t see it, you can’t be it,” said producer Sarah Megan Thomas. It’s why she teamed up with co-producers Alysia Reiner and AAUW of New Jersey member Candy Straight to craft a story about Wall Street that showcases powerful women: Equity.

The new financial drama focuses on Naomi (Breaking Bad’s Anna Gunn), a senior investment banker; Erin (Backwards’ Thomas), a vice president at the same firm; and Samantha (Orange Is the New Black’s Reiner), a prosecutor for the U.S. Attorneys Office. The film is also a living, breathing illustration of the gender bias delineated in AAUW’s research report Barriers and Bias: The Status of Women in Leadership.

When it comes to portraying the experiences of women in business and leadership, Reiner and Thomas did their research, interviewing more than 200 men and women working on Wall Street and imbuing the film with their stories. According to Straight, “AAUW members who are about [promoting] women in leadership in business and elsewhere, this is a movie with a lot of good messages. Sometimes they’re tough messages to take, but they’re important.” We spoke with Thomas, Reiner and Straight about a few important lessons the film sends around how we can empower women leaders, in business and beyond.

Lesson 1: Ruffle Feathers

Equity is a study on the small, seemingly benign acts of sexism—called “microaggressions”—that contribute to a hostile environment for women. Throughout the film, we see that Naomi is labeled as cutthroat, aggressive and confident—traits that would be extolled in a man working on Wall Street but are impugned in a woman.

In one example of implicit sexism, a male boss casually dismisses Naomi for a promotion on the account that she “ruffles feathers.” Another male character writes her off as “rubbing people the wrong way.” According to Thomas, the women bankers and lawyers she and Reiner interviewed reported being accused of rubbing people the wrong way over and over.

Naomi is an example of the common catch-22 for women leaders in the workplace: They’re expected to adhere to feminine gender stereotypes—to behave kindly and politely, to be seen and not heard—but are also expected to be assertive and competitive.

Of course, overt discrimination against women in the workplace also remains an issue. To that end, the film shows Naomi and Erin grappling with sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination.

“We heard so many stories of overt sexism that no one would believe them had we put them in the movie,” said Reiner. Indeed, according to Barriers and Bias, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission settled 30,000 cases of sex discrimination in the last five years in favor of the person who filed the charge. Equity illustrates that some feathers need to be ruffled.

Lesson 2: You’re Probably Biased, Too

Reiner and Thomas made the film with a clear agenda: to incite change for women. According to Reiner, men and women alike put women under more scrutiny than men.

“Some people have been disappointed that we [depicted] women not always helping each other,” said Reiner. “[But] if it were a Wall Street movie and a man backstabbed another man, we wouldn’t even talk about it. It would just be another movie.”

Reiner’s end goal? To reduce these inequities, starting with targeting unconscious gender bias. I hope that men see this movie and see the unconscious bias in their own lives,” said Reiner. “[Gender bias is] so deeply unconscious sometimes. And it’s very hard to change those things we’re not aware of.”

Luckily, there’s a tool to help with that: As part of Barriers and Bias, AAUW collaborated with Project Implicit and Harvard University researchers to create a test to measure people’s associations between gender and leadership.

Lesson 3: Don’t Let Money Be a Dirty Word

Pundits are loving Naomi’s quote, “Don’t let money be a dirty word.” The line is powerful because it’s still largely seen as taboo for women to openly express a desire for money and ambition. For Thomas and Reiner, the quote was part of a larger attempt at challenging the ways in which women are taught not to ask for money, especially when it comes to the workplace and raises or promotions.

“What I like about Naomi’s character is that she wanted something and she asked for it,” said Straight. “And that’s a good lesson.”

Lesson 4: Be a Sponsor

According to Straight, mentorship isn’t enough when it comes to advancing women in leadership.

“It’s easy to say ‘I’m helping a lot of people.’ But it’s another thing to say, ‘I recommend you for this job,’” she explains. “I’ve been helping mentor a woman recently, and I saw a new job come across my desk, and I immediately e-mailed the employer and recommended her.”

For Reiner and Thomas, Straight was that mentor. “She didn’t just open her checkbook for us, she opened her Rolodex,” said Thomas. “She made [Equity] happen.” Adds Reiner, “She really stepped up to the plate in a way I’ve never experienced, as an actor or a businesswoman.”

Equity is certainly disrupting the angle we’ve come to expect from movies about finance. The last time a woman was depicted in a film about Wall Street, she was naked in a bathtub. Before that, women characters were largely sex workers and mistresses. But we can change the conversation by supporting women-led films that showcase strong, intelligent women in leadership roles. Thomas and Reiner are in talks with Sony Tristar on developing Equity into a TV series, a move that would put powerful women executives right on our TV screens.

The power is ours to help make it happen.

Renee Davidson develops and executes AAUW’s online content and social media strategies and helps manage AAUW’s award-winning blog. She was nominated for the Women’s Media Center’s Social Media Award for her successes in leading online advocacy campaigns around gender equity and sexual violence prevention. Her writing has been published by Mic, Salon, Bitch and more. She’s passionate about feminism, owl motifs and veggie cheesesteaks.

How Seven Words Deny Abortions to Women Raped in War

Wed, 08/17/2016 - 18:00

At times it can feel like the U.S. is in the Dark Ages when it comes to a woman’s right to choose, but the situation is actually much worse than most people know. We’re so bad in fact, that we don’t just stop at obstructing the right to abortion access within the U.S., we also deny it to thousands of women and girls all over the world—even victims of war rape. Here at home, there is plenty of blame to go around, from disproportionately vocal anti-choice groups, to state legislators, to idle beneficiaries of patriarchy. For girls and women overseas, however, the obstacle to access is much more singular: President Obama.

via Feminist Campus on Instagram

Congress passed the Helms Amendment in 1973, a law saying that American foreign aid could not be used to “fund abortions as a method of family planning.” Traditionally, the wording “abortion as a method of family planning” was read by lawyers to mean that abortions were permitted where the life of the woman was at risk, or where the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest. Enter George W. Bush, whose administration formally reinterpreted the phrase to mean “no abortions for anyone, ever.”

That single decision—the reinterpretation of seven words—has meant that the U.S. does not fund or provide abortions in humanitarian settings for victims of war rape. President Obama could easily undo this decision by issuing his own interpretation that would restore those seven words to their original meaning. But he hasn’t—Obama has left Bush’s abortion restrictions in place.

Far more than being a moral outrage, this policy actually violates international law. U.S. law and policy do not operate in a vacuum; they are wrapped up in a web of highly respected and fundamental international treaties and legal norms that dictate what it is we can and cannot do—especially when it relates to victims of war.

Take, for example, the Geneva Conventions—a series of treaties passed after World War II that established special protections for war victims. Under the Conventions, rape victims have a right to all the medical care they need, as well as a right to be free from discrimination. The current U.S. policy denies both these rights by excluding a necessary medical service that is needed only by women. If a man is raped in war, he will receive whichever treatments he needs. When a woman or a girl is raped in war, she will receive whichever medical treatments she needs—except one.

Some people defend the policy, claiming that providing abortions would violate local law and put doctors at risk. But, as if written with abortion in mind, the Geneva Conventions replace national laws during war, meaning that local abortion restrictions do not apply. The Conventions actually state that doctors treating war victims cannot be forced to exclude specific treatments needed by their patients.

The U.S. policy violates international law in another way: torture. At least two human rights committees at the United Nations have found that the mental and physical harm that comes with denying abortions for rape victims amounts to torture. This is not like waterboarding or other types of torture Americans may be used to hearing about, this is grounded in discrimination: only women must continue medically dangerous or unwanted pregnancies; only women suffer the mental agony and physical trauma of unsafe abortions; only women have to risk their lives because of the intentional absence of a medical procedure—to which they have a right.

That the Obama administration has left the policy in place is not an error of ignorance. Our closest allies have come out against the policy, including the United Kingdom, France, and the European Union. Even the UN Secretary-General and the Security Council (of which the U.S. is a member) have said that the Geneva Conventions require abortion access for war rape victims. Some countries have even gone so far as to specifically recommend to the U.S. that we change this unlawful policy.

Still, it remains. Despite using executive action more than any other modern President and despite his campaign promise of change, Obama has denied war rape victims the medical care they need. This simply cannot continue. Short of getting rid of the Helms Amendment entirely—which would require an act of Congress—the biggest step toward justice Obama could take would be reinterpreting those seven words.

