Posts Tagged ‘feminism’

Dress-up wedding collections for your little “bride-to-be.” Pretty LEGOs to help her build beauty shops. Dolls skinnier than Barbie and sexier than Bratz. Pink vacuum cleaners and cleaning trolleys, makeup kits and kitchen sets.

"Intent" image courtesy of whatnot on Flickr Creative Commons

I spoke with Jennifer Pozner, founder and executive director of Women in Media and News, about the effects of toy gendering on young girls. Even beyond their frills and (seeming) frivolity, hyperfeminine and highly gendered products like Barbie and Bratz are far from harmless, said Pozner. Instead, they serve as “didactic tools to teach girls what they will be valued for and what is expected of them.” In this framework, toys like tiaras, purses, and play ovens represent more than fun and games: They’re instruments that help socialize girls for roles as caretakers and trophy wives. And while cooking and cleaning are undoubtedly important skills to teach the young, it becomes concerning when the more educationally driven toys are overwhelmingly targeted to boys.

“It’s almost impossible to overstate the level of misogyny and hypersexualization present in the marketing of products to girls,” said Pozner, “and the problem is getting worse.” Indeed, many experts argue that toy marketing has become increasingly gendered over the last decade, leaving little room for boys who like nail polish or girls who like science.

So what can you do if you don’t want give your daughter a pink apron for Christmas? With Pozner’s help, I’ve compiled a list of fun, empowering, and educational gifts for young people that do more than dictate sex and gender roles.

Ages 2–5

  • I Got Shoes and other children’s CDs, Sweet Honey in the Rock
    I first learned of this all-women, African American a cappella ensemble in a women’s studies class during my freshman year. The Grammy Award-winning troupe boasts several children’s records that use song and dance to address issues of motherhood, spirituality, freedom, and civil rights. Great for burgeoning toddler activists!
  • MindWare toys
    This educational toy line has received awards from Parents’ Choice, Creative Child magazine, iParenting Media, and others for its engaging products, which include puzzles, mazes, and arts and crafts.

Ages 5–10

  • Genderific Coloring Books, Jacinta Bunnell
    Bunnell’s coloring books, including Girls Are Not Chicks and Sometimes the Spoon Runs away with Another Spoon, encourage positive sex and gender roles, such as celebrating girls who climb fences and boys who bake pies.
  • GoldieBloxGoldiblox, a new construction toy for girls, was created in response to the lack of women in engineering.
    A female engineer created this innovative construction toy for girls in response to the fact that nearly 90 percent of all engineers are men. The toy teaches basic math and science concepts as girls build a belt drive for Goldie and her friends.
  • Call Me Madame President, Sue Pyatt
    Even after record-breaking wins in the recent election, women still hold only 20 percent of seats in the U.S. Senate. Help fix the problem by inspiring a young girl with this tale of 8-year-old Amanda, who becomes president of the United States!
  • Roominate
    This gender-neutral engineering toy lets children build miniature rooms and houses. Best of all, there is no set way to build a space, allowing for constructive problem solving and creative thinking.

Ages 11–13

  • New Moon magazine
    Pozner recommends this bimonthly magazine for young girls, which is free of advertising and diet advice and rich in stories on young female activists, adventurers, and athletes.
  • Hummingbird Robotics Kit
    A spin-off from a similar kit by Carnegie Mellon University, the kit comes with everything a girl needs to build the robot of her dreams, from a dragon with flapping wings to a replica of R2-D2.
  • Help her become a rock star.
    Why buy Rock Band when you can give your daughter the real thing, asks Pozner. Set her up with a guitar and music lessons, or better yet, sign her up for a week at Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls, a nonprofit music and mentoring program dedicated to the empowerment of girls and women.

Ages 13 and Up

  • Our Bodies, Ourselves
    First published in 1971, this canonical book teaches crucial information on women’s health and sexuality, with topics including menstruation, childbirth, sexual orientation, gender identity, mental health, and general well-being.
  • Arduino Cookbook
    This “cookbook” teaches readers to program an open-source microcontroller, a tiny circuit board that serves as the basis for arts and robotics projects. Kids can use it to create their own toys, remote controllers, alarms, detectors, robots, and more.
  • A month of tutoring on graphic design or video editing
    “Getting girls involved in creating their own media can be a great skill and empowering tool,” said Pozner. Girls interested in media literacy can use software programs like Apple’s Final Cut Pro to make their own movies, memes, infographics, and more.
  • Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth about Guilty Pleasure TV, Jennifer Pozner
    Pozner herself wrote this 2010 book, which analyzes biases promoted by reality TV, especially regarding sexism, and arms readers with tools to understand and challenge media stereotypes. According to AAUW fellow and MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry, the book “should be required reading for every American girl and woman.”

