Women in the Workplace Part II: The Mommy Penalty

By Isabel Jenkins

In the United States today, over forty percent of mothers are the primary breadwinners in their families, reports the White House. But with outdated policies and sexist corporations dominating the workplace, moms have a long way to go before they see true professional equality. The US is the only developed country in the world without paid maternity leave, and our country’s problem with working moms runs deep. As I recently covered in a blogpost for Re:Gender, the mommy penalty hits low income workers particularly hard.

A Demos study shows that only 17 percent of New York’s full-time retail workers and 10 percent of part-time workers had a fixed work schedule in 2012. Unpredictable work schedules negatively impact weekly income, making it difficult for mothers to work full-time and support a family. For women with children (36 percent of women in retail are moms, says Demos), inflexible or unpredictable shifts means choosing between getting the kids to school and getting to work on time. Some workers may be disqualified from receiving public benefits if they don’t work the required number of hours, making a steady full-time schedule vital to upholding other daily needs. Demos reports that less than half of retail workers receive any paid sick days, doubtlessly contributing to the White House statistic that a third of workers have passed up a job because it conflicted with family. Finally, women going to school in the hopes of attaining an education and thus a higher position at work are limited by constantly changing shifts. Escaping poverty is difficult if workers have no access to earning the necessary degrees for more secure and lucrative employment.

In 2014, the American Sociological Review published a study suggesting that men were more likely to work overtime than women. In fact, researchers believe that as much as ten percent of the gender wage gap is due to this disparity in hours. Some might see this as fodder for the argument that the gender wage gap is due to plain ole difference in work ethic. But in reality, many women’s jobs don’t end when they clock out. A study published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that American women put in four additional hours of work at home a day, while men put in between two and a half and three hours. As is expected, unpaid homework often involves childcare. Many women are required, or expected, to be at home to do unpaid domestic work. This severely cuts down the amount of time mothers are available for paid work. Single, low-wage mothers are thus faced with the choice of making more money or being home while their children are awake.

The tipped minimum wage presents an additional set of obstacles for mothers of all colors and classes. Women make up 74 percent of workers in tipped professions, including waitressing, bartending and hairdressing, reports the White House. Half of tipped workers are at least 30 years old and one in seven receive food stamps, dispelling the myth that only high schoolers and college students work tipped jobs. Federal law allows employers to pay the hourly minimum of $2.13 to all employees who regularly receive tips for their services, as long as, when combined, their tips and tipped minimum wage add up to $7.25 an hour. If they don’t, the employer is required to make up the difference, which doesn’t always happen, according to the White House report linked above. Unfortunately, one in ten workers in tipped-wage jobs report receiving less than the federal minimum wage, even with their tips included.

According to Restaurant Opportunities Council United (ROCUnited), year-round tipped employees earning $8.75 an hour (the median wage for these workers) only make about $18,200 a year. This is well under the poverty threshold for a family of four, considering the living wage for a family of four in the US varies from about $17 to $22 an hour state-to-state. A ROCUnited report revealed another unsurprising fact: mothers (specifically in the restaurant industry) spend 35% of their weekly wages on their children.

Mothers of color are at a heightened risk of poverty. In states where the local government hasn’t raised the tipped minimum wage, like Texas and New Jersey, workers of color are two times more likely to live in poverty than the rest of the population. That means one in four people of color in tipped occupations face poverty every day, compared to 16 percent of white employees and 20 percent of workers overall.

In some cases, women are discriminated against before they are even officially mothers. The Demos study discussed earlier in this post takes a close look at retail superstore Walmart, already known for discriminating against its female workers. Researchers found that the corporation refused to provide appropriate accommodations for pregnant employees. Expecting mothers reported being forced to climb ladders or carry heavy boxes, threatened with unpaid sick leave if they refused. For women preparing to support an additional life, time off work isn’t financially feasible. So when does an unfair work practice become a life-threatening one?

But there’s good news: In March of this year, Walmart acknowledged a lawsuit filed by its workers concerning the violation of pregnant employees’ rights under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. It issued a new policy that provided reasonable accommodations for expecting mothers. On July 16th, Employment Opportunity Commission announced that it would be updating its rules regarding treatment of pregnant workers for the first time in 30 years. The new guidelines establish that the Americans with Disabilities Act does apply to pregnant employees, meaning that discrimination against workers that have been or could become pregnant is illegal. This not only represents an important step forward for women in the workplace, but it also means that fewer babies will be born to recently-fired or underpaid mothers, which can only improve the quality of life for the next generation.

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Ending Campus Sexual Assault with Safety, Consent and Respect

By Isabel Jenkins

This Sunday, Miss Nevada Nia Sanchez was awarded the Miss USA pageant title. During the question-and-answer segment of the contest, Sanchez was asked about the issue of sexual assault on college campuses. The 24-year old, a holder of a fourth degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, responded, “More awareness is very important so that women can learn to protect themselves.”

I see where Miss Nevada is coming from. In a country where at least 1 in 4 women experience sexual assault during an academic career, it’d be wonderful if colleges offered self-defense classes for credit. But they don’t, and more importantly, they shouldn’t have to. Which is why I find Sanchez’s attempt to empower women to be troublesome.

