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The Ovary Office: Watch Our First Interview of 20 Women Running in 2020!

Tue, 11/12/2019 - 02:42

Dear Readers,

We know it’s only November 2019, but this can’t wait!

A record number of women are already planning to run for public office in 2020. But much of the mainstream media is ignoring them, so who better than Women’s eNews to do what is left undone.

Welcome to the first interview in our new series, The Ovary Office, where Lori Sokol, Women’s eNews Executive Director, interviews Valerie Plame, who is running for the US House of Representatives in New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District.

With your support, Women’s eNews will continue to interview women throughout the US who are running for all levels of public office in 2020. Women’s eNews will bring their ideas, plans and vision for America to you and our subscribers, which include many of the mainstream media (e.g. The NY Times, The Washington Post, The LA Times, The Daily Beast, MSNBC, CNN, and others), but we can’t do it without your help.

To help us reach our fundraising goal of $80,000 to cover the costs of travel, video recording and editing of 19 additional interviews with women running for public office in 2020, please DONATE HERE. No donation is too small to help get women’s voices out to the voting public!

We know it’s still a month before ‘Giving Tuesday,’ but THIS CAN’T WAIT! Please watch this interview by clicking below, and support our crucial and urgent work!!

Watch Interview Here

Please Support THE OVARY OFFICE by Clicking Here

*The Ovary Office was created by author and activist Amy Ferris in collaboration with Women’s eNews.

**Women’s eNews is a 501c3 non-profit organization.

In Case You Missed It: The Annual Women’s Media Center Awards

Tue, 11/05/2019 - 10:34

On October 22nd at the Mandarin Oriental in New York City, the WMC AWARDS were presented to outstanding leaders and champions for women in media. This year’s WMC 2019 Women’s Media Awards honorees included:  Julie K. Brown, Joy Buolamwini, Maria Grazia Chiuri, Lauren Embrey, Laura Flanders, Gayle King, Zerlina Maxwell, Samhita MukhopadhyayMaysoon Zayid, and the “You Are Not Alone” Querida Familia campaign organizers: America Ferrera, Diane Guerrero, Eva Longoria, Alex Martinez Kondracke, Mónica Ramírez, and Olga Segura.

WOMEN’S MEDIA CENTER Co-Founders Robin Morgan and Gloria Steinem; founding Co-Chair and current board Co-Chair, Pat Mitchell; and WMC President, Julie Burton, gave remarks at the gala.

The 2019 WOMEN’S MEDIA AWARDS Honorees were: 

Julie K. Brown, the Miami Herald journalist who reported the decades of sexual abuse and assault perpetrated by Jeffrey Epstein, received the WMC Investigative Journalism Award.

Joy Buolamwini, the computer scientist and digital activist who exposed race and gender bias in commercial artificial intelligence, received the WMC Carol Jenkins Award.

Maria Grazia Chiuri, a feminist force and history maker as a designer and as the first woman creative director of Dior women’s haute couture, ready-to-wear, and accessories collections, received the WMC Sisterhood is Powerful Award to celebrate her creation of such “wearable media” as the Dior Sisterhood is Powerful, Global, and Forever T-shirt Collection, and for advancing women’s visibility and power.

Lauren Embrey, artist, activist, and philanthropist, received the WMC Catalyst Award.

Laura Flanders, the broadcast journalist and host of The Laura Flanders Show, received the WMC Pat Mitchell Lifetime Achievement Award.

Gayle King, co-host of CBS This Morning and Editor-at-Large, Oprah Magazine, received the WMC Visible and Powerful Award.

The WMC Progressive Women’s Voices IMPACT Award was presented to:

Zerlina Maxwell, Senior Director of Progressive Programming at SiriusXM and MSNBC Political Analyst. 

Samhita Mukhopadhyay, Executive Editor of Teen Vogue. 

Maysoon Zayid, comedian, actor, and disability advocate.

The WMC Solidarity Award was presented to five of the organizers of the “You Are Not Alone” letter of the Querida Familia campaign:

Diane Guerrero, Orange is the New Black, author of In the Country We Love: My Family Divided, and an advocate for immigration reform.

Alex Martinez Kondracke, writer, co-producer of Showtime’s The L Word.

Eva Longoria, award-winning actor, producer, director, activist, entrepreneur, and founder of The Eva Longoria Foundation.

Mónica Ramírez, activist, author, civil rights attorney, speaker, and founder of Justice for Migrant Women.

Olga Segura, actor, producer, and activist.

The 2019 WOMEN’S MEDIA AWARDS Co-Chairs were: Loreen Arbus, Abigail Disney, Jane Fonda, Maya Harris, Mellody Hobson, Cindy Holland, Victoria Jackson, Pat Mitchell, Robin Morgan, Susan Pritzker, Sheryl Sandberg, Bonnie Schaefer, Gloria Steinem, and Mary & Steven Swig

Proceeds from these awards support the work of the WOMEN’S MEDIA CENTER to make women visible and powerful in media. 

In addition to the WMC leadership and honorees, VIPs attending included: Mary & Steven Swig, Cindy Holland, Christine Lahti, Kathy Najimy, Marisa Tomei, Janet Dewart Bell, Erica Gonzalez, Anita DeFrantz, Samantha Berry, Cherríe Moraga, Celia Herrera Rodriguez, Anish Melwani, Kate Mulgrew, Selenis Leyva, and Carol Jenkins.


Founded in 2005 by Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan, and Gloria Steinem, the WOMEN’S MEDIA CENTER is an inclusive feminist organization that works to make women visible and powerful in media. We do so by promoting women as decision-makers and as subjects in media; training women to be effective in media; researching and exposing sexism and racism in media; and creating original and on-air journalism.

To find out more about the important ongoing work of the WOMEN’S MEDIA CENTER visit womensmediacenter.com.

Holding Court with Billie Jean King

Mon, 11/04/2019 - 17:05
Lori Sokol, PhD
Photo by Eva Mueller Some may call it ‘coincidental’. Others may call it ‘synchronicity’. Still others may call it ‘pure luck’. What were the odds of my being summoned to attend jury duty in a Manhattan courtroom, which I’ve postponed three different times over the past three years, the same day Billie Jean King would as well? What were the odds that with dozens of other people waiting outside the twelve-foot high wood doors to open at 9:00 am, I would walk past them to turn around the hall corner in search of an empty bench to sit, and find one where Billie Jean King was standing beside it? What were the odds of this happening while I am in the midst of writing my book, She Is Me: How Women Will Save The World, in which one of the thirty-five women included in the book is Billie Jean, herself? Call it what you want….I could have not been more surprised! But I should not have been at all surprised that she immediately remembered me after introducing myself, having written two articles about her for The Huffington Post, one at the beginning of 2017 and one at the end. Both times I interviewed her, I was amazed by her humility, modesty and warmth. During our second interview, she even asked me more questions about myself than I asked about her. Yesterday was no different. I do not think it would have mattered if she recognized me as someone she knew previously as a journalist, or whether I was just a fan – she would have treated me with the same level of interest and respect. I know this because, yet again, she displayed that same level of respect for others I had previously witnessed – courteous to all of the staff in the courthouse, asking each one for their name to thank them personally for any assistance they provided, and responding very respectfully to a woman who walked by her while shouting, “Are you a look-alike, or the real one?” When she gently responded, “I’m the real one,” with a chuckle, the woman kept walking, disbelievingly. Assuming she wouldn’t want to be recognized due to shout-outs like these, I asked her why she didn’t wear sunglasses instead of clear glasses to hide her identity. “Why would I?” she responded, not caring to conceal who she truly is, whether believable or not. As we stood together for over an hour on line, hoping to postpone our jury duty summons just one last time (she would be flying to San Francisco on Friday, and I to Toronto) she spoke of many things; the need for the courthouse to accommodate people with disabilities with more available ramps and seating, her intention to serve as a juror when she has the time, and what she believes to be the biggest barrier to electing a woman president in the US. “People think that when women lead, whether it be a country, a company or a corporate board, they are only going to do things to help other women, which couldn’t be further from the truth” she said. She compared it to people thanking her for what she did for women’s tennis. “I don’t want people thanking me just for what I did for women. I want people to thank me for what I did for everybody in the sport, regardless of gender.” She continued: “When you’re the president, you’re leading the entire country. People need to understand that this is what a female president will do.” She also talked about the problem with women being taught to be perfect while men are being taught to be brave. “This has to change,” she said, “because it limits both women and men.” She also made a point of citing two things about successful businesswomen that few people know: Ninety-four percent of women who hold C-suite level positions are former athletes, and the more women that are on the boards of global companies, the higher that company’s financial performance.” That’s why when companies report that they want more women on their boards only for equality’s sake, she doesn’t believe them. “They need to understand the true benefits of women serving on boards, and how it helps their bottom line. If not, these companies really won’t change anything,” she said. As we inched further to the front of the line, she then reverted back to the issue of our next presidential election, and about voting in particular. “We have to make sure kids vote, so we need online voting since too many of these teenagers don’t want to take the time to go to a voting location,” she continued, “It’s all about the next generation, and paying attention to their needs, not ours.” She then focused back on me, wanting to know more about my work, and asked whether I was ever the subject of an interview. “I had an article published about me in Forbes, just a few days ago,” I proudly told her. She immediately asked me to send it to her. And with that, we finally became first in line. She insisted I go ahead of her, even though I initially refused. After I presented my paperwork, I was asked to wait on yet another line, but Billie Jean was told she could leave, since she is now over seventy-five years old, past the required age to serve as a juror. She thanked the woman behind the desk, whose name I learned was Juanita, since Billie Jean asked for her name too, so she could thank her personally. Before she left, she gave me a hug while telling me how much she enjoyed our discussion, before saying, “You know, I do plan to volunteer once I have the time. I will never shirk my duty.”

And I believe her.

Book Excerpt: The Girls

Thu, 10/31/2019 - 05:34
The Girls

The inside story of how serial predator Larry Nassar got away with abusing hundreds of gymnasts for decades — and how a team of brave women banded together to bring him down.

We think of Larry Nassar as the despicable sexual predator of Olympic gymnasts — but there is an astonishing, untold story. For decades, in a small-town gym in Michigan, he honed his manipulations on generations of aspiring gymnasts. Kids from the neighborhood. Girls with hopes of a college scholarship. Athletes and parents with a dream. In The Girls, these brave women for the first time describe Nassar’s increasingly bold predations through the years, recount their warning calls unheeded, and demonstrate their resiliency in the face of a nightmare.

The Girls is a profound exploration of trust, ambition, betrayal, and self-discovery. Award-winning journalist Abigail Pesta unveils this deeply reported narrative at a time when the nation is wrestling with the implications of the MeToo movement. How do the women who grew up with Nassar reconcile the monster in the news with the man they once trusted? In The Girls, we learn that their answers to that wrenching question are as rich, insightful, and varied as the human experience itself:


The First Survivor

In an excerpt from the new book The Girls: An All-American Town, a Predatory Doctor, and the Untold Story of the Gymnasts Who Brought Him Down by Abigail Pesta, the first known survivor of Larry Nassar’s abuse, Sara Teristi, tells her story for the first time, providing profound new insight into the early days of a coach who mentally and physically abused his young athletes, she says, making them vulnerable to Nassar’s sexual abuse. The coach, John Geddert, went on to work with Nassar for nearly thirty years, becoming an Olympic coach, alongside Nassar as Olympic doctor.

Sara Teristi saw the making of a monster. She watched a man transform from doctor to predator, starting decades ago when he gained access to a gym full of little girls. She was one of those girls. She may have been his very first target.

Her fateful march toward Larry Nassar—the most prolific sex criminal in American sports history—began when she was in kindergarten, a typical kid growing up in a tiny town along the banks of the Grand River in Michigan. As an only child, she liked to entertain herself by looking for turtles, cattails, and puffball mushrooms in a creek near her home. These were the days before cell phones and i-things, and she and her friends often played outside until dusk, when their parents would ring a cowbell to call them home for dinner. The kids played tag in the yard or ghost in the graveyard in an actual graveyard, jumping out to scare each other from behind the tombstones. If the streetlights came on and Sara hadn’t heard the clank of the cowbell, she knew it was time to head home. At night, she slept beneath a poster of rock star Pat Benatar.

Her town, Dimondale, was so small, it didn’t need any stoplights. Just a few miles from the city of Lansing, the town made a name for itself back in the sixties for its horseshoe-pitching prowess, producing champion pitchers. Some people called it “the horseshoe capital of the world.” Today, people paddle down the river in kayaks and canoes, shop at the farmers’ market.

As a child, Sara lived just outside town, in a neighborhood known as Copville because of its proximity to the police post. Several cops lived in the area, her father among them. When her dad would come home from work, looking for a little peace and quiet, Sara would be bouncing around the house, bursting with energy. An exuberant kid, she had a hard time sitting still, especially when Dad came home in his state trooper uniform. And so, in September 1980, when she was five years old, her mother enrolled her in a gymnastics class, hoping she could burn off some energy there.

The class was part of a youth gymnastics program at Michigan State University, in nearby East Lansing. Sara’s mom would drive her there on Saturdays in her powder-blue Datsun 210, and Sara, wearing her auburn hair in braids like Laura Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie, would bound into the gym in her leotard. She embraced the sport. If anything, it made her more energetic, not less. She cartwheeled up and down the halls of her family’s ranch house, rattling vases and photo frames. She did handstands against the door of the coat closet, causing the dog to bark like crazy in confusion. She used her bed as a trampoline, bouncing so high, she scraped her nose on the ceiling. In class at the gym, she learned how to master the balance beam and uneven bars, how to spin and flip and fly.

Over the next few years, she moved up to an advanced group and began practicing alongside girls more than twice her age. Her coach was hard-driving, serious. If Sara was afraid to learn a new skill, he would order her to go stand in a corner. She understood. There was no room for fear if you wanted to be a good gymnast. Plus, standing in the corner was embarrassing, so she would try again until she got it right. In 1984, when she was ten years old, her coach recommended that she try out for a spot at a gymnastics club in Lansing called Great Lakes Gymnastics. “They can take you to the next level,” he said. At private clubs such as this one, scattered across the country, girls can train to compete in state, national, and sometimes international meets. They can get on track for a college scholarship. Or maybe, for a lucky few, the Olympics. Jordyn Wieber, who won Olympic gold with her team in 2012, grew up in a town just down the road from Dimondale. There is always the dream.

Sara wanted to go for it. Still, she was nervous about the prospect of joining the new club. For a couple of nights before the tryouts, she lay awake in bed, trying to will herself to sleep. When she arrived for the big day, she was surprised at the scene: the gym was tucked away in a musty old warehouse, with plastic buckets strewn about the floor, catching drips from the leaky ceiling. The grim place was a far cry from the gleaming gym at Michigan State, stocked with shiny new equipment. But there was an ambitious coach at this new gym, John Geddert, who had competed as a gymnast at Central Michigan University and then coached at a top gymnastics club, Marvateens Gymnastics, in Maryland, before returning to Michigan, where he grew up. Sara wanted to learn from him. He was gaining a reputation for training stellar athletes. Indeed, he would one day become a head coach for the 2012 US Olympic Team. Over the years, he would coach more than twenty US National Team members and help gymnasts secure more than $7 million worth of college scholarships, according to his LinkedIn page. But for many girls, it would come at a high price.

When Sara met him, John Geddert was just getting going in his career. She recalls stepping into the gym, walking past a lineup of photos on the walls—girls with scholarships. She imagined herself getting her own scholarship one day. All she had to do was survive this gym. At the tryouts, John’s wife, Kathryn, one of several coaches on hand, guided her, asking her to perform a range of difficult skills. Sara knew that the coaches would want to see whether she was scared to do hard things. She showed no fear. She leaped and twirled her way through the tryouts. Afterward, she waited. A few seemingly endless days later, she heard the news: she had been accepted. It was the happiest day of her young life.