Pozner conducts media literacy lectures and trainings at schools and colleges. You can e-mail her or visit www.wimnonline.org for more information.

This post was written by AAUW Media Relations Intern Renee Davidson.

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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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On October 9, I had the honor of hearing Lilly Ledbetter speak on my campus, St. Cloud State University. Ledbetter’s story is an inspiring one. After 19 years of working at Goodyear Tire and Rubber in Alabama as a production manager, a note was slipped into her mailbox revealing a startling pay gap between her and three male colleagues in the same position. Despite knowing that taking the corporation to court would be a long, uphill battle that would likely not lead to the compensation she was owed, she sued Goodyear. “It wasn’t about me anymore,” she said. “It was about my daughter, my granddaughter, and the women and families in this nation.” Her case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and in 2007, after nine years of fighting, she received the final verdict. She lost because of an unreasonably short statute of limitations that would have required her to file suit years before she even knew she was being paid unfairly.

But her story did not end there. Ledbetter became the namesake for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which was the first bill signed into law by President Obama in 2009. The bill righted the wrong of the Supreme Court decision by allowing the statute of limitations to reset with every discriminatory paycheck.

As I sat in the audience listening to this strong woman share her story, two things happened to me. First, I was humbled by how much women in the past have achieved to guarantee me certain rights. Second, I was inspired to do the same for future generations of women. I think that my generation often does not take the time to learn about the influential women in our country’s history. I feel that young women believe the struggles of the past are over, when in fact they are far from complete. Even today, women’s median earnings are still only 77 percent of men’s, which accounts for huge losses in income, retirement savings, and Social Security benefits over a lifetime of work. But Ledbetter’s speech appeared to raise students’ awareness. Through the question-and-answer session following the speech, you could hear people expressing their outrage at what happened to her and their demand to change what is still occurring today.

St. Cloud State University has been making great strides to bring inspiring programming to young women. At the SCSU Women’s Center, where I work, we strive to empower women, increase awareness, and develop programming to support those principles on our campus. Our mission statement speaks to these ideals: “With passion and purpose to end sexist oppression, the Women’s Center promotes a safe, inclusive, and engaged community through advocacy, education, alliance-building, and women’s leadership.”

My hope is that by bringing speakers like Ledbetter to campus, our generation will have a greater appreciation for past struggles and those who fought them. I also hope that when someone from my generation is faced with a situation where she has to decide whether to stand up for herself, she will think like Ledbetter: “I knew that the only choice I had was to stand up for myself and do what was right. I understood the risk I was taking. It would surely be the hardest fight of my life, and there were no guarantees I’d win. … But as I ruminated, I realized I had no other choice.”

This post was written by Bre Moulder, a St. Cloud State University sophomore majoring in political science and women’s studies. St. Cloud State University is an AAUW college/university partner member.

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Lilly Ledbetter delivers Keynote at NCCWSL 2012Feminism has always been criticized as being preoccupied with advancing the interests of white, educated, middle-class women. While most women’s groups now take action on everything from racism to marriage equality to social security, the rhetoric of equal pay has at least the potential to emphasize the paychecks of the mostly white women at the top — even though a pay gap clearly exists between men and women in nearly every line of work and at every educational level.

So it’s a good thing that the equal-pay movement has been reignited by a woman who can inspire and motivate people from all walks of life. Lilly Ledbetter worked her way up the ladder at Goodyear Tire and Rubber and risked everything to file a pay discrimination lawsuit after an anonymous note tipped her off that she was being paid 40 percent less than her male peers were. She was doing the same job and had earned a top performance award at the company.

Last week, Ledbetter shared her frustrating story with the nearly 600 students at the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders, and her message helped inspire these up-and-coming workers to fight for pay equity as they begin their careers.

The audience was moved by Ledbetter’s clear-cut case and the heart-wrenchingly unjust Supreme Court decision that followed it — which said she should have filed her pay discrimination suit 18 years before she even knew she was being paid unfairly. A jury trial had previously awarded her damages and back pay, but Ledbetter never received a dime.

