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Big Changes Are on Their Way!

AAUW is launching a new website on February 20 — and we’re bringing our blog home to live on aauw.org where it belongs. But that means that some recent comments may be lost in the transition. We hate to lose any reactions to our posts, but we’re sure the fresh new look and ease of use that come with the update will be worth it. Be sure to update your bookmarks to aauw.org/blog on February 20. Thanks for being a part of our online community — we’ll see you on the new site!

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Eleanor-gif_6New Orleans, the host city for our 2013 convention this June, is perhaps most widely known for one thing: Mardi Gras. Some may dismiss tonight’s events in the Big Easy as simply colorful beads, loud music, and revelry lasting into the early morning hours. Those who do are sorely mistaken. Beyond a night of letting loose, Mardi Gras represents a centuries-old festival with rich traditions celebrated the world over.

Mardi Gras has roots as far back as the Roman Empire, when the weeklong festival of Lupercalia in February honored the Roman fertility god Lupercus. Celebrants indulged in rich food, drink, and revelry and hoped for healthy families and a good harvest. It’s believed that early Christians in Rome adopted this celebration in an effort to make converting to their new faith a little easier. Given that the festival fell before the penitent Lenten period, it was reinterpreted as a time to feast before the long fast.

As Christianity spread across Europe and into the New World, so did the festival. Unique celebrations of Mardi Gras are still found today in much of Europe, including some particularly distinctive ones in Germany and Great Britain. In the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking world it is celebrated under a different name — Carnival — with the world’s largest annual celebration in Rio de Janeiro.

The French became particularly enamored with the holiday, lending it its popular name: Mardi Gras translates to Fat Tuesday. The first U.S. Mardi Gras celebration was held in a French colony in 1703 in modern-day Mobile, Alabama. The celebration quickly became popular among the rest of the French colonies in North America, including Louisiana.

New Orleans, perhaps more than any other place on earth, adopted Mardi Gras as its own. Here, a rich blend of new and old traditions flourished. Today’s celebrations include the popular colorful parades with elaborate floats, sponsored by an elite group of krewes. Perhaps less well-known are the glamorous masquerade balls with fabulous costumes. For other people, Mardi Gras is a quiet celebration at home, as families gather with friends over a king cake. There are perhaps as many different ways to celebrate Mardi Gras as there are people who celebrate it.

New Orleans doesn’t stop having fun after the beads have been swept away, the ball gowns have all been packed up in storage, or the last slice of cake has been eaten. It’s a year-round attitude that permeates the very soul of the city: Laissez les bons temps rouler, as the locals say. This mix of diverse cultures, rich traditions, and a deep appreciation for life’s beauties is something you really have to see in person to fully appreciate.

Mardi Gras isn’t the only chance to see New Orleans at its best. AAUW will hold a celebration of our own in the Big Easy this June: the 2013 National Convention. In the spirit of tonight’s festivities, we all come from different backgrounds but share a common passion for women’s equity. We look forward to celebrating that passion with you and charting a path forward together. Join us as we gather to honor our accomplishments, reflect on new challenges, and discuss our next steps in the path toward equity for women and girls. While you’re there, reconnect with old friends or make new ones as you soak in the city’s unique zest and joie de vivre. Register for convention today to take advantage of our early-bird rate.

This post was written by AAUW Member Leadership Programs Associate Ryan Burwinkel.

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An eighth-grader barrages his babysitter with romantic overtures in person and via text even after she tells him it makes her uncomfortable.

A high school boy follows a classmate’s every move and sneaks into her room at night to watch her sleep.

Seven brothers kidnap seven women and bring them to a secluded cabin to live as man and wife.

Image by WikipediaAh, romance. Oh wait — did you think these scenarios sounded more creepy than lovey-dovey? Illegal, even? Crazy, Stupid, Love.; Twilight; and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers are all conventional romances. Yet, stripped of the attractive actors and swelling music, these movies reveal some deeply troubling behavior.