Little did she know, she was about to go down the rabbit hole into a surreal universe in which she would lose sight of her boundaries, her body, herself.

Sara tells me this story on a misty spring day in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she lives now. We sit in a pebbled outdoor courtyard at an art museum, a quiet, serene setting she chose because she does not want to tell this story in her house. She doesn’t want this tale anywhere near her home, her children. She is nervous about telling it. This is the first time she has confided in anyone, aside from her husband, about the depths of her childhood experience. She hopes that by sharing her life story for the first time in this book, she will help people understand how predators hunt their prey. Her goal is to protect children in the future. She is in her early forties now, a mother of two young boys. She wears a metal knee brace from old gymnastics injuries. Physical pain is a part of her everyday life, as it has been for decades. And then there are the psychological scars.

“People don’t understand how many broken girls it takes to produce an elite athlete,” she says, delivering the haunting words while sitting with the perfect posture of an athlete. “A coach can easily go through three hundred girls or more.”

At Great Lakes Gymnastics, Sara entered a new world—a boot camp. The training was far more intense than at her previous gym, where she had practiced just one day a week. Here, she attended three practices a week after school, each lasting for three hours or more. Still, she welcomed the challenge. She wanted to prove she could hack it, especially since the new gym was more expensive for her parents, who both worked and were not wealthy. She wanted to help repay them with a college scholarship. They were making a lot of sacrifices so she could pursue her passion, and she knew it.

Sara begins to get emotional as she tells me this, then quickly regroups and continues. When the coaches yelled at her during practice, which they often did, she says, she would strive to do better. She especially wanted to please John Geddert. A muscular, domineering man with a strong, chiseled jaw, he exuded confidence and power. Sara knew he could carry her far in the sport if she impressed him. She became focused on making John proud. (The girls at the gym all called him by his first name, and so I am doing so here as well.)

She soon learned that he was hard to please. He intimidated the young gymnasts, ruling by fear. “He would throw clipboards at the girls if they messed up,” she tells me. “He would call them worthless.” Her first experience with his temper, she recalls, came when she was trying to do a roundoff / back handspring / back tuck. She took off poorly and ended up landing on her head, getting a rug burn on her face. “He was supposed to spot me,” which could have prevented the fall, she says. “But he was angry that I had started off wrong. He turned his back and walked away.” She got up alone, her face throbbing. Instead of being mad at her coach for failing to spot her, she was mad at herself. Lesson learned, she thought: it was her fault. The coaches often yelled at the girls for not concentrating or trying hard enough. Injuries meant you weren’t focusing. If you got hurt, the blame was on you.

I sought comment from John Geddert, via his attorneys, on the experiences Sara and other gymnasts shared in this book but did not receive a response.

A light rain begins to fall as Sara speaks. We move our chairs under the branches of a leafy tree for cover, then continue our conversation as the rain drips around us. Sara recalls how the girls learned to hide injuries from their coaches. “If you said you were hurt, you would be called a liar,” she recalls. She saw girls training with bloody sores on their hands, with broken fingers and toes. She got used to seeing things like that. She got used to the shouting, the insults from coaches.

“You’re not trying!”

“You’re useless!”

“You’re lazy!”

She also learned the consequences if she didn’t perform perfectly—extra laps and leg lifts repeated time and again, until she thought she would collapse. Body weight was another stress point. The coaches weighed the girls regularly, and if they didn’t “make weight,” they would be sentenced to running laps around the parking lot in their leotards. Sara remembers the humiliation of running around the parking lot in public, on display as a young girl in her skintight bodysuit, with cars driving by and honking, guys catcalling.

Sometimes she was ridiculed inside the gym as well. For instance, when she did handsprings, she had a hard time keeping her legs together due to a birth defect that made her legs curve slightly outward. She remembers John mocking her, making sexual jokes with another coach. “He said the boys would love me because I couldn’t keep my legs together,” she says. “I was just ten years old, but I knew what that meant.” She felt mortified as the two men snickered, her face turning a deep red. She didn’t know what to say; she was a child.

She tried to avoid John’s wrath. He could be volatile, and fearsome, she says, recalling a day when she didn’t do well on the vault at practice. He took it out on her, getting physical. “As I was sprinting at full speed down the vault runway to try again, he shoved me midsprint,” she says. “I tripped and went flying sideways, landing on the steel cables supporting the uneven bars.” Bruised, she got up to try again, feeling ashamed, blaming herself.

Sara didn’t tell her parents about the rough treatment at the gym because as far as she knew, this was the norm if you wanted to become a top gymnast. She had no frame of reference. She trusted the adults around her. All of it just made her more driven to impress her coach.

Looking back today, Sara describes the experience as “brainwashing.” She was a young girl; John was an adult man. The power dynamic was imbalanced. If she did not please him, he could choose to ignore her instead of helping her advance. He had all the control. If she didn’t perform well, he made her feel like she was nothing. She felt she could never do enough to earn his respect, so she became obsessed with trying to get it. “I was a perfectionist,” she says. “And he was a drill sergeant.” As her world grew ever more focused on gymnastics, everything became about him and his opinion of her. “I would’ve done anything to make John happy,” she says. “Eventually, I saw him more than I saw my own parents. Any child wants to make the adults in their life happy.”

She began training for five hours on Saturdays in addition to the three after-school practices. The gym moved to a new space, but it wasn’t much better than the old: a rented gymnasium in an empty high school that was stifling hot in the summer, with no air conditioning. To try to stay cool, Sara would take ice-cold showers when she got home, then stand naked in front of a fan to dry off. “One day, after five or six hours of practice, the heat really got to me,” she recalls. “I felt dizzy, so I asked one of the coaches if I could go to the bathroom.” She walked into the restroom and lay down on the floor, hoping she wouldn’t get yelled at for taking a break. She got busted immediately. “John came in and said, ‘You’re faking it. Get up!’” she says. “He always walked in on the girls in the bathroom. If he noticed you weren’t in the gym, he’d go searching for you in the bathroom.”

She had no privacy. In retrospect, she says, this is part of how she began to lose a sense of boundaries.

To keep up with the demands of training and school, she became extremely regimented, doing homework late into the night. She sought perfection at school, just as she did in sports, and always made the honor roll. “If I got anything less than an A, I freaked out,” she says. As she tells her story, I’m surprised to hear about her fierce drive at such a young age. So often you hear that parents are the ones who push their children into elite sports. Not so for Sara. She pushed herself. Her parents were proud of her, she says, but they just wanted her to be happy; they didn’t force her into hours of hard-core training each week. In fact, they worried that it was getting rather overwhelming. She was sacrificing social activities and slumber parties to keep up with all the training and schoolwork. But as far as her parents knew, Sara loved the sport, and so they believed all was well. She never told them otherwise. She didn’t mention how her coaches belittled her, made sexual remarks, or threw things at the girls. She thought it was just the way top coaches behaved. This isolated little universe was the only one she knew. She told herself, Suck it up. Endure. This is what it takes to be the best.

As she moved through middle school, she won state-level competitions and placed among the top three athletes in five-state regionals. John began picking her to go to all the important “away” meets. She enjoyed traveling around the country for competitions. She shares with me a funny essay she wrote as a kid about an incident at one of the meets—a glimpse of the good times amid the rigors of training:

“It was about one o’clock in the morning on a foggy night. My gymnastics team had just finished competing in the Georgia Classic Invitational earlier in the day, and we decided to treat ourselves to a night out. The only hot spot open on a Sunday night at one in the morning was the local Bowl-A-Rama. So all fifteen of us headed for the dimly lit parking lot. Just as we began descending down the stairs, a piercing laugh broke into our conversations. We rushed down the stairs to see what the commotion was about. To our amazement, we found three guys dancing in the parking lot, two were butt naked. We stood there just gasping at the alarming sight. The two guys spotted us and ran inside. After the stun of what we saw wore off, we proceeded to the minivans and the bowling alley. A few minutes later the guys emerged from their rooms, fully dressed this time, and proceeded to follow us. Because of our coach Kathie’s scenic route driving, we managed to lose them in the old back roads. We finished off the night by bowling for two hours, making fools of ourselves the whole time. When we got back to the motel, there was no sign that the guys were even there, except for a pink shirt, which laid still on the wet pavement.”

The coach Sara mentioned in her essay was Kathie Klages, who went on to become the head coach of the gymnastics team at Michigan State.

Sara’s star was rising. She often trained with John’s select group of top gymnasts—the girls who got the majority of his time and attention at the gym. At the same time, the pressure was mounting. One time when she flubbed on the vault at a competition, John was furious, she recalls. “He picked up the springboard and threw it at me. I felt it hit my leg from behind. This was like a forty-or fifty-pound plank. I stumbled and fell forward, with my leg bleeding,” she says. “He said, ‘Oh, it must have slipped.’” She tried to brush it off. She knew she was on the verge of joining his top posse for good. This was her dream—and her nightmare. She feared him as much as she craved his approval.

And then, at twelve years old, she crashed.

She suffered an injury so extreme, she could not possibly hide it from the coaches. It happened while she was doing a dismount from a balance beam—a cartwheel at the end of the beam followed by a jump off backward. The beam was elevated on a platform, with a pit of foam blocks below. As she jumped from the beam after the cartwheel, she felt her body twisting in a way that it should not. “You fall a lot in gymnastics, so you become aware of your body and how to position it so you won’t get injured,” she says. But in that moment, she didn’t think she needed to readjust herself. “I thought I would be fine because I’d be landing in the foam pit.”

She was the opposite of fine. She landed on her backside with such force that her feet flew up over the front of her head and her chin smashed into her sternum—actually breaking the bone. She didn’t know she had broken anything at the time. She just knew that the shock and pain were so great, she could hardly move. Still, she tried to pull herself up out of the pit to get back on the balance beam. “I didn’t want to get in trouble,” she says. “I knew I would be blamed.” John would be mad. She had to buck up.

As she tried to hoist herself out of the pit, she hoped no one would notice that she was moving in slow motion. “It was like trying to pull myself up out of a swimming pool,” she says. It felt more like quicksand. John noticed and asked what was taking her so long. “I said I was hurt; he said I was lying and to get up and do it again,” she says. Adding to the horror, she says, “I could feel my whole rib cage moving around in my chest. I could barely breathe. I couldn’t take a regular breath, only super-short, shallow ones.” That’s because breathing made her lungs expand, which made her rib cage move. Still, she tried get back up on that beam. She collapsed instead.

John’s wife, Kathryn, drove her to the hospital. Sara tried to stay still, to avoid being jostled amid the searing pain. “Even the smallest movement was painful,” she recalls. In the emergency room, she learned the terrible news: her sternum had been broken in two places. John came to visit after practice that night; she remembers only that he looked pale and that she felt gutted. She thought it was all her fault. Three long days in the hospital followed. The doctors wrapped her chest and said her bones would eventually grow back together, but it would take time.

Everything hurt. She couldn’t move her shoulders. Bending over felt like torture. One day before she left the hospital, she tried to put her pants on and passed out from the pain. Back at home, she lay in her bed for weeks, unable to sit up on her own. When she finally returned to school, people looked at her as if they were afraid she would break. “In the halls, the teachers were terrified that kids would bump me,” she says. “I had to go to class early so I could have the halls to myself.” Lunch was solo too: “I ate lunch in the principal’s office, not the cafeteria.” All the while, she was thinking, When can I get back to the gym?

It took six months. “When the doctor cleared me, I was so happy,” she says. “I couldn’t wait to get back.”

Her parents thought she should quit. “You don’t have to keep going,” her mom said. But Sara convinced her family to let her continue. She had invested years in the sport; she didn’t want to give up now.

“I went running back to the gym and told John, ‘My doctor cleared me!’” she says, her eyes misting at the thought of it. Then she cautioned him, “But the doctor said I need to take it easy at first.”

This did not compute with John. His reply, she says, shook her: “No you don’t.” He went on to rant that “doctors don’t know what they’re talking about; they don’t know anything about gymnastics,” she recalls. “Those were his exact words.”

Astoundingly, during her first day back at the gym after breaking her sternum, she was expected to start where she had left off. John didn’t go easy on her, sending her to practice on the vault and bars. She fell on her back, on her hands; everything felt out of whack. John noticed. When she landed on her hands and knees after a vault, he came and sat on her back, pinning her down, she recalls. “He was sitting on my back, riding me in a sexual way,” she says. “He said, ‘Ooh, baby, you like it like that!’ He wanted to humiliate me because I didn’t land on my feet.” All this, while she tried to come back from a major injury.

Her body had changed during her time off—in many ways. For one, she had grown more than an inch. In addition, her upper body strength had weakened due to the injury. Most alarming, her sternum had grown back together crooked and overlapping, causing constant pain in both her chest and back. “My body felt broken. I felt like I had to learn everything all over again,” she says. “Everything hurt so much.” Still, she would not think of walking away. “You’re conditioned not to quit. That’s drilled into your head. You’re told to be tough, be strong,” she says. “And I loved the rush of gymnastics,” she adds. “I’m kind of an adrenaline junkie. You get addicted to it. Nailing those tricks, it’s a rush.”

She tried valiantly to get back to form, but it wasn’t happening quickly, and she felt lost. She knew she was fading in John’s eyes. “I wasn’t on the same trajectory that I once was,” she says. “He was disappointed in me. I could feel it.” That hurt even more than the physical pain. She begins to get emotional as she tells me this, then checks herself. In fact, when she sees an empathetic look on my face, she asks that I please not express any sympathy as she recounts her story, because it makes it harder for her; she doesn’t want to get upset. I realize that it’s all part of the boot camp she grew up in—no crying. I try to refrain from reacting to the wrenching things she is telling me.

She continues her tale, telling me she became even more driven to get John’s approval. She had climbed so high at the gym before the injury knocked her down. She refused to let it all slip away. “It had been within reach,” she says. “I wanted it back.”

John, meanwhile, was gaining in national prominence. He had a number of Level 10 gymnasts now—the highest level in the Junior Olympics, the competitive program run by USA Gymnastics, the governing body for the sport. He wanted Olympians. Sara recalls that he brought in a sports psychologist from Michigan State to help the girls learn to focus at competitions, to block out sounds and distractions around them, to win.

And then one day, Larry Nassar walked in the door.

About the Author: This story is an excerpt from the new book The Girls: An All-American Town, a Predatory Doctor, and the Untold Story of the Gymnasts Who Brought Him Down by Abigail Pesta. Copyright © 2019. Published by arrangement with Seal Press, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc. Pesta is an investigative journalist who has lived and worked around the world, from London to Hong Kong. Her work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Atlantic, TIME, NBC News, and many others. She has received six Front Page Awards, five National Headliner Awards, four Clarion Awards, three New York Press Club Awards, and many others.

“Too Loud” and “Too Jewish”: Standing up for Gun Control

Tue, 10/29/2019 - 06:37

My friends sitting next to me in the library whispered: “Just do it.”

We were at a school open mic about gun control in the weeks following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting. Lunch was nearing its end and I feared I would miss my opportunity. All of the other speakers had been older guys. They went on and on, spiritedly spitting statistics and saliva, mentioning Second Amendment rights and how it was all just “a mental health issue.” I was appalled by their statements, but who was I to take them on? I was a random freshman. They were upperclassmen, prominent leaders in the school.

The only person who I agreed with was one of my friends from theater class, a fittingly lanky boy. We were the two organizers of our school’s protest in solidarity with Parkland. As he spoke at the front of our library, people looked down on him from the second floor, his crooked limbs practically dancing to his impassioned words. I agreed with his points, which were smart, but people didn’t seem to take him seriously. I needed everyone to understand just how important gun control was. I needed my peers to realize how grave the situation was. No one else was arguing my beliefs. I had an itch that I couldn’t scratch by staying silent. I made up my mind.

