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Posts Tagged: women's history month

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In My Opinion is a weekly segment in which Interns and Staff at The White House Project comment on recent issues and articles important to their individual leadership.


Title: Parity in Politics: Why Women Don’t Want It
Author: Kathleen Schafer

There’s an obvious absence of women in American politics as compared to men – but why? Schafer acknowledges the reasons we hear most often, such as the balance of career and family, self-doubt about credentials, and media bias against political female figures. Ultimately, though, her conclusion is that women don’t want to run for office due to the nature of the beast – politics and bureaucracy aren’t efficient, but women are. She calls politics a “masculine” game, but I would say that it doesn’t always have to remain that way. If women were to take their mindset and transform the political system with it, maybe the United States would have a far more effective and quick-moving government.

Title: The Achilles Heel of Women in Politics
Author: Gillian Tett

The slightly depressing point about this piece is Tett’s conclusion that the Achilles heel of women in politics is…being a woman. Using the recent HBO docu-drama Game Change (about Sarah Palin and John McCain’s 2008 campaign) as a jumping-off point, Tett analyzes the treatment of Palin by the media, and offers the defense that Palin didn’t (for example) ask for the thousands of dollars in campaign clothes – it was the image that was forced upon her. It’s insulting that a political machine would attempt to cover up a candidate’s shortcomings by having her dress the part, rather than truly prepping her mind for the role she was willing to fill as vice president. It’ll be a revolutionary day in American politics when a female candidate’s physical image isn’t more important than what she does or doesn’t know.

Title: What My Mother, Geraldine Ferraro, Knew About Equality
Author: John Zaccaro, Jr.

Speaking of female vice-presidential candidates – Geraldine Ferarro’s son John Zaccaro, Jr., had a thoughtful rebuttal to Gloria Steinem asking, in reference to tax issues, “What has the women’s movement learned from Geraldine Ferraro’s candidacy for vice president? Never get married.” Even if it was meant humorously, writing off marriage and partnership as setting back women’s equality excludes a lot of people who could help women – those being men. Zaccaro expands on the role his father had in helping Ferraro, whether it was helping pay for law school or taking care of the house while she was at work. Women don’t have to be the only ones working toward equality or parity, and if we label men as hindrances, then we’re only deepening the divide. 

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April DeJarlais is a Communications Intern with The White House Project 

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There’s been discussion on the Huffington Post lately about the lack of central (Gloria Steinem-esque) figures in the women’s equality movement. My main resulting question is, do we even need one?  

Pat Mitchell, CEO of The Paley Center for Media, called for all U.S. female leaders to be involved in gender justice movements because those women earned those top spots, they wouldn’t be maxing out the full potential of their positions if they didn’t specifically address the status of women today.  Surely every movement benefits from having influential supporters, but the movement for gender parity and women’s (read: human) rights seems like it would gain the most momentum simply from everyone who’s interested getting involved.

Birute Regine of IronButterflies.com eyed the topic more critically by saying that the women’s movement will benefit more from collective power, and citing Gloria Steinem herself as espousing those same values of shared leadership. Regine draws analogies between the direction in which the business world is heading and the leadership of social movements: the blueprint for successful business no longer requires a dominant powerful figure with a my-way-or-the-highway attitude. Instead, emphasis is placed on networking, the sharing of ideas, and mentorship (not coincidentally, many of the admirable qualities being talked about in female-owned businesses).

Most recently (and ongoing) in the United States, this type of collective leadership can be seen in the Occupy Wall Street movements. A significant amount of people had the same frustration with the same issues, and got together as a collective voice to enact change. The fact that there is no concrete leader perhaps gives the participants more agency in what they dedicate their daily lives toward changing. It’s a bit of a stretch, but imagine if the gender parity movement in the U.S. had one umbrella organization and everyone who was interested worked only for that, and followed the philosophies of one leader toward success. We’d miss out on a lot of fantastic organizations and their respective leaders’ visions for the future.

Right now we have one goal, with many different, creative routes being taken – nobody has to wait for one specific leader to get the ball rolling. Don’t hang around lamenting the fact that there’s no one knightess in shining armor for all of us – look around you at all the great people already working for change, and more importantly, be your own leader right now!

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April DeJarlais is a Communications Intern with The White House Project.  

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"Rebel Girl Rebel Girl, you are the queen of my world" — Bikini Kill

As Women’s History Month comes to an end, I believe it is important for each of us to pay homage to a woman who has had a unique place in our development as woman-identified-women.  These women are generally the unseen or under-recognized heroines in our personal lives, most likely a woman who has made us into the type of woman currently reading this blog.

