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Archive for the ‘Women’s History’ Category

My friends and I have a lot in common, but there is one word that often leads to abrupt disagreements: the f-word. No matter when I say it or to whom, the frequent response is a shudder of the shoulders. Like the other f-word, the sound of the word “feminist” sends chills down others’ spines.

Bethany Imondi spoke about student loans and the pay gap at an AAUW panel in November.

Negative stereotypes of feminists — like bra burning, unshaven underarms, and man hating — perpetuate false assumptions and distract from the true goals of the feminist movement. At its core, feminism simply strives to establish equal opportunities for women, and yet many women today hesitate and feel embarrassed to classify themselves as feminists.

Despite women’s significant gains over the years, including the recent news that a record number of women will serve in the next Congress, other glaring issues of inequity remain. Women may outnumber men in higher education and earn more degrees than ever, but women still earn less than their male peers earn — a significant pay gap exists for women just a year after college graduation. Climbing the corporate ladder remains difficult for women, and positions of leadership continue to be dominated by men.

These dismal facts should be enough to motivate all women to embrace the progressive ideals of feminism. Any person who believes that women deserve equal opportunities is a feminist. Bra burning is not a prerequisite; voting for pro-women’s rights candidates, volunteering at a local women’s shelter, or working to protect women from sexual assault are just a few examples of advocacy on behalf of women’s equality.

Many women my age seem ashamed or embarrassed to identify as feminists when they should be embracing their beliefs. The challenge today lies in convincing women, particularly young women, that there is more to feminism than the backlash of stereotypes that emerged after the activism of the 1960s. In 2012, gender discrimination still exists. It is imperative that today’s generation of women continue the fight their mothers and grandmothers initiated to shatter the glass ceiling. It might not be the sexiest term, but the f-word is one all women should proudly claim, not only to transform the stereotypes but also to promote a more promising future for women of all ages.

This post was written by National Student Advisory Council member Bethany Imondi.

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It’s no secret that white men dominate the film industry — women make up only 5 percent of directors, and women of color are even more scarce. So it’s no wonder that the number and representations of women are warped, disappointing, and damaging. Since this tendency intersects with the often problematic onscreen portrayals of people of color, black women characters rarely anchor films. As a result, black women’s experiences are ignored and erased from our cultural memory — aside from the persistent tokens and stereotypes that so many lazy writers rely on.

Middle of Nowhere, which premiered in limited release last weekend, breaks with these Hollywood traditions. Written and directed by Ava DuVernay, the film earned buzz at Sundance, where it earned DuVernay the best director award — the first time a black woman has ever won that distinction. The film tells the story of Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi), a smart, resilient nurse who puts her dreams of medical school on hold when her husband, Derek (Omari Hardwick), is incarcerated for selling guns. Ruby prioritizes her marriage — making sure she has the time to be at home to receive his phone calls and to take the long bus ride to visit him each week — despite Derek’s and her mother’s protestations.  When, after four years of this, Derek’s parole eligibility is called into question, Ruby starts to emerge from the emotional stasis she has been in.

In the process of Ruby’s transformation, we see her complicated and heartbreaking relationship with Derek evolve without demonizing either character. The audience ends up deeply invested in a couple whom we only see together in flashback, in a prison visitor’s room where physical affection is verboten, and in the loneliest scenes you can imagine — where Ruby imagines her husband is with her as she wakes up in the morning or walks to the bus for her night shift.

We also see the difficulty of navigating the justice system when money is tight. And we get a glimpse of the family dynamics that oscillate between emotional support and tough love for Ruby, who has the potential to escape the economic hardship that her mother and sister experience.

Amazing acting, beautiful cinematography from Howard University film school graduate Bradford Young, and subdued colors make the events of Middle of Nowhere seem like they’re happening around the corner to your good friends. The mellow soundtrack and succinct dialogue alternate with punctuated silences that bring Ruby’s internal struggle between loyalty and frustration to a slow boil.