In her keynote address, Ledbetter told the audience that she grew up in one of the poorest counties in Alabama. Even though she was a manager at Goodyear, she and her husband struggled to pay the bills; the wages she lost to discrimination would have made a huge difference in their lives. Now, in her work as an equal-pay advocate, Ledbetter speaks passionately about the drastic effects the pay gap has on families like hers. Often, she says, it determines “whether they can buy food, pay the mortgage, and keep healthy.”

Ledbetter is one of many women who have stood up against industry giants to fight lengthy, expensive legal battles for equity in their hourly wages. Her words inspired the college women in the audience to fight for their own and all working women’s pay equity.

In the question-and-answer session afterward, conference-goers said they were touched by Ledbetter’s story, and one even called her a “rock star.” When they asked what they could do to help others and themselves, Ledbetter had a simple answer: Stand up for yourself, stay informed, and vote.

She urged the students to learn how to negotiate their salaries, because “if you don’t start now, you’ll never catch up.” But she also stressed the need to stay informed about local and national wage laws and the voting records of politicians — especially on the Paycheck Fairness Act, a law that would close loopholes in the 1963 Equal Pay Act.

“If the Paycheck Fairness Act had been law back then, I would have known how much less I was getting paid,” Ledbetter said.

Often called the “face of pay equity,” Ledbetter does more than show the human impact of the pay gap’s national statistics — that women make, on average, just 77 cents for every dollar men earn (the average is even lower for black women and Latinas). Her story and others like it refute the myth that the only thing separating men’s and women’s wages is hard work. These stories also show how working women — young and old, with and without diplomas, of any ethnic background — can unite to fight for the pay equity we all deserve.

That unity is further embodied in Ledbetter’s continued advocacy, even though she can no longer benefit from the laws she’s advocating for. “I made a decision in 1998 to stand up for myself. … My journey since then has been for you. Since that ruling came down, my case was over. If I can say something today that will change you in the audience, my goal will have been met.”

After her speech, Ledbetter left with hundreds of new fans who, thanks to her trailblazing, are that much closer to having what the president described when he signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law in 2009 — that is, to having no limits to their dreams.

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This year’s National Conference for College Women Student Leaders (NCCWSL), which sold out with nearly 600 attendees, is the most popular event in the conference’s history. There were hardly any empty seats at Thursday’s opening session, Finding Your Voice, which was led by Marsha Guenzler-Stevens, director of the University of Maryland’s Stamp Student Union. With Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” playing quietly in the background, young women from campuses across the United States took their seats and chatted animatedly with each other. After her warm, inspiring introduction, Stevens took the stage and conducted an hour-long, thought-provoking discussion on topics ranging from politics and the definition of feminism to reality TV and women in sports. With each question she threw out to the audience, Stevens received thoughtful, honest responses from a broad representation of college women.

There were a few ideas that almost everyone in the session agreed on: that reality TV does not advance the image of women, but that most of us love to watch it; that women do not get equal sports press compared with men; and that women should have the right to make their own reproductive choices. Participants voiced their opinions when it was time tackle what Stevens called “things that throw us out of whack.” Women all over the theater shouted out examples — mothers, late people, people who expect you to change your plans for them, finances, social media, and unreasonably high expectations. Clearly, the question struck a nerve.

At different points during the session, two women — one from Nigeria, the other Native American — commented on how NCCWSL has helped them break out of their cultural norms. They said that at home they were expected to undertake traditional womanly duties, such as cooking, cleaning, and being silent, while the men were taught strong leadership skills.

One question that sparked a debate was, “Do you think that women should be able to participate fully in the military?” Most of the audience said yes and gave reasons such as that women are just as physically capable as men. Others thought that since men are hardwired to protect women, more people would be put in danger in the long run if women were allowed to participate on an equal level. Others were fine with the idea but concerned with women’s ability to deal with the posttraumatic stress of war.

My important takeaway from the fantastic opening session? We must remember that we have mentors everywhere — from professors and coaches to Girl Scout leaders and social workers. These women and men might not even know that they are acting as our mentors, but when was the last time we thanked them? Think about it.

In the short time I’ve been at NCCWSL, I am already in awe of the many examples of my peers’ boldness and aspirations. Although Casey, a student from Bethlehem College, was told when she was young that “the trumpet is for boys,” she’s still playing the instrument today. Jessica, who attends Eastern University, aspires to be the governor of Michigan. There are some amazing women participating in this conference, and I am looking forward to connecting with them. Thursday was a challenging and exciting beginning to the conference, and the room buzzed with anticipation for the events to come! Follow #NCCWSL on Twitter, and join us — the next generation of women leaders!