I rose from my seat at a table facing the impromptu stage, and I stood in line. A junior boy spoke before me. He was the president of our school’s political activism club, which was, in reality, an alternative name for “Republican students.” He also used the argument of mental health. He exited the stage and I stepped up to the mic.

“If it truly is a mental health problem, a bullying problem, then why is it straight white men shooting up schools? Why not the gay, female, fat, or black kids who get bullied for the way they are?” I asked.

The bell rang. Students filed out of the library and I went to grab my backpack and head to my World Studies class, but the student who spoke right before me started yelling. He ran up to me, pointing his finger in my face, and started yelling about generalizations. Students all around us glanced back as they left the library. The principal walked up to him to try to calm him down. As I left the library to go to my next class, a friend came up to me. She told me that she would never be able to do what I did.

Out of a dozen speakers, the fact that I was the only girl to voice my opinion on gun control seemed surprising to me. Was I the only girl who knew anything about it? Was I the only girl who cared? Or was I the only one who didn’t care about scrutiny? I’ve been judged throughout my life for my actions and words, so it wasn’t new to me to be disliked for voicing my perspective.

I realized then that many girls can’t speak up for what they believe in because of the way we are viewed for doing so. Being the only girl to speak during that open mic made me understand just how scrutinized women are for having strong opinions. I was the only one who was yelled at, heckled, and criticized publicly for sharing my beliefs.

I realized that day that, as a female, people will view me differently for being outspoken. People will think that I’m “bossy,” “intimidating,” and “bitchy” when I say what’s on my mind because girls are supposed to stay quiet.

I’m not the only woman to be scrutinized for being outspoken. Too often, women are told they are “too loud.” This is especially the case for Jewish women. We are stereotyped and criticized for having loud voices and opinions. I have been told too many times that I need to be quieter, keep my thoughts to myself, and stay in line. I have also been told too many times that I’m “too Jewish” because I stand up for what I believe in. But I embrace my Jewishness, my loudness, and my refusal to be quiet.

Since that open mic, I have continued to be loud. I decided that day that no matter how loud someone yells at me or how loudly they are yelling over the sound of my voice, I will not be silenced. I have kept my head and my hopes high, fighting for what I believe is right, no matter the pushback. I will continue to fight for what I believe in: Gun control, an end to climate change, women’s rights, and every other issue I am passionate about. I won’t let the world silence my female Jewishness. Instead, I will welcome it, and use my identity to make my voice heard. Like Queen Esther, who declared her Judaism at the risk of her life, I will refuse to hide who I am, and I will refuse to stay quiet.

About the Author: Shoshanna Hemley is a member of The Jewish Women’s Archive’s  Rising Voices Fellowship,a 10-month program for female-identified teens in high-school who have a passion for writing, a demonstrated concern for current and historic events, and a strong interest in Judaism, gender and social justice.

In Case You Missed It: The 13th Annual Moving Families Forward Gala: We Are Family

Thu, 10/24/2019 - 14:41

The 13th Annual Moving Families Forward Gala: We Are Family, benefiting the vital programs and ongoing services for children and families at the Ackerman Institute for the Family, took place on Monday, October 21st, at the InterContinental New York Barclay in New York City.

This year’s gala was hosted for the first time by Abby Phillip, CNN White House Correspondent, and featured a special presentation by LaChanze, Tony, SAG, and Emmy winning actress. Judy Gold, actor and comedian, served as auctioneer for the event.

The 2019 Moving Families Forward: We Are Family gala honored:

  • Christina Ackermann, Executive Vice President, General Counsel of Bausch Health, with the Ackerman Courageous Leadership Award, presented by Joseph C. Papa, Chairman of the Board & CEO, Bausch Health.
  • Ashley De La Rosa, currently starring on Broadway as Janelle Woods in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, with the Ackerman Diversity & Inclusion Award, presented by Nicole Poteat, Vice President at Bank of America Private Bank, and Board and Gala Committee member.
  • Tamsen Fadal, 12-time Emmy-winning journalist for PIX11 News, executive producer and host of Broadway Profiles for The Broadway Channel, with the Ackerman Family Advocate Award, presented by LaChanze.
  • Maria Hinojosa, Founder & President of Futuro Media Group, Anchor and Executive Producer of Latino USA, with the Ackerman Humanitarian Award,presented by Gisselle Acevedo, President and CEO Ackerman Institute for the Family.
  • Kate Snow, anchor of NBC Nightly News Sunday, award-winning Senior National Correspondent for NBC News, and contributing reporter for Nightly News with Lester Holt, TODAY, and Dateline NBC, with the Ackerman Champion of Hope Award, presented by Ira Sallen, COO BMG and Board Vice-Chair, Ackerman Institute for the Family.
  • Ackerman’s Social Work and Diversity Program, the 27-year old initiative that diversifies the family therapy field, was honored with the Legacy Honor, presented by Kiran Arora, Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Ackerman Institute for the Family.

About Ackerman Institute for the Family:

As leaders for nearly 60 years in the training of therapists and the delivery of family therapy, the Ackerman Institute for the Family is a defender of the fundamental right to well-being, which includes access to mental health care for all families. Through this dynamic interaction of treatment, training, and research, Ackerman helps families, serves mental health care professionals, and brings innovative perspectives to a broad array of community service agencies and other health care facilities.

For more information about the important ongoing work, programs, and services of Ackerman Institute for the Family go to: www.ackerman.org.

It’s Sudden Infant Death (SIDS) Awareness Month: And Black Babies Carry the Burden

Mon, 10/21/2019 - 05:19

Across the infant death spectrum, black babies are disproportionately affected. Too many cities across the US, including my home city of Detroit, have disproportionately high black infant mortality rates. In 2016, the black infant mortality rate in the United States was 11.4 deaths per 1,000 live births compared to 4.6 deaths per 1,000 for white infants. That includes a disproportionate number of sleep-related infant deaths among black and brown babies from either Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and Accidental Suffocation and Strangulation in Bed (ASSB.)  Both of the tragedies fall under the Sudden Unexplained Infant Death (SUID) category.

Every year, about 3,500 infants die from sleep-related deaths, according to the CDC. It is any family’s worse nightmare to lay their baby down to sleep at night and the baby does not wake up. But the rates of SIDS and accidental suffocation are two to three times greater among black and brown babies. Nationwide, SUID rates per 100,000 live births for American Indian/Alaska Native (205.8) and non-Hispanic black infants (181.0) were more than twice those of non-Hispanic white infants (85.0). Black infants die from SIDS at nearly twice the rate of white infants.

Racial disparities in infant mortality, whether from the complications of pre-term birth or low birthweight or the complexities of SIDS, should not exist. As the most advanced nation in the world, we owe it to our most precious and vulnerable citizens to work harder to find solutions that work. As many health organizations talk about “equity” it’s time to move past business as usual practices to achieve it.

To be clear, public health campaigns have had considerable success in reducing the rates of SIDS overall. But some have demonized co-sleeping in all forms without understanding the cultural nuances of bed sharing or the impact of those messages on the breastfeeding relationship.

In the US, black mothers became the targets of sensationalized public health campaigns warning about the dangers of co-sleeping. For example, a highly criticized  2011 Milwaukee Department of Health campaign featured an infant lying alongside a butcher knife! Similar efforts sought to scare black mothers, but never educate or trust that black women could co-sleep safely. This not only impacted black women’s breastfeeding rates but ignored research that co-sleeping helps regulate infant breathing and thereby can be protective against Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

It’s time to develop approaches that are actually “culturally relevant” beyond the buzz talk and center communities by listening to families and not just handing out pamphlets.

Community-centered approaches can include efforts like First Candle’s Straight Talk for Infant Safe Sleep program, which uses trained community ambassadors to work with providers to explore the role of implicit bias in how new and expecting parents are engaged around safe sleep practices. The program also includes a mobile unit, that decanters the hospital or doctors office, and goes directly into the community to talk about safe sleep and breastfeeding with moms, dads, grandparents and other caregivers, and provides them with links to community resources. 

For those who have unfortunately lost a baby, we must stop normalizing infant death in our communities. The Black Infant Remembrance Memorial, is a black-led movement to make sure no black baby is forgotten and to provide resources and a community of peer-support online. The interactive virtual community is a source of solace for families looking to keep the memories of their young babies alive.

My organization, Black Mothers Breastfeeding Association (BMBFA) has been centering black moms for twelve years by servicing, advocating for and amplifying the voices of black mothers. In our work we listened to moms when we created the Black Mothers Breastfeeding Club, a national model that brings mothers of a similar socio-cultural background together for mother-to mother support and encouragement for pregnancy, parenting and breastfeeding. The success of that club model allowed us to think creatively about how we could use technology to maximize the group experience. Earlier this year we received a $100,000 grant from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund to develop an app that will enhance parenting and breastfeeding groups by simplifying and streamlining participant interaction, data collection and reporting activities. All of these innovations came from listening to mothers and families and their needs.

Earlier this year another innovative model unfolded in Detroit with the first Birth and Breastfeeding Hackathon. which took place during Black Breastfeeding Week (August 25-31). The hackathon model itself has been around for years, used by creatives and engineers to create a marathon-like environment to generate solutions. The idea of a multi-disciplinary approach that includes out-the-box thinkers and non-traditional thought partners is exactly what the black maternal and infant mortality crises needs.

We partnered with the Make the Breast Pump Not Suck Project team, which has a successful track record for developing hackathons focused on breastfeeding. Their previous events hacked the breast pump, an important technology for moms, and later, the policies that enable breastfeeding. But the Detroit hackathon brought a new evolution—centering community innovations. The concepts and solutions presented were from Detroit moms—they were the “experts” and the others skills were there to support them. The two days of events, activities and team designing, concluded with a judging panel and prizes for the winning ideas.

We saw creative solutions for lactation support, plans for  Birth Detroit, the city’s first free-standing birthing center and even ideas to improve nutrition options for pregnant and lactating women. All of these came from Detroit mothers. I’m confident every other city has similar solutions in their communities, if only we would ask and create opportunities for those ideas to be supported and developed.

To make sure this is a replicable concept, the Black Breastfeeding Week leadership team created a powerful resource, “How to Run Your Own Hackathon or Innovation Event Toolkit,” a step-by-step toolkit, adapted from the Detroit hackathon. We need other communities across the country to choose innovation over business as usual.

This model of community first and acknowledging black mothers as the experts on the issues that impact them the hardest, merits national replication, not just in hackathons but in federal policies, in state and city public health offices and by community-based organizations. Instead of assuming that academic research holds all of the answers, we should first look to the community for solutions and as equal partners.

This isn’t rocket science, but it does mean disrupting power systems that have long favored scientific research over experiential knowledge. And it means centering black women as we continue to address racial disparities in birth, breastfeeding and infant death rates that have persisted for decades. SIDS Awareness Month is an important time to think about how systems have failed black babies and the time of culturally-tone deaf public health messaging must end. When communities lead, we all win.


Kiddada Green is a Detroit native and the founding executive director of Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association (BMBFA). Ms. Green is a member of the inaugural class of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Community Leadership Network Fellowship Program. As an expert in community-centered approaches, her recommendations were included in The U.S. Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding and the State of Michigan’s Breastfeeding Plan. She has been featured in various media, including Ebony Magazine. 

Aprons as Art: No Strings Attached

Thu, 10/17/2019 - 02:09

Aprons are potent symbols of women and domesticity. 

As utilitarian garments, they are worn and connected to a variety of professional and occupational settings: chefs, butchers, blacksmiths, waiters and waitresses, bartenders, gardeners; even the helpful associates at Home Depot all wear aprons.

But the most persistent meanings associated with aprons are gender specific.

The word and the visual conjure up a life lived, a meal cooked, a life suppressed, a secret stashed away, a meal served, and a joyous holiday with all the trimmings.

Described as a shield, a bib, and a smock; what began as a masculine garment for practical purposes morphed into a statement of femininity; the housewife, the grandmother, the mother. The apron became a symbol of family, home cooked-meals, comfort food. While wealthy and upper class women would often accessorize their lace-trimmed aprons with a string of pearls and cluster earrings, lower and middle class women wore simple aprons – splattered with sauces and gravies; the day’s meal, and-their accessory: a ladle or a spatula, utensils.

But what lurked under that apron?

That garment?

That stained half-skirt?

Pockets filled with tissues and recipes and phone numbers and packs of cigarettes and long lost memories.

How many of us tugged at our mother’s apron strings hoping to be seen and heard and loved, hoping to get her attention? How many women hid their deepest desires or their most painful abuses underneath a stained and frayed apron? How many women were domestics – the perfectly starched ironed apron their daily uniform? How many women wore frilly aprons for their husbands and their lovers in the privacy of their bedrooms?

How many young girls and young boys sat at the kitchen table watching as their aproned mother stood over a stove basting a turkey, or stirring a pot of soup… or burning a roast?

In the late 1960’s and the 70’s something else began to stir: women burning their bras – marching for equality and raising their consciousness – no longer accepting the idea that a woman’s place was in the home; aprons were untied and tossed, banished to drawers and hooks where they would hang on the back of a door.

If you ask a fifty- or sixty-year-old woman today what memory she has and holds of her mother wearing an apron she will often answer: Suppression, unfulfilled dreams, longing, entrapment and emotional bondage.

But times have changed and women are no longer tethered to the kitchen and memories can be recycled into art.

Domestic Matters: The Uncommon Apron, curated by Gail M. Brown, a remarkable exhibit of contemporary objects and sculptural forms, explores aprons in this context: as political and emotional symbols of traditional women’s roles and domestic labor.

Brown originally conceived of this show more than twenty years ago after viewing a collection of commercially produced aprons in a regional museum in NY State. The experience of that show, which Brown described as “souvenir-shop-like…tediously repeating places and issues of domestic labor, the worker as the wearer and her identify and recognition,” prompted her to consider what artists could do with this functional object.

Brown invited forty-eight contemporary artists to create one of a kind works in craft media “which comment and challenge changing social roles and mores, topics about work, familial life and identity…”

The results, now on view at the exhibit at Peters Valley School of Craft in Layton, NJ, are diverse in form and substance, breathtaking in the depth and breadth of their social and political commentary and challenge. They celebrate a range of personal narratives, as well as the rich possibilities for creative expression offered by craft media. 

As functional objects, aprons are protective garments, meant to shield the wearer from dirt or harm. In several works in this show, the makers have taken this one step further.

Liz Alpert Fay’s #Me Too (shown above), a solid hooked rug in the shape of a shield, embeds narrative imagery that literally speaks to the #MeToo movement.

Mary Hallam Pearse’s Leaded is a traditional apron form constructed from black lead, stitched together with silk. This solid protective garment includes the menacing suggestion of a hidden gun underneath.

Marian (mau) Schoettle’s clever Untitled apron is made from the type of ‘No Trespassing’ signs typically found posted on trees to deter hunters on private property.  Isn’t a woman’s body her private property?

The sheer weight of the working mother’s daily tasks is made palpable in Kate Kretz’s Emotional Labor Apron. It literally recounts in a painstakingly and perfectly embroidered narrative the multitude of things that are done to make a household run; work that is not necessarily acknowledged and generally not shared. 

Several artists recall the “June Cleaver Mom” storybook era of the 1950s using recycled materials from that period. 

Harriete Estel Berman’s Reality Studded with Thorns Hides the Door from the Street is constructed from recycled tin cans and vintage steel dollhouses. The bright red front door is framed with old fashioned roses, beautiful and dangerous, “Not,” the artist writes, “unlike the idealized portrayal of women” and their traditional roles.

Donna Rhae Marder’s 50’s Apron was sewn following a 1950’s sewing pattern. Her ‘fabric’ is patched together from pieces of old 50’s Gourmet magazines, publications that set standards for the perfect housewife for cooking and entertaining.

Other works celebrate more personal and sometimes fond memories.