Obama must take action. He must lift the ban. He must fix Bush’s interpretation of the Helms Amendment and deliver on the rights guaranteed to victims of war rape. Doing so would not only correct an obvious wrong but also start a long overdue conversation about including women in the dignity of justice and the promise of equal treatment.

Categories: rss pravy stlpec

Activists Are Calling for Fox News to Take Action Against Sexual Harassment

Tue, 08/16/2016 - 21:26

petition launched by non-profit Media Matters calls on Lachlan Murdoch, the executive co-chairman of News Corp and 21st Century Fox, and James Murdoch, 21st Century Fox’s CEO, to release the findings of a recent internal review of sexual harassment claims against Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes and demonstrate at last that they take sexual harassment seriously.

via Adam Fagen and licensed through Creative Commons

Last month, former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson filed a lawsuit against Ailes in which she alleges having suffered 11 years of sexual harassment in the workplace and accused Ailes of “ostracizing, marginalizing and shunning her after making clear to her that these ‘problems’ would not have existed, and could be solved, if she had a sexual relationship with him.” Carlson’s complaint was only the first of many. In recent weeks, no fewer than 25 other women—including top anchor Megyn Kelly—have come forward and described similar experiences. The latest is Andrea Tantaros, who issued a statement that she had reported Ailes’ sexual harassment to her supervisors in 2015. Instead of offering an apology or making any attempt at improve the conditions of Tantaros and the other female employees, Tantaros reported, Fox responded by taking her off the air entirely.

Ailes was also not the only man at Fox News to display unapologetic misogyny toward his female co-workers. Fox and Friends co-host Steve Doocy, Carlson revealed, also regularly addressed her with rude and suggestive comments. When Carlson reported his “sexist and condescending” behavior to Ailes, he responded by accusing her of being a “man-hater.”

After Carlson and Tantaros stepped forward, Fox accused the women of lying in a retaliation attempt but then conducted an internal review of the sexual harassment claims—but such public accusations fail to inspire confidence in its objectivity. The prevalence of such cases are clearly symptomatic of underlying and disturbing misogyny on the network, consistently evident both on-air and, all signs indicate, off. Reports like those of both Carlson and Tantaros, which highlight the way in which the network has consistently failed to take sexual harassment claims seriously, indicate too that Fox may not be trusted to correctly review such complaints—as is Ailes’ current position. Although he stepped down as CEO at the end of last month, 21st Century Fox took him on immediately as a “consultant” – with a financial compensation of $60 million.

The petition is still accepting signatures.

Emma Watson is an editorial intern at Ms. and a rising senior at Smith College, where she studies English literature and neuroscience and works as a peer writing tutor. She has a zeal for fiction, through which she engages with queer and feminist issues. Emma spends her free time listening to sea ballads and writing peculiar YA fantasy novels.

Exploring How Women Shape Politics in the New Issue of Ms.

Tue, 08/16/2016 - 21:04

You won’t want to be without the Summer issue of Ms. As the fall election nears, we’re taking a close look at the intersection of gender and politics with a feminist perspective.

Our cover story–”Betting on the Gender Gap“–has everything you need to know about why women have the power to elect the next president, determine the make-up of Congress and state legislatures and drive the national agenda. We asked Eleanor Smeal, who wrote the definitive book on the gender gap—Why and How Women Will Elect the Next President—to share her predictions on the 2016 elections and reached out to reporters and pollsters to think about the media’s evolving coverage of how women shape elections.

That’s not all. In our issue out now, you’ll find our analysis of the latest Supreme Court decision on abortion and the latest on what women and men are thinking about the economy and workplace equality, abortion and health care, LGBT rights, sexual violence, the environment and more.

And if you act today, you’ll get the new issue of Ms. before the campaigns kick into high gear.

If you don’t already get Ms., join today! You can choose the format that fits your life: digital, print or a combined subscription for taking Ms. with you wherever you go. If you already receive the magazine, consider making a tax-deductible contribution to help keep Ms. on the front lines bringing you the news and analysis that keeps you in the know.

Kathy Spillar is executive director of the Feminist Majority Foundation and executive editor of Ms.

Seeing Women Slay Matters

Tue, 08/16/2016 - 19:54

With the presidential election now in full swing, the Ms. Blog is excited to bring you a series presented in conjunction with Presidential Gender Watch 2016, a project of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation and the Center for American Women and Politics. They’ll be tracking, analyzing and illuminating gender dynamics during election season—so check back with us regularly!

By multiple measures, America’s women athletes are winning the Rio Olympics.

via Wikimedia

For the second consecutive summer games, women are more than half of all athletes on Team USA. After the first 10 days of competition, they won 62% of the gold medals earned by the U.S. team; U.S. women won 12 individual and four team gold medals through Monday out of 26 total gold medals awarded thus far. U.S. women athletes also earned about half of the remaining medals that have kept the USA at the top of the medal count in Rio.

Included among these wins have been myriad firsts: Simone Manuel was the first African American woman to medal in Olympic swimming and Ibtihaj Muhammad was the first American Muslim woman to compete and medal wearing a hijab in competition. Women have not only broken barriers, but shattered records: Katie Ledecky swept golds in individual events while breaking a world record, Simone Biles has already won more gold medals than any woman in U.S. Olympic history Kim Rhode captured a medal in her sixth consecutive Olympics and cyclist Kristen Armstrong became the first U.S. woman to win a gold in the same event in three consecutive Olympics.

These women will be joined by others over the next week, further cementing the Rio Olympics as a success for U.S. women athletes. But U.S. women are not only winning competitions in the pool or on the mat, course or court. Just over a week before the games opened, Hillary Clinton became the first woman nominee for president from a major political party.

These victories, across sports and spheres, have elicited at least one shared reaction—that they will inspire future generations of women and girls to compete. Social media is awash with photos and stories of parents allowing their daughters to stay up late to watch Hillary Clinton accept the Democratic nomination, and similar posts of parents sharing women athletes’ Olympic wins with the young women in their lives. The motivation to do so, it seems, aligns with the long-held idea that “seeing is believing,” and that watching women compete at the highest levels will ensure that girls and young women consider themselves just as capable of competing and succeeding as their male counterparts.

But does—and will—it work?

My little swimmer says, "I Got Next!" @simone_manuel #SimoneManuel #Swimming #History #TeamUsA

— Nett (@Laylas_Mommy_13) August 12, 2016

Political scientists have investigated the symbolic effects of women’s candidacies and/or representation on women’s political interest and engagement, finding some evidence that more women on the ballot or in office can alter women’s beliefs about and participation in politics. But few studies have looked specifically at the effects of female political role models on young women. One of the few studies that has, conducted by David Campbell and Christina Wolbrecht, provides the best evidence that having a woman topping the presidential ticket this year matters for future generations of girls. Their 2006 study found a significant relationship between the visibility of women politicians and adolescent girls’ stated intentions to be politically active. More specifically, they find “girls are more likely to envision themselves as politically active when and where they see women run viable campaigns for high-profile political offices.”

This finding helps to justify parents’ decisions to allow late night viewing, but Campbell and Wolbrecht’s research also illuminates an important – and potentially unexpected – way that the role model effect works between women running and young women’s potential political activity. Testing three different mechanisms, they find that seeing women successfully compete doesn’t necessarily inspire engagement by altering expectations of gender-appropriate roles or transforming views of government as more responsive to things women care about. Instead, as they report, “Visible female candidates trigger conversations about politics between parents and their adolescent daughters, familiarizing girls with the political world and leading them to envision themselves as participants in politics.” In other words, seeing women run sparks conversations that may open the door for young women to believe they can, want to, or will be encouraged to consider participating in politics themselves.

Delaying bedtime to watch Hillary's victory speech with 8-year-old daughter. #ImWithHer #dadlife

— Mile High Brendan (@MileHighBrendan) June 8, 2016

Another study from Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox finds that young women are less likely than young men (aged 18-25) to report engaging in political discussions and also less likely to say they have been encouraged by their parents to run for office. They are also less likely than their male counterparts to say they have considered running for political office. Perhaps the prominence of the first female presidential nominee will make those discussions, and even that encouragement, more likely in young women’s lives. And if Campbell and Wolbrecht’s findings hold in this case, those discussions may boost young women’s propensity for political participation of various types.