This post was written by AAUW Membership Intern Taylor Blackwell.

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“No botox, no detox. My name is Loretta Ford, and I approve this message.”

So ended the speech of 91-year-old Ford as she accepted her induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame along with 10 others last weekend in Seneca Falls, New York.

The tone of her remarks was unexpected, yet they captured the essence of the ceremony — the spirit, excitement, and passion of women who have changed the world and aren’t done yet.

Sitting in a room with these women who have shaped — indeed, are shaping — major areas of our lives was enthralling, and AAUW was proud to be there to celebrate the role four of them have played in our mission.

First, there was Helen Murray Free, a national member of AAUW who was honored for her contributions to medicine. Echoing many of the honorees’ sentiments, Free said she hadn’t set out to change people’s lives — it was a serendipitous accident.

“In September 1941, I was going to the College of Wooster to be a Latin and English teacher. Then Pearl Harbor happened in December, and the fellas all left to join the Navy and the Air Force,” Free said. “One night, the house mother came in and said, ‘Helen, you’re taking chemistry and getting good grades … why don’t you switch?’ And I just said OK. I fell in love with chemistry, and it was wonderful.”

Fast forward six years later, and Free had a degree chemistry, a job at Miles Laboratories, and a husband who would become her partner in changing lives. The Frees soon became a powerhouse in medical diagnostics — their research led to the first dip-and-read diagnostic test strips.

And that was just one inspiring AAUW story.

Donna Shalala, who under President Bill Clinton became the longest-serving U.S. secretary of health and human services, was also inducted. Early in her career, AAUW gave her a young scholar award.

“It was critical money and a critical award and a critical trajectory,” Shalala remembered. “I loved the fact that they intervened in my career, and it made a real difference. AAUW helped me network. I met amazing people as a result.”

Thrillingly, Lilly Ledbetter was also among the inductees. A close friend to AAUW and a newly published author, Ledbetter has been a crucial figure in the fair pay campaign, from her Supreme Court case to the bill named in her honor to the lingering Paycheck Fairness Act.

“When I set out in my career in 1979, it wasn’t part of my grand plan to someday have my name in the Supreme Court or on an act of Congress. I simply wanted to work hard and support my family. The rest, I believed, would take care of itself,” she said during her acceptance speech.

Fellow inductee Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), a critical ally to Ledbetter and AAUW in the fair pay struggle, spoke to me before the ceremony about change-making women.

“It’s a great honor to be picked and join [more than] 240 other women who made a difference in science, politics, civil rights, medicine,” she said. “Every one lived in their time and seized the power that is now. When Rosa Parks sat down, the whole world stood up. It’s carpe diem.”

Mikulski believes AAUW plays an important role in making that happen. “Young people need someone to believe in them,” she said. “Some people have family that will believe in them. Not everyone has that supportive adult that tells you, ‘You can do it, and I can help you.’ It makes a difference to do that in young people’s lives. AAUW today is making that difference.”

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2003–04 AAUW American Fellow Gwendolyn Pough was drawn to black feminist thought when one of her professors gave her a copy of bell hooks’ Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism. While working toward her master’s and doctoral degrees in English from Northeastern University and Miami University in Ohio respectively, she sought out texts by women of color that often weren’t included on class syllabuses. She became interested in how black women use language and rhetoric, how they shape cultural spaces, and how they express a feminist consciousness.

These are the major themes of Pough’s 2004 book Check It While I Wreck It: Black Womanhood, Hip-Hop Culture, and the Public Sphere. She investigated how black women claim the space of hip-hop as a public sphere and use it to promote change in their lives, creating their own brand of hip-hop feminism. She continues her exploration of the ways black women participate in popular culture in her upcoming book Reading, Writing, and Resisting: Black Women’s Book Clubs and the New Black Fiction.

Pough says the AAUW fellowship gave her an invaluable year to do the initial research for Reading, Writing, and Resisting, which is now nearing completion. “Having that time and space to think and read and interview book clubs was definitely significant. Without that year, I would be much further from realizing the book.” She surveyed the members of black women’s book clubs, attended their discussions, and examined not only how they talked about books but also how they undertook literacy outreach. According to Pough, “They don’t just read the books. They see themselves as activists in the way they promote literacy and dispel the myth that black people don’t read.”