Stalking is sometimes taken seriously —  some films show that the law can’t always help and that being stalked is intrusive, terrifying, and likely to escalate to bodily harm. But far more often, this behavior is instead implied to be a normal and even preferred part of courtship. It’s romantic! And it’s shockingly ubiquitous.

Seven_brides_seven_brothersWhether stalking is explicitly mentioned and laughed off like in There’s Something about Mary or more obfuscated in something like Vertigo or Eight Days a Week, the message is clear. If someone is following you across the state and watching your every move (The Graduate) or filming you without your consent (American Beauty), it’s probably just because he loves you. And you’re assumed to reciprocate. Which might be a problem if you’re an adult human who wants some agency in whom you date.

While it’s deeply troubling that this trope makes what is actually a very scary issue for women in real life seem silly and insignificant, the stalking-as-romance theme also supports a larger stereotype about how women and men function in love. This picture of romance values men as the pursuers and women as the pursued. The love-struck hero admires the beautiful woman from afar — it’s a classic example of the voyeurism and passivity that feminist film theory is based on. Implied is that the most desirable relationships are the ones in which a woman is prey and a man is predator.

CrazyStupidLovePosterWhy is this model of love represented over and over? It’s not always the way relationships happen, and it’s not always desirable (and is even more unrealistic for anyone who isn’t hetero). Some real-life women had the audacity to call a guy up and ask for a date. Some leaned in for the first kiss. For others, it was a mutual seduction. Not all women are with their partners because they’ve been worn down. Is there something unromantic about a woman finding someone she wants and going for it?

Obviously, for some couples, the man-pursues-woman model actually happened. But it’s not happenstance that, over and over, so many couples prefer to characterize their relationship this way. And it’s not a coincidence that art imitates this ideal. Sometimes, that means romanticizing situations that should be alarming (and criminal). And other times, it makes those of us who aren’t passive women feel like our relationships don’t live up to the cultural hype. But surely we can start busting these myths about the ways that women and men should behave in love. And, trust us, the results deserve just as much windswept hair and swelling strings.

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Image courtesy of Nina GodiwallaThe National Conference for College Women Student Leaders is proud to announce Nina Godiwalla as one of our keynote speakers for the 2013 conference! Nina Godiwalla is a second-generation Indian American and Texan who has definitely left her mark on the business world. She is the best-selling author of Suits: A Woman on Wall Street, an insider’s perspective on working for Fortune 500 company Morgan Stanley. Her book has been described as the Devil Wears Prada of investment banking. Godiwalla is also the CEO and founder of MindWorks, a company that provides leadership and stress management training to corporations and other professional organizations.

What inspires me most about Godiwalla is her ability to realize that the sky’s the limit. In her Persian-Indian community, many of her peers growing up were satisfied by pursuing what made their parents happy. Godiwalla, on the other hand, was driven to follow her own path: She made her way from Houston to New York City to indulge in the fast-paced, challenging, and competitive world of banking.

As an African American woman, I am truly inspired by stories of minority women stepping outside of boundaries and barriers that would stop us and achieving in the way that our passion drives us, not just in the way that will satisfy our parents. Looking at all that Godiwalla has done makes me feel more confident in pursuing my dreams. In addition, coming from a community much like Godiwalla’s, I hope that I can fulfill not only my parents’ dreams but leave someone else inspired the way Godiwalla has done for me.

We look forward to hearing more of Godiwalla’s story at NCCWSL and learning tips that we can all use about leadership and valuing diversity. What would you like to ask her about her leadership story?

This post was written by AAUW Leadership Programs Intern Nzinga Shury.

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As New Orleans gears up for Super Bowl XLVII this Sunday in the Superdome, let’s take a timeout to examine another matchup with much higher stakes: where women are now versus where they could be. When it comes to gender equity, our team’s still behind on a whole host of issues, and we’ll need everyone out on the field to help make up the difference.