I am writing today to pay homage to mine, Kathleen Hanna–in particular her role as the lead singer and songwriter of Bikini Kill.  Bikini Kill changed the trajectory of my life with its jarring lyrics, DIY-attitude, and uniquely female voice that openly screamed of the injustices that often accompany being a woman.  I was sixteen, angry and scarred by patriarchal violence.  I believed no one felt as I did, but their lyrics  screamed to me that I was not alone.

Bikini Kill was formed in Olympia, Washington in 1990 and consisted of Kathleen Hanna, Billy Karren, Kathi Wilcox, and Tobi Vail.  The band is considered to be a staple and trailblazer of the riot grrrl movement—part of the third wave of feminism that emphasized the importance of young women sharing their experiences through writing and distributing punk zines, poetry, art, and music.  The movement was and continues to be a controversial facet of feminism for its crude, abrasive, and often “man-hating” appearance.  Despite your personal feelings of riot grrrl and Bikini Kill, they have sparked feminist leanings in countless women.

 After Bikini Kill disbanded in 1998, Hanna went on to front the electro-punk band Le Tigre in the late 1990s and early 2000’s. Currently Hanna is working with the band Julie Ruin.  She inspires women to action through her art and gives them a voice to which they may relate. Read more about her as the original riot grrl. 

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About Erin Kane:

I grew up in Wellesley, MA.  In 2007, I moved to Colorado to attend CU-Boulder from which I graduated with a degree in Women and Gender Studies/Philosophy in 2011.  Currently I am receiving notifications from law schools *fingers crossed* while living and working in Boulder, CO.  I consider myself to be a post-structuralist, post-colonial feminist theorist who will make advances in the field of feminist jurisprudence. Erin is an intern in the Colorado office. 

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Every Tuesday we have been featuring women who inspire us. While so much focus has been placed on women in the news and women in history, we cannot forget to find inspiration in the women around us and faith in ourselves. Angela’s words below reflect questions and frustrations we all have, but we also find  her story inspiring as she is willing to pursue her education, find ways to balance a career in the medical field and care for her daughter, and question how women are perceived in society. Read below and let us know how you answer these difficult questions and find inspiration in those around you. 

I am a single mother, and like many mothers in the world, I struggle.  I don’t know if it’s because I was told I would never be able to have children, or if it’s because my daughter has heart issues and I’m afraid to lose her; but for me, the miracle of creating and sustaining life is the most powerful thing I have ever done.  When she was first born, even after her heart surgery at 1 month old, I had a job, and basically worked just to afford daycare.  I spent every day apart from her, only to spend all the money I had earned paying someone else to care for her.  After a while, I broke down; I just couldn’t do it anymore.  For me, the most precious time that I had with her was the 5 years of her life before she started Kindergarten and continued on her own journey in life.  I wanted to share that time with her, to play and teach her; to watch her grow and explore the world. In this day and age, it is almost as if women are constantly held in check by all the double standards that apply to us.  We are expected to be the ones to raise the children and do all the housework, yet if we do; they are looked down upon and scrutinized for not working and “getting paid”.

I can’t even explain how many times people have scoffed at me for not having a full time job, or how many times I have been downright degraded because of it.  Although I am a student pursuing my education in the medical field, to many, it just doesn’t compare to bringing in the money.  In fact, most people treated me with more respect when I was working a minimum wage job and never seeing my daughter.  For some reason, it seems that our society is so caught up with the idea of money being the standard in how we measure ourselves, often overlooking the benefits of an education.  Why is it that we put so much value in money as power?  Isn’t it more important to love and teach our children the values in life?  I think women have so much transformative potential, and any woman who has raised a child knows that it is not an easy task. We should not be shamed for raising our children simply because we don’t get “paid” to do it. Any woman who has the patience and endurance to raise her children can certainly excel at an executive position in any field!  How do we get rid of all these double standards of what women are “supposed” to be?  Why do women bear the double responsibility? Why does society expect women to stay home and then ridicule them when they do? 

Angela Robinson is a student at Metropolitan State College of Denver and is completing a service learning project with the White House Project Rocky Mountain Office. 

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In an interview just posted by ESPN, earlier this month President Obama took a minute to speak about women, sports, and Title IX. His interview is spot on as he reiterates that “And, so, for those of us who grew up just as Title IX was taking off, to see the development of women’s role models in sports, and for girls to know they excelled in something, there would be a spot for them in college where they weren’t second-class, I think has helped to make our society more equal in general.” And we love his reflections on coaching his daughters! More generally, March Madness coinciding with Women’s History Month has led to a great variety of work place discussions and reflections. Below is one woman’s account of how sports taught her to believe in herself. 