Pough’s research did more than add another successful publication to her résumé; it also reminded her of her longtime dream of writing a novel. Inspired by her interactions with other authors at book club events, she started her first romance novel under the pseudonym Gwyneth Bolton and will be publishing her 12th in November. She said that writing fiction and talking with readers revealed new dimensions of her research. “It made me see that my project was about black women and literacy, but it was also kind of an autoethnography.”

In addition to being a prolific writer and theorist, Pough is the chair of the women’s and gender studies program at Syracuse University and an elected officer of the Conference on College Composition and Communication. She looks forward to creating a master’s degree program in women’s and gender studies at Syracuse and contributing new knowledge to the growing body of work on black women’s lives. As a young scholar, I find her advice refreshing. “Sometimes in academia, it can seem as if you can’t chart your own path. Do what you have to do, but make sure you do the things you want to do the way you want to do them.”

This post was written by AAUW Fellowships and Grants Intern Melissa Rogers, who bids a fond farewell to AAUW as she returns to the women’s studies program at the University of Maryland to continue her doctoral research on women’s autobiographical writing and print culture.

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The panelists for Re: Action — A Debate on SlutWalk from left to right: Samantha Wright, organizer of Slutwalk DC; Aiyi’nah Ford, host of the One Mic Stand radio show; Alexandra Petri, blogger for the Washington Post; and Chai Shenoy, co-founder of Holla Back DC!

I’m thrilled that AAUW hosted a Re: Action debate at our Washington, D.C., headquarters about SlutWalk D.C. and that this debate has prompted comment in mainstream media such as the Washington Post. That said, I also realize that a lot of AAUW members are unsettled by the international SlutWalk phenomenon. (SlutWalks are protests against sexual violence and victim blaming involving reclaiming the term “slut” and donning scanty attire). They fear for the future of women’s rights movements should this be a sign of things to come. How soon they forget that many of their own actions in the 1960s and 1970s (reclaiming the word “chick,” public discourse on sex, contraception, rape, domestic violence, etc.) were similarly perceived as distasteful by older generations. Looking even further back in time, how about that suffragette parade on President Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration day? That ruffled more than a few feathers.

SlutWalk discourse is not only important for addressing victim blaming in sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape; it is also crucial for highlighting controversies within women’s rights movements over “proper” responses and tactics. Such points of contention should be seen as opportunities for constructive dialogue between multiple generations of activists — not as green lights for further polarization of allies in the advancement of equity for women and girls.

Sometimes breaking through barriers gets uncomfortable.

Another example: This year the AAUW membership, in our first-ever One Member, One Vote election, chose to insert the following sentence into our 2011–2013 AAUW Public Policy Program: “AAUW believes that global interdependence requires national and international policies against human trafficking that promote peace, justice, human rights, sustainable development, and mutual security for all people.” But many members (not all, but many) deem discussions of one particular aspect of human trafficking — Main Street, U.S.A., prostitution and sex trafficking — distasteful for branch programming and other dialogue opportunities.

One notable exception (and with all due respect to the other AAUW members, affiliates, and entities who have tackled this issue): Kudos to 85-year-old retired teacher and AAUW San Diego (CA) Branch member Myrra Lee for educating her community members about the U.S. face of sex trafficking — the diversion of unwitting stateside women and girls, boys and men, into sex-trade slavery via coercion and deceptive promises of modeling jobs. Tellingly, according to a Los Angeles Times article about Lee’s work, only one of 11 AAUW branches in San Diego County has taken her up on her offer to speak.

We all benefit when we get outside our comfort zones and frankly discuss women’s and girls’ experiences, particularly those that don’t align with our own life histories. Such dialogues promote empathy and foster heightened vigor for the AAUW mission: advancing equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, philanthropy, and research.

This post was written by AAUW Director-at-Large Amy Blackwell.

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On Friday, AAUW and other women’s rights groups across the country will observe Women’s Equality Day. Together, in a coalition called HERvotes, our movement will remind Congress and ordinary Americans that rights are not bestowed; they are seized by women willing to stand up and speak out. And when I use the word “seize,” I look to the primary definition — to lay claim to one’s rights, to assign ownership, to have legal possession. We will be heard in social media and across the blogosphere, on opinion pages, and in letters to the editor. We will use Women’s Equality Day, an observance of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, as a rallying moment.