Audiences and critics have made Middle of Nowhere one of the most talked-about indie films of the year. And the new distribution model that is bringing the film to audiences nationwide could be fostering a 21st century LA Rebellion for black independent cinema. This is what happens when new voices have the opportunity to tell their own stories. In a film culture that doesn’t do much to foster black feminist filmmaking, audiences have to demand and support the rare films that address women’s issues or that feature underrepresented voices. Otherwise, we’re leaving our cultural imagery and narrative priorities to the fellas.

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AAUW women of the 1970s — a decade remembered for activism and trailblazing — held their own. As the AAUW Fellowships and Grants program expanded and more people and projects were funded, more women from across the globe were able to make lasting contributions to their fields. New AAUW programs were established to fund community public service projects, to help women re-enter the workforce, and to encourage promising young women to succeed and these opportunities helped many women advance their careers.

Who were these women, and what was it like to forge these new paths?

In 1980, AAUW sent a questionnaire to women who received AAUW fellowships and grants from 1967 to 1978. It was originally intended to get up-to-date information about former fellows, but it also painted a revealing picture of working women’s experiences in the 1970s. Their responses sounded sadly similar to stories of workplace discrimination and work culture today.

Most of the women who responded to the survey considered themselves to be role models for young women entering fields formerly considered to be in the male domain. The AAUW alumnae stressed that they led by example and by doing good work, which they believed would prove the merit of future women employees. Only some of the women reported being in decision- or policy-making positions in which they could use their influence to ensure equity in the workplace.

Most respondents reported that they experienced sexual discrimination at work. Sound familiar? What is also interesting is that only 11 percent reported being actively involved in the women’s movement or feminist organizations. The question remains, how far has society really come?

According to a 2011 study, on average, a woman needs a doctoral degree to earn as much as a man with a bachelor’s degree. One woman who responded to our survey in 1980 said that she had been taught that to succeed, a woman needed to get one degree more than a man. Sounds like we haven’t made as much progress since the 1970s as we may have thought.

On October 24, AAUW will release its latest report, Graduating to a Pay Gap, which looks at the wage gap between women and men who are working full time one year out of college. A 2007 AAUW report found that one year after college graduation, women on average already earned just 80 percent of what their male colleagues earned. While the gender pay gap certainly diminished since the 1970s, progress has stagnated in the last decade.    

Women of the 70s began breaking through barriers in their professional lives, but despite that, they are still graduating to a pay gap and facing sexism in the workplace. If you received a fellowship or grant from AAUW in the 1970s, we want to hear your story! E-mail us at fellowships@aauw.org.

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

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“Eighteen years ago today, the landmark Violence against Women Act was signed into law. It was founded on the basic premise that every woman deserves to be safe from violence, and since its passage, we have made tremendous strides towards achieving that goal. But we still have much work to do.”
— Vice President Joe Biden, who drafted the original Violence against Women Act, on September 13, 2012

“Every minute this house chooses to delay the reauthorization of VAWA is another minute these women are victimized.”
Sen. Patty Murray, September 13, 2012

“There is no good reason that we can’t work together and see that #VAWA, a life-saving law, is reauthorized immediately.”
— Sen. Patrick Leahy, September 13, 2012 (@SenatorLeahy)

AAUW couldn’t agree more. The Violence against Women Act is due for reauthorization this year, but political maneuvering has stalled the bill in Congress. AAUW has long supported “freedom from violence and fear of violence in homes, schools, workplaces, and communities.” Since its enactment in 1994, VAWA has saved lives and saved money. VAWA is credited with contributing to the dramatic increase in the reporting of domestic violence. The rate of homicide by an intimate partner has decreased by 65 percent for women and almost 50 percent for men since the statute was enacted.

AAUW is a strong supporter of the bipartisan VAWA reauthorization bill passed by the Senate. The bill takes steps to make college campuses safer for women. When campus environments are hostile because of sexual harassment, assault, or violence, students cannot learn, and they miss out on true educational opportunities. AAUW’s own research revealed that two-thirds of college students experience sexual harassment. In addition, a 2007 campus sexual assault study [BH2] by the U.S. Department of Justice found that around 28 percent of women are targets of attempted or completed sexual assault while they are college students.