"When you find peace within yourself, you become the kind of person who can live at peace with others."

~Peace Pilgrim, spiritual leader~

Finding that peace with myself has been one of the greatest challenges of my life thus far. As a young female I have spent my whole life fighting against “she’s just a girl, she can’t do that” or “she’s too young to do that” mentality. And my whole life I have proven them wrong. I remember growing up playing baseball with my brother. I never saw anything wrong with wanting to play on his team. I distinctly remember the other coach screaming, “are you going to let a girl do that?” at his players as I hit yet another home run. The very next year I was no longer allowed to play on the “boys team” with my brother I was forced to join the girls softball team. The girls uniforms were purple and the name of the team was “The Babes.” I was not so keen on being associated with either one of those things. I was an athlete, not a model, and I was angry. Angry because someone told me that I was not allowed to be on the team strictly because I was a girl.

I carried that resentment around with me for a long time. Every time I did something that was outside of my stereotypical role as a young female I approached it as if I had something to prove. Then one day I stepped back and realized that I had allowed this pent up anger to overshadow the best part of playing sports—my love for the game. As I focused all of my energies on trying to prove the naysayers wrong, I was missing out on enjoying my life. I was letting them control my thoughts and feelings and, even though I wasn’t letting them control my actions, I was still giving them control that they didn’t deserve. So I stopped. I stopped trying to prove anything and started enjoying what I was doing. I chased what made me happy and when faced with “can’ts”, found ways around them with a smile. Knowing who I am and what I am capable of has empowered me with self-confidence. It gives me the freedom to be who I am no matter how many feathers I ruffle. If every woman found this empowerment within herself I think we would be a much stronger force together.

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Erin Tracy is a student at Metropolitan State College of Denver and is completing a Service Learning project with the White House Project Rocky Mountain Office.

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In My Opinion is a weekly segment in which Interns and Staff at The White House Project comment on recent issues and articles important to their individual leadership.

Shining Shoes Best Way Wall Street Women Outearn Men
Frank Bass

Men get paid more than women in 264 out of 265 major occupations. The exception? The service industry, where women get $1.02 to every $1 that men make. The lead paragraph of this piece was especially face-slapping, by saying that women can earn more than men on Wall Street – if they choose to shine shoes. Female doctors, lawyers, bankers all earn less than male counterparts. Interestingly, female receptionists also earn less than male ones, even though the majority of administrative assistants are females. I’m always curious as to how this is calculated, and why, for instance, a female doctor wouldn’t just research how much a male career peer earns and ask for that as salary. Obviously easier said than done, however – I know that if I were getting paid less than someone comparable to me, I would assume they were doing more work than I was and that they deserved it. So let’s stop assuming! It shouldn’t be embarrassing to ask for what your work is worth.

Senior Women Share Stories on Their Roles as Leaders
J.D. Leipold

Some people seek out power, and others demonstrate the ability to produce results and are subsequently given power. The five women in U.S. Army leadership positions featured in this article are a mix of both, but all showed strong and grounded approaches to being in powerful positions in a military branch. Major General Marcia D. Anderson – the first African-American woman to have such a title – emphasized the need to mentor those beneath her rank and show interest in them as people. Interest in the individual is certainly a sign of a great leader – too many of powerful people have been self-centered and manipulative of those serving beneath them. To borrow from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If”, leaders must be able to “walk with kings – nor lose the common touch.” Of course, Kipling ends his poetic list of virtues by saying “You’ll be a man, my son!” if the moral achievements are reached. These featured Army leaders are showing us that being a woman isn’t so bad, either.  

Are Female Voters to Blame For the Failure of Female Candidates?
Keli Goff

Are political ties stronger than the bonds of sisterhood? Apparently yes, and essentially they should be – as one commenter on this article pointed out, voting for a woman on the basis of being a woman is as discriminatory as not voting for her for the same reason. Keli Goff’s piece on female support for female candidates raises multiple sides of the issue, such as women reporting that they feel more comfortable with a male boss and men supporting Sarah Palin in 2008 more than women.  Female candidates certainly have extra work to do, and White House Project president Tiffany Dufu was quoted in this piece as saying “Any individual who does not fit the leadership status quo has to meet a higher bar.” It appears that many Americans, regardless of gender, are comfortable with what’s normal – no surprise there. It’s going to take a step out of the comfort zone from both men and women to elect and trust female leaders, but that comfort zone can’t be an excuse to not take a chance. 