Jen Blazina’s glass and bronze aprons, irons, and spools of thread recall her grandmother busy in the kitchen, fulfilling the prototypical idea of ‘women’s work.’

Cynthia Consentino’s stoneware sculpture, Grandma’s Apron, pays homage to her grandmother, a Sicilian immigrant who clung to traditional roles and values, and ’embraced her place in the world.’

Lisa Hunter’s A Comfort of Tea Pots and A Proper Cup recall the comfort of domestic life, ‘supportive, consistent and repeatable,’ as reflected in the ritual of afternoon tea.

The impact of the exhibit in its entirety is far more provocative than brief descriptions that only a few works convey. Surrounded by the wealth of references and messages from the totality of the compelling two and three dimensional forms in this exhibition, we are challenged to reflect on our own life, memories, and dreams; in Brown’s words, “our shared, domestic experience.”

Visit Domestic Matters: The Uncommon Apron, on view at the Sally D. Francisco Gallery in Layton, New Jersey through November 3, 2019. The Exhibition Catalog and views of the gallery can be found here.

About the Authors:

Amy Ferris is a highly accomplished author, screenwriter, television writer and editor. She was also honored by Women’s eNews as one of our ‘21 Leaders for the 21st Century‘ for 2018. Her memoir, Marrying George Clooney: Confessions From A Midlife Crisis, was adapted into an Off-Broadway play at CAP21 Theater Company.

Maleyne Syracuse is the author of “Grethe Sørensen: Construction of Textiles,” in Out of Pixels: Grethe Sørensen (2017)and “Richard Landis: A Productive Mind” in Shuttle, Spindle & Dyepot (Fall 2018).

Passing the ERA: Countdown to Virginia

Mon, 10/14/2019 - 13:06

Today, more than 166 million women live in the United States, and roughly 96 percent of them believe that women– who make up slightly over fifty percent of the nationwide population– are equal to men by law. This is untrue. As far back as the year 1848, when the first Women’s Rights Convention was held, there has been a demand for equality. In 1923, the Equal Rights Amendment– a move that would ensure equality between women and men and prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, was introduced.

The amendment was passed forty-six years ago by Congress in 1972. After its passage, Congress handed it over to the states to be ratified–a process that can only occur if three-quarters of the country, or thirty-eight states approve. To date, fifteen states have yet to ratify the amendment, preventing women and women from legally being considered equal in the US. But, that could change in just a couple of weeks since Americans are now only one state shy from benefitting from the ERA. On November 5, 2019, the state of Virginia will serve as the country’s deciding factor.

“If you consider yourself a feminist, you need to put your skin in the game,” said Kamala Lopez, founder of the movement Equal Means Equal, created to educate Americans about the importance of equal rights under federal law for women and complete the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. “You must care about this, and you must care about this right now,” Lopez said in an exclusive interview with Women’s eNews.

Lopez, originally from New York City, and her co-director, Natalie White, originally from West Virginia, temporarily moved to Virginia’s 76th district which consists of Suffolk, Norfolk and Chesapeake counties, to encourage every person eligible to vote to go to the polls.c“We’re hustling,” Lopez said

Within just one month of their stay, the pair reached thousands of local residents through daily community organization events. Each day, they hand out roughly five-hundred ice cream cones, gather dozens of people for happy hours and host dinners for voters on Sunday nights.

Members from local church communities and black sororities such as Delta Sigma Theta Inc. have sat with Lopez and White at the table to eat fried chicken, scalloped potatoes and pecan pie to discuss the potential and debunk the myths of the ERA. Their hope is that accurate information about the ERA and its national importance are circulated to as many micro-communities as possible before election day. “There were people who were hugging us and just started crying because we cared so much,” White said. “I was born and raised in Fairmount, WV so I know how things work in small towns like this where it feels like no one cares,” she added.

One woman in particular, who provided catering for the Sunday dinners, had shared that she was a victim of domestic violence, and watched as her two children had to remove knives from their father’s clenched hand. “She would be eavesdropping on our discussions,” Lopez recalled. “As [the caterer] learned more about the ERA and the empowerment it would give her and her family, she began feeling better.” For Lopez and White, hosting these discussions are vital because they believe misinformation is being circulated at this critical time.

For example, a debate between Democratic candidate Jess Foster of the 88th district and her opponent, Mark Cole, was held at the University of Mary Washington. Approximately one-hundred-fifty people were in attendance, but before the political battle commenced on stage Cole, who has served in the House of Delegates since 2002, had circulated a flyer titled “The Truth About the Equal Rights Amendment,” which suggested that the ERA was outdated and a new one should take its place–one that is geared towards the pro-life movement. “People are going to think that Cole is a proponent of the ERA,” Lopez said in response. “One of the things being circulated is that the ERA is an abortion bill,” White added. “We’re asking for equality, nothing more.”

When the ERA was passed in 1972, Congress had set a deadline of seven years–and later ten years–for thirty-eight states to approve the bill. By 1982, the US had thirty-five states on board, but as time progressed the bill became inactive and was replaced by a false notion that an amendment was already in place to protect women from gender-biased discrimination. Article II of the Fourteenth Amendment, for example, declares that “no state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” However, the amendment was written at a time when women were considered second-class citizens with no legal right to vote. “Essentially, they are trying to rewrite the truth so that people won’t see its important and go out to vote,” White said. Lopez added, “But we are putting lives and jobs on hold just to fight for this.”

It’s a fight the pair decided to take on more than a decade ago. In the past few years, their efforts have gained traction. In 2016, White led a 250-mile march between New York City and Washington DC to raise awareness about the ERA. That same year, Equal Means Equal, released a documentary to inform the country about the impact the ERA would have. The film was awarded Best US Documentary Audience Award, Traverse City Film Festival (2016).

Since then, the momentum has been building. In 2017, Nevada ratified the ERA, followed by Illinois the following year in 2018.

Now, with only a few weeks left until voting day in Virginia, Lopez and White are continuing to spread awareness to ensure that every person who is eligible to vote will go to the polls. “We’re hoping that we can drive people to the polls, we’ve got two big vans and if people can’t get there, we will drive them there ourselves,” Lopez said.

“We’re as close to the finish line as never before,” she added. “We will not quit the game until we win the fight.”

Tatyana Turner is a student at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. She is a 2019 fellow in the Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program* at Women’s eNews, funded by the Sy Syms Foundation. The Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program at Women’s eNews fellowship supports editorial and development opportunities for editorial interns in the pursuit of journalistic excellence.

Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program

The Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence program at Women’s eNews was launched in 2014 with support from the Sy Syms Foundation. The fellowship provides support and development opportunities for editorial interns in the pursuit of journalistic excellence.

“For a democracy to flourish all voices must be heard.” said Marcy Syms, a founding Trustee and President of the Sy Syms Foundation. “Through its investigative reporting Women’s eNews gets at the essence of good journalism. The Sy Syms Foundation is proud of this collaboration to support today’s newest women journalists.”

As part of it’s mission to create social change for women and girls through investigative reporting, Women’s eNews helps foster, train, and support the career development of new journalists with a focus on social justice and women’s rights.

Brave Journeys: Stories from Teens Crossing into America

Thu, 10/10/2019 - 04:30

As Herstory Writers Workshop inaugurates a new series for Women’s eNews, we are more conscious than ever of the challenges that we are facing at this moment of time when the Statue of Liberty is crying for us all. 

Can our stories help hold up the torch of compassion and welcome, and bring back the light that the oppressors are trying to extinguish? Can they help the most vulnerable among us to hold on through the darkness, uncertainty and danger? 

Can memoir become a tool for action? Can the stories of the disenfranchised, the vulnerable and isolated, be shaped in a way that will startle those in power into rethinking policy and practice? Can the power structure be righted if a literature that forces every reader to walk in the storyteller’s shoes is made part of the culture? 

These are the questions that set an increasing number of women and girls (and more recently men and boys) upon a two-and-a-half-decade journey of grass roots story-shaping and gathering, as together we worked on developing a tool kit to dare even the most hard-hearted reading or listening stranger to care. Over those decades, thousands of stories have been born in Long Island’s jails, its shelters and school rooms, its union halls and workplaces, libraries and art centers. These stories have been used in prison reform, as part of a training program for officers, and in sensitizing teachers, school counselors and administrators to the realities of the lives of young people who crossed the border by themselves and the children of the incarcerated. They have been used by governmental officials and judges to ensure that the voices of those who lack representation or access are heard. They have been used in the healing of communities divided by violence and hatred. 

We are happy to begin this series with stories from Brave Journeys/ Pasos valientes, a book by 15 high school students (ages 14-17) who crossed mountains and deserts and rivers to rejoin their parents – who came to this country to escape danger, with the dream of better life. 

As each student put pen to paper, hesitantly at first, not sure what it would mean to bring back memories that were so difficult, magic began to happen. Although the stories were hard, in each new transcription it was the strength and the spirit that began to shine through. Each student who wrote a new page gave the others in the writing circle more courage as the weeks went by, until finally they were ready to read to their ELL teachers, who never had known them in such a deep caring way. In the months that followed they saw their stories turn into a book, to be shared with other students whose stories echoed their own and with students who had no idea of their heroism, beauty and strength. They watched the book that their stories had created make its way into one Long Island school district after another, and finally through First Book, to reach a national audience of educators working in communities where families were unable to buy books for their children. 

It is with sadness, but also with urgency and pride, that we anonymously share the writing of these young people, alone, because it wouldn’t be safe to share these stories in a traceable way. We think of a time when the students will again be able to claim their own stories, with their names and photographs attached, as we thank each of these young heroes for the part that they are playing in helping the Statue of Liberty to hold up her torch. 

Erika Duncan, Founder of Herstory Writers Workshop

Story #1: I Will Never Forget You 

We reach a stage where we can’t imagine what could happen once we discover the reality of the world. At that moment it doesn’t occur to you that you could know the story of life. First, we remain some time inside the body of another human being. It might not seem like much, but for that human being it might seem a long time they’ll have to wait. 

Just like that, the day comes for you to leave that narrow and uncomfortable place. The day your parents cry of happiness and you cry out of joy for the same reason. Nine months inside is a short time, but it’s many years to live. 

I was born on February 13, 1999. My father, who was killed, decided before his death that my name had to be ——————————————– in honor of my aunt, who was a nun. My grandmother wanted me to be registered as if I had been born on February 14, but the right thing to do was to be registered the day I was truly born. 

Life in our countries is very hard. Because of the economy, many of us run to chase the American dream. Few make it; many die on their way, in the dessert. 

But we come with negative thinking. We arrive with fear of being discriminated because we are Hispanic or because we don’t speak the same language they do. We arrive terrified to live in a totally different world, completely different from our countries. But even though it’s not easy, it’s not impossible either. 

Many times I find myself analyzing how that life might be, living with different people, with thinking different from mine. 

The law of life is to be born, grow up, reproduce and die. And although you don’t know how long you’ll live, life moves step by step, sometimes so fast, it’s impossible to appreciate all the time we lose. 

But we should enjoy our childhood because many are born every day but die instantly and don’t ever have the opportunity to live, the way we do. 

My childhood was a bit disastrous and sad because I didn’t have the chance to have my father by my side. I was eight years old when I found out that my father was killed. After that, I learned that life is difficult but that everything is possible and that you can move on, and ahead, if you really want to. 

I was 16 years old when I asked my mom to bring me to her because I wanted to meet her. 

“Let me see what I can do,” she told me, “because you need a lot of money for something like that.” 

“Okay,” I said, “I’ll wait for your response.” 

As time passed I began to realize that if I came here I would have to leave my grandmother behind. She is like my second mother, someone who gave me so much love. 

Three months had passed since I first spoke with my mom about the trip, when the phone rang while I was sitting beside my grandmother in the living room. When I looked at the phone, I could see it was my mom who was calling. Feeling a little sad, I answered. 

Hija,” she said, “get ready because you leave on Monday.” 

Very surprised, I answered, “Mom, I don’t want to go anymore.” 

“Why?” she asked. 

“Because grandma is really sick and I don’t know if I’m going to be able to see her again, or when I’ll be able to come back.” 

I wasn’t sure I could do it, but if I had God and grandma’s help, I knew I could do it. My grandma told me that she was scared of me leaving because the journey is very dangerous. I was also very scared because I’d heard many rumors from people about women being raped on the way. 

I decided to face my fate, leaving family and loved ones behind to have a new life with very different people. I left on December 18, 2015 at 1:00 a.m. That day I felt a big emptiness in my heart knowing I was leaving my grandmother. She accompanied me to the place where I would meet “the coyote,” how we commonly refer to people who do this type of job in our countries. After approximately four or five hours, the coyote decided it was time to begin the journey. 

We had to take a bus to Mexico. When it was time to leave, my grandma was tightly squeezing my hand. As I was about to get on the bus, she whispered in my ear, “Don’t forget me, remember my words, my advice, and scolding. Call me when you feel lonely, remember that I will always be your grandmother, your mother, your confidante.” 

All I saw were her tearful eyes, and I hugged her tightly while saying, “Of course I will never forget you, you will always be in my thoughts and I will do everything possible to help you, and pull you ahead, because there’s no way I can ever thank you for everything you’ve done for me.”


A medida de que el Taller de Escritores de Herstory inaugura una nueva serie para Women’s eNews, somos más conscientes que nunca de los desafíos que enfrentamos en este momento en que la Estatua de la Libertad está llorando por todos nosotros.

¿Pueden nuestras historias ayudar a sostener la antorcha de la compasión y la bienvenida, y traer de vuelta la luz que los opresores están tratando de extinguir? ¿Pueden ayudar a los más vulnerables entre nosotros a resistir en la oscuridad, la incertidumbre y el peligro?

¿Pueden las memorias convertirse en una herramienta para la acción? ¿Pueden las historias de los marginados, los vulnerables y aislados, tener una forma que asuste a los que están en el poder a repensar la política y la práctica? ¿Se puede enderezar la estructura de poder si una literatura que obliga a cada lector a caminar en la piel del narrador se hace parte de la cultura?

Estas son las preguntas que plantean un número creciente de mujeres y niñas (y más recientemente hombres y niños) en un viaje de dos décadas y media de formación y recopilación de historias de base, ya que juntos, trabajamos en el desarrollo de un equipo de herramientas para que incluso al lector extraño, más severo o inquebrantable, le interesen estas historias. Durante esas décadas, miles de historias han nacido en las cárceles de Long Island, sus refugios y aulas escolares, sus salas sindicales y lugares de trabajo, bibliotecas y centros de arte. Estas historias se han utilizado en la reforma penitenciaria, como parte de un programa de capacitación para oficiales y en la sensibilización de maestros, consejeros escolares y administradores sobre las realidades de la vida de los jóvenes que cruzaron la frontera solos y los niños de los encarcelados. Han sido utilizados por funcionarios gubernamentales y jueces para garantizar que se escuchen las voces de quienes carecen de representación o acceso. Se han utilizado en la curación de comunidades divididas por la violencia y el odio.

Estamos felices de comenzar esta serie con historias de Brave Journeys / Pasos valientes, un libro con historias acerca de 15 estudiantes de secundaria (entre 14 y 17 años) que cruzaron montañas, desiertos y ríos para reunirse con sus padres, que vinieron a este país para escapar del peligro, con el sueño de una vida mejor.

A medida que cada estudiante ponía un bolígrafo en papel, vacilante al principio, sin saber qué significaría traer recuerdos que eran tan difíciles, la magia comenzó a suceder. Aunque las historias fueron difíciles, en cada nueva transcripción, fue la fuerza y ??el espíritu lo que comenzó a brillar. Cada estudiante que escribió una nueva página les dio a los demás, en el círculo de escritura, más valor a medida que pasaban las semanas, hasta que finalmente estuvieron listos para leer sus historias a sus maestros de ELL, quienes nunca los habían conocido de una manera tan profunda y cuidadosa. En los meses que siguieron, vieron que sus historias se convertían en un libro, que se compartiría con otros estudiantes cuyas historias hicieron eco de las suyas y con estudiantes que no tenían idea de su heroísmo, belleza y fuerza. Vieron el libro que sus historias habían creado llegar a diferentes distritos escolares de Long Island, uno tras otro, y finalmente a través de First Book, llegar a una audiencia nacional de educadores que trabajaban en comunidades donde las familias no podían comprar libros para sus hijos.  