I could pay hundreds of dollars for self-defense classes (assuming I have this privilege) and wear my black belt to every party I attend from now till graduation. That still wouldn’t get to the root of the problem: that college students are not properly addressing safety, respect and consent. And deflecting the responsibility to women only addresses half the question, because rape culture permits us to ignore men in conversations about violence against women.

“Rape culture” itself is a touchy topic. Whether or not you believe in its existence doesn’t change the facts. Despite journalists who call rape culture “a panic where paranoia, censorship and false accusations flourish,” campus sexual assault is real, it affects men and women, and it needs to be addressed as a serious security threat on college campuses in America. As woman in my 20s, I know at least a handful of women who have been sexually assaulted on a college campus, and I don’t think I’m unique. Do you live on a college campus? Have you ever seen a student, at a party or elsewhere, force him or herself sexually on another student? I know I’m not talking statistics here, but this stuff feels like common sense at this point.

At least 80% of sexual assaults are committed by an acquaintance, and 48.8% of college women whose experiences fit the criteria for rape don’t consider those experiences “rape.” These statistics indicate how deeply ingrained violence against women is in college culture. A student who tries to force his intoxicated female friend into a sexual act can pass it off as a drunken mistake or a misunderstanding. This casual perspective on rape is what makes frat parties potentially dangerous places for women, but it also influences women to brush assault off. It’s not as real if it was that guy from your Stats class, just like it’s not as real if you can’t remember the whole thing. It’s not as real if he walked you home after, it’s not as real if your friends interrupted it before it went too far. Once again, the responsibility to deal with rape culture falls in the laps of college women. It’s our job to rationalize, to get over it, to forgive him because he’s really a cool guy when he’s not drunk! When almost half of college women who have been assaulted don’t recognize they’ve been assaulted (or, more probably, feel pressure to pretend it didn’t feel like assault), it’s time to change the narrative on consent.

Men are oppressed by rape culture too. 4% of college-aged men report surviving rape, but considering the stigma we hold about rape and our conception of masculinity (being strong, being tough, being hard), men are far less likely to report rape than women. Men are also the survivors of rape, and varying degrees of sexual violence, in our college community. Arousal doesn’t mean consent. Damaging assumptions make college campuses unsafe for everyone.

Survivors of sexual assault on campus experience another obstacle: they usually have to continue going to school with their rapists. In cases where a college does not properly handle reports of sexual assault, a practice that has been normalized and validated by campus administrators across the country, survivors are forced to live in fear or leave school on their own accord. The power and control dynamic of a nonconsensual experience can leave a person living in fear. Maybe you’ll have to see each other in class, maybe around campus, maybe at the next party. People and places on campus become triggers for painful memories of the assault. Maybe the rapist is a member of student government, or maybe the rapist is your girlfriend, but either way there’s a chance he or she might live down the hall from you.How can you feel safe enough to go about your daily life at school, let alone learn?

And that’s how one “drunk misunderstanding” can effectively destroy a person’s entire academic career at a particular institution.

Some students have taken the law into their own hands when faced with unresponsive sexual assault policies, but even well-meaning student-led tactics can turn into opportunities for misinformation and panic. What we need are better policies, better access to mental health services on campus, and increased awareness of what rape really is. We need more men to understand their role in rape culture and how they can be allies to women on campus. Maybe we also need self-defense classes, like Miss Nevada recommends, but do we really want to live in a world where we condone criminal acts because they’re “inevitable”? What if we taught college men that they are responsible for their actions, no matter how drunk they are or how much pressure they’re getting from their friends? What if we encouraged men and women to be strong together, teaching and learning from each other, instead of asking women to take self-defense classes against nameless, faceless classmates?

Campus sexual assault has the potential to destroy four years of personal growth and development. Because every person has the right to feel safe at college, let’s work together to change conversations about responsibility and consent.

 

Check out these organizations that are helping to end campus sexual assault and find out how you can get involved at your institution:

Students Active for Ending Rape (SAFER)

American Association of University Women (AAUW)

Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN)

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Fear and Loathing in Islam

By Gargi Padki

John Stewart interviews Malala on The Daily Show

Malala Yousafzai was interviewed on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart during her trip to the United States in October of 2013. She spoke beautifully on human nature and the value of education, and she demonstrated the power of speaking out against oppression. When Malala was fifteen, she was sitting on a school bus waiting to go home when a Talib boarded the bus and shot her three times, once in the head. The brutal assassination attempt was meant to quiet her public outcries against the banning of girls from schools in Swat Valley, her homeland in Afghanistan. Since the attempt at her life, Malala has become an incredibly vocal proponent of equal access to education for women and girls. Malala is now sixteen years old, and has grown up under Taliban rule for the past eight years. She has watched men abuse power and destroy her village and her way of life.

Malala was born into the Muslim faith. It is all she knows by way of religion. She believes in the tenets of Islam, and she worships and prays in mosques alongside her family, friends, and peers. She shares the religion of the men who have placed a fatwa (a bounty) on her head. A young revolutionary, she is working in far more perilous conditions than most Western activists, and is working with a lot of compassion and sincerity. She is a wildly different image of a Muslim woman than we are ever shown in Western media. Her father, a Muslim man, supports and protects her, and is a brave man who stands in the face of Taliban rule and encourages his daughter to go to school. Enlightened men, fathers and brothers, exist throughout Islam, and they are working to do the best they can for the women in their family.