Similar conversations may matter when it comes to athletic competition. Celebrating women’s wins in Rio may do more than simply alter expectations of what women can and should do, but also spur discussions that cue young women to consider their own capacity to compete. And perhaps these effects can cross spheres; watching women win in high-stakes contests – athletic or political – may spark the competitive spirit that is necessary for both. Of course, seeing Hillary Clinton on the stage or women athletes on the Olympic podium will not alone alter generations of social and political norms that have discounted women’s ability and discouraged their ambition to compete in these arenas. But these images help to expand what we —men or women—can imagine.

So let’s take this moment to talk about women slaying in summer 2016—because these conversations matter.

Kelly Dittmar is an assistant professor of political science at Rutgers University and a scholar at the Center for American Women in Politics. Find her on Twitter @kdittmar

Opinions expressed here are the author’s own. Ms. is owned by Feminist Majority Foundation, a 501(c)3 organization, and does not endorse candidates.

It Could Have Been Me: Korryn Gaines and the Criminalization of Black Women

Mon, 08/15/2016 - 22:53

In a matter of hours, it is possible for an individual with no prior criminal record to find themselves with a criminal warrant out for their arrest for a minor violation. If you are black and a woman, this is a potentially life-threatening situation. There is, without a doubt, a violent trend in state-sanctioned violence against black women. The way in which we are seeing police officers quickly escalate from stern orders to a violent arrest mirrors the polarity of our judicial system. Small violations such as failure to pay a fine or to transport one’s body to a courtroom to appear before a judge can potentially make one a criminal. We saw how this can carry out in the recent killing of Korryn Gaines in her Baltimore home on August 1st. Gaines did not have a criminal record. She did have traffic violations and a warrant for her arrest. Every bone in my body tells me that I could have been Korryn Gaines.

This past May, on my way home from a class in Newark, New Jersey, I ran to catch the light rail, a local train that travels through the city of Newark. As I ran down the steps, the train was approaching. Although I had a ticket in my purse, I didn’t stamp it as is the general rule before boarding the train. When I exited the train there were transit officers there checking tickets. I showed my unstamped ticket and after some back and forth with the officer about whether I was telling the truth or not about what had transpired, I asked him to please get things moving and either issue me a fine or let me go home. He issued me a fine. The officer refused to explain to me how to pay it when I asked. He was belligerent and rude. Shortly after the ordeal, I followed the instructions on the ticket and mailed in a check for $74 to address indicated. The ticket indicated that I did not have to appear in court. Relieved, I put the whole thing behind me.

A few weeks later I received a “second notice” to appear in court. I was confused—I had never received a first notice. I called the number on the letter and the woman I spoke to scolded me for following the directions on the ticket which indicated how to pay by mail. “No one does that,” she told me. I should have paid the fine in person. She told me that it takes a long time to process payment by mail and so it was as if I had never paid it. She suggested I call back on the morning of my court date to see if my payment had been processed. She also told me that if I failed to appear in court, a warrant would be issued for my arrest. I could hardly believe that this was the line of consequence for an unstamped light rail ticket.

My court date came along and I called the courthouse again to see if my payment had been processed now two weeks after I had sent it in. It had not. And so I went to Newark, appeared in court and paid the ticket a second time. Just before paying the ticket again, I sat before a window where a woman told me to run upstairs to the court room to see a judge. My heart nearly jumped out of my chest when she that if I did not, in a matter of hours there would be a warrant out for my arrest.

“Criminal” is a category made up by the state to decide which actions are punishable and the terms of said punishment. I tell this story of my personal experience to show just how easy it is for the state to make a black woman like me into a criminal. I could have been the woman with an arrest warrant whose life was snatched away on a summer afternoon. I could have been Korryn Gaines.

About a week after I had appeared in court and paid the fine a second time, I received a letter saying that there was a warrant out for my arrest. I called the court house yet again. They told me there was no record of this in their system. I can only pray that the police won’t come knocking on my door too.

The tragic link between women like Korryn Gaines, Sandra Bland and Imani Perry is their blackness, their femaleness and the swift criminalization of their noncriminal offenses. Each of these women had warrants issued for their arrest and they had horrifying, for some deadly, experiences at the hands of police. What happened to Korryn Gaines was not just a case of a black woman being belligerent; Gaines got caught up in the violent and oppressive wheels of bureaucracy and systemic racism. She was an intelligent and assertive young black woman. She documented every step of her process, the web of bureaucracy and the red tape she had to navigate.

In footage posted on Heavy, Korryn can be heard at the police station where she showed up to ask for hospital discharge papers and a court order from her two-day detainment in police custody. It appears that Korryn may have had a miscarriage while in police custody, yet another layer to the trauma she may have experienced. In the video, she explains very clearly that she needed this documentation in order to work with her lawyer on fighting her case. She explains the time-sensitive nature of her situation: Korryn had meetings with her lawyer and upcoming court dates. In this exchange with a Baltimore police officer, Korryn very clearly rejects the bureaucratic process of the middle man, a process that she knows will not serve her need for timely action. When the officer failed to provide her with a timely course of action so that she could obtain the documents needed for her to make legal steps forward, she said what so many of us black and brown folks know: that the system is not out here for us. “This is the time when I should be sitting with my lawyer and discussing how we’re going to go about this case. You guys are—you’re basically sabotaging my case doing this.” In this sobering moment, Korryn spoke directly to the built-in bureaucratic barriers to justice that precluded her from rightfully defending herself in court.

No one deserves to die because of traffic violations or for not appearing in court or for failure to stamp a light rail ticket or for being difficult or belligerent or non-compliant. No one. The killing of Korryn Gaines and the injury to her son is not unfortunate or sad; it is outrageous. It is a feminist concern, it’s a civil rights concern, it’s a human concern.

When I watched those videos of Korryn saying “They are going to have to kill me,” I heard the voice of a young black woman who has suffered through the trauma of racism and sexism in this country. I heard the voice of Earledreka White shouting, “I’m a woman!” as she is violently assaulted by a police officer. In Korryn’s voice I heard exhaustion and the desire to preserve one’s integrity in a world that tells black women that our bodies are not sacred and that our lives do not matter. There is no way to justify what happened to Korryn Gaines or to the countless other black women who have been harmed at the hands of police officers, friends, or intimate partners. It is time to rally around black women and to fight with vigor.

Systemic injustice is real and it has effected the lives of black people in startling ways. The city of Newark, for example, has large pockets of poor and working class people, many of whom are black and brown. If you receive a parking or light rail ticket and are poor or have unstable living conditions or are forgetful, you can easily find yourself with a criminal warrant for your arrest merely by missing a letter in the mail or not having the money to pay fines. What’s more, the bureaucracy in cities like Newark make it difficult to pay fines. In my case, I had the time to run off to the courthouse on a whim in the middle of the day. I also had the money to pay my ticket twice. I can only imagine how many poor and working class black and brown people have been affected in Newark and beyond by bureaucratic red tape and the unfair process of issuing criminal warrants.

Racism is not only embedded in government policies and practices, it determines how those policies and practices are carried out. On the day that I was fined by the transit officer in Newark, there were two officers checking tickets. Both let several people go unfined before they got to me, some with unstamped tickets and others without tickets at all. I cannot say for sure why I was singled out to receive a ticket but I do know that none of the people they let go were black women. This is one of the ways in which racial injustice works—it takes already problematic policies and applies them unfairly. There has to be an alternative.

Among our many fights is one to push our local and state governments to change the process of issuing criminal warrants for noncriminal offenses. There is an urgent need to challenge the terms under which criminal warrants may be issued and arrests are made. This is something we can and should make noise about. And as we move forward in this fight, Korryn’s life and experiences must be hoisted at the very center of our consciousness as feminists and as advocates for social justice.

This post originally appeared on Weird Sister. Republished with permission.

Naomi Extra is a freelance writer, poet and doctoral student in American Studies at Rutgers University-Newark. In both her creative and scholarly work she explores the themes of agency and pleasure in the lives of black women and girls. Naomi is also a Cave Canem fellow and contributing writer to the feminist publication, Weird Sister. You can find her writings in The Feminist Wire, Bitch, Racialicious, Apogee Journal, The Paterson Literary Review and elsewhere.

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WATCH: During the Olympics, Activists Demand Equal Pay for Equal Play

Fri, 08/12/2016 - 01:03

As the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) fights for another victory at the Rio Olympics, feminist organization UltraViolet is continuing the fight to close the wage gap that leaves the successful women athletes lagging behind their male counterparts. An ad airing on television stations during the Olympics and set to appear on major sports websites calls for equal pay for equal play on behalf of the USWNT players—and all women athletes who are still fighting for equal footing.