Nearly 50 years after President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law, our research found that one year out of college, women earn only 82 cents for every dollar men earn.

changethescore grads

At this summer’s AAUW National Convention in New Orleans, we’re going to talk about the legacy of the Equal Pay Act and the unfinished work in the fight for pay equity. On Monday, June 10, we will host a plenary session with Lilly Ledbetter and our own Public Policy Director Lisa Maatz.

Pay equity isn’t the only arena where we’ve got ground to make up, though. A lot of people are going to be talking about sports this weekend, so let’s touch on that for a moment. Forty years after the passage of Title IX, we’ve still got yards to go before reaching true equity. In 2012, the NCAA reported that the average college had 238 male athletes and only 180 female athletes.

changethescore NCAA

We celebrated the 40th anniversary of Title IX last year, and we continue to talk about how we can support young women in school at this year’s convention as a part of our broader conversation on Leading across Generations. We should encourage girls to follow their passions, whether girls are aspiring athletes, politicos, or engineers.

Speaking of aspiring politicians, 2012 was a big year for women in the U.S. Senate. Your presence at the polls and voter-turnout campaigns like It’s My Vote: I Will Be Heard helped elect dozens of women to both the House and Senate. But even with a record-breaking 20 female senators, there are still four men for every woman in the upper chamber.

changethescore senators

If we’re going to elect more women into our highest offices, we’ve also got to convince more of them to pick up the torch and run. Our Elect Her–Campus Women Win training program is helping inspire the next generation of first-string leaders. We’re dedicating one of our convention workshops to the program so that you can get an in-depth understanding of how the program works and what you can do to support it.

Politics isn’t the only area where we need more women in the game. Across the board, we’ve got plenty of problems to tackle, including how to get more women into science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. Currently, women make up only 13 percent of engineers.

changethescore stem

We’ve studied extensively the root causes of the STEM gender gap and what we can do to fix them. You can attend our STEM Branch Programming convention workshop to learn about other ways your branch can support girls and women in STEM in your community.

Don’t be a Monday-morning quarterback in the fight for women’s equity. We can’t afford to take our eyes off the ball, and it will take an all-star effort to get us over the goal line. But here’s the thing: You’ve got to be in the room to call the plays. Join us in New Orleans June 9–12 as we explore how AAUW has been breaking through barriers and leading across generations for 132 years. It’s down to the wire on our best-value rate. Register today before the clock runs out on Sunday!

Continue this discussion and share these scoreboard images on social media between now and Sunday to spread the word about why we need to change the score for women and girls. Use #ChangeTheScore on Twitter, and check out our Facebook and Tumblr during the big game!

This post was written by AAUW Member Leadership Programs Associate Ryan Burwinkel.

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Ninh headshot BW 180 pixels“They say all our work is autobiographical,” says professor and writer erin Khue Ninh. Simply by choosing a subject to write about, you expose personal preferences, opinions, and experiences. This is true even in academia, and it is certainly true for Ninh.

Ninh’s first book, Ingratitude: The Debt-Bound Daughter in Asian American Literature, explores common threads of filial debt and bitterness in narratives by second-generation Asian American women. Ninh saw these patterns in the literature as underscoring an experience that had troubled and impacted generations of Asian American women, and she decided to finally give language to it.

Writing about family relationships, Ninh found the academic distance enabling, as it made her more objective. She describes the book as “autobiography by indirection.” As she wrote, Ninh used her own reactions to the literature she was analyzing as a kind of emotional tuning fork. She described testing whether “what I wrote rang true, if it resonated on an emotional level. If it didn’t, then I knew analytically I wasn’t there yet.”

As passionate as Ninh was while writing her dissertation — which later became her book — dedication and enthusiasm did not pay the bills. Ninh had decided at 16 to become a literature professor. But she faced a rude awakening when she realized the Darwinian setup of the graduate school system, and her romanticized concepts of academia proved to be naive. With far more candidates than available tenure-track positions, it was a “brutal” system, according to Ninh. When she received an AAUW American Fellowship in 2003, she was despairing about the hiring odds and realizing that teaching was a limited possibility for a humanities graduate student.