Es con tristeza, pero también con urgencia y orgullo, que compartimos anónimamente la escritura de estos jóvenes porque no sería seguro para ellos compartir estas historias de manera rastreable. Esperamos que algún día, estos estudiantes puedan reclamar nuevamente sus propias historias, con sus nombres y fotografías adjuntas, mientras agradecemos a cada uno de estos jóvenes héroes por el papel que están desempeñando para ayudar a la Estatua de la Libertad a sostener su antorcha. 

Erika Duncan, fundadora del taller de escritores de Herstory


Historia uno: Nunca te olvidaré

Llegamos a una etapa en donde no nos imaginamos qué podría pasar al momento de descubrir cuál es la realidad del mundo. En ese momento no se te ocurre si podrías llegar a conocer la historia de la vida. Primero, permanecemos un tiempo dentro del cuerpo de otro ser humano. Puede parecer poco, pero para ese ser humano puede parecer muy largo el tiempo que tiene que esperar.

Así, llega el día en que tienes que salir de ese estrecho e incómodo lugar. El día en que tus padres lloran de felicidad y tú gritas por la misma razón. Nueve meses por dentro es poco, pero son muchos años por vivir.

Nací un 13 de febrero de 1999. Mi padre, quien fue asesinado, decidió antes de morir que mi nombre debía ser ——————————————– en honor a una tía que era monja. Mi abuela quería que me registraran como si yo hubiese nacido un 14 de febrero, pero lo correcto es que te registren el día que en verdad naciste.

La vida en nuestros países es muy difícil. A causa de la mala economía, muchos corremos a alcanzar el sueño americano. Pocos lo logran, muchos mueren en el camino, en el desierto. 

Pero venimos con un pensamiento muy negativo. Llegamos con el miedo de ser discriminados por ser hispanos o por no hablar el mismo lenguaje que ellos. Llegamos aterrorizados de vivir en un mundo totalmente diferente a nuestros países. Pero, aunque no es fácil, tampoco es imposible. 

Muchas veces analizo cómo será esa vida, viviendo con personas distintas, con pensamientos diferentes al mío.

La ley de la vida es que nazcas, crezcas, te reproduzcas y mueras. Y aunque no sabes cuánto tiempo vivirás, la vida transcurre paso a paso y a la vez tan rápido, que es imposible valorar todo el tiempo que perdemos.

Pero deberíamos disfrutar nuestra etapa de la infancia porque muchos nacen día con día, pero mueren al instante y no tienen nunca la oportunidad de vivir, como la tenemos nosotros.

Mi infancia fue un poco desastrosa y triste porque no tuve la oportunidad de tener a mi padre a mi lado. Tenía ocho años cuando me enteré que a mi padre lo habían asesinado. Después de eso aprendí que la vida es difícil pero que todo se puede lograr y que puedes salir adelante si tú te lo propones.

Tenía 16 años cuando le pedí a mi madre que me trajera con ella porque quería conocerla.

—Déjame ver qué puedo hacer —me dijo— porque se necesita mucho dinero para algo así.

—Está bien —le dije— espero su respuesta.

Al pasar el tiempo comencé a analizar que si me venía para acá dejaría a mi abuela sola. Ella es como mi primera madre, alguien que me dio mucho amor. 

A los tres meses de haberle comentado a mi mamá acerca del viaje, sonó el teléfono mientras yo estaba sentada al lado de mi abuela en la sala de mi casa. Al ver el teléfono, vi que era mi madre quien llamaba. Sintiéndome un poco triste, le contesté.

—Hija —me dijo— prepárese porque sale el lunes.

Yo, muy sorprendida le contesté, 

—Mamá, yo ya no me quiero ir.

—¿Por qué? —me preguntó.

—Porque mi abuela está muy enferma y no sé si la voy a volver a ver, ó cuándo pueda regresar.

Yo no estaba segura de poder hacerlo, pero si tenía la ayuda de Dios y de mi abuela, sabía que lo podía lograr. Mi abuela me decía que tenía miedo de que me viniera porque el camino es muy peligroso. Yo tenía mucho miedo también porque escuchaba muchos rumores de la gente acerca de que violaban a las mujeres en el camino.

Tomé la decisión de enfrentar mi destino, dejando a familiares y seres queridos para tener una nueva vida con personas muy diferentes. Salí un 18 de diciembre de 2015, a la 1:00 a.m. Ese día sentí un gran vacío en mi corazón al saber que dejaba a mi abuela. Ella me acompañó hasta el lugar donde me encontraría con “el coyote”, como comúnmente le decimos en nuestros países a quienes hacen este tipo de trabajo. Pasaron aproximadamente cuatro o cinco horas cuando el señor decidió comenzar con el viaje.

Nos teníamos que ir en autobús a México. Al momento de partir, mi abuela tenía mi mano fuertemente apretada. Cuando estaba a punto de subir al autobús me susurro al oído: 

—No me olvides, recuerda mis palabras, mis consejos y regaños. Llámame cuando te sientas sola, recuerda que siempre seré tu abuela, tu madre, tu confidente.

Solo vi sus ojos con lágrimas y la abracé fuertemente diciéndole, 

—Claro que nunca te olvidaré, siempre estarás en mis pensamientos y haré todo lo posible por ayudarte y por poder sacarte adelante porque no tengo cómo agradecerte todo lo que has hecho por mí.

Fool Me Twice: Actions Over Impeachment

Tue, 10/08/2019 - 14:09

Well-earned celebrations must not eclipse our view of true victory for humanity and the planet.

Well, it’s finally happened, to the relief of a wide range of people, from Nancy Pelosi’s most vitriolic critics to her most loyal loyalists: the House is officially opening impeachment proceedings.

This matters. A lot. Terms have power, and a formal process under a single umbrella is a much clearer signal to this regime than the previous scattered and single-issue investigations could ever have been. And our emotional release is needed and justified. In the streets, in jail holding cells, in the public online spaces, and in back-office meetings, many have been struggling tirelessly for the last two years to get this, or something like it, off the ground. Even where I strongly disagree with some of my fellow anti-Trumpist activists in terms of direction or focus, I salute the conscience and dedication of all who’ve embraced this cause.

Nevertheless, we’re in a supremely perilous moment now and we’d be fools not to recognize it.

Part of the danger comes, of course, from our adversaries. Like any abusive personality, a fascist can be at their most vicious when they feel their control finally, possibly, beginning to slip. When their victim at last declares independence, the chances that they’re not going to make at least one treacherous bid to reestablish dominance are zero. And often enough, they succeed. So overconfidence on our part is unwarranted. We’ve already seen that there’s no level of barbarity to which they won’t descend—even and especially against the most vulnerable and nonthreatening of us—both in the US and across the world.

They will take hostages. The timing of the Trump regime’s assaults on prominent Democrats and their constituents — from the political “investigation” of Biden, to the threat to sweep the homeless of Pelosi’s and Schiff’s districts off the streets and disappear them off to who knows where — is not coincidental.

They will summon their more overtly supremacist supporters out from under their rocks to brownshirt for them. It’s not an accident that Pizzagate conspiracy theorist and Christian fascist culture warrior Sebastian Gorka is publicly traveling with Mike Pompeo right now.

But as bad as it would be not to prepare for betrayal from the cruel, it’s almost as bad not to account for our own fallibility as well as those of our allies. The Trump regime is carrying out crimes against humanity, and we must unite all who can be united to stop it from consolidating power.

Our Actions Matter More than the Motivations for Impeachment

I’m not interested in playing psychic here. We could argue forever about whether Pelosi, Schiff et al had some secret master plan all along that we were ingrates to ever ever doubt, or did this only with the greatest reluctance because enough people made it clear nothing less would be acceptable. It doesn’t matter all that much, frankly.

It only sort-of matters what their motivations are now—whether they mean to move forward boldly now and sacrifice for the country they swore to serve, or are just trying to run out the clock till the election.

It’s not that important because it doesn’t change our calculus in getting the result the world needs us to get. Do you think Mubarak’s generals were suddenly seized with enlightenment and remorse, when they turned on their dictator after the Tahrir Square protests in Cairo got too big to ignore or repress? Does anyone really care now what was in their hearts? No. Because the circumstances that the people of Egypt created forced them to do what was right either way. (The trouble came only when the people ceased their unified demand for justice, and their disarray allowed religious extremists to take over where military rule left off…there’s a crucial message to us in that as well, by the way. Even victory in removing one set of tyrants is not the final victory, though it’s a step you can hardly skip in the process!)

Personally, as a mainstream-ish Democrat, I view most of our party leaders as well-meaning but deeply imperfect human beings—just like most of us. They’re sitting in different, much plusher stadium seats, where they can perhaps see some things we don’t, but will completely miss other vital things we ordinary folk do see…if we don’t point them out with crystal clarity. Others among my Refuse Fascism colleagues see Democratic leadership as willing servants of the great machine of capitalist imperialism.

We can argue about that in between actions (preferably over coffee or drinks!) but it shouldn’t stop us from coming together to force our leaders to do what is right regardless of motivation.

If they’re legislators of conscience, they won’t hate us for standing up for justice—they’ll be grateful for our support and even our pressure, because they’ll view representing constituents as their duty. That means the thing to do is show them what their constituents want is what we all know is best for humanity: that Trump and Pence Must Go Now.

If they’re amoral careerists determined to hold onto their Capitol washroom keys, the thing to do is show them their only option for that is to meet the public’s implacable demand that Trump and Pence Must Go Now…and that the public really, really means the Now part. To make that happen, we have to become harder to deny than powerful, violent, corrupt, scheming Nazis. That’s a tall order, yes. But we’re a big country. Collectively we have more than strength enough to do it.

If they’re sadistic monsters, well, then they’ll be like Mubarak’s generals: they’ll obey, they’ll conciliate, they’ll betray the people…until they finally see that Trump and Pence are a sinking ship that all sane rats must abandon. At that point, though there may be a few so tightly bound that they do indeed decide to go down with the ship, the rest will suddenly have that attack of enlightenment and remorse—and pretend to have secretly agreed with us all along that Trump and Pence must go now.

Any of those will work for me.

Which story ends up being the true one is pertinent to the question of what kind of society we can rebuild after we’ve removed this fascist regime from power…but that question is moot if we can’t remove the regime. And whether our leaders are people of conscience or not, we can’t succumb to the temptation to leave it all up to them. Even the most heroic public servants know they can’t win without the unrelenting energy of the people as fuel and mandate. The worst? Won’t be convinced to turn on a despot until the people leave them no choice.

Whether you’re a liberal, a progressive, a socialist, a communist, a technocrat, or an apolitical, one fact remains: nobody can get their human needs met under a fascist system, except for fascists. There is no peace, no safe space, no rule of law, no loving kindness, no humanity under fascism. It is at its base a nihilistic, all-devouring creed that ultimately consumes even itself—but not before it’s consumed everything and everyone else it can. And it has more appeal than people of goodwill ever want to believe.

So our work from here is clear. We should celebrate our victories along the way, yes. But now would be the worst possible time to fold up the tents and become passive observers again. Everyone must decide for themselves whom they will or will not trust, but I would urge everyone with a hunger for justice to base their decisions on investigation of the danger this regime poses and what can actually stop it. Remember that you can’t wait for your hero, because in the end NOBODY can save a people who won’t save themselves.

And that it’s not just the American people who we will either save with our fierce love or damn with our foolish apathy, but many, many others besides.

In your heart, you already know these things to be true. All that’s left is to act on it.

About the author: Sarah Roark is graphic novelist and a member of the editorial board of RefuseFascism.org, which is launching weekly protests in October to demand, “Trump and Pence #OutNow!” Follow her on Twitter @afterdaylight.

Book Excerpt: Unlocking the Power of Fatherhood

Sun, 10/06/2019 - 04:11

It’s not uncommon these days to hear the terms “fatherless generation,” “toxic masculinity,” and “boys will be boys.” Many are trying to redefine manhood and discredit masculinity in a misguided attempt to resolve our problems. In his upcoming book, Unlocking the Power of Fatherhood, author Gary D. Rogers shares his own rich life experiences and the lessons he has learned along the way, which have all blended to forge a unique mission: to inspire authenticity in men, to equip them with workable life skills and perspectives, and to empower a healthy culture of fatherhood.

A blueprint for embracing the positive essence of fatherhood, it is a powerful guide for men to achieve a successful life by confronting the unfairness of society, recognizing the lessons of failure, and discovering the value in life’s difficulties:

CHAPTER 2 (pp. 68-75)

In the years since that stormy night, I have weathered difficult times, always drawing sustenance from the man who had been in the boat with me. His unwavering character lived on in my heart long after he was gone. Billy Ray remained my standard against which all my decisions were measured. With him, there was right and there was wrong. That which was true yesterday was true today. He always stood for the right, no matter what it cost him. This quality defined him as a man of character and garnered the respect of all who knew him.
To me he was a tree, not an anchor. He was unmovable, an unchangeable standard. On those difficult nights in my home office as my business was crumbling and I was faced with difficult decisions, I could always find one of his principles to guide me. The consequences of decisions made were not always pleasant, but the decision was the right one to make. In the aftermath of those choices, I could always take solace in the person I had become.
It is because of his guidance that I have come to like who I am as a man. And when my difficult decisions are based on his tested principles, things invariably turn out well.
Billy Ray was joined in life by a remarkable woman who saw through his limp and what he called his “bum leg.” She saw a man who knew what it was to be a man—someone on whom she could depend. Someone worthy, in whom to invest her tremendous capacity to love. Together they created the culture of fatherhood in our home for my brother[…]”

“We learned the value of correction in an atmosphere of love. We were never shocked or had the rug pulled out from under us. Things were predictable, and the high standards never changed. It was a remarkable upbringing. I understand how incredibly blessed I am to have had such a home as this, even though my time with my father was too short. I wish everyone was blessed to have such a good model to follow, but I know it is not so. That understanding is the impetus for writing this book. I believe that regardless of our backgrounds, we all have the ability to choose the standard of truth as a guiding principle of our lives.
For the first twenty-seven years of my life, I saw firsthand what it was to be a man. My father’s purpose was to teach me how to think and how to weigh decisions against standards and truth. As I grew older, I learned to make good decisions through the challenging conversations he initiated. By this process, he taught me to think like a man of character and ultimately choose what was right. He questioned me using concepts that were very natural for him. Concepts like:

If it were you, would you want to be treated that way?
Is that the kind of person you want to be?
Is that what you said you would do?

These were not rhetorical questions; he expected me to really think about and answer them. Then there was my personal favorite…or sometimes my least favorite:
Can’t never could do anything.
This is a concept that means that you will never overcome if you tell yourself that you are incapable of conquering life’s difficult challenges. It is a powerful statement meant to establish the inner strength one needs to achieve their purpose.
The last one was far too difficult to ignore. Picture, if you will, a baby learning to walk. Stumbling into his parents’ arms with a grin on his face and two good legs beneath him. Now picture my dad, his right leg with the muscles taken by polio, learning to use it as a crutch. Picture that baby and all the times he fell and then got up again. A boy who would never quit until he learned to walk. This was the way he tackled each of life’s challenges. He would simply keep going no matter the hardship, and in the end, he would overcome.
Now try to imagine ignoring him when he says, Can’t never could do anything. To him things were simple. Are you going to say, “I can’t walk, I have a bum leg.” Or, are you going to be the person who says, “I have one good leg; that’s all I need.”