While AAUW supported the Senate’s VAWA reauthorization bill, we opposed the House’s bill because it did not contain necessary provisions to improve the safety of college campuses. Additionally, the House bill expressly rejects protections for men and women who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, making it difficult for them to find services in their communities. The House bill also eliminates strong protections for women and children who are beaten or abused on tribal lands by perpetrators who are not members of a particular tribe, and it removes a key requirement that would more easily allow victims to move from one subsidized housing program to another in order to avoid an abuser.

The Violence against Women Act should not be a political pawn in election-year gamesmanship. We urge the House to follow the bipartisan lead of the Senate and AAUW’s membership: Put aside the rhetoric, move quickly to pass the Senate version, and once again do the right thing for all victims of violence.

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Sylvia Mendez and June Hernandez may have never met, but they had many things in common. Both were Mexican American girls who were just trying to attend school in Southern California. Instead of being allowed to go to the well-funded white schools in Orange County, they were sent to Mexican American public schools even when doing so required the girls to bus across the city or county. There were no laws in place that required school districts to segregate Mexican American children from white children — it was just the result of a shamefully ignorant community.

While many associate school desegregation with the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case in Topeka, Kansas, few remember or are aware of the 1946 Orange County case Mendez v. Westminster School District. At age 9, Mendez became a part of a movement that was started by outraged families who were tired of the substandard education provided to Mexican American children. At the time, the Garden Grove Unified School District Superintendent James Kent testified that Mexican children were inferior in terms of hygiene, ability, and economic outlook. The Mendez case set a crucial precedent — that segregating schools by race was unconstitutional. Although the case only encompassed the school districts in that community, it would later serve as a precedent for other cases in California and for Brown v. Board of Education. Earl Warren, governor of California when Mendez v. Westminster was being argued, later became the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. The language he used in Brown v. Board of Education resembled the language used in the ruling of Mendez v. Westminster.

As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, we must also use this time to reflect on the barriers that have existed and continue to exist in our communities. My grandmother, June Hernandez, was just a few years younger than Mendez and lived through the early desegregation of the same California school district. Although my grandmother was integrated into better-funded schools before high school, she still faced barriers. Despite her academic ability and willingness to learn, she was labeled by her teachers as lesser. White children refused to talk to her or the other Mexican American children. As a result of her experiences in school, we, her grandchildren, were not allowed to learn or speak Spanish at home.

My grandmother pushed me to try harder in school and to focus on my homework, and she was one of the first in my family to celebrate my decision to go on to graduate school. She reminded me of the opportunities that I was fortunate enough to have in my generation. Yes, I was a first-generation college student, and I could believe in the possibility of education past high school.

The school district that James Kent led in the 1940s? That was my school district in the 1990s and early 2000s. At the very least, my schools didn’t have administrators who said the same kinds of hateful things that people said when my grandparents were in school.

My grandmother’s courage and determination to finish school, even during times of change and ignorance, directly affected her children and grandchildren. We are who are today because of who she was and continued to be. Our access to education stems from the desire of young women and men who just wanted to go to school and who fought for equal opportunity.

And while the rhetoric on educational access has shifted, I know from personal experience that we never benefit from closing schoolhouse doors.

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

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Every year since 1998, Beloit College has released a mindset list for the entering freshman class. The list serves as a fun warning to faculty and staff to watch their cultural references as they welcome a new group of students to campus. Many members of the class of 2016 were born in 1994 and are coming to college amid rising tuition costs, student loan debt, and a tough job market. They also bring with them a childhood of DVDs instead of  VHS tapes, MP3 players instead of a Walkman or Discman, and Facebook instead of Friendster. Here are 10 observations from the 75-point class of 2016 mindset list:

  1. They have always lived in cyberspace, addicted to a new generation of “electronic narcotics.”
  2. Bill Clinton is a senior statesman of whose presidency they have little knowledge.
  3. For most of their lives, maintaining relations between the United States and the rest of the world has been a woman’s job in the State Department.
  4. They can’t picture people actually carrying luggage through airports rather than rolling it.
  5.  A significant percentage of them will enter college with some hearing loss.
  6. Outdated icons with images of floppy discs for “save,” a land-line telephone for “phone,” and a snail-mail envelope for “mail” oddly decorate their tablets and smartphone screens.
  7. Before they purchase an assigned textbook, they will investigate whether it is available for rent or purchase as an e-book.
  8. Mr. Burns has replaced J.R. Ewing as the most shot-at man on American television.
  9. They watch TV on any device but a television.
  10. Pulp Fiction’s “Royale with cheese” has little or no resonance with them.

The culture shifts in this list apply to most of the students who are headed to college this fall. But the list made me think about how the mindset of women in the class of 2016 may differ from previous generations of college women. So I made a list of five things that have changed for the women in the past few decades and five things that haven’t.

Five things that have changed

  1. College women who don’t want to write a letter to the editor can use YouTube to voice their opinions.
  2. They have always outnumbered men in college enrollment.
  3. They’re more likely to earn a doctoral degree than an “MRS” degree.
  4. When they look for political inspiration, they look to Leslie Knope since they might not know about Geraldine Ferraro.
  5. There is a place for them on the sports field more often than before Title IX passed.

Five things that haven’t changed

  1. They face the gender pay gap while carrying an increasing amount of student loan debt.
  2. Women majoring in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are unlikely to have female professors teaching their courses.
  3. It is still a big deal when women are selected as university presidents. In 2011, 23 percent of college presidents were women.
  4. Women are still less likely to coach collegiate athletic teams than men.
  5. AAUW is here to support college women with scholarships, fellowships, and grants.

What else do incoming college freshmen not know about? What is specific to women students? Tell us in the comments below.

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

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The Equal Rights Amendment — short, sweet, and unratified — was written by Alice Paul in 1921, a year after women won the right to vote, and was first proposed to Congress in 1923. It has been presented to every Congress over the past 89 years and has been through a tumultuous battle for passage and ratification. Opposition to the amendment came from many, and often unexpected, directions. Would it surprise you to learn that before 1971, AAUW did not support the ERA?

Former AAUW President Mary Purcell speaks at an Equal Rights Amendment rally.

In 1924, the AAUW national office urged branches to study the amendment but chose not to form an official opinion. This effort allowed AAUW to fully research and understand the amendment and its potential implications as well as the immense diversity of opinion among members. Members were, and for decades continued to be, severely divided over the issue. Many felt that the amendment was the quickest, most effective method of establishing equality between the sexes, while others thought that the ERA threatened the social progress and legislative protections already obtained for women. Not until 1938 did AAUW present an official position: opposition to the ERA “as a means of securing the equality of women.”

AAUW disagreed with the tactics of the ERA but not with equality or the amendment itself. As study and debate of the topic persisted throughout the mid-20th century, AAUW, dedicated to fighting for women’s equality, pursued alternative strategies out of concern for the potentially detrimental social implications of the amendment. From the very beginning, members “agreed on certain rights that we wish to secure for ourselves and other American women.” These rights were progressive and numerous and included “no economic or political discrimination between women and men on account of sex.”

This Sunday is Women’s Equality Day, which commemorates the 19th Amendment and women’s right to vote. It was established by Bella Abzug in 1971, the same year that AAUW finally announced official support for the rewritten Equal Rights Amendment. After investing 50 years of study in the topic, the ERA became a top AAUW priority. AAUW established the ERA Fund, became a member of the ERA Ratification Council in Washington, D.C., and staged a temporary boycott in 1977 to hold regional and national AAUW conventions only in states that had ratified the ERA.

Yet now, in 2012, the Equal Rights Amendment still has not been ratified. So this Women’s Equality Day, be proud of the women who have won so much for us to celebrate, but do not assume that history is only in our archives. We live history every day — so what will you give your daughters to celebrate?

This post was written by AAUW Archives Intern Kelsey Conway.

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