In Western media, portrayals of Muslim men and women are incredibly severe. “Muslim men are polygamous (read polygynous) and abusive, and Muslim women are veiled, shackled, and secluded” (Hasan 58). Americans are taught to hate Islam in order to gain support for the two invasions and occupations, both illegal under international law, that our nation is fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. The West has used Islamophobia as a tool for justifying new cruelties in warfare since the year 622, when Europeans began wars against Islam. “European powers have found it convenient to portray Islam and Muslims in the worst possible light”, and this fear of Islam allows us to hate Islam without understanding how our hatred is deeply rooted in justifying war (Hasan 57). Modern examples of cruel warfare are drone and chemical warfare – technologies that allow us to blindly decimate a population, and has “other-ed” Muslims so much that we fear them and are unwilling or unable to see their humanity.

The Western media selectively depicts the most oppressive aspects of Taliban rule in Afghanistan to scare us into thinking that all Muslims are hateful of the West, technology, and equality. Yet in those same borders live men who are challenging Taliban authority and risking their lives everyday for the sake of their wives, mothers, and daughters. We demonize and simplify the worst, most extreme, violent, and oppressive regimes in the Middle East and say that those men are “obeying” Islam, but to say that we must hate Islam because of those few thousand men is to be blind. Malala recognizes that these men are not using, but are indeed abusing Islam to assert domination over her village. She tells us a story about when the Taliban destroyed an electricity generator in her village, an act that left hundreds without water during the sacred month of Ramadan, and how she detests them for abusing the word of the Prophet to justify their actions.

The use of religion to oppress women and control their bodies is hardly a new concept. Society, including the West, has been villainizing and cursing women since conception. When Adam and Eve fell from the Garden of Eden, Adam and all men after him were punished with the burden of having women gnarling at their heels, and women were cursed with having menstrual cramps and painful childbirth. Christianity tells women that the natural and miraculous process of child bearing, labor, and delivery is inherently evil and is a punishment. De Beauvoir writes in The Second Sex that “thus humanity is male and man defines woman as not in herself but as relative to him,” and that to be a man is the default, anything less than is a failure. De Beauvoir asserts that as early as in Ancient Greece, Plato thanked the gods for not making him a woman, because to be woman was inherently lacking and defective.

Everywhere around the world women are oppressed and religion is used as the justification for violence because it is easy to claim that men are exerting authority given to them by a higher power. Hindu men used to burn women in a pyre when they became widows, saying that she must live and die for her husband, a barbaric practice known as sati. Even though it was awful, it does not make sense to say that all Hindus are evil. The implementation of Hindu practices differs, and it is always the decision of the follower to choose peace or violence. Hinduism does not need to be demonized in America. This is why many Americans might never know about sati – the United States does not need to fear monger Americans against Hinduism. But the United States will use any tool at its disposal in order to remain in control of the oil rich Middle East.

Hatred of Islam is not going to help resolve the very real oppression that Malala and thousands of girls like her live with under Taliban rule. In order to help girls and women educate themselves in Afghanistan, we cannot force our values and religion on them. We must instead understand and respect Malala’s religion, listen to her requests, and help her achieve her goals from her perspective. We must understand that the violent images we are fed of Afghan men are what the powerful Western media wants us to see. Within Afghanistan, people are working to put an end to the inequalities and violence perpetrated by a very small portion of the Muslim population.

We must also realize the full extent to which other-ing leads to violence. Drone warfare allows a soldier to sit in a secure facility in a desert in the Southwest United States, without any physical threat, and kill a man riding a jeep in Afghanistan, which might as well be a million miles away. Drone warfare distances soldiers from combat and therefore calls into question the ethics of killing and what it means to serve in the American military. Drone warfare also “emphasizes the disparity in power between the parties and reinforces popular support for the terrorists,” and as more Afghan people live in fear of missiles coming out of thin air, destroying their homes, and killing their families, they become tacit supporters of extremism in the region (Bowden). Other-ing of Islam, and the hatred of Muslims allow Americans to see drone warfare as a justifiable act of war without giving concern to the power of the military. We become blind to the incredible power our government holds and content when we kill men thousands of miles away like they were characters in a video game.

The other-ing of Muslim people has allowed for the United States military to justify drone warfare, and that there are a lot of parallels between using Islam to justify violence and using fear of Islam to justify violence. Both require the oppressive party to dehumanize the other, and though there is a lot of violence against women that exists in a lot of Muslim countries, and though it would be foolish to deny that, it would be detrimental and contradictory to the progress of women and girls to say that Islam is the root of the violence.

 

Sources

Hasan, M. (2012). Feminism as Islamophobia: A review of misogyny charges against islam. Intellectual Discourse20(1), 55-78.

Bowden, M. (2013, August 18). The killing machines. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/09/the-killing-machines-how-to-think-about-drones/309434/

Yousafzai, M. (2013, October 08). Interview by JS Stewart [Video Tape Recording]. I am Malala, New York, NY. Retrieved from http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/tue-october-8-2013/exclusive—malala-yousafzai-extended-interview-pt–1

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Welcome Esraa Saleh as SUSO’s New Community Engagement Fellow!

We are pleased to announce that our very own Esraa Saleh will be succeeding the wonderful Gargi Padki as Project Speak Up Speak Out’s Community Engagement Fellow this fall!