Excerpt From: Gary D. Rogers. “Unlocking the Power of Fatherhood.” iBooks.

About the Author:

Gary Rogers was born and grew to adulthood in the Texas Gulf Coast town of Freeport Texas. He is currently working as a consultant to industries that use large quantities of water, assisting them to effectively utilize water resources and minimize the impact of operations on the environment. Rogers has a loving wife of 44 years, three children and one rather precocious grandson. Gary seeks to utilize his writing to share the valuable life lessons they taught. To connect with the author, please visit his website www.garydrogers.com.

In Memoriam: Jessica Eileen Melore

Tue, 10/01/2019 - 12:11

She lived for twenty years with a heart transplant; she was a leg amputee; she was a three- time cancer survivor. But Jessica, who passed away on September 25, 2019 at the age of 37, will be remembered for much more than this.

Despite her adversity, which earned her the nickname “Wonder Woman,” she never let it hold her back. Jessica graduated from Princeton University and became an internationally-known motivational speaker. Some of the advice she provided to other people battling cancer was to look for the light, even when the world seemed darkest. “If you are struggling, think about something that might bring you joy — a phone call with a friend you haven’t spoken with for a while, a book you’ve wanted to read and never had time to. It can make a big difference in your mentality,” Jessica said. “Do the best you can — some days will be harder than others — but you will also have good days to look forward to.”

“We can never be grateful enough for what we have,” Loreen Arbus, Disability Rights Activist, Philanthropist, Producer, Writer and Author, said of Jessica, who she described as always having a radiant quality about her. “Every time I saw her, it drove that point home.”

Just prior to her peaceful passing, she gave this message to pass on to everyone else:

“Thank you for all your healing prayers and well wishes. 

Thank you for your support. 

And thank you for giving me the opportunity to know you and love you. 

Love, Jess”

“Dream as if you’ll live forever, but live as if you only have today”

Jessica is survived by her parents Thomas and Ellen, her brother Matthew, sister-in-law Jennifer, and many loving friends and family members.

A celebration of Jessica’s life will be held from 3-8pm on Wednesday, October 2nd at Joseph G. Duffy Funeral Home in Brooklyn, NY. Limited metered street parking is available, as well as a parking garage at Paramount Car Park LLC, 353 4th Ave, Brooklyn, NY. Nearby subway stops include the F/G train 4 Ave- 9 St station and the R train 9 St station.

A Funeral Mass will take place at 11am (EST) on Thursday, October 3rd at Holy Name of Jesus Church in Brooklyn, NY.  In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Harboring Hearts at www.harboringhearts.org/donate and Leukemia & Lymphoma Society at www.lls.org.

Call the Midwife, If You Can

Sat, 09/28/2019 - 13:03

In the next 60 seconds – about the same amount of time it will take to read this article – 250 babies will be born around the world. Fifteen will have birth defects. Up to six will die at birth, and a few newborns will fight to survive without their mothers, who will not live past childbirth. In the United States alone, approximately 700 women die every year as a result of either pregnancy or birth complications — a number that is going up, not down. We are currently in the same category as Afghanistan and Swaziland as countries with increasing maternal death rates.

Fortunately, a few simple resources could vastly improve the health outcomes of infants and mothers. They include clean water, adequate nutrition, basic medicine, and, in the words of UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore: “A skilled pair of hands to help mothers and newborns around the time of birth.” Research has shown that some of the most skilled and effective hands around birth are those of midwives, yet shockingly few families have that option. 

Currently in the U.S., only about 10 percent of births include midwives. Moreover, access to midwifery varies from state to state. A recent landmark study found that Washington had the best integration rate of midwifery, based on how well midwives were accepted by health care providers, as well as whether midwives were able to practice their full scope of skills. North Carolina had the lowest.

And regardless of region, access to midwives in the U.S. is markedly less than other industrialized countries, such as the United Kingdom, Sweden, and the Netherlands. The disparity is frustrating because in countries where midwives attend the majority of births, positive maternal and neonatal outcomes far exceed ours. The excellent proven outcomes that result from midwifery care include lower cesarean section rates, lower premature birth rates, and fewer newborn deaths. Midwives’ patients also have higher breastfeeding rates (both initiating and continuing), and lower incidence of low birth weight babies.

Midwives achieve these outcomes by forming close, respectful partnerships with expecting families during pregnancy and birth. At its essence, the midwifery model of care is based on that relationship. It supports a woman’s dignity, empowerment to make choices, and her ultimate decisions about her birth. The connection between midwife and mother leads not only to better health results, but to a better experience around birth. Studies have demonstrated women’s satisfaction with midwives caring for them, as compared to other types of obstetrical providers. That feeling of satisfaction – or lack thereof – not only is important in the critical period of pregnancy and birth, but has implications throughout a woman’s and child’s life. 

So why don’t many families in the U.S. have the option of using a midwife? It’s not a simple answer. Some health insurance systems do not include midwives in their care network. Some insurance companies do not want to extend malpractice insurance to midwives because obstetrics is a very highly litigated area of medicine. Some physicians don’t want to incorporate midwives into their practice for fear that patients will leave their care for midwives. 

Further, people may be deterred from pursuing midwifery because it is a demanding career with salaries that are not always commensurate with the work. And, finally, inaccuracies like “you can’t have pain medication or an epidural if you have a midwife,” and “midwives only attend births that occur at home” lead expecting parents away from looking into midwifery as an option.

Yet midwifery has endured despite a myriad of myths over the centuries. As someone who has worked in maternal and child health for over 30 years, I have lived the excellent outcomes brought about by midwifery care. I became a nurse-midwife after years working as a labor and delivery nurse because I wanted to help women achieve the births they desired. Certainly specialty high-risk maternity care would be available to every woman whose pregnancy or labor requires it, but most expecting mothers are low-risk, and I saw that they welcomed the chance to give birth in environments that encouraged a sense of normalcy rather than emergency: labor rooms that resembled their own bedrooms, freedom of movement in labor, intermittent monitoring, the ability to eat between contractions. These practices are all based in evidence, and I believe they should be standard across all births – but they are far more common with midwives.   

To honor National Midwifery Week, celebrated in the U.S. from September 29 to October 5, I ask anyone starting a family to investigate for yourself the outcomes produced by midwifery care. Some good resources include Evidence Based Birthhttp://www.MIDWIFE.org and birthplacelab.org

If you want to work with a midwife, yet don’t have any included in your insurance plan, approach your health system and insurer about including midwifery care as an option.  

And if you have experienced the benefits of a midwife, reach out to your legislator. Many lawmakers simply don’t know about the maternal mortality crisis in the United States, or how midwives can make a tremendous difference. Ask for legislation that supports the education of midwives and the expansion of their services. 

In an ideal world, all women would have access to the maternity care provider of their choice, with midwives and physicians working collegially together. But at a bare minimum, midwives attending a birth should be as common and expected in the United States as clean water and basic medicine. Women deserve no less.

Michelle Collins, Ph.D., CNM, RN-CEFM, FACNM, FAAN is a certified nurse-midwife with over 30 years of experience in the field of maternal-child health. She is a professor in the Dept. of Women, Children and Family Nursing at Rush University College of Nursing, as well as Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at the CON.

Book Excerpt: VOTE HER IN

Wed, 09/25/2019 - 10:33

Vote Her In addresses the unrealized dream of millions of American women: electing our first woman president. It makes the case for the urgency of women attaining equal executive power at all levels, including the presidency, and offers a comprehensive strategy for every woman to be a part of this campaign—the most important of our lifetimes. And the book opens with this quote from Michelle Obama:

“In light of this last election, I’m concerned about us as women and how we think about ourselves and about each other… What is going on in our heads where we let that happen, you know? … When the most qualified person running was a woman and look what we did instead, I mean that says something about where we are…That’s what we have to explore… if we still have this crazy, crazy bar for each other that we don’t have for men… if we’re not comfortable with the notion that a woman could be our president compared to what,… we have to have that conversation with ourselves as women.” —Michelle Obama, United State of Women Summit; Los Angeles, California; May 5, 2018; FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES, 2009–2017


Dear Trump: You Got 99 Problems and This BITCH Is 1

Historically, bitch has been used to demean a woman who is assertive about what she wants, unconcerned with—in fact, hostile to—the traditional notions of femininity that hobble women. She is a woman who, for instance, asserts the right of American women to the presidency and the importance of overcoming centuries of precedent to elect one. She is a “nasty woman,” the label Donald Trump used to describe Hillary Clinton during their third presi- dential debate in 2016.

Several posters at the Women’s March displayed the expression “nasty woman,” and some included vagina imagery, along with statements like KEEP YOUR ROSARIES OFF MY OVARIES and NO UTERUS, NO OPINION. Using imagery of women’s anatomy to make nasty-woman assertions of women’s rights, the marchers also reclaimed the word bitch, using it not as a demeaning insult but as motivational shorthand for an assertive, independent woman who takes actions like electing a woman president.

Some of us marchers (of the “bitch” ilk as described above) had never used the word bitch to describe our feminist self-concept. Frankly, many of us were uncomfortable with it. The word felt pejorative, given its typical usage. In our campaign to be respected and convincing about our women’s rights agenda and campaigns, using shorthand that is generally used by men as a belittling description of women didn’t feel like a smart idea. However, a turning point for me was when I read a Vox article in which Hillary Clinton repeated some- thing Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg told her before the 2016 presidential campaign: “When a woman advocates for others, she tends to be well-liked. The moment she starts advocating for herself, people tend to turn against her.” What was that about being a bitch? As one Women’s March poster stated, quoting Madonna: I’M TOUGH, I’M AMBITIOUS, AND I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT I WANT. IF THAT MAKES ME A BITCH, SO BE IT. So be it for me, and so be it for us, too.

I’ve since come to advocate this marcher’s expression of women’s confi- dence and rebellion against the status quo. I have also watched and heard hip- hop’s self-styled feminist stars, such as Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj, use the word bitch to describe attitudes I now share with them. “When I am assertive, I’m a bitch,” Minaj said in the MTV documentary My Time Now. “When a man is assertive, he’s a boss. He bossed up. No negative connotation behind ‘bossed up.’ But lots of negative connotation behind being a ‘bitch.’”

Let’s just go ahead and claim the word bitch to describe our attitude about electing our first woman president. I think we have to in order to clarify our willingness to be “bitchy”—that is, forceful and demanding. Because let’s face it: that’s what electing our first American woman president will require.

In my research for this book, I found a Pinterest site called “BITCH, I GOT THIS (Confidence).” Yes, let’s use the word bitch to tell the world we have the confidence to take care of our highest-priority business, electing a woman president. As one Women’s March poster read, BITCHES GET STUFF DONE. We have only to get to work to get this stu done. We have the numbers. According to CAWP:

• Women outnumber men among registered voters.
• Women turn out to vote at rates that equal or exceed men’s rates.
• A higher proportion of women than men vote among US citizens age 18 to 64.
• For eight consecutive presidential elections, more women have voted than men.

Further, millennials are projected to surpass baby boomers as the country’s largest living adult generation in 2019. Combined with Generation X, they already make up a bigger voting bloc than baby boomers and the silent generation, and according to a survey by Vanity Fair, “millennial women are more politically engaged than they have been in years, with an unparalleled capacity to elect change.”

We have the voters and we also have the candidates. As I write this book, four women, all Democratic US senators— Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Har- ris, Elizabeth Warren, and Amy Klobuchar—are presumed to be considering a presidential run in 2020. All four have core legislative, personal, and political strengths, making each a viable candidate, but they won’t all survive the run-up—each will have to convince the rest of us, “Bitch, I got this.”

This number of potential women candidates is a first in American history, and getting one of them elected might not be just a fantasy, according to Politico Magazine contributing editor Bill Scher. For one thing, almost 60 percent of the 2016 Democratic presidential pri- mary electorate were women, many of whom are still ready for change. For another, Democrats who self-identify as “social liberals” make up the majority (53 percent) of Democrats, and according to Scher, these voters have “grown accustomed to breaking barriers and won’t readily accept a coldly pessimistic argument that running another woman against Trump would be a bad idea.” Echoing su ragist Carrie Chapman Catt’s 1916 battle cry, Scher added, “the woman’s hour must again strike.”

Notwithstanding these positive trends and the individual strengths of all four potential candidates, Scher concluded by saying that “she won’t become a superstar by anointment, as Obama was in 2004. She will have to make it happen by breaking out of the Senate procedural muck, delivering soaring speeches, crafting signature policy ideas, picking high-profile fights, outwit- ting conservatives and proving she knows how to triumph over the inevitable misogynistic attacks.” This is where the rest of us come in to help our prospective Madam President get it done.

Scher’s description of the voters most likely to support Gillibrand, Harris, Warren, or Klobuchar sounds a lot like women who say, “I’m tough, I’m ambitious, and I know what I want. If that makes me a bitch, so be it.” No problem. We got this.

In the past, one of the main ways ambitious American women politicians tried to soften their assertive presence and justify their entry into the public square was by using the rationale that women are purer than men. Women are incorruptible, women are selfless, women aren’t interested in power, women just want to make the world a better place. So, men, you have nothing to fear from our desire for political power—our ambition isn’t really about that. It’s about doing good, always selflessly and politely.

That rationale is now history. “This bitch is 1” (“this bitch” being our first woman president) is our new rallying cry. Get with the program, my old- school girlfriends.

*Images based on photography by Rebecca Sive of posters from the 2017 Chicago Women’s March.

The ERA: How It Will Equalize Access to Healthcare

Thu, 09/19/2019 - 13:52

Imagine a woman in a silent room all to herself. She is trembling from excitement and her eyes are filled with tears. In her hand is a pregnancy test that reads a positive result and, in that moment, she realizes that she has roughly seven months to prepare for a new life to come into the world. But what she doesn’t know is that she only has seven more months to live the rest of hers.

This is the reality for women like Kira Dixon Johnson, 39, of Los Angeles, California. She was scheduled to have a cesarean-section to give birth to her second child at Cedars-Siani Medical Center, a top-ranking healthcare facility. The procedure went smoothly, and the mother and father were able to spend time with their two sons as a family immediately following. But just hours after the birth, Johnson started to feel lethargic and winced in pain as her uterus became more sensitive to the touch. When blood began to appear in her catheter, Johnson’s husband sought help. A CT scan was ordered to check for internal bleeding, but it never took place. He was told his wife was not a priority. Johnson died the following day.

Charlene Flores, 27, of San Fresno, Ca. had been suffering from a heart ailment. When Flores went into labor in October of 2018, a difficult decision had to be made. She was bleeding internally and her physician decided that the safest way for delivery was via cesarean section. Although this birthing procedure is routine, it is still a high-risk surgery that can cause complications such as hemorrhaging and infection at the incision site. Aware of the potential risks, Flores still put her trust in the doctors. A healthy baby girl was born minutes later, but the mother and daughter never met. Flores’s heart gave out on the operating table.

Several months later in May 2019, Sara Sewald, 26, of Colorado Springs, Co. was expecting twins. Throughout her pregnancy, Sewald suffered from preeclampsia, a condition during the gestational period that results in high blood pressure and fluid retention. It can cause hands and feet to swell which can also affect circulation and cause blood clots. Doctors had recommended a cesarean-section during a routine check-up ,and the following day Sewald gave birth to a boy and a girl. The moment between the mother and her newborn children would not last beyond the delivery room, however. Sewald died from internal bleeding after the surgery.

Johnson, Flores and Sewald represent just two of approximately 700 women who die from childbirth each year in the United States. But an estimated 50 percent of those deaths could have been prevented, according to the Center for Disease Control. Unfortunately, however, quality care in the U.S. is not guaranteed, particularly for women.