After three World Cup championships and four Olympic gold medals, USWNT players still earn significantly less than the players on FIFA’s men’s team. That wage gap isn’t new either—and neither is activism demanding U.S. Soccer, the governing body of the USWNT and the USNMT, do all they can to close it.

In 2015, Ultraviolet pressured FIFA to close the pay gap after the 2015 Women’s World Cup champions netted the USWNT only $2 million for their win, while the winners of the 2014 men’s World Cup netted $35 million. (In contrast, the U.S. men’s team was awarded a whopping $8 million prize after losing in the Round of 16 in the 2014 World Cup.) In March, five USWNT players filed a wage discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The USWNT brought in $20 million in revenue for their governing organization U.S. Soccer in 2015, while the men’s team cost the organization $2 million—but the women’s team players made 40 percent less than their male counterparts. According to data provided by the U.S. Soccer Federation, men are paid between $5,000 and $17,625 for friendly games even if they lose, whereas women are paid $1,350—and only if they win.

“It’s so disgraceful that despite these tremendous successes,” UltraViolet co-founder Nita Chaudhary said in a press release, “these sports heroes are still paid less than half the pay of the U.S. men’s team—which has never even won a single World Cup or an Olympic championship.”

More than 72,000 UltraViolet members have now signed onto a petition urging FIFA demanding equal pay for the US Women’s National soccer team.

Carmen Rios is the Digital Editor at Ms. as well as the Community Director and Feminism Editor at Autostraddle and a Contributing Writer at Everyday Feminism. Her work has also appeared at BuzzFeed, MEL, Mic, BITCH and Feministing. She stays very zen in L.A. traffic. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr.

Afghan Women are More Than Victims

Thu, 08/11/2016 - 23:59

At home and abroad, Afghan women have been portrayed as weak and voiceless victims of violence. Despite this one-dimensional portrayal, in every corner of the country there are strong women fighting for their rights. In fact, as an Afghan woman, I believe that we have survived the decades of war and tremendous obstacles because we are strong—not because we needed rescuing.

via Wikimedia and licensed through Creative Commons

Being a woman in Afghanistan requires courage. Afghan women face obstacles—familial, economic and social—but continue to live their lives with hope and work hard. From women who work tirelessly on agricultural fields in rural areas to urban women who take risks to go to work or school, every Afghan woman is a symbol of courage and resilience. In our patriarchal society, women are rarely credited for the work they do. (Usually our work is not even considered work—for example, women working in agricultural field are rarely acknowledged or paid.) The fact that Afghan women continue get up and work every day without gratitude or attribution is a testimony to our resilience. Every morning when we leave our homes, we don’t know if we will return, but we are not the “weak willows who tremble with winds” and quit. The obstacles we face have made us stronger.

Most Afghan women have faced discrimination, violence, poverty and cultural barriers from childhood that seek to stop them in their fight for progress and equality. Patriarchal views have led to the creation of constructs such as “honor” to further silence and marginalize women, and they face misogyny and discrimination while having few support systems. In a society where patriarchy is the de facto law, women who stand up for their rights are mocked, insulted and ostracized—if not killed. Even today, cleric often call women “half-brained” and many think that real or perceived physical differences between women and men make women inferior and weak.

How fascinating and convenient it is that for centuries Afghan society has created disproportionate obstacles and used violence to prevent women’s progress, yet folks around the world still see women in Afghanistan as weak and unable to wage their own fights or define their own rights. If a large number of Afghan women are unable to study, work and reach their full potential, it is not because they are weak. It is because our society has placed in their ways the largest roadblocks.

My grandfather prevented my mother from going to school because he was against educating girls. As a result my mother often felt lacking. I remember her telling me that she felt blind because she can’t read and write. Even though we must continue the fight for girls’ education in areas like Afghanistan, illiteracy does not mean helplessness.

It was possible that because she had never had the chance to get an education, my mother would not understand its importance and prevent me from going to school—but instead, all my life, my mother advocated for my right to be educated. It was her hard work and my father’s support that ensured my siblings and I went to school. Throughout my childhood and adolescence, my mother insisted on doing household chores by herself so that my sisters and I could focus on our studies and pass our exams. When our family was struggling economically, my mother used to iron men’s suits and clean pistachios in exchange for measly salaries just to buy us school uniforms and shoes.

My mother is extraordinary, but her story is not exceptional. Many Afghan mothers have sacrificed everything they had to ensure a better future for their daughters. Even though the majority of women in my mother’s generation never became literate because of war and discrimination, they are staunch advocates for the education of their daughters.

There is no doubt that if my mother and women like her had been given the chance to learn and participate in the society, economy and government, Afghanistan would be a different nation. Experiences of women’s participation from Rwanda to Bosnia to Tunisia show that when women are actively engaged in society, peace is more sustainable and communities move forward.

Afghanistan is no different. Afghan women are no different. What we need from the rest of the world—and our own country—is the opportunity to participate in bringing about change.

Marzia Nawrozi is a contributing writer for Afghan Women’s Writing Project and Free Women Writers. She advocates for Afghan women and girls while she is pursuing her MA from George Mason University.

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NEWSFLASH: Activists in Wichita Are Mobilizing Against Anti-Abortion Extremists

Fri, 07/15/2016 - 17:00

Anti-abortion extremist group Operation Save America has organized back-to-back demonstrations in Wichita this week commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Summer of Mercy—a 1991 six-week mass protest led by Operation Rescue in which protestors blockaded a clinic run by Dr. George Tiller. The Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) has launched a multi-platform campaign pushing back against the influx of anti-abortion groups coming to Wichita.

FMF is encouraging activists to sign on to a petition demanding that Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback denounce the groups and protect the clinic, which was opened in the same space as Tiller’s former clinic by his mentee Julie Burkhart and is one of the clinics targeted by this week’s demonstrations. They’ve also launched an interactive ad campaign in the Wichita Eagle to mobilize city residents and educate them about OSA’s extremist tactics.

Operation Rescue’s national headquarters moved to Wichita in 2002 and led a seven-year campaign to harass and target Tiller and his staff. In May 2009, Scott Roeder, who frequently participated in Operation Rescue protests, shot and killed him in church. The focal point of anti-abortion extremist groups’ tactics this year is the Trust Women South Wind Women’s Center, now one of only two abortion clinics in Wichita.

“Wichita residents deserve the facts about who is coming in to their town this summer,” said FMF President Eleanor Smeal. “Some of these extremists embrace the use of force, advocate the killing of clinic works and doctors who provide abortions and want abortion providers and women who have abortions penalized like murderers. We encourage residents of Wichita to take action by calling on Gov. Brownback to denounce the dangerous and inflammatory tactics of anti-abortion extremists.”

FMF’s National Clinic Access Project, which was launched in 1989, leads efforts nationwide to reduce anti-abortion violence, to keep women’s health personnel and patients safe, to keep clinics open and to bring violent anti-abortion extremists to justice. Its 2014 National Clinic Violence Survey shows that 51.9 percent of abortion clinics experienced threats and targeted intimidation and one in five women’s health clinics experienced severe anti-abortion violence.

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All-Woman Exhibition Explores Art as Activism

Fri, 07/15/2016 - 15:00

In this turbulent time of political changes, women’s rights, social, racial, gender and economic inequality, global conflicts, cultural instability, reproductive choice/health care issues, and environmental challenges of overconsumption and resource scarcity–how do we effect positive change through art?

In the exhibition “Vision: An Artists Perspective,” self-identified women artists responded to this question.

J Howard, “Drowning In Emotions” via Gutfreund online gallery

UniteWomen partnered up with Gutfreund Cornett Art to create a space for self-identified women artists to engage in a dialogue about major social themes and how we can envision an empowering future. Vision: An Artists Perspective is rooted in a strong feminist foundation: the exhibition uses art to advocate for political, economic, and social equality for all. The culturally, ethnically, and generationally diverse breadth of artists allows each piece to offer a unique perspective on social justice issues. These artists explore topics like violence against women, reproductive rights, identity and gender roles, beauty and sexuality, aging and illness, empowerment, and the human condition.