Ms. Saleh is an Algerian-American living in Harlem and is in her last year at City College. She is a B.A candidate in Political Science and International Studies, with a concentration in International Relations, and minors in Women’s Studies. Ms. Saleh works at the Office of Student Life and Leadership Development and is the 2014-2015 President for the Student Association for International Studies. She also is the co-founder and former President of the Middle Eastern and North African Union.

Ms. Saleh has an academic interest in gender and post-colonial politics in North Africa and also gender-based dynamics in the Harlem community. She is determined to collaborate with men and women towards shedding light on gender issues that are misunderstood. She largely emphasizes the importance of shared participation and responsibility in facing gender based discrimination and encourages the role of men in women’s struggles. Ms. Saleh believes that in order for us to world globally, we need to work locally.

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Immigration Options for Survivors of Gender-Based Violence

By Ilana Gelb

Between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the U.S. every year, reports the Department of Homeland Security. Even when some of the victims are freed or released, their fate remains uncertain.

Many victims are not given adequate support or rehabilitation services, and some are criminalized as prostitutes. Others are deported. As many trafficking victims come from instability and poverty at home, deportation can perpetuate the root causes of trafficking. For human trafficking victims wishing to remain in the United States, there are options for temporary visas, specific to trafficking victims. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reports that victims of “rape, murder, manslaughter, domestic violence, sexual assault, and many others” may also be eligible for immigration support.

There are two main visas for trafficking victims. There is the T-Visa for victims to remain in the United States to assist with prosecuting traffickers, and the U Visa, which allows victims of certain crimes, including trafficking, to remain in the United States.

According to USCIS, the T-Visa is for nonimmigrant victims of human trafficking who are able to assist in an “investigation or prosecution of human trafficking. Victims of trafficking in the United States, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, or at a point of entry due to trafficking” are eligible. Additionally, one must “comply with any reasonable request from a law enforcement agency for assistance in the investigation,” unless one is unable to assist due to minor status or psychological or physical trauma. Lastly, to be eligible one must demonstrate that he or she would “suffer extreme hardship involving unusual or severe harm if removed form the United States.”

U Visas are given to victims of crimes in the United States who are non-citizens. This visa gives victims of certain crimes temporary legal status in the US. Immigrants with this visa have eligibility to work. The visa can last up to 4 years. Family members can be included in this visa.

If survivors of human trafficking wish to remain in the United States for a longer period of time, they can potentially apply for asylum. To be eligible for asylum, one must be physically present in the United States and have suffered persecution or fear based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.  One can also apply for standard citizenship.

Other victims of gender-based violence may be vulnerable to deportation as well if they speak up about the abuse. Victims of domestic violence who are immigrants married to U.S. Citizens may feel unable to leave the relationship due to fear of deportation. Every person in the U.S. is entitled to protection by the police, regardless of immigration status.

It is possible to get a divorce and maintain legal immigration status in the United States in order to leave an abusive home. A victim of domestic violence can apply for legal immigration status for themselves and their children. This application is kept confidential; not even a family member will be told of the application. Female victims of abuse can apply for immigration through self-petitions for legal status under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). VAWA provides money for the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women. It sets standards for those convicted. If a woman is at risk of being deported for leaving her abusive husband, she can apply for cancellation of removal under VAWA under the grounds that the relationship was abusive. Additionally, male and female victims of domestic violence can apply for U-nonimmigrant status.

Domestic violence and human trafficking victims have resources to maintain or achieve legal status in the United States. Although there are many other boundaries, victims of gender-based violence are not bound to stay in abusive situations because of immigration uncertainty.

Some organizations that provide support for victims of human trafficking and domestic violence seeking legal immigration status in the United States include:

 

HIAS

New York, New York

1-800-HIAS-714

 

American Immigration Lawyers Association

Washington, DC

202-507-7600

 

American Bar Association

Chicago, IL and Washington DC

800-285-2221

 

Immigrant Women & Children Project

City Bar Justice Center

212-382-6717

 

Safe Horizon: Immigration Law Project

718-943-8632

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Enough is Enough: Cultural Defense of Domestic Abuse

By Rabiyatou Valian

Gargi Padki and Rabiyatou Valian attend a New York Asian Women Center event

Gargi Padki and Rabiyatou Valian attend an event with the Korean American Family Service Center at Queensboro Hall.

My close friend is in an abusive marriage, but she refuses to speak out against her husband’s violence. I always wonder why she doesn’t do anything to end it.

When I voice my concerns, she tells me “I am African and we don’t do things like that. Europeans take their husbands to the police; a real born African woman will never do such thing.”

There you have it. “We are Africans” has repeatedly been used as an excuse not to hold perpetrators accountable for their actions. It is a disturbing reality that culture takes precedence over basic human rights. The value of human life is priceless, and it should not be undermined by the pervasive rhetoric of culture, religion and tradition. Whether we are African, Asian, American or European, we deserve to be treated with honor and respect by our significant others.

For a long time, silence has been used as a weapon to perpetrate domestic and sexual violence in traditional communities. Batterers and families of domestic violence survivors use the cultural defense to perpetuate violence against women in their communities. They insist that in their native lands, beating women was commonplace and didn’t require law enforcement or any intervention outside of the home. Women in these communities expect that their daughters, sisters, sisters-in-law, and all other women will not speak up about the violence because it is common. Domestic violence is viewed as a part and parcel of marriage.

