A view from a military wife – On the home front

They say that the first and last three months of a year-long deployment are the hardest to get through. That seems to be ringing true for me. We’re a little over half way through my husband Patrick’s year-long tour in Iraq and looking back at those first few months I realized that it really was hard.
Certainly there is the initial shock of not having your husband there day after day. You learn quickly to save errands and play dates for the weekends to fill up that space where everyone else’s family is home and busy but yours is incomplete and idle. You have to find a way to pass those long, lonely weekends at first when you are surprised at just how much of your time was taken up by doing things with your husband.
Weekends you can adjust for, but dinner and bedtime, you just have to get used to. In the beginning, I always felt like my two-year-old daughter, Emma, and I were just marking time as we sat down to unimaginative dinners (Patrick is the cook in the family). We would sit quietly at the table; me thumbing through my Newsweek or a catalog, and Emma playing with her food.
For me, the challenge of finding a way to fill up our days ended with the birth of our second daughter in October. Patrick could have probably come home for her birth, but we decided that we would have to wait too long to see each other again if he came home in October. So he came home at about the halfway mark instead and met his 3 month-old daughter, Sarah, for the first time this January.
And now he has just left to finish up the second half of his tour. And here I am, not exactly at square one, but close. It’s amazing how quickly he melded into our new routine. Coming home after dropping him off at the airport, seeing his shoes by the door, his water glass on the nightstand, his still damp towel on its rack, I felt the shock all over again. I took his towel off its rack knowing that it will remain empty for the next five months, put that glass in the dishwasher, his shoes back in the closet, and thus erased the evidence that he was ever here for two wonderful weeks. And it’s hard.
– Lisa S., IWPR member

First woman President of Harvard in 371 years

Harvard Drew
Drew G. Faust fields questions from the press at the news conference following the announcement of her election. (Photo Kris Snibbe/Harvard News Office)

A message from Kathy Jacob about the reaction at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. Its leader, Drew Gilpin Faust, was appointed the first woman President of Harvard in 371 years. This piece was written on Monday, February 12, the first work day after the news became official at Harvard.
Little will get done around here today!
Drew called us all together at Agassiz Theater this morning. Of course she got a long, long standing ovation and lots of cheers and chants.
All of the Radcliffe Institute Fellows marched down Concord Avenue and into the theater together with huge bunches of red and white balloons that read Prez Drew, 371 (that’s how many years Harvard’s been around), etc. But the very best were the “It’s a Girl!” balloons!
Click on the link at the very end of the message for some great photos of Drew.
Kathryn Allamong Jacob
Curator of Manuscripts
Schlesinger Library
Radcliffe Institute
Harvard University

February 11, 2007
Dear Members and Friends of the Harvard Community, I am extremely pleased to report that Drew Gilpin Faust, the dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and the Lincoln Professor of History at Harvard, has been elected to become the twenty-eighth president of Harvard University, effective July 1, 2007.
Drew is an inspiring and accomplished institutional leader, a superb scholar, an outstanding teacher, and a wonderful human being. Harvard will benefit from her experience, her energy, and her wisdom in the years to come.
I invite your attention to the announcement that appears at http://www.harvard.edu, where you can read more about our new president-elect.
On behalf of the presidential search committee and the governing boards, I thank the many of you who offered us your advice during this important search. With your help, we have reached an outcome that holds great promise for all of us who care about Harvard.
Many thanks, and all best wishes.
James R. Houghton
Senior Fellow of the Corporation
Chairman, Presidential Search Committee
Link to press release: http://www.news.harvard.edu/gazette/2007/02.15/99-president.html

It is a Gender Thing

I look forward each Friday to reading Judith Warner’s analysis of current events in her blog on the New York Times website. Her insights tend to align with and reinforce what I’m learning from my work at IWPR, and it’s reassuring to see a major media source provide an outlet for feminist views. This week, however, I was disappointed in her take on the appointment of Drew Gilpin Faust as Harvard University’s new president. She argues:

The selection of Faust seems to be about much more than the replacement of a man by a woman . . . In today’s world, it isn’t a gender thing. It’s a human thing. To insist otherwise is to cut Faust off at the knees just as she’s poised to spring into history.

This highlights exactly what’s wrong with the women’s movement today: it’s undermined by its very successes. As individual women succeed, they tend to distance themselves from the movement out of a fear of being pigeonholed or reduced to their gender. They prefer that their accomplishments be attributed to their individual characteristics, qualifications, and capabilities. But in disregarding the role of gender in their lives, they give credence to the view that we no longer live in a patriarchal society, and this is far from the truth.
We tend to forget the institutional barriers that still exist for women. We forget that women still only make 77 cents to men’s dollar. We forget that the majority of people living in poverty in this country as well as around the world are female. We forget that while the November 2006 elections brought to federal office record numbers of women policy makers, women still only make up about 16% of the United States House of Representatives and Senate. As Dr. Heidi Hartmann pointed out on this blog earlier this week, “it’s when we think about the years going forward instead of backward, and we try to imagine the Harvard presidency without a male incumbent for 371 years, that we get some glimpse of what that exclusion has meant for women.”
So while Dr. Faust’s appointment is attributable to more than her gender, as Warner argues, it is also, very importantly, a gender thing. It is a major breakthrough for women, and should be celebrated as such.
– Anna Danziger