While spanning genres and artistic mediums, all of the art in Vision communicates raw emotion – but then, makes you step back and think about the implications of your immediate response with an activist framework. Pieces can be subversive, jarring. They can also be cheeky and humorous. Art ranges from pieces like “Disorder” by Lynn Dau, a metallic sculpture that is a violent explosion of kitchen appliances, to “You Stupid Cunt” by Spooky Boobs Collective, a Charlotte-Gilman-inspired Victorian wallpaper decorated with vulva shaped patterns and the decoratively scripted word “cunt.”

Of the 35 pieces, here are the six that received Special Recognition:

In the pamphlet for “Vision,” the curators discuss their purposeful choice to use the term “self-identified women artists.” They explain that this term is connected to the feminist core of the show:

This term acknowledges that gender identification is not limited to biology. By sharing our perspectives and experiences, divisiveness can grow into solidarity, understanding and strength amidst all of the myth and muddiness of social policies, press and statements from misogynist organizations.

The curators also explain the present-day relevance and need for women-only art shows. There is still a major lack of gallery representation for women artists. While there has been some progress after American art historian Linda Nochlin asked “Why have there been no great women artists?” in 1971, women artists are still vastly underrepresented in art history and in the contemporary art world.

Min Kim Park, “Contrived Spectacle” via Gutfreund online gallery

The slight movement forward for women artists is manifested in H.W. Janson’s most recent edition of History of Art, the widely accepted art history cannon (which has been criticized for including Euro-centric art by really only Western, white men); out of nearly one thousand pages, the number of women represented has risen from zero in the 1980s, to only 27 today. In addition, a recent study focusing on the top contemporary galleries around the world found that the average amount of representation is 30 percent women to 70 percent men.

“The real reason women need to be represented properly in the art world is so the world can be fully represented in art,” says art critic Jonathan Jones in a review for an all-women show.

Vision: An Artists Perspective will be showing at Kaleid Gallery in San Jose, California until July 29.

Juliette Luini is an editorial intern at Ms. and a global youth advocate for The Representation Project. She is also a Comparative Literature major at Middlebury College, where she is a contributing writer for the student-run blog Middbeat, a yoga teacher and a participant in The Consent Project. Juliette is a Los Angeleno (with equal adoration for Vermont), a lover of languages and a travel and road-trip enthusiast.    

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Our Policing Problem is Also a Diversity Problem

Fri, 07/15/2016 - 05:07

Before Philando Castile and Alton Sterling were shot by police officers within days of each other, and our country erupted yet again into complex conversations about race and police violence, I called all of the largest local police departments in the country to compile data on the gender and race breakdown of their departments as part of a research study for the Feminist Majority Foundation.

via Mato and licensed through Creative Commons 3.0

What I found corroborates published research on the subject: Women of color and other minority officers are significantly underrepresented in these departments. According to the Bureau of Justice statistics, only 27 percent of all police officers in local police departments in 2013 were racial or ethnic minorities. Women of color are even more underrepresented, accounting for only 4.8 percent of full-time sworn personnel, according to a 2001 study from the National Center for Women and Policing. The most recent Bureau of Justice statistics on the breakdown of gender in the largest local police departments were published in 2008, and they range from 9 percent female officers in the Las Vegas Metro Police Department to 27 percent female officers in the Detroit Police Department.

Why is this a problem? Well, let’s consider the recently released audio recording, taping the two officers who shot Philando Castile. The taping suggests that they pulled Castile over not because of a broken taillight but because he matched the characteristics of an armed robber due to his “wide-set nose.” This information is disturbing to say the least. It indicates that Castile was stopped and subsequently shot not because he was committing a crime but because he was racially profiled by two white police officers.

Violence is what we have come to expect from a police system that hires primarily white men, who are proven to be more violent and to commit more crimes than their female and non-white counterparts. In order to change police culture, we must improve hiring practices and recruit more women officers and more officers of color.

In 2014, President Obama convened a taskforce on 21st century policing, which released a report that recommended “creating a workforce that contains a broad range of diversity including race, gender, language, life experience, and cultural background to improve understanding and effectiveness in dealing with all communities.” This is because diversity in police departments encourages community policing.

When the racial composition of the police department matches that of the community, citizens are more likely to trust and cooperate with police officers. Diversity in police departments also increases the likelihood that the officers can understand the perspectives of the communities they are committed to serving. We need officers who understand the perspectives of the citizens they are serving—who have lived in their communities and know their culture.

We also need police officers who are skilled in mediation and conciliation—and studies show that minority and women police officers do better than their white and male counterparts in these areas as well. A 2002 National Center for Women and Policing study found that while women comprised 12.7 percent of all sworn personnel in large local police departments, they were indicated in only 5 percent of all complaints of excessive force and 2 percent of sustained allegations of excessive force.

A more recent national study published by the U.S. Department of Justice corroborated these findings, concluding that 95 percent of police crimes are committed by men. Furthermore, reports find that mostly white officers commit police killings. White officers were responsible for the deaths of 68 percent of people of color killed by the police.

We need justice for all of the African American men and women who have died unjustly at the hands of police officers—and diversifying police forces is part of that justice.

Justice is when officers are prosecuted and convicted for these crimes. Justice is starting a conversation about what institutional racism looks like, and how we can dismantle these systems of oppression. And, most importantly, justice is a commitment to hiring officers that reflect the communities they have sworn to protect and serve.

Shelby McNabb just finished her first year at UCLA, where she is getting her Masters of Public Policy. In her free time, she co-hosts and co-produces a podcast, the Left Ovaries, with her best feminist friends. She is also working on a project to provide incarcerated women with access to feminine hygiene products by donating menstrual cups.

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Still Revolutionary: Inside the Sister Chapel Revival

Fri, 07/15/2016 - 02:07

In 1978, IIise Greenstein, along with 12 other painters, conceived of the Sister Chapel—an art installation featuring 11 panels that represented contemporary and historically significant women, mythological figures and conceptual heroic women.

The Sister Chapel was created as a pun on Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and was meant to similarly create a space of contemplation and reflection—but it was also a commentary on gender roles and the disenfranchisement of the feminine in history and culture.

Greenstein had studied the Vatican fresco and in a 1983 interview for the Oral History Library of the American Jewish Committee raised the question “Where was woman in man’s relationship to God?” On that famous ceiling we observe that God and Adam almost touch hands, but there is no Eve in sight. This was less a religious question than a historical one.

Now, after 37 years, this revolutionary installation has been resurrected. At the behest of professor Andrew Hottle, author of the 2014 book The Art of the Sister Chapel, it was on display at the Rowan University Art Gallery in Glassboro, New Jersey.


In the original exhibition, each monumental figure occupied a nine-by-five-foot canvas in a 12-sided space, into which viewers were invited to enter and to imagine themselves in the company of these historically significant figures. Greenstein painted a circular abstract ceiling, and the chapel was to be enclosed in a tent-like nylon and velvet structure by Maureen Connor—but due to cost constraints the final product only included a model of her design. It has been created for this new exhibit according to her plans.

Everything else is intact—except Sharon Wybrants lost piece “Self Portrait as Superwoman”—but it has been re-imagined. The portraits on display featured Italian Renaissance great painter Artemisia Gentileschi, feminist leader Betty Friedan and legendary soldier Joan of Arc.

The strength of The Sister Chapel is found not only in the imagery, but the commitment to sistership and transformation that lies at its core. As women grow in influence, the enemies of the feminine have fought back and cried out. This exhibition is a testament to how long we have heard those cries and pushed on anyway.

The Chapel is a celebration of women by women that invites viewers to reconsider familiar and often unconscious presumptions about gender roles and feminine power. Nearly 40 years later, it remains a perfect time to witness its power.

Private appointments to the exhibition are available through the month of July.

Nancy Cohen-koan a writer and artist. Her work has appeared in various galleries, including Longview, Kwok, and Tribes; she’s also made three documentaries and had her short musicals produced for the stage. She writes for Huffington Post, NotJustAboutSex and Snake Magazine. 

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Bridging Lives and Homelands

Fri, 07/15/2016 - 00:41

While Trump is talking about closing borders and deporting Muslims and Brexit begins to take shape, a women’s migrant organization in Greece offers Europe and the world a startling alternative: solidarity. A center for refugees called Melissa (honeybee in Greek) is a place where Syrian and Afghani women can take free yoga, art and Greek language classes; sing in a choir; access legal and counseling services and—unlike the camps where many have spent weeks or months—experience a small slice of home.

“Migration always entails some sort of rupture, especially for women,” Nadina Christopoulou, a co-founder and Greek anthropologist, tells Ms. “When they experience this journey of migration a lot else is broken—not only their roots but their support networks. Their mothers may not be with them; their social circle that surrounds them and supports them through the different rites of passage in one’s life may not be there.”