Himani Bannerji, a Bengali-Canadian writer and philosopher, explains the cultural defense of domestic abuse in her introduction of Returning the Gaze. She argues that the change has to start at the roots of a community and diffuse outward until society is totally reformed. Equality can’t simply be instated from an outside force.

“Our struggle is for a fundamental change in social relationships rather than for a per community quota of representations in the parliament of ‘race’ and ‘ethnicities’. We are engaged in politics, linking theories with practices, examining ideologies through our lives, and our lives through revolutionary ideas. We are not shopping in the market of cultural differences,” she writes.

In the case of my friend, she has been forced to believe that she has no voice because she is her husband’s property. In other words, he can do whatever he wants to her, including battering her.

I used to believe this too, until I started volunteering for Project Speak Up, Speak Out (SUSO). The program focuses on breaking the silence that allows domestic violence to continue within all communities. From the trainings, I learned that because I have been silent about my friend’s violent relationship, I too am complacent to the violence. I now believe that that we all have a moral responsibility to speak up on behalf of battered loved ones who feel trapped. They need to know that their voices can be heard.

Finding a voice can be difficult for immigrant women in the United States. For many battered immigrant African women, like my friend, their husbands physically, emotionally, and economically abuse them. These men often intimidate their wives by using citizenship and residency privilege to stop them from revealing their abuse to anyone. These women are often isolated by the language barrier, causing them to feel trapped in their abusive marriages. Women who are experiencing abuse and are concerned about their abusive partners threatening their immigration statuses should know about Visa options, such as the Battered Spouse Waiver, the U-Visa, and other protections covered in the Violence Against Women Act. These options have been put into place to protect undocumented women.

There are many non-profit organizations like SUSO that are actively involved in raising awareness of domestic violence and sexual assault against immigrant women. The Korean American Family Service Center and the Sauti Yetu Center for African Woman and Families are community-based organizations that work to create a violence-free society. These organizations believe in a world where people hold human life over social constructions like religion and tradition. They provide these services through counseling, education, and advocacy programs for both individuals and families.

At SUSO, we do not accept the cultural defense. We expect that women will advocate for their families and loved ones who are in violent relationships. All of us are common at our core, and no one deserves to live in fear of an abusive partner.

My friend may not know how to use her voice now, but I have found mine. I intend to use my voice to inspire my friend, and to make sure every survivor of domestic violence knows that she is not alone.

If you need immediate shelter support or other immigration services, check out the New York Asian Women Center here.

References:

Bannerji, Himani. 1993. “Returning the Gaze: An Introduction,” in Returning the Gaze. Toronto: Sister Vision, p.xxix

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Women in the Workplace Part 1: Sex-Segmented Labor

By Isabel Jenkins

“On average, full-time working women earn just 77 cents for every dollar a man earns.”

Many Americans, especially feminists, are familiar with this statistic. But what most don’t understand is that the gender gap in the workplace isn’t just about unequal pay.

A focus on the numerical wage gap ignores the many other obstacles blocking women from equality in the workplace. The circumstances that influence a woman’s decision to enter a certain profession—and how she’s treated after she has the job—say much more about the state of the American workplace than a simple wage gap statistic does.

The gender wage gap has lowered by 17% in the 50 years since the passage of The Equal Pay Act, reports the National Equal Pay Task Force. Compared to women’s 59.8% of men’s pay in 1963, 77% today is doubtlessly an improvement. But a more important issue lies in the division of jobs available to men and women, not in the disparity between pay for equal jobs. The Huffington Post reports that women make up two-thirds of low-wage workers and only 14.6% of the top earning positions at Fortune 500 companies.

Women demonstrate interest in fields like early childhood education, social work, and visual and performing arts beginning in their college years, reports Christina Hoff Sommers in a well researched but poorly informed article published by The Daily Beast. She points to the fact that engineering majors in college tend to be from 72% (chemical engineering) to 97% (naval architecture and marine engineering) male dominated as proof that “the sexes, taken as a group, are somewhat different”.

Positions in early childhood education and social work yield on average $36,000 to $39,000 a year, whereas petroleum engineering positions boast $80,000 to $120,000 salaries, the article reports. The first implication here: America doesn’t value mental health and family stability the same way it values commercial development. The second implication: Women are entering professions that pay significantly less than jobs held by men. Sommers concludes, “Much of the wage gap can be explained away by simply taking account of college majors. In the pursuit of happiness, men and women appear to take different paths.”

She’s onto something… But this disparity of interest in professions is not as organic as she makes it sound. The sexes are different, but it’s unclear where this difference starts. Do preferences for the “caring professions” begin to form in girls while they’re still in utero? Or do they take root after birth, when girls are showered with baby dolls and child-sized plastic kitchens?

If boys and girls are socialized differently starting in early childhood, it’s highly possible that their career preferences later in life result from this socialization. This process creates sex-segmented labor, or professions that are dominated by one sex. Stereotypical ideas of nurses and doctors, or secretaries and CEOs, highlight how implicit the gender gap is in our understanding of the professional world. Because men traditionally tend towards certain types of jobs and women towards others, it can be difficult to accept exceptions to these social rules (the word “murse” used to describe a “male nurse”, for example). And because typically male dominated jobs, like engineering, are higher-paying than female dominated jobs, like teaching, the gender wage gap widens.