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April DeJarlais is a Communications Intern with The White House Project 

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Stereotypes are the characters that provide our world with background noise, in that we take them for granted as true unless they’re brought to our conscious attention.  I’ve encountered my fair share of gender-based discriminatory language, and it’s always difficult to find a way to address it without being written off as overreacting or hypersensitive.

I’ve been involved with drumline in Minnesota for eight years, and nation-wide it’s a male-dominated activity. That scene is where I’ve heard most stereotypical language being used, but also where I’ve seen stereotypes being actively broken. I play with both girls and boys, with more or less experience than I do, but a boy still might get told they’re playing “like a girl” if they’re not playing confidently – when I’m right next to him playing with more confidence than he is.

To give my instructors credit, they’ll usually catch themselves on this, but often can’t seem to find a better way to say it.  Concrete instances like these, when stereotypes are used but are clearly nonsensical, are cropping up more and more in patriarchal societies around the world. We need to get the cycle moving faster, though – even if some young girls around the world don’t accept stereotypical language, that background noise is still bound to be limiting. 

Girl Scouts of America is launching campaigns called “Year of the Girl” and “To Get Her There,” which are geared toward providing more opportunities for girls to excel in fields that they might not have many role models in (i.e. politics, math, science, etc. – all areas that the United States is lagging in internationally). Girls need to be able find and see these women acting out non-traditional roles – change doesn’t need to wait a generation.

Women in leadership positions today are sometimes a chicken-and-egg conundrum – which needs to come first, the role model or the barrier-busting pioneer? And where are girls looking to now to learn about influential women? National Public Radio recently feature a book series for ages 9-13 called The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Dastardly Dames, which highlights historical female rulers such as Cleopatra or Mary Tudor (known respectively as “The Serpent of the Nile” and “Bloody Mary”).

The series challenges young readers to think critically about female leaders and why they aren’t profiled more often, as well as why they get violent nicknames for doing the same things that many male rulers did in obscurity. Children’s nonfiction is a genre that needs to capture interest, since it doesn’t have the luxury of creating the story. Featuring women in history and encouraging conversation is another valuable step in showing both girls and boys today that there are women who deserve to talked about, admired, and critiqued on the same level as men.

So here we have a smattering of personal evidence of the stereotype problem, and several pieces of action that are happening to boost the position of women in the United States. As the Girl Scouts “Year of The Girl” campaign states, the US Congress is only 17% women, and women make up 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs (which means women are in charge of less money than men – which indeed translates into power). Many “developing” countries have more female representation, which I would say makes them more developed in that respect. The women for the jobs are out there in every country, and it’s far past the time to recognize the language we hear in everyday life that convinces us of gender stereotypes. 

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April DeJarlais is a Communications Intern with The White House Project  

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In light of Women’s History Month I found myself pondering on women’s position in politics back home. Home is the Seychelles Islands, located off the East coast of Africa and just south of the Equator. Seychelles is mostly known as a tourist destination and it seems like half a world away. So what would this island gal know about women and politics or gender equality? Surely gender disparity is present everywhere, but what about Seychelles? Many might think the island lifestyle has meant a lackluster performance of women in politics. Rather, Seychelles currently ranks 5th in the world in relation to gender parity in national legislatures. This represents substantial steps for women in politics, more so when compared to the United States where women have actually lost ground in politics, making the US rank 74th worldwide for women’s political representation.

Living in an island state also presented its challenges. The cost of living is quite high as we have to import almost everything. There were times where we had to scour the whole island for the basic necessities! Instead of shopping malls and holiday resorts, I grew up with the sun, sand and the sea! Despite the insulated environment I am proud of my island heritage. I have come to appreciate what I grew up with and took for granted such as free healthcare, free education, and a secure pension – the very same issues that are currently on the forefront of politics in the US.

However, as we pay homage to the groundbreakers during Women’s History Month, let this be a call to all women that change is possible. Let us learn from these exceptional leaders in the same way countries can learn from each other. My country has shown women can be as successful and as accomplished as their male counterparts and, who knows, maybe a woman president may not be too far off in the future for this island state!

About Tania: Tania is originally from the Seychelles and she is currently living in Denver. She is obtaining a Master of Arts from the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver and interns for The White House Project. 