But helping Syrian and Afghani women wasn’t the center’s initial purpose. When the center opened last summer, the vision was to create a network for migrant women who were already living in Greece. The co-founders—leaders from Greece’s Nigerian, Filipina and Eastern European communities—wanted to unite 24 or so established women’s groups into one network. More could be done, they reasoned, if they sought solutions in common.

Deborah Carlos Valencia, a longtime activist in the Greek Filipina community and someone who helped engineer significant changes for Greece’s Filipina community—including a successful micro-loan program for domestic workers and, perhaps even more impressive, a change in Greek law allowing domestic workers a path toward citizenship and legal documentation—knew there was a need.

“Migrant women are always under migrant men in terms of the leadership,” she says. “So we said let’s create a network. Even women we had never heard from before came. Bangladeshi women. Eritrean women. There are many. So we were surprised when over 30 countries came to our first meeting. Women are the integrators, the change makers. We see all the details that the men don’t.”

Shortly after that initial meeting the network found itself grappling with a whole new reality. “When we actually managed to open our center,” says Christopoulou, “the refugee flows had started, and there was no way to ignore it. It was just outside our doorstep.”

The network immediately began responding to the needs of its newest arrivals: women from Syria and Afghanistan. “We started volunteering at the park, cooking meals, making breakfasts for the kids, and preparing care packs for the journey,” Christopoulou says. “Solidarity from a woman to another woman, from a mother to another mother.”

But handing out care packs is not the goal anymore, especially since borders north of Greece have closed and many immigrants find themselves living in Greece indefinitely.Instead, Melissa sees itself today as helping migrant women integrate into Greek society.

“At some point we said enough is enough with humanitarian aid,” Christopolou adds. “You know you can only do so much. Today’s refugees are going to be tomorrow’s neighbors.”

Maria Ohilebo, another co-founder of Melissa and the vice president of Nigerians in Diaspora, describes the evolution of Melissa as a series of steps. “So now the borders are closed. You see it’s like one step to the other. Most of them they want to stay but they cannot stay if they are not integrated into the system. One way for them to get integrated is to learn the language.”

One of Melissa’s central offerings are its Greek language classes. Each morning approximately fifteen students take the morning session and then in the afternoon, the same number take the second class. Both are free and on-site day care is provided.

Vicky Kantzou, one of Melissa’s language instructors, says teaching at the center isn’t a draining experience. It’s not what people expect. “It’s not depressing or austere,” she tells Ms. “My student are happy to be in Greece and happy to be safe.”

While Melissa has always felt safe and welcoming, the neighborhood where it is located has not. Deliberately situated in an area considered a stronghold of Greece’s far right group, Golden Dawn, a group famous for its slogan “Greece for Greeks” and for giving Nazi salutes at rallies, its neighbors haven’t always been receptive. But that is changing, too. “We have pensioners coming to us now,”Christopoulou says, “and saying ‘I get my check next week and I want to buy something for you.'”

When I visit Melissa, the space is light and airy. There are two classrooms, a back balcony filled with plants, a welcoming reception area and comfortable nooks to sit and relax in. Members float through the rooms setting up a lunch buffet of home cooked adobo and greeting visitors. With the help of an Arabic translator, I meet a soft-spoken woman from Syria named Heba who, like so many others, arrived in Greece by boat.

Heba’s boat was overcrowded and with little air, and at some point people began to try and escape and the vessel started to sink. Two people drowned in the tumult but her and her young son survived. What motivates Heba now is the prospect of reuniting with her husband in Germany. Currently, she lives with a Greek family and says they are welcoming. When I ask what she most values about the center, she says the chance to learn Greek, then adds, smiling, “I also like the atmosphere here.”

While Greece has a long tradition of helping uprooted communities, there are still many barriers.

Adeola Naomi Aderemi is a Nigerian migrant and youth activist who teaches yoga at the center. In 2012, she qualified for Greece’s Olympic team but because she was not a Greek citizen—Greek born children of immigrants are not recognized as citizens—she was unable to participate. She says she understands what her students, many of whom are Filipina, are going through. She moved to Greece when she was only 15. She didn’t speak the language and so no one talked to her. But eventually she learned Greek and went on to graduate high school and attend a Greek university. “Even though I was also the only black person in the entire university” Aderemi says, “it was good because I could speak the language and they took me as just one of the guys, just a different color.”

The class Aderemi teaches is unique. “We built up together a series of yoga classes called Warrior Women,” she explains, “which for me it was inspired from a program the UN did for children soldiers from Rwanda to have rehabilitation through yoga. So it inspired me to just use the same sensitivity and knowledge that I have with migrant women in Greece to have a yoga class totally tailored towards their needs of self-esteem and self-worth…”

There are many issues that hold migrant women back. Still, support leads to strength.

“If you are here, whatever you are going through, you can talk to each other,”Aderemi says, “and I like that after class we sit down and drink yogi tea, like good yogis that we are, and we talk about life and what they are going through and they open up to each other.”

Melissa has over 250 members from 45 countries, and although it doesn’t aspire to become a huge organization, it does hope to expand. The center’s dream now is to open a communal kitchen downstairs, where communities can take turns making and selling food. “I grew up in a small community in Greece, in a women’s household,” Christopoulou explains. “It was an open household where the door was never locked. The meals were on going. It was also a place where the stories never stopped. You always knew there was this wisdom that you could draw on when needed. And there was support. And there was understanding and an open ear for whatever problem you had. So this is what we believe in here.”

They want the center to become an income generating place for women, a way they can start earning a living and rebuilding their lives. Kitchens have long been the center of women’s community, so it seems fitting for Melissa to help create income generating projects related to food and cooking.

“This is our vision now,”Christopoulou says, “to really open our arms and to welcome these people and not treat them as aid recipients, help them to be active and to take on the responsibility of their lives … and to restore hope and a sense of dreaming about the future, to start making plans again.”

In an election year long on anti-immigrant rhetoric but short on constructive ideas, Melissa’s women-centric message of support and assistance couldn’t be timelier. Or more refreshing.

Leslie Absher is a personal essayist whose work focuses on women’s lives, growing up with a CIA father and her childhood in Greece. She is currently  traveling the world with her partner. You can find her at

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Vision Not Victim: Changing Possibilities for Refugee Girls

Thu, 07/14/2016 - 02:54

Amani, a 10-year-old refugee from Syria, wants to be a pilot when she grows up. To an outsider, this may seem unlikely. She and her family have fled the deadliest conflict in the world. She lives in a region where girl’s roles are often placed upon them rather than created by them. The closest she’s come to a plane is when U.S. and Jordanian aircrafts pass to Syria each week. Still, she has reason to be hopeful, stopping to look up when planes fly overhead.

via IRC / Meredith Hutchison

Amani is part of the Vision Not Victim project, a mentorship initiative in collaboration with the International Rescue Committee. “Women and girls in conflict zones are usually portrayed as powerless,” says Meredith Hutchison, age 30, the program’s founder and principle photographer. “We rarely see photos of a Syrian woman who has experienced trauma and faces challenges but also has agency. Women have ideas about how to create solutions and how to build peace. I wanted to find a way to capture powerful images and make the process itself empowering.”

Founded in 2013, Vision Not Victim takes photographs of refugee girls in their dream jobs, to help them regain control of their narratives. It has invested in 75 girls so far, from three regions: Jordan, The Ivory Coast and The Democratic Republic of Congo. The girls selected are already part of existing IRC programs for vulnerable youth. This means that before a camera comes out, participants and their families have attended trainings on safety, community leadership and girl’s education. IRC staff will be with them before and after the project is through. Once selected for Vision Not Victim, the girls are invited to weekly meetings to imagine their future.

“In most places where we work, girls are never asked what they want to be when they grow up,” Meredith says. “Approaching the question is a new concept for them. Professional women from the community—teachers, lawyers, businesswomen, artists, doctors and politicians—help by speaking about their careers. Many are former refugees themselves.”

From there, the girls are asked to create concept drawings, visualizing their dream job. They are asked: what would it look like? Who would be there? What would you be wearing? What would you be saying? Weeks later, the sketches are recreated in a photo shoot in an actual location. Girls who want to be doctors find themselves touring hospitals in a camp, shadowing medical professionals and looking at X-rays. Amani always wanted to be a pilot.

via IRC / Meredith Hutchison

The project is knowingly ambitious. Being able to walk alone safely in a camp can be unrealistic for these girls, let alone running a business one day or flying a plane. They are part of the 65.3 million displaced persons in the world—a demographic where young women are prone to child marriage, sexual violence, lack of education and harassment. Still, Vision Not Victim is committed to taking the girl’s dreams at face value.