Although the US spends the most money on healthcare compared to other nations ($3.5 trillion), it is the also the most dangerous country to give birth in the developed world. This is compounded by recent figures showing that 82 million Americans are either uninsured or do not have access to an adequate health care plan. This disparity makes women, especially those who are pregnant, increasingly vulnerable. If she has aged out, divorced, or became widowed, many of these women will no longer have access to insurance. Further, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families, black women are even more likely to be uninsured, face greater financial barriers to care when they need it and are less likely to access prenatal care.

Ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment would help to change that. According to the National Organization of Women (NOW), “Without the ERA, equality in pay, job opportunities, political structure, education, health care, including reproductive health care, and education will remain elusive. With an ERA, it would become significantly more difficult to roll back progress on women’s equality.” 

Further, without the ERA laws prohibiting discrimination against women are subject to the whims of Congress, which is of particular concern in today’s current political climate where we have already witnessed laws protecting women being changed, gutted, or even eliminated with a majority vote and the simple signature of the President. As ERA activist Alice Paul once said: “We shall not be safe until the principle of equal rights is written into the framework of our government.”

Examples of how women’s healthcare has recently been turned back include:

*The state of Alabama has enforced an abortion ban as of May 2019. Doctors are not allowed to perform abortions unless the mother’s health is at risk.

*Ohio, Kentucky, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Utah, Mississippi and Georgia are in favor of a “heartbeat” bill. Once a fetal heartbeat is detected, commonly occurring at the six-week mark when women typically first find out that they are pregnant, undergoing an abortion would be considered an illegal offense that could be punishable by prison time. This is of even more concern for women in Georgia, since they are more likely to be homeless than men in that state. Should these women may not be able to afford a pregnancy test, they may have to wait until a missed menstrual cycle to discover they could be pregnant. By the time help is sought, it may be too late, and causing her to suffer in silence not only for nine months, but beyond.

Although there are options available, like the National Network of Abortion Funds, which can provide financial assistance for women who are homeless or making a low income, it often proves difficult to gain access to these medical offices since they are more likely to be located within a metropolitan area, making travel difficult and expensive. “A pregnant women might have to drive 50 miles, sometimes 100 miles just to get to an OBGYN,” said Dr. Krystal Redman, a public health doctor and executive director of, Spark Reproductive Justice Now, located in Atlanta, Ga. “That’s why in the state of Georgia, it is safer to have a legal abortion than it is for a woman to carry out a full-term pregnancy and have a c-section. “It’s dangerous when a doctor is not nearby,” she continued. Compounding this is systematic oppression “Studies show that the black mortality and morbidity rate in black women in higher and more prominent in the south because that’s where systematic oppression has been rooted,” she added.

Black women earn $21,698 less than the median wages for non-Hispanic white men, according to a 2018 study from the National Partnership for Women and Families. This gap makes it harder to obtain food, shelter and healthcare. The can cause the body to internalize greater stress by having a lack of resources. “Women of color go through weathering,” Dr. Redman said. Weathering is when a body prematurely deteriorates and becomes more susceptible to health issues. “If a woman has high blood pressure or hypertension, she is more likely to have risks during pregnancy. If she is not close to a doctor or is not receiving quality care, then she is at greater risk of maternal mortality.”

Comparatively, countries that have already ratified an ERA such as Denmark, Italy and Japan guarantee free and equal access to healthcare and have been reported to have the lowest maternal mortality rates in the world. Unfortunately, in the US, women’s healthcare has been increasingly challenged under the Trump administration. “We cannot decrease the maternal mortality rate or other issues that pertain to pregnancy until we have discussions that are about systematic injustice while having a healthcare plan for all as an equitable resource.”

Tatyana Turner is a student at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. She is a 2019 fellow in the Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program* at Women’s eNews, funded by the Sy Syms Foundation. The Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program at Women’s eNews fellowship supports editorial and development opportunities for editorial interns in the pursuit of journalistic excellence.

Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program

The Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence program at Women’s eNews was launched in 2014 with support from the Sy Syms Foundation. The fellowship provides support and development opportunities for editorial interns in the pursuit of journalistic excellence.

“For a democracy to flourish all voices must be heard.” said Marcy Syms, a founding Trustee and President of the Sy Syms Foundation. “Through its investigative reporting Women’s eNews gets at the essence of good journalism. The Sy Syms Foundation is proud of this collaboration to support today’s newest women journalists.”

As part of it’s mission to create social change for women and girls through investigative reporting, Women’s eNews helps foster, train, and support the career development of new journalists with a focus on social justice and women’s rights.

Women are at the Heart of Disaster Preparedness and Response

Tue, 09/17/2019 - 09:39

Hurricane Dorian has decimated the landscape and lives of people and families throughout the Caribbean and Antilles and across the southeastern United States. Millions of lives have been disrupted, including a staggering 70,000 newly homeless families in the Bahamas, and the death toll continues to climb.

Natural disasters, despite their seemingly indiscriminate destruction, in fact strike with specific prejudice.  The poorest countries and most marginalized populations are often geographically and systemically most at risk when facing natural disasters like Dorian.

In my work with Habitat for Humanity New York City I have noticed a parallel in the populations we serve in this dense urban city to my work in disaster response with Habitat for Humanity International in areas around the globe. When it comes to affordable home preservation and construction, more than 80% of Habitat for Humanity homes are sold to families with single female heads of household.  That statistic is true in New York City and around the world.

We may not think of emergency response after a disaster as specifically a women’s issue. However, when disaster strikes, higher percentages of women are affected. Studies show that women are less likely to evacuate in advance of a disaster, often because they carry the responsibility of caring for the young, the old, and people with disabilities. In some cases, women are disadvantaged in the aftermath of disaster by social and cultural traditions that can limit their mobility and stifle their influence over critical decisions such as those affecting family security.

Consequently, in the aftermath of disaster, we must remain sensitive to the fact that we are responding in large measure to women in need.

I find direction in the clarion call of Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat, Pray Love” and “City of Girls,” who recently shared: “Those of us who are warm and dry and safe and well-fed must show up for those who are cold and wet and endangered and hungry. That is a rule of life. Every ethical and religious and spiritual tradition in the world agrees on that rule.” Her words are clear and true: we must show up for those who need our support.

In the face of so much need, as in the wake of Dorian, the decisions before us are how best to express our support and who to support, and, critically, when to do it.

There are four general phases of disaster response: preparedness/mitigation, relief, early recovery and reconstruction.

Preparedness is the identification of appropriate resources in advance of a disaster and planning for how these resources will be deployed when disaster strikes. Mitigation focuses on activities that could prevent—or reduce the chance of—an emergency from happening, or more broadly, reduce the damaging effects of a disaster once it occurs. Without a doubt, preparedness and mitigation play a critical role in the ability of a family or a community to react and respond when disasters strike. It is an affirmation of the old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Women often play a central and grassroots role in community and have greater insight into the needs of the most vulnerable groups in a community. The Global Fund for Women recommends ensuring that women are part of the decision-making process before, during, and after disasters.

The relief, early recovery, and reconstruction phases all follow the disaster and utilize a complex set of methodologies designed to address basic human needs.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the American Red Cross, and The Salvation Army are examples of frontline agencies and organizations that ensure the immediate safety of those in impacted areas and set the groundwork for recovery. These first responders provide vital resources such as clean water and medicine and set the stage for a long pathway to recovery.

An important first step in disaster recovery is the establishment of shelter. The term shelter in disasters is distinct from simply, housing. The act of “sheltering” begins as soon as we wrap someone in need in a blanket or jacket for protection and continues through temporary or even rudimentary housing structures, until the displaced person or family can be reinstalled in a permanent, and ideally disaster-resilient, home. The difference is ultimately in the quality, standards, materials and overall permanence of the structure.

Specific shelter strategies differ by geography, local government and regulatory requirements, and by the amount of income and resources available to impacted families.

The full process of recovery can last weeks and sometimes years, and the organizations that provide these critical short and long-term support systems depend on the financial generosity of unaffected individuals around the world.

Financial support is critical and importantly, distinct from material goods donations. Disaster assistance-focused organizations, such as Together Rising and Habitat for Humanity International (and more can be found through Charity Navigator, which filters for highly rated organizations providing disaster assistance), already have deep and effective material delivery systems in the impacted areas. It is far more cost effective for them to directly source supplies and materials than to have to factor in the additional cost and logistics of individually donated material goods. That is why your financial support is so important, and why every dollar you might spend on canned goods or toys for affected kids, with the intention of donating, will actually go a lot further if instead you donate money directly to the organization of your choice.

If it is in your heart to volunteer, get the advance training you need with a qualified first-responder organization in your community so that you can work in concert with their efforts. While you may not be able to physically volunteer immediately, when an impacted area is in need of volunteers, your training will place you in a good position to be the most helpful. Whatever you do, do not look away. The road to recovery is very long. The impacted communities will need our help for years to come—and with increasing numbers of natural disasters; you never know when you or your loved ones might be the ones in need

Karen Haycox has been CEO of Habitat for Humanity New York City since 2015. During her career at Habitat for Humanity International, Ms. Haycox’s leadership roles included senior positions in the Carter Work Project as well as international and domestic disaster relief focused on the Asian tsunami, Hurricanes Katrina & Rita, Haiti Earthquake, Midwestern tornado outbreaks and Superstorm Sandy.

The Hideous Men Walking Tour: Not for the Cowardly

Sat, 09/14/2019 - 11:23

“This tour is not for the cowardly!,” E. Jean Carroll warned the twenty women gathered at the square between New York City’s Bergdorf Goodman department store and the Plaza Hotel on the Sunday of Labor Day Weekend. Holding a white banner announcing the afternoon’s agenda: “Most Hideous Men in NYC Walking Tour,” the longtime Elle columnist and author of What Do We Need Men For? A Modest Proposal added, “For twenty-six years I’ve been answering questions from women complaining about men. If you think we’re being unfair to men, get the hell out!”  Her words were underscored by the ‘toot-toot’ of a trombone at nearby Pulitzer Fountain.

Carroll is conducting these 90-minute, bi-monthly tours through October 6th, and it is free, as the invitation reads: For 10,000 years women have been paid less than men. They don’t have to pay for THIS!. Although, participants are encouraged to bring snacks.

While our fearless leader was clearly kidding with her mock-angry introduction, she’s serious as a tornado about wanting sexual predators to be held accountable for their actions. In her new book Carroll, who in 2004 published, Mr. Right, Right Now! Man Catching Made Easy, finally comes out about her rage toward the 20 occupants of what she calls “The Most Hideous Men of My Life List.” The most infamous member, No. 20, is Donald Trump who, she writes attacked her in a dressing room at Bergdorf’s in 1996. Trump denied it, responding, “She’s not my type.”

One year later, then CBS Chairman and CEO Les Moonves, No. 15 on Carroll’s list, allegedly groped her in an elevator after she interviewed him for Esquire.

During my pre-tour interview with Carroll, conducted while sitting on the steps of the fountain, I felt the 75-year-old’s eyes blazing behind her sunglasses as she explained why she kept quiet for decades about the multiple abuses she’d endured. “I’m a member of the silent generation. We were trained from babyhood to chin up and smile and get past it…”
She sighed, “The silent generation changed many things but not the culture of sexual violence.”

As a grinning millennial carrying a plastic container of chocolate covered pretzels bore down on us, Carroll added, “I have nothing to lose naming names. I’m an old woman. If I were a mother in Mississippi or Ohio or Kansas holding down two jobs, reporting my overseer at the factory could lead to a terrible shift, being knocked down in pay, or even fired. “ She snorted, “What am I going to lose – my reputation?”

That reputation went clearly through the roof for the acolytes on her tour. Ranging in age from the early 20s through the 60s, they were united in their gratitude at scoring a ticket to this sold-out event. The group included a forty-something from St. Louis, a mother and daughter from Kansas City and a Manhattanite in bright red shorts whose boyfriend sent her the link, thinking she’d enjoy the tour. Another participant explained why she’d signed on: “E. Jean is taking an abstract idea and lining it up in the social structures that perpetuate abuse.”

As we turned our attention to the revolving doors of Bergdorf’s, Carroll boomed, “So many women in New York have been scrunched, thumped, pummeled, banged and ‘rogered’ by men, it is difficult sometimes to keep them all straight. So I will be referring to notes.”

Her typed and bound together notes included photo-copied pictures, which she held above her head as each hideous man was discussed and dispatched. Carroll mentioned that several non-cowardly men have partaken of this tour – “police investigators, lawyers, an FBI agent, a detective who wore a beanie…”

Our first stop yielded meaty material: Trump (Carroll didn’t use the word rape and said of course she still shops at Bergdorf’s – “it’s the greatest store in the world”), plus a current lawsuit against The Plaza brought by a group of female employees who Carroll recited from her notes, “Say they have been grabbed, groped, or pushed into rooms.” “If you don’t feel nauseous yet, you will,” Caroll added, as she directed us to look eastward toward Jeffrey Epstein’s mansion located in the East 70s. After recapping his crimes, she asked how many felt the prison ‘suicide’ of the convicted sex offender was really murder. A majority of women raised their hands. “Who do you think ordered him killed?” Carroll asked, while showing various photos of Donald Trump, Bill Clinton and Queen Elizabeth. “Don’t forget Prince Andrew was implicated,” she warned.

We then walked onward to Tiffany & Co., where Carroll educated us about a lawsuit initiated in the 1990s by Paula Smith, after its Head of Estate Jewelry was fired for reporting a male colleague who complained she was too aggressive. Smith won the largest settlement to date from the New York State Division of Human Rights ($365,000).

As Carroll announced that the next stop on the tour would be Trump Tower, she quickly added, ‘I’ll meet you there,” and loped off, her trim figure sheathed in a black shirt and short green and black pleated skirt trailing down to sneakers tied with oversized black bows disappearing down Fifth Avenue.  

Outside the 69-story skyscraper, home to the escalator where the improbable campaign began, Carroll highlighted Trump and the 24 accusations of sexual impropriety against him, including the one issued, then retracted by Ivana Trump, his first wife. “The 1990 court deposition said the night he raped her was the first time Donald’s penis was inside Ivana in more than 16 months,” she reported. Carroll also wanted us to know that The Plaza ran most efficiently when Trump’s first ex-wife-to-be oversaw its renovation in the early nineties. While she did an excellent job, Trump nonetheless bankrupted the hotel in four years.

The subsequent turn in the conversation made it clear why it was essential to bring and share sustenance (I was partial to the shortbread and pistachio nuts). Carroll chewed a Gin Gin as she asked, “How much do women in New York make on the dollar compared to men?” Answer: White women, 87 cents; African American women, 57 cents, Latina women, 49 cents.

Her follow-up statement, “Let’s come up with a solution to the pay disparity,” led to thoughtful answers. The woman who’d signed up for the tour to witness the role of social structures behind sexual abuse suggested: “Radical pay transparency – us being open about what we earn.” A chorus of “Yeses” were followed by iPhone scribblings at the mention that blogger Alison Green created a popular anonymous google doc spread sheet for women to share their salaries. Another suggestion, which was enthusiastically received, was to network on best strategies to win raises.

In just a few hours since this tour began my pondering on why Carroll designed this on-the-surface lighthearted experience morphed from making money and/or selling books (she mentioned her latest book, What Do We Need Men For?, just once), to keeping the post-#MeToo fire not just alive but ablaze. Her true goal was not to provoke male bashing but to encourage ongoing activism geared to changing the political tilt-a-whirl that keeps knocking women down, and backwards. During our discussion at the Pulitzer Fountain, Carroll offered, “I like men a lot…I just don’t want them running everything…they never listen!”

Sure, there was plenty of snark and fury as the tour participants walked and chewed our way to venues including St. Patrick’s Cathedral (in 2018, abuser of boys Cardinal Theodore McCarrick became the first Cardinal in 2000 years forced to step down from the College of Cardinals) and Rockefeller Center (a ‘Hideous Man’ motherlode with Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer and Bill Cosby taking their turn in the pantheon of fallen male idols). However, Carroll, who once wrote for Saturday Night Live, deemed former cohort Al Franken “the least pervy guy I’ve ever met. We need to be careful with accusations!”