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Admiral Grace Hopper nee Murray (1906-1992) is a woman of rare accomplishments who inspires us because she pursued her interests without reference to her gender. She is one of the earliest contributors to the field of computer science, male or female, and one of the first women to make a career in the Navy. She is the co-creator of the COBOL computer language, and coiner of the term “debugging.” She is one of the few women to have received the rank of Rear Admiral and even fewer with a Naval ship named after her.

Grace was curious and ambitious from the very start, once dismantling seven alarm clocks in order to figure out how they worked. Grace went to Vassar at 17 (having been rejected at 16) and graduated with honors in Mathematics. In 1930 she earned a Master’s degree at Yale for Mathematics and Physics and in 1934 became the first woman to receive a PhD in Mathematics from Yale University. Grace taught at Vassar until joining the WAVES (see April’s blog about WAVES founder Margaret Chase Smith below) in 1943 (Read more).

Grace’s contributed to the war effort by programming the Mark I to calculate the flight paths of artillery shells as part of Harvard’s Bureau of Ordnance Computation Program. Here she coined the term “debugging” when she solved a hardware malfunction by removing an actual moth from the machine! In 1946 she was released from active duty but retained a position in the Naval Reserves. She continued to work with the new and developing computer and her belief that computer language could and should be closer to English contributed to the creation of the widely used programming code COBOL. Grace returned to active duty with the Navy from 1967 until her retirement in 1986, achieving the rank of Commodore (later called Rear Admiral) in 1983 by special Presidential appointment. Grace spent much of her later Naval career and her retirement speaking about her experiences (Read more). 

Grace is said to have regularly repeated that “it is often easier to ask for forgiveness than permission” and I believe that she lived by those words (Read more). She did not feel the need to make apologies for her gender in order to pursue her goals. Reflecting on the recent NY Times article about finding a new spokesperson for the women’s movement, I believe that we need women like Gloria Steinem and Tiffany Dufu who are dedicated to promoting women on every level. However, we also need women like Grace who get up everyday and go to work in predominately male fields. These women are feminists just by acting out their lives and making it possible for more women to follow in their footsteps. Grace’s impact and inspiration are very real to me because my mother, as a young computer programmer in the Navy herself, had the opportunity to see Grace Hopper speak. Every computer we owned while I was growing up was named Gracie in honor of her role model.

My mother in the Navy

Do you have examples of inspiring everyday feminists to share with us?

About Kayla: Kayla will graduate from Columbia University this spring with a degree in Political Science and hopes to work in public policy. She is the Executive Staff Intern at our offices in New York.

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How many times have you heard some variation on “Let’s play hardball!” in political or business arenas? The assumption behind this is that “hard” is more “real” – faster-paced, and more risk of danger. Not incidentally, girls play softball and boys play hardball. The language of hard vs. soft, real vs. fake is instilled from Little League days on into adult lives, and we’re taught that “soft” is inherently less legitimate because of its innate…softness. In light of Women’s History Month, it’s important to acknowledge the power and strength of women then and now, and how much more momentum women could have as a leadership force if everyday language didn’t make female qualities into negative ones.

Joseph Nye, former U.S. assistant secretary of defense, recently used the hard versus soft language in a commentary on whether the world would be more peaceful if women were in charge. He describes today’s leaders as incorporating more feminine or “soft” characteristics, such as creating networks instead of hierarchies and sharing leadership rather than concentrating it in one person. His citing of collaboration and participation as being necessary in today’s world ties in with Susan Liddy’s Huffington Post article on women and their inclination toward emotional intelligence 

            Liddy takes Nye’s “soft” leadership qualities and labels them as emotional intelligence, which isn’t necessarily something a person either possesses or not – Liddy also talks about “emotional workouts,” which enhance emotional intelligence by using self-reflection to fully utilize emotions rather than regarding them as a nuisance.

            All this emotional talk – can we just get something done now? The thought behind Liddy and Nye is that things are getting accomplished through relationship building and reflection. The results-oriented culture of the United States gobbles up quick decisions and gambling on huge investments, but is that the way we really want to interact with the billions of other people on the planet? Sometimes slowing down and trusting each other for security makes for better international relations than quick, formal meetings and curt interactions.

            Thinking about “soft” as positive may prove a little difficult – teddy bears or marshmallows aren’t typical figures of motivation. But being a little malleable, or willing to give way and incorporate new ideas while still adhering to personal values doesn’t mean that a leader will break under pressure.  Rather, flexibility and the ability to build partnerships ensure far more strength in the face of adversity.  So maybe the time has come to revamp our associations with feminine and masculine language, and realize that a medley of qualities in both genders will govern our planet – and even more strengths will be brought to the global table.

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April is a Communications Intern with The White House Project 

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