Receiving the fellowship meant more than financial security for the year; it meant validation of Ninh’s work. As she describes it, “You have to be a self-marketer for your own brand in academia, so confidence is critical.”

Confidence and affirmation have made a winning combination for Ninh in the years since her fellowship. Not only was her book published, but she also has written for national news sources like the Huffington Post and ESPN about Asian American identity in the media and literature. Also present in her writing are critiques of capitalism, patriarchy, and misogyny, especially as they relate to immigrant families.

Ninh contests existing dogma that idealizes immigrant families as being havens from a capitalist world. She argues that the immigrants who come to the United States and pursue their aspirations for their children are very aware of the capitalist society to which they now belong. For that reason, and because of the disadvantages their children will face compared with native-born families, many parents pragmatically channel their children into lucrative fields. In a piece for the Huffington Post, Ninh wrote, “As many of my colleagues in Asian American studies have noted, Asian immigrants push their children hard because they recognize that discrimination — conscious or not — is real. That all other things being equal, the blue-eyed candidate will get the position — and so the Asian kid has to make sure other things are better, to have a shot.”

Now a tenured professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in the Asian American Studies Department, Ninh is settling into her role as a senior scholar. Ten years after her fellowship, she says, “AAUW made my life come true.” Her work continues to touch upon truths for many readers and foster important intergenerational discussions.

erin Khue Ninh’s 2003–04 American Fellowship was sponsored by two AAUW of California American Fellowships: the Ruby Henry/Napa County (CA) Branch Fellowship and the San Francisco (CA) Branch/Mildred Bickel Fellowship.

This post was written by Fellowships and Grants Intern Emily McGranachan.

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“I wish I had a big sister when I was in middle school.”
— Nicole Elinoff, student at the University of Central Florida

Last year, a team of students and faculty in the women’s studies department at the University of Central Florida used an AAUW Campus Action Project (CAP) grant to further their work mentoring middle school girls in the area. The Young Women Leaders Program promotes middle school girls’ leadership abilities by partnering the girls with college women mentors. I had the chance to talk to three members of the UCF mentoring team — M.C. Santana, Emily Vrotsos, and Nicole Elinoff — about their experiences with mentoring and the lessons they’ve learned through their project.

The University of Central Florida mentoring team attended NCCWSL in 2012.

The University of Central Florida mentoring team attended NCCWSL in 2012.

With the grant funding, the team was able to open a dialogue with children and parents from their local community about bullying in schools. “We believe in a healthy community and a community made of all of us, including our children,” said Santana, who is the director of the women’s studies department at UCF. The mentoring program focuses on structured meetings on the topic of bullying and even brought in younger students for the middle school girls to mentor. The grant also helped fund in-depth research with the parents of middle school students, which helped confirm the need for the program in the community.

The Young Women Leaders Program has helped students like Elinoff work to build their own leadership skills so that they can better serve as role models. To have college women mentoring younger girls was especially important to the team because often girls may not feel comfortable telling their parents everything. “It really is difficult growing up and being in middle school,” said Elinoff. “Having a big sister is a really cool thing. Many of them haven’t had an older sister. … I wish I had a big sister when I was in middle school.”

Of course, the mentorship that takes place with the Young Women Leaders Program goes beyond the middle school participants. Vrotsos, the program’s staff coordinator, said she learned as much from the people whom she mentored as they learned from her. Both Elinoff and Vrotsos felt that the guidance from Santana and other faculty and staff helped to influence the students’ own mentoring styles.

nmm_2013_mentoring_2

Although its Campus Action Project is done, the university is committed to continuing its involvement with AAUW and mentorship. UCF is a new 2013 Elect Her site — with Elinoff leading as the student liaison — as well as the future site of a Tech Trek camp. The women’s studies department is also launching a Young Men Leaders Program after seeing such success with their program for women.

This post was written by AAUW College/University Relationships Manager Christine Hernandez.

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