Women are just as capable of succeeding in male-dominated professions as men are. Contrary to Summor’s belief that men and women are inherently suited to different professions, a Cornell University study found that gender differences in math and science proficiency are negligible. The real determining factor is confidence, and studies show that boys are culturally taught to be more confident in math than girls are.

In the classroom, girls are more likely than boys to double- and triple-check their answers before speaking in front of a class, reports a study conducted by University of Georgia psychologist Martha Carr. Boys, on the other hand, are encouraged to compete—“being first” presides over “being right”. This confident speed, dubbed “math fluency”, helps boys to do well as math classes become harder. Girls fall behind simply because they don’t trust their abilities.

In 1983, there were 13 boys to every girl in America who scored in the top one in 10,000 in mathematics. By 2007, this ratio had shrunk to approximately 3 boys for every girl. “If the difference were just in the genome, there would not be that improvement,” Beth Azar wrote in her review of the study for the American Psychological Association. Scientists credit the increase in female math achievers to changing social norms that encourage girls to take higher-level math classes in high school. A confident push could be all it takes to encourage girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Today, women earn 48% of bachelors’ degrees in math, says Hyde. If women are just as capable as men are intellectually, why aren’t high-paying STEM professions more gender equal? Hyde blames the corporate culture of math-centered professions, specifically engineering, for catering to the documented male interest in “things” as opposed to “people”. In purposely presenting the image of STEM careers as purely technical, with no interpersonal element, corporate culture makes sure women think twice about applying.

Organizations nationwide are fighting to reverse this trend by showing girls and women that STEM careers are not only just available to them, but that they are also exciting and satisfying professions. The Institution of Education Sciences has a downloadable guide available to teachers that aims to interest girls in math and science in the classroom. Goldiblox encourages young girls to play with “construction toys” as an alternative to traditionally “girly” toys, hoping to engage girls in math and science before they can be socialized to dislike it. Their first commercial was a hit because of its unconventional message about what it means to be a girl.

In encouraging girls from an early age to feel confident in their abilities in math, science, and beyond, we as a society can make the dream of higher-paying professions a reality for women. Although this only addresses a fraction of the gender gap in the workplace, it’s a wonderful place to start.

Sex-segmented labor, sexual harassment, discrimination against mothers—these factors critically influence where women work and how much they make. “Sex-Segmented Labor” is the first post of a trilogy that will unpack the myth of the gender wage gap to reveal the real inequalities for working women.

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The Power of Natural Birth: Midwives in the US

By Gargi Padki

“Why did I not know that birth is the pinnacle where women discover the courage to become mothers?” -Anita Diamant, The Red Tent

There are many factors at play in the United States today that prevent women from experiencing the power of natural birth. One in three women in the US gave birth by cesarean delivery in 2011, a 60% increase since 1996, reports The American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Caesarians have become overused in the United States without evidence that it benefits the mother or the infant. Midwives, who are often discredited in the US, hope to combat this and other troubling birthing practices that have developed in our country.

Midwives have historically been instrumental in helping women give birth. For centuries, they’ve coached women through the emotional process of labor and delivery. However, there has been a slow and steady push in America since the 1850s to remove midwives from the medical profession. Western medicine treats pregnant women as they would any other sick person. It scares them into taking drugs to numb the pain that would otherwise serve as a barometer for labor.

Witches, Midwives, & Nurses by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English outlines the expulsion of midwives from Western medicine, which began as early as the 14th century in the form of witch-hunts.

The hunting of midwives as witches began because midwives used empirical evidence to heal instead of Church doctrine. Additionally, midwives would “surrender to their sense”, or gain knowledge through experience, which was a betrayal to religious doctrine. Midwives were also the pinnacle of sexual liberation for women. They helped women have sex without getting pregnant and provided them with safe abortions. The Church supported rumors that midwives had sex with the devil during their “initiation” into witchcraft, hoping to add further negative stigma to their sexual health advice.

Witch-hunters believed that “no one [did] more harm to the Catholic Church than midwives”. When a woman was accused of being a witch, she was hunted by a trifecta of power comprised of the Church, the State, and the medical profession in an attempt to prevent her from independently healing peasant populations. “The witch hunts were well organized campaigns, initiated, financed, and executed by the Church and the State,” write Ehrenreich and English. Women were burned at the stake, a public display of violence that made an example of them to discourage others from entering into midwifery.

The witch-hunts in Europe were  “a calculated ruling class campaign of terrorization” in order to assert power and control over women’s bodies. Persecution as a result of fear of midwives did not succeed in killing all midwives, but it did categorize midwives as superstitious and malevolent.

In the United States in the 1850s, women were kept out of the medical field because women’s health movements were strongly associated with feminist movements. Medical schools also banned women from entry, and modern nursing was invented to give women a “suitable” place in hospitals. As the medical field became more masculine, so did obstetrics and gynecology. Starting in the early 1900s, childbirth in hospitals became the norm. Today, more American babies are born in hospitals than in any other developed country.