When a little girl in Zaatari refugee camp said she wanted to be a lawyer, IRC staff drove her out of the camp to see courtrooms and meet with female lawyers and judges in Amman. When a shy 11-year-old in the Ivory Coast said she wanted to be a mechanic, there were no female mechanics to call upon. But the IRC still found a garage willing to teach her. Soon, she was standing on a cinder block leaning over the hood of a car, looking into the engine. She was smiling and laughing, learning from hulking male mechanics four-times her size.

via IRC / Meredith Hutchison

Meredith recalls a teenage girl who said she wanted to be a hairdresser early in the program. Vision Not Victim set up a shoot for her in a salon, but a few weeks later, the girl quietly re-approached them. “I said I wanted to be a hairdresser because my brother and father said it’s the only thing I could ever be,” she confided. “I know now that’s not true. What I really want to be is an architect.” They re-did the shoot with her as an architect.

via IRC / Meredith Hutchison

The project requires fierce imagination: from the girls, their families, their communities and the world watching them. Everyone is asked to imagine and work toward a better trajectory. After receiving printed photos, one father sat in the corner of his house, silent and smiling, staring at the image of his daughter as a doctor. The daughter had been promised in an arranged child-marriage but after seeing the photo, he decided to call it off. Today, she is continuing with her education instead.

via IRC / Meredith Hutchison

The IRC is already seeing results and is hoping to expand the program to more locations, including work with refugee girls resettled in the United States in the fall. With a goal of raising awareness and further funding, the pictures have been exhibited around the world: hanging in Istanbul, London, Washington D.C. and New York.

The pictures are also hanging in places like Zaatari refugee camp. Some of the girls have taped them up in small housing containers—their family’s only private space—beside a cut out window and mattresses on the floor. Jordan is home to millions of refugees, including Amani, that smiley 10-year-old future pilot.

Amani doesn’t know it yet, but female pilots in different countries have seen her picture and felt inspired. She’ll be receiving videos this week with women standing in their uniforms encouraging her. She’ll be opening packages with their wings and textbooks. She’ll read notes saying they believe in her, saying her dream is absolutely possible. “This is not about playing pretend,” says Meredith. “This is about letting them step into a moment in their future and giving them the tools to get there.”

Emily Sernaker is a writer and activist. She holds an MSc equality studies and currently studies creative writing at Pacific University. 

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15 Years Later, Elle Woods is Still One of Our Favorite Feminists

Thu, 07/14/2016 - 02:52

It’s the 15th anniversary of Legally Blonde—and we should all still be giving this movie some big feminist snaps. Protagonist Elle Woods is an intelligent, compassionate, fabulous woman who challenges countless stereotypes about women and proves there is no such thing as a “dumb blonde.” Although it’s continuously dismissed as “just another chick-flick,” Legally Blonde was a film with a multi-dimensional female lead who was fun, smart and feminist.

Although the movie begins with Elle following her ex-boyfriend to Harvard Law School, it ends with her having stared down sexism time and time again without so much as breaking a nail. Her parents tell her she’s too pretty for law school. She’s accused of being “not serious enough,” dumb and weak. She’s called a ‘skank’. She’s falsely accused of sleeping her way to the top. She faces sexual harassment. Again and again, she’s reduced to her breasts and blonde hair. But throughout it all, she remains true to herself. She proves that her bubbly personality and love of the color pink do not make her inferior—that her femininity is an asset rather than a disadvantage.

Elle overcomes countless adversities in the pursuit of academic excellence and an established law career, all while wearing a pink suit. That’s definitely something still worth celebrating.

Maeve Barry is an editorial intern at Ms. and a student at Occidental College studying Gender Studies and Critical Theory and Social Justice. She also co-founded a group focused on body positivity for high school girls called Clear Image. Maeve loves writing, surfing and her two dogs Buddy and Maddie.

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Imported to Care

Wed, 07/13/2016 - 23:17

Chances are if you live in the United States, you might know, work with or employ someone who has traveled from overseas to work in the United States. Many of these workers are women, and many of them work in “care” jobs such as housekeeping or child and elder care.


Quite often, your neighbor’s nanny, the people who take care of your kids, or the people who maintain your school gardens and clean your offices are from the Philippines, El Salvador, Nepal or Bangladesh. Nurses trained in Jamaica and Ghana, doctors from India and health technicians from the Philippines attend you or your loved ones in hospitals and in urgent care.

Across the world women are in motion, leaving families and communities behind to work elsewhere in wealthier nations. They leave because jobs are available elsewhere; they come because there is a growing demand for their services. As more women enter the labor force in wealthier economies they have less time to fulfill traditional caring roles, such as staying at home to care for children and aging parents.

The Migration Policy Institute reports that as of 2015, nearly one in three U.S. doctors (physicians and surgeons) were foreign born. In 2010, women accounted for three of every four foreign-born health care workers. Nearly one-third of foreign-born women employed in health care occupations in 2010 worked in health care support jobs as nursing, psychiatric or home health aides. Yet a 2010 study showed that almost one-quarter of foreign-born workers employed in these health care support jobs lack health insurance themselves, and worked without access to affordable health care when they, or a loved one, became sick.

Data tells us that in the U.S. immigrant workers make up 47 percent of the workforce in health care and social services. And the U.S. Census Bureau tell us that 25 percent of all immigrants—compared to 17 percent of all native workers—were in some type of service occupation in 2014. Many of these services are personal services in care work and the majority of these workers are women.

Care work is often seen as a women’s job, a natural extension of the role women have in society. In fact, it’s hardly questioned that care workers are disproportionately women. And because care work is perceived to require few skills, there is a belief that anyone can do it. As a result, care work commands little monetary value. In most cases, migrant workers in the ”care economy” work in jobs that earn low wages and that typically do not come with benefits and workplace protections—particularly when the work takes places in our own homes and communities.

Even when this care work is hired-in to the home, these jobs sit firmly in that blurry terrain between formal and informal work, and since much of the service rendered is about demonstrating care and affection, it is easy for the cared-for—and sometimes for the carers themselves—to devalue this work. And therein lies one of the biggest ironies of care work: so many of us depend on others who perform care work, who are increasingly migrants, that we do not question if they work long hours for low pay or that they have few opportunities to earn pensions and have paid vacation and lack the right to health care themselves.

This begs the question: How can we resolve this apparent conundrum that care work is valuable, important and increasingly in demand yet is too often is rewarded with low wages and associated with poor working conditions and long hours? It is a tough puzzle to solve, but not one that is impossible.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide an excellent opportunity for us to tackle this problem to ensure that care is valued and that care workers have the rights they deserve. The SDGs are a set of universal goals that the international community has signed on to in order to guide their investments in development assistance and to reduce poverty and inequality worldwide. To date they have been seen largely as commitments that are relevant for foreign aid to the poorer countries and not as universal principles that will need to be reported on and monitored within the national boundaries of the wealthier nations.

One of these commitments is to “recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family as nationally appropriate.” This goal is acutely relevant to all countries where entrenched gender inequalities mean that women specialize in caregiving while men tend to specialize in paid work. This goal is also particularly relevant in contexts where migrants densely populate care work and the care sector in host countries, including right here in the United States.

These commitments provide a new opportunity to raise concerns about the need for better care options for families and more quality jobs in care for those seeking employment. They provide a new opportunity for citizens to ask the government to provide services such as after-school programs for children or to offer tax credits to put income in the hands of families so they can purchase in-home help or send an aging parent to senior care or a child to child care. This would make care options more affordable and accessible for many and would provide an opportunity to increase the value of care work. Further, it would ensure that caring jobs are good jobs and that minimum wages and legislation about hours and conditions of work are upheld.

After all, although we need care, we want good quality care for our loved ones and that usually goes hand-in-hand with good quality jobs.