Healthy Families Act Hearing

HFA Hearing Photo
Dr. Jody Heymann, Heidi Hartmann, Dr. Rajiv Bhatia and Mr. G. Roger King (Photo by Michelle Schafer)

On Tuesday February 13th, experts and Senators alike braved the wintry District weather to attend a hearing on the Healthy Families Act. Senator Kennedy, Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee sponsored a hearing to discuss the need for the Healthy Families Act. Dr. Heidi Hartmann, IWPR’s President, was among those invited to testify. One of her strongest arguments for paid sick days for families included a study done by IWPR that found employers would save an estimated 9 billion dollars in turnover costs. The logic behind this figure is that workers with paid sick days will be more likely to retain jobs therefore lowering the cost of rehiring for their positions by 43%. IWPR’s research provides the best reasoning for why the Healthy Families Act actually benefits businesses, an issue that Senators Enzi (WY), Isakson (GA), Allard (CO) seemed to be most concerned with.
Dr. Hartmann also reminded Senator Enzi and the committee that passing the Healthy Families Act would actually have a positive effect on wage inequity between men and women. Achieving pay equity has been a goal of Senator Enzi’s and of other committee members in other legislation, the Workforce Investment Act among others. Dr. Hartmann emphasized the importance of family leave for women who are often the primary care givers of children and the elderly. With seven paid sick and family care days to be provided by their employers, women would be more able to take a day to care for themselves or a family member without the fear of losing their jobs, a change that will help them retain their jobs and become eligible for seniority-based wage increases and promotions, thus leading to wage increases and contributing to narrowing the wage gap.
Dr. Jody Heymann argued for the Healthy Families Act through an analysis of international competitiveness. Her statistics showed interestingly enough that although the US is among the top 20 most competitive economies in the world, we are the only one without paid family leave. She said that 145 countries provide such leave and that 100 of them provide a month or more for employees. Senator Sanders (VT) seemed most impressed with the international comparison data, while Senator Brown (OH) asked about the data on cost savings.
The hearing was well attended by Acorn members and representatives of various women’s groups. All the Senators and witnesses spoke in favor of paid sick days (it’s hard to be against them), but one witness and several Senators expressed concern that it would cost too much and drive away business. The record was left open so that further questions could be addressed by the witnesses.
– Elisabeth Crum

The Reality of Paid Sick Days

One of the things I love about IWPR is the types of issues we work on. The subjects we conduct our research on are real, everyday issues that most women face. They’re not always the sexiest, most talked-about, hottest topics, but that’s what makes them even more important, because they can be easily overlooked. I’m talking about issues like retirement security, access to quality child care, and paid sick days.
I tutor an 11-year old child once a week. A few months ago, my student’s mother found a job as a guard in an office building. She’d been job hunting for a while, and as a single parent with three kids, she was very happy to have found this position.
When I saw my student last week, he had a cold. His nose was dripping, he was coughing and sneezing, and he kept getting up to either blow or stuff tissue up his nose, in order to stop the flow. After a while, he got fed up and started grousing (who wouldn’t?)

“I don’t wanna go to school tomorrow,” he whined.
“Well, you really shouldn’t go; you sound terrible, and you’re obviously sick,” I told him.
“But I have to go,” he said, sighing.
“Why?” I asked reasonably.
“Because, I can’t stay by myself, and my mom can’t take off work to stay at home with me” he explained. “See, if she stays at home with me, there won’t be as much money for stuff, like our house and everything.”

Here was this 11-year old child’s reality. He sat there, battling a cold, possibly a fever or the flu, and he’d already made up his mind that he’s going to school. Why? Because being sick means less money for his family. His health has a direct economic impact on his household. And he knows this; he more than knows it; it’s part of his life and part of what’s real for him.
This is what we’re trying to get lawmakers to see, to pay attention to. We’re right in the middle of flu season, and 22 million women workers don’t have a single paid sick day . What does this mean? If a woman with no paid sick days gets sick and must stay at home, she takes a pay cut. If she’s lucky, she won’t lose her job for not being able to work. And it affects more than just her. If one of her children gets sick; if her elderly parent she’s caring for gets sick, she has to take a pay cut.
It’s so easy to disengage, to not pay attention. I can’t even accuse myself of being unrealistic – my reality is different from my student’s. I’m not guilty of refusing to listen, just for not paying more attention. Those of us who can absolutely must make those in power listen to this reality.
Dr. Heidi Hartmann, President of IWPR, testified before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions this past Tuesday on the Healthy Families Act. By paying attention and making this reality known to policymakers, we can all help alter the reality that is true for too many American women.
– Amy Lin