But Friday is just the beginning. It’s the start of something BIG.

AAUW is proud to launch a serious investment in getting out the women’s vote for the 2012 election. With our new My Vote: I Will Be Heard campaign, we will work to educate women across the country about the rights and privileges that are at stake in the upcoming election. We will increase the volume and direction of women’s voices and commit ourselves to getting women to the polls in record numbers.

How will we do it? By doing what AAUW does best: educating, building community, and advocating. We have developed voter-education materials, including how-to manuals, community and campus outreach guides, and online and social media resources. We’ll be providing significant seed money and extensive staff support to state and local AAUW member leaders in our strategically chosen Impact Grant states. Those leaders will then use each of these resources to turn out AAUW members and donors as well as the women in their local communities and on nearby campuses. We’re doing all this to ensure that AAUW’s resources, positions, and voice answer the question, Why does the 2012 election matter for women and girls?

So why does the election matter? Readers of AAUW Dialog and Washington Update and subscribers to AAUW Action Network know the answer.

The election matters because women workers need the Paycheck Fairness Act to help achieve pay equity, and yet Congress failed to pass it last year. It matters because Social Security is being threatened, despite the fact that without this program more than half of elderly women would live in poverty. It matters because Title X and other women’s health programs are losing necessary funding and because reproductive rights are under attack. It matters because sexual assault and victim blaming are still a problem, and because Congress needs to demonstrate a commitment to ending violence against women.

The 2012 election is a chance for AAUW and our allies to clearly show that we will seize and protect our rights, to remind Congress and the public that women will be heard — and we will be heard. That’s why AAUW is doubling our effectiveness by focusing on women’s voices and women’s votes, and that’s why we’re part of the HERvotes coalition to focus on preserving women’s advances and rights that are now under threat.

This post is part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

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It’s been two months since the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Wal-Mart v. Dukes case prevented the women of Wal-Mart from taking on the nation’s largest employer as a nationwide, class-action group. But gender discrimination doesn’t take a day off, and neither does AAUW. AAUW continues to stand behind the women of Wal-Mart because we firmly believe in protecting the rights of Americans to bring class-action suits against discriminatory employers. That’s why I asked former civil rights lawyer and 1993–94 AAUW Selected Professions Fellow Suzette Malveaux her professional opinion on Wal-Mart v. Dukes.

Malveaux earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology from Harvard University, and with the help of her AAUW fellowship, she completed her law degree at New York University. “I was very fortunate to get a fellowship from AAUW to go toward my legal education,” she said. “At the time, I was wrestling with whether I wanted to go to law school. It was organizations like AAUW that really made a difference in terms of giving me the financial confidence to make that decision and pursue a career as a civil rights lawyer.” Malveaux said the AAUW fellowship gave her the freedom and flexibility to work at a nonprofit after graduating, enabling her to carry out her commitment to social justice.

Malveaux began working on class-action litigation with the law firm Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld, and Toll. During her career, she worked to secure assets for survivors of the Holocaust and represented victims of the 1921 Tulsa, Oklahoma, race riot before federal courts and the House of Representatives. Eight years ago, she was an attorney for the plaintiffs in Wal-Mart v. Dukes and helped draft the initial class certification motion. She reminded me of the time, resources, and courage required to bring a class-action suit against an employer, especially one as powerful as Wal-Mart. “I find the women of Wal-Mart inspiring. They have been in the trenches for the last decade.”

Malveaux now teaches civil rights and fair employment law at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. In 2006, she co-authored Class Actions and Other Multi-Party Litigation, and in March of this year she published “Class Actions at the Crossroads: An Answer to Wal-Mart v. Dukes in the Harvard Law and Policy Review. Referring to the Supreme Court’s decision, she said, “I share AAUW’s disappointment. The case has made it more difficult for employees and for women who are trying to challenge systemic gender discrimination to do that in large numbers. The class action is so important because it really does level the playing field between giant corporations and employees with little resources to challenge discrimination.”

Despite these setbacks, Malveaux believes we have a lot to learn from Wal-Mart v. Dukes, not only in terms of how discrimination works but also about what it takes to achieve justice. “I would take courage and inspiration from the women who have had the audacity to challenge Wal-Mart. It’s a great example of how together, we as women can do extraordinary things.”

This post was written by AAUW Fellowships and Grants Intern Melissa Rogers.

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