The mood was somber when Carroll asked anyone who had never been assaulted to raise her hand. Only two sets of hands lifted. “Four in five rapists go free,” she responded. More often, though, shoots of energy raced through us as Carroll paid tribute to those who worked hard to bring down powerful abusive men – i.e.: NY Times reporters Jodi Cantor and Megan Twohey. The most effusive praise went to the New Yorker ’s Ronan Farrow.

The tour’s last stop was The Roundabout Theater, former site of the legendary and almost-impossible-to-gain-entry into nightclub Studio 54. Carroll informed us, “Kevin Spacey, now accused of sexually abusing young men, was a dweeb but he got in by entertaining the guards with celebrity impressions.”

The blocks this tour encompassed represent the City’s patriarchal power centers – home to churches and media stations where, as Carroll pointed out, “secrets are held and information is controlled.” After nearly two hours in, no one, not even Carroll, was in a hurry to part. Hugs and emails were exchanged. More ideas on how to change the system were discussed.

Before Carroll parted she smiled, patted the “Hideous Men in NYC Tour” banner now resting under her arm, and with a final wave disappeared as she walked down 7th Avenue.

About the author: Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW is a NYC-based psychotherapist, editor of the anthology HOW DOES THAT MAKE YOU FEEL? True Confessions From Both Sides of the Therapy Couch and contributor to The Cut, Washington Post and vox.com.

Equal Rights in Germany: An Exclusive Interview with Claudia Roth, Vice-President of the German Parliament

Tue, 09/10/2019 - 11:04

“Globally, we are witnessing a dangerous backlash on women’s rights and the rights of marginalized groups. From Brazil to Poland, from the US to Turkey, right-wing men are threatening democratic achievements and human rights,” said Claudia Roth, longtime Green Party politician and Vice-President of the German Federal Government, or ‘Bundestag.’ Although Article Three of Germany’s Grundgesetz (Constitution) guarantees equal rights to women and men, Roth believes there is still much that has to be done to end sex discrimination in her country. Although Angela Merkel has served as the Chancellor of Germany for almost fourteen years, the number of women serving in the Bundestag dropped from 37 percent to 31 percent in the 2017 elections. And although Germany is considered to be progressive in comparison to other countries, abortion is still illegal there. Further, fewer than 30 percent of public leadership positions were held by women in 2018. According to Claudia Roth, “Patriarchy still works well in Germany.”

Women’s eNews intern, Charlotte Geissler, was granted an exclusive opportunity to pose the following questions to Claudia Roth last month, to gain insights into German politics and show how gender discrimination continues to exist:

Women’s eNews: Although gender equality is included in the German Constitution or ‘Grundgesetz’, women in Germany are still underrepresented in politics and work and gender discrimination still plagues the country. What actions must Germany’s government take to truly provide women with equal rights and opportunities?

Claudia Roth: Back in 1994 the German constitution was amended to push for more gender equality by including the following: “The State shall promote the actual implementation of equal rights for women and men and take steps to eliminate disadvantages that now exist.” It was a big promise. Unfortunately, today there are still many battles to fight to even come close to this status, in which all people of all genders are treated equally in Germany. Women are still underrepresented in leading positions in all areas of society, are paid less, and do most of the unpaid care work. Our tax system undermines women’s financial independence in marriage and single mothers hardly get any state support. Overall, women have less access to power and resources, and are subject to discrimination and violence. Abortion is still illegal in a self-proclaimed liberal Germany and there is not enough action to prevent gender-based violence and support for those affected by it. The picture looks even worse if a woman is affected by multiple types of discrimination. And the list goes on – so action has to be taken and mainstreamed on all levels of politics.

Women’s eNews: What aspects in the General Act on Equal Treatment or ‘Allgemeines Gleichbehandlungsgesetz’ and the Federal Equality Act are missing to successfully prevent discrimination of women?

Claudia Roth: The General Act on Equal Treatment is the anti-discrimination law in Germany, which the Green party lobbied hard for since the 90’s. It is binding for workplaces and all interactions between private persons. But today, it has to be improved in many ways. One example would be that lawsuits due to discrimination should also be executed by anti-discrimination associations in order to push for more change on the ground and to discharge individuals. Currently the barriers for private persons for legal justice are way too high. The Federal Equality Act aims to create more gender equality in civil service. That law is good, but its implementation is lacking. Without sufficient political will and enough resource allocation we won’t achieve progress at all. Still, the most powerful positions in civil service and in public authorities are filled mostly with men. Mostly old, white, heterosexual, multiple-privileged men. One could say: ‘Patriarchy still works well in Germany.

Women’s eNews: In 1999, ‘gender mainstreaming’ was adopted to reform the procedures and initiatives of Germany’s government through the ‘Modern State – Modern Administration’ Program. In your view, how effective has this program been?

Claudia Roth: The adoption of gender mainstreaming had been an assignment given to national governments by the European Union back in 1997. That was the same year that Germany – against tough resistance – made rape within marriages illegal. So you can see where we were standing 1997: There was still a long way to go. When the government switched to a coalition of social democrats and Greens in 1999, gender mainstreaming was made a guiding principle. The Green Party originated from the 1970’s/80’s women’s movement. Women’s rights and gender equality have always been and still are one of my parties’ main priorities. But as other governments followed, there has not been sufficient political will in order to fully implement gender mainstreaming. Real feminist politics would change the whole system – you need lots of guts to do that.

Women’s eNews: How should Germany further equalize rights for women beyond the country’s borders, and why is it important for Germany to promote equal rights internationally?

Claudia Roth: All over the world, women and other marginalized groups are structurally disadvantaged, are affected more by poverty, are subject to severe human rights violations and do not have equal access to representation, rights and resources. Sweden has been an international role model by declaring a feminist foreign policy back in 2014 under feminist Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallström. What we need for Germany, and basically for all states, would be a feminist foreign policy which addresses the structural roots of injustices due to gender or other lines of discrimination. We need the international goal to implement no less than full human rights for everyone on this planet. All areas of foreign policy must be radically redesigned, putting human security at its core. The current efforts of our foreign minister, while being a non-permanent member in the UN Security Council, have been quite disappointing for the feminist agenda. A resolution has been adopted, which actually falls way back to the standards of UNSC-Res 1325. Unfortunately, reactionary forces, such as UN-diplomats reporting to the President of the United States, have lobbied hard to eliminate demands in the resolution on sexual and reproductive health. Globally we are witnessing a dangerous backlash on women’s rights and the rights of marginalized groups: From Brazil to Poland, from the US to Turkey: Right-wing men are threatening democratic achievements and human rights. But on the other hand, there is no movement worldwide as successful as the women’s rights movement to repel those right-wing populist and sexist agitators. The US Women’s March in January 2017 gave hope and strength to women, LGBTIQA and marginalized communities all over the globe: We do not back down!

Women’s eNews: In your perspective, what correlation exists between feminism and environmentalism, and what effects would equal rights for women have on the climate movement?

Claudia Roth: Women, indigenous people and marginalized communities are affected most severely by the destruction of our environment and by the severe consequences of the climate crisis, which already threaten the livelihood of millions of people. It is women who, due to traditional gender-roles, do most of the care work within families and communities, and who take care of the basic needs even in worst conditions. It’s women who mostly work in agriculture and have to deal with droughts and flooding. But it’s their needs, which are cut first. We know for sure that women do not have equal rights, that hunger has a female face, and that the effects of poverty are indeed gendered; that women, who are facing poverty and who are displaced, are even more likely to be subject to violence and rape. Despite their marginalization women are active all over the world to fight for a liveable planet, for just land rights, the sustainable use of resources and on the forefront of climate negotiations. There will be no climate justice without gender justice.

Women’s eNews: How can the climate movement and the women’s rights movement cooperate to accomplish the goals of both movements on a national scale and internationally?

Claudia Roth: Both movements already have linkages, which have to be strengthened. The climate movement should integrate a gender perspective within its struggle and in all of its analyses and political demands. The voices of women and marginalized communities have to be brought to the forefront of climate negotiations. On the other side, feminists should integrate the calls for climate justice into their agenda. Only at first look one might think of them as different struggles, but in the end the aim is the same: A livable and just planet, on which all people – regardless of gender, class, race, whatever background – can live in dignity, freedom and peace.

Women’s eNews: The United States, although home to a strong women’s rights movement, does not have an Equal Rights Amendment in the country’s constitution. Do you believe women in the United States would benefit from such an amendment?

Claudia Roth: Of course they would! As soon as this amendment is written in the Constitution, women can refer to it and reclaim their right.

Women’s eNews: What actions must Germany take to protect all women, regardless of their race or status? In other words, how can the goals of intersectional feminism be accomplished in Germany?

Claudia Roth: I am now quoting our constitution, our “Grundgesetz” again: “Human dignity shall be inviolable” – this is in its very first paragraph. It doesn’t say the dignity of white, heterosexual, Christian, non-disabled men. It means the dignity of all, of each and every one of us. Written more than seventy years ago the fathers and mothers of our Constitution have centrally integrated the learning of the atrocities under the Nazi-dictatorship within this simple first sentence. The realization of human rights is thus the purpose of the state and that’s what intersectional feminism is basically all about. Intersectionality is a perspective to understand the multidimensional effects of unjust structures, an analytical gift given to us by Kimberlé Crenshaw. This just perspective has to be mainstreamed in all areas of policy, otherwise mainly white and privileged women will benefit from any efforts toward gender justice. Moreover, we need comprehensive anti-discrimination and social justice policies. Racism is still a serious and often neglected problem in Germany, and trans- and intersexual people are still heavily discriminated against, so many injustices have to be addressed at the very same time.

Women’s eNews: In the 2017 federal elections, the number of women in the Bundestag dropped from 37 percent to 31 percent. What is the cause of this drop and how can more women be brought into the Bundestag in the next elections?

Claudia Roth: The share of women in our parliament dropped because a right-wing party, with only ten percent of female parliamentarians, was elected into the Bundestag. But other forces also prohibit women from having fair representation in our core democratic institution. The conservatives only include twenty percent women and the liberals aren’t that much better. It’s only the Greens and the Leftist who have sent more women than men into parliament. The Green Party we has internal quotas in place: At all levels of politics, at least fifty percent of positions have to be filled by women, which was a huge achievement of the early feminists thirty years ago, and which accounts for the fair rate of women in the Green Party. Other parties are reluctant to install internal quotas, and that’s why we need binding quotes in our electoral law. Two states in Germany have recently passed Parité laws, to make sure more women will be elected.

Women’s eNews: As an experienced politician working in Parliament since 1989, what have been the greatest challenges for you as a woman? Also, what have been your greatest successes as a woman in the Bundestag, and your greatest successes in empowering other women?

Claudia Roth: Women in politics always have to prove themselves way more than men, and have to be better prepared, argue more sophisticatedly, and work harder to be heard and seen. One has to also deal a lot with subtitle sexism, where too many men systematically give power to other men and make the work of women unseen. Plus, women in public are subject to hate and sexism, especially if you have a strong feminist opinion and dare not to represent what mainstream society might expect of women. I would say that the greatest successes have been political achievements, where women of different fractions worked together. Female solidarity and more feminist men in politics – that’s how we’ll build a more feminist and livable future.

Charlotte Geissler, a sophomore at Bard College, is bilingual in English/German and specializes in international relations. She is a 2019 fellow in the Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program, funded by the Sy Syms Foundation. The Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program at Women’s eNews fellowship supports editorial and development opportunities for editorial interns in the pursuit of journalistic excellence.

Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program

The Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence program at Women’s eNews was launched in 2014 with support from the Sy Syms Foundation. The fellowship provides support and development opportunities for editorial interns in the pursuit of journalistic excellence.

“For a democracy to flourish all voices must be heard.” said Marcy Syms, a founding Trustee and President of the Sy Syms Foundation. “Through its investigative reporting Women’s eNews gets at the essence of good journalism. The Sy Syms Foundation is proud of this collaboration to support today’s newest women journalists.”

As part of it’s mission to create social change for women and girls through investigative reporting, Women’s eNews helps foster, train, and support the career development of new journalists with a focus on social justice and women’s rights.

Not Equal But Close: Better Pay Parity in Construction

Mon, 09/09/2019 - 09:41

Summer is over, and young adults across the country are headed back to school—one more step toward graduation and making decisions about “what’s next.” Despite making up almost half of today’s US workforce, women face a challenge in choosing career paths that can help them overcome the ever-present gender pay gap. Surprisingly, there’s one male-dominated sector where women are flipping the script and finding both great job opportunities and better pay parity: Construction. 

Construction remains one of the best-kept secrets in rewarding career options for women. The best part is that these opportunities are abundant for job-seekers with or without a college degree. Associated Builders and Contractors, a national trade association, estimates that 440,000 construction workers need to be hired in 2019 just to keep up with the current demand for projects. Nearly 60% of ABC contractor members expected to increase staffing levels in the second half of this year, and from apprentices and craft professionals to project managers and executives, the number of women working in the US construction industry is on the rise.

My experience is proof. My high school guidance counselor suggested I shift my focus away from college liberal arts majors and apply for engineering programs, noting my aptitude for math and science. I selected a five-year architectural engineer undergraduate program at Penn State, where I specialized in construction management—which comprises the planning, design, safety, quality control and execution of construction projects—and where I was one of the few women students in this major.  

After graduation, I was hired by a national construction firm on a project management education track. In this program, I spent time both in the field and in an office working in all facets of the construction business, including scheduling, purchasing estimating, project management and business development. Today I am the president of Poole Anderson Construction, a regional construction company headquartered in Central Pennsylvania.

While I took the college path to joining the industry, there are many ways to start a career in construction no matter your level of education. For craft professionals, the construction industry offers an earn-while-you-learn model, which allows people to both get started and advance in construction careers without incurring hefty student loan debt. There are many education routes as well, including technical schools and apprenticeship programs, which provide the skills needed to succeed as a craft professional while also working hands-on in the field. 

Whether you’re a craft professional or part of a management team, construction is not just a job, but a well-paying career with competitive salaries. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average national annual salary for construction trades workers is nearly $50,000 a year, and for those in a management role, salaries average $103,000 annually. Additionally, the construction industry has a significantly lower gender pay gap compared to other professions. While the BLS reported that, on average, women across all U.S. industries made 81 cents for every dollar earned by a man in 2018, women made 97 cents to the dollar in the construction trades.

In addition to competitive salaries and opportunities for growth, construction employees report high job satisfaction, since they can pursue their passions and perform meaningful work building America’s communities from coast to coast. Commercial and industrial construction projects also employ some of the most exciting technologies emerging today, transforming the old stereotype that construction is a ‘dirty business’. From drones and 3D printing to robotics and augmented reality, construction innovators are finding new ways to plan and build everything from manufacturing plants to the world’s most inventive skyscrapers more quickly, cost-effectively and safely than ever before. 

Women have made strides in construction and other typically male-dominated industries, but more can be done to expose young women to these types of career options. Guidance counselors, teachers, parents and industry professionals alike need to do a better job of recruiting young women to college majors that feed into construction and other STEM fields. At the same time, we must do a better job of promoting careers in the trades and put jobs obtained through skills-based education on a level playing field with jobs obtained by baccalaureate degrees, especially as outstanding student loan debt reached $1.5 trillion last year.  

Whether you’re a woman starting college, joining the workforce for the first time or considering changing professions, a career in construction offers ample opportunities to achieve the American dream. To learn more about construction career opportunities, visit workforce.abc.org

About the author: Stephanie Schmidt is president of Poole Anderson Construction in State College, Pennsylvania, and the Northeast Region Chair of Associated Builders and Contractors.