In “The Business of Being Born”, 2008 documentary about childbirth in the United States, a midwife explains the process of medical interventions that occur in hospitals to accelerate the labor and delivery process (and it often ends in Caesarian section). The process begins with an injection of Pitocin, or oxytocin, a hormone that dilates the cervix. When Pitocin is administered, the number and intensity of contractions increases, causing the mother pain and shocking the baby. When the mother can no longer bear the pain of the Pitocin-induced labor contractions, she is prescribed an epidural to slow down contractions. As these labor pains subside, the process of delivery is delayed, and the dosage of Pitocin is increased again. As doctors continue to prescribe her Pitocin and increase her pain medicine, the fetus goes into distress. The mother is then told that a Caesarian section is her only option for a safe birth.

But the acceleration of the birthing process is dangerous. “These interventions and restrictions make labor and birth more difficult for women by increasing stress, disrupting the hormonal orchestration of labor, and interfering with the natural, physiologic process of labor and birth,” writes Dr. Judith A. Lothian in her article “Safe, Healthy Birth: What Everyone Woman Needs to Know”. These interventions have led to the alarming cesarean rate in the United States. In a study conducted by Childbirth Connection, statistics showed that the Cesarean rate in the United States leveled off at 32.8% in 2010 and 2011 after increasing for over a decade. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization suggests that 5-10% is the optimal rate for women and babies.

In the United States, birth has become another addition to our culture of spectacles. Women are socialized to be fearful of midwives and weary of naturally delivering their children. As women, we should acknowledge the power of our bodies to have natural deliveries instead of fearing them. Blind acceptance of the norm of a hospital birth facilitated by drugs is unnecessary when natural births facilitated by midwives are a viable option. This choice, when possible, hands the control over childbirth back to women who have been specializing in labor and delivery for generations.

 

For further reading on midwifery, check out Witches, Midwives, & Nurses: A History of Women  Healers by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English (1973: Feminist Press).

 

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Dictating Our Happiness: A Process of Trauma, Vulnerability and Healing

By Esraa Saleh

Experiences of sexual and physical violence can leave markers of trauma on the survivor of the violence. Traumatic reactions are established during times when resistance, escape or self-defense is not possible. Trauma results from being in situations where one has zero power and no control. Trauma terrorizes you by overwhelming the ordinary neurological systems that give you a sense of control, meaning, and personal security.

But an individual with post-traumatic stress disorder or sustained trauma in his or her past is still capable of attaining happiness. Embracing one’s vulnerability, employing self-acceptance and detaching self-blame are important steps towards living a manageable life.

All trauma survivors share a common denominator: they feel a sense of intense fear, loss of control and threat of annihilation. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been deconstructed into three overarching cardinal symptoms, referred to as hyperarousal, intrusion and constriction.

Hyperarousal is the chronic arousal of the autonomic nervous system. It causes the individual to be startled easily, to be irritable to any provocation and to develop abnormal sleeping habits. A person in a state of hyperarousal attempts to be on constant guard to not ever have to feel powerless again.

Apart from constantly walking on eggshells, traumatized people suffer intrusion. They re-live the event as if it were currently reproducing itself. They have difficulty resuming their daily lives because their trauma repeatedly interrupts. The traumatic experience becomes encoded in their memory, which translates into consciousness – both as flashbacks during waking states and as nightmares during sleeping states. Traumatic memories lack verbal narrative but are rather expressed in forms of vivid sensation and imagery which may have the emotional force of the original traumatic experience.

Traumatized people not only reproduce their moments of terror in their thoughts, but also in their actions, either in literal or disguised form. Some people may desire to reenact the traumatic event with a fantasy of changing the outcome and make conscious decisions to do so. A rape survivor, Sohaila Abdulali describes her determination to return to the scene of her trauma:

“I’ve always hated feeling like something’s got the better of me. When this thing happened, I was at such a vulnerable age – I was seventeen – I had to prove they weren’t going to get me down. The guy who raped me told me ‘If we ever find you out here alone again we’re going to get you’. And I believed them. So its always a bit of a terror walking up that lane, because I’m always afraid I’ll see them…Yet a part of me feels that if I don’t walk there, then they’ll have gotten me. And so, even more than other people, I will walk up that lane.”

Some may unconsciously reproduce an aspect of their terror in a disguised form. An incest survivor Sharon Simone shares her experiences in relating her actions with her history of abuse:

“…I was involved in an auto accident. A male driver was trying to cut me off, and I said to myself in the crudest of language, there is no f-ing way you’re going to push your penis into my lane. Like right out of the blue! Boom! Like that! It was really strange.”

The third cardinal symptom of PTSD, constriction, is a numbing or constricted state of consciousness. It is the result of the survivor’s feelings of powerlessness as she subdues herself to a state of surrender. Sometimes traumatic experiences cause anger and resentment, but also paradoxically a state of detachment and calmness. These changes include feelings of indifference, emotional detachment and profound passivity – essentially disassociation from any struggle. These changes in consciousness resemble hypnotic trace states. Dissociations may be adaptive at the moment, because they allow for traumatic experience to be walled off, therefore preventing proper healing.

Victims of traumatic events often fear vulnerability. Brene Brown’s “Power of Vulnerability” speech breaks down the “culture of scarcity” – the culture of never having enough. This entails that think we are not good enough and are always seeking to revert the blame, particularly to ourselves. When we learn to embrace our vulnerability and put down the armor we use to protect ourselves, we will finally realize we are worthy of love, belonging, and intimacy. Although we think that vulnerability makes us weak, it is actually the opposite. We can only accept the great things about ourselves and the world around us if we are willing to be vulnerable.