Wal-Mart in Trouble, Yet Again

The world’s largest private employer is feeling the heat for myriad reasons. All you ever hear about Wal-Mart these days is a plethora of criticisms. From their shortcomings in providing adequate healthcare for employees, to Wal-Mart’s effect on the environment, to the adverse effects on the communities where Wal-Marts open — we’ve heard it all. From a legal perspective, at present there are a slew of lawsuits pertaining to discrimination and violation of wage & labor laws.
Over 50 members of Congress have asked that Wal-Mart disclose information about its wages for Congressional review to assess whether gender biases in wages exist. In September 2006, a class-action suit was filed against Wal-Mart contractors concerning sweatshop conditions at their overseas sites. Aside from Wal-Mart’s practices abroad that allow the retail conglomerate to have such competitive prices, there are plenty of domestic concerns to discuss that are raised on a regular basis. Last week proved no exception. On February 6, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision in Dukes v. Wal-Mart, certifying a class action suit against Wal-Mart alleging sexual discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
A case that began with six female Wal-Mart employees in June 2001 has the possibility to become the largest civil rights case in history. The plaintiffs allege that Wal-Mart discriminates against women in wages and promotions. The class, which is the single item in contention, includes all women employed at any Wal-Mart since December 1998, “who have been or may be subjected to Wal-Mart’s challenged pay and management track promotions policies and practices.” This case covers at least 1.5 million women in approximately 3,400 stores, making this case monumental.
Evidence supporting the plaintiff’s case that women are not getting the same pay for the same work & are getting fewer promotions is convincing. According to Richard Drogin, the statistical analyst hired by the plaintiffs, it takes women an average of 4.38 years from the date of hire to be promoted to assistant manager, while it takes men 2.86 years. The average salary of a female manager is $89,280, compared to $105,682 for male managers. For workers receiving an hourly wage, women make 6.7% less than men in comparable positions. Additionally, Wal-Mart’s total workforce consists of 72% women, yet women hold only 33% of its managerial positions. Ninety-two percent of Wal-Mart’s cashiers are women, but only 14% of store managers are women. These figures are most certainly striking.
The women filing suit against the world’s largest retailer are hoping that the case will go to trial, and so am I. Employers in this nation have gotten away with discrimination in employment for far too long.
– Layla Moughari, IWPR Research Intern

Harvard Appoints Woman as the Next President

It’s hard to believe that in the wake of the Larry Summers/women in science disaster at Harvard University, Harvard has actually appointed a woman as the next president, Drew Gilpin Faust. I wish I could report to you that I know her or know her work, but alas I do not. She is a historian of women and has taught and directed women’s studies at the University of Pennsylvania. I surely wish her well, and I’m pleased for her (and us) that she joins three other women presidents of Ivy League universities, bringing the total at the eight Ivy League schools to 50 percent female. She’ll be in a good place to be able to pick up the phone and talk things over with her colleagues, male and female, but I imagine there are some things she’ll want to check out mainly with the women. Ruth Bader Ginsberg has said she’s lonely on the Supreme Court. We definitely need our gal pals.
While I think its wonderful Harvard has taken this step toward equal opportunity for women, I can’t get away from the thought that the situation will not be equalized for women at Harvard until we have had 371 straight years of women presidents. It’s when we think about the years going forward instead of backward, and we try to imagine the Harvard presidency without a male incumbent for 371 years that we get some glimpse of what that exclusion has meant for women.
– Heidi Hartmann

Wal-Mart Loses Round 1

Wal Mart
A Wal-Mart in Bloomington Indiana (Photo by Jason Grote, flickr)

In 2001 a class action lawsuit was filed against Wal-Mart. The suit claims that Wal-Mart instituted a policy of gender bias in salary and hiring practices keeping women out of top managerial positions and paying them less than men working in the same position. The suit claims that these policies affected almost 1.5 million Wal-Mart employees . On Tuesday, February 7, a US District Court of Appeals voted 2-1 that the class action lawsuit could proceed with arguments against Wal-Mart and its alleged unfair wage and promotion practices.
This is a big win for women in the workforce. The latest research on the wage gap from IWPR shows that women still make about $0.77 to every man’s $1.00 for full-time year-round workers. IWPR also found that nationwide a higher proportion of women (35.5 percent) than men (28.9 percent) work in professional and managerial jobs. This statistic makes it even more disappointing that Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest employer, seems to have a problem promoting women to achieve parity in management with men.
Renowned feminists such as Martha Burk have argued for years now that one of the best ways to assert and enforce equality in the workforce could be through class action lawsuits and other court actions. The courts have the authority to force businesses and other organizations to follow laws like the Equal Pay Act of 1963 which were put in place to guide the US toward equality in the workforce. The progression of the case represents another step toward equality for women.
– Elisabeth Crum