Sarah Gammage is the Director of Gender, Economic Empowerment and Livelihoods at the International Center for Research on Women. She has more than 25 years of experience as a researcher and a feminist economist, providing policy advice and supporting strategic advocacy on gender equality in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

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6 (More) Apps Every Feminist Needs

Wed, 07/13/2016 - 02:36

The number of women in the U.S. with smartphones has risen to over 66%, making smartphone technology one of the top ways for women to stay up to date on important matters in their lives. App developers have been quick to realize the feminist potential of apps as tools of change. Back in 2014, we told you about 6 Apps Every Feminist Needs. Since that time, numerous apps have been developed to target issues which challenge women’s equality in the U.S. and globally. Below are six (more) innovative apps we love.

via Roel Wijnants and licensed under Creative Commons 3.0

Circle of 6

How it works: Designed as a personal safety app, Circle of 6 lets users connect to up to 6 personal contacts. The app has different notifications its users can tap to alert their contacts should the need arise. Reasons for alerting contacts can range anywhere from needing a safe ride home to feeling at risk while traveling alone or as part of an unfamiliar group. Additionally, Circle of 6 connects users to proper local authorities during emergency situations.

Availability: Google Play and iTunes
Cost: Free
Rating: 4 of 5


How it works: Hollaback was developed in 2005 as a way for users to monitor incidents of street harassment in real time and submit them to their local council members. The app has undergone serious redesigns since then, now includes a simpler method of sharing as well as the option to review past stories.

Availability: Google Play and iTunes
Cost: Free
Rating: 4 of 5


How it works: LemonAid is a new app designed to help users obtain birth control and other prescriptions safely and easily. With LemonAid, users answer a series of questions and upload a photo of themselves to the app. A doctor reviews all responses and, if the provided information meets approval, sends a user’s prescription to a nearby pharmacy for pickup. Currently only available in California, Florida, New York, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington, LemonAid’s developers hope to expand their services into other states soon.

Availability: Google Play and iTunes
Cost: $15.00
Rating: 4.8 out of 5

Eve by Glow

How it works: Eve is a health app and period tracker for women who want to exercise control over their reproductive health. Eve helps its users better navigate things like birth control, contraception, PMS, menstrual cycle symptoms, ovulation, fertility, and overall health trends over time.

Availability: Google Play and iTunes
Cost: Free
Rating: 5 of 5

SPARK Women on the Map

How it works: SPARK Women on the Map works in tandem with Field Trip, a mapping app that alerts users when they approach important historical sites. When a user opens Field Trip and enables SPARK’s Women on the Map feature, their phone will sound as they approach locations where women made history. According to their site, SPARK Movement is “a girl-fueled, intergenerational activist organization working online to ignite an anti-racist gender justice movement.” SPARK Women on the Map is a great way to highlight women’s accomplishments throughout history.

Availability: Google Play and iTunes
Cost: Free
Rating: 3.8 of 5


How it works: Hey! VINA was designed to help women find Platonic female friends in and around their neighborhoods.  Whether a woman just moved to an area, is going through a major life transition, or is just looking to make new friends, Hey! VINA helps by pairing users with similar interests in hopes of building lasting friendships. Hey! VINA is still being tested for improvements, but we think this app sounds promising!

Availability: iTunes
Cost: Free
Rating: 3 of 5


Juliette Faraone studied digital media and film at St. Mary-of-the-Woods College before earning her BA in comparative literature from the University of Evansville. In addition to being an editorial intern at Ms., she is a staff writer for Screen Queens. Her work has also appeared at Lesbians Over Everything, Slant and The Zusterschap Collective. In her spare time, Juliette watches Netflix via Skype with her girlfriend and three cats.

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Can More Gender-Neutral Toys & Apps Lead to More Diversity in STEM?

Wed, 07/13/2016 - 01:07

Is your daughter BFFs with Emma yet? She may be now that girls are playing with LEGOS in higher numbers. The toymaker has found success with its lines that are specifically designed for girls and include girl figures like Emma.

via Bill Ward and licensed through Creative Commons 3.0

Compared with 50 years ago, most toys are targeted to either boys or girls and are rife with gender-stereotypes, as is certainly the case with LEGO and has even been attributed to the success of these newer ‘girly’ lines. But more problematic, there are more toys marketed to boys that could expose them to skills they could use as adults in paying jobs, like computer science and engineering. Meanwhile, despite 57% of women working outside the home, toys marketed to girls still largely focus on the domestic realm, like dolls, clothes, kitchenware and even toy vacuums.

Outcomes from the differences in toys become visible at a young age. A new study suggests Disney Princess culture, which is marketed to girls, can influence preschoolers to be more susceptible to potentially damaging gender stereotypes. These may be limiting in the long term for young women if they lead to less confidence or interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. For example, research in teens confirms gender-based differences in digital literacy and stereotypical distributions in areas of interest and use of digital technologies.   

The impact is seen into adulthood. Combined, women only hold 29 percent of jobs in STEM fields. Fostering diversity in STEM has been gaining more traction in recent years and it can start with broadening the kinds of games our kids play, including by engaging youth in creative ways.

Girls today have more choices of toys that promote STEM concepts, but usually in a context or color scheme that meets female stereotypes – examples include Project MC2 dolls, and building toys Roominate and Goldiblox.  These are great advancements and may be effective for some girls, but what about for children who don’t identify with traditional gender stereotypes or may not even identify with their biological sex?

Because children’s interests and skills so clearly can be shaped by the toys with which they play and the media they consume, recently, the White House released a fact sheet suggesting that toys and media must stop promoting gender stereotypes.

Gender-neutral toys show great promise. A study of more than 100 toys found that gender stereotyped toys were “less likely to promote cognitive development” than gender-neutral toys. While the Discovery Store, Marbles The Brain Store, and Fat Brain Toys have many gender-neutral offerings, they are often expensive. 

The reality is that today’s children turn to technology for entertainment. The average age now for getting a first smartphone is 10.3 years old and even children under 4 years old are frequently using mobile devices. We, like most parents, see our children, aged 6 to 11 years old, using apps more and more.  

Although our expertise comes from the seemingly disparate fields of Chemistry and Gender and Sexuality Studies, we realize a similar vision in believing apps are one logical area for more gender-neutral offerings. Especially as using apps on mobile devices is an encouraged and socially acceptable form of play.

App development that is gender-neutral and focused on curiosity and creativity enables open-ended play that fosters dynamic and imaginative thinking.  But it also can help expose all children to STEM and build their self-efficacy in these areas.  This may be particularly important for girls. It’s also important to all children from many marginalized communities or, even tomboys and “emotional” boys and any other child that doesn’t feel she or he fits a traditionally ‘brainy’ stereotype and, therefore, may not think they are cut out for STEM. 

Let’s consider three examples of apps that do this. Kids play with Toca Blocks by creating and exploring anything they can imagine using whacky blocks. In Tiny Bop’s Robot Factory, children design robots from various pieces and then test them in obstacle courses. Tynker exposes children to computer programming, including building their own apps, through game-based exercises that include both gender-neutral options and ones more aligned with traditional gender-based interests. All of these programs can be used at home or on mobile devices and some are increasingly being integrated into school-based curricula. 

Among their many benefits, these apps can increase users’ self-efficacy in STEM and increase the likelihood of a STEM-related career choice. By being gender-neutral, they have the potential to build these traits in a more diverse population of children. Apps have the possibility to not only disrupt gender stereotypes and access but also to allow kids not to submit to race and class stereotypes. Ultimately, this may help our STEM fields become as diverse and imaginative as our country.

Relying on app-based solutions to improve STEM diversity requires that we bridge the ‘participation gap’ of inequities in digital access and literacy that exist in underserved communities.  The MacArthur Foundation’s program on Digital Media and Learning aims to address this issue. It funds organizations such as Digital Youth Network, who are working to understand and support ‘anytime and anywhere’ learning opportunities for all.

And of course, toys and apps won’t solve everything. Many prospective elementary school teachers, for instance, already hold biases about kids and math, presuming that girls don’t like it. These biases in primary school are shown to affect girls permanently—in middle school and high school girls are less likely to take advanced math classes. So we need educators to be aware of their biases and work to change them.  But giving elementary school aged kids free range to develop their passions through technology could be a solution.

Let’s start now to provide for really inclusive technological engagement. If that’s one of the key desired features, then the future of STEM would be so much more interesting.

Jillana Enteen is assistant professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies at Northwestern University. She is currently researching trans medical tourism and trans surgeries in Thailand. She is a member of the Op-Ed Project’s Public Voices Fellowship at NU.



Shannon Haymond, PhD is a clinical chemist at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. She is a member of the OpEd Project Public Voices Fellowship at NU.

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