It is often difficult for trauma survivors to remain happy given the shame and self-blame woven into their post-trauma state of mind. But the first step to healing is understanding that you are worth the time and effort it takes to heal.

As power comes in vulnerability, it also comes in understanding that you may never get the justice you deserve. In Stacey May Fowles’ “The Truth is Embarrassing: Olivia Benson and the Timeline of Trauma”, she says:

“In rape recovery you quickly learn that no one will ever provide you with justice. Even if you decide to pursue it legally, there is no result that will act as a salve on the violation you’ve felt, that will repair how the incident has upended your life. Proving someone’s guilt will not give you back the years of your life destroyed by that endless fear and mistrust, how you were forced to reconstruct your life in order to survive what others do with ease.”

And this is perhaps the most difficult hump to overcome in healing: letting go.

Understanding trauma and post-traumatic characteristics is complex, but understanding healing is ever more complicated. Healing processes are not easy. Being vulnerable and accepting your fate are the first steps towards a happier, more fulfilling life. The power lost in traumatic experiences can be regained in knowing that each individual decides his or her capacity to be happy.

It’s possible to be a happy person. I promise. You deserve it.

 

To learn more about trauma and recovery, check out Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence–From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror by Judith Herman.

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Domestic Violence: A Global Epidemic

By Isabel Jenkins

Communities across the world are combatting the normalization of domestic violence through public health campaigns and advertisements. They take various approaches in order to be seen and heard in their respective regions, emphasizing that violence is viewed differently by different cultures and therefore requires distinct courses of action.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled the “That’s Abuse” campaign in New York City this past fall in an effort to combat domestic violence. The ads, featured in public transport stops around the city, depict a woman crying with adjectives like “threatened” and “humiliated” around her face. It explains that these negative feelings, when felt in an intimate relationship, are signs of abuse. Finally, it provides a number to call to be connected to city services such as counseling and shelters.

Studies show that emotional abuse tends to escalate into physical abuse. Thus the “That’s Abuse” campaign seeks to encourage women in abusive relationships to get help before their partners become physically violent. In America, women are legally equal to men, and the “That’s Abuse” campaign reflects the theoretical agency thus given to women.

In August of 2013, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia criminalized domestic abuse after a nation-wide ad campaign brought the topic out into the open. Women in Saudi Arabia are treated as minors under the guardianship system. This system requires that they receive permission from their husbands, fathers, or brothers if they wish to work, study, and travel. Saudi Arabian women are forbidden from driving alone, and they are often tracked through SMS so that their whereabouts can be reported to their husbands. Until recently, tribal traditions prevented women from speaking out against violent partners. In Saudi Arabia, domestic violence is permitted and seen as something a woman has to endure to remain protected and provided for by the men in her life.

The King Khalid Foundation’s anti-domestic violence campaign, called “No More Abuse”, sheds light on the taboo subject of domestic violence for the first time in Saudi Arabia last April. Similar to “That’s Abuse”, the “No More Abuse” ad features a close-up of a woman’s face. But this woman’s features are covered by a niqab—her defining characteristic is her bloodied left eye. The words under her eyes read “Some things can’t be covered – Fighting women’s abuse together”. This tactic attempts to work within the confines of a society that offers women very little personal agency. Instead of addressing women exclusively, the ad emphasizes the community as a whole. Saudi Arabian women aren’t able to tackle the problem by themselves—they aren’t viewed as real adults—so the ad is calling for everyone to take responsibility for the abusive culture and use his or her power to change it.

Alternatively, a video released in 2013 by The United Nations Women organization depicts the violence and discrimination Egyptian women face on a daily basis. The video aims to put men in the position of women as they go about their day, literally depicting events through a woman’s eyes. In each scene, the woman is harassed in various public places and the people around her offer no help.  The end of the video features the slogan “Put yourself in her shoes, instead of finding ways to blame her”, highlighting how often women are blamed for their abuse in a society where sexual harassment is normalized.

According to The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, 91.5% of Egyptian women said that unwanted touching was the most common form of sexual harassment they experienced in 2013. The UN video is a response to this upsetting statistic, as it asks Egyptian men and boys to think critically about the cultural violence shown towards their wives, sisters, and mothers.

Bell Bajao, a program launched in India in 2008 by global human rights organization Breakthrough, aims to empower men to take action against domestic violence. The program uses public service announcements and educational workshops to “to highlight the role that men and boys can play in reducing violence”. Bell Bajao encourages neighbors, especially men, who overhear domestic violence to ring the doorbell (“bell bajao” in Hindi) of the apartment in order to interrupt the abuse. The goal is to remind abusers that others are listening.

Breakthrough reports that “60 million girls, seen as less worthy than boys, are ‘missing’ [in developing countries] due to sex-selective elimination or poor care.” In countries where women and girls are treated as second-class citizens, it is vital for men to take a stand against cultures that perpetuate domestic violence. Bell Bajao encourages men and boys to join the conversation, emphasizing that they can be valuable allies in the fight against domestic violence.

Internationally, communities are beginning to treat domestic violence like the epidemic it is. Different approaches are needed in order to address the obstacles and objectives of specific cultures, but the overall goal is the same: to make the planet a safer place for girls and women.

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